Blasting off for Galaxy Camp

All systems go! I’m jetting out tomorrow for Korea where I’ll be teaching at two creative writing camps for writers aged 9-16. First up is Galaxy Camp, where my young padawans will engage in a host of exciting activities, including:

  • Designing and building robots that they will then write about
  • Writing an intergalactic postcard
  • Create a constellation and then write a myth about it
  • Seek evidence of alien life and then write a journalistic news article about it
  • Engage in a role-playing game in which a group of Jedi crash on a strange world, only to discover that one of them is a Sith traitor.

Each student will also be given an intergalactic journal complete with a set of special stamps so that they can chronicle their week.

Best if all, I’m bringing R2D2 along for the ride. He’s not to happy about being stuffed into my carry-on . . . but then again, when is he EVER happy?

Galaxy Camp Supplies

I affectionately call him “Three Tusks”

Here’s a sketch I did yesterday for the new Kendra Kandlestar book. This is one of the more dramatic scenes in the book, in which the City on the Storm is attacked by an army of Ungers. Kendra finds herself in hand-to-hand combat with one particularly nasty beast with one extra tusk jutting from his crooked mouth.

Sketch of Kendra facing Three Tusks

You’ll also notice that Kendra is sporting a new hair-do! She still has braids; they’re just more hidden.

What do they call Een heaven?

These are the types of questions readers ask me and the ones that I can spends days (or weeks) pondering. Whenever I’m on a quest for the perfect name (whether it be character, place, or thing) I chronicle it in my sketchbook. Here’s the results of the brainstorming for Een heaven:

Brainstorming for Een heaven.

Yes, somewhere on this page is what the Eens call their concept of the afterlife. It turns out that this idea is going to be very central in Kendra Kandlestar 5—so much so that I think this word just may play a role in the title of the new book. But I’m not quite ready to reveal that yet!

New artwork for the Knights of Winter

A few weeks ago, I posted some sketches for the Knights of Winter, a group of character that plays an important role in the new Kendra Kandlestar book. I’ve since inked a final version.

The Knights of Winter

We’ve had a glimpse of the badger, Timmons Thunderclaws, in Kendra Kandelstar and the Crack in Kazah, but this is the first introduction of the other members of the Knights of Winter: Mercy Moonwing, Paipo Plumpuddle, and Joymus Jinglehoot.

I’ll admit that these last three characters were all named after real people. I rarely do such a thing, but since this is the last Kendra book and the epic scale of the book requires a host of new characters . . . well, why not?

Finding your voice

I’m soon off to Korea to teach at a couple of writing camps and so have been working hard to prepare some of the material. One of the workshops I’m excited to teach is about voice. I’ve always loved a strong narrative voice. It’s the number one thing that hooks me. Similarly, if a book—especially a children’s book—lacks a strong voice, then I am completely turned away. There are numerous examples of very successful and popular books that just haven’t grabbed me because of their lack of voice. Which means, of course, that not everyone is so attached to voice as me.

Nonetheless, every author needs to find that individual way of telling a story. Me? I’ve always told the Kendra Kandlestar books in that old-fashioned style, as if your grandfather has sat you down in front of the fireplace and decided to tell you a tale. (Some reviewers criticize me for this style; others love it.) However, I’ve always changed my voice when it came to writing down the legends of Een.

These sections of the series have been some of my favourite to write. They are purposely in a completely different style and voice. I wanted to give the legends weight and history, so I drew upon classical works such as The Old Testament, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Iliad for inspiration. Here’s  the Legend of the Wizard Greeve (this appears in The Door to Unger):

In the Days of Een, when all were one, goodness flourished in the lands and the race of Eens knew only happiness. In those ancient times, there came to be the first council of Elders. Upon seven seats in the Elder Stone sat seven Elders, and they were all brothers. For many seasons, these first Elders guided the Eens wisely; but one brother, the Wizard Greeve, came to know envy and hatred. He desired to lord power over his brethren and so he used his dark arts to plot against them.

But one of the brothers, the Elder Longbraids, discovered the treachery of the wizard Greeve. And so it came to pass that six brothers turned against one; and they banished Greeve from the lands of Een.

To the north did the dark wizard journey, to the verdant plains, rushing rivers, and lush forests did he carry his wickedness. And there did he construct a temple, a deep underground maze that served as a terrible monument to his fiendish heart; and in that place the plants withered, the rivers shrank, and the great trees fell. That place became a wasteland and there, in that jumble of rock and ruin, did the heart of the wizard Greeve swell with hunger for revenge against his brothers.

