12 Steps To Becoming An Author — My Version

NEWSLETTERBANNER

Step 1: Face The Music

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

Step 2: Who Are You?

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

Lorelai

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

Step 3: Discovery

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

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

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

“Not yet,” I’d answer. “But soon.”

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

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

Step 5: How To Start -— The Small Idea

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

Step 6: Ideas Beget Ideas

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

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

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

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

Step 7: Accept The Challenge

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

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

Step 8: It’s Never Easy — Keep Going

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

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

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

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

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

Step 9: The Marathon

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

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

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

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

Step 11: The Lifelong Goal

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

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

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

Step 12: If You Love Something, Let It Go

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

Bonus Step 13: Next

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

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

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

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

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

You can find us many places:

ofcatsanddragons.com

www.facebook.com/ofcatsanddragons

http://www.werewolfwhisperer.com

www.facebook.com/werewolfwhisperer/

Camilla:

Twitter ‪@CamillaOchlan

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/camillaochlan

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/CamillaOchlan/

Tumblr: https://camillaochlan.tumblr.com

Carol:

http://caroleleever.deviantart.com

Bonita:

Twitter: ‪@BonitzMG

Tumblr: https://bonitamg.tumblr.com

 

 

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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)

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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/

 

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

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

 

Werewolf Wednesday: ¡Feliz Navidad!

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Anne Perry, Janet Evanovich and Kim Harrison — what do these authors have in common? They are awesome, and I love them. But also, each provides their readers with a little special treat for the holidays. Victorian detectives and Christmas? Bounty hunters and Christmas? Witches and Christmas? Too good to put down.

So, when Bonita and I finished book one of The Werewolf Whisperer, we were pretty clear on what had to happen next ’cause nothing says Christmas like Werebeasts. I can tell you that we had a blast writing this little novelette — at just slightly over 10,000 words (45 pages) it is just a wee nibble.

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For the holidays, we’d like to share the story with everyone, both in e-book and audiobook form:

THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!

For your free e-book go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble

And for your free audiobook —performed by Nicol Zanzarella, awesome narrator and genuine badass — go to SoundCloud (through Dec 31, 2016)

 

Merry Christmas and have a Werebeast-free New Year!

 

 

 

Werewolf Wednesday: In the thick of the action

At the release party for book one, The Werewolf Whisperer, my husband, actor and audiobook narrator P.J. Ochlan, gave our guests a taste of the pace and force of the series. After discussing which selection would be most appropriate, Bonita, P.J. and I chose the pit bull raid scene from chapter two. I am happy to be able to share a link to P.J. narrating that section of The Werewolf Whisperer and to discuss my approach to action writing a little more in depth:

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http://bit.ly/2h6zjbd

In his blog post “A Symphony of Adrenaline and Drama: Writing Epic Action,” author J. Edward Ritchie highlights three aspects of action writing: 1. Striking but economical details, 2. Constant focus on the main player and 3. Fluid placement of words on the page. Ritchie used concrete examples to illustrate these points, including passages from The Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones, Fall from Grace (his own book) and The Werewolf Whisperer. Bonita and I were thrilled to be included in such august company.

To me, action writing is making sense of so much chaos. We write The Werewolf Whisperer from pretty limited points of view, so when I write the action scenes from Lucy’s POV my lens is focused on the details she sees and experiences. As the raid on the dogfight ring falls apart, I go to where Lucy’s attention is:

“LAPD!” Gabe shouted as he and Lucy burst from the shadows.

Tuti, tilting a red plastic gas can, hunched over the injured pit bull.
”Down on the ground!” Gabe followed up. Tuti froze.
An incredulous roar rose from the surprised Locos as Lucy rammed her full force into Tuti, taking him down and knocking the gas can from his hands. She jumped to her feet and buried her boot in Tuti’s midsection. He gasped and curled in on himself.

The crowd of Locos reacted with indecent speed, scrambling down the alley, climbing fences, grabbing dogs and cash as they fled.

A few took in the fact that all that was threatening them were two cops — alone, and one of them was a woman. Like pack predators they closed in, toothy smiles flashing in the glow of the streetlights.

The back door of the bar flew open. A skinny teenage boy wildly waving a handgun ran toward Gabe in a straight line.

“Manny! No!” A screech Lucy barely recognized as belonging to Xochitl Magaña rang out from inside the hallway.

