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That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports

That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports

(Reprint from Rainbow Gold Reads Review)


 

Jocks have it hard.

They’ve got a lot to live up to as they pursue their passion in their chosen sport. This isn’t an easy thing to acknowledge on my part. I was one of those artistic queer kids that jocks loved to bag on. So why the change up in opinion?

Simple: I wrote Angels of Mercy.

 

 

When Angels presented itself (fully formed to the bitter end, mind you), I thought “Eh, I’ll bang this one out in a month.” I had the ending in my head already. I just had to write to that ending, right? Yeah, not so much it seems.

Here’s what I learned: you see, my main protagonist, Marco Sforza, is built upon my husband’s experiences playing football both at the high school level at Massillon, Ohio (the heart of high school American Football as we know it) and for Clemson U back in the day (admittedly a very different era than Marco’s present day story). So given the disparity in my husband’s and Marco’s timelines, I had to make some adjustments between my husband’s experiences and those that I was building for Marco. But what amazed me is that, at its core, very little has changed with regards to the institutionalization of homophobia within American football – be it, high school, college or pro.

We like to think “It gets better …” but in reality, has it? There are emerging stories about players in high school and college football that have appeared in OutSports where the players have come out to their teammates. In the cases that have been reported the response has been rather positive. Yet, we only have to bring up what happened to Michael Sam to understand that very little has changed with regard to players who hope to play openly and valued for their sportsmanship and not for who they love.

 

 

Angels taught me a lot. Not just about my characters and their road to happiness, but also because as I explored Marco’s having to follow that “jock script” all boys are indoctrinated to follow (bag the girl and draw some blood out on the field) Marco goes through some fairly difficult moments in his teenage life. In his desire to play ball and be one of the guys, he’s opened himself up to a major downfall that he can’t see coming – mostly because of the pressure to perform both on and off the field. That pressure is enormous. Yet, there’s a boy that has captured Marco’s attention in a way that no one, boy or girl, ever has. He finds himself on an emotional pendulum – swinging wildly from the life everyone else thinks he should have (girlfriends or friends with bennies, followed by marriage and rugrats), and the life he wants for himself wrapped up in a boy who requires darkness and shadows to survive another hellish day of high school.

It’s a ride my own husband had to play.

Simply put, hiding hurts everyone involved. No one ultimately benefits from that arrangement, despite how much comfort it may bring teammates in thinking that everything is coolthe dude is solida man’s man. Marco’s journey changed long held positions and baggage I carried from jocks that tormented me in my own past. I began to understand the pressures boys like Marco – who hide from themselves just to play the game they love to play – are under. But I didn’t want that discussion in my works to be so one-sided.

My granddaughter is queer and I spend a great deal of time with her and her friends. Queerdom is a very different monster with her crew. Just the fact that they embrace the word “queer” has changed my perspective on a word that used to torment me. So I realized that while things may not have totally changed, I also remembered the stories posted in OutSports of players who have experienced support from within their team. So while there is a clique within the team from Mercy High in my stories, I also balanced it with boys who really wouldn’t care if Marco was with a boy. I needed to show that line that things are changing. Maybe not at lightening speeds, but change is coming.

I am not kidding myself in thinking it will change in college or pro-ball in the next five, ten or fifteen years. That may be a long time in coming, but come it will.

With the release of Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections and Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes, I wanted to explore Marco’s journey. To be honest, while I started the main Angels of Mercy series from Marco’s boyfriend Elliot’s point of view, the story was really Marco’s to tell. He gets the lion’s share of the series (three books out of the six total).

I am thankful that Marco exists. He’s made me understand my husband’s past so much more. And I am far more sympathetic to athletes who take that courageous step to emerge and live a life out and proud. Their stories will always hold my interest.

I often wonder what I would say to my younger tortured teenboy self that would give my younger self context to understand what those boys go through. Don’t know if it would’ve made a difference or not, but I am glad I’ve grown enough as a writer and a queer man to give them a bit more of a pass and a modicum of understanding that many of them may not feel free enough to live openly and use oppression to express their frustration.

