Coincidental Circumstances (Part 3)

I slowly panned my view all around me as if I was in a Michael Bay film, hoping to spot my gum benefactor. This was no mere coincidence. In my moment of greatest need, she was there for me just like Miranda was there for Zeek.

Except she didn’t need a knife to save me as writer’s block barreled down toward me.

I slapped my macbook shut, unplugged the charger and darted out of Starbucks. Where was Miranda … I mean, the purple haired girl. Sometimes my mind mixes reality and my imagination. I can’t help it. I’m a writer. This is a bane and blessing rolled into one delicious mix.

Disappointingly, there wasn’t any purple hair in sight. I immediately scanned the parking lot for a befitting car but didn’t see a purple Prius hatchback. Damn. I stood on my toes and frantically looked for a hatchback of any color and couldn’t find a single one in the Starbucks lot. The astounding odds of this baffled me.

I walked past the green-umbrella protected islands of conversation and glanced at three tea-patrons sipping on their half empty drinks.

“Did you see a girl with purple hair walk past here?” I asked.

“Purple hair?” answered a guy with a red beard.

“Yes. She had a nose-ring too. Not too big though.”

The guy with a red beard glanced around. “No buddy. Can’t say that I did.”

“I’m serious. It was like thirty seconds ago.”

A skinny girl with straight, black hair chimed in, “Did she forget something?”

“No … well, I mean … maybe. She left me some gum.” This elicited only silence from the potential witnesses. Nobody understands life as a writer.

This would not be my denouement. I paced around the corner for a better view of cars on the other side.

Then I spotted her.

In a red truck. What? This made zero sense to me.

She was backing up and about to shift gears back into drive. I needed to get to her. I picked up speed and started to jog to her car but it was too late. She didn’t even glance in my direction. She exited the parking lot with a right turn.

Fate couldn’t even give me one long left turn at a busy intersection.

CONTINUED

 

 

On Writing: Missed Deadline

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Writing frustrations are about in my life.

The sheer stress and workload of my day job is consuming a portion of my life as expected. After moving, having to find a new place to live in a new state as well as learning a new job and new people and new responsibilities has interrupted my writing.

My tweeting is down.

My blogging is down.

My planned youtube series is pushed back.

And as a result, my stats have collapsed on twitter and wordpress. Additionally, my submissions to agents have stopped and my writing contest submissions have been impacted.

This is a difference than 3 months ago. I had a quasi-agent who had agreed to submit my stories, although on a conditional basis with a weird plan to submit to half the publishers, then get feedback, then to revise and submit to the other half. My blog was taking off. I had up to 800 views a day at a certain point. I was interacting with other writers. I had hired a freelance editor to proofread my completed manuscripts. I had submitted two short stories to writers of the future and a screenplay to The Blacklist. I was editing and curating the Midnight Traveler story collaboration with other writers. There was some minor cost to all of this, but generally, I was only out a couple hundred bucks, mostly through website hosting fees. I balanced all of this with my daily life and a full time job.

Then, I moved, while starting a small company on the side. This side business generated income so fast (up to $4k a month in gross sales) that I spent more time on that after my day job. The money was too good, especially after I moved. The art would have to wait.

My writing essentially stopped. I was making $0 from writing (maybe losing money and time). Some people I know in the new business make fun of writing in a way. They say Amazon publishing is dead. That was in maybe 7 years ago. The first mover advantage is gone. It is yet another industry where 1% get 90% of the income.

I don’t know. I have dreams. I want to do everything and don’t want to waste time.

Then my phone got destroyed by batteries plus and I lost 100 outlines to stories.

I could have given up. Why chase the writing dream?

For most people the answer is simple; because I enjoy it.

No. I fucking love it.

I was a weirdo who daydreamed stories in school instead of paying attention. I get bored watching movies knowing what will happen next. I get annoyed when things are dumbed down and exposition is there to spoon feed audiences. I read novels that are utter garbage. I get annoyed at big name authors who have every damn story ghostwritten for them because they don’t give a shit anymore about anything but the income stream. I get really annoyed at estates and publishers who pump out ghostwritten stories of dead authors.

