Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)
PLEASE NOTE: This post assumes you have a general knowledge (or wish to gain said knowledge) of how Adobe Photoshop functions and makes no attempt to walk you through that process. There are numerous online tutorials (both written/blog versions as well as video examples) that can easily instruct on the basics of Photoshop.
Okay, this one I have to start out by saying I owe a certain photographer out there a book cover tutorial. He already knows the final product. I’ve shown him that much. But what I’ve struggled with is how to document my creative choices AND not permit anyone to steal his photography artwork in the process (he was kind enough to loan me one for the tutorial I proposed to him). So, here’s the lowdown on that little scenario:
I can’t sort out how to make the image non-downloadable. The issue is I know code to make it do that but the upkeep would be a nightmare because the tech keeps changing and thus at some point it would break and his image would be out there for free! I can’t risk that. So Paul, I did come up with a method of protecting your work BUT I also have never attempted to do what I am going to do so bear with me while I work out the kinks. It’s going to be my first screen cap narrated video! All these years involved in tech and filmmaking and I’ve never done one – I find that truly shocking. But there’s no way to lift a clean copy of the image from that and I won’t worry that tech has progressed enough to crack and allow stealing of Paul’s original image. In the interim – I do hope if you are ever in need of a licensed photo for your book cover, seek out Paul Henry Serres Photography … he’s an amazing artist/photographer and such a lovely man to interact with!
Basically I go from this:
So the video broadcast of using one of Paul’s images for a faux book cover as a tutorial will be coming soon.
Onward to this post in the meantime!
So for Angels of Mercy – Phoenix in the Fire, I needed to come up with the print edition. If you recall, I struggled even to come up with the front cover to begin with. I knew I was going to break from the football theme that had been consistent with the Angels proper series (Phoenix is a companion book and not part of the main series works). If you haven’t seen the evolution of that ebook cover you can find it here.
So the print editions always make me a bit queasy from a design aspect. I mean, I goof around enough with the front cover to get something that looks right. Now to spread that across a full print cover – uh, in a word – YIKES!
But tackle it I must.
So the first stab at it had me thinking since this book was not a proper Angels series book, more of a companion novel, that I could finally depart from the football theme I had going in the Angels proper part of their world. Also, since this book was narrated by Elliot I thought I should sort of mirror what I did for the Angels V1 book – use some artwork that I would create for Elliot and put it on the back cover.
So, with that in mind I toyed around and around until I came up with this little ditty:
While the idea of using another piece of Elliot’s artwork as a way of tying it back to the first book he narrated, the violence he had to claw his way back from didn’t come across in this version. Even with the fire and blood splatters, it just wasn’t where I needed to go with it. People liked it well enough, even I did, to a point. But it seemed I was settling in drafting it. I could do better to represent the story plot line.
So I let it percolate a bit, stewing in its own unsettled sauce, as it were. Then I became inspired – why not go with Elliot being shown as rising (sort of the next step from the front cover of the book – only this time more fully formed and capable – it is what happens in the work) from his adversity? So I decided to start combing the stock photos out there, searching for a teen-ish looking boy that I could put up for Elliot (who also had to fit the way I’d always envisioned him). My budget for this cover wasn’t substantial, so I had to stick to stock photo sites I already had subscriptions to … which can be limiting at times. This time though, it paid off.
Here is the original image I started with (I purchased the license for the actual work – just showing the comp for the purposes of this post).
Two things were against me in starting with this – 1) the background setting and 2) the lighting. Both of which could be addressed but it was a consideration going in.
I also needed angel’s wings … to keep with the phoenix/angel motif I had from the front cover.
And believe it or not, there is actually a background in the final product – though, what I did to the whole piece did sort of obscure most of it. Ah well, the price of art, I suppose.
With my pieces in hand I began to work. The first thing I started off was the composition of elements to see if what I wanted to do would work. After I hastily placed items I twitter messaged my go to for all things Angels and asked him what he thought. He gave me the thumbs up on my little mock up:
It was a start. But I needed to start mucking around a bit to get it closer to both the theme of rising from your own ashes to something greater AND keep to the color spectrum of the original ebook cover.
First up – I needed some action! Photoshop actions, to be precise.
