Thank you for a successful launch of The Secret of Zoone

Thank you for a successful launch of The Secret of Zoone

April 9th was the official book birthday of my new middle-grade book The Secret of Zoone and we celebrated in the best way possible—by launching at our phenomenal local book store, Kidsbooks in Vancouver.

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The event sold out, which meant all the aisles and corners of the stores were teeming with young fans. It’s hard to get bored in a bookstore, of course, but I made sure there were plenty of Zoone-related activities for attendees.

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The Secret of Zoone is about the nexus of the multiverse, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds. During the events of the book, Zoone is also the site of the Convention of Wizardry, which means there’s an entire conjuring of magic-makers descending upon the nexus. All of this is to say that I had a lot of inspiration to draw from one in terms of giveaways, prizes, and displays.

Every attendee was given a travel sticker of one of the Zoone worlds, along with a “ticket-key.” The kids got to choose their own sticker as well as write in the name of their own imagined world on their tickets.

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As for prizes, these included including book dust jackets, specially 3D-printed Zoone keys, and a pair of my hand-crafted dragon eggs.

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The main display (in addition to books, of course!) was my wizard’s suitcase, complete with its selection of magical creature items.

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Once everyone had their own ticket-key to Zoone, we began our program, beginning with an introduction to the book, followed by a short reading. I decided to read from Chapter 3 of the book (“A Skyger on the Sofa”), partly because it’s a fun scene that introduces one of Zoone’s most vibrant characters, Tug (just to tell you, he’s a skyger, which is a winged tiger).

The other reason I chose this section is because it was the very first scene I ever wrote for this book, way back in 2007. Of course, the scene evolved A LOT—in the original scene, it wasn’t a skyger on a sofa, but a lion in the living room. But the spirit of the scene certainly stayed the same over all these years.

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After the reading, I took a few questions, then drew the tickets for the door prizes, awarding Zoone keys, dust jackets, and dragon eggs! One of my long-time creative writing students, Joanne, helped me with the draw! (You might be able to tell she’s quite the character.)

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After that, the only thing left to do was sign books! 

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Signing - CWC family

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I’m so thankful for all the support and love I received that night. Of course, I’m so honoured to be able to launch at Kidsbooks. I’d also like to thank some specific people who helped make the night a success: Rob Stocks and Sarah Bagshaw for their moral support leading up to the launch (and for transportation!), Jeff Porter for 3D printing the Zoone keys, Jina Kim for her awesome photography (these are her photos decorating this post!), my CWC family for spreading the word, my wife and son for being their awesome selves, and—of course—all the teachers, students, and fans who turned up to rejoice in Zoone’s release to the multiverse.

 

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Happy book birthday to me!

Happy book birthday to me!
Today is the book birthday for THE SECRET OF ZOONE!
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It has been a long journey!

The very first idea for this book arrived in my brain way back in 2007—before any of my current readers were even born!

There was a long period when I wasn’t sure if this book would ever see the light of a book shelf, or if I would even be published again at all. This can be a tough industry, but on days like today, we celebrate!

I want to thank everyone who helped bring this book to life:


My agent, 
Rachel Letofsky, for believing in Zoone way back when it was just a manuscript.

My incredible editor at HarperCollins, Stephanie Stein. I know most authors rave about their editors, but mine is actually APPEARING ON JEOPARDY this week, so I like to think that mine wins the sweepstakes! (But hopefully, not the literal sweepstakes at Jeopardy, because I don’t want her to retire.)

My cover team! I absolutely adore the art by Evan Monteiro and the hand lettering done by Michelle Taormina.

My pre-reading team: Nadia Kim, Bohyun Kim, Renuka Baron, Sarah Bagshaw, Kallie George, and Paige Mitchell.

