SA Collins

Words and Errata

BOOK RELEASE – Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco (The Fall of the Sforzas)

BOOK RELEASE – Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco

(The Fall of the Sforzas)

Angels of Mercy - Volume Two: Marco AVAILABLE NOW!

Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco AVAILABLE NOW!

Hey all!

I know it’s been a helluva long time since I’ve posted. It hasn’t been for not wanting to. I’ve had LOTS to say on stuff. Some of which I did on other blogs or via the podcast. But I’ve also been massively busy trying to get the next book in my series out the door. Well, it’s done. And he’s a WHOPPER of a tale!

Clocking in at just over 265K words (approx 741 pages), it is finally put to rest and is out in the universe now. I always knew Marco’s part of the tale was going to be this big. There were no two ways about it (as he’d say).

For those who haven’t been following along, suffice to say this series is a set of character studies that deep dive into the mindsets of three men’s lives over the course of a violent hate crime born out of homophobia that is still rampant within competitive sports (in this case, the fictional high school varsity football team – The Mercy High Avenging Angels).

The first volume dealt with two boys who during the summer between their junior and senior high school years come together. Two boys who couldn’t be more opposite if they tried. The first volume is told from the shy, and sticking to the shadows, Elliot Donahey. An artsy geeky boy consumed with doing everything he can not to be noticed in a world that keeps saying to him that he doesn’t belong. Only his plans for obscurity in his senior year are completely blown off the rails by the highest profile jock on campus, Mercy High’s star quarterback, Marco Sforza. Elliot’s take brings the reader along on their burgeoning heady romance filled with all the drama a coupling like that can bring. They just do everything they can to remain rooted in one another, holding each other close and whispering how their love will last through the ages. This, despite how many people are circling around them at school that are hell bent on keeping them apart.

Volume Two picks up where the climatic cliff hanger of volume one leaves off.

Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco, picks up the same day as the climax of Volume One, only told from Marco Sforza’s (Elliot’s boyfriend) point of view. This is a character study series where each man in the tale takes the reader on an introspective journey of coming to grips with the horrors of homophobia in competitive sports and the consequences when those scenarios become violent. Part two of a three part series.

“Elliot Donahey is the love of my life.”

Those words become a lightning rod for Marco Sforza, the man who seemed to have it all – looks, intelligence, charm, money, a certain degree of local fame as the star quarterback of Mercy High. But when his teammates beat his boyfriend to the brink of death, Marco will have to learn what “standing by your man” truly means.

How will these boys cope with Elliot’s recuperation as well as find a way to bring justice for the heinous crime committed against him? Deception, lies and intrigue begin to thread their way into the boys’ lives as they struggle to just hold onto one another. All is not quite what it seems as we reach yet another climatic ending that will turn their whole world upside-down. The hate crime Elliot suffered was just the beginning of their woes. Is Marco and Elliot’s love for one another strong enough to see them through?

Read Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco to find out.

Available now from the following locations:

The SA COLLINS ESTORE – where you can even buy a PERSONALIZED autograph ebook edition (sample graphic available from the e-store site)

Amazon

All Romance

Smashwords

Please check out them out!

 

Also, a BIG thanks to my musical muses for Angels – Jay Brannan, Steve Grand and Adam Ray! These amazing musicians are worth seeking out. I am so happy that they give me the added inspiration as I write these massive books of the series!

Until next time (which I promise won’t be so far off) – Baz

 

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Quick! The Stork Done Took My Baby!

Quick! The Stork Done Took My Baby!

 

Okay, not really freaking out too much here. I mean, there was no stork, even if there was a baby (of sorts).

What happened was, I bit the bullet. I grinned and bear(ed) it. I took a leap of faith…

I published my first work.

The book is out in the world now. Hall-le-fucking-lu-jah!

The book is out in the world now. Hall-le-fucking-lu-jah!

I’m happy with it. Even if it isn’t the type of work I normally do. Part of me was concerned with that — perceptions and all. You see this work is a silly piece of fluff. Well, not silly, more sentimental and erotically charged. And while I am not about censorship when it comes to gay men and our sexuality, it is rather strange that I have a very sexual book out there that my mother can read!

Okay, I should stop worrying about that. I am gonna write what I’m gonna write. It is what it is. Right?

Yeah, well, I ain’t so sure now. Only because the next work I am putting out there is the important one. It’s the series that I feel the strongest about.

Hank and my boys of West Virginia are great. I love them and they’ve given me a spark of interest in writing about werewolves that I didn’t know I had. I sort of love my furry beastie guys. And Hank’s a rather pretty boy in their midst. I mean, the picture I have of him as an inspiration says nothing but pretty (if decidedly, beefy) boy.

 

Inspiration for Hank O'Malley in my story

Inspiration for Hank O’Malley in my story

Oh, that ain’t the only picture of him, neither (as he’d no doubt say):

Another of Hank O'Malley - tough luck lookin' like that, huh?

Another of Hank O’Malley – tough luck lookin’ like that, huh?

So yeah, pretty and beefy. Just look at them arms and them pecs, will ya? And I am not so much for blond guys – but, uh, yeah. He’d do — no kicking to the curb with that purdy boy! #jussayin

And Hank’s a lovely boy to write about. He’s caring, un-obsessed with his own good looks, genial and easy to get along with. Completely unassuming. And who’da thunk he’d be in the middle of a werewolf war that was about to break loose? Or that his mama and closest thing to a grandma he’s got are a pair of powerful witches? I know he sure didn’t.

