I’m currently vacationing on the big island of Hawaii and have had a lot of fun exploring the local flora and fauna. Yesterday, however, I had fun of a different sort by exploring Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau—the royal grounds. This area rests on the black lava flats of the southern Kona coast and shows some of the aspects of traditional Hawaiian life.

I’m particularly interested in threshold guardians and totems, and have collected quite a few photos of them in my travels. This is my first time in Polynesia, so was excited to see these totems (called Ki’i) up close:


Here are some more of the Ki’i. These ones are situated just outside or within the rebuilt temple. The temple itself once held the bones of the noble chiefs (the ali’i).


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These are smaller wood carvings I found in one of the thatched structures where you could also see some traditional fishing gear.



This is a traditional Hawaiian game called Kōnane, set up near the shore.


You can see lava beds throughout the site. These fascinating formations have really inspired me for some of my world-building activities. I’ve been taking many detailed pictures of rock patterns and lava shapes.


Below you can see the great wall, with the palm trees growing up around it. This wall is ten feet high and up to seventeen feet thick. It was built in 1550 to separate the royal compound from the common folk. The rocks are packed so tightly that no mortar was required.


Here’s another, better, view of the wall, stretching towards the sea.


This is the Keōya Stone. Mark Twain, on a visit to Hawaii, said this is where the high chief of Kona would sit. I was actually quite fascinated by the rope, made of natural grasses.


Beyond the great wall, the lava bed stretches out into the crashing waves. The sounds and sights were breathtaking. My wife took this photo as I stood out at the edge, taunting the water to catch me.


We have more adventures planned in the coming days . . . which, of course, means more inspirations.


Here’s the final part of my virtual studio tour, in which I’m showing the items that I have collected or built over the years, and which serve to offer me daily inspiration.

We start off in a corner of artwork and photographs . . .

Brunelleschi Print

My wife bought this print of a Brunelleschi blueprint for me when we were in Florence, Italy. As a student of art history, it had long been a dream of mine to visit Florence. This is a fitting memento.


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The Young Astronomer

This is a print of one of my favorite paintings: The Young Astronomer, by Oliver Van Deuren. I bought it at the National Gallery in London a few years ago. I just love the pensive look on the figure. I think this scene reminds me of how I feel during a moment of study and discovery.


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Zōjōji in Shiba

This is a print of a painting done in 1925 by Hasui Kawase. I loved this scene the moment I saw it. I bought the print in the Asakusa outdoor market when I visited Tokyo in the winter of 2014.


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Travel Photos

These are three of my favorite photos from my travels: ceremonial weapons on the Great Wall of China, the stone head of a buddha statue cradled in the roots of a bodhi tree at Ayatthaya, Thailand, and a spiraling staircase at St. Stephens’ Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.


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I hung these keys in the far corner of the orange section. First, because there was a space to fill and, second, well, you can never have enough keys to inspire you.


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These next pieces are all from the opposite wall of my studio, what I call the “white corner.”

Mickey Mouse Sketch

This is a print of a sketch from the famous “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scene in Fantasia. That scene has long been one of my favorite pieces of animation.


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Clair de Lune

This is a print of a painting by the Czech art deco artist, Alfonso Mucha. I picked it up on a visit to an art gallery in Prague. I’ve always been a huge fan of art deco art and illustration.


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This frame combines a picture I took at Luxor in Egypt with the famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called Ozymandias. It has always been one of my favorite poems, and when I saw this truncated statue, I was reminded of it.


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We now move into another Star Wars corner of my studio. (Yes, I have two Star Wars corners!)


In this frame are a pair of postcards signed by the actors who played Chewbacca and Boba Fett (I met both in person).


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Star Wars Trilogy Postcards

This frame features the poster series of the re-release of the original trilogy. I can’t remember how I came into possession of this.


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My fully-functioning voice-controlled R2D2 droid stands on guard in the white corner of my studio. He actually has a security alarm as part of his features, so intruders beware!


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Rancor and Ticket

On the shelf near the white corner of my studio is a ticket I was sent from Lucasfilm for the re-release of Star Wars in 1997, standing proudly next to my Rancor action figure.


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Well, he’s more or less a permanent fixture in my studio, so it seems apt to conclude the tour with a photo of him in his usual position!



After months of working on a project to revitalize my writing studio, I’m now posting some photos of the finished space. Because there’s a lot of little details, I decided to break the tour into parts . . . so here’s Part 2!

Kendra Kandlestar Display

One of three custom-made box shelves displays my Kendra Kandlestar books. This is the main thing that students see in the background when I do Skype visits. There is also a miniature peg figure; that’s not a character from Kendra Kandlestar. That’s a miniature version of me, which my wife made to help celebrate the “miniature worlds” writing camp I taught earlier this year. (I’m not sure why the miniature version of me looks so stunned.)


