ROAD TO PREDATION

New project. New format. New collaboration.

I can finally share my “secret” project!

ROAD TO PREDATION is a historical fantasy, written in collaboration with my husband P.J. Ochlan.

The core story has been rattling around in my brain for a few years, and I am thrilled to unchain its creation with this prequel origin story:

ROAD TO PREDATION premiered at the HEAR NOW FESTIVAL in Kansas City this past weekend as a live audio drama with a full cast.

Cast in order of appearance: Lauren Ezzo, Robert Fass, Suzanne Freeman, P.J. Ochlan. Bill Dufris, Eric Martin, Byron Wagner, Karyn O’ Bryant, Neil Hellegers, Lisa Flanagan, Ann Richardson, Delaney Cinnamon, and Jeff Hays.

Co-writer/director P.J. Ochlan and sound designer Bryan Lincoln worked out a spectacular soundscape that moved from quiet moments — the scratching of a quill on parchment — to the battlefield, complete with the bone-rattling barrage of thousands of soldiers, war horses, rockets, and canons. P.J. also assembled an all-Beethoven score with pieces that are specific to the time period and underscore the emotion of each scene.

I listened in stunned fascination from California as our devil’s dozen actors — along with the sound design, live foley performed by Tony Brewer, and haunting viola accompaniment by Jason Kao Hwang — seamlessly transported us from the victory at Waterloo to a chilling Germanic forest, from village to monastery, from reality to the supernatural.

ROAD TO PREDATION is the story of a young Prussian soldier, Sepp Jäger, who survives war only to discover that the home front is as dangerous as the battlefield.

Initially, the horror that befalls Sepp seems to be all in his head. His family and neighbors have little compassion for a young man who seems to have come back to them damaged, no longer whole.

But just as peace returns to his village, Sepp’s family and neighbors learn that they have deceived themselves. The monster was never in Sepp’s head. And now, the man they’ve tossed aside is the only one who can save them. Having nothing to lose, Sepp becomes what he was always meant to be — the Wolf Hunter.

This being a dark fantasy, the perceived evil is external. There is a monster. We don’t find out much about her in ROAD, except that she’s murderous and scary as hell. But, the beast has layers of motivation that are born out of pain, anger, loss, and the single-minded need for violent revenge.

Sepp’s internal agony is grounded in his inability to process his experience on the battlefield and the devastating losses that are a combat veteran’s reality. PTSD has become more recognized recently, but at the beginning of the 19thCentury, Sepp’s symptoms would not have had a compassionate reception.

At its center, ROAD TO PREDATION is about courage. Courage to stand up to external threats. Courage to wrestle one’s inner demons. Courage to walk the road alone.

While I couldn’t be there in person for the premiere, it seems that the audience was left with some pretty good chills on Saturday night. And if there were goosebumps in the house, I’m happy.

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More Werewolf Apocalypse!

Part 2 of “The Raid”