That’s what Angels ultimately explores. Here’s hoping that the trend toward acceptance keeps moving in a positive direction. I look forward to the day when it simply won’t matter.

Until next time …

– SAC


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When Life Gives You a Bag of Sour Lemons …

When Life Gives You a Bag of Sour Lemons …

To start with, this isn’t some sort of pity party. What this is can best be labeled is a quiet contemplation of where I am as both a (queer) man and author.

You see, life has handed me that bag of rotten, incredibly sour, lemons. Lemons that no kind of sugar (coating) can be made into anything remotely useable.

I just released not one but TWO massive books in my Angels of Mercy series. The two books took close to year and a half to germinate and blossom into what they are now.

I am incredibly proud of the work – the entire series thus far. It’s broad in scope. While it deals with an ensemble cast, it’s main protagonists are trying their damnedest to have a fucking romance in the middle of the epic shit storm I throw at them. It’s operatic in scope – I can’t help it as I come from that world. Mundane thrown into the mass hysteria of opera like tropes. To me that’s when queer fiction can be at its best.

But as I said, while the release of those two books is complete, they’re out there, LIFE kicked me square in the rubber parts (literally).

Tomorrow I am going to go through a potentially life saving operation. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m fucking scared beyond belief. This, despite how many tales I’ve heard from “people who went through it” or “I have a friend/family member who’s been fine for the past XX years.” It’s always double digits. Which is good. Medicine has progressed to where things are getting better. Hell, even the doctor said that, “We no longer throw the kitchen sink at a problem. It’s finely tailored so that the therapy addresses your particular problem. We’ve grown that much in the past ten years.”

That’s comforting.

But life … I dunno, man. It has a way of keeping you down when you least expect it. Mundane with operatic overtones is where I am at personally.

But again, this isn’t a pity party. This is a “Jesus, have you ever really looked at the people who dot your life and provide so much color to it? Have you? I mean, really?”

People do cross my mind. I’ve grown to admire and love several of them since I’ve started to publish my works. Running the Wrote Podcast has only increased getting to know amazing writers and artists exponentially. I’ve been all the richer for it. Don’t know that I can spend it on anything other than my heart, but it’s definitely something to be grateful for, that’s for sure.

So while this list isn’t complete, these are just the names that cross my mind as of late. People who have come to mean a tremendous amount to me.

Brad Vance – you were the very first author I plucked up the courage to email and get to know. Given the Circumstances will always be at the top of my TBR list because it is simply that great a work.

Brandon Witt – you took a chance on a fledgling podcast that probably had next to no one listening to it. You were our second guest and you were as warm and engaging as anyone we’ve ever had on the show. I cherish those conversations with you about life, artistry and “the biz” – you never fail to bring your witty comments and ponderings to the table.

Angel Martinez and J. Scott Coatsworth – You two are powerhouses in the SF/Fantasy realm for queer fic. Not to mention amazing people to know. I cherish our laughs as much as our debates on the industry and writing in general. When you’re on the podcast I know we’ve got a great ep in the can before I even press the big red button to record.

Tuffy and Angie (Angle) Stanley – Tuff, I’ve known you since my first days out in gay land – cruising the bars, the fruit loop, and just generally hanging out and shootin’ the shit (as my dad would say). You’ve both been champions of my works. I don’t see or talk to you both nearly enough, but you’re always on my mind.

