Fantasy maps to guide your way

The World OF CATS AND DRAGONS

The Quest for the Autumn King begins in the city of Melia. Omen and his friends cross the Luminal Sea in part one of the trilogy, SUMMER’S FALL. In part two, HOLLOW SEASON, the adventurers travel from the city of Khreté into the kingdom of Kharakhan.

I’ve always enjoyed the inclusion of maps in fantasy books, so I am thrilled to be able to share the two maps Carol has created to give our readers a little help tracking the journey.

Happy trails!

Kharakhannew

thechain

-from HOLLOW SEASON:

They had traveled along the King’s Road for hours without incident, even Tormy falling into a silent, bored cadence as the miles passed, when Kadana motioned to a slight widening of the road. “This is where the King’s Road and the Chain run together for a bit. The Deldano lands start here. And the Chain is our best way home.” She looked over her shoulder at Omen. “But I’ll have to make some stops. It’ll add time.”

“Doesn’t the King’s Road keep going straight to Caraky?” Dev raised himself up in his stirrups, looking west.

“It does,” Kadana said, a sour note in her answer. “Which is not far from the Mountain of Shadow.”

“Omen?” Kadana didn’t answer Dev but gave Omen a quizzical look.

Am I supposed to control him somehow? With a bit of a start, Omen realized that Dev was in fact his to manage. Scales and toenails!

Templar loudly cleared his throat, and Omen thought he heard a distinct, “Don’t listen to Dev” through the dislodging of phlegm.

“Are you worried about the hex?” Omen was curious to puzzle out Dev’s angle. Maybe he’s just trying to be a burr in Kadana’s—

“Aren’t you?” the Machelli spy replied smoothly.

“Look, Omen,” Kadana said without the slightest irritation, “you have a couple of options if you’re in a hurry. You’re under no obligation to me. You can continue along the Chain to the Deldano castle. Or you can head straight to the Mountain of Shadow. It’s up to you if you’re worried.”

“Or we can cut through the Marroways and get to your castle before dark,” Dev added casually.

The Marroways?

“Or you can cut through the Marroways and your bones will never be found,” Kadana snarled.

“What are the Marroways?” Omen couldn’t keep himself from asking.

“The woods the Chain winds around,” Kadana said simply. “The Chain surrounds the Marroways like, well, a chain. Or a fence. Keeping things in that shouldn’t wander. Things that won’t wander,” she gave Dev a sharp look, “unless they’re reminded that there’s an outside.”

“Does this have anything to do with the Autumn Gates?” Shalonie asked quickly. “Or the wild gates?”

“Gates have nothing to do with it,” Kadana told the girl. “The Marroways were put in place centuries ago, and it falls on people of the Chain and the ruler of the lands to keep the Marroways protected.”

OF CATS AND DRAGONS – the whole series  on Amazon

Untitled design (2)

Advertisements

When The Unthinkable Happened…

Carol+Leever+and+Camilla+Ochlan

“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 collection of over three hundred stories and story fragments. But now we are getting ready to share what we’ve conjured up.”

That’s what I wrote a year ago as Carol and I were getting ready to release NIGHT’S GIFT.

I didn’t know what lurked just above the horizon.

Carol’s cancer diagnosis came the day our first OF CATS AND DRAGONS book was released, so we never had even a moment to celebrate that wasn’t under the shadow of this horrible cancer.

Since then, there have been many ups and downs (more downs than ups, if I am totally honest). It’s been a difficult year. Until a few months ago, I couldn’t even talk about what was going on. But secrets have a way of clawing you up from the inside.

When I was ready, I had the chance to share our story with Jo Bozarth for the Her Process podcast. I knew I had to open up because I’ve learned that cancer is a bitch, and we are not the only ones in her sights.

I hope you give this interview a listen. And I hope the territory is more foreign to you than Mars. But it’s probably not.

What do you do when the unthinkable happens? It happened to us, and this is what we did.

From Jo:

“Today’s show wraps up my series on collaboration. It’s a tribute to art and to friendship. It’s about what happens when you’re on a roll, when you’re making strides, realizing your dream…and the unthinkable happens. What do you do? How do you go on? Do you go on?

If you’re just joining Her Process for the first time, today’s guest, Camilla Ochlan, has been on the show before with her Werewolf Whisperer series writing partner, Bonita Gutierrez. 

But Camilla, being the creative soul that she is, and I’m guessing also a master at organization, has another writing partner with whom she’s been creating the world that houses another series, called Of Cats and Dragons. In fact, she and her dear friend, Carol Leever, her Of Cats and Dragons illustrator and co-writer, have been creating this world for over three decades now. But they didn’t realize it right away.

When Camilla and Carol did finally decide to share their creation with the world, life, as it does, stepped in with a twist that neither friend could ever have imagined or prepared for. You always hear people say that they meant to do x, y, z, but “life got in the way.” Well, these ladies didn’t let “life” thwart their plans. They’ve bobbed and weaved, and have persevered. This is their story.” 

Click here to listen:

HER PROCESS PODCAST

Thank you to Jo Bozath for being an exquisite listener and a gentle interviewer. Jo has a gift for putting her subject at ease, and her empathy is backed up by a strong work ethic that drives her to genuinely understand the breadth of her guest’s creative endeavors.

I want everyone to know that Carol has been strong and determined. She is the warrior I’ve always known her to be, but the enemy she is battling is fierce and powerful. We are hopeful. But this is real and terrifying. We don’t know what is going to happen.

We also want everyone to know that this is not the end OF CATS AND DRAGONS. After HOLLOW SEASON, Carol and I have another completed book that is now being edited and a handful of partially completed manuscripts. We also have over 250 story fragments, short stories, outlines, dialogues, and scenes. We have a timeline that reaches over generations in our story world. And we’ve started the outlines of three new books. We have been working on the world OF CATS AND DRAGONS for over thirty years. There’s a lot there. We have a plan.

I am deeply committed to sharing our stories because that is what I can do to honor our friendship. We love these characters so much, and since we made the decision to share them — that is what will happen. There will be more Tormy. There will be more Omen. And Kyr. And Tyrin. There will be more. . .

tormy smallcopy

Release Day for HOLLOW SEASON!!!!!!

This is the fourth book in the OF CATS AND DRAGONS series. And our fourth release in under a year. We are thrilled. Thank you for joining our adventure.