Aunt Temperance's Zoone KeyJeff Porter, who took my simple design for a Zoone key and turned it into a file for 3D printing! (Doesn’t it look great

My Scooby Gang—your moral support has meant everything to me along the way.
All of my friends at Children’s Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia…; your moral support has also kept me going along the way.
The team at CWC, including Sarah-Steven Hong, Joon Park, and all the countless students. Many of them BEGGED to be in this book, so I decided to make you GLIBBERS. (If you don’t know what a glibber is, you will find out!)
My family, of course—biological, chosen, and otherwise! (My sister says this book is so good that it sounds like I didn’t even write it!)
And, the best for last: Marcie Nestman and Hiro, who have had to live with the rollercoaster life of an author and who have provided me with so much joy along the way.
It is such a privilege to be published by HarperKids Books. When I was a kid, my go-to series was The Chronicles of Narnia, currently published by . . . you guessed it! HarperCollins!

Dreams do come true!

The book is available at your favorite brick-and-mortar or online retailer. Here are some handy links for you . . .

US:
Indiebound: https://bit.ly/2EE6RvY

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2PPNfpM

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2CnqlTc

BAM: https://bit.ly/2Ly1TS9


Canada: 

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2QKTVeh

Chapters: https://bit.ly/2EAxIIx

Kidsbooks:https://bit.ly/2AaBl4C

 

I hope you enjoy discovering The Secret of Zoone.

You can win a free copy of my new book

You can win a free copy of my new book

In less than three weeks, my new middle-grade book, The Secret of Zoone, will be hitting bookstore and library shelves and HarperCollins is giving away a free copy through Goodreads.

Just click here to enter.

(If you’re not a member of Goodreads, it’s easy and free to sign up!)

The Secret of Zoone is the first book in my new series. It’s about a boy who steps through an enchanted portal and finds himself in the nexus of the multiverse, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds. Along the way he meets Tug, a skyger with crippled wings, Fidget, a princess with inappropriate hair, and Salamanda a wizard’s apprentice, who may have just taken the wrong job.

I’ll be hosting some other contests in the upcoming weeks to help celebrate Zoone, giving away books, dragon eggs, and prize packs—please check out my twitter feed for more information!

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Are you a traveler? Then pack your suitcase for Zoone!

Are you a traveler? Then pack your suitcase for Zoone!

In just three weeks, my new book, The Secret of Zoone, will be hitting shelves. Typically, this is a time for an author to invest extra time in marketing, host a launch, and plan tour or bookstore events.

For me, it means something just a little extra—building props! While I am usually making props throughout my writing process, preparing for events usually means I’m thinking not so much about how to help bring my fantasy worlds to life for me, but to help promote them to the world.

The idea

Since Zoone is about the nexus of the multiverse, where travelers from many different worlds cross paths, it was a no-brainer to introduce a suitcase as a prop. In addition to being a great “set piece”, I knew a suitcase offered one other advantage: I could fill it full of MORE stuff—even display copies of my books.

The problem

We actually have quite a few vintage suitcases in our house, but most of them are quite big, and many are a little tired. In other words, they’re not that sturdy anymore. My suitcase would have to be small enough to take as carry-on for a flight and be durable enough to survive lugging around to schools, libraries, bookstores, and conferences.

Scouring websites wasn’t that helpful. You can buy vintage suitcases online, but I knew I’d need to see the item in order to know if it would work. So, that meant scouring local antique stores. Which I did! At one point, I was even picking my way through the overflow storage of a shop, sussing out what they had squirreled away.

The chosen one

I eventually found a case at a store called Baker Dozen’s Antiques on Main Street in Vancouver. They had a good selection of suitcases, and I decided to go for this little fella:

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It was a little beat up (no problem!), but it was the right size. I took it home, began cleaning it up . . . and that’s when I decided that I needed to give it a retrofit.

The project

It wasn’t long before I decided I needed to “Zooneify” the suitcase. Especially the inside, which, on closer inspection, turned out to be pretty gross. It had cloth lining, some of it stained, and emitting that sort of pervasive stench that sticks with cloth and felt after eons untold.

So, Step One was to gut the interior.