– from The WEREWOLF WHISPERER
 

Xochitl Magaña paced nervously behind the bar of her cantina, anxiously waiting for the cops to arrive.
     ¡Santa Maria, reza por mí!
     Turning in her gangbanger boyfriend Memo was dangerous at best.
     I’m gonna be in deep shit if this doesn’t go down right…And Miguel, Memo’ll…
     “No,” Xochitl hissed, squashing the sprouting thought before it could ripen. “This’ll work.”
     She snatched a towel from its hook and began wiping down the individual liquor bottles that lined the shelves behind the bar.
     El Gallo’s done.
     Memo Morales preferred the moniker “El Gallo” and fancied himself Tony Montana.
     ¡Híjole! What’s with vatos and Scarface?
     And like an over-glorified, self-obsessed crime lord, El Gallo had exploited his relationship with Xochi, using her bar as his headquarters — his command center for the gang’s illegal operation.
     And I let him.
     But El Gallo gave her protection — something Xochitl desperately needed after her papa had died. And she had to admit, just as Memo liked having the only fair-skinned, light-eyed, natural blond ruca in the neighborhood, she’d initially liked the attention he’d given her.
     It had been hard growing up a “güera” in the barrio — a place, despite being Mexicana, Xochitl had never felt she truly belonged.
     School had been her refuge, and she’d even won an academic scholarship to UCLA.
     I was so close to getting out.
     Then everything changed. Her father had a stroke. His health rapidly deteriorated. She dropped all her classes. Moved back home. Took over the bar. Took over care of Miguel.
     Back in the hood, back in the life — with Memo.
     But Memo went too far. Gun running. There was no way Xochitl could live with herself knowing she had let this thug take over the business her papa had worked so hard to build.
     God, what would Papa think of me now? I just wanted to keep the bar going and Miguel safe.
     Xochitl hated all of it: the dogfights, the guns, the East Los Locos — Memo.
     She shook off the flutter of nerves vibrating up and down her spine and noticed she’d been wiping off the same fifth of tequila. As she carefully placed the Cuervo Goldin its proper slot between the Don Julio and Patrón bottles, she caught the reflection of her cantina in the mirrored glass that backed the liquor racks lining the wall.
     Wood and leather tables filled the space. A ’50s style jukebox, her papa’s pride and joy, played only vinyl from the ’60s and ’70s. “Mija, there’s no other music.” He would tell her whenever she’d begged him to  update the playlist. Various paintings of matadors and bullfights attempted to lend a Spanish flavor to the rugged bar.
     Xochitl’s Cantina had been Xochi’s home since she was six when her father, Carlos, had left the Marine Corps, following her mother’s death. And in its heyday, her papa’s bar had been the favorite local hangout.
     The barrio Cheers. 
     By the time she was eleven, Xochitl had a stepmother she couldn’t stand and a new baby brother she adored.
     ¡Híjole! In one shot, Anita went from barfly to mother. What was Papa thinking?
     But Xochitl remembered how sad and lonely her papa had been after her mom had died. He was honorable and would never have considered not marrying the mother of his child. Carlos Magaña was the finest man Xochi had ever known.
     Biting back tears, Xochitl clenched her eyes. Her papa’s warm and inviting spirit echoed within every element of the cantina.
     I miss you, Papa.
     For what seemed like the millionth time, Xochi looked up to the neon DOS EQUIS clock hanging over the bar.
     2:37 A.M.? They’re late. The fights’ll be over and Memo’ll leave soon. He’s gonna wonder why I’m still here and not waiting for him upstairs.
      “Where the hell are they?” she mumbled.
     “Where the hell’s who?” Memo Morales asked.
     Startled, Xochitl whipped around, knocking over several liquor bottles. She barely registered the clamoring rattle of glass hitting glass as Memo, who had come in from the back without her noticing, stood behind her.
     Shit!
     Despite the frozen crush of heart-stomping anxiety, Xochi couldn’t help admire Memo’s movie star looks and how his white T-shirt and jeans emphasized his strong, lean build. His big, hazel eyes always took her breath away. Tonight was no different.
     Still the best-looking guy in the neighborhood.
     “Who’s late?” Memo asked again, grabbing a beer from the cooler under the bar.
     “Huh, what?…Uh…no one. I mean, Miguel. He’s late.”
     Memo wrapped his arms around Xochi and tugged at her rose embroidered peasant blouse. “¡Ay, mamí! Let the boy be. He’s almost eighteen. A man.” He began kissing her neck. “Why don’t you go upstairs, put on that sexy slip thing I got you? I’m all wound up. You can help me relax.”
     Wrinkling her nose at the smell of stale beer and dog, Xochi shrugged Memo off her. “What do you know about it? He’s not one of your boys.”
     Xochitl knew she shouldn’t be flippant with Memo. He had a short temper and could be aggressive with her when he didn’t get his way. But she couldn’t help herself when it came to her little brother Miguel. She hated it when Memo thought he had any say in how Miguel was raised.