Our best always,
Camilla & Carol

NLHSLIGHT

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CZNNBR3

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hollow-Season-Autumn-trilogy-Dragons-ebook/dp/B07CZNNBR3

Special Treat!

HOLLOW SEASON – Part 2 of The Quest For The Autumn King continues the tale started in SUMMER’S FALL  – and because you are all awesome, I am giving you SUMMER’S FALL for free today. 🎁

Get it right away!

SUMMER’S FALL – Part 1 of The Quest For The Autumn King

US   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CZQ2VB4

UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Summers-Fall-Cats-Dragons-Book-ebook/dp/B07CZQ2VB4

 

HOLLOW SEASON Sneak Peek

NLHSLIGHT

Chapter 1: Port

OMEN

Kadana had described the port of Khreté but what Omen beheld upon their approach on that bracing, fog-shrouded morning was unlike anything he had imagined.

In the distance, a large granite islet jutted out from the mainland at a considerable distance and provided a solid platform for Khreté. The coastal town spread upward at a steep angle, the citadel winding around in a gradual spiral that reminded Omen of cinnamon snail rolls. Seamless stone walls corralled many-storied buildings from the busy harbor to the sizable fortress at its pinnacle. The stoic battlements of the fortress and four round towers took shape as the early-morning fog started to burn off.

I heard Kharakhian architecture was unimaginative. But if Khreté is any measure, Kharakhian builders have dark romance in their souls. I should write a song.

“Khreté is smelling deliciousnessness.” Tormy sniffed the air. “Like adventure and shaved truffles.”

“Could be, Tormy. Could be,” Omen said. I guess the wet stone could smell mushroomy. But how can he smell the city from all the way out here? Cat’s like a bloodhound.

Omen leaned a little closer, snuggling into Tormy’s thick coat to protect himself from windburn. “You don’t mind the wind, fuzz face?”

The cat giggled, his orange mane blowing this way and that in the rough breeze.

Kyr, also cuddled into Tormy’s fur, blinked sleepily and murmured, “Stone city by the sea.” The sunset hues of his irises swirled slowly, seeming to change from violet to red gold.

Trick of the light, Omen convinced himself.

“Pieces scattered on the ground. Broken.” Kyr studied the tall walls and the length of the causeway leading to the battlements at the highest point.

“The city isn’t broken.” Omen put his hand on Kyr’s shoulder. “It’s built to withstand the fury of the ocean. It’s encased in thick walls. Unbreakable.”

“The stones defend the city from the sea, but the man with the dove-grey eyes is frozen in time.” Kyr’s speech took on a distant lilt, as if he were not the one speaking. Omen noticed the quality of the vibrations in Kyr’s voice change briefly.

A spike of some sort? Omen wondered if the fluctuating eye color and the shift in vocal quality could be markers of Kyr’s odd episodes.

Maybe I can train Tyrin to notice the early warning signs. Maybe Tyrin can help pull him out of it before it starts.

“The man with dove-grey eyes? What man?” Omen asked carefully.

“What man?” Kyr asked, his incandescent eyes large and round. “Is it a joke, Omen? Like knock, knock?”

“What?” Omen couldn’t hide his confusion.

“Man,” Kyr said firmly and then let out a hearty belly laugh. “That’s a good one, Omen!”

Though the sea had been rough at sunrise, the waves smoothed for their arrival. The grey dampness had given way to blue skies, nearly clear with intermittent dustings of thin white clouds.

As they glided toward port, Omen admired the water’s gradual color change. Deep blues rivaling the sun-streaked sky flowed into brilliant aquamarines that in turn reached up to the fine sands of the cliffside beach.

Shalonie climbed down from the rigging, the ship’s tiny monkey lounging tamely on her shoulder. “Built at the beginning of the Set-Manasan dynasty.” She cleared her throat. “Khreté was the capital of Kharakhan for hundreds of years. The ramparts are twenty feet thick and have served to protect the citadel from both land and sea. This port city was the Set-Manasan seat of power—”

“Until Indee built the new capital?” Omen asked plainly.
“Caraky,” Shalonie agreed. “Built for the coronation of King Khylar.”
“My parents went to the coronation, but I didn’t get to go,” Omen said with an edge

of embarrassment. “Something about slurping my soup in elevated company.”
“You were ten,” Templar threw in, he and Dev having joined them from below deck. Both young men were armed and wearing leather armor in anticipation of going ashore. The sigils embossed on Templar’s armor blazed briefly in the sun as if reacting to the light before settling back into a dark charcoal grey that blended in with the black. “It

was mostly dull. Mostly.” He fell silent.
“Respectfully, I can’t exactly agree with that assessment,” Dev said. “Granted, my

circumstances were very different.”
“I thought you said you hadn’t been there.” Omen hoped to catch a glint of uncertainty

in the spy’s silver eyes.
“Did I?” Dev’s lips curved into a smirk. “Must have been a lie. Or maybe I am lying

now—”
“Well, which is it?” Shalonie looked as if she were making a list of questions to ask

Dev later.
“I was stuck with my sister,” Templar admitted ruefully, ignoring the Machelli. “But

according to my father it was lots of pomp and circumstance, most of it kak Indee had made up.” Templar squeezed one eye shut and studied the horizon. “Of course, Terizkand and Kharakhan were barely on speaking terms at that time. My father hated

 

King Charaathalar. Called him a burr on the rear of a donkey. Only agreed to enter into talks once Charaathalar had officially been declared deceased.”

Dev’s usually unreadable silver eyes flashed as if he were biting down a comment. Omen noticed Shalonie raising an eyebrow.

“Of course, my father liked Indee,” Templar continued almost wistfully. “She was bold and fearless. The scuttlebutt was that Indee used wild magic to get Caraky built so fast.”

Templar unwrapped a piece of hard Melian cheese and an apple from a folded handkerchief. “Mégeira gave me this. Anybody hungry?”

“I is liking cheese,” Tormy mentioned casually, hope twinkling in his amber eyes.

Templar nodded. “I had a feeling.” He broke a small piece of the cheese off and threw the rest to Tormy, who snapped it out of the air. Templar handed the smaller piece to Kyr, who stuffed it in his pocket.

The pocket undulated, and a tiny voice yelled out, “It’s &*$!^% cheese. My favorite!” The rest of Tyrin’s words were lost in hurried munching.

“Wild magic?” Omen shouted as if he’d been smacked upside the head. “Khylar disappeared from Caraky! A city built by wild magic! Maybe he’s not even in the Autumn Lands, maybe he’s trapped in the city itself?”

