Of Cats and Dragons

Carol E. Leever Camilla Ochlan

Nights Gift AudioBook on Downpour
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Art Talk: Werewolves

Published: Jul 21, 2017 11:48:02 am
Carol E. Leever
No Beast So Fierce image

My writing partner Camilla writes another series with our friend Bonita Gutierrez. The Werewolf Whisperer is urban fantasy about two awesome women fighting their way through the werewolf apocalypse. It is predominately set in modern day Los Angeles and other parts of California. Camilla and Bonita have lived most of their lives in California (so have I for that matter) and they write about places they know with such clarity that the setting becomes a character unto itself in the stories.

Recently they asked me to do a cover for their story No Beast So Fierce. They kicked around various ideas for what they wanted on the cover, and I made a couple of attempts at painting something. But none of it was quite right.

And then they came up with a rather ridiculous idea -- why not just do a cute werewolf plushie? (Word of caution -- The Werewolf Whisperer series is violent and dark, filled with dystopian brutality. And while there is humor in the story -- it is not cute.)

The setting for No Beast So Fierce is the Folsom Renaissance Fair near Sacramento, California. The story actually does feature a stuffed werewolf child's toy wearing a Renaissance costume, complete with a full Elizabethan collar.

While I was a bit skeptical of the idea, painting a child's toy was actually on my list of things to do. I keep a list -- a long list of things I want to paint. Some of them are paintings of images and scenes I want to illustrate, but many of them are things I want to paint for the learning process alone. These are what artist call 'studies' and often consist of painting random things, or copying the various paintings of the masters, all in an effort to improve your technique. Every beginning artist should be doing studies. (From what I gather even the professionals who have been painting for years still do studies.)

A child's toy was on my study list specifically for the process of learning how to paint different materials -- the soft fur of a toy (not the same as cat fur), as well as the different texture of clothing, and the hard surface of button or glass eyes. So the request lined up well with my planned practice, and I was happy to get started.

No Beast So Fierce image

The first step was coming up with a basic design. This was my initial sketch -- I'm a terrible line artist, and like I've said before, most of my paintings start out as something a child would draw. Camilla has seen some of my horrible sketches and understand the process I go through to get to a finished piece, but poor Bonita looked at it and immediately went 'uh oh'. (To be fair, that is also my reaction -- every single painting I start makes me want to give up. They're REALLY bad for the first 10 hours or so.)

Now while the final image was meant to be the poor little toy after the climax of the book (the toy does not fair well), I decided to do a a clean, pristine version of the toy first (image at the top of the article). The Elizabethan collar in particular was time consuming. Drawing anything that is 'white' is tough; you can't really use white as a color -- it isn't a color (okay, technically it is considered a color without hue, but that wasn't the point). White is a highlight. To paint something that is white, you have to use a different color -- some sort of shade of gray (I could do a whole blog on 'gray' -- it's an awesome color).

Googly Eyes

Between the collar, the tunic and the fur I got my full share of 'materials' to study. And I was pretty pleased with the final results. The eyes actually took me the longest time -- not because they were hard to do (they're just black ovals) but because I tried about a dozen different designs before deciding on the simplest version possible. At one point he even had googly eyes.

No Beast So Fierce image

Once the 'clean' version of the toy was done, I had to tear him apart. This also allowed for another material study as I needed to draw the stuffing coming out of the tears. That meant more white that can't actually be white. I'm not sure the stuffing was as successful as the collar was -- but in the end he looked sufficiently pathetic.

The blood splatters were the last thing I painted. The drips on the sword were just painted normally, but the splatter on the collar was done using a few red swipes of paint on an overlay layer that blended the color into the existing material nicely. Last minute, I decided to put his missing eye on the ground beside him.

You can download the book for free on Book Funnel. Here's the final version of the cover.

No Beast So Fierce Cover Art

High Fantasy

Published: Jul 12, 2017 04:20:39 pm
Carol E. Leever
Skull from Nights Gift Cover

You may have noticed that we modified our cover art slightly -- adding in the dark background element of the skull.

