12 Steps To Becoming An Author — My Version

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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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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

 

Seething about Indie Books

Indie Publishing is in transition. What used to be sneered at as a vanity press is now an acceptable option for publishing. The hardest part about being an indie author is getting your book to the right reader. And as a reader, it’s not easy finding the right book when all you have to go on is a cover and a quick description. You’re more willing to invest your time when some trusted source has vetted the book for you. But big publications and many bloggers won’t review indie authors. Understandably, they are inundated with requests from traditional sources. And there are just so many indie books available.

Ever the proactive badass, my writing partner Bonita — who reads a ton — has made it her mission to get the word out about some awesome indie books. And The Seething Brain is happy to host the new series:

Don’t Judge a Book by its . . . Indie Author Roots

Self-publishing isn’t new. Authors such as Mark Twain and Stephen King published their first works themselves. So why do the independent, self-published books of today get such a bum rap? Yes, when this new world of self-publishing first emerged (largely due to internet giant, Amazon), a great deal of indie books may have been poorly written and poorly edited (I know. I’ve been reading e-books since the first generation Kindle hit the market). But what was once true a decade ago is not necessarily true today.

When Camilla and I first entertained the idea of self-publishing, I asked a good friend (and best selling author) what we should do. Without hesitation, he told me to self-publish. Not because he’d thought we couldn’t get published, but because publishing houses were just not making the deals they once had. He told me that I’d be better off doing it for myself. And I had to agree (Besides, I’m not one to sit around and wait for someone’s approval. Nope. I’d rather get it done and get it out there).

It would seem other writers feel the same. As the book publishing industry continues to be in flux, many authors — both conventionally published and first-time novelists — are forgoing the long and arduous submission process (a process made a thousand times harder if you don’t have an agent) and uploading their e-books to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Add in the rapid development in technology and the common use of social media, and today’s authors are unshackled from the traditional publishing houses. (By the way, you don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle e-book. Just download the FREE app to the device of your choice and you’re off to the races!)

And many self-published authors have gone on to become Best Sellers, which in turn, opened up new opportunities and propelled their careers to new heights. Lisa Genova’s Still Alice stayed on the New York Times Best Sellers list for 40 weeks and was adapted into a major motion picture, garnering both an Oscar and a Golden Globe in the Best Actress category. While Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series helped land him the coveted job of writing Star Wars: Aftermath. (One of my favorite authors writing my favorite series. Yay for me!)

Like the indie film boom of the 90’s, the independent, self-publishing industry is experiencing its own exciting renaissance. So in the spirit of this literary revival, Camilla and I will be writing an on-going blog series, highlighting exceptional indie novelists and their work.

Without further ado, here are a few books I think are well worth a read…

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FALL FROM GRACE by J. Edward Ritchie

Fantasy

Book blurb:

Heaven: a paradise of all that is pure in Creation. Led by brothers Michael and Satanail, the Angelic Host is a testament to cosmic harmony and love. When an unprecedented revelation threatens to uproot their peace, a schism splits the Host’s loyalties. Every angel has to make a choice: faith or freedom. Good or evil.

Salvation or damnation.

War consumes Heaven in the first and most destructive loss of life that Creation will ever know. As brother turns on brother, the fate of both Heaven and Earth rests in the hands of the Creator’s chosen son, Michael. How far will he go, what will he sacrifice in the name of their Father, to protect his family?

Witness the tragic downfall of a civilization as told from both sides of the bloody rebellion. More than myth, more than legend, Heaven’s war will forever stand as a harrowing warning that even the purest of souls can fall from grace.

https://www.amazon.com/Fall-Grace-J-Edward-Ritchie-ebook/dp/B00UJVMN32

Fear U

FEAR UNIVERSITY by Meg Collett

Urban Fantasy

2017 eLit Awards Gold Winner in Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Book Blurb:

I’ve always known I was a monster, and I don’t mean some teenage vampire shit either.

My mother abandoned me when I was ten years old because I have a freakish mutant disease that makes me incapable of feeling pain. I bounced from one foster family to another because too many people like to test my medical condition in a game of “Try To Make Ollie Scream.” At sixteen, I killed a man for taking that game too far.

Two years later, I’m still on the run in Kodiak, Alaska. Here, I’m the most dangerous person around, until I come face to face with a creature that should only exist in folklore. The monster is an aswang, and I, with my medical anomaly, am uniquely qualified to hunt the beast that haunts the night. At least, that’s what the two scarred, mostly crazy ’swang hunters tell me when they kidnap me and take me to Fear University, a school where young students learn to hunt and kill aswangs.

I arrive at the university a prisoner, but I stay because I finally find my freedom.

For once in my life, I belong. I’m needed. I make a home for myself inside the university masquerading as an old Alaskan prison. Something close to happiness warms my icy heart when I’m with my scarred, still mostly crazy tutor, Luke Aultstriver. For a murdering runaway like me, Fear University is a haven where I can put my skills to good use hunting monsters in the night.