Hank and his boys are near and dear to my heart. Which was sort of a revelation. I mean, as an author, you are deeply involved with your characters and your worlds that you create. That’s fairly a given — unless your completely dispassionate about the work then, why bother? But even if you are deeply in bed with them, it doesn’t always mean you have to like them much.

But with Hank, Riley, Tanner, Mike, Toby, Darby, Dylan, Maynard, and Spike – I am really already rooting for these boys to triumph over the likes of Cade Bowen/Talbot.

Don’t know who he is?

Yeah, well, go pick up the book, dammit!

And I’d like once again to thank Steve Grand for providing the emotive inspiration for my gay werewolves of Sparrows Hollow, West VA.

Country Crooner Steve Grand in all of his bloody manly redness...

Country Crooner Steve Grand in all of his bloody manly redness…

In a very real way, they’ve already been turning the creative wheel on the next part of their adventure. Trouble is, I’ve got a crap load of new stuff to churn out in the other series that I am just dying to get out there: Angels of Mercy.

Angels of Mercy - Volume 1: Elliot

Angels of Mercy – Volume 1: Elliot

It’s interesting because I am still not about the sales. In a very weird way though, I want to know what other’s think of my work. I know there’ll be some who bash it all to hell. There’s haters out there who do nothing but trash talk every damned thing that’s out there.

It’s just the way ’tis, thassall. <– As Hank would say.

There isn’t much that I want to censor from my work. I am so not a prude when it comes to sex. It doesn’t make my work erotic in nature because of this (though I do admit that the Sparrow’s Hollow series is deeply tinged with eroticism). Usually when sex enters my books it is because it is a part of the natural order of life. Whether it would be to have a family or simply for the pleasure of it all. I rail at those who get all uppity about it. The duality of not wanting to read about it and yet it is a very intrinsic part of life. I mean, we all got here because our parents fucked. Let’s be honest about it and pony up and embrace that everyone does it to a degree (not intending to take away anything from those who are asexual – that’s their gig and hey, I’m happy for them if they’re content to be so). I can’t though.

Sex is important. It is a vital part of why we pony up to the relationship table, right?

My works will reflect that. My Feigr story is predicated on that. Sex is power to them, a means of manipulating and rewriting genetic code. They are very fearsome creatures who use our desire as a means to an end. Allure has a very dangerous connotation when it comes to my Norse infused Fae.

So yeah, one of my baby’s has done flown the coup. It’s just as well. I gotta make room for the next part of their tale (it’s already brewing in my head).  Hank and the boys are waiting with baited breath for me to finish out my Angels (volumes 1 and 2 – that I plan to release simultaneously in the first quarter of this month). Volume 1: Elliot is already in the can (as it were). Marco (volume 2) is near completion. I think I’ll be ready by March at the latest. In a real way that’s a good thing I guess. It means, I can prep the Angel series for a proper send off. Hit the blog tour stuff and get the word out there.

Angels of Mercy - Volume 2: Marco

Angels of Mercy – Volume 2: Marco

Who knows? With a little luck, I just might have something here.

And the literary nest will never be empty. No, I think that as I take my last breath on this Earth (hopefully many, many moons from now) my last thought will be: shit, they’ll never know how that ended now.

The life of a writer, I suppose. A lonely craft it is.

Still, I can’t think of what else I’d like to do more.

Until next time… 
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Designing My Angels of Mercy

Designing My Angels of Mercy

 

The FINAL - FINAL version of the book cover for "Angels of Mercy - Volume One: Elliot"

The FINAL – FINAL version of the book cover for the first book in my series “Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot”

 

Sidebar: S.O. to author pal, Kris Ripper who liked the first one I did of these, that I’d thought I shoot her another. Hope you all enjoy it too!

 

So let’s talk book covers, shall we?  I mean, I did it before. So it’s not like it’s the first time, right?

I’ve been busy. Did the NaNoWriMo event for the first time and I was really enjoying it (even if it was a bit of a slog to write on a deadline schedule – but it was good for me).

Been putting small tweaks on Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot and fleshing out Volume Two: Marco. Volume One is sorta waiting in the wings because it’s ends on a cliff hanger and several authors said that as a newbie writer I shouldn’t do a cliff hanger – soooooo, since my stories are what they are, I decided to forestall the first book and just get book 2 prepped and ready to go so they can be released in tandem. Book 2 ends on a cliff hanger as well, but I figure I’ll have them decently hooked by then (fingers crossed).

So here’s the small twist in this – Marco’s always been the meat of the entire series as far as I am concerned. Elliot and the third boy (who is our guide in Volume 3) are merely bookends to Marco’s tome. The story has always been Marco’s to tell. I just wanted you to get to know the love of his life first. Elliot in many ways is an extension of myself. That’s why it is a character study.

I’ve had betas read the pre-released work and I get universal high marks on grammar and structure (my author pals have universally praised me on the manuscript being so clean) – and that’s the hubby too. He’s been my sole editor. He’s never done it professionally (still hasn’t cause he’s on the personal payroll – wink, wink), but he comes from a LONG line of educators that specialized in English. So I am solid there. He also used to play football for Clemson back in the day so that’s where all the football motif is coming from (well, that, and I did have a fling in my Senior year with an actual HS quarterback). But as I said, the response from everyone I’ve given it to thus far have really been impressed. I am humbled and grateful more than I can say about this.

Angels has been both an easy work to write and incredibly difficult to write. It is a very personal work. It is a love letter to my husband as much as it is to gay men I’ve been blessed to know and have in my life. Truly blessed.

So why the second entry on the book covers? Because I’ve finally nailed book one AND I’ve completed the work on book two in the process! Yippee!!