Of course, this begs the obvious that you have to have Photoshop to begin with to attempt to do what I show here in this post. So for those that don’t – might I suggest that if you are a self-pubber wanting to save a bit of cash over time (won’t be an immediate savings) that you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud (TODAY) and start to dive in and sort it. It’s not all that hard to do. Yes, it will take you away from writing, but if you want to be in control of your creative destiny by self-publishing, then this too, is part of your craft/business. If you can gain these skills and add them to your talent coffers, just think of the money you’ll save on designs for swag, promotional banners/ads/bookmarks and the like? Design once, distribute multiple times (be sure to understand your licensing of the graphics before you do … a very important point I can’t stress enough). You don’t have to have a big time eye for art … look at what attracts you and mimic it for a bit (not using it for commercial purposes, but more to hone your creative eye for placement, typography, and marketing). Learn from those that seem to work and gain your interest – start to cultivate a discerning eye on why it works for you. Then go and make the attempt yourself. Use comp images for that – the intent is not to publish but to perfect your design capabilities. With the subscription price of Creative Cloud at various levels, there is a path to get Photoshop on your desktop fairly easily.
So, enough of my – hone your craft – speech, back to the book cover:
With my photoshop actions tucked into my design arsenal I began to work on the individual parts to bring the whole book cover together.
First up I had to address the male model and the background I didn’t need. Easy enough – using the quick select and magic wand tools I quickly selected him and cut and pasted to a new layer in a new doc (or you can place him in a new doc on a new layer – your choice). After putting him on his own layer I went back to the background layer and filled it with a solid color. To properly begin to compile you need to isolate all of your separate images to solo pieces that you can begin to manipulate into your composite artwork. One word about cutting the model out of a background – sometimes precision is required so that every stray (unwanted) pixel needs to be cleaned up before you can proceed to compositing your final image. In my case I knew I was going to throw a helluva lot of graphical elements and adjustments to it do precision on cropping him out of the original background wasn’t so essential. The actions I’d be applying would more than likely obliterate any odd pixel hanging out there that I didn’t have to be so precise this time around.
In this revision, I also had to find a way to use the Mercy High Avenging Angels football logo that I wanted to tie this book with the main series (the team logo appears there). Since I discarded the previous artwork from my first draft I decided to repurpose it as a piece of clothing. The male model luckily had a very neutral hoodie on that had absolutely no graphic or artwork of any kind – BINGO! I’m in.
So how do you do that?
DISPLACEMENT MAPS (learn all you can about them – brilliant little nugget that will allow you to modify standard fair stock art into something a bit more unique)!
For a decent tutorial on them I would start here (though googling “Photoshop Tutorial Displacement Maps” brings up a ton of tutorials out there to guide you along. Long story – short, I got the logo placed on my guy and it bent and folded along the warps of the hoodie with no problem. I was quite pleased with the results. To compare look at the image above this section and then scroll back down to note the addition of the football team logo on the hoodie with the lower image.
This was the end result (obviously sans the “SAMPLE” stamp across it):
The wings and desolate background with the cloudy sunset were fine as they were – the only thing I needed to address was to separate the two wings into two separate images that I could manipulate on the final composite image.
Next up – The wings … I wanted them to have a specific shape (other than the form they came in).
The default layout of the wings from my first attempt (two images above) have them outstretched – the way I bought them. But I wanted them to be more in “flight” mode. Thus I needed to distort each wing to give them that sort of look. To do this you have each wing on it’s own layer and then select the wing and choose EDIT –> Transform –> Distort. Then you pull the handles surrounding the selected image to manipulate the wing into what you want it to do. You can alternatively use Skew and Perspective or Warp should Distort not completely satisfy.
Remember with Photoshop you can always roll back to a previous action via the History panel so feel free to experiment. Don’t like the adjustment you just made … simply click the history level one level (or as many as you like) to roll back to a good starting point and go at it another way.
Once the wings were in the position I wanted them in (see below) I duplicated the layers and placed them in the composite image for further manipulation:
I realized I wanted to make them a bit translucent as your eye traveled from the frame bone structure along the top of the wings to the lower extremities.
So I now compiled the separate elements so I could use the first Photoshop action by Seven Styles (footnote: they’re extremely powerful actions that will save you oodles of time, look great, are easily modifiable, and the best part – they’re super inexpensive!). In this case, I started off using the STORM action from Seven Styles. An example of how it works can be found in the following video tutorial (don’tcha just love his Aussie accent?):
After applying that action it turned out like this …
As you can see with the video each of these actions can be altered and modified to suit your needs. With the above action the color scheme started to skew toward matching the front cover. Next up I needed to add the fire and brimstone look to it so I could match the front cover’s fiery theme – the big difference? I wanted the back cover to be more hopeful. The front cover has Elliot soaring out of the fiery hellish hole his boyfriend’s teammates put him in. It’s ragged and meant to be representational of his slog to get out of that hell.
