More cover experimenting

I’ve been learning a lot of really great photo editing techniques in Photoshop lately, but no matter how adept I get with the software there are still factors out of my control. For all of the fine control I have over lighting and color and image blending, I am still reliant on finding the perfect stock image of the model I want to use for any given cover. While I really like Mandy from Neo-Stock, she has the wrong hair color for Ana Eloise, and there aren’t really any sets of her with exactly the right clothing. While I was able to make her outfit from her vampire hunter photo shoot look somewhat sci-fi for the second book, I had to switch to a different model entirely for the third book cover.

I’ve been contemplating a solution to this dilemma for quite some time. I’ve tried my hand at painting her myself, which has come up short of my expectations, and I’ve also considered asking one of my daughters if she wanted to stand in for Ana on the covers. Even if she agreed, I’d still have to find a suitable wardrobe, and then there would be the issue of finding a place with the right lighting. There’s also the sticky point about me not being a very good photographer.

A third option has resurfaced recently. I say resurfaced because I’ve attempted it before, but the technology just wasn’t quite there yet, at least not within my budget. Then I saw the latest version of DAZ 3D and the Genesis 8 models (male and female). Basically the software is free, but you pay for the 3D models and any clothing sets or props you need (it’s still cheaper than buying high quality stock photos of professional models, especially ones that allow you to use them on book covers). It’s kind of like a high tech version of playing with dolls. The nice thing about it though is that you get complete control over everything: hair color, eye color, clothing style and color, camera angle, lighting, and even props like weapons or furniture. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination…and your expertise with the software. I have to say it’s a bit of a learning curve, but the software is fairly intuitive considering how advanced it is.

So my plan is to use a version of the Genesis 8 female from DAZ Studio as Ana Eloise on all of the Protectors book covers. You can see my first stab at re-working the cover for The Sixth Seal below. I’ve included the recently remastered version of the original for comparison.

I’ll probably still do a few more adjustments as I become more competent with the software, but so far I’m really liking the results. I’m especially pleased with the hair on the 3D model. One of the most difficult parts about cutting out a model and pasting her over a background is cutting around the hair without making it look fake or badly superimposed. With the 3D model, I can export a rendered image in PNG format and maintain complete transparency around the hair so that every bit of detail carries over and pastes seamlessly over the background. In fact, I could have left off the added white aura around Ana, but I rather like the effect.

I’m going to start working on the setup for the second cover. The hardest part is posing the model in 3D space, but I’ve already got a great sci-fi jumpsuit for her and a super cool laser gun. I’m just a big stupid kid at heart πŸ™‚

Cover progression

I thought I’d show the progression of Trapper’s Glen covers from the initial concept through a couple of revisions and some final detailing.

Here’s the initial concept. I liked the overall aesthetic and the idea, but it was a little lacking and the sign was flat and awkward and didn’t sit in the scene properly.

Trappers_Glen_Simple

Original

 

The next version I got the sign fit into a better orientation by merging the text with the sign and using some of Photoshop’s transformation tools. While the lights on the sign were fun to make and kind of cool, they just didn’t go with the sign. The background is also too dark in this one which obscures many of the details.

Trappers_Glen_Simple_Updated

Updated Cover

 

Almost everything fell into place with this version. I used some rendered Photoshop lights to create a twilight glow in the setting, I brightened the moon, and even added the telephone pole for a little more detail. The only problem was that the sign looked flat and a little fake.

 

Trappers_Glen_Simple_Revised

For the next version, I added a couple of texture layers over the sign using the soft light blending mode. The first texture image was actually old parchment paper. It adds that mottled, grungy look. To add a bit of realism to the sign I added an image of an actual sheet of brushed metal. And finally I added a bit of blood splatter over the population to hint at the tone of the book.

Trappers_Glen_Simple_Newest

For the final version I replaced the original boulder with something that faded into the scene a bit better. I also added a shadow across the bottom right hand corner of the sign and replaced the blood with bullet holes. And I finally had to admit that even though I thought the topo map overlay was cool, no-one else did and it didn’t really add anything either. I guess Stephen King was right…kill your darlings πŸ™‚

 

Trappers_Glen_Simple_Final

This was a fun and challenging cover, and while I’m sure I could make further improvements, I’m pretty pleased with the end result. Now I just need to finish revising and editing the book, so I can put this cover on it and call it done πŸ™‚

A more refined version…

Based on more valuable feedback, I brightened the cover up to better reveal the details by dropping the black layer with fifty percent opacity in favor of rendered lights. I also added a telephone pole to fill in a bit of a void. I definitely like this version the best so far.

