The Life of a Hookah …
“Nothing in life is free, baby! Everything’s got a price. You may not see it right away, but if you dig deep enough or wait long enough, you’ll find out you still have to pay the piper.” – Mi Tia
Face it, we’re all hookers of some sort. Whether we hawk our time out to an employer, hawk our wares (books, music, art … what have you) to the masses, or that housewife who does her damnedest to keep the house in order, put food on the table, get the kids here and there – giving the hubster a little pickle tickle that will hopefully keep you both sexually satisfied and maybe, just maybe, he’ll get you a little sparkling bauble for your anniversary to let you know how much he appreciates you.
Yeah, babydoll, you still a hookah.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Hell, I’m in the same boat, so it isn’t like I’m trying to be all elevated and shit about this. We all hookah’s, bitch!
One way or another, that is.
So why am I going on with the whole prostitute thing? Well, when I have the need to promote what I do, it feels a little like standing on the corner watching the John’s roll by:
“Date? Wanna date? Dating …”
That’s what it feels like. I know I said on many occasions that I write for the sake of writing – that releasing it and promoting it isn’t my thing. It still isn’t. So why do it? Especially if it makes me feel all hooker-ish? Well, oddly enough, for the same reasons that I write – I just like the creation process. I release the damned things to see what will happen, but I’m not tied to it’s success. Actually, if it flops I find that more fascinating. Lessons learned and all of that rot, ya know?
So over the Christmas holiday I spent a fair amount of time working on a book trailer. Mostly to flex my video and special effects editing muscles (yeah, I got those … my daughter went to film school at SFSU … who do you think assisted in production of her school work?). Between Seven Styles on YouTube and Andrew Cramer’s brilliant VideoCoPilot.net site, I am fairly well stocked with the special effects and editing arsenal that I need to do some serious book trailer damage.
MY ANGELS OF MERCY BOOK TRAILER:
So when I decided to give my series a go with a book trailer (… btw, are they still a thing?) I wanted something different. So I dug around until I found an effect that looked promising. For those not in the know, Seven Styles produces some of the best damned photoshop actions (think of them as self running applets within photoshop that can speed along your creative process) in the business. It also doesn’t hurt that you get to hear his lovely Aussie accent in his training videos on his YouTube channel.
So why divulge this little gem to you all? Because the whole process is adjustable anywhere along the creation spectrum that what you would produce with it wouldn’t be the same as what I produced with it – even if we were using the exact same base images. The whole process is completely customizable. But there is a rather large caveat – while it’s easy to work with the elements that make up this particular effect – you do have to have Adobe Creative Suite (which includes Photoshop and AfterEffects) as well as a working knowledge of both programs. So it’s not for the novice to try and kick it out. The concepts in AfterEffects alone might make you run for the hills. I happen to have several semesters of AfterEffects training so I’m fairly comfortable with it all.
Next up … Andrew Cramer’s Video Co-Pilot offerings:
For those who don’t know who this guy is I’ll lay dollars to donuts you actually do. You just might not know his name, but you are very aware of his work in the industry – have you seen either of these?
Or this one?
Yeah, he’s that guy. Andrew Cramer is not only infinitely talented in the SFX arena, he’s also extremely generous with what he knows. His tutorials on his website are both entertaining and informative. Here’s a video I made using one of his tutorials – it’s from a AfterEffects class I took in college. I shot the video on my hi-8 camcorder – I wanted a rough look to it. The wind wasn’t generated by me – that was just my dumb luck that I caught it on tape. I just timed that when the column of energy spirals upward it was in sync with the wind gust I recorded on the video.
So, what do you think?
Not too shabby, eh?
But a hookah’s gotta have his tricks in his back pocket if he’s gonna be somebody, right? So, uh, yeah, I nearly bought the whole damned farm from Andrew’s site. Same with Seven Styles, too. So I’m bringing game. Been thinking I’ve enjoyed making my trailer so much I might want to start making these for other authors out there. Who knows what I can come up with? Taking me away from writing is a concern, but hey, nothing ventured and all that rot, right?
So any John’s out there wanna rent a hookah? This bitch is up for grabs …
Until next time …
Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)
PLEASE NOTE: This post assumes you have a general knowledge (or wish to gain said knowledge) of how Adobe Photoshop functions and makes no attempt to walk you through that process. There are numerous online tutorials (both written/blog versions as well as video examples) that can easily instruct on the basics of Photoshop.
Okay, this one I have to start out by saying I owe a certain photographer out there a book cover tutorial. He already knows the final product. I’ve shown him that much. But what I’ve struggled with is how to document my creative choices AND not permit anyone to steal his photography artwork in the process (he was kind enough to loan me one for the tutorial I proposed to him). So, here’s the lowdown on that little scenario:
I can’t sort out how to make the image non-downloadable. The issue is I know code to make it do that but the upkeep would be a nightmare because the tech keeps changing and thus at some point it would break and his image would be out there for free! I can’t risk that. So Paul, I did come up with a method of protecting your work BUT I also have never attempted to do what I am going to do so bear with me while I work out the kinks. It’s going to be my first screen cap narrated video! All these years involved in tech and filmmaking and I’ve never done one – I find that truly shocking. But there’s no way to lift a clean copy of the image from that and I won’t worry that tech has progressed enough to crack and allow stealing of Paul’s original image. In the interim – I do hope if you are ever in need of a licensed photo for your book cover, seek out Paul Henry Serres Photography … he’s an amazing artist/photographer and such a lovely man to interact with!
Basically I go from this:
So the video broadcast of using one of Paul’s images for a faux book cover as a tutorial will be coming soon.
Onward to this post in the meantime!
So for Angels of Mercy – Phoenix in the Fire, I needed to come up with the print edition. If you recall, I struggled even to come up with the front cover to begin with. I knew I was going to break from the football theme that had been consistent with the Angels proper series (Phoenix is a companion book and not part of the main series works). If you haven’t seen the evolution of that ebook cover you can find it here.