Kyr cried out, then quickly hid his hand behind his back.

“Kyr!” Omen turned toward his brother, realizing with alarm that his careless words had inadvertently triggered the hex. Shame flooded through him. How? What did I say? I didn’t refuse the quest. What triggered it?

“Kyr, show me your hand.”

Slowly, Kyr brought forward his marred hand. Blisters were forming along the mark, spiraling up his wrist. The web of inky black lines was growing and pulsing even as they watched.

“It’s the Autumn Lands!” Dev exclaimed. “Say you’re going into the Autumn Lands to rescue Khylar. Quickly!”

Praying that Dev was right, Omen swiftly said the words, speaking them clearly and loudly with as much conviction behind them as possible. “I’m going into the Autumn Lands to rescue Khylar.” To his relief, the mark on Kyr’s hand stopped growing.

“But now the mark’s bigger,” Omen said, his voice hollow. “A lot bigger.”

“Well, at least now we know that you can’t even suggest something else happened to Khylar.” Dev fished a small jar of ointment from the inner pocket of his coat and handed it across to Omen. Omen recognized the label on its lid as his mother’s. Familiar with his mother’s potions from a long childhood of scrapes and bruises, Omen knew the concoction would ease Kyr’s pain.

Omen carefully smeared the ointment over the burn and then bound Kyr’s wrist with the white bandages Dev handed to him. He nodded his thanks to the Machelli, glad at least one of them had the sense to carry such things. Dev knows what to do to lessen the pain of the hex — either my mother told him, or he has experience with hexes himself.

 

Maybe I shouldn’t open my bloody mouth at all! How am I supposed to know what will trigger the hex?

Templar watched with a bitter twist of his lips. “Indee’s a bitch!” he spat out. “I can’t even magically or psionically heal the burns.”

“Indee might not even realize what she’s done,” Shalonie tried to defend Indee once again, though she didn’t sound convinced.

Her loyalty to the Sundragons runs deep.

“I think this means we have to move faster.” Omen felt helpless but determined.

“Your psionic blast already brought us here weeks before Kadana was expecting to arrive.” Shalonie scratched at her eyebrow with her thumb as if deep in thought. “We should have arrived about ten days after midsummer — and instead we’re arriving almost a week before the solstice.”

So we’ll be here for the solstice.

“Kadana sent word to her husband a few days ago,” Shalonie said. “Another one of her handy magic trinkets, some sort of message box. She put a letter in; it disappeared, and not five minutes later a reply from Diatho came.”

“How big was that box?” Templar asked; wheels seemed to be turning in his head. Shalonie ignored him.
“Diatho should arrive in Khreté by lunch,” she said to Omen. “If possible, I’d like to

get into the fortress. Rumor has it there’s a faulty portal there, and seeing it could help me with my studies. I’ll need to know more about portals if we’re going to be wandering around in the Mountain of Shadow — that place is filled with portals and traps and doorways into other worlds. The more knowledge I have, the better I’ll be able to help you.”

“I don’t know anything about a faulty portal, but I can get you into the fortress,” Dev told them then. He’d pulled a small spyglass from another inside pocket of the metal- studded leather coat he was wearing and peered at the long stone dock they were approaching.

“Can’t we ask for an audience?” Omen asked, turning his attention to the tall battlements of the massive structure at the top. The fortress had been the home of King Charaathalar Set-Manasan, and likely still was home to numerous members of his family. As prince of Lydon, Omen had always been granted full access to any castle he’d visited, and since his grandmother Kadana held some sort of title in Kharakhan, he couldn’t imagine they’d be denied.

“If you ask for an audience, you’ll be welcomed into the Palace Hall — that’s that large stone building next to the fortress with the white tower and all the flags,” Dev told him, pointing toward the building in question. It appeared to be made of a different type of stone — the outward facade’s gleaming white marble designed to catch the eye. Fluttering flags proclaimed that at least one member of the royal family was in attendance. “There’s nothing interesting in the Palace Hall. If there is anything to be

 

seen it would be in the fortress, but Indee sealed that off years ago. They won’t take us there. Especially not you.”

Omen gaped at Dev. He makes it sound like they have something personal against me. He couldn’t recall ever having had any sort of unpleasant encounter with the Set- Manasans. Khylar and Caythla were the only ones he’d ever met. And Indee — but she’s a Lir Drathos now.

“Especially not me? What’s that supposed to mean?” Omen asked.
Templar and Shalonie looked at Dev with curiosity.
Dev’s lips twitched upward. “The Set-Manasans don’t like your father . . . or your

mother for that matter. They tend to hold grudges. Wouldn’t say anything to your face, but wouldn’t even bother to spit on you if you were on fire either.”

“Spit on you?” Tyrin piped up, poking his head up from inside Kyr’s coat pocket, his little white paws looped over the side. “I is thinking that the saying is that they wouldn’t p—”

“Tyrin!” Omen cut the little cat off before he could finish. “He was trying to be polite. We don’t say bad words in front of Shalonie.”

“Why not?” Tyrin looked baffled. “I is just trying to be accurateness. Shalonie is liking things to be accurateness.”

Omen stared hard at the little cat, and Tyrin twitched his ears a few times before letting out a little sniff and sinking back down into Kyr’s warm pocket.

Kyr seemed oblivious to the exchange, staring instead at the bandages wrapped around his wrist. Avarice’s burn ointment was supposed to take away any pain on contact, but Omen worried the boy was still suffering. It’s not like Kyr would say anything about the pain.

“So what was it my father—” Omen began again, turning his attention back to Dev.

Dev cut him off, his smirk widening. “You might want to ask your parents that,” he told Omen. “I try to stay out of politics, and I definitely have no interest in meddling in your mother’s personal affairs. You’re welcome to borrow the bonding book if you want to ask her yourself.”

Annoyed, Omen turned his attention back to the city. She wouldn’t answer. Would tell me to mind my own business. Avarice had never responded well to his pointed curiosity — she expected him to figure things out for himself. And if he couldn’t, then — she’d told him — he’d have no business knowing.

“If you don’t meddle in politics, how are you going to get us into the fortress?” Templar asked then, looking intrigued by the entire conversation.

Good question. Omen frowned and glanced back at Dev.

Dev pointed toward the fortress. “See that stone house with the red roof at the base of the battlements?” He indicated one of many manor houses ringing the fortress. “The locals call the area Fortress Hill. It’s where lesser nobles and wealthy merchants like to live.”

