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

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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

 

12 Steps To Becoming An Author — My Version

NEWSLETTERBANNER

Step 1: Face The Music

“What else are you going to do?” I don’t know if my partner in Werewolf Whisperer crimes, Bonita, remembers saying that to me a handful of years ago. We were catching up, after losing track of each other for nearly two decades. I was still waffling about my dubious career choices, having come to terms with the fact that the actor’s life I had chased since college was not at all working out the way I had hoped. I was pretty devastated when Bonita and I sat down for lunch. I had spent so long running after one dream that a lot of other options were no longer options. Her question changed my way of looking at my life.

Step 2: Who Are You?

I’d spent a lot of time thinking of myself as an actor. That was who I was, until I wasn’t anymore. My process became a lot like when Lorelai on GILMORE GIRLS tries to decide if she really likes Pop-Tarts, or if she just eats them because her mother didn’t want her to eat them.

Lorelai

Acting had been my Pop-Tarts of freedom and rebellion. But instead, it had become the thing that made me angry and sad and anxious and trapped. With acting out of the picture, I set out to discover who I was and what mattered to me.

Step 3: Discovery

Tucked away, secret for a long time, was my writing. And once I had let go of pursuing acting — grueling drives to auditions, the annoyance of rearranging my work schedule on a moment’s notice for something that would turn into nothing (and risking the day job), the sharp judgment and apathy of casting, the constant roller coaster of hollow hope and inevitable disappointment, the paralyzing self-hatred — the writing sprang into action.

Stage 4: Education . . .You’re On Your Own

I started with a whole mess of reading, so much in fact that my husband repeatedly asked, “Haven’t you read all the writing books by now?”

“Not yet,” I’d answer. “But soon.”

My degree is in English, and I’ d always fooled around with journaling and writing short stories. But when I’d finally made my way through Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I started putting word to paper in a new way, with purpose.

But while I read a lot of awesome books, I found very little that helped me cross that elusive line between wanting to write and writing.

Step 5: How To Start -— The Small Idea

A small idea. I had an idea for a short film. It stuck with me for a few days. I’d cry about it, alone in the shower. I didn’t like the idea. It bothered me. It scared me. It challenged me. To get rid of it, I finally wrote it down, following screenwriting format from a book and using an ancient version of Final Draft.

Step 6: Ideas Beget Ideas

But the small idea didn’t just sit in a drawer. I had the fortune of having my short film produced, and the privilege of being present for every day of the shoot. Hours on set are long. And as I was sitting around, waiting for the next shot (I was wrangling the dog stars), a new idea hit me.

The idea didn’t let go for a few days after the shoot. The idea made me laugh and intrigued me. I shared my thoughts with a friend, but it didn’t hit the right cord with her. Oddly, that didn’t deter me from loving the idea. For once I didn’t shut down. I knew the glimmer of a story just wasn’t developed enough.

So, I sat down and wrote a little treatment and a short script. I envisioned the story as a web series. Fleshing it out was fun, and I had a title: THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER.

I shared my idea with Bonita, who had just completed a short film of her own and was interested in developing a web series. We spent a summer writing a twelve-episode season. We had a blast, but by the fall we realized that the story had become too expensive to produce on our budget.

Step 7: Accept The Challenge

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We decided that THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER needed to be a novel. We loved the idea and the characters too much to let them go. I’m glad we didn’t know how hard it would be when we started. We’ve moved mountains to create this series, and we did so because we were passionate about the material (still are).

Before I knew it, sitting down and writing two thousand words a day was just what I did. Not impossible. Not a chore. My routine. I’d get up at four A.M. to get in a few writing hours before work. Writing daily had become that important. And everything else had to fit around it.

Step 8: It’s Never Easy — Keep Going

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Knowing that you can do something doesn’t mean you will continue to do it. THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER was not an easy book to write. Working with a partner is great, but I had to keep a tight grip on my individuality as a writer as well.

I wrote THE SEVENTH LANE right after book one of THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER because something in my head was starting to tell me that I would only ever write this one werewolf story, and that I could only write with Bonita. We could write together, but was accountability to a writing partner the sole key to my discipline?