So the print editions always make me a bit queasy from a design aspect. I mean, I goof around enough with the front cover to get something that looks right. Now to spread that across a full print cover – uh, in a word – YIKES!
But tackle it I must.
So the first stab at it had me thinking since this book was not a proper Angels series book, more of a companion novel, that I could finally depart from the football theme I had going in the Angels proper part of their world. Also, since this book was narrated by Elliot I thought I should sort of mirror what I did for the Angels V1 book – use some artwork that I would create for Elliot and put it on the back cover.
So, with that in mind I toyed around and around until I came up with this little ditty:
While the idea of using another piece of Elliot’s artwork as a way of tying it back to the first book he narrated, the violence he had to claw his way back from didn’t come across in this version. Even with the fire and blood splatters, it just wasn’t where I needed to go with it. People liked it well enough, even I did, to a point. But it seemed I was settling in drafting it. I could do better to represent the story plot line.
So I let it percolate a bit, stewing in its own unsettled sauce, as it were. Then I became inspired – why not go with Elliot being shown as rising (sort of the next step from the front cover of the book – only this time more fully formed and capable – it is what happens in the work) from his adversity? So I decided to start combing the stock photos out there, searching for a teen-ish looking boy that I could put up for Elliot (who also had to fit the way I’d always envisioned him). My budget for this cover wasn’t substantial, so I had to stick to stock photo sites I already had subscriptions to … which can be limiting at times. This time though, it paid off.
Here is the original image I started with (I purchased the license for the actual work – just showing the comp for the purposes of this post).
Two things were against me in starting with this – 1) the background setting and 2) the lighting. Both of which could be addressed but it was a consideration going in.
I also needed angel’s wings … to keep with the phoenix/angel motif I had from the front cover.
And believe it or not, there is actually a background in the final product – though, what I did to the whole piece did sort of obscure most of it. Ah well, the price of art, I suppose.
With my pieces in hand I began to work. The first thing I started off was the composition of elements to see if what I wanted to do would work. After I hastily placed items I twitter messaged my go to for all things Angels and asked him what he thought. He gave me the thumbs up on my little mock up:
It was a start. But I needed to start mucking around a bit to get it closer to both the theme of rising from your own ashes to something greater AND keep to the color spectrum of the original ebook cover.
First up – I needed some action! Photoshop actions, to be precise.
Of course, this begs the obvious that you have to have Photoshop to begin with to attempt to do what I show here in this post. So for those that don’t – might I suggest that if you are a self-pubber wanting to save a bit of cash over time (won’t be an immediate savings) that you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud (TODAY) and start to dive in and sort it. It’s not all that hard to do. Yes, it will take you away from writing, but if you want to be in control of your creative destiny by self-publishing, then this too, is part of your craft/business. If you can gain these skills and add them to your talent coffers, just think of the money you’ll save on designs for swag, promotional banners/ads/bookmarks and the like? Design once, distribute multiple times (be sure to understand your licensing of the graphics before you do … a very important point I can’t stress enough). You don’t have to have a big time eye for art … look at what attracts you and mimic it for a bit (not using it for commercial purposes, but more to hone your creative eye for placement, typography, and marketing). Learn from those that seem to work and gain your interest – start to cultivate a discerning eye on why it works for you. Then go and make the attempt yourself. Use comp images for that – the intent is not to publish but to perfect your design capabilities. With the subscription price of Creative Cloud at various levels, there is a path to get Photoshop on your desktop fairly easily.
So, enough of my – hone your craft – speech, back to the book cover:
With my photoshop actions tucked into my design arsenal I began to work on the individual parts to bring the whole book cover together.
First up I had to address the male model and the background I didn’t need. Easy enough – using the quick select and magic wand tools I quickly selected him and cut and pasted to a new layer in a new doc (or you can place him in a new doc on a new layer – your choice). After putting him on his own layer I went back to the background layer and filled it with a solid color. To properly begin to compile you need to isolate all of your separate images to solo pieces that you can begin to manipulate into your composite artwork. One word about cutting the model out of a background – sometimes precision is required so that every stray (unwanted) pixel needs to be cleaned up before you can proceed to compositing your final image. In my case I knew I was going to throw a helluva lot of graphical elements and adjustments to it do precision on cropping him out of the original background wasn’t so essential. The actions I’d be applying would more than likely obliterate any odd pixel hanging out there that I didn’t have to be so precise this time around.
In this revision, I also had to find a way to use the Mercy High Avenging Angels football logo that I wanted to tie this book with the main series (the team logo appears there). Since I discarded the previous artwork from my first draft I decided to repurpose it as a piece of clothing. The male model luckily had a very neutral hoodie on that had absolutely no graphic or artwork of any kind – BINGO! I’m in.
So how do you do that?
DISPLACEMENT MAPS (learn all you can about them – brilliant little nugget that will allow you to modify standard fair stock art into something a bit more unique)!
For a decent tutorial on them I would start here (though googling “Photoshop Tutorial Displacement Maps” brings up a ton of tutorials out there to guide you along. Long story – short, I got the logo placed on my guy and it bent and folded along the warps of the hoodie with no problem. I was quite pleased with the results. To compare look at the image above this section and then scroll back down to note the addition of the football team logo on the hoodie with the lower image.
This was the end result (obviously sans the “SAMPLE” stamp across it):
The wings and desolate background with the cloudy sunset were fine as they were – the only thing I needed to address was to separate the two wings into two separate images that I could manipulate on the final composite image.
Next up – The wings … I wanted them to have a specific shape (other than the form they came in).
The default layout of the wings from my first attempt (two images above) have them outstretched – the way I bought them. But I wanted them to be more in “flight” mode. Thus I needed to distort each wing to give them that sort of look. To do this you have each wing on it’s own layer and then select the wing and choose EDIT –> Transform –> Distort. Then you pull the handles surrounding the selected image to manipulate the wing into what you want it to do. You can alternatively use Skew and Perspective or Warp should Distort not completely satisfy.