     She wanted to yell in Memo’s face, “Stay away cabrón! He’s mine!” Instead she whispered, “I’m tired.”
     Xochitl walked around to the front of the counter, trying to put distance between herself and Memo. She could see in his eyes he was losing his patience.
     Where’s la chota already?
     Undeterred, Memo closed the gap between them and grabbed her arm, yanking her to him. “I said go upstairs and get in that pinche slip, bitch.”
     Xochitl pulled her arm back and without thinking threw a right hook to his jaw. Instantly, she felt pain shoot from her fist straight up her arm. “¡Ay carajo!”
     Shaking out the sting from her hand, Xochi looked up and saw Memo stunned, holding the left side of his face.
     Oh, fuck! What did I do?
     Instinctively, she began backing up toward the bar’s front door to make her escape.
     As she turned from Memo, Xochi heard a menacing laugh and the distinctive clicking sound of a gun being cocked.
     “Not bad for a little güera bitch. Daddy teach you that?”
     Xochitl grabbed for the door.
     “Don’t you fucking move, puta.”
     Naked fear blasted through Xochitl’s body, leaving her feet bolted to the floor. She had nowhere to go. If she moved, Memo would shoot her.
     He’s gonna shoot you anyway.
     Taking a chance, she slowly turned back to face Memo. He stood at close range, his gun pointed at her chest.
     Oh, God.
     Xochi raised her hands in the air.
     “Please, Memo,” she tried to placate him. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean—”
     “¡Cállate!” Memo growled, pacing back and forth in front of her like a wild beast about to pounce on his prey.
     An odd bubble of calm enveloped Xochi, and — as if locked in stasis, she stood immobile, waiting, contemplating her next move.
     “You think you can do this to me and not pay, bitch? I’m El Gallo!”
     Xochitl stole a glance at the bar.
     Behind the counter. Papa’s shotgun. If I’m quick enough…
     “I run this—” Memo raged on only to suddenly cut himself off.
     Xochitl brought her attention back to El Gallo. He stared past her at the frosted glass window. She slowly craned her neck to follow his line of sight. A shadow moved swiftly by the front of the bar.
     ¡Híjole! About damn time!
     She turned back to Memo. His eyes again fixed on her. Xochitl could see by the amazed and — hurt?— look on his face that he’d puzzled out she had betrayed him.
     Why Memo hadn’t made a move on her yet she didn’t understand. She wasn’t about to ask. Keeping him in her sights, she began inching her way to the bar.
     Xochitl had almost reached the end of the counter when Manny, a fourteen-year-old boy, one of Memo’s lookouts, sprinted into the cantina from the kitchen.
     “¡Jefe! ¡La chota! ¡Afuera!”
     Memo regained his senses. “¿Dónde?”
     “Everywhere. I came from the dumpsters out back,” the boy answered.
     ¡Carajo! The cops didn’t find the kitchen entrance!
     The side alley door was hidden by the dumpster enclosure. Xochitl’s produce vendors constantly complained about the difficult access.
     If I get out of this alive, I’m gonna move those pinche dumpsters.
     “Did anyone see you?” El Gallo asked the boy as he moved toward the kitchen and peeked through the swinging door.
     “No, Jefe,” the boy replied, pulling out a 9mm handgun stuffed in his pants like a gangster out of a movie he’d probably watched a million times.
     “The cops will find the kitchen door soon.” Memo stepped back into the bar.
     Xochitl eyed El Gallo, as he searched the room for another way out, revulsion churning her guts.
     How did I ever get mixed up with this monster? What am I gonna do if he gets away?
     Memo glanced down the hall toward the restrooms. His mouth turned up into a sly grin, and Xochi knew he had figured out his escape.
     ¡Hijo de puta! Where’s pinche Xena warrior cop?
     Unsure, Manny took a tentative step closer to El Gallo.
     Memo put up his hand, halting the boy. “Stay here, homes. Pinche cops can’t touch you.” The gang leader beat his chest with his fist and shouted in salute, “¡Órale! East Los!”
     “East Los!” The dutiful boy soldier mimicked.
     Someday this kid’s gonna get himself killed by these pendejos. That will not be my Miguel.
     El Gallo turned back to Xochitl, “I’ll deal with you later.” Then he ran down the hall toward the women’s restroom.
     Xochi stood next to the bar, staring after Memo. There was nothing she could do now except hope the cops would nab him crawling out the bathroom window. She looked over to Manny, who appeared lost now that his leader had ditched him.
     Poor kid. Doesn’t even know Memo could give a shit what happens to him.
     Shouting and gunfire blasted from the back lot.
     Officer Lowell.
     Xochi darted behind the bar, grabbed the Smith & Wesson 12-gauge, checked it was loaded and readied herself. Looking up, she watched Manny cock his gun.
     “Wait,” she hissed.
     Manny smiled at her and ran for the back exit.
     “Shit!” Xochitl, shotgun in hand, took off after the boy…
 
