The name game

Kendra Kandlestar costume.Today I was visiting a school in Vancouver where we worked on crafting some dastardly characters in my “So you think you’re a villain?” workshop. I’ve visited this school before and they are great supporters of Kendra Kandlestar—as evidenced in this photo of one teacher’s costume from last Halloween. Isn’t it great?

It was truly wonderful to meet so many young Kendra fans today, and I was reminded of my last visit to this school. It was while I was right in the middle of writing Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve. Well, on that particular day, I was working with students on designing this monstrous character and the name that the kids came up with was “Squaggle.” I LOVED that name—so much so that I asked them if I could use it for a character in my Kendra book.

Thankfully, they said “yes!” As you can see by the sketch below, Captain Dirtybeard’s first mate (a Gnome pirate) was originally going to be called “Bort.” Yes, it was just a little too Swedish. So I switched his name to Squaggle. It fits him much better . . . don’t you think?

I’m off to Ottawa next week to teach even more villainy . . . look out, nation’s capital!



When we were young

Young Uncle GriffinskitchAs far I’m concerned, character is the cornerstone of any story. And, as anyone who has been, I put a lot of work into my characters. I spend countless hours on drawing them, inventing their names, and developing a “history” for them. Of course, many of these aspects of character development don’t make it into the final books . . . but they help me immensely.

Here’s a perfect example: a sketch of Uncle Griffinskitch in his younger days. He wasn’t always hunched and crooked, you know!

You can see in this sketch that his staff is shorter, more wand-like, and he even has a scattering of hair on the top of his head. His beard of course, was not half so long, and was dark brown. I’m not sure, but I think he might have worn a Gandalf-type wizard’s hat. Oh, but one thing has always been the same with Uncle Griffinskitch. Ask him a question—then and now—and he will “humph!”

Eens Like Us

Teen Een.Last week in my writing class, I was showing my students the sketches and final inked version (shown right) of the new character, “the Teen Een,” that will play a prominent role in Kendra Kandlestar IV.

Little did I know that it had left quite the impression on them. This week, Julia showed up wearing a hood. Of course, I didn’t quite realize why at first. But finally, half-way through our book discussion (we’re reading The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo), I finally stopped and said, “Julia, why are you wearing that hood!?” To which she shyly replied, “I have something to show you, Mr. Wiz.”

So off came the hood and there, to my great delight, was a delightful head of Een braids! Awesome! It was the perfect hairstyle for that specific class, as we went on to brew and concoct our own magic potions. And, as far as I’m concerned, when one is making a magic potion, one should have Een hair.

Julia's Een braids.

Julia's braids and potion

As kids see it

Rory's drawing of Agent LurkI was thrilled to receive this drawing of Agent Lurk from a fan the other day. It’s pretty good, don’t you think? I suppose I have someone to finish off the illustrations now if I suddenly decide to retire!

I always love it when kids draw my characters. I suppose it’s something I remember doing as a young person; I was forever drawing my favourite characters. To think that someone wants to draw the characters that I created in my coconut is a little humbling (and a whole lot of fun).

Receiving this drawing of Agent Lurk made me think of the illustration I’m working on right now for Kendra Kandlestar IV. You see, I’m trying to capture what he looks like under the hood. I’ve got a few sketches, but now I’m trying to tidy them up and ink them. It’s tricky business; it will be a surprise to most of you what he looks like under that dark hood and I have to get it just right . . .

Authors Like Us: Susan Juby

Authors Like UsWe’ve just posted our latest podcast, a feature interview with author Susan Juby. Susan is one of those people I instantly like; she’s funny, intelligent, and self-deprecating all in one delightful package.

If you’ve never heard Susan speak before, you’re in for a real treat. I think James and just might have met our match!

You can check out the interview by clicking here, or subscribe to the Authors Like Us podcast on iTunes.

The Writing Rumble

Well, there was no writing for ME today—just for the ninety or so students I met today at my workshops. I delivered two different workshops: So You Think You’re a Villain? and The Writing Rumble.

I was particularly happy to teach the Writing Rumble, which takes on the challenge of teaching young writers how to craft a fight scene that is full of action and excitement—without all the gratuitous gore.

The Writing Rumble

In my experience, a lot of young students—especially boys—are told to just write without violence as a way to avoid this tricky problem. What I try to do is address it a different way, and show that writing a compelling battle takes a lot of skill and work. After all, it’s not violence that readers want—it’s an engaging story.

Kendra KandlestarI’ve always thought of Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve as my “battle” book, so it serves a great model for this workshop. As part of this workshop, I ask the students to take a quiz to discover what type of warrior they would be if they suddenly found themselves in the Rumble Pit. You can take it too! Just visit the activity page on the Kendra Kandlestar website by clicking here.