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

 

Beginning Painting

Guest post and art by Carol E. Leever

When I was a kid I ‘drew’ — mostly just doodles that always seemed to consist of very tall buildings with massive amounts of stairwells filled with dozen of stick figures being menaced by a giant Godzilla- like monster. Any actual art work I wanted drawn — I’d get my father to do it. He can draw just about anything with seemingly little effort (of course there was effort – but I didn’t get that as a child).

Eventually I tried my hand at actually drawing real pictures. I went to the library and got a book of fairy-tales filled with images of sprites and magical creatures, and I tried to copy the artwork to the best of my ability. A single drawing (always in pencil) took me days to complete. And eventually I stopped — not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it took so long. I figured if it took me a week to draw a single decent looking thing, I obviously didn’t have any natural ability. I assumed that whatever gift people like my father (and my grandmother) had, I had not inherited it.

Then one day, many years later, I saw an episode of The Joy of Painting by Bob Ross. It looked so easy! And I thought — I’ll try again. I bought canvases, brushes and oil paints. I set it all up in front of my tv where I’d recorded a Bob Ross episode. And then I watched, paused, re-winded and painted.

My first painting looked nothing like his — but it wasn’t horrible either. For the next several years, I went through one episode after another — to this day I still have a closet full of landscapes filled with happy little clouds and happy little trees.

The problem I had was that I was just painting the same things he painted — mountains, lakes, trees, the occasional woodland shack. I never really got good enough to paint my own things (I wanted to paint dragons, and flying horses, and magical cats battling monsters). And it never really got easier — I never got to the point where I could whip out a painting in 30 minutes like Bob Ross could. I figured — well, it was fun, but I don’t have any skill at this. Whatever gift he has, I did not receive it. I stopped painting.

Years later, I discovered the phenomena of speed painting on Youtube. I watched in amazement as brilliant artists whipped out the most extraordinary images in minutes using a simple brush in Photoshop or Corel. Most of them were concept artists for video games and movies, and they were drawing exactly what I wished I could draw — dragons, and wizards and magical creatures in magical lands.

I bought a cheap Waccom tablet with a stylus, opened my copy of Photoshop (I use it for web design) and tried my hand at digital painting. I tried one of the Bob Ross landscapes of course — that was what I knew best after all. It was terrible. It looked like something a 5 year old would draw. I quit immediately.

But I kept watching those Youtube videos. I kept marveling. And then an extraordinary thing happened. I read the comments on one of the videos — someone had asked the artist a simple question — how long did this painting really take you. (I knew the videos were sped up so that they were only a few minutes long — but I never thought about how long they actually were). The artist answered the question — 60 hours. One painting, a 12-minute Youtube ‘speed painting’, had taken this brilliant professional 60 hours to actually paint.

I started looking around more, and discovered that many of these ‘speed painters’ occasionally put up ‘real-time paintings’. These are hours long — slow, laborious processes that would bore the majority of Youtube viewers. I thought they were brilliant.

I watched one artist paint for several hours and realized that the unrecognizable image — a blotchy mismatch of gray paint strokes — looked exactly like something a 5 year old would draw. That’s the point where I always gave up. And that’s the point that the professional artist was just getting started.

The artist said he hated the first part of painting — couldn’t wait to get to the ‘fun’ part. The fun part was the next 50 hours of refinement, going over minute detail, tiny strokes and lines for hour after hour after hour until it all finally came together and looked brilliant.

That’s when I realized that painting really wasn’t any different than writing or programming. It all just takes time to learn.

I tried again. I painted for hours — and hours and hours. I deleted paintings, started over, again and again and again. And I watched video after video after video — trying to make up for my lack of formal education in art, trying to figure out how to actually use a stylus, and what on earth does linear dodge, flow, opacity or clipping mask actually mean.

A week later I managed to produce the little cat you see here. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t easy, but to me it actually looked like something that wasn’t just one of Bob Ross’s happy little trees.