Tune in next time when all hell breaks loose in
  “The Raid” Part 3!
Buy THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER 99¢

Have a Werebeast-free Day!

It all ends not with a whimper but a howl!

It’s K-Day Remembrance Day!

Do you remember the night the Kyon Virus changed the world?

Lucy and Xochi do.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane:

You’re in East L.A.

It’s well past midnight.

You hear vicious howls and roaring laughter…

break-in-brutal-burglar-8827

—from book 1 of THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER series

Lucy Lowell tucked into the shadows behind the white cinder block wall of Xochitl’s Cantina and listened. Coarse Spanglish curses pierced the night, accompanied by loud cheers and snatches of Tijuana narco-pop. Vicious barking and short, pained shrieks lacerated the seedy revelry.

Through holes in the camouflage canvas stretched over the parking lot’s chain- link fence, Lucy counted thirty East Los Locos gangbangers crowding around a shallow dogfight pit. Strewn around, discarded like trash, lay lumps of fur and flesh Lucy didn’t have the stomach to focus on. Through the wall of men, Lucy caught a glimpse of a blue nose pit bull turning away from its opponent, a muscular pit mastiff mix.

“Handle your dog, güey!” a paunchy man yelled from just outside the ring.

Accompanied by loud taunts, men from each side of the pit dragged their dogs back to the scratch lines. The mastiff’s handler fussed at the dog’s mouth, unfanging the dog’s lip from its teeth. Clearly dead tired and hurt, the blue nose pit bull started toward the line of cages against the opposite fence.

“Whoa, Puta.” A young man with a baseball cap turned backwards yanked the dog’s collar hard, causing the pit to drop to the ground as if taking cover.

From her hiding place, Lucy could see deep scratches on the pit bull’s face, bite wounds bleeding on the shoulder and old burn marks seared into the fur.

Lucy’s stomach cramped.

The dollar tacos she and her partner Gabe had devoured on their way to Echo Park threatened a hasty exit. Cabra Blanca, their favorite late night food truck, had been parked close to the raid at Montana and Alvarado. Eddie, the owner, always included extra mango guacamole with Lucy’s order.

Guacamole! Shouldna eaten. The dogfighting makes me sick enough. Why’d I chance it with the cabeza quesadilla on top of those goat tacos?

Lucy breathed in slowly and directed her gaze from the hurt dog to the few stars blinking in the murky L.A. sky. The lights of an airplane outshone the sliver of the waning crescent moon. She could make out the distant roar of jet engines.

“Bitch won’t fight no more, jefe.” The young man with the cap delivered a kick to the blue nose pit’s side. An ugly curse cut through the tumult as a man in a formfitting white T-shirt and dark designer jeans parted the crowd.

Memo Morales, cock of the walk. Nice of you to join us.

Teeth clenched, Lucy drew her sidearm and looked back down the alley. Officer Gabe Torres of the LAPD Animal Cruelty Task Force quietly crouched down next to Lucy, indicating with a nod that he too had spotted “El Gallo.”

Her partner for five years, Gabe was as fierce an animal rights protector as Lucy had ever met. Both she and Gabe had risked both badge and incarceration many times, as they rescued dogs from backyard dogfighting with or without departmental approval.