Jeffrey Merrell Davis – The first gay boy I ever met and we haven’t stopped talking for the past 35 years. I love that we quote movie lines back and forth in our conversations. We pepper our x-rated version of The Sound of Music where people least expect it. I’ve loved the fact that you’ve been like a brother/sistah to me and I’ve cherished each time we’re together. Some day I’ll have to write about Josie and Willy so the world can know about those drag personas we created and embodied. “Girl, did we have some times …”

Daniel A. West – Cuz, you mean a great deal to me even though we haven’t seen one another since you were a teenager many moons ago. But you’re family. You’ve been a solid cousin and bringer of positivity in my life. I am glad I got to share my boys from Mercy High with you and that you embrace them. There is no price I can put on how much your continued love and support means to me. And Jeffery’s definitely a keeper. Love that guy!

Now for the hard(er) ones …

Tia, Carmel, Pablo and Mom – My immediate family. I’ve grown so many ways in this journey of life. Knowing my own brother, Pablo, has dealt with what I am going through and he’s been fine for close to 20 years, has given me tremendous support and encouragement. Tia, you’ve been there and been a complete supporter of me when I was coming out. You showed me what that world was like. It was an education that cannot be measured or have a price put upon it. I thank you for that. Mom, it’s your voice (and Dad’s) that I hear whenever I have a difficult choice to make in life. You’ve taught me well. Your support through my coming out to you both, to embracing my boyfriends and now husband means more than I can ever express – and words are my thing. Carmel – We grew closest during our years of having braces. It’s never let up since. I am so proud of your accomplishments in life. Every time you post a pic of your bakery work I am truly astounded and sit there in awe of your creations. “That’s my lil’ sis …” You are a powerhouse of creation. I cherish that. I am proud to be a big brother to you and Pablo.

Now, this one’s gonna burn … but in the best way possible.

Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwoood – Two people who have become family. Words fail me every time I try to describe what you both mean to me. Look at what we’ve created together. Just look at it! That was us, bay-bee! And we continue to do it every week! All the offline (and online) conversations, learning about each other in such profound ways, leaves me breathless and completely humbled by what you do. Vance you are, in every way imaginable, my superhero. You swoop in when I am really struggling and like the comic heroes of old, you know exactly how to lift me out of whatever I am spinning out about. You are the keel for our podcast. You are a brilliant writer and editor, not to mention gifted with such a golden voice that I sometimes want to put a pad of butter on the desk because I know you’d melt it even from where you are. Jayne, you  are a true Lady in every sense of the word. We didn’t know fuck all about what we were doing three years ago when we started. But together we worked it out. You’ve taught me perseverance and the ability to make lemonade when you really don’t think you can. You both have been amongst the greatest teachers in life. You both are on my short list of peeps I can’t do without. I’d never want to know that day was like. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I revel in who you are a human beings and compassionate people who just want a better world for all.

Freddie Feeley Jr., Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, Kate Aaron, and AJ Rose – Your incredible minds and passion to discuss world events has enriched me not only with your brilliant perspectives, but also because we’ve grown to know a bit more about each other along the way. While my current predicament has put the skids temporarily on our world talks, there is a part of me that clings desperately to continuing those conversations again.

Wendy Stone, Michael Rumsey, Matthew Gallien and Jimmy Thacker – Champions of my works and diligent beta readers. You keep me grounded and out there fighting the good fight just to get noticed in a field that is overwhelmed with daily releases. When I think I can’t go there, when I want to toss in the towel, I have you all to lift me up and keep me pressing forward. Your love of my boys from Mercy High won’t let me stop and wallow. That’s a very good thing. I count on it more than you’ll ever know. Don’t stop … I beg you.