When I was kid, genres were simple. Most of what I liked was labeled "SciFi/Fantasy," lumped together under one term. There were some subcategories such as "high fantasy," or "military science fiction," but most of those terms were in the mind of the readers and not formal designations. Much of what I read back then would be consider Young Adult (YA) today. There have been many essays written discussing whether or not YA is considered a "category'" or a "genre," but regardless of the conclusion you reach, it is still a very broad term that doesn't tell the whole story. For that you have to look at the genre and sub genres.

As near as I can figure, the term YA is given to a novel if the protagonist in it is "young" --between the ages of 12-17. That means the classic series The Belgariad would be considered YA -- Garion was a child when the books started. For that matter, much of what Stephen King wrote would technically be considered YA since he has many young protagonists, some not even teenagers yet. It's an odd designation which doesn't tell a reader much about the book itself -- only that the main character (or characters) are young. But I think for many people (parents particularly) they see YA and think -- it's safe for children.

And what do you do with a series like The Game of Thrones? Many of the point-of-view characters in that series are young -- very young in some cases. Does it meet the criteria for the YA label?

Now a days I think it's more important to pay attention to the sub genre. The Twilight Series is YA as is The Hunger Games -- but one is a vampire romance series and the other is a post-apocalypse, dystopian battle for survival. The sub genre tells the more accurate story and these days we have literally hundreds of sub genres.

So what does this have to do with changing our cover?

Our series Of Cats And Dragons is extensive -- book one and two follow one of our main protagonist's early journey to find his companions. He's young in these books -- so are his companions. But he will grow up. And we have other stories in this series about adults -- as well as stories told from the point of view of very young children. Some will be humorous and lighthearted. Some will be dark. We will try our best to label the stories as such.

Which brings me to my cover -- the cute, fluffy orange kitten is obviously dominant on the image. There is a cute, fluffy orange kitten in the book -- and he talks. He's adorable. And he's integral to our hero's journey.

Tormy from Nights Gift

But the book is also violent -- our hero Omen has to fight for his life, and the life of the kitten and the people of his world. And the monsters he faces are vicious and horrific.

So can a ten-year-old read it? Well, that would depend on the ten-year old. I know many ten-year-olds who read and watch things that terrify me. And I know ten-year-olds that can't make it through a Disney movie because they're too scary or too sad.

And that's why we changed the cover -- because, yes this is a high fantasy novel with a fluffy orange talking kitten in it. But as the old maps proclaimed -- here there be monsters.

Finding a voice

Published: Jul 08, 2017 10:18:37 am
Camilla Ochlan
Nights Gift Cover Art Audo Book

Finishing my first novel was a magic moment for me. The first release party. The first 5-star review on Amazon. Finishing the second book. Releasing the first audiobook. All supernatural in my world.

Writing is a roller coaster of emotions. Not all days are good. Some are dark. Some are sad. Some are just confusing. But writing is the road I have chosen, after traveling down others and turning back. I will stay on this road to the end, and so I make a point of marking those magic moments when, just for a moment, all is right in the universe. I keep them as my store of ammunition to battle frustration and resistance in all its forms.

One big magic moment occurred just last month:

My husband and I traveled to Kansas City for the HEAR Now Festival, an annual audio fiction conference and celebration. Organized by the dynamic Sue Zizza, HEAR Now offers educational opportunities, innovative performances and highlights achievements in the industry. I was invited to premier NIGHT'S GIFT for the festival's take-over of the Kansas City Library's Family Fun Night. Thrilling but also a little scary. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon.

My husband, P.J., is a working actor for over thirty years and an award-winning narrator of over two hundred audiobooks. He's got a great knack for character voices and accents. I knew OF CATS AND DRAGONS would be in good hands with him, but at the live performance, I discovered something else -- magic.

It's an incredible thrill to hear your words performed. As the narrator lends talent and voice to the characters who have only resided in your head, the story goes from ephemeral to real. That afternoon, in the Truman Forum at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, in front of rows and rows of kids and parents, Carol's and my imaginary world sprang to life for half an hour. The moment P.J. started speaking, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. The entire auditorium locked in. I could feel the focus of their collective energy. And I could hear -- nothing -- not a sound emanating from what had admittedly been a fairly rowdy crowd. Where there had been rustling and children's voices (normal stuff for any performance for kids), there was utter silence. And in that silence, the scene between Omen and the undead alchemist Gerdriu unfolded. And we all experienced it together. The storyteller took us to the arcane city of Hex where young Omen and Templar battle giants and monsters, play dangerous games and rescue a talking cat.