Tonight’s raid was another point of contention with their ACTF lieutenant. When the confidential informant had approached Lucy and Gabe about dogfighting behind her cantina, it had been just the break they’d been looking for. These East Los Locos had been brokering dogfights for years, but their slippery leader Memo Morales, a.k.a. “El Gallo,” always managed to ensconce the events with aggravating efficiency.

Distressingly the CI, Xochitl Magaña, had given Lucy and Gabe much more than they’d hoped for. El Gallo and his Los Locos were running guns. The dogfights, while generating tens of thousands of dollars on their own, were a mere front. Lucy and Gabe’s supervisor Lieutenant Heckman had turned their information over to her superior, Captain Burch. Burch had taken the lead on the raid, called in SWAT and only allowed the ACTF along as a courtesy after Lucy had begged to be involved. Lucy and Gabe had been virtually cut out of the planning despite their relentless pursuit of the East Los Locos dogfighting ring.

“Get rid of it, Tuti!” El Gallo spat, prompting Lucy to inch forward. She could see El Gallo throw a fistful of cash at another man and stalk into the cantina through the backdoor.

The gangbangers laughed and joked as more money changed hands. Pushing the baseball-capped banger away, the man named Tuti threw a chain around the bloodied pit bull’s neck and dragged her clear of the wall of men. The exhausted dog cowered from Tuti as he tightened the chain around her neck. Small whimpers reached Lucy’s ears.

“Just shoot it.” A thin teenage boy in baggy jeans and an oversized white T-shirt approached Tuti with what looked like a Hi-Power Browning 9mm.

Nice gun.
A detached part of Lucy’s brain noted the semi-automatic.
”¡Cállate, Flaco! Let’s have some fun.” Tuti yanked the chain, smashing the pit’s chin into the asphalt. The sharp yowl caught the attention of the other attending Locos who turned to watch Tuti’s show.

Gabe’s hand settled on Lucy’s arm and held tight. She would have bruises in the morning.

“Wait,” he hissed.

Lucy tilted her head to look directly into her partner’s dark brown eyes. In a split second a struggle resolved between them. Burch’s words, “You two hotheads are on thin ice,” echoed in her memory. She knew Gabe remembered it too.

“X the bitch, Tuti!” Drunken hysteria pitched the Locos’ voices higher. “¡Fuego! ¡Fuego! ¡Fuego!”

Her eyes still locked on Gabe, Lucy knew what was happening in the parking lot. Having investigated the sad aftermath of the East Los Locos games, she knew what inevitably came next. Slowly she nodded her head, and Gabe released his grip. It wasn’t the plan. It wasn’t even smart.

Lucy rose to her full height. Her Beretta clutched firmly, Lucy shot a quick smile to Gabe. Easily on the taller side of six feet, muscled like a professional bodybuilder, Gabe Torres looked scary as hell.

Glad you’re on my side, good buddy.

Lucy felt calm wash down from her head to her toes. This was what she was made for…

 

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Care and Feeding

This week marks the release of the fifth installment in our OF CATS AND DRAGONS series. Carol and I are thrilled that the stories are finding their audience and really resonating with fantasy and cat fans.

We even hit #1 on Amazon for several days in a row before, during, and after the release:

ak#1_mag_prerelease copy

My great concern was that once this book was finished, we’d hit some sort of creative malaise. The journey hasn’t been terribly clear since we put out book one in August of 2017. Those who follow this blog know why, of course. While we still had a bit of rewriting and editing to complete, all five books (and the one novella) had been written before we released NIGHT’S GIFT.

We have a lot of plans, but now we’re in new territory. Scary stuff. Potentially paralyzing stuff.

I realize how fragile I am, as a creative. I know I have to be very careful not to give into fears and mental blocks. But practically, what can I do to stop sabotage that is mostly subconscious?

My answer — the answer that works for me — is “small bites.” Do a little something every day. But go back every day.

And so, I struggled to write a new short story that follows the main event in AUTUMN KING. Carol and I had batted the idea around for about a year, but the story just didn’t want to fully form. I finally sat down to write it at the beginning of October, and it was hard.