J, Whitney and Keely (plus Katya and Zorro) – My daughter and granddaughter have taught me about family. Your immediate family. Whit, I’ve watched you grow and prosper into a brilliant and hard working woman (single mother’s need to take a course from you). And it was all on you to do that. You picked yourself up from impossible odds when you found out you were pregnant with Keely and you made something of yourself and provided for your daughter along the way. Womanhood is all the better for you playing for their team. Keely, if there is anyone I am most interested in watching blossom into womanhood, it’s you. At fourteen you possess a keen sense of self, of your sexual identity and your compassion and empathy for others who are less fortunate than you. Activists simply don’t know what’s coming down the pipe once you really get going. Your fearlessness, your sense of moral obligations and duty to help your fellow man and to “make things right” are truly astounding in one so young. You give me so much hope for our future. Your mother named you aptly – Keely Sloane – Beautiful and Graceful Warrior – I can’t think of a more prophetic name than that. J.L. – my husband of 22 years and fierce defender of what I do. YOU, more than anyone, sees me wrestle with that writing tiger in the room that constantly stalks me. You, more than anyone, pushes me to do better each time I put my fingers to the keyboard. And you gave me Katya and Zorro to give me cuddles and unconditional love when I need a booster. I know you’ll stand by me no matter what life throws my way. “We’ll deal with it, together.”

Angels of Mercy has taught me so much about life. It’s given me the means to explore what institutionalized homophobia in competitive sports is all about. Not all of it, mind you, but a good part of it because it’s built on my husband’s and my experiences discovering who we are as queer men.

I have a ton of characters sitting in the wings. I have a crap more to write. I have shit to do. That’s why this isn’t a pity party. It’s a take stock of what life has given you that allows you to put that damned bag of lemons down. That’s what this is. And these people, by no means a complete list (and please, forgive me if I’ve forgot to mention you and we’ve crossed paths. I’ve been enriched by every discussion, every Facebook posting, every story you’ve ever written or topic we’ve ever debated), but what it has done is given me a long look at the great things in my life. And for that, I am grateful.

Okay, LIFE, bring that shit tomorrow and let’s do this!

Until Next Time …

– SA Collins


BUY LINKS – (shameless plug)

SA Collins Store

Amazon – boxed set 

Amazon – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections

Amazon – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes 

 

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Taking Flight in 300 Words or Less

Taking Flight in 300 Words or Less

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Mmmmkay. Guess this just sort of happened. So the folks over at Queer SciFi on Facebook decided to have another go with their flash fiction anthology. It was something I’d never tried. Flash fic and short stories represent somewhat of a dilemma for me. You see, it’s writing so, as a writer, there’s the draw. I love stories, plain and simple.

But short stories have never really been my thing. Being highly inquisitive from an early age, I’ve always wanted more. Probably why I consider myself the James Mitchner of Queer Lit Fic. My books are tomes – in the literal sense. All of them, with the exception of a single novella I wrote for a friend, are over 500 pages long. I write about headspace and perceptions – which I find to be a very fertile playground from which to write. So when the folks over at QSF announced a flash fic contest I don’t know why I became intrigued. For the most part short stories and it’s smaller brother, the flash fic piece, aren’t my cup of tea. So why’d I do it?

Perhaps it was so I could see if I could? I don’t know. My compulsory inquisitive nature, perhaps? Ma-a-a-a-ybe. Perhaps it just hit me in one of my rare “oh, what the fuck” moods. That must be it.

Regardless, I decided to take the plunge into leaner waters. But what to write? The anthology/contest gave only the theme of flight. Somehow I needed to incorporate the essence, if not literally, of flight.

I didn’t have anything to pound away on. Then a thought occurred to me. Why not use this contest as a writing exercise to play with a theme in a future SciFi work of mine? There’d been an element that I knew was a prominent thread in my story but I’d never actually written it down. But in 300 words? Are ya fucking kidding me?

 

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But then I saw it as a challenge. “Okay, bucko,” (yeah, sometimes I use antiquated slang phrases to address myself) so I metaphorically stared myself down and said, “… let’s see whatcha got, kid.”

So the story deals with Mohawk Indians, amongst the other nations of the Six Nations confederacy, who are the super heroes of my tale. Not many know a lot about Iroquoian/Haudenusaunee history. Though we’ve been the most influential in US history. Jefferson, Franklin and Adams were very serious Iroquoian buffs. They steeped themselves in our form of governance to help shape America’s. Bundle of arrows in the eagle’s grasp on the back of the dollar bill? That’s us. The large wooden staff carried in on joint sessions of Congress? That’s us, too. Even the phrase, “We the People…” Yup, the same phrase that was in our Great Law of Peace hundreds of years before Jefferson penned it. But I digress.