And here’s the big reveal on the second book cover in the series (cue drum roll in your head, please):

 

The book cover for Volume Two of Angels of Mercy - Marco.

The book cover for Volume Two of Angels of Mercy – Marco.

And as with Book One’s design I’ll let you see how I did it…

First things first – as with all things Foodie, there is a recipe and of course the ingredients. I am a content designer (of sorts – previous life as a graphic designer for a theater company in San Diego (amongst other things)).

Software usedAdobe Creative Cloud Suite (primarily Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014)

Graphic elements –  images from iStock Photo (photos and vector art)

Fonts UsedScriptina (for “Angels” in the logo) and Copperplate Light for the subtitle and my author byline, and Jackport College NCV font for the football jersey number 7.

 

The original artwork in its raw form:

Illustrator Vector Line Art

The wings (I only used one half of them and duplicated them).

The wings (I only used one half of them and duplicated them).

 

The Footballer (Hi-res Photo JPG)

 

The footballer pic - Hi-Res XXL variety (so I could manipulate it and not lose resolution much).

The footballer pic – Hi-Res XXL variety (so I could manipulate it and not lose resolution much).

 

The fonts and logo work were borrowed from my Book One cover and adapted/modified to suit “Marco” in the title. Recycle whenever possible – it builds brand consistency and also cuts down on the design time and lets you get back to what we all REALLY want to do – WRITE, dammit!

So I’ll start with one element of this new book cover that kicked my ass on book one – the fucking footballer jersey has NO NUMBER! Couldn’t do a simple overlay – that would be too f’d up – it wouldn’t be right. So I hit the net and sorted through Photoshop tutorial after tutorial using crap assed terms to find what I was looking for – only because I couldn’t remember what I needed to really look for until I found it again – DISPLACEMENT MAPS. They are golden in my book now. And they proved a helluva lot easier to do than I thought they’d be – Win-Win in my book!

You can check out the tutorial that solved it for me right here.

So first things first – I knew my footballer needed his requisite wings so I had to separate the background (the troublesome gradient blue/black background) from the (footballer) foreground. Sometimes the graphics come with masked backgrounds so this is rather simple. NOT this time around. Sheesh! So I had to painstakingly (though I did save a small bit of time) using the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop to cut away at the background from around my mysterious “Marco” footballer.

Then slip a solid black background on a separate layer so I could manipulate at will what I wanted to do. Here’s the final with the broken down layers along the right side of the screenshot (click to enlarge):

My photoshop file in all it's naked glory.

My photoshop file in all it’s naked glory.

 

As you can see by the layers in the picture I post above, the background was solid black. The footballer sits just behind the jersey number layer and my author cred. The wings and the logo taking up the layers in between.

So I imported the jpeg I created from the Illustrator file and cropped the blue side of the wings (the ‘water’ wings) and duplicated the layers in photoshop once the first blue wing was imported and then sized them by freehand so while they are an exact dupe, they aren’t sized exactly the same – only a hint a being symmetrical. It was enough for my purposes. I didn’t want an exact dupe this time around.

The "water" wings imported, duped and resized by hand (freeform) so they aren't an exact match.

The “water” wings imported, duped and resized by hand (freeform) so they aren’t an exact match – a way to maximize your dollar.

 

I also angled them so they would be more upright (alluding to the same sort of position from my Art Deco wings from the first cover – see above). Added an adjustment layer above the two wing layers and boosted the hue and saturation to embellish and bring out the blueness of them.

Next up – Slipping my footballer back in front of the newly created wings.

Adding "Marco" back in to flesh out the "angel."

Adding “Marco” back in to flesh out the “angel.”

 

So now we get to the hard part – or what I perceived to be the hard part – the Displacement Map – to add the jersey number. The file I created for the displacement map I ended up using the black channel of the photo (when you get to that step) as it had the most contrast to build the map (I think in the tutorial link she used the red channel – use what looks best and has the highest contrast to work from – it’ll apply the best results).

I typed the number for the jersey (using the Jackport College NCV font) to create Marco’s football number – 7.  And I applied a white to black gradient to the number so it would fade out along the bottom of the cover like his shirt does in the picture.

I used the tutorial just as it is described above in the link I provided BUT I changed the displacement map settings from the default 10 to 5. This was the result:

 

Adding the "7" jersey number with the displacement map setting to 5.

Adding the “7” jersey number with the displacement map setting to 5.

Then I added the duped layers from my original Volume One: Elliot book cover (see above) and inserted the duped layers for the book title and sub-title (swapping out ONE for TWO and Elliot for Marco) so it would be inline with the finished cover I was after. Then did the same for my Author cred.

 

And voila!

 

The book cover for Volume Two of Angels of Mercy - Marco.

The book cover for Volume Two of Angels of Mercy – Marco.

But having succeeded in this I immediately was emboldened by my success with the displacement map that I went back to book one and FINALLY put the long missing Jersey number back on it!

 

The final cover artwork. Blood included.

“BEFORE”

 

The FINAL - FINAL version of the book cover for "Angels of Mercy - Volume One: Elliot"

“AFTER”

 

To paraphrase Darth Vader – “The Circle is (sorta) complete…”

 

I do still have to come up with Volume 3 (insert mystery character here – no spoilers this time).

 

Until next time… Happy Writing and Designing!

 


 

Shout Out to my musical muse – JAY BRANNAN! I constantly play his music while I do anything Angels related. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. He might argue that he hasn’t steered me at all. I love the shit outta his work anyway.

 

BUY HIS SHIT NOW PEOPLE! I need this guy to keep working!

