Of Cats and Dragons

Carol E. Leever Camilla Ochlan

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On Being Twins

Published: Oct 27, 2018 02:02:04 pm
Carol E. Leever
Summers Fall Cover

Of course I'm referring to Tormy and Tyrin, not myself with that title. If you have read the books you are aware of the fact that Tormy and Tyrin are twins, and quite 'identicallynessness'. That means they're both orange -- or something like that.

While reading, I think it's fairly obvious which cat is which (Tyrin is the one who curses). But I can see where the confusion might come in when looking at the two cats. They're utterly indistinguishable.

You may have noticed that we put up a new cover for Summer's Fall. I was diagnosed with cancer the day our first book (Night's Gift) came out, and by the time Summer's Fall was released I was too sick to do much of anything. I had already painted the covers for both Radiation and Night's Gift, but I hadn't started on the covers for the other 3 books. We had also largely written most of the first five books by then as well.

By the time the second and third books came out I was far too sick to do any painting. I was still able to help Camilla with the editing; she'd fly up to stay with me and read out loud to me while we went over things like punctuation and grammar. But I just didn't have the energy to paint. We had to look elsewhere for artists.

Summer's Fall was always a cover I wanted to do myself, and once I was given a short break from Chemotherapy and started to feel a bit better, I started painting again. It had been a year since I'd even tried, so it was nice to go back.

With Summer's Fall I really wanted to try my hand at a Sundragon. Dragons in general are hard -- those scales were a nightmare to create. I hope to get better at it the more I try (that means more dragons hopefully!). And of course we both wanted a cat on the cover.

Initially I had the dragon breathing fire, but the gold dragon, orange cat, and yellow fire was just too much gold on gold on gold. The cat sort of disappeared, and it also a looked a bit like the poor thing was burning. So no flames -- I have another version of the dragon by himself breathing fire if you're interested.

But curiously we had a lot of people asking: which cat is that? Tormy or Tyrin?

I rather thought it was obvious, but then I know the secret to telling the two of them apart. Obviously you can't tell by their size (actually on the cover the cat is in the foreground and is not sized proportionally to the dragon -- so you REALLY can't tell). You have to zoom in on the picture to figure it out. I paint these pictures in high resolution (probably too high) so the details are there if you want to look (I need to figure out how to simplify the painting process. I put TOO much detail in the images.)

cat noses

Simply put, Tormy has freckles on his nose. So, yes, that is Tormy on the cover. And the dragon is Lord Amar -- you can tell the dragons apart by the secondary color on the underside of their scales. Lord Amar's secondary color is sapphire blue.

Incidentally, the original Tormy (our beautiful Maine Coon from our college days) had freckles on his nose as well. But only on one half of his nose -- the other side was completely clear. It always made him look slightly lopsided, but that's our Tormy -- sweet, innocent, and slightly lopsided.

Outfitting an Adventurer

Published: Oct 25, 2018 03:23:34 pm
Carol E. Leever
Drawing of sword by Carol E Leever

I like researching -- which is a good thing when it comes to writing. And in this day and age, literally anything can be researched on the internet.

When we first started writing these books, Omen dressed in generic leather armor and wore his great sword on his back. But after a while I started to wonder, just how generic IS leather armor, and is it really practical to wear a sword on your back? Certainly popular movies and video games would imply that such is the norm. Of course if you watch carefully you'll notice some curious things -- you rarely see a movie actor actually drawing the sword from the sheath on their back -- the camera cuts away, and when it cuts back, there's the sword in their hand. And you NEVER see them sheathe the sword. They might mime putting it behind their back, but you never see it actually go into the sheath.

Video games are even worse -- typically the sword just sort of floats on the character's back and is drawn with the click of a button.

Thus started the research.

There are some awesome Youtubers who have actually covered both these topics in length: Shadiversity and Metatron.

I am a fan of both and have taken a lot of their advice for my writing over the years. Shadiversity has several detailed videos about leather armor -- no, it was not 'generic' and while you do occasionally find some instances of its use, it was fairly rare. It was a lot more practical to make useful things like shoes out of leather back in the day. A knight who was not wearing full plate armor, was typically wearing a gambeson made of cotton. The gambeson was also worn under the plate armor for both added padding and added protection. Multiple layers of cotton actually make great armor -- capable of even stopping an arrow. Leather, unless specially treated or inset with iron, probably won't stop an arrow.