Gabe clotheslined Manny effortlessly and sent his gun flying through the air. Hitting the ground it went off, prompting other frenzied Los Locos to fire blindly in return. The sound of feet running from both sides of the alley, the whirring sound of helicopter blades overhead, the sudden warning shouts of police and ACTF overlapped with the howling and barking of dogs and hollers from Los Locos escaping over the fence. Bodies in flight and pursuit, knocked over cages, men crashing or being thrown into the chain-link — the chaos all around made Lucy feel a weird calm.

She noticed Flaco holding up his phone, filming the entire scene, turning his narco-pop to full blast while tears flowed freely down his scrunched up face.

Freak.

Staying on the one character also means understanding what things would mean to her — in the heat of battle. Her thoughts would be fragmented and not necessarily kind. Her ragged thought process is really just giving quick words to a visceral reaction. As adrenaline and anger carry Lucy forward, her instinct to protect drives her to actions:

Near her, Gabe scooped up the injured pit bull and bolted towards the safety of the door propped open by Xochitl Magaña.

“You idiots weren’t supposed to grab the dog!” Xochitl sounded furious.

Men came at him from all sides, shouting and flailing. Gabe barreled through them as if they were nothing.

Screeching, Flaco raised his Browning to take aim at Gabe’s back. Lucy clocked the boy in the face with her Beretta. He went straight to the ground.

“You fucking weasel!” she spat and bent down to scoop up his gun.

Someone grabbed her from behind, but she twisted out of the way, losing her grip on Flaco’s 9mm. There was nowhere to go now but to follow Gabe and the pit bull through the open back entrance to Xochitl’s Cantina. Lucy sprinted ahead, tripped over the stoop and gracelessly crashed onto the cantina floor, cutting her hands and bruising her pride.

Crap!

A shot rang out, and for a moment everything seemed to slow down. Lucy saw Gabe, who’d been in front of her and was already in the room, go to his knees on the blue linoleum. He bent forward unnaturally, releasing the pit bull who scrambled under a wooden table.

Lucy lurched forward on the floor to half push and half drag Gabe out of range of the shots that were continuing through the backdoor. From behind the bar, Lucy heard Xochitl scream, “Stop shooting, you assholes!”

The gunfire stopped.

I found J. Edward Ritchie’s assessment of “fluid placement of words on the page” a great insight into how the reader reads action. Along those same lines, I had thought of matching the speed of the action to the brevity of the lines — allowing faster reading for faster scenes. But once we reach the point where Gabe changes for the first time, I found that I had to slow things down again. The action still happens very quickly for Lucy, but the reader needs time to experience the impact of what is occurring. This is the moment everything changes:

“Lucy.” The deep rumble of Gabe’s voice took her complete focus. Something was very wrong. Gabe’s face had turned pasty white and glistened with sweat. Lucy locked onto Gabe’s eyes — normally deep chocolate brown, they now glowed a mesmerizing amber.

Before she could react, five Locos burst into the room, shouting and waving their guns. Gabe sprang up, knocking Lucy on her back, and crashed into the Locos with breathtaking force and speed.

Gabe’s already large frame now appeared monstrous, the muscles of his back and arms bulging and pulsing, his bones lengthening and cracking. Clean-shaven a moment ago, his face looked dirty with dark stubble. His hair, always cut high and tight — a remnant of his time in the service, now brushed his shoulders and rolled down his back like a messy lion’s mane.

Gabe roared like an animal in agony and ripped through one of the men’s throats with the startling long, curved claws of his bare hand.

He grabbed a gangbanger with the other hand, dangling the man off the floor and shaking him by the face like a rag doll.

Lucy started to black out as what felt like a massive shockwave rocked through her body. She fought to keep her eyes open. The small coherent part of her brain observed that Gabe’s Kevlar vest had a small rip in the back. Even if the vest had stopped a bullet from going through, it couldn’t have saved his ribs from being broken. Yet Gabe moved unencumbered, with the power of ten men.

She fixated on the shaggy black layer of fur that covered her partner’s head and arms. Just then he turned in profile; large pointed, fur-covered ears swiveled back like those of an aggressive dog. Razor-sharp teeth flashed in a tapered lupine jaw, and he bit down on the last gangbanger.

My partner’s a werewolf?