I began writing again a few weeks ago. I had a few weeks to hit the quarter deadline for writers of the future. Out of the gates, I wrote a solid outline and wrote the first few thousand words like it was nothing. Then the story expanded. New characters were introduced until I reached a point a week ago that I admitted there was no way I could fit the entire story in 17,000 words. I spent a few days trying to deconstruct and simplify but it was all for naught.

The deadline was Friday night and I missed it. I spent Friday night playing XBOX and drinking Guiness because I deserve it.

I might have lost the battle, but I hope to win the war. I’ll keep my full time job. I keep my side business. I’ll be more efficient with my time and make a few hours for writing each week. Stories will get finished.

Deadlines will come and go; keep charging ahead and writing. Write for yourself. Write for your dreams. Write to bear your soul. Write to get famous. It doesn’t matter what your motivation is, just don’t quit. If you see other writers struggling on twitter, maybe spend a second away from spamming your self published kindle story and say hi to someone new. Share some trials and tribulations. They are not the competition. They are fellow writers with dreams like you.

Mad skills at Photoshop: A Vader Tutorial

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A couple weeks ago, I didn’t know a damn thing about photoshop. Now, I can do all sort of snazzy things and you can to. Don’t pay some scammer “artist” or “graphic designer” when you have it in you to make art yourself. I have the artistic talents of a 5 year old, but with some quick youtube tutorials, I can just about create whatever I want. The below graphic was drawn using the above picture as a guide. All of the coloring and tracing is pretty easy to do, but a little time consuming if you have OCD. If you want to make a bunch of Hope posters, you can create all sorts of variations using what I show you below.

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Now, this wasn’t easy nor was it fast. In total, I think I spent around 2.5 hours making this work. This is because even though I mastered the concept of layering, to do something of this detail, I had to do a ton of layers. How many?

52 fucking layers.

It was tedious as shit, but if you are making a unique book cover, or decorating your website you can pretty much do the same thing if you have the time and patience. After spending this much time, I will be retiring ol’ Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China for a while, and letting Lord Vader do my greetings on twitter. (If you haven’t followed me on twitter, I recommend you do so to catch in all the weird shit I say all day long).

STEP 1: Lasso Vader out of the pic. You have to then use the eraser tool, and set the size to small and zoom in to erase all the extra shit you got. This will take a little time if you want it to be perfect.

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Step 2: You then use the pen tool, and zoom in again, and trace an outline around the helmet and interior of the helmet, and then the neck. The three different depths should be separate so you can put closer parts of the helmet using a different color. This takes a little time to zoom in and ensure you get rounded edges. Then, I added a red background with a slight color gradient because I’m a baller like that. Be careful to recognize light colors on the edge that should be traced in another layer.

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Step 3: This is where the detail work comes in. Using a slightly lighter color, I traced interior shadows on his helmet to give it a little depth. Each area is a new layer to add and name. (By the way, name your layers otherwise it is confusing a shit to find which one you want to tinker with later). Adjust the colors and tones to get the color you want. I kept using a color overlay with an opacity adjustment in the 60% range to get it where I wanted.

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Step 4: Keep adding layers and adjusting the colors. I came to the conclusion that to get it perfect meant doing around 200 layers, which I didn’t have time for. This was merely a beginner practice session.

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Step 5: Boom, this is the easy final step. You add the lightest colors closest to your perspective (you know, the light gleaming off of Lord Vader’s helmet) and you color that in  on the highest layers with the lightest colors you can, all using the pen tool. A key thing to remember was to get the brim correct, and then to remove the basic picture underneath. I used the spray can and a light texture to match the underneath helmet shade in the picture. The final step is text, which is easy as shit. You just type the font and change it to what you want. I simply downloaded the Star Wars font (hopefully I didn’t get a damn virus).

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NOW SEE ANOTHER PHOTOSHOP TUTORIAL

Make comments below on what you want me to try next. Ask your friends what they want to see.

