Movie Monday Labor Day Special!

guest blog by Bonita Gutierrez

Summer Movie Recap art

Summer is winding down (though, as I write this, it’s 105 degrees outside), and the blockbusters have all been released. So, I thought I’d recap my favorite movies from the past few months. Most you’ve probably seen, but there might be one or two that you haven’t checked out yet.

So, here are my top flicks of the summer…

Baby Driver — A crazy good heist movie with a kick-ass soundtrack.

Written and directed by Edgar Wright (Sean of the Dead)

Blurb: Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

Wonder Woman – This movie still makes me giddy every time I think about it. I need the DVD to come out!

Directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster)

Written by Allan Heinberg

Story by Zach Snyder

Blurb: Before she was Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot (Chris Pine) who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — I just watched the movie again on DVD and I still love this reimaging of the mythic tale!

Directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch)

Written by Guy Ritchie and Joby Harold

Blurb: After the murder of his father, young Arthur’s power-hungry uncle Vortigern seizes control of the crown. Robbed of his birthright, he grows up the hard way in the back alleys of the city, not knowing who he truly is. When fate leads him to pull the Excalibur sword from stone, Arthur embraces his true destiny to become a legendary fighter and leader.

Spider-Man Homecoming — Tom Holland delivers a charming, full-of-heart performance. Of all the Spidey incarnations thus far, Holland is my favorite.

Directed by Jon Watts

Written by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley

Blurb: Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the watchful eye of mentor Tony Stark, Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man. He also tries to return to his normal daily routine — distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a friendly neighborhood superhero. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.

Wind River — This film blew me away. Could contend for an Oscar this year.

Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water screenwriter)

Blurb: Cory Lambert is a wildlife officer who finds the body of an 18-year-old woman on an American Indian reservation in snowy Wyoming. When the autopsy reveals that she was raped, FBI agent Jane Banner arrives to investigate. Teaming up with Lambert as a guide, the duo soon find that their lives are in danger while trying to solve the mystery of the teen’s death.

Dunkirk — A heart-pounding 90-minute masterpiece! Best film of the year so far (IMHO).

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight)

Blurb: In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.

War for the Planet of the Apes — The heart-wrenching, action-packed wrap-up to the reimagined Planet of the Apes trilogy.

Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)

Written by Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback

Blurb: Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face-to-face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — A great follow-up to Vol. 1! The ending will break your heart.

Directed by James Gunn (GOTG Vol.1 & Slither)

Blurb: Peter Quill and his fellow Guardians are hired by a powerful alien race, the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed.

Logan Lucky — A delightful hillbilly, “Ocean’s 7-Eleven” heist movie.

Drected by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven)

Written by Rebecca Blunt

Blurb: West Virginia family man Jimmy Logan teams up with his one-armed brother Clyde and sister Mellie to steal money from the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Jimmy also recruits demolition expert Joe Bang to help them break into the track’s underground system. Complications arise when a mix-up forces the crew to pull off the heist during a popular NASCAR race while also trying to dodge a relentless FBI agent.

Alien Covenant — Ridley Scott has taken the best of Prometheus’ intellectual science fiction elements and combined them with the original Alien/Aliens’ sci-fi horror awesomeness (I was on the edge of my seat the entire time) to create a very smart movie worthy of the series.

Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien)

Written by John Logan and Dante Harper

Blurb: Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup) of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

The Big Sick — Sweet, sad and hilariously funny, this film offers a glimpse into the world of a Pakistani-born comedian and the challenges he must face when he falls for a non-Muslim American girl.

Directed by Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer)

Written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon

Blurb: Kumail is a Pakistani comic who meets an American graduate student named Emily at one of his stand-up shows. As their relationship blossoms, he soon becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents will think of her. When Emily suddenly comes down with an illness that leaves her in a coma, Kumail finds himself developing a bond with her deeply concerned mother and father.

Honorable Mentions:

The Beguiled — A beautifully shot and wonderfully acted remake of the 1971 film; based on A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan.

Directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)

Story by Thomas P. Cullinan

Original screenplay by Albert Maltz

Blurb: Cpl. John McBurney is an injured Union soldier who finds himself on the run as a deserter during the Civil War. He seeks refuge at an all-female Southern boarding school where the teachers and students seem more than willing to help. Soon, sexual tensions lead to dangerous rivalries as the women tend to his wounded leg while offering him comfort and companionship.