And so Omen's leather became a gambeson in the first book, Night's Gift. He's actually wearing real armor in the Autumn King trilogy made of specialized alloy found in his homeland of Lydon. (Yes, I researched iron, iron ore smelting, the differences between iron and steel, and how to make alloys. I'm addicted!) As a prince he's able to get any type of armor he might want -- but when he's just goofing around and not expecting trouble (silly boy!) the gambeson was sufficient for his needs.

Which brings me to his sword -- he DOES wear his sword on his back. Both Shadiversity and Metatron have covered this subject repeatedly. Originally both said that no, wearing your sword on your back is not a thing -- especially a long sword (there are historical records of people wearing swords on their backs, but it was fairly rare). It's extremely difficult to draw a sword worn on your back -- you can't draw it past a certain length simply because your arms are not long enough. And putting it away is a bit of a nightmare -- same problem with the length, but also how are you supposed to see where to put it?

My problem was the sheer size of Omen's sword. Omen is freakishly tall and freakishly strong due to his immortal heritage. The great sword he carries is also extremely large -- at least six feet in length. It would be highly impractical to carry such a weapon on a belt holder at his side. It's just too big. He pretty much has to carry it on his back. And so I came up with the idea of the quick release latch on the baldric (strap worn across the body to hold the sword in place). When he needs to draw the weapon, he simply releases the strap, and the sheath and sword slide free of his back allowing him to draw it with two hands.

The reality is swords are not really 'quick draw' devices. This isn't the old west where survival depended on who drew first. Typically you have some sort of warning when it comes to a sword fight. And in Omen's case he can also use his psionics to push an enemy away from him while he draws his weapon.

This research (both Shadiversity and Metatron) is also the reason why Dev does not wear his arrow quiver on his back. Ever tried to run with a quiver of arrows on your back? (I actually have.) They fall out the moment you pick up even a little bit of speed. They need to be firmly secured in the quiver -- which pretty much defeats the whole quick drawn idea as well. An archer who wanted to shoot quickly either carried the extra arrows in his hand, or kept them stuck in the ground within easy reach. Otherwise they were securely bound to keep them from falling all over the place.

So yes, Omen wears his sword on his back -- or keeps it strapped to Tormy's saddle when it isn't needed.

To my surprise, a few days ago, Shadiversity released a new video on this subject. He was so excited to announce that he had discovered a way to actually wear your sword on your back (he's a delightful personality if you're interested in this sort of topic). He's invented a specialized sheath for exactly this purpose -- allows him to both drawn and re-sheath his sword with one hand. And in his words -- it really does look cool!

Care and Feeding of a Tormy

Published: Oct 25, 2018 03:15:56 pm
Carol E. Leever
The original Tormy

A lot of decisions go into writing a book, and one of the things Camilla and I had to decide on was the diet of the Tormy Cats. (Incidentally -- the cats actually have a name that they call themselves which will no doubt show up in a future book, but Camilla and I have always affectionately called them the Tormy Cats.)

I have been owned by 7 cats in my life. My first, a beautiful Siamese, lived 17 years. After she died I didn't get another cat until Camilla and I became college roommates; between the two of us we ended up with 5 cats -- one of which was the original Tormy. Yes, he was a real cat, and utterly unique. He was a beautiful orange and white Maine Coon, who would serenade us every night with soft little happy trills after he'd eaten his dinner. We were so heartbroken when he died unexpectedly that I put him into our D&D games so that he would live on in our imaginations.

My current cat, a little quirky Tabby, had a terrible food allergy when she was a kitten. I tried every type of food on the market, including some ridiculously expensive types that just seem to make things worse. I had come across research into the 'raw food diet' on the internet and in desperation finally decided to try that.

 The theory is that cats, if they lived in the wild, would only eat meat (and the occasional grain that might be found in the stomach of a mouse). Cats are carnivores after all. The raw food diet consists of ground meat and bone (uncooked!) supplemented with some vitamins and enzymes such as Taurine and B-complex. You can find the formula on the internet.

The new diet cured all my cat's problems literally within 12 hours. She was horribly sick one moment (and had been for the first year and a half of her life) and then instantly cured with the new diet. I pretty much resolved right there that all future meals would consist of the raw food diet.

Which brings us to the Tormy Cats. Cats are carnivores; they eat meat. They LOVE eating meat. And I don't want anyone to base their cat's diet on what the Tormy Cats eat in our books. The original Tormy (our beautiful Maine Coon) also loved peas, corn, cantaloupe, and blueberry muffins. We also had a cat who loved pancakes -- to the point that whenever we made pancakes we had to make an extra one for her. But just because they will eat carbohydrates, does not mean they are good for the cats or natural for them to eat.

