This year my creative writing program for kids took on an ambitious task: to help our students write, illustrate, and design their own picture books. This has been a real monumental challenge, given that the kids in this particular class our aged 8-12. They’ve had to stick with one story for an entire 15-week program!

I’ve been handling the illustrative side of the class, while my teaching partner Kallie George has brought all of her expertise in writing and editing picture books to help the students develop their words.

I’ve been away from the class for the last few weeks visiting schools in Korea and Thailand, so I finally returned home to take a look at their projects. When I left, they had just finished developing picture book dummies and had started on character design. Now the students are in full illustration mode.

Here are some photos of their books in progress . . .

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As part of the creative writing class (called Dream Workshop) I teach for CWC, I deliver a lot of hands-on activities. That’s because, for me, writing isn’t just about the act at sitting at a computer, pounding my fingers against a keyboard. It’s also about sketching, mapping, diagramming, and building stuff.

I find building stuff really helps keep my creativity alive. So much the better when what I’m building actually connects to a story I’m trying to write. While building a model or a prop, my imagination becomes inflamed and those dingy corners of my mind begin to percolate with ideas.

One of my favorite activities to work on with my classes is door-building. I’m obsessed with doors and take a lot of photos of them as I travel around. But it’s also fun to build them in connection to a story. For the students, it helps them visualize their stories, which means they are better prepared to add description and detail into their scenes.

Here are some photos of my most recent class. As always, the students’ creativity surprises me! I can’t wait to see these doorways come alive in their stories.

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For two of the groups I was working with as writer-in-residence at ELC School in Thailand, we worked on miniature worlds. We began by designing a cast of characters, then had some of those characters miniaturized by shrink rays. After mapping out an epic journey across a single room in the house, I surprised my young authors by springing a climactic challenge upon their characters: a deadly creature.

Well, not SO deadly if you are normal sized, but for our miniature characters, beetles and centipedes and frogs could prove quite hazardous. This activity began with each student pulling a critter out of Bag #1. Then, from Bag #2, they picked out two “tools”—items such as toothpicks, buttons, clothespins, and the like. Using a brainstorming sheet, the students had to use their problem-solving skills to figure out how their characters could use the tools to escape the critters.

Here are some photos of their work in progress:

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Now that they have been faced with the climatic problem and brainstormed the solution, the endings of their stories should be relatively easily to write! My time as writer-in-residence is finished at the school, but I’ve been promised that some of the stories will be sent my way so that I can see how they turned out!

One of the projects I worked on last week with the students at ELC school in Bangkok is to design robot characters and write stories about them. The students were so inspired that they ended up building models based on their designs!

So, as I came into the classroom today I was greeted by a whole group of robots. (By the way what do you call a group of robots?) Here are photos of some of them:

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In turn, I was so inspired, that I urged the students to make robot advertisements. Some of them chose to base the advertisements on the models, while others invented new robots. Here are some of their posters . . . complete with headlines and warnings!

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I love a good marketplace and try to go visit them whenever I can when I’m a new country. Of all the markets I’ve been to in the world, one of my favourites is Chatuchak in Bangkok. It’s 27 acres of pure story inspiration. In fact, one of the key scenes in my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, was directly inspired by Chatuchak.

I took my wife there on the weekend between our work at ELC school as artists-in-residences. Since I had been there before, I knew how to prep Marcie for the crowds, the heats, and the simply overwhelming amount of merchandise.

Here is the view coming out of the BTS (metro) station:

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You can’t really see the market from here, but you sure get a sense of the hubbub.

Here’s a few pictures of the market itself, including us traipsing around inside of it:

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You can buy pretty much anything at Chatuchak. And I mean anything. We found dwarf bunnies wearing dresses. We found swords. We found Coca-Cola in glass bottles (in my opinion, everything tastes better in glass bottles).

And, of course, we bought a lot of stuff, too. Well, mostly Marcie. As for me, the main thing I bought is a traditional horn. I’m currently writing a book with a character who uses a horn, and this reminded me of him. And I thought the designs were beautiful. I can’t wait to get this displayed in my studio, but here is a picture of it for now.

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My wife and I are currently beginning our second week as artists-in-residence at ELC school in Bangkok, Thailand. This is my third tour of duty at the school, but the first for Marcie, so I was really excited to share this wonderful haven with her.

The school is a maze of pathways, sprinkled with bamboo fences, Thai-style architecture, and lush tropical plants. It’s a truly magical place!

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For the most part, the weather has been hot and humid, but what a surprise we had in the first week when the skies rumbled, grumbled, and gushed out inches of rain in a matter of minutes. The school flooded and we had to re-arrange our schedules because the youngest kids couldn’t make it to Marcie’s classroom.

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Just part of a day’s work, I guess!

While Marcie has been working with the younger grades to help them nurture creativity through acting, I’ve been working with the older kids to work on creative writing.