Writing this was more than a challenge. I was writing a very important plot element to a series of books that mean the world to me. They are my attempt at my own Lord of the Rings. They are epic sweeping SciFi that first appears as pure fantasy only to sort itself within the series that it’s really Quantum Mechanics in play – not magic. I am quite literally taking Arthur C. Clarke’s quote to heart. Anyway, so there I was, trying to put something together, a scene if you will, to show how a hero (one of many) in my story – think Star Wars Jedi vs. Dark Side Darth’s – where the hero is converted to a villain. At one point in their collective past, my heroes were culled and changed through rather nefarious means into an army of bad guys – very much against their will. A raping as much as a culling. The process can only happen at the moment of death. It’s a very tricky thing to pull off.

So I plotted quickly to tell a small vignette – a slice of one such hero being culled from her Guardian brethren, into the world of the Flintlings (my bad guys). So I had Mohawk peeps, a death, the transference of my hero at the time of her bloody death, the raping of her soul and the enslaving of it for the Flintlings nefarious purposes, and I had to do it in 300 words. Oy! The scene may never appear in the actual story at all. It was the first time I’d transcribed it from what I had in my head the whole time I’d been penning the other parts of the book. I used characters that don’t appear in the works at all. Just something I dreamt up on the spot to get it all down. Well, not all down … I’d need more words for that. But as a framework it sort of worked.

Somehow I managed it. My little exercise completed I sent it into the contest, not really thinking anything would come of it. To be honest, I thought they’d reject it outright. “What the bloody fuck is this?” I imagined. It was my first ever flash fic. But somehow, and I can’t say why, it was accepted and they included it in their anthology. So now I’m a hybrid author. Who bloody knew?

My story Transcendent, appears in the Paranormal segment of the book. Not sure what qualified it for that categorization as it doesn’t have a paranormal element in the story because it’s definitely tech, but I’m happy it’s there anyway.

There are some marvelous pieces in the book. And they’re quick reads, for like when you’re in the doctor’s office waiting room. You can easily skim several of them while the nurses and medical office people occupy their time with who knows what while you sit there, having arrived way before your appointed time, and they don’t seem to bother with you until like ten or fifteen minutes past your appointed time. Okay, that came out like I have a bone to pick with medical staff, doesn’t it? Anyway, the book is seriously great for times like that. Or while your kid is wrapping up Lacrosse practice and you’re sitting in the car trying to keep cool on a hot day. Yeah, like that, too. You can easily knock out ten or twelve of them in one sitting.

Oh, sidebar note: I worked a small bit of Mohawk humor into it. We natives like to do that – smoke signal ourselves. But I’ll let you in on the small joke: The names I use for my lesbian characters actually have a funny sort of Mohawk in-joke. The Guardian woman who is dying – her name means “hunter/gatherer of fruit” and her wife’s name that I mention in the story means “low hanging fruit” – I couldn’t resist. It’s in our genes. We like to tease each other that way. Not that I think there’ll be a plethora of Mohawk readers of this book. But if there are, they’ll get the sexual innuendo reference. Oughta give them a small smirk or snort for their efforts.

So yeah, pick this baby up. Despite my usual pasadena attitude with regards to short stories and flash fic pieces, I found myself immersed in them nonetheless. Maybe I’m evolving now that I’ve written one? Nah, can’t be. I’d have to turn in my Mitchner fanboy card then. #NothingDoin.

Until next time …

– SA C


front-coverThe 2016 Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction anthology, “Flight”, is here, and I have a story in it! It’s a really cool concept:

A 300-word story should be easy, right? Many of our entrants say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever written.