 

Always Then & Now Cover Art

Always Then & Now Cover Art

 

Jay_Brannan_Rob_Me_Blind_Cover_Art

The album that inspired me to write Angels of Mercy.

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The Power of Betas

The Power of Betas

Who knew? I know I sure as hell didn’t.

Now, you might be thinking, and rightly so, what the hell is he going on about now?

Well, I’ll tell ya.

Sometime last year I began to get quite interested in being a writer. It’s not something new. I’ve had these stories burning in my head – albeit on very far away and distant back burners, mind you – that needed me to get on with the telling.

So last year I began to start writing in earnest. I was writing mostly for me. I still am to a great degree. It doesn’t matter if no one else really likes what I am doing. I like it and that’s the bar I need to hit – as a matter of reference I am never quite satisfied with any creative work I do so that bar is probably a helluva lot higher than any of the critics out there could begin to tear down.

In any event, I began writing.

First it was a story that had been passed back and forth between my husband and myself – an alternate history dealing with Natives from the America’s and the ‘what if’ of a little known and oft missed point in our American past where the British reneged on an agreement that would’ve backed the establishment of a Native nation on the burgeoning American continent. In actuality, there was a small book that my husband introduced me to that dealt with this in an indirect manner  – an alternate history of a world where this had come to pass. It detailed, quite well, how Natives would have evolved in western society and applied their precepts and outlook on modern life in an alternate universe that pseudo paralleled our world.

The book was: The Journey of Silas P. Bigelow by Keenan Heise.

It’s a lovely little book that actually grapples with some fairly complex societal mores. I loved the book and I was inspired to write my own “what if” on how I would see Native’s in the bold new modern frontier if they’d been allowed to prosper and evolve unimpeded by the western Europeans.

So I started on that piece and it became quite a behemoth in scope as well as in tone. I decided to table it because so much of it was interesting but it just wasn’t jelling. I was undeterred though – I knew that writing was my thing – I just needed to find the right vehicle to get me started. So that story is on the back burner where it my likely remain for all time. I have the manuscript files, I have the notes and research (which was extensive in both history and in quantum mechanics and native theory on physics in general). Just those pondering alone can point to an over-indulgent exploration that would rival Tolkien’s. To be blunt about it, I wasn’t up to the task (just not then, at any rate).

So that got shunted for another take on Native life – since I am of native descent (my own father coming straight from the rez) I took to writing a different sort of story that was still scientifically based (mostly because I married a real rocket scientist) I wanted to play with the whole – let’s present it as magic (ala Harry Potter but with Indians) only to show by the end that it was all science – just not understood by those who were wielding it what it was. That work is still in progress and has quite a bit amassed already.

But then I got an itch, brought about by Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Thor. I wanted to do something with Viking lore – so I became enamored with the Norse Fae called the Feigr. That iron was put into the fire and I began writing that in earnest too.

I am sure you can see where this is going – a whole shit load of irons in the fire but nothing coming from it.

Enter my Angels: Marco, Elliot and Pietro.

Angels of Mercy had none of the above. When it hit it came like a hurricane and completely sidelined EVERYTHING I was doing. I wrote the first volume of Angels of Mercy in a matter of months. At 205K words it is one helluva tome – and it is only the first of three books in the series. With book one completed (yes, I FINALLY completed something) I began to write volume two (I figured I was on a roll now).

Then NaNoWriMo reared its attractive head – ‘write a novel in a month’ was the challenge. I’d just put the wraps on a 205K novel so the 50K challenge didn’t seem like anything of the sort. So I set aside Marco’s part of the tale in Angels to create another new universe: Werewolves in a fictitious town of Sparrow’s Hollow in 1956 West Virginia. It’s proving to be a bit of fun writing fluff of a horror nature (albeit with a whole lot of gay boy on boy lovin’ thrown in for good measure – I am all about the man on man love fest here in case you hadn’t noticed).

Well, that is about to wrap up (within this week), and I have taken time off to get it accomplished so by the time November 30th rolls around I’ll have my second (if smaller) novel completed.

So, aside from the possible tie-in with werewolves, where does the whole beta thing come in?

Simple. As a writer I found out from my other author pals that betas are invaluable to any author and are worth their weight in gold if they aren’t the sort that will just (as one author put it so eloquently) “cast so much sunshine up your backside that you get a sunburn from it.” So I found out I needed me some beta readers to give me feedback as I began to write and develop my worlds.

Now to be honest, this was something that initially I was toying with. I was always going to write either way. It’s just in me to do so. Yet, here’s the thing: I was curious to a small degree on what someone else thought of my work.

So I began to find others who might read it. I found my first beta in a LGBTQAI support forum board and began to chat him up (no, not in that way – head out of the gutter now), to see how receptive he was about my writing. He admitted that he wasn’t much of a reader to that point because most of what was out there didn’t interest him. But I asked him to read Angels of Mercy and to tell me what he honestly thought. Surprisingly, he did.

While he had praise for the work, which I found so gratifying, he also demonstrated a complete attachment to my boys in the story. As if they meant something to him. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t have a plan for that. But there it was – plain and simple – he loved my world. He loved my boys. And he had thoughts on what was working and what didn’t. I had me my first beta.

He’s golden. He’s one of a kind. He’s thoughtful about my worlds, he’s asked questions and pointed out inconsistencies when they’ve cropped up. In a word, I was gobsmacked. I just didn’t think that anyone would find what I did remotely interesting let alone be just as hooked with them as I was.