 

The neighboring abodes were all built of the same dark stone, only the tile on the inner roofs distinguishing one from another. The tile colors were quite impressive in variety — reds, blues, greens, golds. The house Dev pointed to had tiles of reddish gold — like untarnished copper. As the fog around the hilltop burned away, the roof caught the sunlight and flashed like flames.

“That’s the Machelli Guild House. We can get into the fortress from there.” Dev motioned toward the long stone dock the ship was approaching. At the far end, on the main causeway that surrounded the port, Omen spotted a number of carriages. “Kadana has business with the guild. They’re waiting for us.” He handed over the spyglass without asking.

Omen peered through it toward the dock at the carriages. Apparently they know how many are in our group. Doubt they accounted for Tormy. Omen couldn’t really see Tormy wanting to ride in a carriage, even if he were tired. The poor cat had grown so restless, Omen didn’t expect him to slow down even for a second as soon as his paws hit solid ground.

Along with the carriages and the muscular horses attached to them, Omen saw two tall, dark-haired men standing nearby. Wonder how long they’ve been waiting. He strained to see as many details as possible.

Though well-dressed in the fine doublets expected of wealthy merchants, there was something wild and dangerous about them — even from the distance. Both were well- armed, swords hanging from their sword belts and gleaming daggers strapped to sheaths on their legs. Bits of shiny metal plating was woven through the fine material of the doublets and leather breeches. Omen recognized their profiles and had no doubt that their eyes would be silver. These men looked like the Machellis Omen knew — unlike Dev who, despite his uncanny resemblance to Avarice, was far more delicate and slender than the typical Machelli male.

“Relatives?” he asked, guessing Dev would know the answer. He handed the spyglass to Shalonie who was watching curiously.

“Probably,” Dev agreed. “Cousins more likely. Glaive and Foil.”

“Those are Kharakhian long swords,” Shalonie corrected swiftly as she peered through the spyglass.

Dev laughed at that. “I meant those are their names.”

Definitely Machelli.

Shalonie’s brow furrowed. “I understand the custom behind the names,” she said. “But do you all have actual names as well — like Armand for Omen and Ava for Avarice? And do you ever use them?”

“My mother and I have those names because the Machelli custom doesn’t go over very well in Lydon,” Omen admitted. He smiled fondly when he thought of all the times as a child he’d argued with his father’s mother, Queen Wraiteea, about his name. She’d finally agreed to call him Omen in private as long as he went by Armand in public. “My grandmother Wraiteea insisted we have proper names. My real name is actually Omen

 

— that’s what my mother named me when I was born. And as far as I know, my mother was named Avarice at birth. The Machellis call them hex-names, to ward off bad luck.”

“What about you, Dev?” Shalonie asked. “Do you have another name?”

“Lots,” he admitted with a smile that gave nothing away. “If you don’t like Devastation, make one up. I’ll answer to it. Not particularly attached to any of them.”

Not the answer she was looking for, Omen noted, grinning at the consternation on Shalonie’s face.

“Names can be stolen,” Kyr said, his gaze still on his bandaged hand. “Like rings found on the ground and picked up by kings who are no more.” He turned his solemn gaze on Omen, the morning sunlight catching in the violet hues of his eyes and making them seem more amber. “There’s a monster inside it.”

“Inside what, Kyr?” Concern swept through Omen.

The boy’s eyes widened, and then he smiled peacefully. “That’s a great idea, Omen! I miss fried cakes. There aren’t any on the ship — Tyrin and I looked. I hope they have ones with custard inside them. Do you think they know about custard?”

Omen glanced over at Templar who raised his shoulders imperceptibly. They were both willing to take Kadana’s words to heart and take more notice of Kyr’s strange ramblings, but it wasn’t easy when it always seemed as if he were having a completely separate conversation. “We’ll check when we get to shore,” he assured his little brother. “I’m sure the Kharakhians know all about custard.”

Kadana and Liethan joined them on deck a few moments later, Kadana barking out orders to the sailors around them as they prepared to pull into port.

Khreté, like most port cities, possessed deep-water slips where even a ship the size of the Golden Voyage could dock — though they were limited to a small number of outer piers. Some had only floating wooden docks leading back to the main causeway, but the pier Kadana directed the ship toward was permanent, held up by enormous stone pylons embedded into the sea floor. Omen imagined his grandmother had paid quite a handsome docking fee for the slip.

Tormy started dancing impatiently as the ship glided gracefully toward their final destination. The great vessel slowed down through the elemental magic that controlled it, Kadana herself guiding it into port. The moment they neared the stone pier, several sailors tossed thick ropes to the dockworkers waiting for them, tying the vessel off as others moved to lower the gangplank.

Omen watched in fascination as workers rolled large, intricate cargo cranes into position along the pier to empty the hold. My dad would love this. Workers easily hand- cranked the wheels on the side of the cranes to lower the jibs by ropes and pulleys.

Numerous people lined the docks and congregated farther up along the causeway, all having watched the great ship pull into port. From the looks of people pointing toward them, Omen guessed more than one person had spotted Tormy. A giant orange cat hopping around on the deck, tail lashing back and forth, is pretty hard to miss. Omen tried to see his cat through a stranger’s eyes. Hope they like cats.

 

Tormy’s presence in Melia went for the most part unremarked — beyond the numerous people who admired him. The giant cat, while strange, was not the oddest thing to see in that city — the Sundragons dwarfed the cat, and the Melians had no fear of large creatures. And while Tormy had certainly caused a stir the first time Omen had taken him to Lydon, the citizens there had gotten the opportunity to know the cat when he was still relatively small. The Kharakhians would have no such preparations. In a few more months Omen imagined Tormy would be large enough for him to ride.

From the look of things, Tormy was not going to present himself sedately, and Omen didn’t imagine that any amount of cajoling would change that.

He patted the cat on the flank and scratched him behind the ears to calm him down, but even before the sailors could finish lowering the gangplank, Tormy took one huge leap over the side of the ship and landed all four paws on the stone pier, causing the workers below to scatter. The cat took off, racing down the pier, turning at the end, and sprinting back to the ship, only to repeat the course over and over again. All the while he shouted at the top of his lungs, “DRY LAND! DRY LAND! I IS LOVING DRY LAND!”

Watching from the upper deck, Kadana roared with laughter. Kyr tittered happily from his place at the ship’s railing while holding a remarkably sedate Tyrin.

