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Bloodroom Review

Horror writer Carl Alves gave my vampire novel a cool review, calling Bloodroom’s characters”compelling” and saying it “presents some interesting elements in vampire lore.” Thanks Carl! Check out the review and then explore Carl’s books. I’m currently enjoying his novel Blood Street on audiobook.bloodroom3D4blog


For Valentines Day

My vampire novel, Bloodroom, is an extremely dark and twisted romance. For Valentines Day, I give you an excerpt where two vampires, Julian and Swisher, argue about what love is.

Join their conversation on Valentines Day, 3PM CMT at the For the Love of the Written Word Facebook event.

What’s your definition of love? Tell us for a chance to win one of these great prizes:

1) Bloodroom — in audiobook

2) Bloodroom and The Bad Death — a two-fer e-book bundle 

3) Night at the Demontorium: The Complete Anthology — e-book ARC (or if hardcore horror isn’t your thing, an e-book of one of my novels)

See me at 3PM CMT Valentines Day. I can’t wait to hear what love means to you!

FLWWbannergraphic


Lighting Pallas: A Photoshop Trick

I recently altered some photos for a cast-of-characters animation on my site thebaddeath.com (the landing page for The Bad Death, the first in a historical trilogy and the second in the Bloodroom series of vampire novels). This blog post explains some tricks I used in Photoshop to make an image more atmospheric. First of all, meet Pallas, as pictured in the image I got from 123rf.com. Pallas is the best friend of the trilogy’s heroine, Anika. Pallas is either a victim, a predator, or both. To know for sure, read The Bad Death  😉

Once in Adobe Photoshop, I used the Apply Image feature to replace the black backdrop to an image of an outdoor setting. To learn more about this step, read my post called A Photoshop Trick for Book Marketing. After Applying the image to Pallas, I decided to change the lighting on Pallas’ image. You see the image above shows the woman in warm lighting. I wanted Pallas to look moonlit because in The Bad Death, Pallas is almost always sighted at night.

To cast a blueish moonlight glow over Pallas, I selected Image from Photoshop’s top menu, scrolled the dropdown menu to select Adjust, then chose Variations at the bottom of Adjust’s dropdown menu. The Variations pallet visually shows color adjustments. I chose “More Blue” and “More Cyan” to give Pallas a blue cast that would imply moonlight.

I wanted to make the moonlit sky more dramatic, so I copied the layer, cut out Pallas till I had only the sky on the copied layer, then used the blending feature of that layer to alter the sky. The blending feature causes the layer in question to react against the layer beneath it to produce a visual effect. If memory serves, I chose the Hard Light blending option. You can see in the third image how Pallas’ background has more contrast between highlight and shadow, resulting from my choice of blending option.

So, there you have it, boys and girls!


Thomas Jefferson, Single Parent

Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President may have also been our nation’s 1st hot dad (DILF?). When his young wife died; the grief-stricken man had infant Lucy, four-year old Polly, and 10-year old Patsy to raise. Due to a deathbed promise to never remarry, he remained a single parent. Lucy died in childhood. Jefferson, Polly, and Patsy clung tenaciously to each other and, though more often separated than not, remained in constant contact through letters. Jefferson set standards for his girls in education and deportment that were unusual in his day and appear impossible and unhealthy in ours. I give you a few parenting rules from Thomas Jefferson, with tongue in cheek:

No Casual Friday: Jefferson instructed Patsy in one letter, “Be you from the moment you rise till you go to bed as cleanly and properly dressed as at the hours of dinner or tea. A lady who has been seen as a sloven or slut in the morning, will never efface that impression …” Ouch!

Sources Cited Below Post

No Downtime: Here’s a typical study schedule:

  • From 8. to 10 o’clock practice music.
  • From 10. to 1 dance one day and draw another
  • From 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter the next day.
  • From 3. to 4. read French.
  • From 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
  • From 5. till bedtime read English, write & c.

 

Of Course, I’ll Always Love You, If Jefferson’s instructions were at times given as a road map to his heart. In a letter to Patsy, he wrote, “I have placed my happiness on seeing you good and accomplished, and no distress which this world can now bring on me can equal that of your disappointing my hopes …Keep my letters and read them at times that you may always have present in your mind those things which will endear you to me.”

It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt: What illegitimate children? What mistress? When Patsy and Polly lived at Monticello as young adults, it can’t have gone unnoticed that his unmarried slave woman, Sally Hemings, only got pregnant when their father was home from Washington. The illicit relationship was never acknowledged. When it became a national scandal, the Queens of Denial visited Jefferson in Washington to provide a united family front.

