Art Talk: Werewolves

1500659561cleanplush2

guest blog by Carol 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.

1500659577plush2

 

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).

1500659586tornplush2

 

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.

1499900427eyes

 

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 here: Book Funnel. And here’s the final version of the cover.

1500664012nobeastcover

You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

http://www.werewolfwhisperer.com

www.facebook.com/werewolfwhisperer/

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

Bonita:

Twitter: @BonitzMG

Tumblr: https://bonitamg.tumblr.com

High Fantasy

Cover art for Night's Gift

 

Guest post and art by Carol 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.

Cover art for Night's 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.

 You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Finding a voice

Cover art for Night's Gift

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 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.

My writing partner, Carol E. Leever,  hadn’t been able to join us in KC. 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.

You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

 

Blame the Odyssey

helmet-2321740_1280

 

My love of reading fantasy and science fiction clearly determined my choice to write in the genre. But where did that eternal, unshakeable love come from? What formed my writing brain? What made me such a weird kid? I blame THE ODYSSEY. When I was eight years old I discovered the tales of Odysseus struggling to get home. I listened to the audio drama on my little kid record player over and over again — until I had the lines memorized, until I could recite the episodes in my sleep.

I didn’t know that THE ODYSSEY was a classic. I actually thought that it was my story, told just for me, my secret knowledge, my superpower. I felt that I knew something arcane about the world that nobody else knew (or so I thought). I was delighted to find D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths in the library and couldn’t believe my luck when I found a book of Norse myths on my stepsister’s bookshelf. Indiana Jones couldn’t have been more excited when he finally snagged that golden idol. I really thought I had uncovered ancient, forgotten lore. And in a way, I had because I internalized the hero’s journey so early on that it became my foundation for understanding story. Without realizing it, I judge all stories — subconsciously — against Homer. And that can’t be so bad. Knowledge and endless wonder is there for the taking, but just because a book sits on a shelf (or on a Kindle) doesn’t mean that anyone will crack it open and discover the joy of becoming engrossed in a story.

I devoured books as a child, always looking for that next great story. This never-sated hunger led me to find so many wonderful tales over the years, from THE BELGARIAD to THE FINNOVAR TAPESTRY, from Valdemar to Xanth, from Katherine Kurtz to Neil Gaiman.

And eventually I went from tracking down the best fantasy stories I could read to trying to write some fantasy stories myself. My first series — THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER (co-written with Bonita Gutierrez) — is a genre-bending, dark urban fantasy/science fiction take on the evolution of the human race via a werewolf virus. But with the OF CATS AND DRAGONS series, I am returning to my roots: epic fantasy, magic, creatures, adventure, heroes, and a huge sense of wonder. I am so thrilled that Carol and I are finally sharing these stories, and I hope they bring others as much joy as they have brought me. But no matter where this ends, it all started with a blind Cyclops and a clever Greek who was just trying to get home.

 

You can find me many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com