Learning Curves Are…

Newsletter 039 – May 26, 2023


Quick Update: The first draft of Flood and Fire is now about 26,000 words, but far from complete. I’m working on it a couple of hours a day, in between video training on some of the software I’ll talk about below. I usually lose a quarter of the word count when I edit, so (based on the 35,000 additional words I will probably add before I edit it) it looks like Flood and Fire could be about 45,000 words when it’s completely finished. A decent size for a novella.


In the previous newsletter, I talked about a problem I was having with my computer setup. I’m happy to report that, after buying a different cable and a half-height bracket, I was able to install my old video card in the new case. And the Photo Raw software does run well with that video card, so I’m all set. This newsletter is about Photo Raw and the other software I typically use while creating my books, but first, a little history.

In the early-1990’s, when I was teaching journalism at Lanier Middle School in Houston, I wanted to publish a school newspaper, written by my students. The school did have one computer lab that my students used for writing. The lab had about a dozen pre-1990 donated Compaq computers. The computers had no hard drives. The operating system (the OS) was booted from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disc. Once the OS was in memory, another floppy disc with the writing software was inserted into the same slot. The students’ writing was saved to another floppy, then moved to a computer connected to the one printer we had in the lab (a dot-matrix one). Obviously we couldn’t publish a newspaper that way. I requested (and to my surprise) received a 386 computer with (I think) 4MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard drive, plus an inkjet printer and Aldus Pagemaker publishing software. Adobe bought Aldus a year or two later and Aldus Pagemaker became Adobe InDesign.

Before the 1990’s were over I was using several Adobe products, and teaching them to students. Eventually I bought my own versions of the Adobe Creative Suite (with Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator, and InDesign in one package), and also bought Dreamweaver (for web design) so I could have versions of those at home as well as at school. Those were my standard programs for web design, illustration, photo editing, and publishing for many years. After I retired in 2009, I bought my last copy of the Creative Suite, which was version 4. Just a few years later, though (2013), Adobe started using a subscription-only model for their software, and I no longer qualified for an educator’s discount. For a sizable sum, I could have access to all of Adobe’s products, but I would have to pay them every year to keep using the software. I tried that for a while, but paying that much every year seemed too expensive and unnecessary for something I was only using occasionally during my retirement.

I cancelled the subscription, and went back to using my copy of Version 4 of Creative Suite, but it was ten years old by then. It still works, and I still use it (especially for quick, simple image editing), but it doesn’t have the functionality of the newer versions. I looked around for substitutes, finally settling on another suite of products, plus a couple of stand-alone image editors. I currently own Skylum Software’s Luminar Neo, On1 Software’s Photo Raw 2023, plus a suite of software from Affinity (a British company). Affinity’s three products, Designer, Photo, and Publisher, work together or separately with images and text to create finished products that suit my needs perfectly. Designer is a drawing program like Illustrator, Photo is an image editor like Photoshop, and Publisher is a publishing program like InDesign. They are all full-featured, well-designed programs, and I was able to buy (not rent) all three for just under $100. The Affinity programs do nearly all of the things the current Adobe programs do, and are more than capable of producing files for books that are ready for printing.

Here’s the rub, though. I haven’t used the newer Adobe versions, and the Affinity software is very similar to them. My Adobe versions are fourteen years old, so there will be a learning curve. A fairly steep one, I expect. I won’t become proficient in them overnight. So, my plan is to temporarily step back from my editing and writing while I do a crash course in the Affinity software. The other two programs, Neo and Photo Raw, have specialized uses (primarily for adding some final polish to the graphics I use on my covers). I’ll show you a couple of examples at the very bottom of this email.

I have two 24” monitors, one for my laptop, and one for my desktop. I’ll watch Affinity tutorials on my laptop’s monitor while I practice with the programs on my desktop. That should make it easier to follow the tutorials and should cut the time I will need considerably. I will probably have already started doing the tutorials by the time you read this.

Once I feel capable using all of these, I will shift into a heavy-duty push of writing and editing on Flood and Fire and Jagged Man, as well as creating the covers, the interior imaging, and the publicity images for both books. All of that will take several months, but you will still get a newsletter every second and fourth Friday. The next several newsletters will be a deep dive into all of the various jobs I’ve had since the 1960’s, and maybe how some of those jobs worked their way into my writing.

See you then,


[“Learning is but an adjunct to ourselves,”
William Shakespeare,
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Scene iii, 312.]


To show you why the Photo Raw software is important to me, here are four horizontal slices from the images I used for the covers in the If a Butterfly series. For both books, I had chosen images that were nice photographs, but in their original form they weren’t right for the covers. The original images of the Grand Canyon and the open road were from the image repository Unsplash and the stock photography site Storyblocks. Both images were allowed for commercial purposes. To make the covers of both books similar, I superimposed a butterfly in the same position on both covers, letting the butterfly wrap across the book’s spine to the back. The butterfly, also commercially available, was originally just flat with open wings. I probably did more editing on the butterfly than on the two background photographs. I didn’t like her right half, so I split her down the middle, then duplicated and flipped her. I replaced her right half with the flipped left side, creating symmetrical sides. Then I angled the image into a flying position. Somehow it worked.

Book One: Chrysalis

Before: A nice enough road picture (the books are about journeys), but the greens were a little washed out, and I didn’t like the telephone lines overhead.



After: I used a 2021 version of On1 Photo Raw to remove the power lines, deepen the colors slightly, and swap out the plain sky with a more colorful sunset. If that sounded easy, it was easier than it might have been in Photoshop, but was still time consuming.


Book Two: Emergence

Before: This image, by Alan Carrillo, was beautiful on its own, but I wanted a sky with a little more activity to maintain a similarity with the cover image for Chrysalis.


After: I again used Photo Raw to slightly darken and add a little contrast to the canyon, and swapped out the solid yellow and orange sky tones with a dramatic sunset. The images are more in keeping with the tone of the two books.

You can see the full front covers of both books here.

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