“We is being a spectacle,” Tyrin explained to anyone who wanted to hear.

And it did seem as if all work had stopped as Kharakhians and sailors stared at the giant ball of orange fluff racing up and down the pier.

Initially, the cat gone wild had been met with sounds of concern and even terror, but the panic was short-lived. Before long, Omen saw people beginning to laugh at the sight, and numerous sailors nodded as if they could well understand Tormy’s sentiments. If nothing else he’s an extremely cute giant fluff-ball.

“You’re going to have a serious problem if you ever want to arrive somewhere unseen,” Templar remarked as they watched the cat.

So quiet, so stealthy, so cat-like.

Eventually, Tormy calmed down and trotted happily back toward the ship to sit down and wait for the others. While warming himself in the breezy morning sunlight, he thoughtfully positioned himself off to one side, well out of the way but still able to see all.

Satisfied that his cat wasn’t going anywhere, Omen headed below deck with Kyr to retrieve their belongings and prepare to disembark.

He’d already packed his things — keeping track of everything he’d need for himself, Tormy, Tyrin, and Kyr for the journey. Like Templar, he wore a light coat of armor — thin, interwoven metal scales made of lightweight Lydonian silverleaf that would turn most blades. And though it was summer, the weather was more autumn-like, and the wind blowing in off the ocean was cold. Omen shrugged on a knee-length leather coat over the armor, before slipping his sword belt over his left shoulder, and strapping the enormous two-handed blade across his back. He adjusted the quick release buckle that

 

rested against his chest, allowing him to unfasten the sword belt instantly and draw the sword from its scabbard easily. He’d learned the painful way that it was too difficult to draw over his shoulder, the blade far too long to clear the scabbard unless he’d released it from the belt.

“Do you have everything?” he asked Kyr. Omen fastened two thin daggers to his belt and tied them down to each thigh. Then he grabbed his backpack along with the lightweight saddle he’d have to coax onto Tormy’s back. The larger the cat grew, the stronger he became, and the more could fit into his saddlebags.

Kyr held up the small traveling satchel Avarice had given him in Melia. Save for a few changes of clothes, he didn’t have much, leaving the bulk of their supplies for Omen to manage. Kyr wore a finely cut leather coat also made by Omen’s mother — Lydonian design with a high collar and inner silk lining. It was made of dyed brown and green leather and would hold up well to travel, but it offered little in the way of armored protection.

Omen worried that Kyr would need something more substantial.

He’s quick; he hides well, Omen reminded himself. And he knows to run if there’s trouble. Besides, knowing my mother, she wove protection spells into that coat.

The boy also held the thin sheathed blade Omen had selected for him before they left Melia — a Lydonian sword also made of silverleaf. Kyr seemed uncertain what to do with it, holding it out to Omen.

Omen took the blade and clipped the scabbard to the metal loop on the boy’s belt. “You should always have a weapon on you,” he told Kyr. “And remember that this one is sharp. So be careful with it!”

If worse came to worst, he wanted Kyr to have some means of defending himself, even though the lesson in the Melian park had still been the only time they’d practiced. Should have worked with him during the crossing, he scolded himself. But while the boy didn’t have any understanding of how to use a sword, he was extremely skilled with his carving knife and certainly understood the dangers of sharp edges. It’ll have to do for now.

Kyr nodded blithely, accepting Omen’s word without hesitation.

Tyrin, who was watching them from the desk, leaped with grace onto Kyr’s shoulder. The boy instinctively turned at the last moment to make his shoulder more readily accessible. The kitten settled contently down, tiny claws digging into the leather of the extra padding Avarice had added to Kyr’s coat.

“All right, let’s get going, and remember you two, stay with me. This isn’t Melia. Don’t go wandering off by yourself,” Omen reminded them both. Kyr was not prone to wandering — he followed silently after Omen no matter where he went. But sometimes Tormy and Tyrin were harder to corral, and he feared they could manage to get the boy lost if he wasn’t vigilant.

 

Templar, Shalonie, and Liethan were waiting for them on deck when they arrived, all of them armed and decked-out for travel. Shalonie’s dragon blade gleamed brightly in the sunlight, and Omen had to grin when he saw that Liethan was at last wearing boots.

Liethan noticed the angle of his eyeline. “I do occasionally wear shoes,” he told him. “The Corsair Isles are all white sandy beaches, but my mother also owns land in the heart of Kharakhan. Spent a lot of time hunting in the Kharakhian forests.” Along with the long sword the Corsairs tended to favor, Liethan also carried a crossbow which he had strapped to his backpack.

Omen glanced briefly over at the dock to assure himself that Tormy was still waiting in the sunlight. The cat was eating a large fish that he’d most likely begged from some fisherman and that Omen would no doubt have to pay for. He looked to the others. “Where are Kadana and Dev?”

“Kadana is talking to the harbormaster,” Shalonie told him, pointing a bit further down the dock where Omen could see his grandmother talking to a tall burly man with a bushy black beard and dark skin. “Wanted to warn him about the leviathan and the troubles with the summer route so he can pass the word on to the other captains.”

“And Dev’s up there,” Templar added, pointing toward the long causeway beyond the docks where the carriages were still waiting. “No doubt plotting something dastardly with your Machelli cousins.”

Omen glared at him. “The Machelli are merchants, the guild is a merchant’s guild, regardless of whatever ridiculous stories you might have heard.”

Templar laughed out loud. “Even most of the Machellis call themselves ‘information brokers’ and not merchants . . . They’re spies, and that’s the polite term.”

“They’re merchants,” Omen insisted. “They sell stuff — food, spices, clothes. My mother designs clothing — see this nice coat she made for Kyr.” While Omen was well aware that the extended Machelli clans were far more than mere merchants, he tended to ignore the more unsavory side of the family. Admittedly, their wolf-bred Shilvagi blood made them ill-suited for the more placid life of shopkeepers and tradesmen, but he didn’t consider them bad people. They were rowdy, temperamental, often aggressive, and mostly mysterious. And his mother had systematically kept any darker aspect away from the immediate family in Melia.

“I like my coat,” Kyr offered. “It has extra deep pockets for Tyrin. Avarice says it makes me look lovely.” The plainspokenness of his voice, as if he were imparting the weather, caused the others to burst out in guffaws. Kyr laughed along, looking only slightly disoriented.

Tyrin, still seated on top of Kyr’s shoulder, preened and fluffed his tail, nuzzling his face into the boy’s pale, golden hair.