Remember with Photoshop you can always roll back to a previous action via the History panel so feel free to experiment. Don’t like the adjustment you just made … simply click the history level one level (or as many as you like) to roll back to a good starting point and go at it another way.
Once the wings were in the position I wanted them in (see below) I duplicated the layers and placed them in the composite image for further manipulation:
I realized I wanted to make them a bit translucent as your eye traveled from the frame bone structure along the top of the wings to the lower extremities.
So I now compiled the separate elements so I could use the first Photoshop action by Seven Styles (footnote: they’re extremely powerful actions that will save you oodles of time, look great, are easily modifiable, and the best part – they’re super inexpensive!). In this case, I started off using the STORM action from Seven Styles. An example of how it works can be found in the following video tutorial (don’tcha just love his Aussie accent?):
After applying that action it turned out like this …
As you can see with the video each of these actions can be altered and modified to suit your needs. With the above action the color scheme started to skew toward matching the front cover. Next up I needed to add the fire and brimstone look to it so I could match the front cover’s fiery theme – the big difference? I wanted the back cover to be more hopeful. The front cover has Elliot soaring out of the fiery hellish hole his boyfriend’s teammates put him in. It’s ragged and meant to be representational of his slog to get out of that hell.
So with the Fire action (see the video below if you want to know more), I finally started to see things come closer to what I wanted – a more hopeful vision but still with the grit and determination to find his way back to the love of his life.
After running that action my photo now looked like this:
I played around with the various layers and adjustment layers to set the right tone I was looking for, getting it as close to the color and tone of the front cover, and then added the blurb to match the author byline on the cover. And, voila! The work is complete.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have concerning this by emailing me at email@example.com or by leaving them in the comments below.
Until next time …
Announcing – The Cove Chronicles
So I’ve not posted anywhere lately. Seems to be a theme with not only me but several authors out there. I don’t think it’s intentional, but when you write it takes a lot out of you. I’ve just published two works that were but a few months apart. So, sorta busy on my end doing other stuff that authors do. Get the work out, and then start to promo it.
I am terrible with promo. I just hate being that guy who keeps screeching “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” to the masses when most of those masses tend to be other authors. Like singing solos to the choir … I suppose. Well, that’s the way it feels.
BUT, there’s been other stuff in the works, too.
I’ve had this little gem of a story brewing for some time. In fact, I was working on it when Angels descended and took over my life. I can say now, as an author, NEVER utter those words that will doom you to the ninth level of writing hell:
Oh, this one will be easy. I’ll bang it out in a month or so.
Yeah, that soooooo doesn’t happen.
But moving on … With two works out on my Angels of Mercy series I think I am taking a small breather to get back to what I was writing before. It is a Sci-Fi novel (or as my husband calls them – Sifee (he hates the short term Sci-Fi and constantly makes fun of the SyFy channel – don’t get him going on that one, I’m just sayin’). But it’s a Sci-Fi/Sifee novel with Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Indians (ya know, my peeps) at it’s core. Gonna represent with this one.
It’s no small secret that my last post started a small fire storm in a Queer Sci-Fi Facebook group when I called JK Rowling out on cultural appropriation. She was guilty (IMHO) of such because she white-washed the Navajo culture in favor of her own books. My stories are based on Haudenosaunee culture (Mohawks, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca (moving from the eastern door to the west)). Yet, I am doing it with a solid eye to being respectful, even if I am turning some of our core myths on end to tell my tale. First off, it’s set in an alternate universe, very much like our own but there are some events that did not happen here that have occurred there that subtly change the course of my people and I think it’s fairly epic. Can’t wait to get this one rolling.
I am calling it The Cove Chronicles.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you a piece of the prologue – told by a Clan Mother who is present for the birthing of twins who will change everything for the course of mankind on the planet. It’s an ominous birth, one that brings as much hope as it does doom. It’s a work in progress (WIP), so some of what I post here and in The Works section of my site are subject to change as I work on it and move through the editing process. But this is where it is now.
Mohawks, Sci-Fi (masquerading as magic), and the epic battle of twin brothers – Good (Spruce and his Haudenosaunee Guardians) and Evil (Flint and his Flintlings) and how a world very like our own hangs in the balance. The narrator of this prologue is not from the central protagonists of my story. Indeed, she is a character from their distant past. But she is important because she is the first to truly see what is going on around their people and is present when everything changes.
A note about the prose: The vernacular is leaning to the prose of the 1820s but with a keen eye to Audrey not coming to English as her first language (which is Mohawk). So there was a slight shift I am employing where Mohawk conceptual speech is trying to fit the English mode. It isn’t supposed to be an easy fit.
So without further ado, as they say, I give you Audrey Brandt, a Clan Mother to the Mohawk people as she tells you Where It All Began … Again:
Wherein we meet Clan Mother Audrey Brant who recounts the ominous birth of William and Rebecca Hallett
Where It All Began … Again
Hallett’s Cove, New York
September 3, 1821 – 3:12 PM
The problem is, you see, I have seen things. I have always seen things that others do not. I assume it had been this way from the tender age of seven when I happened upon a peculiar metallic ball while roaming the forests outside of my village. It was very like those they shoot out of a cannon, I remember thinking at the time. I did not go looking for it. I found it just laying there, tucked in amongst the brush, waiting to be discovered.
At first glance it appeared as an ordinary cannonball, save that this ball possessed the smoothest, shiniest, silver I had ever seen. Beyond that, it did not appear as if anything remarkable separated it from any other sphere. It had no markings or etchings to make clear its intent. It seemed as any other.
That is, until I dared to get closer. Oddly enough, I could not deny that it begged me to draw near.