Queer Sci Fi’s Annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges authors to write a complete LGBTQ speculative fiction micro-story on a specific theme. “Flight” leaves much for the authors to interpret—winged creatures, flight and space vehicles, or fleeing from dire circumstances.

Some astonishing stories were submitted—from horrific, bloodcurdling pieces to sweet, contemplative ones—and all LGBTQ speculative fiction. The stories in this anthology include AI’s and angels, winged lions and wayward aliens. Smart, snappy slice of life pieces written for entertainment or for social commentary. Join us for brief and often surprising trips into 110 speculative fiction authors’ minds.

The book us available in eBook form (4.99), and will soon be available in paperback with b/w illustrations inside (12.99) and in a special collector’s edition with color illustrations (24.99).


Buy Links

Amazon eBook | Kobo | All Romance | Goodreads


Excerpt – From Transcendent by SA Collins –

Blood burst from my lips. Too much blood. Painfully, I tried to roll over; some small part of me accepted the honor of fighting hard and losing the battle. Tonight, I die with dignity.

Instinctively, I pulled upon the Dark. Feeble threads coursed through me, far too little to correct what lie beyond repair. I felt the enemy’s gaze upon me. I wished he would just finish the job.

My fingers pressed into the earth, sodden with my blood and the waters of the river. I coughed. I pulled myself, painfully, along the water’s edge. To where though, I knew not. Odd that, in the end, I thought not of myself but of Wahyawekon, my beloved wife. Inwardly, I wept.

A hand pulled hard upon my blood-soaked hair, turning me over to face him. A malevolent glee colored his face — his victory complete.

I felt my life slipping, like the slip of a fish when you think you have it in your hands. One last breath, coppery and wet, filled my mouth and lungs.

“Karhakonha, you fought well,” he said in Mohawk. “Your new life awaits.”  …

 

(for more you’ll have to pick up the book … *snort)

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Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)

Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)

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The final result – a print book cover I can really be proud of …

 


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:

 

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To this:

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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.

Cover artwork for Angels of Mercy - Volume One: Elliot

The cover artwork for Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot

 

So, with that in mind I toyed around and around until I came up with this little ditty:

Angels of Mercy Phoenix in the Fire book cover - first draft

The first round of the Phoenix print edition. This one featured a pop-culture art piece on how Elliot feels about the football team.

 

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).

Comp version of the original model pic I chose for the novel's cover.

Comp version of the original model pic I chose for the novel’s cover.

 

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.

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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.

 

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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:

 

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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.

Enter SevenStyles and Graphic River. They’re my best kept secret with what I do (but I guess that’s out of the box now, isn’t it?).

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):

Els_isolated_displaced100px

 

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.

 

Using the "distort" tool in Photoshop to manipulate the wing shape/position.

Using the “distort” tool in Photoshop to manipulate the wing shape/position. Note the handles surrounding the image – that’s what you click and drag around to reshape the layer object.

 

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.

 

PS_history_panel

 

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:

distortedwings_isolated

 

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.

 

PS_comprough

 

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?):

 

[embedplusvideo height=”255″ width=”400″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1ttRAUv” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/FVOLBDFf5fs?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=FVOLBDFf5fs&width=400&height=255&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=&lean=1″ id=”ep8434″ /]

 

After applying that action it turned out like this …

Els_Darkened_2b_100pxComp

 

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.

 

[embedplusvideo height=”255″ width=”400″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1ttSMan” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/QVS8gmcBUk8?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=QVS8gmcBUk8&width=400&height=255&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=&lean=1″ id=”ep8695″ /]

 

After running that action my photo now looked like this:

Els_BkCoverFInal_comp

 

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 sacollins@sacollins.com or by leaving them in the comments below.

Until next time …

-SA C

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Hold On, Wait a Moment … JK Rowling and the Natives

Hold On, Wait a Moment … JK Rowling and the Natives

Something is going on in the media and the blogosphere that as a native man I have to comment on. We’re talking about an author who has had tremendous success (and rightfully so – this post does not debate that) who has written a new work in the much beloved Potterverse world.