“We is being the loveliest,” the little kitten agreed with a purr.
“Come on then, lovely.” Omen chuckled with a shake of his head. “Let’s go ashore.”

 

At the bottom of the gangplank, Tormy happily licked his chops clean of the last remnants of the fish. “People is being so nicestness here!” the cat purred. “I is telling the dockworkers that I is being really hungry and they is all throwing fish at me.””And who said Kharakhians were dull-witted?” Templar looked around, making sure Kadana hadn’t heard him.If a giant cat told me he was hungry, I’d probably throw fish at him too. Kadana joined them a moment later, the harbormaster following after her. The man kept a wary eye on Tormy. “Your beasty there tame?” the man boomed out to Omen. Tormy began spinning in circles, his large plume of a tail whacking Omen and Templar repeatedly. “Beasty, beasty, beasty? Where is being the beasty?” the cat jabbered frantically, looking around with keen interest.”He was talking about me, Tormy,” Templar assured him. Tyrin, still balancing on Kyr’s shoulder, narrowed his eyes dangerously as if understanding the truth. Worried that the harbormaster was about to be lambasted with the kitten’s blistering tongue, Omen stepped forward to assure the man. “Everything is fine,” he told him quickly, holding up the saddle he was still carrying. “See I even have a saddle.”The man nodded gruffly, his eyes still distrustful. Tormy sat down and scratched at his ear with his back paw. “I is thinking the saddle is being for me, Omy? Is it being for Templar?”The question set Templar choking with laughter; he turned away attempting to hide his mirth at Omen’s dilemma. Tyrin stood on his hind legs on Kyr’s shoulder, front paws perched on the boy’s head so that he could glare at the harbormaster. The tiny cat’s tail lashed violently back and forth. “Hey, mister!” the little cat shouted. Kadana fought hard to keep a somber expression but failed.”Really . . . Everything’s fine!” Omen cut in, glaring briefly at Templar and throwing his grandmother a pleading look. “No beasties here, and yes, Tormy, it’s your saddle, though if Templar doesn’t shut up, he’s going to be wearing it. Now, are we ready to go?””Yes.” Kadana took the reins of the conversation. “The Machellis are waiting for us.” She motioned toward the causeway, before calling out a few final orders to her crew. The Corsair sailors were attaching the hook block of one of the cargo cranes to the first crate of the ship’s stored haul, the unloading of cargo in full swing as if choreographed. Omen quickly ushered Tormy and Kyr forward. Tyrin, hardly appeased, continued to glare the prickliest of his spite at the harbormaster as the lot of them hurried up the stone dock and toward the awaiting Machelli carriages.

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CZNNBR3

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hollow-Season-Autumn-trilogy-Dragons-ebook/dp/B07CZNNBR3

 

Hurrah! Cover Reveal for Book 4 OF CATS AND DRAGONS!

Deciding on one image to convey all of the magic, adventure, and hijinks that mark Omen’s continuing quest sure wasn’t easy. Carol and I are so pleased with Samantha Key’s beautiful illustration for the Hollow Season cover.

NLHSLIGHT

What’s ist all about?
It is the season of monsters, and wild magic rules the land.
Young warrior bard Omen Daenoth and his intrepid companions —the prince of Terizkand, a Sundragon scholar, a cynical spy, a reckless Corsair, not to mention the talking cats — journey toward the looming Mountain of Shadow.
But how will they rescue the kidnapped king and lift the curse of the faerie sorceress when every step along their way is wrought with murderous creatures and lethal magic? And what exactly is the secret of the Cypher Runes?

You can find out here:

Hurrah! The SUMMER’S FALL audiobook is here!

SF_audiobook_NL_SIZE

Now on Audible – download here

Listen to the dulcet sounds of Tormy’s brogue and Tyrin’s cursing grawlixes!

Click here to sample

_I'll bite the &!%@_ monster!_ copy

SUMMER’S FALL

What do you do when your talking cat accepts a crazy quest?
If you’re Omen, you jump right in.

And before Omen knows it, he’s crossing the Luminal Sea on a miraculous ship called the Golden Voyage. But the voyage is anything but golden.

In the shadow of a devastating hex, pursued by a stealer of souls, with both interference and help from Tormy and the potty-mouthed kitten Tyrin, Omen faces monsters, ghosts, and grave troubles unshackled by the volatile seasons.

The entire OF CATS AND DRAGONS series is available on Audible right now.

Click here to view.

Cover art for Night's Gift

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Nominated by the SOCIETY OF VOICE ARTS AND SCIENCES as best audiobook of the year in both Young Adult and Fantasy categories

Nominated by the AUDIOBOOK REVIEWER as best audiobook of the year in both Young Adult and Fantasy categories

Radiation_audio_FBcover
Listen as Etar finds Tyrin at the edge of a broken world.

Listen as Omen and Tormy chase magic mice in the Divine Library of the Soul’s Flame.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Move over Potter. Stand aside Aslan. There are new heroes in town and they’ve got a giant talking cat! – Amazon review

“Redwall, Nimh, Middle Earth—Of Cats and Dragons will soon stand alongside them. Full of wonder, humor, and adventure, this is the rare series guaranteed to thrill young and old alike. Close your eyes, put on your headphones, and strap on your seat belt! Audie Award winner P. J. Ochlan’s brilliant performance is about to transport you to this enchanting world.” 
—Brent Simons, screenwriter for Megamind and Penguins of Madagascar
Find even more magic, monsters and talking cats at http://ofcatsanddragons.com

Winter Tithe: A Solstice Story

fuchs-2933982_1920 copy

This holiday, I’d like to share a little tale we wrote for the season. If you are already familiar with the OF CATS AND DRAGONS fantasy series, you will recognize some names and references. But this story stands alone as well.

WINTER TITHE takes us to another corner of the world OF CATS AND DRAGONS. We find ourselves in the land of Kharakhan on the eve of the winter solstice. This time our hero is in fact a ten-year-old girl — Tokara, one of Omen’s young relatives on the Deldano side of the family, whose strong curiosity and loyalty to her sister drive her toward a dangerous encounter. But our girl has a brave heart and an irrepressible spirit, and the longest night of the year still holds many secrets:

 

Chapter 1: Storybook

Tokara Deldano eyed the leather-bound tome resting in her mother’s lap. The girl had seen the dusty book before, high on the shelf and out of reach. Is Momma going to read to us? She pressed her lips together, trying to suppress the squeal of joy building up inside.

