Published: Jul 27, 2017 10:12:20 pmCamilla Ochlan
NIGHT'S GIFT has been turned into an audiobook!
It is done, delivered, and I will shout from the rooftops where you can get it. I am so thrilled.
Hearing our story performed has been nothing short of magical for me. As I wrote about in Finding a Voice, 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.
So, how did we get here?
This process was somewhat easier for us as authors because my husband P.J. is part of the audiobook industry. He is an Audie Award-winning, multiple Earphones Award-winning, and Voice Arts Award-nominated narrator of hundreds of audiobooks. And, as a narrator, he has a very particular set of skills. Skills he has acquired over a very long career ;)
OF CATS AND DRAGONS' audiobook narration requires voices and dialects for scores of monsters, intrepid heroes and talking cats from a range of families, countries, and realms. P.J. more than delivered.
But if you don't happen to have a narrator in the family, how do you turn your book into an audiobook?
If your publisher bought your audiobook rights, then you just sit back and wait until someone tells you that your audiobook is done. Under those circumstances, sometimes authors get input, sometimes they don't.
But if you are taking the process on yourself, here are a few things to think about:
How to prepare:
Finish your book. Really. Edit your book. Really. Once you give your manuscript to your narrator, you will not be able to do any more editing. It will be set in stone, so make sure you are happy and your manuscript is done, done, done.
Your narrator might find typos and minor grammatical mistakes, and he or she might tell you about them in time to make fixes. But that is not their job. You have to assume that the narrator will read what is on the page, even if it's utter nonsense. You wrote it, it's on you and not on them.
I highly recommend you have someone read your work out loud while you follow along in the manuscript. Carol and I have a process that is pretty OCD, so I won't go into it here. But let me assure you that we read aloud and listen to the manuscript many, many times during our joint editing process. Siri (or any text to speech program) can help you out. The robotic read is torturous to listen to, but you aren't listening for entertainment, you are listening to catch word repetition repetition and other anomalies.
This is the time to make firm decisions, especially if your book is part of a series. Look ahead. Make sure you describe what characters sound like the first time they appear. And then stick with it. Don't give recurring characters surprise accents or vocal characteristics in later books. I remember hearing about one extreme example where an established character all of a sudden had an accent in book three of the series. A professional narrator will typically prep the entire manuscript before recording and will know about late surprises, so you have a bit of a safety net with your audiobook. But, and this is just a side note, for your writing in general, it's a good idea to offer vocal descriptors up front. Whether you are writing a series or a standalone book, it can be jarring to your readers to have an imagined sense of a character radically upended for no reason. You risk taking them out of the story and losing them as a fan.
These are just a few things to consider as you prepare your book to be narrated.
Carol and I have tried to be very conscious about what is to come in OF CATS AND DRAGONS. Book one -- NIGHT'S GIFT -- is fairly contained. One city, only a handful of characters, but we know the requirements of books to come. We are ten books deep into the series as we are releasing book one, and we have hundreds of stories to draw from.
For example, Avarice, who only has a few lines in NIGHT'S GIFT, will be featured more prominently in other books, and other characters come from the same country she's from, so her accent has to be logical and sustainable for the overall story.
Further, when you write, keep in mind that your words will be spoken. Have that audiobook in mind. Even if you end up not doing an audiobook, you will improve your writing if you keep an ear to the soundscape you are creating. Write dialogue that can be spoken by humans -- this goes for interior thoughts too. Long convoluted sentences, crazy alliteration, and accidental rhyme are the bane of the audiobook narrator (and the reader).
Selecting a Narrator
Unless you are already an established and successful voice over/audiobook narrator or a bankable celebrity, resist the temptation to narrate the book yourself. The technical challenges of audiobook narration are numerous, and as a newbie you're just setting yourself and your book up for failure. Who needs that pressure?
Think about what voice you want for your narrator: Male? Female? Do you need different voices? Accents? Dialects? Before listening to narrator samples, be really clear what you are searching for. If you just go in and listen to a bunch of samples, you may be swayed away from what's right for your book. Hear the book first, then listen to narrators. Also, and this is no small consideration, understand what style of narration you want. Do you want a straight (Siri-like) read where the narrator adds no performance? Or do you want a voice performance? There are so many great narrators. And their styles and talents run the gamut. Find the one that is right for your vision.
Once you are certain you know what you want, start exploring professional narration.
You have a choice here to enlist the help of an audiobook producer or you can go it alone with ACX. Either way, you want to be involved, so take your time listening to samples or listening to narrators' reels. Some authors have gotten very excited about auditioning narrators. Please be respectful. Don't waste people's time. Chances are, everything you need to know is already available for your listening pleasure. Do your research, but don't take advantage of actors' willingness to do free work in order to win the job. You don't like writing extra samples to prove you can write when you already have work available for consumption.
But depending on your relationship with the process -- producer/publisher/directly with the narrator -- you may or may not be in a position to weigh in on the casting and performance. Some audiobook publishers and producers invite the author to complete a questionnaire to provide character input, pronunciations for invented names, places, languages, etc. If you're working independently and directly with your narrator/producer through a platform such as ACX then you certainly have the opportunity to share your guidance and requests. But just as with the communication through a publisher, timing is essential. Input is welcome prior to production.
If you aren't married to name pronunciations, it's actually fun to hear what the narrator comes up with. I had a different pronunciation in mind for the character Riaire, but Carol and I ended up preferring how P.J. said Riaire's name. So, stay flexible. It can be a fun collaboration if you are open to it.
The ACX platform is set up so the narrator/producer must provide the first 15 minutes for your approval before moving on with the recording. This is an additional opportunity to weigh in on technical quality/production value, tone, and also your last chance for input. You may not rewrite the book at this point. You may not spring brand new, not previously discussed requests on the narrator ("I really need the character to sound like a Scottish Greta Garbo -- and please scream all the lines"). However, if you hear something is going in a wrong direction -- maybe tonally ("She's actually happy as she's sawing through the intruder's leg"), or something that could generally improve the book -- this is your time to speak up.
However, even at this point, be aware that you've already cast this professional actor to perform your book. Not every one of his/her choices will match what you've imagined, but their creativity and freedom is integral to this stage of the process. Most professional narrators understand the responsibility they have to capture the tone you've intended and to not reimagine/reinterpret your book. Attempting to micromanage line readings or character voices is never productive.
When It's All Done
Carol and I were positively giddy when we first heard P.J.'s narration of NIGHT'S GIFT. Omen has been an important character in the landscape of my imagination, but he's only ever had my voice. Since this book is written with a tight POV, we get a lot of Omen -- both action and his internal thoughts. Hearing Omen's characteristic swagger mixed with his constant self-examination brought him to life in a whole new way to me. The same is true for Templar -- more layers. And forget about all the cool creature voices. It's one thing to read about the undead alchemist's hissed "s" and the ringmaster's flourishes, but hearing these characters spring to life is awesome.
The glory of hearing your book read is unequal to anything I've experienced. Screenwriting gives you the great pleasure of seeing your work performed, but remember scripts are rewritten and changed until they are sometimes unrecognizable even to the writer.
Your book is your book. Every word is yours. And once it's an audiobook, it's alive.
And now it's time to shout it from the rooftops (more stores to come):
PreOrder from DownPour: Night's Gift
Art Talk: Werewolves
Published: Jul 21, 2017 11:48:02 amCarol E. Leever
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.
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).
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.
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.
Published: Jul 12, 2017 04:20:39 pmCarol E. Leever
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.
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 amCamilla Ochlan
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.
Published: Jun 24, 2017 04:06:49 pmCarol E. Leever
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.