So with the Fire action (see the video below if you want to know more), I finally started to see things come closer to what I wanted – a more hopeful vision but still with the grit and determination to find his way back to the love of his life.
After running that action my photo now looked like this:
I played around with the various layers and adjustment layers to set the right tone I was looking for, getting it as close to the color and tone of the front cover, and then added the blurb to match the author byline on the cover. And, voila! The work is complete.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have concerning this by emailing me at email@example.com or by leaving them in the comments below.
Until next time …
For My First Fan – Why I Write
For Michael Rumsey – on his birthday.
Writing is a strange business. There are so many reasons why authors write. For some it is because they have this burning sensation to get a story out there. Something that has germinated to the point of festering that if you don’t put it down on digital or physical paper then you’ll very likely go mad.
Madness is often a trait all writers share. We’re quirky people by nature. Mostly because we eye the world in a very particular way. Whether your write fiction or not, you job is to chronicle what we see and what we experience and what is possible in this world. We are stewards and documenters of the human condition in all its varied expressions – factional and fictional alike.
Some write because they hope they’ll hit the motherlode, the big pay-off and will be surrounded by the wealth and recognition that burning desire to write demands of their work. Actually, thinking upon it, that doesn’t apply to just some writers. I’d go so far to say that it goes for nearly 2/3, if not more, of the writing community that’s out there.
Recognition is nice. Money is nice (hell, money doesn’t hurt no matter what line of work you take on). All of those are very good reasons to write.
But that’s not why I do it.
Oh, to be sure, I have a burning inside to put a story (or seven at my current count) down in digital bytes and bits. That part is true for me. Their pseudo-fiction, too. While I weave stories with heightened drama, operatic in scope against a mundane landscape, the human elements are deeply rooted in real life experiences of my queer brothers (and sisters) that I’ve collected over the years.
It’s no small revelation. I’ve said as much before on the podcast, probably to the point of ad nauseum for some of our listeners (I do try to curb that, honestly).
I’ve even said as much in an earlier blog post. So none of what I’ve stated is new. What I have been asked (either by articles about the craft of writing that posed this question, or by other authors in our discussions on the WrotePodcast), is “who is your audience?”
That’s an interesting question. For me, the answer is far different I should think than my author pals I’ve come to know and respect. I write for gay men who, for one reason or another, are isolated from our community. That took me a while to sort out, too.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate other people who love what I do, because I do. But they are not my intended audience. I write for a fraction of a fraction of a readership. I am not aiming at the “sky’s the limit” stratosphere of recognition or wealth. I’d be nice, but I don’t kid myself that it’s going to happen.
My husband said early on:
“You know who you’re writing to. You’ve already figured it out, even if it hasn’t made itself known to you.”
He’s a retired psychiatrist (as well as a quantum mechanics physicist that worked for NASA and JPL) so he tends to give me Gandalf-like tidbits of wisdom when I least expect it.
What is different with this blog post is that today is the birthday of my very first fan.
Michael and I met via a website that was set up to foster those people, who, for one reason or another, felt disenfranchised or removed from the greater GLBT community (either by circumstance (they are still closeted or physically remote enough that finding others of our community is simply not possible). For the most part there are a lot of young people who populated the site. It’s a cool place and a valid resource as the moderators there try to keep people of our community connected to resources that can provide assistance and a place to congregate online so they feel a little less removed. This has always been a passion of mine, to connect with others who don’t feel connected. To say, “I see you. Let’s become friends.”
Michael was one of those men who joined the site.
I can’t say why I reached out to him. I think it was that I had reached a point writing Angels of Mercy where I wanted some feedback on the work and I opened it up in one of the forums on the site for queer people to inquire about it and to read it and give me feedback. Michael was the first to do so.
We struck up a casual conversation via the message board/forum and quickly migrated to email correspondence. Eventually this progressed to exchanging phone numbers because some of what we talked about just would’ve been easier over the phone rather than long winded emails.