I’ve since taken the works to a few others and the response has been rather universal. The work has a certain something. It has some sort of quality that people respond to. My other betas have all said the same sorts of things (with variations on a theme depending on where their own life has taken them). That has been a wonderful thing to take to heart. Sometimes I don’t believe it. It’s just easier from a writing standpoint if there isn’t someone else’s bar in the mix. If it’s my own I can write to that and attempt to impress myself.

My betas? Yeah, that’s a tough one. Not because they’ve kicked me really hard (though they have certainly held my feet to the literary fire when needs be), but because they’ve all consistently gave me the consistent encouragement to press forward. That what I was doing wasn’t in vain or some little silly thing that only I was going to ever read.

In the course of my writing, I discovered that while I write stories with strong gay male figures that contain (amongst other things) a strong romantic element thread, they are not the M/M romance fluff that is out there. I am not disparaging those works – those that find them of interest have a large selection to choose from. As for myself I require more. I require an element of truth that only comes from within. From having lived this life as a gay man. I am not a writer like those of the M/M romance genre. More power to them but I am not of their kind. We may have elements in common but that is where we also diverge from one another.

My betas all seem to be in agreement with me in this. They like that I am not guaranteeing anything when you open one of my books. There is no automatic HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. Because life doesn’t work that way. My worlds, fantastical though they may sometimes be (the Feigr, the “magical” natives, etc) are all rooted in my own or a loved one’s experiences.

This is reflected in the lives of my betas themselves.

Recently one of my beta readers, my very first, a man who I’ve come to count on for a great many reasons ran up against a health concern that had the potential to be life threatening. When that hit I literally almost fell apart. I didn’t write. I stopped cold. The passion drained from me – and this in the middle of the NaNoWriMo contest  – not a good thing. But my beta’s life was in the balance. Nothing seemed as important as that. I stewed, I pondered the what if’s – which were many because my husband also had been a practicing physician so I had the 411 on what the potential outcome was even before my new found friend got the official news.

I was gutted.

And let’s be clear – this wasn’t about me. I was overwrought with concern for him. I am not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. There were no prayers involved. I’m just not built that way to give into the whole ludicrous “no atheist in the foxhole” mentality. Yeah, husband has had his life threatened numerous times so if I was gonna cave on the whole God vs. No-God thing it woulda been back then. But it certainly didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to stop and think about how my bestest friend, my first “fan” (if you will) was faring through a very difficult time.

He dropped off for a while. Little to no communication from him. Wasn’t easy to endure on my end because I wanted to know how he was doing. But I gave him space. I wrote him once to tell him I was here no matter what – it felt so empty to offer that. I wanted to give him back so much more.

That caused a fire to be lit in my belly. I began to focus all of that into my writing. I had taken up the subject of werewolves because of this very person who was struggling with this life threatening illness. I wanted to write something for him since he has a particular fondness for werewolves (along with men). So it was sort of a fun thing I was doing for him. Only now, it had morphed into being for him in ways I never originally envisioned. I recast one of the characters in the book with his name. I dedicated the book to him. It felt so hollow in many respects – so railing against the big thick glass pane that separated us (he in Michigan with me in CA). But I wanted him to know in some small way how much I’ve come to count on his advice. How much his words meant to me.

I never bargained for this when I started out. I never in a million years thought that I’d ever have this to deal with (and Michael, this is NOT a gripe on my part – please believe me). But these people, these generous people who have given me their time and energy in reading my works and giving me “what for” when I went astray, have become so important as I progress and grow as a writer.

I always said I would trade five million five star ratings for one person who deeply felt what I was doing. Michael is that guy. I am writing for him and men/boys like him. Men who need to hear about our worlds from our own. Men who understand what it is like to deal with the world around us that keeps reminding us at every turn we are NOT like them. We are NOT the norm. I welcome anyone who wants to read what I write. I thank them with all the humility and graciousness I can muster. But I am clear about one thing – I write for men like Michael.

A dear friend I met through my writing.

A man who has so much to offer in life.

A thoughtful individual who cares about my boys almost as much as I do – sometimes, more so.

Yeah, turns out, this Alpha writer does need his betas. They might matter most of all.

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The D/Evolution of Cover Art

The [D]Evolution of Cover Art

 

-OR-

Trying to find your place in the process whilst keeping a tight reign on your wallet when all you want to do is get the bloody thing done!

 

So I have a book completed. Yeah, there are still tweaks being done to tidy it up a bit more. I think it’s in a good place. It’s not a formulaic romance story. It’s a very deceptive work. I created it with that in mind. It probably means it won’t find much of an audience, but you know what? I don’t really care. Here’s the skinny on the whole Angels of Mercy project for me:

I was writing another series that was going to be my big ol’ Gay LOTR (and if you have to ask what the fuck LOTR is, then you need to come out from under that rock you’ve been occupying and take a look around for Pete’s sake). It’s that Fae Wars thing I got placed elsewhere on the website. But that fucker is huge. Epically huge. LOTR with a bunch of man on man action huge. But there’s a war so there’s destruction and mayhem abounding there as well.

Here’s the dealio with that – because it’s so big (I tend to think Cecil B. DeMille epic) I had to put off writing because I got caught up in the quagmire I’d been back building in that particular universe. I am still contemplating that story. A good friend (and beta reader) gave me some advice to simply write the back story as one big epic tome all by it’s lonesome and then spring into the one that involves Earth so it would, in effect, be like my Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings. One off leading to a series sort of thing. That’s handy. And I can definitely see the advantage to doing just that.

Anyway, so what does that have to do with the cover art of Angels of Mercy?