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I put so much “knuckle-grease” into this project, that I didn’t even realize that I had bashed up my hand, tugging and yanking on the lining. It looked like I had gotten into a fight:

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When I was done gutting the suitcase (and bashing up my hand), I was left with rough, exposed wood that showed staples and nails. I’d have to make my own new, lining. But before I got into that, I decided to turn my attention to the outside of the case.

Painting the case

My original plan had been to cover the suitcase with these vintage-style travel stickers I had created to go along with my book. But prop building is always the same for me: In for a penny, in for a pound. I now decided that the color of the suitcase wasn’t ideal, and that I would paint it.

Zoone Station is described in the book as being turquoise, so that’s the color I chose. I had never painted a suitcase before, or this type of material, so I did some research on finding the best kind of paint and ended up going with some premium satin acrylic paint that I could buy at the local craft store.

Then I began painting . . .

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All the extras

As I said above, in for a penny, in for a pound. I decided I wanted to add some metal embellishments to the case: hinges (it didn’t have any), corners, and a steampunk-style gear on the front. I collected these places from all over the place: the craft store, the hardware store, and the Internet.

Unfortunately, they were all different colors, including the locking mechanism that was already on the case.

That meant, painting all the bits so that they at least looked close. I ended up painting the bits with black enamel model paint, then brushing over with another type of metallic acrylic paint to give everything a vintage coppery feel.

For the gear, I decided this would be the wizardly version of a combination lock. I found a brad with a “Z” embellishment, which I used to attach the gear to the case. Yes, the gear actually spins.

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What’s inside counts

The entire time I was painting and working on the exterior, I was strategizing what to do with the inside. I knew I could make a simple lining using illustration board, but I didn’t want to just paint it a plain color. I decided it needed a bit more flare.

I tried finding samples of wallpaper, but this turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Most stores don’t carry it in quantity and buying online was a challenge because I couldn’t actually see the scale of the pattern. Shelf liners would have been a good option, but it seems that most of the ones in stock around the city are either clear or fake wood.

I finally ended up using scrapbooking paper, spray gluing it to the illustration board, then adding a veneer of mod-podge to protect it and stiffen it up.

I agonized over some of the patterns and options, but finally ended up going with something that had a subtle polkadot design. After all, I knew I would be filling the case full of wizardry items, and didn’t want the pattern itself to be too distracting.

The final touches

Once the outside was painted and the inside lined, I could add all the accoutrements, inside and out. That meant affixing the metal embellishments. Then I added my vintage travel stickers and started figuring out what sort of things would go inside the case.

My idea is that this case would belong to a wizard on his way to the Convention of Wizardry that is taking place at Zoone during the events of the book. That means a bunch of whimsical items to suggest and hint at his character.

Most of the props I fashioned myself, such as the miniature bestiary book, the dragon egg, the dragon scale, and the fox-box full of charms. I will probably add a few more things as we go along.

This will also serve as a great inspiration for classroom visits; students can imagine the character who owns this case and write a profile and story about him.

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And, of course, it will make a great display the next time I’m at a book store or conference and displaying my books!

All the things worth worrying about—and the things that are not

secret_of_zoone_coverI’ve been a little anxious lately in advance of the release of my new book, The Secret of Zoone, worried about ALL THE THINGS. Will the book sell? What if it “fails?” This is my first book with a big New York house. What if this is my only shot, and I blow it?

Then, yesterday, I had an uplifting and grounding experience when I visited Meadowridge School to deliver a presentation and workshop.

First of all, there were so many joyful faces, so many kids dressed in beautiful, colorful clothes for Lunar New Year. One of these kids was a student who took my creative writing class last year. I can’t believe I bumped into her in such a giant school! She called me from down the hall, then came and hugged me. She was with her mom, who insisted that we take a photo together.

Afterward, I delivered my presentation and workshop to some pretty enthusiastic fans of Kendra Kandlestar. One girl came with her hair in Kendra’s seven braids and a boy came as Professor Bumblebean (and he talked like him throughout our workshop session, too!).