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Dol Hareubang

This little figure sits on the top of my Kendra Kandlestar box shelf. It is a miniature version of a dol hareubang (“stone grandfather”), which I picked up during a stay on Jeju Island, Korea. You can see many large versions of these delightful figures on the island. They are meant to ward of malevolent spirits. The regular-sized ones come to about my chest; I would have loved to bring one of those home, but had to settle for this miniature version, which has been fashioned from the island’s abundance of lava rock.


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Map Case

This is an old leather map case from World War II. I picked it up for just a few dollars in Budapest, Hungary, during a visit to the underground hospital museum there. The map case has many neat pouches and compartments and reminds me of something Indiana Jones might wear. It sits on the shelf next to my dol hareubang.


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Green Man

This is a reproduction of a “green man” relief, which I bought on a visit to Yorkminster in England. The green man is a common symbol in Celtic mythology and can be found throughout Northern European architecture. I’ve always thought of the green man as a sort of gargoyle—but a friendly one.


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Dragon Door Knocker

I bought this dragon door knocker in Edinburgh, Scotland, then mounted it on a piece of wood. I’m obsessed with doors (and all the parts that go with them), and have a lot of them in my children’s books. I have a few keys decorating my studio and so really wanted at least one door knocker. I had trouble deciding how to display or mount it, and finally decided to place it on this panel.


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Shelf of Magical Items

I take a lot of these items to the creative writing workshops I teach at schools and conferences, and have always thought it was a shame that they spent most of their time in a box, waiting to be shown. Now, I can keep my favorite items on permanent display. These are the kinds of things you might find in the Wizard Griffinskitch’s library in my Kendra Kandlestar books. An added bonus is that the goblin eyes match the color of the background wall.


More to come in Part 3!


For months I’ve been working on an ambitious project to “revitalize” my studio space. I’ve been showing glimpses of the work along the way, but now the project is complete, and I can post photos of the finished space.

So, if you are so inclined . . . take this first part of the tour. (More to come in the days ahead).

Star Wars Corner

I actually have TWO Star Wars corners, but this is the first one, in the orange section of the studio. It features the 10th anniversary poster of The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite Star Wars film), plus some cool mini-posters of the original trilogy films featuring designs by artist Olly Moss.


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Diorama of the Treasure Chambers in the Elder Stone

This box shelf displays a small diorama I built of the treasure chamber in the Elder Stone, from Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. You can see the Box of Whispers, as well as the dragon egg that eventually hatched and caused the poor Eens so many problems.


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Replica Helmet

This is a helmet that I bought at a prop sale after a local theatre company closed its door. The helmet is very well constructed and, I believe, was used in a production of Macbeth. When it’s not on my shelf, it’s on my head (for Halloween or other inspirational purposes).


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Mysterious Key

This is a very large and heavy key that I plucked from my editor’s treasure trove. I’m obsessed with old keys, so it’s best not to leave them in my presence unattended.


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This is an interesting piece of wood—look closely, and you will glimpse the stones naturally embedded within its twisted shape. My brother found this piece of driftwood on a riverbank in the BC wilderness and passed it on to me, telling me that it looked like something magical, something you could find in “one of my wizard books.” He wasn’t wrong; this piece has served as inspiration for Eenwood, the magical staffs used in my Kendra Kandlestar series.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the tour!

Halloween is one of my favorite times of years. After all, a significant part of my writing process involves building things, so October turns into a sort of two-for-one deal.

The only problem is that October is also usually my busiest times of years. This October, I toured schools for a literacy organization, did an outreach program at school, spoke at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest, and then went to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference to meet with some agents and editors—all in the two weeks leading up to Halloween. Which is all to say that I crammed my costume and model building into an intensive three-day period leading up to Halloween.

We had bought my wife a very cool steampunk costume earlier this year, so I decided I would match her outfit by going as a steampunk pirate. This involved buying some clothes (I went to a very cool store in Vancouver called Venus and Mars) and then building and modifying a few items, such as an eye patch, hat, belt, and key.

Here’s the eyepatch:


And the details I added to my belt:


The hat was very tricky, mostly because it involved sewing (which is NOT my strength).



The piece de resistance, however, was the pirate key. This actually turned out to be the biggest part of the project. It began with a bunch of parts:


And then playing puzzle-maker as I experimented with how I wanted to fit them together:


At last, I ended up with this:


The neatest part about building the key is that it inspired me to go back and rewrite a scene in one of the projects I’m currently working on—which is why I love building things. It’s a way to use a different part of my brain, a way to generate ideas for my stories. This key isn’t exactly like the one that I ended up describing in my book, but it’s close. (I have a feeling, I’ll be building another key in the near future . . .)

Oh, and here’s the photos of Marcie and I in our final steampunk costumes.

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I’ve helped kids produce dozens and dozens of little monsters in bottles this year in my creative writing workshops, but it’s such a fun activity, especially leading up to Halloween, that I decided to do it two last times for this year. Besides, it is such great inspiration for stories!