Atomic Blonde — A cool Cold War action movie that’s more James Bond than John Wick.

Directed by David Leitch

Written by Kurt Johnstad and Anthony Johnston

Blurb: Sensual and savage, Lorraine Broughton is the most elite spy in MI6, an agent who’s willing to use all of her lethal skills to stay alive during an impossible mission. With the Berlin Wall about to fall, she travels into the heart of the city to retrieve a priceless dossier and take down a ruthless espionage ring. Once there, she teams up with an embedded station chief to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies

The Dark Tower — A fun fantasy flick with a pinch of spaghetti western thrown in; based on the novels by Stephen King.

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel

Written by Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner

Blurb: Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at stake, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

 

Find Bonita at:

Twitter: @BonitzMG

Tumblr: https://bonitamg.tumblr.com

 

 

 

 

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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

WWWcover3d copy

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

7thcoverbook copy

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

 

 

Don’t Judge a Book by… Its Indie Author Roots #2

guest blog by Bonita Gutierrez

I’m a fan of books. I love to read. I read almost every night. Best sellers. Comics. Small press. Self-published. You name it. But it wasn’t until I became an indie author/publisher myself that I realized just how hard it is for a self-published author to get exposure for his/her work. That’s why I pitched Camilla this blog series (Check out our first installment here), and why we’ve made it our mission to get the word out about the great indie authors you should be reading.

So get those e-readers ready. (Don’t have a Kindle. No problem. Just download the FREE app to the device of your choice and voilà you’re reading 21st century-style!)

Here’s the next batch of books to download…

Four o'Clock Alice

FOUR O’CLOCK ALICE

by Vanessa Ravel

Dark Gothic Fantasy

Book blurb:

Alice Davies would rather die than harm another living soul, but death seems to follow her everywhere. And as the corpses start to pile up, the villagers of Dolwicke start to whisper.

Little Alice may seem terrifying, indeed, but there is another, more sinister threat afoot in Dolwicke. An ancient diabolical entity has infiltrated mankind, its essence spreading like a cancer among men, women and children and drowning their humanity in a cesspool of wickedness. Finding nourishment in the ravages of war and plague, the insidious being also pines for Alice, who can’t shake the feeling that someone or something is watching her from the forest just outside her bedroom window. But as long as she obeys the mysterious four o’clock curfew imposed by her parents, she is safe from her invisible stalker. At least, that’s what her parents tell her.

Desperate to uncover the truth behind her mysterious curse, Alice embarks on a frightening journey of self-discovery and transformation that will ultimately lead her to face an ancient enemy and to discover a world she not only belongs in, but where she reigns supreme. In her courageous attempt to destroy her enemy and save mankind from its infusion of evil, Alice will have to open her eyes to truths that seem too ugly to face.

FOUR O’CLOCK ALICE link

 

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DEMON HUNTER SACRIFICE

by J. Thorn, Lindsey Buroker, Zach Bohannon & J.F. Penn

Supernatural Fantasy Thriller

Book Blurb:

A relic thief.
An ex-military Mom.
A grief-stricken father willing to do anything to save his son.
An American Demon Hunter.
All aboard the 8.05pm from Chicago to New Orleans for 19 hours that will change their lives.

When the relic of an ancient blood cult is used to summon the dead and open a portal to the beyond, demons escape onto the train. As the body count rises, each must fight to save their own lives and those of the people they love. New friendships are forged in the battles and love blossoms in the carnage.

But who will have to pay the ultimate sacrifice?

A dark fantasy from four bestselling authors who just happened to be on the 8.05pm from Chicago one March evening…

DEMON HUNTER SACRIFICE link

 

Enchanted

THE SUMMER SOLSTICE ENCHANTED

by K.K. Allen

Young Adult Fantasy

Book Blurb:

After Katrina Summer’s mother dies a mysterious and tragic death, she is hurtled into life at Apollo Beach where she learns the legends of her Ancient Greek ancestors. Kat’s world unravels as secrets from her heritage are exposed—secrets that her mother purposefully concealed. Leading to her 16th birthday, the day of the Summer Solstice, Kat becomes frightened when enigmatic visions and disturbing dreams haunt her. As her visions become reality fear turns to terror as powerful forces threaten the lives of those around her. Amidst the turmoil, Kat meets the gorgeous boy-next-door, Alec Stone, who becomes her sole solace in an evocative world of mythological enchantment and evil prophecies that lurk around every corner…

THE SUMMER SOLSTICE ENCHANTED link

 

Translucid

TRANSLUCID (DRAGONFIRE STATION BOOK 1)

by Zen DiPietro

Science Fiction

Book Blurb:

What if you woke up knowing how to do your job, but not your own name? What if you had to rely on other people to tell you who you were?