Though apparently solid, it did have moments when something inside seemed to ripple across its smooth surface. When it did, I peered into it, and it began to assume a life of its own – as if my presence woke it from a deep slumber. As I watched it, it seemed to undulate and glow with amber and green light that would ripple across its surface as if something just under its shimmering silvery coat beckoned to be noticed.
That light, hypnotic and wild, would occasionally bubble up from within. I felt a wary smile move across my lips. I found myself quite beyond being intrigued. I felt drawn to it. This here, whatever its truer nature, could not be confused with anything mundane. Rather, it appeared … magical.
Its allure beckoned me. Try as I might to resist its call, I found I could not help myself – so I touched it.
The shock I received from that simple touch threw me back on my hindquarters several feet away with the back of my head colliding with a small log. No small doubt the pain most assuredly expressed itself plain upon my face when I landed. I tried to rouse myself, but found it very hard to do. I’d nearly been knocked unconscious. Without much in the way of warning the orb hummed, I gave in to its call and everything went black.
When I came to, bearing a slight headache, I remember feeling quite disoriented; though as soon as I gathered my wits about me, I noticed the ball had gone. I gruffly pulled myself up, putting my hands to my hips, realizing how rude to have some passing stranger abscond with the silvery ball and not bothering to assist a girl in need. Who would have taken it and not bothered to lend me hand? That troubled me greatly as I slowly started to make my way home.
Hearing my mother’s clucking tongue in my head, only because I knew she would berate me for my shaken appearance, I did my best to dust myself off. Only I as I did so I discovered, to my shock while ambling over the countryside, I was not alone. I could not see who it was at first. All I heard was the fluttering of air, like hundreds of birds taking flight, moving about me with alarming speed.
My eyes tried to follow the wisp of shadow as it weaved in between the tall pines. At times it appeared high above me, and at others it seemed to move level to my own position, as if trying to discern its best line of attack. A quite unnerving experience, to say the least. ’Twas no ordinary movement, only one thing could move like that that I had heard of: dark forest spirits.
In truth, I did not know if the apparition could be called as such, but one thing made itself plain – whatever this creature, its motives and movements proclaimed its dangerous nature to me. My only thought: get back home, Audrey … and fast.
As I scrambled over rocks and ravines – doing my seven year old best to reach the village – I saw her. Not a horrifyingly dark frightening forest creature as I had expected, but a breathtaking beautiful woman drifting among the trees, ambling over rock and brush with a snake-like grace.
Though her beauty was undeniable, she bore nothing shy of a malevolent wickedness about her. She was cold. Cold and mirthless. She floated through the forest with an agility that belied naturalness. No tripping over stones or wobbling about like I did. Witchery of some kind to be sure. I had heard of such things. Witches.
It was possible.
When I dared, I allowed my gaze to flit in the darkly woman’s direction. Each time I did, my skin would prickle – as the witch seemed shrouded in a billowing pitch-colored dress that undulated at the ends in wisps of smoke like her presence was burning the space around her. What skin did show glowed ghostly blue-white, even in the light of an overcast day. And her lips, the darkest blood red I’d ever beheld. Her eyes were black as pitch with no whites to them. A most alarming visage.
If I allowed my gaze to linger a second longer I saw that the woman would flicker and shimmer as if not wholly of this world – a tortured spirit caught between this life and the next.
I wish that spoke the worst of it. It did not. For then she bade me, in Mohawk no less, to come closer. It rattled me to the core of my being, I can tell you that. Yet I knew she was not Mohawk no matter how hard she attempted to assume the like. Her soft tones caressed my ears with a beckoning lilt to it, teasing me, as if we were but long lost friends.
The longer we made our way to my village her pursuit enraged me, with her purring giggles and a haunting laugh, as if trying to share a special secret with me that no one else could know. I would remember later that her laugh contained absolutely no humor. Just thinking upon it now, it makes my blood run cold.
But I pressed forward, pausing a couple of times – probably not the smartest thing I had ever done. I was young, and therefore, prone to stupidity and curiosity that my mother said would one day be the end of me. But I knew I should get a better view of the witch – if anything than to inform others. Though, why I felt that it fell to me to do so only confirmed my not understanding things fully – I was very much out of my league. Not surprisingly, each time I tried to get a better look, the witch would alter her parallel course and began to pursue me in earnest, giggling all the while. That damnable giggle. A powerful taunting wrapped up with its maddeningly hypnotic pull upon me. Nothing terrified me more than the idea of something so beautiful and alluring could embody absolute danger and terror. The bait and switch chasing had me in a perilous dance, and one I deeply wished would come to its conclusion.
Several times I swore I could just feel her at the nape of my neck, like the cold rasping hand of death reaching out and barely scraping against the skin. But in those terrifying moments, I did not dare take the time to look, for I knew that would cost my life.
By the time I reached the village, back to the safety of my people, I finally had the courage to turn about and look back, only to find the witch had vanished completely.
I stood there for quite a while, eyeing the forest for her presence but found none.
I always bear witness to unnatural things, things no one else would wish to witness. It has always been a part of my life – a constant, odd and sometimes mortifying companion. Now at the respectable age of seventy-three, I ought to have grown used to it, accustomed to the stares, the small talk behind my back when others do not think I can hear or see them as much as the oddity of seeing such things in the first place.
But the gossipers are mostly the new Americans.
My people, the Haudenosaunee, have other ways of coping with me, though coping may be too strong a word. Even at my age, I am still learning to master the English tongue. I came to it late in life and I must admit that its manner of construction is most strange. Mohawk has a strong visualization to it. The words and phrases are conceptual in nature and structure. I found English a much harder means of communication. Whenever flustered, English made it more difficult to express. I am old now. I supposed it would always be this way until my last breath upon this Earth.
Thunder rumbled outside as my thoughts wandered over that terrifying event so long ago. And while that story had a great deal to do with the events of tonight, it was not the whole story. No, that story had no real conclusion; the conclusion I sought those many years ago would happen tonight. I felt it in my bones. Coldness had taken root and eked into every part of my body. I just could not get warm enough despite the stifling heat of the room.