When I met Michael he really felt the need to connect. To be honest, by his own admission, he hadn’t been a reader much in the years he spent in a hetero marriage, with kids, too. He’d gotten a divorce, moved to CA and spent some time getting to know some people in the GLBT community. Family matters brought him back to the country of Michigan (where he is when I met him and where he is now) and pretty much removed him from queer life. In many respects Michael needed contact. He needed to talk about stuff. But Michael was also intrigued by my work. So I gave it to him.
I waited and I sat on egg shells while he had it. He came back to me a couple of days later. I was on pins and needles (as the saying goes) to find out what he thought.
Because, you see, he was the first person outside of family and close friends who read the work as I worked on it. So his opinion mattered in so many ways. He fell in love with my boys from Mercy High. I was beyond elated. I’d made a connection. One that truly mattered because not only did he like what he read, but over time he’d progressed to reading quite a bit of queer fiction. I’d put books back into his life. That was truly the most awesome gift I could receive. Greater than any five star review, greater than all the blog posts and adulation my work could receive, that singular conversation after he’d read the work and wanted to talk about Elliot, Marco, Danny and the rest had me soaring for days after.
It was then that my husband’s words about the work before I’d handed it to anyone came back to me. I was writing for Michael. I write for those men who feel remote, removed and crave some reflection of their lives and loves.
I’ve been enriched by my continuing conversations with him. We’ve not had the pleasure to meet in person. It simply hasn’t been possible for quite a few reasons. But we stay connected. Whenever I am in doubt, I seek out his opinion on things. Over time he is not the only queer man who has come to me and said that Angels gave them something, made their world a little less remote. They felt connected to my boys, they talk about them as if they’re real. I know the feeling.
I even wrote a short story about werewolves during the NaNoWriMo event back in 2014, going so far as to write him in as one of the characters. Michael loves werewolves. It’s a series I started just for him. (Yeah, yeah, Michael, I know, I need to get the next one out there … I’m working on it!)
But Michael was the first. He is my goto whenever I want an opinion on something. I value his thoughts and his attentiveness to what I do.
So Michael, on your special day, I wanted to acknowledge that I see you, I am so proud to call you my friend. I am thankful for the conversations we’ve held – both book related and about life in general. I value each time you look my way and have something to say – even if it’s just “hey …”.
You’re a treasure, Michael. My first fan. My good friend. Happiest of birthdays. I wish you nothing but the best. And yes, one day we’ll find an Elliot to call your very own.
Count on it.
Until next time …
– SA C
When Worlds Collide
Writing is a funny business. And by funny, I mean peculiar.
The reason I say this is that what any given writer writes about has to come from a place of either economics (wanting to survive by your writings), passion (a story that just won’t let its author go), or as a means of vindication (having your opinion heard on a given topic – a reasoning and establishing your point of view in a debate).
But therein is where it gets peculiar (at least to my way of thinking). I am solidly in the middle camp. I write from passion. I don’t give a fuck if it’s embraced. I’d like it to be, but it is not a requirement. I’ve said this before. I am a successful writer because I complete a project. I see it through. It may not find its audience until I am well and truly gone. But it’s out there – my voice among the collective. For all time, as they say, because nothing in the internet really goes away (save a cataclysmic alien invasion that wipes out our tech in favor of their own). Right?
I recently had such an experience come to light with my works. I am writing to explore the institutionalized forms of homophobia in competitive sports – in the case of Angels of Mercy, American high school football. It’s done fairly well, given I don’t expect it to be the next Friday Night Lights or something of that sort. For one, I don’t concentrate on the hetero-centrist bullshit that permeates nearly all of literature and media out there. Jesus, how our straight counterparts are so weak that they have to have so many stories written about them. True, there is a burgeoning interest in our stories, but let’s be honest, it’s still small by comparison. Given the latest study on the GLBT impression in media – we are still in the single digits by way of exposure in the mainstream.
Part of that I lay fully at the feet of my own queer community. A large swath of queer men don’t partake of books, TV or movies that focus on our lives to really make their financial impact heard in the mainstream. And when we do have something that speaks to us, about our lives as we live them (*cough* LOOKING *cough*), it is bashed by its own community for not being representational of the whole.
“We don’t live like that. Not everyone is in the bushes looking for a hook-up.”