Well, I ended up setting aside the whole Fae Wars epic to ponder those things I’ve just mentioned, and was listening to Jay Brannan’s Rob Me Blind while bringing lunch back to the girls at home. It hit me. Two boys trapped out on the Bixby Bridge near Big Sur, CA. Police cars on either side closing off the bridge to through traffic. My boys clinging to each other as a third man’s body falls perilously to his impending death in the fog laden morning.

 

The Bixby Bridge - Big Sur, CA

The Bixby Bridge – Big Sur, CA

 

So yeah, that image stuck with me as I was listening to Rob Me Blind.  By the time I got home one exit down the freeway later, I had the story mapped out. It came to me that quick. I knew three things with absolute certainty:

  1. The boys (Elliot and Marco – I didn’t have last names for them yet) would come together at the very first chapter. I was more concerned with the ‘what happens next’ and not so much about the whole “will they/won’t they” that permeates so much of the M/M genre. So yeah, boys fall in love first chapter – BANG!
  2. The jock in the story NEVER wavers in his love and devotion to the boy he wants. I am soooo tired about the ‘straight’ appearing jock being the questioning one. My own Marco (my hubby) played football for Clemson back in the day and even played for Massillon (the birth place of modern football). And he has NEVER WAVERED once about what he feels for me. So yeah, Marco is deeply rooted there in my own life experience. If the hubby can be that strong – so can Marco.
  3. The story would be deceptive in nature. I wanted to tell a story that from the outset was more introspective, more reflective rather than the standard romance fair. I also knew it was going to spiral into a murder mystery/thriller of sorts (I am a BIG HITCHCOCK fan).

So I knew those three things by the time I got home seven minutes later. The book was already shaping up by the time I picked up the food from the car, the walk from the garage up the flight of steps to the main part of the house.  Marco and Elliot were established. Their world already taking root and like a Morning Glory vine, they spread like wildfire. After lunch I told the hubby all about my new boys. They’ve been a part of us since (that was about 8 or 9 months ago).

I went through several boys as my inspirational source. Each of them though had to have a common thread or element that made them either Marco or Elliot.

Here’s the other thing – While my story does NOT involve the supernatural in any way, I wanted a strong Angel theme to thread its way in and around my boys and their world.  So four more things got added to my list:

  1. The school was going to be big, an ex-Catholic parochial school that had been deconsecrated, but would retain its strong ties to its past by creating the high school mascot to be an Angel – and not just any, but an Avenging Angel. This was an important element as it established for me a thread to tug upon time and again with each of my boys.
  2. The main characters of the story would all have Angelic names assigned to them and those names had to some how embody the emotive core of who they were as a character. For Elliot his first name (that he doesn’t use) is Cassiel (the angel of tears and regrets). Elliot is a quiet, and sad boy by the time we meet up with him. He’s out to the community but keeps a very low profile because he knows how small towns react to big news like a gay kid in town (say nothing that same gay kid has been around since birth – but when it’s all out in the open, it’s a tough thing to deal with). For Marco, Elliot’s boyfriend (the jock), his middle name is Rafael (the arch-angel) and all things in this trilogy point to him. Marco is the pinnacle and meat of the story. I always saw it that way. The last character (which I won’t go into here as it is a spoiler) has a middle name of Azreal (the real avenging angel in the story). It is he who metes out judgement in the trilogy. And he comes out of nowhere when he does.
  3. The last reference to Angels and the town of Mercy is that the other Angels (the football team) play a part in this tale as well.
  4. The sex will be blatant. No punches pulled. I can’t tell you how many times I read about sex between two men, written by women that completely miss the mark or “don’t go there” because they don’t want to really know what men think and feel when they are having sex. Which totally blows my mind on one level, but on another completely makes sense because women are always trying to influence men to think another way (their way). But they really don’t bother at all to understand it from a male perspective. So my boys are who they are when it comes to their sexuality. It is rooted in real life. It is how we are when we are together as a sexual couple (to varying degrees, I’ll grant you, but there nonetheless).

So there is a common thread regarding the metaphor of Angels in the story. But it isn’t a supernatural story. It’s metaphorical – in name and essence only.

So the first book is in the can and the second is about a third to half way written. Got beta-readers pouring through book 2 already and giving me valuable feedback. They’re loyal to the cause already so there is an audience out there. Don’t know who they are because the story sort of defies categorization.

But how do I create an eye catching piece of artwork that embodies all of that?

Part of me wanted to keep it simple. Not too involved – involved denotes a dated look. Just look at the covers from just a couple of years ago on some of these books and they already look dated. Mostly because they employed all kinds of Photoshop trickery that was all the rage at the time but no one is doing now. Honestly, the simplistic covers sort of really do it for me. While I think that the 50 Shades book was a right piece of erotic garbage, the look and appeal of the cover work was bold and definitive in my mind. It sent a strong message and played upon the whole ‘shades of grey’ theme from the title.

So here is how I came up with the whole cover concept:

  1. I wanted angels or an angelic influence to be a part of the cover as it is a theme of the book (not the judeo-christian core but a theme of the story nonetheless).
  2. I wanted it to be strong in it’s masculine appeal and statement (though I didn’t want some hussy to grace the cover because well, they’re gay – duh)
  3. I wanted the football theme to come forward as well.

I got completely derailed on my first attempt but as you’ll see below – I think it came together quite nicely.

It all started late last night when I finally decided I’d let my book languish for far too long out there in the beta-reader ether. It’s time to get it out there. So to do that it needed a cover.

Here’s what I had going for quite some time – it was a placeholder:

 

Angels of Mercy - the working DRAFT edition.