What if you thought they were wrong?

Emé Fallon is the security chief of Dragonfire Station, and she does a damn good job of it. That’s where her competence ends. Outside of work, she has a wife she doesn’t know, a captain who seems to hate her, and a lot of questions that don’t add up.Without a past, all she has is the present, and she’ll stop at nothing to ensure she has a future.

Dragonfire Station is sci-fi thriller series with technothriller and cyberpunk elements. It features adventure, plot twists, action, witty and amusing dialogue, and most of all highly developed characters who feel like real people you know. In a nutshell, it’s about kick-ass, flawed people who are doing their best overcome the challenges thrown their way.

Fans of Firefly and The Expanse will love this new series.

TRANSLUCID link

 

And last but not least, Camilla has written an extraordinary Urban Fantasy Myth Punk story that I absolutely love. And right now, it’s FREE! (8/7/17 – 8/11/17)

7thcoverbook copy

THE SEVENTH LANE

by Camilla Ochlan

Urban Fantasy Myth Punk

Blurb:

When work-a-day corporate stiff John Cade makes a delivery to a prodigiously eccentric client, his world spins out of control. Hunted by otherworldly creatures in a wild chase, he hurtles through an abruptly unfamiliar Los Angeles as the boundaries of reality bend and blur. Will Cade hold on to his sanity or be driven off the edge by forces beyond his comprehension? The answer can only be found in the Seventh Lane.

THE SEVENTH LANE link

Experience The Seventh Lane on Audible, narrated by Audi Award winner PJ Ochlan!

https://www.amazon.com/The-Seventh-Lane/dp/B00QKZ0NM4/

 

Check out all The Werewolf Whisperer series books on: http://www.werewolfwhisperer.com

Like and Follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/wwwhisperer

And Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/werewolfwhisperer/

 

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

Art Talk: Werewolves

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guest blog by Carol E. Leever

My writing partner Camilla writes another series with our friend Bonita Gutierrez. The Werewolf Whisperer is urban fantasy about two awesome women fighting their way through the werewolf apocalypse. It is predominately set in modern day Los Angeles and other parts of California. Camilla and Bonita have lived most of their lives in California (so have I for that matter) and they write about places they know with such clarity that the setting becomes a character unto itself in the stories.

Recently they asked me to do a cover for their story No Beast So Fierce. They kicked around various ideas for what they wanted on the cover, and I made a couple of attempts at painting something. But none of it was quite right.

And then they came up with a rather ridiculous idea — why not just do a cute werewolf plushie? (Word of caution — The Werewolf Whisperer series is violent and dark, filled with dystopian brutality. And while there is humor in the story — it is not cute.)

The setting for No Beast So Fierce is the Folsom Renaissance Fair near Sacramento, California. The story actually does feature a stuffed werewolf child’s toy wearing a Renaissance costume, complete with a full Elizabethan collar.

While I was a bit skeptical of the idea, painting a child’s toy was actually on my list of things to do. I keep a list — a long list of things I want to paint. Some of them are paintings of images and scenes I want to illustrate, but many of them are things I want to paint for the learning process alone. These are what artist call ‘studies’ and often consist of painting random things, or copying the various paintings of the masters, all in an effort to improve your technique. Every beginning artist should be doing studies. (From what I gather even the professionals who have been painting for years still do studies.)

A child’s toy was on my study list specifically for the process of learning how to paint different materials — the soft fur of a toy (not the same as cat fur), as well as the different texture of clothing, and the hard surface of button or glass eyes. So the request lined up well with my planned practice, and I was happy to get started.