The violence of the stormy night bellowed about us. A hurricane had engulfed Manhattan and was raging outside. The birthing of babies should present itself as a joyous occasion, a celebration. But this afternoon played itself out to be something altogether different.
As a Clan Mother of my people, the Mohawks of Akwesasne, I have often been present at the birthing of babies. It is the way of things and has been this way for far longer than the people can remember. Birthings are the most potent power women possess – the creation of life.
For the Haudenosaunee, women govern the culture and guide them through the forests of life. It is our responsibility and our birthright to ensure Haudenosaunee longevity. The chiefs and warriors may be out front, but that is only so the women can point over their shoulders to tell them where to go. So a request for the Clan Mothers to be present at a birthing in our territories was quite common place.
To do so elsewhere – not as much.
This birthing however, was proving to be different. As one of our own had married into a prominent New York family and her son, who had also fallen in love with and married a Mohawk maiden, requested the birthing of their baby to be handled in the traditional manner; so they sent for the Clan Mother.
Not to appear out of step with the times, the Hallett patriarch had also sent for a doctor to ensure that should the Clan Mother fail in any way then the doctor would fix it. It frustrated me. I could not understand what he meant by that. As women, as well as Clan Mothers who not only birthed their own, but assisted in countless other births within the nation, we knew what needed to be done and yet this young man who takes money for what comes naturally to us stood by to fix it should it go wrong.
As the English are fond of saying, Poppycock.
Contented that two of our own had married into the prestige of being a Hallett of New York, they did the sensible thing to ensure the birth of their baby was going to be in the traditional way. It was a great comfort to me that even within the halls of New York high society the Mohawks were finally making headway in educating the Americans on civilized customs and behaviors.
Rose, the daughter-in-law and my second grand-niece, began to call out in pain. Her baby was close. Sweat beaded across her brow, and her breaths came out in a rasp. I instructed the burning of Seneca grass and sage to calm her. The bedroom was thick with it.
Rose sipped from willow and white pine tea that was common during the birthing, wincing whether from the taste or the heat, I was unsure. It helped for the most part but her pains were strong. They raged as powerful as the storm outside. Indeed, the very walls of the great Hallett familial home seemed to rattle along with Rose’s birthing pangs, the two of them caught in a horrifying rhythmic dance. When the storm relented, Rose cried out in agony; when she settled, the storm outside raged and rattled the house again. It did everything to shake our nerves.
The other mid-wives, some Clan Mothers from other clans, tended to Rose as best they could – wiping her brow and gripping her hands to guide her through the waves of it. I was sure from Rose’s perspective she was going through the worst pain imaginable, but having seen many of these, I thought it a relatively easy birth.
Thunder rattled the skies above. All eyes cast their gaze momentarily to the ceiling of the room, eyeing the creaking and buckling noises warily. The Sky People, it appeared, had their own agenda tonight.
“She’s calling for John, Elizabeth, and her own mother. I think she would even call for the Christian God himself if she bought into all of that and thought it would help,” Kathryn said as she approached.
My eyes glanced over at Rose who was seated in the wooden birthing chair so it would be easy for her to produce the child when the time came. Many a child came into this world through that chair, though none of those before carried the weight of the birthing happening this night.
My gaze returned to Kathryn and I gave her a look of resignation.
“Let her call them all she wants. The baby will be around for a long time; they can see it after it’s arrived. She knows better, but that is the pain talking.”
Elizabeth Hallett, the expectant grandmother, swept into the room in a simple dark but smartly tailored no-nonsense dress. The rustle of her voluminous skirts turned heads in the room as she made her way to me.
Her confidence seemed to billow the aroma of Seneca sweet grass that seemed to give way with little resistance to her formidable presence. Gracefully composed, as ever the proverbial eye in any storm, she returned to us carrying another small pot of tea.
“She complained about the tea being too bitter, so I…” in unison we stated the obvious, “… added the Maple sugar.”
We all shook our heads and allowed ourselves a small smile for we had been in Rose’s position and knew we should have added the sugar in the first place. Willow-Pine tea carried a brutally bitter bite upon the tongue.
Elizabeth grasped my arm warmly. It was her way of letting me know how much she appreciated my presence. Elizabeth smiled briefly before turning to take in the rest of the women busy with caring for Rose.
“Heavens, it is warm and thick with the grass in here.”
“That is Patricia’s doing. She’s always heavy handed with the grass. She would burn the meadow bare if she had her way,” I said as I poured a small cup of the tea and handed it to Kathryn who spared no time in getting it to Rose.
Another cry rang out as a wave overtook Rose’s resolve to remain calm. As it abated, the house groaned again as wind and water pounded heavily upon the window panes. Not that any of us could spare the time to observe the storm as Elizabeth’s husband had all of the home’s windows shuttered up against it, say nothing of the birthing pulling focus. There was but one small sliver of light where the warp of two boards did not quite meet up. That sliver was our only connection to the outside world. But we did not have time for taking in the storm, as a baby pushed to make its way into this world.
I began to move in Rose’s direction, to guide her through the final stages of birth, when the room swayed before me. The walls seemed to liquefy, rippling as if they were melting in place. Only one thing I could think of would cause this: the sight was coming on again.
Not now, I thought. The child needs me.
A shrill from Rose shocked the room. In that moment a chill ran through my heart for I thought I heard a small laugh nestled within that cry. It was a mirthless laugh, a malicious teasing laugh. I staggered for a moment. I could feel the pull against my life, sapping energy from my limbs as it leeched across my body to my very core and I had no way of stopping it. Like that seven year old girl being pursued in the forest I found myself truly frightened – convinced that I was on the precipice of my own demise.
“Audrey, she needs you.” Elizabeth nodded in Rose’s direction before turning to me where she saw my pained expression and asked, “Are you … alright?”