 

 

What I’m Learning about Cover Design (Part 3)

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This was another attempt at a book cover. You might not believe it, or you might think it is utter crap. Who knows. What I do know is that it is better than a lot of stuff I see out there. It took maybe an hour to do, but I did learn a few more tricks, which was well worth the time. There is no better way to do things than to simply teach yourself. For indie publishing, I don’t know why authors are afraid of taking up the mantle themselves and take control of the entire process.

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Step 1: I grabbed a free pic online of a castle to use as the foreground. I had no idea what I was making, but figured it would be cool to use it. What I did know was that I couldn’t use the full image as it would block everything, so I shorted the height using the scale tool and shrunk it to half its height.

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Step 2:I found a cool picture of a castle/monastery of some sort. I thought this would look cool high above a city or fortress. So I copied it (another free pic).

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Step 3: I looked for a random landscape with a rocky formation on the crest of a hill. There was someone paragliding in the sky, which was going to be a problem. I adjusted the colors a few times using the layer options. At this point I was just seeing if I could do dark green.

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Step 5: If I was using a castle, a blue sky would not do. I needed something more epic, so I figured a sun would be cool, maybe I could shine it behind the castle.

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Step 6: So this is where I began incorporating the elements. I added the landscape using the lasso tool, and using the color adjustment to make it more red. This solved the paraglider problem and added a cool sun.

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Step 7: This step was more complicated than most. It is very hard to tell all the details, but I had to lasso that damn castle/monastery and then use the eraser brush to clean up the edges. This took like 10 damn minutes. Then I added it and it looked retarded as shit, so I had to adjust the colors and tone to make it more red to match the light and ground. In a step after this, I used the blur tool to make the castle and ground edges blend in.

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Step 8: Here I added the foreground castle,, to which I think was a shitty job at this point. If I was going to actually making this a book cover, I would spend an hour making sure it was copied correctly and the light was done right. Instead, it is out of place I think. It should be darker and I should have swiped in between the turrets.

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Step 9: I simply added some text (I made up a title) and added my name. I chose a font that I think looked more regal, then I added a slight 3D tint to everything. Overall, it was pretty darn easy considering I only learned photoshop this past week.

SEE ANOTHER BOOK COVER TUTORIAL

 

What I’m learning about Cover Design (Part 2)

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On day two of photoshop, it was time to take my self taught skills to the test. My favorite show of all time is LOST (First Five Seasons) and figured I could recreate this in a relevant way.

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Step 1: I needed to find a sky. I scoured the internet for 10 seconds and came up with this one. I imported it into photoshop and boom, I was ready to roll.

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Step 2: I don’t know what I’m doing. I needed to find something rocky with a slight glow, so this would do. I imported this too.

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Step 3: I overlaid these two things and then added a reverse image of the rocks and … um, well, I don’t know, it worked. I guess it was time to lasso some rocks.

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Step 4: Presto, chango, here it is. I added some simple text for Lost and used some brushes to kind of add the texture. The Lost text also has an opacity that is around 70%. A light filter was added to make it a little darker.

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Step 5: Witness creative genius. Yeah, I know, you are all thought how would I get all he actors in the shot. Well, I figured I would test the concept and use some Lost politicians. Don’t worry, in order for art to imitate life, I had them all keep their distance.

If I can easily manipulate stuff, so can you for book covers. There is no need to pay people to make it when you can simply spend a few hours and make something that will please you and resonate with your readers.

Total time to make this: Around an hour. The pain is having to use the eraser tool to zoom in and edit what the lasso tool couldn’t do.

SEE OTHER ANOTHER PHOTOSHOP TUTORIAL

What I’m Learning about Cover Design

 

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Two months ago, I had nothing but a couple completed manuscripts. I didn’t know much about querying because up until January, I only focused on writing.

Then I found out about “platforms,” which I had none.

Then I found out about social media, which I had none.

Oops.

Then I researched self publishing, which I knew very little about. I set out to teach myself anything I didn’t know about this new world through other blogs, podcasts, youtube videos, and conversations with other indie writers. I’ve learned a ton, which I’ll share in future blogs, but this one is squarely focused on cover design.