As women, each developed her own way of resisting their father’s demands. Patsy blamed kids and a troublesome husband for her lack of free time, and pointed to Lucy as being way more behind than she in keeping the pace. Polly seems to have adopted the slacker role to her advantage, basically throwing up her hands and saying, ‘I know, I’m so lazy!’ But there can be no doubt that the three of them were crazy about each other.

I thought it would be fun to create a similar relationship between The Bad Death’s Julian Mouret and his much younger sister, Charlotte. She was three years old when their father died and left the fifteen year old Julian as man of the house (and therefore, its legal head). Raising a child to be the Ideal requires you to embody that Ideal, yourself. By the time we meet them in The Bad Death, Julian has achieved this. But what happens when the Ideal “parent” falls from grace? We’ll see in the next novel, House of the Apparently Dead.

Sources: The Women Jefferson Loved by Virginia Scharff; The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson edited by Edwin Betts and James Bear, Jr.; Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate History by Fawn Brodie.


A Photoshop Trick for Book Marketing

I have cast-of-character strips on my book web pages, bloodroomthenovel.com and thebaddeath.com. They give potential readers a chance to read bios of major characters. Also, the individual images give me visual aids to use in marketing my books. For instance, I’ll post an individual character on Instagram with a provocative tagline and the web addy. Adobe offers a monthly subscription for Photoshop for less than $20/month, but you could probably find a good price on eBay or somewhere if you want to own it outright. 

At left, you’ll see the image I purchased at istockphoto.com has a dark background. Derek Murphy of Creativeindie Covers used this graphic to produce the cover for The Bad Death. At the time, I didn’t have a large file of Derek’s work. I used a jpeg of the cover in progress, pictured right. To change the model’s brown eyes to my heroine’s gold, I used Photoshop’s marquee tool to select the gold eyes from Derek’s small file and copied them into my large file, resizing them to fit my stock image.

 Then I had to give my Anika the background Derek had. I have a graphic design background, but this trick is easy if you know where Photoshop’s interface keeps the right tools. 

Since I also bought the blue watery background from istockphoto, I had that large Photoshop image to work with. I opened that image in Photoshop and copied into my  working file. Copying into my working file automatically put the background on its own layer. On Anika’s layer, I used Photoshop’s pen tool to draw a path around her. See that thin light outline? That’s the path.

When you click on the arrow in the Paths palette, a dropdown menu gives you the option to “Make Selection” of the path.

With the path selected, I clicked on Image in Photoshop’s top menu. From the Image dropdown menu, I chose “Apply Image”. At that point a palette popped up allowing me to select the layer containing the background. 

 TaDOW!

 


Ballet, Then and Now

Ballet figures largely in my novels. Bloodroom, a twisted romance set in today’s Charleston, stars a vampire named Julian who’s obsessed with a ballerina. The Bad Death, a vampire novel set in 18th century South Carolina, stars a slave named Anika who’s possessed by the spirit of a modern ballerina. In The Bad Death, Julian is nonplussed (to say the least) when his field hand starts dancing like a prima ballerina and displaying some diva ‘tude. Taking a writerly grand jeté through time required a ballet history lesson.

Under possession by the modern ballerina’s spirit, Anika’s movements look exaggerated to Julian’s 18th century eyes. Today’s “flexerina” had more in common with that century’s acrobatic grotteschi in the lower brow commedia dell’arte, as described in Jennifer Homans’ comprehensive Apollo’s Angels. Compare 18th century prima ballerina La Carmago’s arabesque to the modern version, right.

Anika had to dance demi-pointe (on the balls of her feet) because in The Bad Death’s setting of 1788, pointe shoes weren’t invented yet. Ballerinas wouldn’t dance en pointe until Marie Taglioni perfected the art of dancing on the metatarsals of her toes (like the “neck”, not quite the tip, of the toe). She was aided by extra stitching that stiffened the forward soles of her tight, soft satin slippers. Compare the old style of slippers with today’s pointe shoes, below.

I borrowed the left-side image from a student’s terrific wiki-history of Marie Taglioni’s impact. And see a signed pair of Miss Taglioni’s actual slippers in an image that I was too cheap to pay for here.

Ballet Evolved is a wonderful series of ballet history lessons in dance, featuring ballerinas from London’s Royal Opera House. In this one, Ballet Mistress Ursula Hargeli leads four ballerinas in demonstrating innovations in dance through the centuries. In baroque costume, Ms. Hargeli demonstrates that era’s style of plié, pirouette, and port de bras. It’s amusing to see the ballerinas, each at the top of her game in modern ballet, attempt these deceptively simple steps from the distant past.