Regardless of all this, I made a definitive choice to make the Tormy Cats omnivores. And I did it for a very specific reason. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the reasons we human beings are so smart (lol!) is because we started eating carbohydrates -- that in fact an all meat diet would not provide the caloric intake necessary to produce the larger brains we possess. I reasoned that since the Tormy Cats are obviously far more intelligent than their domestic counterparts, they too would likely need a different diet.

So yes, Tormy eats pie, and donuts, and custard, and moffles (mouse-waffles). But like all cats he, and Tyrin, and the others (yes, there are a BUNCH of other cats out there) LOVE meat, particularly fish. Tormy's favorite however is prime rib. These cats would be a nightmare on the pocketbook.

So please, keep feeding your own cats proper diets (research the raw food diet and see if it's something you're interested in). But know that donuts are perfectly permissible for Tormy and all his brethren.

The Unthinkable

Published: Aug 30, 2018 03:18:11 pm
Camilla Ochlan
Carol and Camilla

"My best friend Carol and I have roamed the OF CATS AND DRAGONS world for over three decades, creating our stories in the telling — from our high school Dungeons & Dragons games to a private collection of over three hundred stories and story fragments. But now we are getting ready to share what we’ve conjured up."

That's what I wrote a year ago as Carol and I were getting ready to release NIGHT'S GIFT.

I didn’t know what lurked just above the horizon.

Carol's cancer diagnosis came the day our first OF CATS AND DRAGONS book was released, so we never had even a moment to celebrate that wasn't under the shadow of this horrible cancer.

Since then, there have been many ups and downs (more downs than ups, if I am totally honest). It's been a difficult year. Until a few months ago, I couldn't even talk about what was going on. But secrets have a way of clawing you up from the inside.

When I was ready, I had the chance to share our story with Jo Bozarth for the Her Process podcast. I knew I had to open up because I've learned that cancer is a bitch, and we are not the only ones in her sights.

I hope you give this interview a listen. And I hope the territory is more foreign to you than Mars. But it's probably not.

What do you do when the unthinkable happens? It happened to us, and this is what we did.

From Jo:

"Today’s show wraps up my series on collaboration. It’s a tribute to art and to friendship. It’s about what happens when you’re on a roll, when you’re making strides, realizing your dream…and the unthinkable happens. What do you do? How do you go on? Do you go on?

If you’re just joining Her Process for the first time, today’s guest, Camilla Ochlan, has been on the show before with her Werewolf Whisperer series writing partner, Bonita Gutierrez. 

But Camilla, being the creative soul that she is, and I’m guessing also a master at organization, has another writing partner with whom she’s been creating the world that houses another series, called Of Cats and Dragons. In fact, she and her dear friend, Carol Leever, her Of Cats and Dragons illustrator and co-writer, have been creating this world for over three decades now. But they didn't realize it right away.

When Camilla and Carol did finally decide to share their creation with the world, life, as it does, stepped in with a twist that neither friend could ever have imagined or prepared for. You always hear people say that they meant to do x, y, z, but "life got in the way." Well, these ladies didn't let "life" thwart their plans. They've bobbed and weaved, and have persevered. This is their story." 

Click here to listen:

HER PROCESS PODCAST

Thank you to Jo Bozath for being an exquisite listener and a gentle interviewer. Jo has a gift for putting her subject at ease, and her empathy is backed up by a strong work ethic that drives her to genuinely understand the breadth of her guest's creative endeavors.

I want everyone to know that Carol has been strong and determined. She is the warrior I've always known her to be, but the enemy she is battling is fierce and powerful. We are hopeful. But this is real and terrifying. We don't know what is going to happen.

We also want everyone to know that this is not the end OF CATS AND DRAGONS. After HOLLOW SEASON, Carol and I have another completed book that is now being edited and a handful of partially completed manuscripts. We also have over 250 story fragments, short stories, outlines, dialogues, and scenes. We have a timeline that reaches over generations in our story world. And we've started the outlines of three new books. We have been working on the world OF CATS AND DRAGONS for over thirty years. There's a lot there. We have a plan.

I am deeply committed to sharing our stories because that is what I can do to honor our friendship. We love these characters so much, and since we made the decision to share them — that is what will happen. There will be more Tormy. There will be more Omen. And Kyr. And Tyrin. There will be more. . .

Mistral Dawn's Musings

Published: Aug 16, 2018 03:47:39 pm
Camilla Ochlan

I had a chance to chat OF CATS AND DRAGONS on Mistral Dawn's blog

If you want a peek at my mad process...

click here.
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