But when certain truths come to light and even more lies are exposed, I fear that I, Ollie Andrews, am the worst kind of monster of all. And, maybe, they should be hunting me.

https://www.amazon.com/Fear-University-Meg-Collett-ebook/dp/B017CK0K28

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ROSETTA by Stephen Patterson

Science Fiction

Book Blurb:

The future isn’t what it used to be for Tony Calanis Palermo. He’s a man with a past.
It has been a long fall from a member of the most clandestine branch of Lunar Intelligence to a mere able spaceman first class aboard a merchant starship. But after his latest misadventure, it will be an even longer fall to working out a long term indenture on a backwater sugar plantation. In fact, it would be a death sentence.
Except that he’s just been offered a single chance at freedom: If he uses his skills to obtain the language key of the mysterious, and dead, alien Galactic race before anyone else can get it. That anyone else may include, but may not strictly be limited to, interplanetary policorps, super soldiers, genetically modified assassins, heavily armed colonial revolutionaries, and the combined military might of the Union of Man.
Enough trouble for anyone’s plate, perhaps.
But once on the ground, Tony discovers the still functioning personality daemon of a quasi-religious mutant criminal megalomaniac that had once tried to start World War Four just before Tony . . . killed her. Turns out, that’s a problem.
Only he also decides to rescue an indentured savant slave girl and her dying pet Angel.
Has he finally bitten off more than he can chew?
But the real question is: Can he stay alive long enough to succeed?

https://www.amazon.com/Rosetta-Stephen-Patterson-ebook/dp/B01M9F625F

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THE WET WOMAN by Alejandra Díaz Mattoni

Urban Crime Thriller

Book Blurb:

Magdalena, or “Magda,” Amador kills people for a living. Spending her teenage years in forced prostitution, befriending the pharmacist who lived next door to the brothel, and building up a steely facade made her the perfect candidate for the murder-for-money lifestyle. It’s not sexy, but neither is flipping burgers.

Sex slavers kidnapped Magda when she was seven and smuggled her to Barcelona, Spain. Decades later, she returns home to the Los Angeles suburbs to find a bickering blended family nose-deep in money laundering, human smuggling, and death threats. Magda wants to protect her family and their business, but what she needs is to make amends with her wrongdoings, face her past traumas, and finally find a place in the world where she can fit in.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MJ485A2

And a final seethe on what’s new in indie publishing news:

 Somewhere in the recent general news splat, I picked up on the narrative that e-book sales are down. I didn’t really know anything about it until I listened to The Creative Penn podcast #320. It seems that after the UK Publishers Association reported that e-book sales are down, some news outlets turned the Publisher’s Association’s findings into “the sky is falling.” CNN and The Guardian ran articles that made the outlook for e-book publishing’s future look pretty gloomy.

Since I came into the story a little late, I heard some facts that put things in perspective before I fully grasped what had been said and what repercussions that could have.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn said, “Whenever you see these stories, remember they only report books with ISBNs – so most indie e-book sales are not included, and neither are Kindle Unlimited page reads.”

That information makes all the difference. Penn also linked to an article from the Digital Reader that breaks down how, without taking into consideration the non-ISBN books (like the Amazon ASIN – Amazon Standard Identification Numbers ), the Publishers Association missed about 38% of sales (indie authors). A more comprehensive look at the numbers is posted on the Author Earnings site.

So, why was the story presented as the death of the e-book when the facts support that the e-book market thriving? Was it a misinterpretation or is something more nefarious going on?

I don’t know.

But, in case you’ve heard the dirge for the e-book, there’s more to it. E-books aren’t going anywhere. Not to worry.

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

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

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

Hibernaculum

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Hibernaculum: a shelter occupied during the winter by a dormant animal (as an insect, snake, bat, or marmot)

Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2017.

I took shelter in a hibernaculum of my own making this winter. An unexpected loss (see Holding Tight and Letting Go) drove me inward and rendered me dormant. I felt blank on the inside, empty. I tried to escape into my writing, but the very act of sitting alone, quietly, was painful. I recognized that I needed to lay low, so I let myself burrow in deep to hibernate and let things be.

The holidays came and went. The new year started, but I continued to linger in my hibernaculum. Almost, but not quite, ready to make a start. Almost, but not quite, ready to pick up where I’d left off. While I believe I needed time to have the fresh wounds scab over, when I wanted to get out and get on with it, I couldn’t. My hibernaculum had collapsed around me, and I was stuck.

The inability to move forward has a visceral taste to me. I think it tastes like fear, cold and bitter on my tongue. It sours in my stomach. It makes the muscles in my face feel like stones, hard, sharp, and immovable. There’s an inexplicable longing, a yearning that is in the background of everything I do and say. In conversations, I listen to its yammering more than to the person I am talking to (sorry, guys). I know this feeling so well because I lived with it for years before I really started writing. It feels like failure too. Fear and Failure: the twin harpies that glide through my mind, squawking obnoxious lies and making me feel lower than dirt. There’s a third harpy, Regret, but her I can tune out most of the time.

I realized that this was going to be a battle.

I tried setting ambitious goals. I tried being a tough coach, yelling at my sleepy, out-of-sorts self to get it together. But nothing harsh, direct, or reasonable worked. I escaped my own scolding, ditched my set goals like an exasperating teenager, and lost the fight every single day — for two months.

Then I remembered that I’ve been here before. And I had won. I went from years of being paralyzed as a writer to writing half a dozen novels in two years — no exaggeration. If I did it once, I could do it again. I also had to allow that during my hibernation, I wrote three new chapters for two different books, rewrote two chapters of a third, wrote two short scripts, a couple of little articles, and edited the first draft of a nearly completed novel.

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Had to pause for the facepalm

So, why am I flailing in the morass, doubting myself? More importantly, what do I do about it? And what “it” am I falling prey to?

Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance, that indefinable something that keeps you from doing your work. Resistance is the enemy. The enemy that lies within. And the only way to battle that enemy — no matter how many sources I consult — is to do what Nike tells us with a swoosh: JUST DO IT!

So simple, and so difficult.

So here it is, the end of January. California’s epic storms are ending. School is back in full swing. Jury duty looms.

But I’m out of excuses.

I thank the hibernaculum for keeping me safe these last few difficult months. But it’s time to go. Step by step, I have to rejoin the world. Word by word, I have to write. Sit in my chair and write.