Frenemies in The Bad Death

Charlotte, Jane Eliza, Eugénie

Oh, the complicated nature of female friendships. One’s a murderess. One’s using black magic to get pregnant. One’s the product of her big brother’s OCD. They’re besties as long as no one tries to best the others. Each has a unique relationship to Anika, the plat-eye slaying heroine of The Bad Death. Here’s a short bio on each.

Charlotte Mouret – As close to perfect as Julian could make her, Charlotte was educated in a schedule that never left time for idle (or independent) thought and married off at seventeen to the family’s financial manager. Though Julian assures her their field hand is an idiot savant, Charlotte suspects there’s something unnatural in Anika’s sudden talents.

Jane Eliza Farmington – Cherished daughter of a retired slaver. Society beauty. Poisoner. All magic that turns a profit is good magic, and Jane Eliza’s murders are just business. As a witch doctor’s delivery girl, Anika must avoid becoming a toy in Jane Eliza’s deadly games.

Eugénie Mouret – Julian’s sister-in-law knows full well the power of magic. She’ll pay any price for the charms that guarantee a pregnancy. Anika promised her a son destined for power. But if the magic works, who — or what — will live in Eugénie’s womb?


Readers Vote on Book Descriptions

Congratulations to Aubrey Laine, the winner of a $25 Amazon gift card. To enter the raffle, Aubrey and other readers commented on which of two book descriptions for The Bad Death they found most compelling. I thought it would be fun to compile their input and share.

You can read the descriptions on my last blog entry. Option A was written by a professional book blurb writer I contracted with through The Serious Reader. I wrote Option B. Results: Option A won by one vote. I was really surprised to see the description I wrote fare so well. Hey, I can write a novel. But ad copy throws me like a wild horse.

Readers commented that Option A was “sultry and scary” and “matter-of-fact …let’s the reader know what he/she is in for”. Others commented that Option B gave more insight into what the story is about, “drew me in”, and “I would pick up the book if I read something like that!” Opposing viewpoints reminded me that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. For instance, while Option B snared some commenters, another said it was “poorly written”. On a related note, when I get too scared of bad novel reviews, I remind myself how long the spectrum of opinion is. My novel, Bloodroom, has gotten 2 star reviews, but it’s also gotten 5 star reviews. We humans are a diverse bunch!

Which description will I use? Both! Not at the same time, of course. Successful self-published authors change descriptions on books from time to time to see how each affects sales. That’s what I’ll do.

Thanks, all who gave their opinions. It’s been a great help!


About Gullah

My historical vampire trilogy, starting with The Bad Death, has many Gullah characters (including the heroine) and is set in the Gullah environment. So, what is Gullah? The twin question to that is, who is Gullah? I have been reading as research for The Bad Death for so long that I can explain off-the-cuff. But I include links in this post so you can go straight to the source to learn more.

It isn’t known for sure where the word ‘Gullah’ came from, but many people think the word is derived from ‘Gola’ as in ‘Angola’ (in West Africa) or ‘Gola Jack’ (a legendary Gullah from Angola). Gullah is the term for Americans of West African descent who live in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and some of coastal North Carolina and Florida. In the strictest terms, Gullah refers to people actually on the waterline or on the sea islands, while Geechee refers to those who live farther inland.

The original Gullahs were slaves specifically chosen by rice plantation owners because they already grew rice in West Africa. Their expertise helped make South Carolina’s Lowcountry the wealthiest region in Colonial and antebellum America. To give you some idea how ubiquitious Gullah rice was, Asian royalty ate “Carolina Gold”. King George ate Carolina Gold. Down by the River: A South Carolina Slave Community by Charles Joyner was an oft-visited reference for me. Here’s an interview with Charles Joyner. After the Civil War, Lincoln deeded the sea islands to the freed Gullah slaves. Over time, developers bought them up and turned them into resorts (Hilton Head’s the most obvious example). But for hundreds of years there were no bridges between the mainland and the sea islands. That is one big reason Gullah culture, language, and cuisine remained distinct.