For the Year 3s, we’ve been working on stories that features robots. This ties in to part of their curriculum, since they are currently studying robotics. I decided to take a step back and have the students imagine the characters who invent robots and have them consider questions such as: “What type of people are inventors?”, “What are some of the characteristics of inventors?”, and “What types of robots would these characters invent?” After this workshop, the students then beginning to design the robots that matched with their inventive characters. Here are some photos of their brainstorming work:

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For the Year 4s, I decided to deliver my popular Monster-in-a-Bottle workshop. This involves a fun project in which the students build “pet monsters”, write hatching instructions, and then invent characters who make don’t follow those instructions. The result: a story with a definite problem.

However, there was one problem this time with the actual project. I don’t know what happened between Vancouver and Bangkok, but I ended up losing or not packing enough bottles. This means that I only had enough miniature bottles for one class. Thankfully, we were able to get some different bottles for the second class. They weren’t quite as miniature, but I still think they look pretty good.

Here’s the first batch of monster pets, in the small bottles:

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And here’s the batch with the bigger bottles:

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I think both batches look pretty spectacular. The kids are itching to take their new pets home, but I’m making them wait until our stories are complete—these bottles are meant to keep them inspired and to help them inject better description into their writing.

For the Year 5s and 6s, we’ve been working on the story starter of a group of characters who get shrunk down by a shrink ray. We designed casts of characters and then built the actual shrink rays that will be used to miniaturize them. Here are some of the photos of our work thus far.

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I’m pleased to say that the stories that go with all of these brainstorming projects have been turning out really well. It’s very gratifying to see students blossom in such a short time. The next three days will be spent wrapping up the students’ stories and helping them to celebrate them.

My wife and I are currently working as artists-in-residence at a school in Bangkok and have been enjoying some of the cool and interesting restaurants in the neighbourhood. One such place is called “Iron Fairies.”

I first visited this restaurant back in 2012, but it was closed for renovations when I was back in the city in 2013. I was so pleased to see it back open—especially since I could show it to Marcie.

Beyond the doors of this magical place is a cozy cavern of delight. Just check out the thousands of bottles and some of the other props.

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My wife and I are currently in Bangkok to work as artists-in-residence at ELC school. We haven’t started yet, so we’re just taking a couple of days to explore the city. It’s actually my third sojourn here, but I kind of get to see Bangkok anew with Marcie.

We fought off our jet lag the first day and visited Jim Thompson house. Thompson was an American who fell in love with Thailand and moved here after WWII and revitalized the silk industry. He built his home to draw on traditional Thai architecture and filled it with beautiful artifacts from around SE Asia.

While visiting the site, you can see a celebration of the hand-weaving of silk.

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Personally, I loved looking at the sculptures and the many traditional doors (I do love to collect doors!) Here are some photos of some of my favourite doors that I found at the house:

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And, finally, here are just a few other photos of the site.

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This week I received advance copies of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

Cracking open that box of freshly pressed books always fills me with a sense of excitement and trepidation. (This goes back to my very first publishing experience; I opened up the box only to discover they had printed the cover to Corranda’s Crown in low resolution, so was greeted by faded and pixelated artwork. Needless to say, they reprinted.)

This time, I wasn’t even in the country when the press proofs for the cover came, so it was up to the art director and publisher to approve the colors. For this cover, we made the decision of going black and gray . . . it may seem an odd choice for a children’s fantasy book, but it goes well with the color scheme of the rest of the series and, more importantly, it ties in thematically to Kendra’s journey in this final book in the series.

No need to worry about how the cover on this book turned out. It looks fabulous and, in many ways, my favorite of the series.

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen - advance copies

The official release date of the book isn’t until April, but my wife and I are off to work at a school in Bangkok as artists-in-residence for the next couple of weeks, so I coerced my publisher into getting me some copies before we left, so I can show them off.

On this blog, I’ve posted a lot of the brainstorming, sketches, and inspirations that contributed to the creation of this book. It’s been a labor—I’ve written many books before, but never one that had to end a series. It’s an odd feeling to line all the books up on the shelf and see that it’s really happened, that it’s really finished.

The Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar

The series is complete. There were so many agonizing twists and turns along the way, but I’m glad that I can sit back now and see that I was able to finish Kendra’s journey in the way that I wanted.

All loose ends are tied up, all story lines resolved. Now just time to wait for the official release date and to see if my readers share my satisfaction!

One of the final, and most entertaining, projects I did at the CWC Wizards’ Camp in Korea was “Wand Duelling.” I’ve only done this a few times before, because it involves a lot of my brain power.

How it works is this . . .

The kids design and build their own wizardly wands and write rhyming couplets to attack me. They get to prepare their spells in advance, and then come onto the stage to attack me. I have to defend myself by responding to each couplet by using the same rhyme scheme. I can’t use any of the words they use.

A typical attack went something like this: Mr. Wiz, this is no joke; I’m going to cover you in gooey egg yolk. I then had to rhyme by saying something like: Your hurtful rhyme makes me choke, But in your face, I throw a coke. Then comes the next attack. Whomever runs out of rhymes first, loses. It’s rather like a rap-duel, I guess, but a lot more magical. Here’s some photos of our wands—and our duels.

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