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It was pretty overwhelming to receive their outpouring of love for Kendra. Their joy as we workshopped together was palpable. We wrote “visual stories” and were having so much fun that I lost track of the time—and I guess they did, too, because we went right through recess (there’s no bells at the school).

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Then, as I was packing up all my dragon eggs and other magical items I had brought to inspire the crew, I noticed a book on display on the library bookshelf. It was a book written a few years ago by another student under my mentorship. It was so cool to see it so prominently featured there, and I thought how it must inspire all these other kids who come to visit the library.

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As I drove home, I contemplated, not for the first time, what it means to be a children’s author, and how strange it is to release something into the world that you then completely lose control of. These kids have a relationship with Kendra Kandlestar that transcends ALL THE THINGS. They could care less how many other kids have read it, how many copies it has sold, or if it was written a kajillion years ago.

I don’t know if these kids—or any kids—will love my new characters of Ozzie, and Tug, and Fidget in the way that these kids love Kendra, Oki, and Captain Jinx. But there will probably be a few. And that is humbling.

 

 

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

I had the joy of starting off the new year in a fun way: by leading a “Dragon Masters” camp for tweens.

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The camp was hosted by the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) and involved sculpting dragon scales, painting gemstones, drawing fantastical creatures, and—of course—writing about dragons, too!

One of the best aspects of this three-day camp is that I had only 15 students, which meant that we could really immerse ourselves in the activities and I had a lot of one-on-one time with each one of the kids. Many of them had worked with me in the past, so it was a fun way to reconnect with them.

“I Am” poetry

The first activity we worked on was a pair of point-of- view poems. Students brainstormed two characters, one a thief trying to steal something from a dragon’s lair, and the other a dragon who was being threatened by the theft. The students wrote one poem from each perspective.

To help with this activity, we sculpted our own dragon scales, prompting many of the students to choose this as the item that the thief would steal from the creature. Of course, the students had to come up with a reason for the theft and the response from the dragon.

One thing about sculpting, is that it’s good thinking time for writers! While the kids sculpted, they could work out some ideas for their writing. But, of course, the sculpting project in itself was a lot of fun.

Sculpting dragon scales

Here are some photos of the scales in progress. We started with plastic shapes cut from a soda bottle, then plastered them. Some students opted to sculpt ridges or shapes into their design; others decided to do a flat surface, leaving the detailing for the next phase.

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We actually had to let the scales dry overnight, but by the next morning they were ready for the students to add more detail by bejweling them (if they chose). By using acrylic gems, the students were able to add intricate detail and give their scales texture. By using the strips of acrylic gems (available at any dollar store), you can gain some uniformity, too.

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Afterwards, we painted the scales with mod podge, to help bind everything together.

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The last step was painting. I find that painting everything with a black base provides a rich undercoat; once this coat is dry, students can dry brush on a variety of metallic colors to help achieve that dragonish feel.

Of course, each student had a very specific idea for what their dragons looked like, or the type of environment they lived in, so their scales were design to match these concepts.

Here are a few of the completed projects:

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Developing a story

After the students had explored the point-of-view poems, I had them choose one of the points of view, either the dragon or the thief, and then develop that perspective into a longer, more conventional story.

The poems were more about capturing character emotion, but the story provided the students with an opportunity to flesh out a plot.

I led the students in some brainstorming exercises and provided them with some vocabulary words to help invigorate their stories. (Honestly, I’m tired of my students overusing the word “run” so we worked hard on developing a list of alternate ways to describe how characters such as dragons and thieves might move.)

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Gems of sorcery

One of the other projects that we worked on was painting glass cabochons to look like magical gems. The idea here was that these gems could be found in a dragon’s lair or a character could already be in possession of them and use them to train or communicate with a dragon.

The project is pretty simple; all you have to do is paint on the backside of the cabochons with fingernail paint. Abstract designs work well and are easy to do, though some of my students tried their hand at painting dragon eyes.