The language is a mix of African languages with English. Forget understanding Gullah if you hear it in its entirety. You’re best just treating it like music and listening to its rhythm, which sounds Carribean. When writing The Bad Death, my biggest challenge using Gullah in dialogue was keeping it readable. I decided to take a handful of words and leave the rest of the dialogue English. For instance, my Gullah characters say unnah (you) and dayclean (dawn). My best reference was Lorenzo Dow Turner’s book Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect. Most of us speak a little Gullah now and then and don’t know it. Ever sing Kumbaya? That’s Gullah for ‘Come by Here’. Ever eat a goober? That’s the Gullah word for peanut. This youtube clip is a little blurry but explains Gullah’s influence on English.

Bread Basket at Gullah Gourmet

The most common receptical/carrier on rice plantations was a basket woven by Gullah slaves. For instance, winnowing rice to separate it from the chaff was done using a fanning basket. In The Bad Death, Anika kills vampires with stakes stored in a specially made basket she wears on her back. They wove the baskets from indiginous plants, most notably sweetgrass. Today, Gullah sweetgrass baskets are a recognized art form. They’re very strong and have beautiful patterns. You can buy a sweetgrass basket in Charleston in such places as the intersection of Meeting and Broad streets, in stores like Gullah Gourmet (example pictured here), or along the seven-mile stretch of US highway 17 known as the Sweetgrass Basket Makers’ Highway.

Gullah food is a reflection on the abundance of fish, game, and plants found in what is known today as the Gullah Geechee Corridor. To make The Bad Death authentic, I wrote the characters cooking and eating Lowcountry and Gullah food such as crab-stuffed flounder, hoppin’ John, and benne wafers. They washed it down with rice wine, scuppernong wine, etc (it’s a wine lover’s paradise there). I referenced cookbooks such as Sallie Ann Robinson’s, Cooking the Gullah Way.

Gullah folklore has some great monsters, which drive the plot in The Bad Death trilogy. An excerpt explains the Gullah’s hag: “A hag was as human as anyone, but she had the ability to slip out of her skin and into yours while you slept. She did this to devil you with nightmares. She left when you woke, donning her skin like a discarded dress to go about her daily business.” A plat-eye is a shapeshifting creature that in its human form has one eye in the middle of its forehead. Here’s a cool plat-eye story via The Moonlit Road. A droll is the uneasy spirit of a child that died an unnatural death. The most famous droll is the Shrieking Droll of Brookgreen Gardens. I added vampire qualities to the plat-eyes and drolls in my books.

In the second book in my trilogy, House of the Apparently Dead (to be published summer 2014), Anika fights plat-eyes in Charleston. Though I exercise a little anachronism to set black businesses and neighborhoods there circa 1789, I found Alphonso Brown’s A Gullah Guide to Charleston an extremely useful reference.

Gullah is a thriving community today. There’s a Gullah festival. There’s a Gullah tour. Gullah’s a recognized nation with a flag and a queen. I’m even drinking Gullah tea right now. It’s all pretty great!


Dressing Julian

Julian Mouret is a vampire in my contemporary novel, Bloodroom. My upcoming historical vampire novel, The Bad Death, also stars Julian Mouret. Today I took the stock image photo I bought for the cast-of-characters animation on bloodroomthenovel.com and “dressed” it in 18th century clothing for the cast-of-characters animation to be featured on thebaddeath.com. This wasn’t quite as fun as dressing a good looking man for real, but it was still pretty fun.

The hottie in the tux is from istockphoto.com/. The young gent with the pistol is from 123rf.com. My challenge was to get Julian out of his tux and into the sharpshooter’s old-timey clothes. I used my Photoshop 6.0. I can just hear the hoots of incredulity. Yes, I use 12 year old software! It has all the features I need for simple image manipulation. If you don’t have Photoshop, Adobe now has an affordable monthly subscription service for its creative programs.

I’ll assume you know very little as I explain what I did here. I copied the sharpshooter into the tuxedo photo, which put it on its own layer so I could manipulate it independently. Really, the dressing trick amounted to resizing sharpshooter’s body to “fit” Julian’s. I used the pen tool to create a path around the cravat so that I could cut and paste it into its own layer. I used the transform tool to resize the cravat and torso. To fit the cravat “around” Julian’s chin, I used the lasso tool to free select portions I didn’t need and also used the eraser tool. Julian looks awfully fierce about his new outfit. Could be that moody sky; it fortells of vampires on the horizon.

I cut the sharpshooter out of the sky and dragged the halves of the sky together. Then I duplicated layers and played with the layers blending feature till I got this moody effect. The blending feature in the Layers palette makes the layer in question “react” to the layer beneath it for visual effect. I include a screenshot of my layers. You’ll see the selected layer has blending set to “Soft Light”. If you mess with enough layers’ blending features they all sort of affect each other, which can make for interesting results.