Trappers_Glen_Simple_Revised

Another cover update

I made a few changes to the simplified Trapper’s Glen cover based on some valuable feedback I received in the Cover Design Studio over at Scribophile. I still have some work to do, but I like the direction this one is heading in.

A couple of cover options

I’ve come up with a couple of cover options for Trapper’s Glen. I like them both, but I think I might be leaning toward the simpler version with the road sign. What do you think?

 

I received some very good beta reader feedback on Trapper’s Glen, so I think I might do a rewrite and then publish it as soon as I send Eyes of Arcadia off to the editor. So naturally that means I’m creating more covers when I should be writing. What can I say? A procrastinator’s work is never done.

Colorized Cover

Since Ana Eloise is not actually a redhead, and my PhotoShop skills have improved a fair bit since I made the original cover, I decided to color her hair black. I also decided to add some reflected light into her jacket and pants to better blend her into the scene.

The original cover is on the left and the new one on the right. Much of the coloring is subtle, but I think it works well.

I’m not actually going to upload the new cover until the second book comes out (hopefully before the end of the year), but I thought it would be good to revise it a bit to make it match the look and feel of the Eyes of Arcadia cover. Here’s a sneak peak at the current cover for the second book…

Eyes_of_Arcadia_Black_Hair

Covers Reimagined

As usual I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to writing, but at least this time my procrastination resulted in some nicely reimagined covers for a great series written by a fellow Indie author, John Hook.

I highly recommend the Quentin Case series. There are a total of four books, and they’re each a quick and fun read. They’ve got a great hard-boiled pulp vibe, and the main character reminds me of some of my favorites from Roger Zelazny.

You can find them all here on John’s Amazon Author Page:

Books by John Hook

If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read them for free, but even at $2.99 a piece they’re a real bargain.

A NaNoWriMo Win

Another NaNoWriMo is coming to an end. This one has been a really productive one for me, and has helped me to come within spitting distance of the end of The Eyes of Arcadia, the sequel to The Sixth Seal. I officially validated my novel on the NaNoWriMo site today to claim my winner certificate. I don’t really care about the winner goodies this year, it was more about the sense of accomplishment and getting back into a daily writing habit.

As it stands, The Eyes of Arcadia clocks in at thirty-nine chapters and a little over 82,000 words. That’s roughly the equivalent of 328 pages give or take, but when it’s all said and done I expect the rough draft will come in somewhere around 100,000 words and forty-eight chapters. That’ll make it quite a bit longer than the first book. There was definitely more stuff to pack in this book since it explores the origin of Ana’s connection to the Eye of Jupiter and has her traveling back to her home world of Glaxenes and to the eternal city, Arcadia.

The nice thing is that I have a detailed outline all the way to the end, so I know exactly where the story is going and how to get to the finish line. I’m expecting to be completely done with the rough draft sometime next week. Of course there will still be extensive editing and rewriting to do before it’s ready for anyone else’s eyes, but that’s part of the fun. The rough draft is frantic and exhilarating and brings so many emotions to the surface. That stage of the writing really gets the blood pumping, whereas the editing is all about finesse and making the prose either lyrical or pace setting depending on what the scene calls for. That’s the part where I balance the action, reaction and rest cycle so that it’s hopefully an enjoyable experience for the reader.

This book has had a lot of starts and stops, so I’m glad to finally see it to its end. Quite often it was difficult and trying, but more often it was a rewarding experience that further ignited my desire to write. I’m anxious to finish this one so I can switch gears and work on my first Ash Banyan novel, but I’ll also be looking forward to returning to Ana Eloise for the third, and likely final book in the series. I think my idea for the last book will bring the whole thing to a nice conclusion and leave that world in a good place. Tentatively I’m thinking the last book may flash back to Ana’s life as Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, and possibly a brief time when she was Anna Vasa, a Swedish Princess in the late 1500’s.

Well, that’s about it for the time being. I should probably get back to writing now, the voices in my head are calling.

NaNoWriMo

IMG_1316

I know what you’re going to say…but, Josh, you just showed us the nifty little Bluetooth keyboard you paired with your existing iPad Mini so that you wouldn’t be tempted to buy yet another writing device. Obviously I have a problem, so sue me. Some people smoke, some people drink, Β some people eat too much, and some people have a tech addiction. What can I say? I don’t smoke.

Anyway, I actually have a couple of really good excuses…er uh, reasons to buy this particular piece of obsolete technology. Obsolete you say? Why would I buy a piece of obsolete machinery, especially the kind I had previously owned and then sold? Well, I’ll tell you why, and quit looking at me like that. Don’t play coy with me, you know you were secretly judging me.