THE SEVENTH LANE proved to me that I could make a go of it on my own. It was also my first foray into having my book turned into an audiobook. I was trying new things.

Writing the second WEREWOLF WHISPERER book, THE ALPHA & OMEGA, Bonita and I had some upheavals in our lives, and sometimes just getting a chance to work together for a few uninterrupted hours was epic. We’d end up FaceTiming each other while sitting in the car because it was raining and there was nowhere else to go. We struggled through month-long moves, nursing sick dogs, pneumonia, sports injuries, insomnia, narcolepsy, film shoots, family vacations, devastatingly slow internet service and those first two intense months of raising a brand-new puppy — all the real-life stuff that can so easily derail the best of intentions.

I became very sensitive to the fact that these potential pitfalls were primarily what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance.” The closer you get to creating something, the harder Resistance will try to stop you. This is an ongoing problem — for everybody.

Step 9: The Marathon

I learned that writing is a marathon and not a sprint. I don’t think in terms of one book, or one series. I think in terms of many stories. I have a book full of story ideas. I add to it whenever something pops up. Some stories have been lingering, unfinished. Some will never be written. Some are vocal and tap long fingers on my shoulder and make throat-clearing ahem sounds. Those stories get the most attention. But even if there aren’t stories tugging at you, marathon writing means writing every day. Further education. Diving deep. And always, always coming back.

Step 10: Shouting Into The Wilderness — Don’t Get Discouraged

Getting stories in front of the right audience is so difficult but so important. I spend more time than I want trying to figure out how to get my stories and books to people who will love them. I submit, of course. But I also self-publish. The self-publishing world is like the Wild West. Things change rapidly, and I try to stay as informed as possible.

The Creative Penn podcast has been a great resource, not only for information but also for sanity. Joanna Penn has a wonderful way of helping me keep perspective and balancing marketing and creativity.

Step 11: The Lifelong Goal

Cover art for Night's Gift
I’ve written about how OF CATS AND DRAGONS began and developed, so I won’t repeat myself here. But let me say that tackling this world of stories has been a lifelong goal. And I had to do all that other work before I could take this on –develop my craft, learn to be organized and disciplined.

Carol and I have been deeply committed to developing these characters and lands and plots. There is so much we want to write about, and there’s so little time — in the grand scheme. Not that long ago, Carol and I were sifting through our database of stories, trying to determine where the series would go (I want to mention here that a total of five books have already been written and are waiting for the final editing touches), and after she’d listed storyline after storyline (“Remember the time Tormy . . . What ever happened to . . .) for nearly an hour, we both simultaneously realized that we already had enough material to write this series for the rest of our lives.

So many books, so little time. It’s a macabre thought, but it motivates me to push myself harder.

Step 12: If You Love Something, Let It Go

Love the story, then let it go. NIGHT’S GIFT is on the verge of being released. Soon, characters we have loved for decades will be out there, hopefully entertaining other people. There’s no more editing, fixing, adding, re-listening to the audiobook files, or waiting. All we can do is take a deep breath and move on to the next book.

Bonus Step 13: Next

And speaking of the next book, which I briefly stopped editing to write this blog post, it’s important to have a plan for what happens next.

When I used to do theater, I would always get depressed over closing a play. After working so hard during a run, suddenly stopping was like a shock to my system. And then I’d fret that I would never work again J.

Depression over finishing a book is real as well, especially when you go from a very packed writing/editing/publishing schedule to . . . nothing. I am very aware how that kind of change in momentum can potentially send me into a downward spiral, so I plan ahead.

With OF CATS AND DRAGONS, there’s a long list of stories to get to — ASAP. And Bonita and I are working on the third WEREWOLF WHISPERER book. And I have a few side projects waiting for me, tugging at me.

Thinking back on what got me here (going from zero to ten books in a few years), it occurs to me that somewhere along the way I crossed that seemingly unreachable line from not writing to writing. And there was only ever one piece of advice that mattered at all -— if you want to write, then write. It’s as easy as that. It’s as hard as that. Because — What else are you going to do?

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

 

 

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

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

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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

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

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