I braced myself against Elizabeth’s offered hand and the small bedside table for support. I shook my head to try to clear it. When my eyes focused again, I was in shock at what I saw: there before me were two glowing points of light undulating within the belly of Rose, each bearing down toward their entrance into this world.
“Twins …” I felt the words sputter from my lips before I scarce realized I had said it.
“Twins? Did you say … twins?” Elizabeth asked bewilderedly as she helped me to a full stance. I nodded. The very air was sapped from my lungs; I struggled as if attempting to breathe under water. But through it all, my gaze never wavered from the sight of those two glowing lights as they made their way to the birthing.
“They are coming …” I barely managed a rasp out to the other women as I struggled to focus on getting back into the fray. The doctor came forward and placed a cone shaped tube to her belly. With a sudden burst of energy that I did not know I possessed, I knocked the boy-doctor aside.
“Out of my way, child. This is women’s work.”
Rose’s cry escalated into a piercing shrill, if that were at all possible, as she suddenly removed herself from the birthing chair and squatted as instructed. She bore down with a guttural cry as the crown of the first baby’s head made its way into this world.
The door to the bedroom suddenly opened and John, the father, obviously concerned in the change of his wife’s cry, had come to investigate. His father, James, was on his heels as they both stepped into the room.
“It’s time, James.” The doctor approached the men. “The Clan Mother thinks it is twins.”
“Twins?” John murmured, as if the thought had never occurred to him that his family would be off to such a grand start. James clasped a firm hand upon his son’s shoulder and the men beamed at each other before embracing briefly.
“No time for celebrations just now. They have yet to be born,” Elizabeth called to both of them. The men nodded and eased back to the edge of the room in an attempt to stay out of the way.
“Quiet now; here comes the first!” I called out as my hands cradled the head of the first child as it pressed its way into the room. Thunder roared overhead. The wind howled surrounding the arrival of the first child, announcing to the world that the birth of these babies carried an ominous tone.
The great house shuddered and groaned. Thunder pounded upon the roofline. I looked at the boy I held in my hands as I received him into the world and began to wrap him up into a swaddling cloth. The other women moved in to tend to the afterbirth as I guided the young boy to the birthing cradle. My eyes tried in vain to focus upon him but he kept shifting and vibrating. I thought it must be something wrong with me, that I became overwhelmed with everything. To calm myself I ran my hands into a hot bath of water to wash away the birthing when my breath caught. A bone-chilling moment overcame me, leeching it out of my body and turning the water to an ice slurry in a matter of seconds. A puff a humid air billowed from my lips. The temperature of the room seemed to drop about 20 degrees within a matter of seconds.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the men in the room, seemingly unaware of the change in their surroundings, faces alight with delight of the birth of a healthy son. As I slowly turned, I became rattled by the way the room was beginning to lose its form. Walls rippled and undulated all about me, yet no one else seemed to take note of it.
A bright flash cut through the room as the shutters were forced open from their frames. In the brilliance of the lightning, the room became crowded with a collection of Haudenosaunee warriors. Unseen by everyone else, these spectral shapes dominated the available space in the room. These warriors were the likes I had never seen. Proud warriors in full battle readiness; they were silent sentinels who had but one focus in the room: the birth of these babies.
I knew at that moment that the others were watching. This was no normal birthing. A new chapter in Haudenosaunee history was being born.
Though I had never witnessed them myself, I knew what they were: the Unnaturals, preternatural beings akin to the Sky People of old, spirits who seemed to look like us but with a pallid, violet blue-white skin of the beyond. Each warrior bore different images and small patterns and pictorials tattooed upon their skin that changed and undulated across their flesh. They were creatures of immense power. As the storm continued to rage, pulsating lights seemed to burst from within their expansive bare torsos, matching the intensity of the thunder outside as if somehow the bombastic nature of the weather were tied to them.
They did not simply come with the hurricane. They were the hurricane.
I could not bear seeing them any longer and in haste I balled my fists to my clenched eyes to clear the vision. I did not know if I could make it through the birth of the second child. I feared losing my grip upon this world when I was needed most.
I kept my eyes closed to the horror of it, taking a moment to breathe deeply, begging for them to disburse … to leave us to our work. When I dared to open them, I was relieved that the warriors had all gone. But the oppressive feeling of their presence remained. They were still there, just on the other side, unseen. Their arrival served to underscore the significance of these births. These children were being watched and not necessarily by a benevolent presence, either. The Others were tricky; one never really knew the measure of their allegiance.
“Have to get back to her …” I stammered under my breath. My once sure and direct hands suddenly felt feeble and failing. I could see the light flickering within Rose’s groin, too much time passed between the birthings. She was going to lose the second child.
Rose’s head snapped up, her eyes wild with fear. “Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”
She looked at me pleadingly. She began to panic. I plucked up every ounce of energy I could muster and leapt into action.
“Look at me, Rose,” placing my hands on either side of her frightened face, trying to pull the woman from the terrified girl, attempting to catch her frenzied gaze, I tried with everything I had to soothe her rattled heart. “You will not lose this one. She’s much too important.”
Now, why I said that to her, I was not sure. I had no reason at all to assume that the second child would be female, much less the influence she would have in this world. But sometimes these things just come to you. I’d learned not to argue with it when it happened.
Rose nodded – together, she realized, we could do this.
I began to chant a song her grandmother had sung to her whenever she needed calming. As soon as I cooed the first few syllables I felt the room shudder. Some of the other mid-wives looked about the ceiling wondering if the home would hold against the storm or if, in the next moment, we all would be swept into oblivion. Without much warning the flickering light of the second child grew in earnest and pressed forward.
Her time had come.
“Now, Rose … NOW!” I called out and Rose did as I bade her. With every ounce of strength between us we brought the second child into this world. She was radiant. Her skin literally glowed in my hands. The delicate flower of a girl already had the fine wisps of dark auburn hair that was prevalent within the Hallett line. Had the brother had this trait as well? I honestly could not recall.