Since joining twitter, and filtering through the non-stop marketing spam and fake followers, I have watched the ways indie authors have marketed their books. I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night so I can firmly tell you that 75% of the book covers I see on indie books are total crap. It is almost like they didn’t care it was the first impression. Coming into this, my photoshop skills were zilch. I had never used photoshop before in my life (I was a MS Paint guy). With the Midnight Traveler Crowd Sourcing Project I learned to do four simple functions: filtering out color, cropping, adding text, and adjusting text color.

Last night, off a whim when I checked out Chuck Wendig’s recent post on writing tips for new authors, I saw his book cover and told myself, “Hey, now that is a pretty catchy book cover. The font is bright. The blurbs are there. I clearly can see his name is the biggest thing on the book cover. Can I do something like this?”

It took me honestly 90 minutes to click around photoshop to find everything I needed. It works through a concept of layering where take an image and make edits, then slowly add layers on top like a cake. I have zero art skill, but understand this concept.

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Step 1: I used a lasso tool and cropped out a couple raven images from real pictures and then pasted it to a new background.  I then copied it to make two, then rotated and stretched both to look slightly different. This was about 30 minutes of tinkering the first time. When you learn it it should take you 15 seconds to do.

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Step 2: I simply added text. I think anyone can do that. I scrolled through the fonts to find something close, then moved it around and adjusted it to match ok. It took 20 minutes to figure what the hell I was doing in font selection since photoshop offers a ton. Now it would take me 5 minutes to choose a font because no matter what, you are tinkering it to match an original image.

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Step 3: This was the pain in the ass. You have to add a bunch of new layers to match the original picture. This means a bunch of testing of fonts, colors, and rotating some of the images (like “Chuck”) to match. Since my bird wasn’t exactly a match, I made it as close as I could.

Step 4: If you were extra ambitious, there are tools to do little paint brush strokes to try and match the bird in the original. This was only a couple hours of me attempting photoshop, so I kept the black raven look. The practice sessions of me “painting” were pretty poor and might have undid this whole “you can do it too” blog post.

Overall, you can see at the two comparisons. I think mine looked pretty damn good for a simple effort. It was a couple hours of teaching myself what buttons to press, but now, I can recreate most of this in 15 minutes.

I will continue to press more buttons and learn more skills in photoshop. Given some practice, all of you should be able to successfully make a simple eye catching design that will pull your readers in.

SEE MY NEXT LESSON IN PHOTOSHOP 

OR, LEARN ABOUT THE FIVERR BOOK MARKETING SCAM

 

1000 Word Book Review: Raven Song by I.A.Ashcroft

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Review of the first 1000 words of “Raven Song” by I.A. Ashcroft

I asked the author to send his first 1000 words, and he literally sent me 995 words exactly. Usually I review the first 1000 words via Amazon and the preview system, so this was different.  (Note: Sometimes I will read a few thousand words to get a better sense of the story for a better review, and sometimes I don’t pay attention and go much farther an in depth)

The story opens with a prologue. It was about a half-naked boy shivering on a sidewalk. Overall, it was hard to really associate what was going on outside this basic image along with a man in a suit and a raven. It was mysterious, but I wasn’t quite sure if it sold me to buy the book.

But then I read about the Barrier, which was a shield that covered a ruined New York. Awesome. This is pretty much all you have to say to get me to turn the page, so good on the author.

The story then jumps 18 years in the future. Wow. What a jump. Part of me didn’t really know what was going on. Then he gave a time reference: July 21, 2147. Awesome. For what remains of the 1000 word book submission, there is much talk on dreams and ravens and insomnia of the main character, Jackson. Then it ended at the 995th word.

Pros and Cons.

Pros: I like the city shield and the time reference. It is more than enough to get me interested in the story. Shows some imagination, though it reminds me of the Simpsons, Stephen King (referenced by author below), and Highlander 2.

Cons: I am not exactly sure what the genre is from the first 1000 words. Is it a paranormal dystopia? Science Fiction? Mystical parable? Hard to tell from the intro. Also, I only really know one character at one point. With no dialogue, this makes it a little harder to get into the action. Lastly, the main character opens chapter one by waking up from a dream sequence. People are split on the “waking up in bed” opening, but the author doesn’t use it as a trope to undo a prior scene, so people might not mind. I didn’t, but then again, I wanted to hear more about the city shield.