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The first step was coming up with a basic design. This was my initial sketch — I’m a terrible line artist, and like I’ve said before, most of my paintings start out as something a child would draw. Camilla has seen some of my horrible sketches and understand the process I go through to get to a finished piece, but poor Bonita looked at it and immediately went ‘uh oh’. (To be fair, that is also my reaction — every single painting I start makes me want to give up. They’re REALLY bad for the first 10 hours or so.)

Now while the final image was meant to be the poor little toy after the climax of the book (the toy does not fair well), I decided to do a a clean, pristine version of the toy first (image at the top of the article). The Elizabethan collar in particular was time consuming. Drawing anything that is ‘white’ is tough; you can’t really use white as a color — it isn’t a color (okay, technically it is considered a color without hue, but that wasn’t the point). White is a highlight. To paint something that is white, you have to use a different color — some sort of shade of gray (I could do a whole blog on ‘gray’ — it’s an awesome color).

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Between the collar, the tunic and the fur I got my full share of ‘materials’ to study. And I was pretty pleased with the final results. The eyes actually took me the longest time — not because they were hard to do (they’re just black ovals) but because I tried about a dozen different designs before deciding on the simplest version possible. At one point he even had googly eyes.

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Once the ‘clean’ version of the toy was done, I had to tear him apart. This also allowed for another material study as I needed to draw the stuffing coming out of the tears. That meant more white that can’t actually be white. I’m not sure the stuffing was as successful as the collar was — but in the end he looked sufficiently pathetic.

The blood splatters were the last thing I painted. The drips on the sword were just painted normally, but the splatter on the collar was done using a few red swipes of paint on an overlay layer that blended the color into the existing material nicely. Last minute, I decided to put his missing eye on the ground beside him.

You can download the book for free here: Book Funnel. And here’s the final version of the cover.

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You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

http://www.werewolfwhisperer.com

www.facebook.com/werewolfwhisperer/

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

Bonita:

Twitter: @BonitzMG

Tumblr: https://bonitamg.tumblr.com

High Fantasy

Cover art for Night's Gift

 

Guest post and art by Carol E. Leever

You may have noticed that we modified our cover art slightly — adding in the dark background element of the skull.

When I was kid, genres were simple. Most of what I liked was labeled “SciFi/Fantasy,” lumped together under one term. There were some subcategories such as “high fantasy,” or “military science fiction,” but most of those terms were in the mind of the readers and not formal designations. Much of what I read back then would be consider Young Adult (YA) today. There have been many essays written discussing whether or not YA is considered a “category'” or a “genre,” but regardless of the conclusion you reach, it is still a very broad term that doesn’t tell the whole story. For that you have to look at the genre and sub genres.

As near as I can figure, the term YA is given to a novel if the protagonist in it is “young” –between the ages of 12-17. That means the classic series The Belgariad would be considered YA — Garion was a child when the books started. For that matter, much of what Stephen King wrote would technically be considered YA since he has many young protagonists, some not even teenagers yet. It’s an odd designation which doesn’t tell a reader much about the book itself — only that the main character (or characters) are young. But I think for many people (parents particularly) they see YA and think — it’s safe for children.

And what do you do with a series like The Game of Thrones? Many of the point-of-view characters in that series are young — very young in some cases. Does it meet the criteria for the YA label?

Now a days I think it’s more important to pay attention to the sub genre. The Twilight Series is YA as is The Hunger Games — but one is a vampire romance series and the other is a post-apocalypse, dystopian battle for survival. The sub genre tells the more accurate story and these days we have literally hundreds of sub genres.

So what does this have to do with changing our cover?

Our series Of Cats And Dragons is extensive — book one and two follow one of our main protagonist’s early journey to find his companions. He’s young in these books — so are his companions. But he will grow up. And we have other stories in this series about adults — as well as stories told from the point of view of very young children. Some will be humorous and lighthearted. Some will be dark. We will try our best to label the stories as such.

Which brings me to my cover — the cute, fluffy orange kitten is obviously dominant on the image. There is a cute, fluffy orange kitten in the book — and he talks. He’s adorable. And he’s integral to our hero’s journey.

Cover art for Night's Gift

 

But the book is also violent — our hero Omen has to fight for his life, and the life of the kitten and the people of his world. And the monsters he faces are vicious and horrific.

So can a ten-year-old read it? Well, that would depend on the ten-year old. I know many ten-year-olds who read and watch things that terrify me. And I know ten-year-olds that can’t make it through a Disney movie because they’re too scary or too sad.