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Welcome to the Dragon Races

One of the challenges of teaching a camp is making sure students always have something to work on. Everyone creates at a different pace, and I like to have everyone work organically, which means instead of developing a checklist of projects that MUST be completed, I just have a cauldron of projects to choose from once we start getting close to the end.

For the final day of our camp, I brought in my own custom-made dragon eggs to inspire extra stories about dragon’s hatching.

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And, finally, for those students who had written, sculpted, and painted everything I had them finish off by imagining there was a dragon race coming up and had them illustrate posters.

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This turned out to be a really successful camp. I want to thank the organizers and my two assistants, Jamie and Chelsea, who helped the kids work on their art projects and did a lot of the clean up. Jamie and Chelsea have been students of mine in the past and it’s really gratifying to see them step into a different role.

Next step? We’ve collected all the students’ writing and drawings and we’ll be publishing them in a short anthology.

The kids are all right: in which my students get published

The kids are all right: in which my students get published

I’m just wrapping up another term of creative writing classes for tweens and teens through CWC (the creative writing for children society).

Publishing books for kids

One of the unique things about our program is that we publish our students’ writing in the form of professionally-bound books.

In the Fall term, we publish anthologies, and I’ve recently mocked up the cover that we plan to use for the individual classes:

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Digital publication on amazon

Our Spring term is a little different. In that term, each students get to work on publishing an individual book. Many kids choose to write a chapter novel, though we also have some who choose to work on a collection of short stories or poems.

Certain students who have been with our program for multiple terms choose to also publish their books on amazon, so I thought I would share the covers and purchase links of those students who published books in 2018.

All proceeds go to support education of kids in developing countries (CWC is currently providing financial support for several teenaged girls in Guatemala, helping them complete their high school education).

Without further adieu, here is our latest series of books . . .

Realm, by Chloe Kang

The first time I met Chloe I knew she was a writer. You’ll never see her without a book clutched in her hands and her enthusiasm for writing bursts from every pore. She’s a lover of fantasy, so it’s no surprise that she crafted a book about a character stuck in a pixelated realm . . .

BUY THIS BOOK

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Mosaic, by Yongsuh Lee

Youngsuh Lee and was inspired by her volunteering with immigrant children from Southeast Asia in Seoul and observing the changing fabric of Korean society.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Undefined, by Cassandra Feltrin

Cassandra is a gifted middle-school student who wrote a dystopian thriller. She’s just one of those students that seems to shine in everything she does.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Unconditional, by Rosie (Jimin) You

Rosie, one of our long-time students in Korea, wrote a book of poetry. She was always a very poetic soul, even as a young kid, and now she’s coming into her own as a teenager.

The other neat thing about this book is that Rosie took all the photographs that appear alongside her words.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Twisted, by Avary Fawcett

Avary is one of your current young stars, skilled at twists, turns, and clever characterizations.

BUY THIS BOOK

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The 10 Dimensions, by Brian Leong

Brian is one of our youngest authors to be published. He is a passionate advocate for kids in developing countries, so is really pleased that all proceeds for his book will go to help those in need.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Salvatore, by Andrew Marzec

Andrew is another one of our long-time students. I first met him and his twin sister when they were only in Grade 3 and their passion for writing and creativity was on full display then. Now, they are teenagers!

BUY THIS BOOK

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Living In Secrets, by Rachel Kwon

Rachel is another one of our current CWC stars; a thoughtful young writer always striving to improve her craft. I am so proud to have been her mentor.

BUY THIS BOOK

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The Darkness is Just the Light in Hiding, by Elyse Nah

Elyse is one of our long-time students based in Oregon—and she’s an extremely gifted writer. She has a natural storytelling voice and a talent for creating memorable characters.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Murder with Lies, by Sarah Marzec

Sarah is yet another one of our long-time students—I first met her and her twin brother when she was only in Grade 3! She is a talented and thoughtful writer.

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