True on both counts. Yet, it was bashed so harshly by those of us in the queer community that now it’s gone. Now we’re relegated to tongue-in-cheek facades of Ryan Murphy’s worlds (Glee took a major leap off the cliff after the third season, American Horror Story, while great, is definitely over the top, and if AHS was out there, then Scream Queens left the planet for queer representation years before it aired). Yet with Looking gone, another of our voices became stamped out. And we did it to ourselves. Rather than engage the producers and creatives behind that show (a show I happened to have loved) it was torn apart at the seams.
What is HBO or Showtimes take away? Queer storytelling that focuses on the queer characters don’t sell. Even to our own community.
(Read that last part again, in case you missed just how cutting that is to our own stories.)
That’s beyond pathetic. It’s self-annihilation, or a fucked up internalized homophobia to the nth degree, if you ask me. Self-inflicted. How fucked up is that?
I just recently watched, with my husband, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
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It was a brilliant and intense queer story. It opened up so many reasons why I loved Looking as I did. It did NOT have a happy ending. It just ended – leaving you to ponder what happened next. Did the boy left behind pursue his lover to the US? Or did he just simply give up? I LOVED that. I loved the not knowing. Allowing me to decide for myself how it all ended.
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I also want to see Lilting.
Jesus, that one looks like it will emotively crush me. I live for those works. I recently watched Ben Whishaw in London Spy. That one also rattled me a great deal. It was queer storytelling that was epic in how brilliant it twist and turned on a dime. Ben Whishaw was brilliant in that work as well. I love my queer men and their simple complicated lives. I love talking to other queer men about their lives and loves and losses. They hold me spellbound. They truly do. Their stories are far more potent or powerful because they exist in the face of often monumental adversity. I admire them. They are my romance. Every single one of them. Even when we don’t agree. I still love and admire them. How could I not? They are from different mothers, but they are my brothers nonetheless.
This is partially why I rail at romance tropes. Not enough is being done to write about us as we are. It’s why I can’t write those things. Not when there is so much more to talk about. I get that it’s writing to “hope” – well, romance as a genre doesn’t have the lock on hope. It’s also why I can’t get all gushy about Disney fairy tales (though I will say I was pleasantly surprised by Maleficent). Because they’ve applied solid romantic tropes to stories that had none of that in it. Look at all the works those sweet retellings are based on – there’s none of that happy ever after in the original works. Mother Goose and Brothers Grim were outright scare monsters of fictional storytelling. Nothing short of it.
But I’m a bit off topic here.
What I wanted to get to with this post, is that the crossroads of queer fiction (or as I’d like to now call it – just plain literary fiction – because I am all about the equality) and romance. Somehow the works that take a solid look at our lives as they are get bashed because there is an automatic assumption that anything queer MUST have a HEA. Yes, there are genre and sub-genre works out there, but let’s be honest, their sales probably would do a helluva lot better if that HEA albatross wasn’t out there ready to sack any fictional work that has a queer protagonist/hero doing their damnedest to get to the last page of the story.
This came home to roost with a new reader who found my works and seemed to enjoy what I was writing. Or so I thought. I’ve since learned that no matter how much you put out there that the work is NOT romance, the prevailing winds are if it is queer then it MUST BE romance. Another reason why I rail at that genre. It’s poisoning the coffers of other works out there. I don’t fucking care if it sells. It still should not myopically mar the other stories that need to be told.
I write what I like to read, and what I like to watch. To give you context, I like heightened drama – Downton Abbey, ANYTHING by Shondaland (How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, etc), things of that nature. I like it when characters are pushed to their absolute limits of what they think they can handle. Then we get to see some real character development. Why? Because humans grow from adversity. It’s built into who we are. Whether we choose to collapse and withdraw (which is a choice) or to fight and press on. We evolve to one end of the human spectrum or another. THAT’S powerful storytelling. Safe stories with safe endings don’t provide that. They just provide the candy like feel good moment before it’s dropped and moved onto the next sweet morsel of storytelling. Police procedurals don’t interest me. Mostly because they are formulaic to a great degree. I have Sherlock (the Cumberbatch edition, if you please) that satisfies that far better than any NCIS or procedural out there. I’m a solid card carrying Cumberbitch, and proud of it!
I also come from the world of professional opera. I write operatic pieces set against the normality of life. I like watching my safe characters who, as its author, I want them to find happiness just as much as the next guy, struggle like hell to get there – whatever their HEA is (and it definitely doesn’t have to involve romance or a romantic theme). But in my worlds, as in life, none of it is guaranteed. I’ve said I am a pantser, in that I have tentpoles up that mark where I want the story to go, but I also let the characters drive the drama. Sometimes they’ve even surprised me. Actually, they surprise me a helluva lot.