Magic -- like I said.

When it was over, I thought, "I wish Carol was here to hear that." I actually wished everyone had been there to hear that. Then it occurred to me that we're doing the audiobook. This magical experience will be out there and available for anyone to listen to.

And that's a huge moment for me -- after three decades of having these characters and this world to ourselves, Carol and I are sharing the contents of our imagination. And the audiobook narration brings our story to life with energy, zest, fun and -- magic.

World Building

Published: Jun 24, 2017 04:06:49 pm
Carol E. Leever
Tormy with saddle

My family frequently asks each other, "What did you do today?"

For a writer that is a bit of a loaded questions. Most of the time (when I've spent the day writing) I just respond vaguely: "Oh, I worked on a story." That's vague enough to encompass writing, researching, plotting, character development, world building, editing and the dozens of other things that go into the process of writing.

Occasionally however I do respond quite literally. When asked the question during a family gathering I responded with: "I spent the day researching the origins of paper bags." Needless to say it went over oddly. After fielding the obvious questions ("You're writing a story about paper bags????" ) -- I tried to explain: I was editing a scene where my main character purchased something from the market, and I needed to put the item somewhere. A paper bag obviously.

But I started to wonder -- did paper bags exist in a pre-industrialized society? This led to a long day of researching not just the origins of paper bags, but of the paper itself, and the glue required to make them. (If you're interested yes, paper bags have been around a long time but they were an artistic product unto themselves until they started being mass produced in 1852.)

"Will anyone reading the story care about the paper bag?" was the next question I was asked. There's another loaded question.

The answer is probably not. But I cared. It bugged me. And it made me think a lot of about the world-building aspects of writing fantasy.

Fantasy writers are often told "it must be easy to write fantasy -- you can just make everything up." Which is true -- except it all still has to make sense. And it also means everything has to be made up -- the culture, the economy, the history, the religion, the language, the science (or magic), the ecology, the technology -- the list is rather endless.

Just figuring how your characters get from point A to point B can require a great deal of research: how far can a giant cat, wearing a saddle and carrying a supply of food and water, travel in a single day? I actually had to figure that out. Did you know that a saddle can weigh between 10-40 lbs depending on the design? And horses can carry around 25% of their total body weight comfortably. So how much does a horse-sized cat weigh? A horse can weigh between 800-2200 lbs, but a tiger while much smaller than a horse can weigh up to 700 lbs. (Don't even get me started on ligers!)

As you can see -- it's not a simple question. None of them are -- but sooner or later when writing your 'made up' story, you're going to have to figure it out.


Published: Jun 24, 2017 12:14:42 pm
Camilla Ochlan
Tormy with helmet

Epic adventure, arcane magic, monsters, heroes, talking cats, and we're just getting started.

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 database where we've posted over three hundred stories and story fragments for each other alone. But now we are getting ready to share what we've conjured up.

It wasn't easy, sorting through generations of characters, plots long and short, episodes half-forgotten and threads of tales never completed. From the moment Carol and I decided to write that first OF CATS AND DRAGONS novel, it took nearly a year of combing through storylines, weighing character arcs, before we arrived at a starting point.

Other decisions had to be made as well. While our stories range from Grimdark to slapstick, we had to pick one path. Ultimately we had to go with what the core really was -- heroic fantasy with a touch of whimsy. A GAME OF THRONES without the naughty bits

And while we had literally dozens of possible protagonists to choose from, we agreed that Omen and Tormy were at the center of our fantastical universe. And from where should we launch the tale of their beautiful friendship? After a couple of false starts and at least another year of trying to figure it out, we decided to begin -- at the beginning.

NIGHT'S GIFT is the pilot to our new series, one we hope to renew book after book for as long as we can still put word to page.