And I finally got to the fun part of painting — and yes, I realize that to anyone who isn’t a painter, it sounds mind-numbingly tedious to spend hour after hour painting tiny little details. But that’s what it takes.

It’s still hard, I’m still horrifically slow at it — the cover art for Night’s Gift took me 68 hours to complete. I’ll never be one of those professional concept artist I still watch on Youtube or the next Bob Ross. But I can at least draw magical cats and mythical beasts that make me happy — and that was the point of starting in the first place.

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Carol is the co-author and illustrator of the OF CATS AND DRAGONS  fantasy series. She has been my best friend since high school, and she never ceases to amaze me. I love watching this art journey she’s on and can’t wait to see where it leads.

Deviant Art: http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

Twitter: @CamillaOchlan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

Instagram: @CamillaOchlan

 

 

 

 

 

OF CATS AND DRAGONS: Start here

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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 private website 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.

We are aiming for a late summer 2017 release date, but if you want to get a free pre-release ebook copy of NIGHT’S GIFT, just sign up here.

You can find us many places:

http://ofcatsanddragons.com

https://www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons/

Camilla:

Twitter @CamillaOchlan

Instagram: http://instagram.com/camillaochlan/

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

 

Holding Tight and Letting Go

The night of November 14th we lost our cat, Roo.

My husband wrote this:

“Our boy. Our sweet little Roo.

His full name was Arcturus. He had 59 lives and twice as many nicknames.

Under the super moon he crossed the rainbow bridge.

He loved us. We loved him.

We love him still.”

I actually couldn’t write anything more or anything else. And as I am sitting here nearly two months later, I am crying “Rotz und Wasser” — which is my mother tongue’s way of saying, “I am crying my eyes out” but literally means, “I am crying snot and water.”

Can’t be any clearer about why I love the German language. It is direct. To the heart. And completely raw. If you connect to its true poetic depth. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that is for another time.

We lost Roo. And my heart broke. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus. And I felt I let my writing partners down by being a completely unreliable mess over the holidays. They were both very understanding.

Most people I know understood, by the way. Even though we always want to apologize for grieving for a pet, people get it. Because people understand loss. And if they don’t — they will.

I lost my mom in 2002. Cancer. Brutal, fast cancer. She was 61, which seemed disturbingly young at the time. Now it seems like very “The Pit and the Pendulum” — a ghost in my mind chanting, “Get it done. You’re gonna die.”

My dad passed in 2005, too ill to attend my wedding (I never thought I’d be a bride) only three months before. My dad was 81. Seemed like a ripe old age at the time. But guess what — now, not so much.

We learn that death is a reality when it keeps happening around us. My Homeric Imagination professor at university, Kathryn Hohlwein, a lovely lady and astounding scholar, taught a rebellious and impatient twenty-year-old me that at some point we all learn that we are going to die. And then we learn that we are going to live.

What she couldn’t teach me then is that the lesson circles back again and again.

After losing my parents, I thought I knew the depths of grief and regret. But I didn’t know that grief and regret reside in a space in our minds that we return to over and over with each loss, as if it were a country we travel to, getting our passport stamped each time we cross its border.

You are never prepared, whether you know it’s coming or not. It’s always different. And it always changes you. At first, there is the loss of the loved one, all the things you wanted to share with them and never will be able to, the finality, the not knowing, the worry, the longing, the empty space where vibrant, living love used to reside, but once you get past all of that, there is another heart-wrenching element. The thing that takes your breath. The thing that freezes your inside. The thing you just can’t allow yourself to think about: The undeniable knowledge that this will happen to all of us.

This will happen to me.

I will die.

What do you do with that? What does it mean?

I don’t have an answer. And even if I did, like all things intangible and larger-than-life, the answer would be intensely personal and wouldn’t translate to anyone else. Not really.

But sometimes, something resonates.

Ray Bradbury said, “Writing keeps death at bay. Every book I write is a triumph over death.”

And for what it’s worth, I am writing as fast as I can.

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