So this new reader seemed to like what I was doing. But I thought, because I was careful to explain in ALL of my blurbs and marketing about the works, that they are NOT romance reads, that I was covered by that simple statement. I’ve never professed them to be romance in any stretch of the imagination. I don’t do romance. I can’t. I want to push my characters into very, VERY, uncomfortable places. I like watching them squirm and rationalize their own fucked up viewpoints, I want them to explore why they are doing what they are doing. I want my readers to see the dangers of their thinking. They are very, very specific works. Not for everyone.
But again, that is my passion. That’s what I write. Heavily influenced by my years in the opera world telling those types of stories to the masses.
I was once in the wings about to go on for the final tableau setting of Cavalleria Rusticana when one of my opera singing gay buddy besties came along side me. We loved to quietly crack jokes and goad one another backstage before we had to go on and be over the top dramatic. Keeping the balance, ya know? Humor before tragedy and all that rot. So I turned to him and said, just before the ear shattering scream one of our cast members was tasked with when the hero is killed in a duel:
“Why can’t we do a happy opera sometime?”
To which he replied:
“Who’d come to see it?”
He had a very valid point. His response is what’s guided my hand while I write what I write. I write opera. I write drama. No automatics in those works. In fact, it’s expected that shit won’t work out. That the ending will be cataclysmic and disastrous. If I can pull a rabbit out of my hat and give my characters a happy ending that works, then yay me. But I don’t do automatics. Hell, sometimes I only vaguely know how it’s going to end when I start. And even then, that ending is ALWAYS a moving target as I see it finally in my sight at the end of the work.
*Series Spoiler Alert*
Well, I asked this new reader to preview the next release – Angels of Mercy: Phoenix in the Fire. He said he’d love to read it and provide feedback. This book is dark. It’s not a happy book by any stretch of the imagination. How could it be? It is about being the victim of a very horrific beating by your boyfriend’s teammates. That is going to do a number on how you see your world, despite which avenue you choose to crawl out from that terrifying hole: to survive and become stronger (the hardest of the two) or to collapse inwardly and withdraw from everyone you know (sadly, the usual tract most take). I wanted to explore the former rather than the latter. It’s easier to implode from that sort of homophobic beat down. I wanted Elliot to climb out of that hole and find an inner strength to himself. Elliot struggles to accept the love that is freely given to him by many in his life. He thinks he’s not worth it. Many gay men have this struggle for one reason or another. I wanted to have that as part of his inner monologue.
Well, suffice to say that my new enthusiastic reader wasn’t very taken with the new book. In fact, when I asked him what he found that didn’t work (because I truly wanted to explore that) it became very clear to me he was reading it as a romance read. I tried to explain that I wasn’t writing that. It was too late. Phoenix had soured the work for him. I haven’t heard anything since my last email that tried to explain what the works truly are. Other betas advised me to leave it – to distance myself from that situation. But I’ve toiled with it in my head. It’s stuck in my craw, so to speak.
But it did point out why my ire at the romance trope exists. It is poisoning other works. The expectation that ALL stories must have romance tropic happy endings is destroying proper storytelling. It is also setting expectations out there for works that are nowhere near that form of writing.
I don’t do romance. I probably never will. I write us as we are.
There. I’ve stated it once again. Not that anyone is really paying any attention. Those tropic bullshit expectations will still be there. I’ll still rail against them and flip them the big ol’ bird and purposefully write darker works that put a magnifying glass on our community as we are just to spite those Disneyesque saccharine laden pieces of fiction.
I write drama. Operatic drama. Period. Deal with it, or move on. I’ll continue to write either way.
Until Next Time …
Embracing the Improbable
It shouldn’t exist. I never intended it to exist, yet, there it is.
What am I babbling about now? My next release – Angels of Mercy – Phoenix in the Fire (due March 2016).
The book ostensibly is a work of fiction in and of itself. Its evolution was predicated on a mistake. I’ve blogged a bit about it before. But here it is, in all it’s behemoth glory:
Clocking in at roughly 639 pages, and 218K words it’s an opus of a book that shouldn’t exist. But you know what? I’m rather pleased with it.