They had retired to the castle’s solar, the place where the whole family usually spent winter evenings playing board games or cards. Unfortunately her father and brothers were away for the evening.

Despite the early hour, it was already dark, and — even though it was well before her own bedtime — Tokara felt tired and chilled to the bone. Caia, who was four years younger than Tokara, had started yawning before the pudding had been served and was half-asleep by the time they had climbed the tower stairs to the solar. The relentless harsh winds and weeks of icy temperatures were taking their toll on everybody.

Tokara let her eyes drift over the solar, her favorite room in the castle. Intricate tapestries lined all four stone walls. Her mother had brought the hanging pieces from a faraway land only last fall. Enormous, they depicted faerie stories and tales of magical beasts that made Tokara’s imagination tumble.

The room’s chilly stone floors had been layered with plush rugs, which created a spongy cushion for her every step, but this evening she’d pulled on two pairs of knitted socks before cramming her feet into her sheepskin-lined house boots. Leaning slightly forward on the stuffed leather hassock, she wiggled her toes, grateful for the arched fireplace so big that it could fit a team of pack mules. Fed throughout the day and evening, the fire kept the solar toasty and drove away the dampness.

Tokara turned her back to the fireplace, enjoying the warmth that spread from her lower back to her shoulder blades. She was glad her mother would not be traveling again until spring. Home was always merry for the Deldano children but never as merry as when their mother returned from one of her long voyages. Tokara also noted happily that her mother’s tremendous desk was bare. The farmers’ tithes had been collected after harvest, and the annual review of the estate and the Deldano lands had been concluded in time for the midwinter feast. According to tradition, the family would soon bring solstice gifts to the inhabitants of the Chain and the farms that surrounded the villages. Tokara always looked forward to the village celebrations and the feast that would follow at the castle.

As an early present, her father had taken both of her brothers ice fishing on Garganey Lake. Tokara shivered to think just how cold her father and the twins would be on this long and starless night. While she liked fishing, she was happy to have stayed behind. Her mother traveled so often throughout the year that having her home was solstice prize enough for Tokara.

The flames in the fireplace jumped up and sent a pleasant blast of warmth up her spine. Tokara looked over at little Caia. The six-year-old lay contently curled on the thick lambskin rugs, nestled between the family’s five hunting dogs. Caia and the dogs were fast asleep; the youngest, a seventy-pound monster of a six-month-old puppy, snored in Caia’s tightly wound grasp.

“I think Howler belongs to Caia,” her mother said softly. “He’s taken to her.”

Tokara nodded firmly. She longed to pet the pup’s short velvety coat but kept her hands to herself.

“You don’t mind?” Her mother turned her bright and penetrating gaze on her.

“A little.” Tokara could never lie to her parents. “I thought Howler would be my special dog.” She shifted her body and leaned toward the leather chair to be closer to her mother. Dressed in warm robes that brought out the green of her eyes, her honey-blond curls loose around her shoulders, Kadana Deldano looked far less commanding than usual.

Tokara loved these rare moments, when her mother was relaxed and completely present. She admired her mother greatly, but at times like this, Tokara’s heart swelled with adoration as well. Momma is the most beautiful woman in the world.

“Why did you think that?” Her mother wasn’t searching for a specific answer; she just wanted to know the truth.

“Well, I thought, since Fergus and Liam and Becca and Rawley are twins, they obviously belong to our twins.” Tokara thought about how one of each of the hound twins had sought out one of her twin brothers to follow around and worship. “Fergus and Becca are always with Rask. And Liam and Rawley can’t wait for Reeve to play with them, even though they are really working dogs.”

“You noticed the dogs didn’t go ice fishing with the Rask and Reeve?” her mother pointed out with a smirk. “The dogs stayed here where it’s warm.”

Tokara nodded, aware. “I though when Daddy brought home a puppy this summer, that it would be my puppy. Because I’m next in line.”

“I see why you might think that.”

“But Caia loves Howler. Can’t sleep without him.” Tokara spoke from experience. “He’s a baby, and she’s our baby. So, it all does make a lot of sense.”

“You sound very grown up, my sweet girl.” Her mother put her hand on the leather tome. “The giants of the earth could learn from you.” She smiled. “Did I ever tell you the story of Straakhan . . . and Bumpus?”

Tokara leaned against the overstuffed arm of the chair. “I don’t know that story, Momma.”

Kadana opened the great book to the middle and began to flip pages, searching for the story. The leather binding brushed softly against her woolen robes.

Tokara held her breath. Her mother didn’t often take time to read to them. Far more often she’d take her children hunting or run them through sword drills or archery practice. Under her mother’s strict tutelage, Tokara had learned to ride a pony when she was only three. Story time was more the realm of her father and sometimes the Melian relatives on the rare occasions they visited.

Kadana carefully shifted the book, folding out a longer page to three times its length. The rustling of paper caught Howler’s attention. The puppy raised his copper head, looked around the room, bleary-eyed, and gave a hearty yawn. Then he settled back down and rested the full weight of his head on Caia’s shoulder. The little girl didn’t stir.

“In days long ago . . .” The story began the traditional way. “Straakhan built his castle in the impenetrable forest of—”

“Is it our castle, Momma?” Tokara thought she already knew the answer.

“Yes, this is the castle Straakhan built,” her mother confirmed.

Tokara sighed. “A castle built by the one of the giants of Imlidral. . .” She let the mystery of it hang in the air.

“Straakhan wasn’t just one of the giants of Imlidral, you know. The blood of the faerie coursed through him as well,” her mother went on. “And once, when the days were short and the nights were long, Straakhan left his castle to search for a companion.

“He didn’t like spending time with the other giants. But he had grown weary of being alone. So, he sought new company.” Her mother looked up from her book. “What kind of companion do you think he found?

“Wouldn’t he seek a human companion?” Tokara asked. “A friend?”

“Remember, this was in days long ago,” her mother said. “So long ago that there were no humans.”

Tokara considered. “Was it a cat?” she asked, finally. “A mighty, fierce cat like Tormy?” She’d never met the talking cat, which was rumored to be the size of a pony, but the stories told of Omen and Tormy’s adventures were fantastical and amazing. She wondered if they were all true.

“I don’t know if Straakhan knew about Tormy’s kin,” her mother said. “I’ve never heard stories of such cats before.”

“My third guess . . .” Tokara looked at the pile of dogs. “My third guess is that he sought the company of a dog.”