I’d spend a day writing one paragraph, some days only one sentence. But I went back every single day. I didn’t allow myself to be frustrated. I just put my head down and focused on the love I have for the characters and how much I want to share their adventures.

And one day, the first draft was done. Then Carol and I pitched it back and forth a bit, making changes, discussing tweaks, rewriting, editing, bringing it to life.

And where there’d been nothing, suddenly there was something.

Did it take longer than I expected?

Sure.

Does that matter in the long run?

Nope.

The only thing that counts is that we just completed another story.

The only thing that counts is that we keep going.

Carol, for her part, has been working hard both on her writing and on her artwork. Besides the beautiful new cover she did for SUMMER’S FALL (more of that in a future blog), she’s added to the OF CATS AND DRAGONS blog with some fun insights about the characters, about her research, and about her artwork.

I’ve been so inspired by her blogging, that I want to share her thoughts with you.

Hope you enjoy this little treatise on:

Care and Feeding of a Tormy

by Carol E. Leever

A lot of decisions go into writing a book, and one of the things Camilla and I had to decide on was the diet of the Tormy Cats. (Incidentally — the cats actually have a name that they call themselves which will no doubt show up in a future book, but Camilla and I have always affectionately called them the Tormy Cats.)

I have been owned by 7 cats in my life. My first, a beautiful Siamese, lived 17 years. After she died I didn’t get another cat until Camilla and I became college roommates; between the two of us we ended up with 5 cats — one of which was the original Tormy. Yes, he was a real cat, and utterly unique. He was a beautiful orange and white Maine Coon, who would serenade us every night with soft little happy trills after he’d eaten his dinner. We were so heartbroken when he died unexpectedly that I put him into our D&D games so that he would live on in our imaginations.

My current cat, a little quirky Tabby, had a terrible food allergy when she was a kitten. I tried every type of food on the market, including some ridiculously expensive types that just seem to make things worse. I had come across research into the ‘raw food diet’ on the internet and in desperation finally decided to try that.

The theory is that cats, if they lived in the wild, would only eat meat (and the occasional grain that might be found in the stomach of a mouse). Cats are carnivores after all. The raw food diet consists of ground meat and bone (uncooked!) supplemented with some vitamins and enzymes such as Taurine and B-complex. You can find the formula on the internet.

The new diet cured all my cat’s problems literally within 12 hours. She was horribly sick one moment (and had been for the first year and a half of her life) and then instantly cured with the new diet. I pretty much resolved right there that all future meals would consist of the raw food diet.

Which brings us to the Tormy Cats. Cats are carnivores; they eat meat. They LOVE eating meat. And I don’t want anyone to base their cat’s diet on what the Tormy Cats eat in our books. The original Tormy (our beautiful Maine Coon) also loved peas, corn, cantaloupe, and blueberry muffins. We also had a cat who loved pancakes — to the point that whenever we made pancakes we had to make an extra one for her. But just because they will eat carbohydrates, does not mean they are good for the cats or natural for them to eat.

Regardless of all this, I made a definitive choice to make the Tormy Cats omnivores. And I did it for a very specific reason. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the reasons we human beings are so smart (lol!) is because we started eating carbohydrates — that in fact an all meat diet would not provide the caloric intake necessary to produce the larger brains we possess. I reasoned that since the Tormy Cats are obviously far more intelligent than their domestic counterparts, they too would likely need a different diet.

So yes, Tormy eats pie, and donuts, and custard, and moffles (mouse-waffles). But like all cats he, and Tyrin, and the others (yes, there are a BUNCH of other cats out there) LOVE meat, particularly fish. Tormy’s favorite however is prime rib. These cats would be a nightmare on the pocketbook.

So please, keep feeding your own cats proper diets (research the raw food diet and see if it’s something you’re interested in). But know that donuts are perfectly permissible for Tormy and all his brethren.

*

To see a picture of the “real” Tormy, check out our OF CATS AND DRAGONS blog.

 

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)

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. 🎁

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

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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

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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