As I’ve stated many times before and on the podcast, I’m all about the headspace and how perceptions rule our world but we seldom give them credence and understand the prominence they have in our lives. Phoenix doest that, and I think it does it very well.
Angels, at it’s core, is really about dealing with the physical and emotional fallout from a heinous act of homophobic proportions and how the victim in it decides not to fold but rather rise from the ashes of that terrible beatdown. But in his evolving and climbing out from that hell hole the boys who beat him put him in, there are voices in his head that do their level best to protect him and try and guide him. He is comforted by that inner-gayboy voice that has always been there for him – warning him, throwing up red flags and cautionary flares whenever that inner-gayboy perceived a threat in Elliot’s world. It had served him well for most of his young gayboy life, but ultimately that voice failed him when he most needed it. Something had to change for him to evolve.
Elliot makes mistakes as he emerges, in this he learns to find a steely core in himself (personified by a new internal voice he calls Bitchboi). I use these competing voices (gayboy and Bitchboi) to demonstrate that evolution. What Elliot learns is that it isn’t just one voice over the other, but rather a learned and intentional concert of those two voices that enable Elliot to truly soar above his beatdown.
Elliot also surprised me as a character. I mean, I know his arc, I know what he’s made of – he is my invention after all – but he still found ways to take me on a journey as his creator. In that way, he came to life even more than I ever dreamed he would. I loved his new levels of vulnerability and how he learned to turn those feelings of inadequacy into defensive mechanisms that helped him cope with not only his rising from his attack, but how to turn the tables on those who became new threats to his already fragile world.
This book truly lives up to its name – it has risen in my estimation and in my love for the work. A simple mistake of my husband nudging me (erroneously) to redo Volume 2 in Elliot’s voice (instead of the planned POV of his boyfriend, Marco) and I have been completely been blown away by what came out of that. It was a book that, when I realized the mistake of writing it in Elliot’s voice, was doomed for the digital fire as a scrapped piece of prose. It was my husband who saved it – ironic, isn’t it? He said:
Why don’t you just release it as a companion book to Marco’s?
At first I didn’t see the brilliance or the possibilities that it would present. But now I do. Now I couldn’t be happier with this mistake of a novel. I only hope my readers do.
It isn’t a proper Angels novel. It isn’t a planned part of the Angels canon but it WORKS!
I couldn’t be happier.
Here’s hoping my readers agree with that assessment.
Until next time …
– SA C
Poking and the Art of Evolution
I’m a poker. Have been most of my life – probably since childhood. It starts because something catches my interest. I’m like a crow in that way. I bumble along completely thinking of something else or another and then – WHAM! – something catches my eye. Like that crow, I stop everything and become consumed with …
“Oooh, look! It’s shiny!”
I can’t help it. It is what it is. I know this about myself so I’ve learned to adapt, to roll with it. It’s just how I, er, roll … (rolling eyes at that one).
So what’s caught my eye this time? One of my book covers for Angels of Mercy. And here’s the thing: everyone gets all goose pimply on social media (and by everyone, I mean authors, book cover artists and yes, even the readers) and they lose their shit over a cover reveal.
I’m just not getting that. Yeah, it’s cool to see what the cover looks like. I get that. But I am not one to sit in total anticipation for the big shiny (crow-like) reveal of some book. You can tell me a year before the book’s release and my reaction would be the same. I’d marvel at it and move on. It would either intrigue me to read the blurb or not.
Insert shrugging shoulders here.
But as a content creator, I think of them as two wholly exclusive things. One doesn’t negate the other’s importance. And they don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Maybe I’m not seeing it correctly.
But as a cover artist (of which I used to do promotional work for the performing arts community for many years), I have to be inspired to create, do the creating and then toss it out there and see what happens. In that, it is just like my writings – I am doing it for the art of creation. If others find it of interest, cool beans. But that’s not why I am doing it to begin with. Not even close.
I suppose it has to do with my background in live theater (musicals, operettas, operas, etc). That is probably why I think about them the way I do. They may not be interchangeable to others – exclusive of one another but oddly related – but it’s just how my brain works, so I go with it – applying art and craft and allowing it to evolve, whatever it may be.
So what am I babbling about this time?