Angels of Mercy – the working DRAFT edition.

 

The actual title artwork really hasn’t changed. I liked it from the get-go (as it were). I wanted the dramatic angel theme even back then. It was a place holder. Nothing more really. But I did have comments from the beta readers that they liked the look of it. They liked the dark tones and the brilliant blue white element. One person even said that if she saw it in a book store, the cover alone would have made her pick it up and investigate it further.

So yeah, even then I knew it had to be dramatic. And it was certainly duo-chromatic (mono would indicate one color but, even so, I got what someone said to me about that).

So last night I’d reached a tipping point. I couldn’t go further with book one until it had a graphic representation that I could call my own for it. That meant licensing. That meant (since I wasn’t a photographer) that I’d be relying on what was out there from other content artists and pay for the rights to use the material.

First stop was a google search (ha! It was actually a DuckDuck search but you get the idea) for LGBT book cover artists. I found a website that seemed, at first blush, to fill the bill quite nicely.

 

SelfPubBookCovers.com - one stop shop to pick up rudimentary covers that you can customize yourself right from their site.

SelfPubBookCovers.com – one stop shop to pick up rudimentary covers that you can customize yourself right from their site.

 

They even have a section dedicated to the LGBT market. Bingo! I was in like Flynn.

I just had to choose one to start with and play around with their little online designer:

The selfpubbookcovers.com selection grid for LGBT covers.

The selfpubbookcovers.com selection grid for LGBT covers.

 

Once I selected a cover – and paid for it, it would be mine to use for e-books and printed copies up to 250,000 in combined sales. At what I was planning was $4.99 a pop, that would be over a million dollars in sales. Yeah, I could agree to those numbers. They could come and ask for an extended license at that point. I could probably afford it.

So I picked a cover and started to play with it.

The online tool to create your cover art from their website.

The online tool to create your cover art from their website.

The nice part about all of this? Once I bought the cover, it was removed from the site (never to be seen/offered again). It was mine and mine alone to use as I needed to for the book. No one else would have it. It wasn’t free (prices start at $69 a cover and go up steadily from there).

So I found one that spoke to the angelic element – it looked like this:

The original book cover I purchased.

The original book cover I purchased.

I could’ve used their tool to come up with the logo, the author byline and any tag line I wanted but to be honest – I have a far more extensive font listing on my computer anyway (like over 10k fonts installed). I am a font whore, plain and simple.

So I bought it without any writing on it whatsoever. I was cool with it.

Now here’s the rub (as they say): It wasn’t everything I wanted in one pic. I loved the deco wing element – cause that was bang on with how I saw the logo emblazoned on their helmets at the school. So yeah, I was good with that part. The one element I wasn’t so pro on was the guy on it. Not that I didn’t like him – I did. He appears to be a ginger so yeah – got a Smokin’ Hot Ginger Stud section in the galleries so yeah, he works definitely on that level. I don’t know why I suddenly have this proclivity for gingers but it sorta sprang up on me all of a sudden – and one of my new characters in Angels of Mercy Volume 2: Marco has a new buddy of his that will prove to be pivotal to how Marco gets Elliot back on his feet after book one (spoiler – sorry). And Angus (Marco’s new ginger stud buddy) is a full on stud material – no bones about it but with a heart of gold that’s been stomped on repeatedly.

From that perspective, the guy (on the cover art I just bought) would work – just not on this book. Angus Carr (the ginger buddy for Marco) isn’t on the scene in book one at all. He doesn’t arrive front and center until book two. This whole buying on a whim was a knee jerk reaction to the studly ginger angel on the cover art I purchased. ‘Cause Angus has fast become my favorite character to write about. I get giddy like a school girl whenever he is in a scene.  I think if I continue with this world of my boys at Mercy, then Angus’ story will be the next one to tell. I love him that much. But, just not now. This was Elliot’s book, not Marco’s, and certainly not Angus’.

But I’d paid for the artwork so I had to use it somehow. Also, the color scheme was all wrong – while warm, bold and powerful, it was the wrong tone to take. The school colors are Blue and Silver (with white). So the golden hues of this picture just wouldn’t work. There was no tie-in other than his being an angel.

So the color had to be swapped:

My angel goes from gold to silver blue - Thanks PhotoShop!

My angel goes from gold to teal blue – Thanks PhotoShop!

Now I liked the logo work from the first book image I created (remember the placeholder?).

So that  got incorporated into it but I stayed with the whole duo-tone idea. For some reason I thought it would work, hence:

Book cover version one - EPIC fail - well, sorta.

Book cover version one – EPIC fail – well, sorta.

The feedback was rather instantaneous – a BIG OL’ “MEH…”

Cue face-palm moment on my end. Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking it through.

So I scrambled again when I got up at 7am this morning after reading the email responses from the beta reader/buddy crowd. I began to look through iStock Photo for a footballer (after I remembered to exclude soccer players from that search criteria) and found some fairly decent picts along with a decent price. The best part? Their license was greater than the one I got from selfpubbookcovers.com site. I could walk right up to the 499,999 sale mark before extended licensing came into play. Another cool thing! So yeah, I sorted out which pictures said the most to me. Finally settling on this one:

My Marco (football player) Sforza moment.

My Marco (football player) Sforza moment.

The hubby approved – all the other guys I had targeted as potentials were all holding the ball incorrectly and it rankled my ball playing hubby. Being a former Clemson player, I tended to listen to him on this one. This was the only one where the model sorta had an idea of how to hold the ball. It was the closest we came to the truth. It’s rather stark without any helmet logo (it’s just so damned WHITE), but I knew I could do something about that.