Any-who, like I was saying, I once again bought a wonderfully obsolete AlphaSmart 3000 because it’s the kind of singular purpose device that the world used to make before we became so obsessed with making every device we use into some kind of unnecessary Swiss Army Knife-esque (shut up, I know it’s a made up word) abhorrent thingy-ma-bob. The kind of abhorrent machines that do a million things at once, but none of them particularly well. The AlphaSmart, originally designed for use by children in classrooms, does one thing exceptionally well. It allows a person so inclined to bash out words free from distraction and untethered from the seductive wiles of the interwebs.

Put simply, you turn it on and type. When you are finished typing, you connect a simple usb cable to it and your computer and open a text file and click the send button on the Alphie (Writer slang for an AlphaSmart). Then you sit back and watch as this simple, sturdy and fun little device spits out your text character by character into the file on your computer. It’s brilliant and I love it. It has a low power screen that lets you see just enough to correct mistakes without overthinking and letting self editing get in the way of that vital first draft. It also runs for about seven hundred hours (yes, you read that right, 700 hours) on three double A batteries, and has roughly a one hundred page capacity.

The Alphie is also unbelievably rugged, and since I only paid twenty dollars on eBay for it (that includes shipping), I won’t be out a bunch of money if something happens to it, unlike a laptop…or even my wonderful iPad Mini with the BlueTooth keyboard. The only sad thing about AlphaSmarts is that the company no longer makes them. Luckily you can still find tons of them on eBay and since they’re so rugged most of them look relatively new despite their age. Seriously though, if I ever win the lottery, I think I might just call up the company and see if I can buy their intellectual property and start making them again myself. There are a ton of writers who swear by them to this day and would probably kill to be able to buy a new one. Even the wildly successful James Scott Bell uses one. There’s even a lovely group on Flickr of all places devoted to the wonders of the AlphaSmart.

But I digress, as usual. The main reason I bought another Alphie is that I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year. That’s short for National Novel Writing Month for all of you not in the know. Which brings me to another contradiction. Instead of using NaNoWriMo to work on my new mystery series, I decided to use the time to finish the first draft of the sequel to The Sixth Seal. I know, I already said I was going to let that sit for a time while I took a different path, but then I changed my mind. Again, so sue me.

I’m still very much into writing mysteries, but that’s not the kind of thing I want to rush through in the mad dash that is NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in one month). Mysteries are complex creatures with twists and turns and red herrings…and maybe blue ones too if you’re really talented. In other words, I want to take my time with the mysteries and get all of the details right. The sequel on the other hand has already been playing out in my mind for the last few years. I just needed the right kick in the pants to get through the first draft and NaNoWriMo is the perfect kick in the pants. Plus, I had a reader email me and tell me how much they enjoyed the first book and how they were eagerly awaiting the second. So essentially I was guilted into it. In truth the characters had been guilting me for quite some time, so I decided I’d better get it done. What better way to do that than with a new, used, wonderfully obsolete AlphaSmart 3000 I ask you?

A new use for some aging tech

I tend to be kind of a device hoarder, especially when it comes to writing. I have an array of computer keyboards in my possession at all times, and I’m obsessed with mobile writing platforms despite the fact that I rarely do any writing away from my home office. So when I got the bug to go online and find another used Alphasmart on eBay, I paused for a moment and thought about whether I needed one or not, and if I might already have something that would serve the purpose if I did decide to pop over to a coffee shop to write next to a gaggle of hipsters… or should that be a horde of hipsters? Anyway…

Then I remembered my old first generation iPad mini that I’d used nearly every day for years until it became a little long in the tooth for some of the applications I wanted to run. It’s certainly not up to streaming high quality video, and I’ve recently switched back to a Kindle for reading, so it was just sitting idly by collecting dust on my desk and biding its time.

Well today its time has come. I’ve paired it with this very inexpensive yet amazingly well made little Bluetooth keyboard from Nulaxy. Supposedly it can last up to 60 days between charges and the case also acts as a nifty little stand to hold a tablet, such as my unflappable iPad mini.

iPad_with_Nulaxy

I’ve paired it with the iOS version of Scrivener, so now I can write on the go in my favorite writing program and then sync the changes to my Mac through Dropbox.

Admittedly I probably won’t use it that often, but it will be convenient when I do, and it also saved me from buying a larger more expensive device that ultimately would have been another dust collector.

Come to think of it, I do need to take one of our cars in for an oil change in the morning. Maybe I’ll take the iPad and my new keyboard with me and get some writing done. I actually finished a complete detailed outline of book one of the Ash Banyan mystery series, so I can finally get to work on chapter one. See, I told you this new device would come in handy…never doubted myself for a minute.