Of Cats And Dragons

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From There to Here

Published 2017-08-04
Camilla Ochlan

Our storytelling roots are in Dungeons & Dragons. We've written about how we started gaming together freshman year and continued building our fantasy world over many, many years throughout high school, college, and beyond. We haven't talked about how gaming led to a book series.

Chances are, if you've played D&D, you've thought that your campaign, your characters, the world you role-play in would make excellent fodder for a blockbuster movie, bestselling book series or awesome video game. You and your friends die laughing, are moved to tears, adventure with grandness -- live a better story than anything you've seen on TV or on the big screen.

You're right! Your experiences are awesome and authentic and meaningful -- and guess what, real. In an infinite multiverse, anything is possible. But the sobering truth about writing is that your awesome, authentic experience will not simply translate to other people. That's where storytelling craft comes in. And, no matter what, craft takes practice. And practice takes time.

While Carol and I wandered the world OF CATS AND DRAGONS for decades, creating plots in the telling, we did not think about sharing any of our stories with other people. This was just for us and a very few other friends who came in and out of the process over the years. But mostly it was just us. We also didn't use modules. The world we built is completely homebrew. Gary Gygax may have shown us the way, but we traversed it all by ourselves, fueled and fed by a plethora of great sci-fi and fantasy books. Our best games developed over the years we were roommates during and after college. That's when Omen and Tormy came along.

When I moved to L.A. to go to acting school, we had to adjust from regular games to only being able to get a game together a few times a year -- sporadic visits, talking the phone (back when long distance calls were expensive), and email. After a while, we started writing stories about or inspired by our characters to entertain each other.

Carol, by the way, published a few of those stories in Marion Zimmer Bradley's magazine and consequently in her Sword and Sorceress anthologies.

A lot of time passed.

Carol is a web design wiz, so eventually she gathered our stories in a database. We found that writing about the characters helped us keep them fresh in our minds, so that when we did have a chance to get together for a game, we could just launch right into it.

My path took me from acting to screenwriting and -- through THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER -- to writing novels. I devoured anything I could read, study or watch to learn the craft. I have an English degree, but this was years of putting myself through my own Creative Writing MFA. I am obsessed with craft, and I will never stop learning.

But even with all of that, it took us even more time to get our stories to a point where they could be shared. Of all the characters, we had to choose one as the central focus -- at least for the first book. We had to decide on the timeline. When were we going to start, and what would that mean? We had to scrub any hint of anything that wasn't uniquely ours. You can borrow to your heart's content when you gamemaster -- names, storylines, characters. But when you're writing a book, obviously everything has to be yours. We whittled it all down to our creations. We decided to start with Omen and Tormy, and we decided that it would be the story of a young Omen. We hoped that would allow the reader to jump into this strange and huge world.

And then the plotting began.

I am a pretty hardcore outliner. Carol is more of a discovery writer. Despite that, our growing pains were few. I think that's because of the complete trust we've built over the decades.

And here we are, at the dawning of the OF CATS AND DRAGONS series. We have so many plans. We're busy finishing the second book (RADIATION) and starting the third. But I really want to take the time to enjoy this moment. The story is still just ours, but in a few short weeks, we're going to release our cats and dragons into the wild. It's been a very long road getting here, but in a way, this is really just the first step.