And that’s why we changed the cover — because, yes this is a high fantasy novel with a fluffy orange talking kitten in it. But as the old maps proclaimed — here there be monsters.

 You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Finding a voice

Cover art for Night's Gift

Finishing my first novel was a magic moment for me. The first release party. The first 5-star review on Amazon. Finishing the second book. Releasing the first audiobook. All supernatural in my world.

Writing is a roller coaster of emotions. Not all days are good. Some are dark. Some are sad. Some are just confusing. But writing is the road I have chosen, after traveling down others and turning back. I will stay on this road to the end, and so I make a point of marking those magic moments when, just for a moment, all is right in the universe. I keep them as my store of ammunition to battle frustration and resistance in all its forms.

One big magic moment occurred just last month:

My husband and I traveled to Kansas City for the HEAR Now Festival, an annual audio fiction conference and celebration. Organized by the dynamic Sue Zizza, HEAR Now offers educational opportunities, innovative performances and highlights achievements in the industry. I was invited to premier NIGHT’S GIFT for the festival’s take-over of the Kansas City Library’s Family Fun Night. Thrilling but also a little scary. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon.

My husband, P.J., is a working actor for over thirty years and an award-winning narrator of over two hundred audiobooks. He’s got a great knack for character voices and accents. I knew OF CATS AND DRAGONS would be in good hands with him, but at the live performance, I discovered something else — magic.

It’s an incredible thrill to hear your words performed. As the narrator lends talent and voice to characters who have only resided in your head, the story goes from ephemeral to real. That afternoon, in the Truman Forum at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, in front of rows and rows of kids and parents, Carol’s and my imaginary world sprang to life for half an hour. The moment P.J. started speaking, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. The entire auditorium locked in. I could feel the focus of their collective energy. And I could hear — nothing — not a sound emanating from what had admittedly been a fairly rowdy crowd. Where there had been rustling and children’s voices (normal stuff for any performance for kids), there was utter silence. And in that silence, the scene between Omen and the undead alchemist Gerdriu unfolded. And we all experienced it together. The storyteller took us to the arcane city of Hex where young Omen and Templar battle giants and monsters, play dangerous games and rescue a talking cat.

Magic — like I said.

My writing partner, Carol E. Leever,  hadn’t been able to join us in KC. When it was over, I thought, “I wish Carol was here to hear that.” I actually wished everyone had been there to hear that. Then it occurred to me that we’re doing the audiobook. This magical experience will be out there and available for anyone to listen to.

And that’s a huge moment for me — after three decades of having these characters and this world to ourselves, Carol and I are sharing the contents of our imagination. And the audiobook narration brings our story to life with energy, zest, fun and — magic.

You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

 

Blame the Odyssey

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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

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

Instagram: @CamillaOchlan

 

 

 

 

 

OF CATS AND DRAGONS: Start here

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Epic adventure. Arcane magic. Monsters. Heroes. Talking cats.

And we’re just getting started!

My best friend Carol and I have roamed the OF CATS AND DRAGONS world for over three decades, creating our stories in the telling — from our high school Dungeons & Dragons games to a private website where we’ve posted over three hundred stories and story fragments for each other alone. But now we are getting ready to share what we’ve conjured up.

It wasn’t easy, sorting through generations of characters, plots long and short, episodes half-forgotten and threads of tales never completed. From the moment Carol and I decided to write that first OF CATS AND DRAGONS novel, it took nearly a year of combing through storylines, weighing character arcs, before we arrived at a starting point.

Other decisions had to be made as well. While our stories range from Grimdark to slapstick, we had to pick one path. Ultimately we had to go with what the core really was — heroic fantasy with a touch of whimsy. A GAME OF THRONES without the naughty bits.

And while we had literally dozens of possible protagonists to choose from, we agreed that Omen and Tormy were at the center of our fantastical universe.

And from where should we launch the tale of their beautiful friendship? After a couple of false starts and at least another year of trying to figure it out, we decided to begin — at the beginning.

NIGHT’S GIFT is the pilot to our new series, one we hope to renew book after book for as long as we can still put word to page.

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

You can find us many places:

http://ofcatsanddragons.com

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

Camilla:

Twitter @CamillaOchlan

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

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com