The last section is about aftermath. The action is over. The immediate danger has passed. But here’s the full force of the consequences. To me, the reality of what happens after a big blow up is far more devastating than the big blow up itself. Often adrenaline can carry a person through a particularly tough moment, but what happens after the adrenaline fades? To me, the gut punch of aftermath is a natural end to an action moment but also what carries the character forward into the rest of the story:

Lucy convulsed as hysteria shot through her like an electric shock.

“SWAT! Drop your weapons! Nobody move!” At that moment, the SWAT team burst through the front door of the cantina.

Gabe spun on the armed men, ready to attack.

“No, Gabe! Stop!” Lucy screamed the command, instinct trumping fear. Gabe hesitated and looked at her with curiosity.

Holy shit! He’s listening to me.

“SWAT! Get on the floor!” an officer roared as the team closed in.

“LAPD. Don’t shoot,” Lucy yelled out and lurched ahead to put her body between Gabe and the SWAT officers. “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.” Lucy’s voice gave out. Tears streamed down her face as she tried to squeeze sound from her throat, but her vocal chords wouldn’t obey anymore and violent coughs shook her.

She felt Gabe’s hot breath on her neck and turned to face him, slowly and deliberately.

“Down, Gabe.” She pointed to the floor. “Down.”

For a split second, everyone in the room stood still and watched Gabe. The massive man swayed briefly and then dropped to the floor like a puppet that had had its strings cut.

“Officer down. Code 33. Echo Park. North Alvarado and Clinton. Officer down. Start me additional units and medical. Code 3. Officer shot. Approach from northwest.”

“On their way.”

Lucy heard the shouting but didn’t comprehend the words. She crouched down beside her partner, holding him tight as convulsions wracked his body. She saw blood drip to the floor. Gabe had been hit despite the Kevlar.

“Don’t die. Don’t die. You can’t die.” Lucy’s words ran together in an incessant chant. She was lost in his pain, unable to focus, oblivious to the pandemonium all around her.

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https://www.amazon.com/Werewolf-Whisperer-Book-ebook/dp/B00OAKIPX0

Werewolf Wednesday: Who is Lucy Lowell?

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Who is Lucy Lowell?

That is the question, isn’t it? Throughout the series, quite a few characters ask that very thing: Who is this woman who can control Weres?

I had to ask that question too: Who is my protagonist?
Some of it was there from the very start — gut instinct. I knew the core of Lucy.

I found more of her by asking myself all sorts of questions. Allan Watt has a nice collection of character exploration questions in his book the 90-day novelTM. It’s a good place to start your prewriting — really get to know your protagonist.
Lucy developed as the books and novellas developed. And because the books have a dual timeline (more on that later — I promise), Bonita and I work hard to know exactly “where the girls are at” at any given time.
The reader first meets Lucy when she and Xochi are already a team and have been helping people out for a couple of years. But who is Lucy in her very first moment of the first book? Who is Lucy during the pit bull raid?

K-Day 24 months ago

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.

So, here’s a woman who has purposefully put herself into a very dangerous situation. What kind of person does that? Someone with incredible passion to do the right thing. Someone who puts her own safety last.

Clearly, the dog fighting is making her sick, but then there are the goofy thoughts about the food. Something about this danger is routine to Lucy Lowell. We get the sense that she’s a cop, even though it hasn’t been spelled out.

“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.

And now we know. Lucy is LAPD, and she’s an officer assigned to the Animal Cruelty Task Force (I learned about the ACTF on the set of my film DOG BREATH. A lot happened during that shoot).

We know her job, but we also get that Lucy is the job. She has a tremendous personal investment in saving these poor dogs (later we will find out exactly why helping the helpless is so important to her).

To set the scene, I had to research dog fighting for this chapter in particular, and it was really hard. I love animals. I love dogs. I love pit bulls. The rage I felt reading how these poor dogs are tortured went into Lucy. And this is where the crossover occurs for me. I write fantasy, but I write fantasy to understand and deal with reality.

But for the moment, Lucy’s rage is quiet and controlled. She is on the job. She is active. She is in her element.

“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.

And here it is — Lucy’s rash side. Her inability to wait and do nothing. She can play by the rules for a little while, but when it comes right down to it, Lucy will act on her instinct. And that’s what I love about her.

The Werewolf Whisperer is available from Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Werewolf-Whisperer-Book-ebook/dp/B00OAKIPX0/