As I handed the girl to Kathryn and Elizabeth, I turned and saw the men as happy as they could be. I could only feel relief that I had made it through. The other women could tend to the clean-up there after.
Then, without warning, everything stopped. The sound of the storm suddenly abated. There was silence. Even the babies had calmed themselves from their birthing cries. A soft shaft of sunlight poured into the room, giving the moment a subtle glow, bathing it in tranquility. Every person seemed rooted to their spot. No one moved a muscle.
As soon as I moved the action in the room seemed to pick up again, as no one else had been trapped between time and for that single radiant moment the possibility of peace was real.
I took up the birthing chair as the other mid-wives got Rose back into bed. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, grateful that the birthing was finished and somehow everyone survived. For the next few moments I allowed myself to be wrapped up in finding a way to return to normal breathing. Just the flow of air to and from my lungs calmed me immensely and I relished these few moments to gather myself from the entire event.
“The storm seems to have let up. Heaven itself is welcoming these two brilliant children into this world,” James said brightly as he lit his pipe. How much I wished his sentiment were right, though inwardly I knew it could just as easily have been the reverse.
“Audrey, do you require anything? Something to eat or drink?” John asked as he knelt next to the chair taking my right hand into his. I could tell by his touch how deeply he felt the blessing these children brought into his life. I gently squeezed his hand to let him know I appreciated his gratitude. A wave of nausea overcame me, I became a bit light-headed.
My eyes fluttered open … and saw her.
The only creature that had ever truly frightened me. Gone, the days of forgetting her evil beauty. Gone, the intervening sixty-six years as if they had not happened at all. Within the span of but a few seconds, I was that frightened little girl again in the forest with Hell’s Witch upon my back. Only now, instead of upon my heel she faced me directly.
She was standing there behind James Hallett and to my great horror no one else seemed to notice or care. Time had not changed her radiant beauty. She was as luminescent as ever in the semi-darkened room. I lifted a hand and began to point at James. Every warning in my head began to sound, the horror of the witch’s presence pressing upon me. I was rattled, in shock. I found, to my confused dismay, I just could not get the words out to warn them all.
John looked at me quizzically and turned to his father for advice. James shrugged at my bewildered state.
WHY COULD THEY NOT SEE HER STANDING THERE?
I stammered with some spittle flying from my lips, “There, look out! Get … away … from him.”
I waved my hand about in the air as if swatting unseen flies. Everyone stopped what they were doing when they heard me. They looked quizzically to each other, not knowing how to respond to my frenzied antics.
The beautiful woman, completely shrouded in the same dark, ominous-looking tresses, her face and limbs the only thing protruding from the smoky visage, smiled wickedly as if this were the shared secret between us that no one else would ever be privy. She flickered in and out of existence. My eyes widened. Wracked with frustration, I couldn’t understand that no one else knew the danger the witch represented.
Though I had not laid eyes upon her in over sixty-six years, I knew that vile creature for what she was … she was death or something akin to it and she had come to claim a soul.
Helplessly, I watched as the witch moved around to James’ side and slipped one arm around his waist and the other she seductively ran up his chest and leaned her head against his shoulder. She pouted playfully at me, feigning an apology for what we both knew she was about to do, confident in the knowledge that no one would believe me should I even speak about what I saw.
“No, not James … not today” I muttered mournfully, knowing that the plea would fall upon deaf ears.
The seductress smiled again and plunged her hand into James’ chest. I knew what she was doing; she was squeezing the life out of his heart. A man who had loved Elizabeth so deeply that he had endured the scandal of marrying a Mohawk woman and bringing her into New York high society, of ensuring that the family was firmly rooted in both worlds. A man who had a heart big enough to love all who knew him and to be generous with that love of life and spirit. And now it was being crushed, obliterated, swept aside as if his presence was no longer required. His smile faded from his face, the pipe fell from his hand, his eyes dimmed and he was gone. He crumpled to the ground before his pipe hit the floor.
Elizabeth screamed as she and John rushed to his limp body. When I looked up at the she-witch, Death’s paramour, she had moved to a different part of the room. She hovered above the bed where the twins lay with their mother. Slowly, suspended from the dark billowing smoke that coursed about her, she lowered herself like a Black Widow moving in for the kill – a small hiss escaping from her lips. Her ravenous gaze moved slowly over each child, a cold hunger coursing through her. Then, without any indication why, she turned to look at me square in the eye with a deadly stare and a wicked smile before silently drifting up into the darkness of the ceiling and out of sight.
In the massive bed Rose sobbed as she cradled the crying babies in her arms. The room was consumed with grief from James’ untimely death. The doctor had immediately rushed to James’ side but I knew it was no use. He was gone. There was no bringing him back.
I leaned forward and pressed my face into my hands and wept with the enormity of the moment. The children’s birth would be forever marred with the ring of death. It was an inauspicious and yet a powerful revelatory moment, one that would prove to have far greater resonance in the time to come.
Until next time …
Poking and the Art of Evolution
I’m a poker. Have been most of my life – probably since childhood. It starts because something catches my interest. I’m like a crow in that way. I bumble along completely thinking of something else or another and then – WHAM! – something catches my eye. Like that crow, I stop everything and become consumed with …
“Oooh, look! It’s shiny!”
I can’t help it. It is what it is. I know this about myself so I’ve learned to adapt, to roll with it. It’s just how I, er, roll … (rolling eyes at that one).
So what’s caught my eye this time? One of my book covers for Angels of Mercy. And here’s the thing: everyone gets all goose pimply on social media (and by everyone, I mean authors, book cover artists and yes, even the readers) and they lose their shit over a cover reveal.
I’m just not getting that. Yeah, it’s cool to see what the cover looks like. I get that. But I am not one to sit in total anticipation for the big shiny (crow-like) reveal of some book. You can tell me a year before the book’s release and my reaction would be the same. I’d marvel at it and move on. It would either intrigue me to read the blurb or not.