 

history-of-magic-in-north-america-trailer-slice-600x200

 

A recent letter from an academic, a Native American woman, has written, what I believe to be, a rather important letter to JK Rowling about the responsibility as an author to “get it right” when writing about a cultural/societal community.

You can read the initial letter to her here.

This has been picked up by the media – of which the Guardian in the UK has had an uproar from Potter fans coming to Jo’s defense. Yet, I say to you, they are woefully off the mark as to what is really in play here. They are blindly defending her (by and large) and attempting to obviate her from any culpability in writing about a specific Native American nation (yes, NATION – we still have some modicum of sovereignty in play here, folks). There is a growing concern from within the Native populace that something is sadly amiss here. Now, no one has seen the work, so it’s speculation at this point. But even so, the letter to Jo wasn’t accusatory (to my mind) but rather a – please tread carefully and consider what you, and your powerful writers voice, are saying to the world about any indigenous population.

For I’ll grant you, no matter where they are – what continent they exist on, ALL native populations are watching this.

 

pottermore magic in north America j.k. rowling

 

Here is  my two cents on the matter as a member of that community – I find I can’t sit by and NOT say something (this was my response at the Guardian UK website to those who were blindly defending Jo without considering what was really at play here):

Sorry I disagree with those that think writing fiction is some sort of “get out of jail free card” – the tone of the “letter” to Jo was not in a accusatory manner at all, rather a plea to be sensitive to another culture. How can anyone state that she did NOT do anything to misrepresent Native Americans or their culture? Just the broad use of Native Americans carries a disingenuous tone as we are a collective of various sovereign nations each with our own beliefs and societal mores. Are you from that culture to speak to what is offensive or not? As a native man, I interact with my community (both from my own nation/confederacy and others from abroad). I see the signs of continued oppression from within.

Authors are in the business of communication. Even Jo acknowledges this point herself in that documentary that was about her. When she was writing something new the documentary filmmaker prods her about it. She doesn’t want to say much under the point of “it’s still my world.” She knows the moment it is released it is no longer hers. The world’s readership has the right to absorb and reject what the work as to say. It’s all about communication.

I grant you as an author you can write whatever you want BUT be prepared for how others will perceive and respond. That is THEIR right to take in the works and respond to them. If there is a legitimate concern as to representation then that community has every right to say so. Authors are not immune to responsibility in what they write. They can surely stand by it, but at what cost? Alienating a community who feels misrepresented? Breaking down trust that an author sees them with disrespect?

When it comes to my community remember that #whitepriviledge has been the edict that has oppressed us and misrepresented us in all manner of writings – not just “academically” but in fictional literature (Hiawatha, much?).

Case in point: I am writing a story that involves my own native community. It is a story that on the surface looks like it is magic/witchcraft but it in reality is quantum mechanics in play. Yet because of the witchcraft metaphor, I am off-worlding it to an alternate universe because I am fully cognizant of how my people view witchcraft. To be respectful, I am alt-history and alt-universing it in a LIKE universe to divorce myself from our own reality. That is respectful of my own nation and its core beliefs. EVEN THOUGH IT IS FICTION. I wanted to represent the community and give them heroes that they could see beyond the trappings and identify with the characters.

Just because an author writes fiction, it does not obviate that the community you are writing about doesn’t have the right to say “hold on, wait a minute …” because while even Americans (and I realize I am giving them far too much credit here) may know the barest whispers about individual cultural systems in play with each nation, a kid in Romania may think that what’s there is an extrapolation of how it truly is. Why? Because Jo has rooted whatever she’s concocted in the real world (muggle vs. wizard). Therefore, the reality does play a factor (reality is a “character” in the stories she creates) so the “letter” to Jo from this community is merely reminding her that as a people we still are here, and we watch what’s being written about us (whether in fictional form or not).

Until Next Time …

SA C

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