So now my thinking was to marry the previous version with this newer image I had going.

First off, strike the black background so my angel wings would be present in the background – if just a bit more muted than before.

Another thing sort of stuck in my craw a bit: he doesn’t have a jersey number. I might still take care of that – though that is a time consuming process, especially with the folds of the jersey in the picture and having to get it to match up. It would take some work to place a number there and get it right. I still might put in the effort but I’m cool with it without the number as well. I also liked the finger pointing toward the camera because Marco does make a definitive choice to be with Elliot from chapter one and that decision (while two years in the making for Marco) didn’t come easy nor were they ever aware of what a chain of events their coming together would cause in their small hamlet of a town.

But I digress. So back to my cover:

I had to marry the two images – but first I had to take the green tones out of the previous duo-tone image I had going before. This after my author buddy mentioned that “monochrome” covers tended NOT to sell – they get lost in the shuffle (which I supposed he was excluding black as a color in that arrangement, but having been a graphic artist in the DTP days of the 80’s/90’s, I knew better – it was duo-tone). Needless to say, since the blue in the jersey is quite strong I had to unplug the more teal elements from my previous angel incarnation.

So he went silver-blue:

Putting the silver into my angel.

Putting the silver into my angel.

So now the wings were set. I just needed to punch it up a bit and then put my footballer in it. I knew it was going to be one helluva visual break between my footballer (standing in for Marco in my story) and the angel wings in the background – but I was good with it. Those angel wings were symbolic for all of the angelic metaphors within their world (the football team, their namesakes, etc). So I was good with the break in texture. I think it fits. So now in PhotoShop, I had this:

Footballer with his wings

Footballer with his wings

The white was still too prominent but I wanted to see it with the title and my byline (I got all schoolgirl again and couldn’t wait it out) – I also toned down the bluish tint to the wings and made them more silver in appearance since those are the school colors. And I liked that the wings have a dream like quality to them. So now I had this:

Same mock, only this time with the title and the ever important byline.

Same mock, only this time with the title and the ever important byline.

But the white of the helmet was a bit too much – I needed to rough him up a bit – and beside that, the book goes dark in the end. Matthew Shepard dark – but with a twist. That action is what sets up Marco’s book (volume 2) which is told from his perspective.

My author buddy said to think long and hard (well not like that – head out of the gutter now, but you get my meaning) about how I was going to present my byline. I should be consistent with it. I happen to like Copperplate as a font. It can be both serif or sans serif because the actual serifs (the tiny ends on each letter that help to distinguish it from one letter to the next – those little flanges on a T or an A or even a W) are rather small and innocuous. So Copperplate Light it was. It went with the “of Mercy” in the title anyway. And thus, the title work was born and stands strong even now.

I was almost there.

All that white on the helmet and gloves was a bit too distracting. Say nothing that it I was missing an element that spoke of the darkness in my novel. So I needed to punch up the color a notch – something to get it noticed. As my author buddy said, you want it to gain attention when it’s on a grid of 100 other titles on Amazon’s site – that’s the goal. He’s right in that regard, even if sales are not the ultimate end game for me in this endeavor.

Angels came to me in a whirlwind. But it was more of an experiment in my mind that just germinated and took off like hell wouldn’t have it. But I needed to fold in that darker element that will carry the story forward.

Blood, that’s what was needed.

Not a lot, but enough that it’d leave pause for thought – “ooh, blood, that’s not normally on romance novels…” – that sort of thing. A M/M romance with blood on the cover would go against the grain. Mixed signals. Yeah, it’s what the story was calling for. Because the entire work is a series of mixed signals. It’s intended that way. From the first page you are in my protag’s head so you get to hear his random thoughts (even mid-stream in a conversation with someone), and he addresses you, the reader, from time to time. He knows you’re there with him. He talks directly to you. That’s intentional too. And gayboys are always bouncing around. We constantly have to keep rethinking our game. That game being just surviving in a world where you’re constantly reminded that you are not the same as the rest of the world. Your relationships are challenged, you have to keep coming out every single day of your life because everyone will try to assume you are one of them – part of the hetero-normative club. God, in sooooo many ways, I can’t tell you how happy I am not to be in that particular club. For me, being gay means I got lucky.

So yeah, blood was definitely called for here. The story gets quite bloody and quite deadly. But all is not lost – though by the end of the book you might well and truly think so. It’s one helluva ride. And you are having to put up with all of Elliot’s idiosyncrasies and mental ramblings. He is constantly stepping from one foot to another just to stay on top of things. When Marco enters his world it is turned upside down and things have never been so right. But it takes him off his game. Marco soothes and comforts, but he also stirs things in his wake – things he doesn’t want to admit, things that are conspiring to make them both pay for the love they feel for one another. And make no mistake, my boys feel it deeply, like a fever in their blood.

Blood.

Yeah, it needed blood.

Thankfully, I have the entire Adobe suite on hand and have spent a fair amount of time taking special effects courses at the college so I know how to manipulate these kinds of things. So off to After Effects I went with a bevy of blood splattering movies and clips I’d amassed over the years. There had to be some blood I could use somewhere. There was.

Here’s the end result:

The final cover artwork. Blood included.

The final cover artwork. Blood included.

My Marco now has it smeared on the helmet (both top and the face guard) as well as on the glove carrying the ball. It’s subtle but strong statement that all is not well within the small confines of Mercy, California.

But our boys do get their Ever After Happily, I swear. But that’s a discussion for another time.

So, what do you think of the process and the evolution of it all – or did I just devolve the whole damned thing?

 

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