Does the first 1000 words show it as edited?

Yes. Grammar was good. There were some odd things, like in the 2nd paragraph he used the word “eyes” in three sequential sentences (Raven Song Fact: eyes are mentioned 9 times in first 995 words). He also starts 3 out of 4 paragraphs in a row with “Jackson” in Chapter 1. Some authors try to mix it up a little.

Also the story has a third point limited narrator that trails off after “once upon a time.” A bit of an odd place to do that. When I write, I usually only trail off with dialogue or first person narration. 

Do I care about the characters after the first 1000 words?

No. For me, I cared more about couple of the scene details more. Jackson’s mysterious prologue and dream reaction didn’t really get me to care about him yet. It would probably take me to see him interact with someone first.

Do I like the world building?

Yes, for what was mentioned. I liked the shield over New York. (Any dystopia of New York, I am a fan of, probably going back to my days watching Escape from New York)

Overall Assessment: Would I continue reading past the 1000 words?

Yes. I want to know more about this version of New York.

One thing I would have liked seeing:

Get rid of the prologue, and open up with Jackson doing some action or at least interact with someone. Then tell me about the backstory slowly. George R.R. Martin used a prologue, but he tells 800+ page books. He also used a dream sequence with Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones, but that is in the middle of the book to a crucial moment at the Tower of Joy.

Overall Story Beginning Rating: 4/5 Happy Go-Lucky Red Pandas

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———

Q&A with the Author: I. A. Ashcroft

 

How long did the first draft take to write?

Almost a year and a half! The idea was germinating for about three months in my head, and then I spent six months dickering around with scenes and short story snippets. Finally I realized it was a novel, and for around seven months, I put what I had through the shredder, began structuring things so the pacing didn’t drag, refining subplots, re-writing, etc. It was my full time job after my full time job ended business hours! Of course after that was done, it needed a few months of editorial revisions, but at the point I was having so much fun finishing my first novel, it didn’t seem like such a long time.

Did you change the ending in the middle of writing?

Yes. I had an ending planned at first that felt a little sitcom-esque… all of the characters made it out relatively unscarred, and then they were chipper and ready for their next adventure in book two. It was awful. Sounded quite… false. The new ending, I felt, came organically out of all of the difficulties the characters face in this story, and though there is joy and hope, it’s the regrets, unfulfilled desires, and unanswered mysteries that I think will set the stage for a truly intriguing second book.

Did you submit traditionally?

I did not. I considered it carefully, and I’d love to submit traditionally some day, but I discovered that I really enjoy the world of indie authors and publishing. So, I never did send my manuscript to anyone but readers and editors. It gives me a lot of happiness to put my efforts into getting this out there right now, connecting with my audience today, rather than waiting for an agent, a publishing house, a release date, etc. So, for the Inoki’s Game series, it will all be independent! But after that, I am considering going down the traditional avenue for a couple of other book ideas – I’d love to reach even more readers.

Where do you want to go with the series?

Book Two: Eclipse of the Sun will be done with its first draft by end of May, and it’s going to set the stage for a complete upheaval of the world where Jackson and Anna live. There’s a lot of secrets and string-pullers that will be revealed. I have plans right now for four books, though a fifth is possible (I find I go crazy if I outline too far ahead. But, the ideas are seeded). I also found a fantastic audiobook narrator, Mikael Naramore, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear his reading of this series.

Favorite author who has influenced your writing?

Stephen King’s ideas shaped my style a great deal (I was reading The Dark Tower and On Writing while crafting this story, though I don’t 100% agree with every notion he sets forth). His efficiency of narrative though, when it’s at its best, is something powerful. Neil Gaiman’s weird, dark, and humorous descents into myth and folklore deeply shaped the way I try to approach a story, too. And finally, I don’t think I can leave J. K. Rowling off my list – she left with me a fascination with magic and those that use it, and a readability I find I just slip right into, even years later.

You can follow I.A.Ashcroft on twitter @ia_ashcroft