Insert shrugging shoulders here.
But as a content creator, I think of them as two wholly exclusive things. One doesn’t negate the other’s importance. And they don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Maybe I’m not seeing it correctly.
But as a cover artist (of which I used to do promotional work for the performing arts community for many years), I have to be inspired to create, do the creating and then toss it out there and see what happens. In that, it is just like my writings – I am doing it for the art of creation. If others find it of interest, cool beans. But that’s not why I am doing it to begin with. Not even close.
I suppose it has to do with my background in live theater (musicals, operettas, operas, etc). That is probably why I think about them the way I do. They may not be interchangeable to others – exclusive of one another but oddly related – but it’s just how my brain works, so I go with it – applying art and craft and allowing it to evolve, whatever it may be.
So what am I babbling about this time?
The cover to my next release: Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (I’ll walk through it below). It’s gone through some strange permutations over the months. For starters, it’s for a book that shouldn’t exist. I never planned to write it. That was my husband’s doing. I was just about to get cracking on the final edits of Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco (as shown above), and as I was leaving for my Clark Kent day gig, my husband murmurs to me from the bed (he gets to have a sleep in as he’s retired now – but no rest for the weary me) and said:
“Why don’t you have Volume Two told by Elliot instead of Marco? I think it would make for a better point of view for the next part of the series. You are writing Marco’s backstory, so why not keep Angels proper in Elliot’s voice?”
It was a worthy comment. It stopped everything I did. I drove to work gutted that my 750+ page second volume would now be shelved. He didn’t tell me to shelve it, but the implication was: I don’t think Marco is serving the greater arc here.
So in late August (of 2015) – weeks away from it’s promoted release, I shelved Marco and completely re-wrote the work in Elliot’s POV. I got 3/4 of the way through Elliot’s take in the intervening weeks and realized WHY Marco had to tell this part of the story. So I went back to the hubster and informed him that Marco’s v2 was back on track and that we needed to get it out the door.
On November 30th, with long editing sessions over the Thanksgiving day holiday, it was finally released. The cover of which you see above. I am very happy with it. Those that have read it thus far all seem to think it’s a great addition to the Angels stable of books. I always sort of knew Marco’s book was going to be the biggest part of the Angels series. He just has the most to tell. It was always going to be that way.
So then, after it’s release, my husband said –
“Why don’t you release Elliot’s book anyway as a companion book?”
There was some merit to it. These books are perception plays. They are character studies in what is their perceived truth and how do they move through their world with that truth – only to discover that they may not have it right and have to struggle with that new information. The books serve and explore a specific purpose. That’s why they are not romance reads even though at it’s core they have a very strong romance threaded through them.
So what to do with Elliot’s POV work of the same timeline as V2? I polled my betas and they seem to like the idea that knowing what Elliot has going on in his noggin might be an interesting take in relation to what his boyfriend (Marco) might be thinking during Elliot’s recuperation from the homophobic beatdown at the hands of Marco’s football teammates.
Okay, that was big spoiler from V1 – sorry.
So here’s where the poking comes in and reason for this blog entry. I had to create a cover for it. But it’s not a proper Angels book. It’s a companion book to the second volume. So from a design perspective, I thought I could deviate from the football theme I’ve had running in the main series of the books. Thematically, they are about the effects of homophobia in competitive sports – in this case, American high school football – thus, the footballer on most of the works. But for Phoenix I needed something that was wholly Elliot (even V1 has an image of Marco on the cover though it’s told from Elliot’s POV). I had to do something different to make the companion book stand out.
So here was the first stab at it:
The title and the image comes from a passage in the book where Marco commissioned a piece of art from his boyfriend’s favorite artist to create an original work that featured Elliot in it. He said he wanted it to represent Elliot’s being a Phoenix In The Fire (apologies to Troye Sivan – as I borrowed a line from his song “Bite” for it). I wanted it to evoke a mystical element to it, playing on Angels and the Phoenix mythos. It received mixed comments. It wasn’t wholly right for what I wanted either. But it was something.
As I was writing Elliot’s Phoenix I came up with another burst of creativity and decided to try something else. How about a more painterly fairy fable look? Sidebar: the book has none of this in it so this one was doomed from the start. But I was in a poking, creative mood so off I went on this artistic tangent. It happens – part crow, remember?
And I ended up with this:
It was fun to create, but I knew it wasn’t right. I polled friends on Facebook and they were fairly clear that it didn’t work for the work at hand. I thought so too, but I had fun creating it. As a rule I never throw ANYTHING creative away.
But the next attempt was closer to where it needed to go – though it still wasn’t quite right either.
I wanted fire to be a strong element in the cover art. So I played around with a great Photoshop action to solve this dilemma. It seemed to work. My betas all said it was a better take on it. So it has lingered since mid-December in this form – until this past weekend.
When the twitch of my artistic finger became too much to ignore and I became inspired to poke at it again.
Now I think I have it. This is what I had roiling around in my head back then (admittedly, it’s a bit over the top, but it does evoke the climb out of the physical hell Elliot’s beatdown put him in). Fire is ever present this time around. Which is exactly what I want to convey. Plus, I think the cover will stand out amongst all the bare torsoed men that are plastered all over M/M books. Insert SERIOUSLY rolling eyes on that topic alone.
So here’s the final, FINAL, version of Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (to be released Mid-to-Late-February of this year):
Oooh, look … it’s shiny!
I’m good with that.
Until next time …
FIVE STAR review of ANGELS OF MERCY – VOLUME 2: MARCO.
Thanks to Paul Gay Berry from GayMediaReviews for the lovely words and the opportunity to share it with the readership out there! #Humbled #DoingTheHappyDance !!
BIG GIVEAWAY WITH THIS ONE – There’s an opportunity to win the entire series (all 6 books when completed) and a $25 Amazon GC! GO check it out!