“He would have, my dearest.” Her mother flipped the pages of the book. “But in those days so long ago, there were no dogs.”

“No dogs, Momma?” Tokara set her lips to a pout. “Dogs have always been. Haven’t they?”

“Nothing has always been.” Kadana tapped the page.

The story wasn’t going the way Tokara had expected. Her lips trembled slightly, questions dancing through her head like snowflakes caught up in an unexpected gust. “Did Straakhan ever find a pet?” she asked finally.

“Not a pet,” her mother corrected. “A companion. There’s a big difference.”

“Did he find a companion, Momma?”

“Straakhan went out into the forest. In the deepest, darkest part of the woods, he saw a great beast. The creature was so large and so fierce, he dared not approach it, but he watched its movements for many days.

“It was mighty indeed: large jaws filled with fearsome, snapping teeth; fat paws round as stones with claws drawn out and sharp; a coat as brown as the earth and as thick and long as pine needles. When it roared, the trees trembled and the moon hid behind the sun.

“The creature holed up in a cave for a long time, and Straakhan lay in wait, his patience growing thin. When the mighty one emerged from the cave again, Straakhan knew the wait had been worth it.

“With her, for Straakhan learned then that the creature was a female, were four little ones of her kind. Three were brown like their mother, but one — the largest — was white as milk and had eyes blue as the sky at noon.

“Over many months of waiting and watching, Straakhan won the trust of the mother. He brought her food, watched over the cubs, and protected them from enemies. A season passed, and the cubs grew.

“One day, the family moved on while Straakhan slept. He woke to find them gone and the cave empty. His heart was broken, for he had come to love them all.

“But as he turned away, knowing he would have to return to his empty castle all alone, the snowy white youngling with the blue eyes came to his side.

“He named him Bumpus.”

“Bumpus is a funny name,” Tokara interrupted.

“Bumpus is a funny name, and Straakhan was delighted by his funny companion.” “Was Bumpus a good companion?”

“The very best, most loyal companion. Bumpus grew to be incredibly big and strong. His long coat was white in winter and golden in summer. Bumpus followed Straakhan everywhere, like a puppy.”

“Is there a picture in the book?” Tokara asked impetuously.

Her mother stiffened slightly, but she turned the book so Tokara could study the folded-out page.

The parchment was brittle but the picture seemed fresh, nearly gleaming. A tall, handsome man in leathers stood next to an enormous creature Tokara thought looked like both a wolf and a bear.

“Is that Bumpus?” she asked, pointing her finger at the white wolf-bear. “His neck is thick; his legs are like tree stumps; his jaw is round like a bear’s, but everything else about him is like a wolf. And he walks on four feet.”

Her mother nodded. “And don’t forget, Straakhan was a giant. So Bumpus is much larger than a regular wolf standing next to a regular man.”

Tokara thought that Straakhan in the painting was nearly as handsome as her oldest brother. “Straakhan looks a lot like Beren,” she said absently.

Her mother chuckled softly.

“I don’t recognize this language, Momma.” Tokara tilted her head to look at the odd letters, which appeared to her as if a chicken had danced across the page.

“The writing is very, very old,” her mother said. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to learn it.”

Tokara wanted to hear more, but a powerful yawn took hold of her. She quickly flung her hands to her face to cover her mouth.

“Straakhan and Bumpus were the best of companions. They traveled the world and had many adventures.” Her mother closed the book, stifling a yawn of her own. “It’s getting to be bedtime, for all of us.”

“Were Bumpus and Straakhan companions forever?” Tokara hoped to draw out the tale.

“Not forever, my sweet.” Her mother returned the book to the side table.

Though afraid to hear more, Tokara couldn’t stop herself from asking. “What happened?” she whispered anxiously.

A sad smile played on her mother’s lips. “What always happens. When it was time for Bumpus to pass, Straakhan wouldn’t accept it. Straakhan, through his faerie blood, was immortal. He wanted his companion to be immortal as well.”

“And that couldn’t happen.” Tokara felt a lump form in her throat.

“Oh no, Tokara.” Her mother took a deep breath. “It did happen. Straakhan railed against the gods and nature. He found a way to make Bumpus immortal.”

“But then everything was all right.” Tokara didn’t understand why her mother had made it seem like the story’s end would be sad.

“Straakhan made a lot of enemies in his quest to make Bumpus immortal. He defied many powerful immortals and put worlds in danger. He cared for nothing but obtaining his goal. Straakhan got what he wanted. But not the way he wanted it.

“Once Bumpus was immortal like Straakhan, the powerful ones he had offended punished Straakhan. They banished him to a solitary realm, a place that could only hold one immortal at a time. If a second immortal joined him there, they would both be torn apart, splintered into the tiniest bits of energy and pure power. Destroyed for eternity.

“If Bumpus hadn’t been immortal, he would have been able to join Straakhan in his exile. The very gift of immortality held them apart, will hold them apart for all eternity.”

Tokara’s eyes stung. “What happened to Bumpus?”

“Bumpus was left all alone. His family long dead, none of his kind walked the earth.”

Tokara frowned. “This is only a story, right Momma?”

Her mother tilted her head. “This happened in days so long ago, it might as well be called ‘only a story.’ But I want you think of the responsibility that comes with gaining a companion. Straakhan ruined himself for the love of Bumpus; and his heart breaks every day anew.”

Tokara looked over at Caia snuggling closer to Howler. “So, is it bad to have a companion? Does it always end in sadness? If it’s like that, I don’t think I want one.”

“My little philosopher,” her mother said. “You have to live and love wherever your heart takes you. And sometimes love of another takes you down a thorny path. That is life.”

Tokara looked at her mother’s smiling face and the cozy dog pile, her sister at its center. “Life is beautiful and cruel then.”

“Let’s get you girls ready for bed,” her mother said. She scooped Caia from the rug, lifting the sleeping girl as if she weighed less than a feather.

Howler, stretching and yawing, padded out of the room after them.

Tokara’s eyes fell on the leather tome. Impulsively, she picked it up from the table and followed her mother and sister to the sleeping chambers.

wintertithe_cover

To download the whole story for free  visit us at

http://ofcatsanddragons.com/books/11/

 

Audiobook Magic

Cover art for Night's Gift

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.

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.

Alive!

And now it’s time to shout it from the rooftops:

Audible : http://adbl.co/2tPp4NK

Downpour: https://www.downpour.com/night-s-gift?sp=205944

downpourOCAD

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