The cover to my next release: Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (I’ll walk through it below). It’s gone through some strange permutations over the months. For starters, it’s for a book that shouldn’t exist. I never planned to write it. That was my husband’s doing. I was just about to get cracking on the final edits of Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco (as shown above), and as I was leaving for my Clark Kent day gig, my husband murmurs to me from the bed (he gets to have a sleep in as he’s retired now – but no rest for the weary me) and said:
“Why don’t you have Volume Two told by Elliot instead of Marco? I think it would make for a better point of view for the next part of the series. You are writing Marco’s backstory, so why not keep Angels proper in Elliot’s voice?”
It was a worthy comment. It stopped everything I did. I drove to work gutted that my 750+ page second volume would now be shelved. He didn’t tell me to shelve it, but the implication was: I don’t think Marco is serving the greater arc here.
So in late August (of 2015) – weeks away from it’s promoted release, I shelved Marco and completely re-wrote the work in Elliot’s POV. I got 3/4 of the way through Elliot’s take in the intervening weeks and realized WHY Marco had to tell this part of the story. So I went back to the hubster and informed him that Marco’s v2 was back on track and that we needed to get it out the door.
On November 30th, with long editing sessions over the Thanksgiving day holiday, it was finally released. The cover of which you see above. I am very happy with it. Those that have read it thus far all seem to think it’s a great addition to the Angels stable of books. I always sort of knew Marco’s book was going to be the biggest part of the Angels series. He just has the most to tell. It was always going to be that way.
So then, after it’s release, my husband said –
“Why don’t you release Elliot’s book anyway as a companion book?”
There was some merit to it. These books are perception plays. They are character studies in what is their perceived truth and how do they move through their world with that truth – only to discover that they may not have it right and have to struggle with that new information. The books serve and explore a specific purpose. That’s why they are not romance reads even though at it’s core they have a very strong romance threaded through them.
So what to do with Elliot’s POV work of the same timeline as V2? I polled my betas and they seem to like the idea that knowing what Elliot has going on in his noggin might be an interesting take in relation to what his boyfriend (Marco) might be thinking during Elliot’s recuperation from the homophobic beatdown at the hands of Marco’s football teammates.
Okay, that was big spoiler from V1 – sorry.
So here’s where the poking comes in and reason for this blog entry. I had to create a cover for it. But it’s not a proper Angels book. It’s a companion book to the second volume. So from a design perspective, I thought I could deviate from the football theme I’ve had running in the main series of the books. Thematically, they are about the effects of homophobia in competitive sports – in this case, American high school football – thus, the footballer on most of the works. But for Phoenix I needed something that was wholly Elliot (even V1 has an image of Marco on the cover though it’s told from Elliot’s POV). I had to do something different to make the companion book stand out.
So here was the first stab at it:
The title and the image comes from a passage in the book where Marco commissioned a piece of art from his boyfriend’s favorite artist to create an original work that featured Elliot in it. He said he wanted it to represent Elliot’s being a Phoenix In The Fire (apologies to Troye Sivan – as I borrowed a line from his song “Bite” for it). I wanted it to evoke a mystical element to it, playing on Angels and the Phoenix mythos. It received mixed comments. It wasn’t wholly right for what I wanted either. But it was something.
As I was writing Elliot’s Phoenix I came up with another burst of creativity and decided to try something else. How about a more painterly fairy fable look? Sidebar: the book has none of this in it so this one was doomed from the start. But I was in a poking, creative mood so off I went on this artistic tangent. It happens – part crow, remember?
And I ended up with this:
It was fun to create, but I knew it wasn’t right. I polled friends on Facebook and they were fairly clear that it didn’t work for the work at hand. I thought so too, but I had fun creating it. As a rule I never throw ANYTHING creative away.
But the next attempt was closer to where it needed to go – though it still wasn’t quite right either.
I wanted fire to be a strong element in the cover art. So I played around with a great Photoshop action to solve this dilemma. It seemed to work. My betas all said it was a better take on it. So it has lingered since mid-December in this form – until this past weekend.
When the twitch of my artistic finger became too much to ignore and I became inspired to poke at it again.
Now I think I have it. This is what I had roiling around in my head back then (admittedly, it’s a bit over the top, but it does evoke the climb out of the physical hell Elliot’s beatdown put him in). Fire is ever present this time around. Which is exactly what I want to convey. Plus, I think the cover will stand out amongst all the bare torsoed men that are plastered all over M/M books. Insert SERIOUSLY rolling eyes on that topic alone.
So here’s the final, FINAL, version of Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (to be released Mid-to-Late-February of this year):
Oooh, look … it’s shiny!
I’m good with that.
Until next time …