So, here are a few more photos of monsters, all ready to be hatched. In addition to the normal fangs, eyeballs, and fur, I was also able to find some glow-in-the-dark larvae . . . see if you can spot them in some of the bottles!

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This past week, I did an all-day visit at Cook Elementary in Richmond, BC, and delivered a few rounds of my interactive drawing workshop, which serves as a springboard for kids to develop their own characters and—ultimately—stories.

There’s always a “group” character that gets designed by me, based on the suggestions from the crowd. These are usually quite terrible drawings—but the point is to brainstorm, not to produce a brilliant illustration. Take for example, these two characters:



While I design the group characters, the participants furiously design their own characters. Some participants follow the group character while others go off to develop their own. Here are some of the photos of student-generated characters.










The idea is that the students head back to class with a character in hand, so that they can write a story with their brainstorming. However, in some cases, the stories begin to develop right on the page, during the session:





The students at Cook Elementary were certainly full of vim and energy and what I really appreciated is that I had time in the schedule to take a closer look at some of their drawings (and, of course, take photos of them).


I just returned from a whirlwind tour of schools as part of the Raise-a-Reader program in Penticton, Canada.

The program in this part of the country is spearheaded by Yasmin John-Thorpe, a tireless advocate of literacy in her community. In my opinion, Yasmin has created something truly unique, using her program funds to sponsor authors to come to schools to give books directly to kids. In fact, every kid who attends a presentation by the author receives one of those author’s books for free.

I journeyed to the Okanagan to present at four different schools over two days, along with author Kallie George. Boxes of our books arrived just after us, and we personally signed each and everyone—over 700 books! Kallie signed copies of her early reader Flare, while I signed copies of my Kendra Kandlestar series, including The Box of Whispers, The Door to Unger, The Shard from Greeve, and The Crack in Kazah.

You can see the stacks here; needless to say, we signed into the wee hours of the night.


But it was completely worth it. I visit a lot of schools, but it’s pretty darn cool when you get to give away books. It must be what Santa feels like!

One of the neat things about this series of visits was that I visited the school classroom by classroom. I brought poster boards of my cast of characters, which turned out to really provoke the imagination of the kids. I had plenty of questions about each and every character!

Here are some photos of my presentations in action, and some shots of some very happy children.

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It was interesting to hear about Yasmin’s personal stories regarding reading. She remembers authors coming to her school when she was a child and giving order forms to buy their books. But coming from a family of nine, buying a book just wasn’t an option. These days, Yasmin’s determined that kids get books in their hands, books that are their very own, books that they can take home.

I think her concept is pretty magical . . . and I’m pretty lucky to have been part of it!






I have always lectured my students on the importance of having a personal creative space, a place where they can insulate themselves from the outside world and concentrate on their creative projects.

For me, that place is my in-home studio (unless I’m on the road; then it’s wherever I can find it). However, when I first moved into my studio, I was so busy that I just threw everything into it—desks, drawing table, shelves . . . all the functional things without worrying about the decor. And here I am, week after week, imploring my students to be more creative. Then one of my students, during a Skype consultation, pointed out just how bland my studio wall was. She was right!

So, this year, I finally rolled up my sleeves and began redesigning the wall of my studio. It’s still  work in progress, so when it’s completely done, I’ll post detailed photos of it. However, here is a glimpse of it, so far:


It’s only taken six months! What I thought would be  a simple coat of paint and picture hangers turned into an epic project to have some custom-made shelves built, plus to contract a local furniture store to build me a trunk using an old door from India.



Now, at last, the wall is in working shape. Not only has it been great for my personal creativity, but I’ve found it’s really improved my Skype calls with schools. Now, instead of seeing a white wall stuck with a scattering of sketches (which might sound interesting, but they are impossible to see on a webcam) they see many of the objects and pictures that fuel my imagination.

As I say, there are still some missing pieces . . . but I feel like I’ve crossed an ocean, and now all I need to do is bring the ship to shore.


I’ve been posting some of the different options for the cover of the fifth and final Kendra Kandlestar book: The Search for Arazeen. Everyone, it seems, has had an opinion along the way. After a lot of input, we ended up down to two choices for illustrations: one with Kendra standing on the tower and one of Kendra standing in a swirl of smoke.

We also ended up with many color variations.

All sorts of factors played in our final decision. But, at last, here it is . . .


And here it is with the back cover and spine.

Search for Arazeen - Cover - layout.indd

This is inevitably the part where people say they liked some of the other versions or options better . . . but I feel good about this one. Why? Mostly because I know how the story goes, how it ends, and what it’s all about. And this cover illustration and especially the colors match well with the journey that Kendra undertakes in this final book.

Stay tuned for a final, official release date. Along the way, I’ll post some sneak peeks of the text.




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