 And so it came to pass that the Wizard Greeve devised a plot to triumph over the remaining Elders of Een. Each of them did he vanquish with his dark arts, each of them knew his dark heart—save for one. The lone survivor, the Elder Longbraids, fled to Een, his beloved land, his heart afflicted by his brother’s deed. And now did Elder Longbraids seal off the land of Een by the spell of the magic curtain, a great barrier he did create so that the land might be protected from the hideous monsters that came to skitter or crawl or slither across the wide earth. The  wizard Greeve, his heart was not soothed after exacting revenge upon his brothers. His hatred remains yet, in that wretched place, and all who trespass there come to know the curse of Greeve . . .

>>> But here’s the question: How do you teach voice?

Well, I’m not sure you can teach it. All I’m going to try and do is demonstrate what it is and coax my students into trying to explore their individual styles. One of the things I thought I could do is take the above myth and rewrite it in a different voice. So, here is the first part of the “The Legend of the Wizard Greeve” modernized . . .

Ages back, when there was sunlight and everyone in the land was feeling “lad-dee-da,” the Eens were feeling alright. Back then, there were these old fellas, seven of them, hanging out in this Elder Stone and they were all bros. For a long time they were just hanging out, ruling and everything, but then one of the fellas who went by the handle “Grendel Greeve” became wicked-bad. He was greedy and wanted some coin. So he tried to cheat his bros.

But then one of the bros, this fella with long hair that they called Leemus Longbraids, he was all like “get out of my face.” And so the six bros all agreed to chuck that jerk bro out of Een. 

Well, the new version needs some work. It’s not very consistent. That’s the problem with switching voice! It just isn’t easy. Maybe I’ll spend some more time on it . . . but really, I should get back to writing Kendra Kandlestar 5!

A big key to success . . .

. . . is help! So I’d like to send out a big shout-out to everyone who helped out with a recent amazon Kindle promotion for Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger. Kendra was able to reach a lot of new readers and it’s all due to the networking help of different readers.

There are so many blogs and twitter feeds who have helped out, but in particular I’d like to mention the help of fellow creators (and friends!) Marcie Nestman, Stephanie Lisa Tara, James McCann, Kallie George, and kc dyer. Also, the website was a big help. If you’re an author and looking for promotional help, you might want to visit them.

Now it’s time for me to get back writing Kendra Kandlestar 5! Hopefully there will be more updates soon.

The Power of doodling: How I found the idea for The Door to Unger

I’ve been posting a lot of the sketches and artwork for the fifth Kendra Kandlestar book, but since amazon has a promotion to download Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger for free this week, I thought I would post one of the earliest sketches that inspired that book.

The whole idea for the plot of Door to Unger came from doodling. See, originally, I had NO idea for the book. I had written and published The Box of Whispers, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to write another Kendra book. I didn’t really have a specific idea or direction in mind. I began brainstorming, but nothing was really sticking. I remember thinking that I might even focus a sequel on Honest Oki, making him the central character instead of Kendra.

Well, the summer that all of this was floating around in my mind, I found myself in England. With all of its castles and dungeons, it’s a fantastic place for inspiration—especially when you’re writing a fantasy book. Strangely, however, I wasn’t traipsing through the maze at Hampton Court or up the Tower of London when I was struck with that magic bolt of inspiration. I was out in the country, sitting on a beach in Cornwall, staring out at the sea and the rocks. I had my sketchbook with me and I just began doodling. That’s when I came up with this sketch:

Concept sketch for Trooogul and Kendra

I’m not sure WHY I drew this picture. It wasn’t connected to any existing idea floating around in my coconut at the time. But as soon as I was finished this particular sketch, something sparked inside of me. By this picture I couldn’t tell if Kendra was being saved or stolen. And then I realized that she didn’t know it either. And that, in essence, became the nugget of the story.

I’m not sure how many times drawing has saved me when it comes to writing. But this is one of the best examples of just how connected my writing process is to drawing.

Oh! I should mention that this illustration turned out to be the focal element of the print edition cover. But that is another story . . .

My obsession with doors

With the current amazon promotion (you can download Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger for FREE until July 8th) I’ve been thinking a lot about doors. There are all sorts of doorways in The Door to Unger, and a lot of them were inspired by my travels. I just love finding doorways and taking photographs of them. In fact, my friends have been known to tease me for taking close-ups of these portals, but the truth is I find them just so fascinating.

In any case, here are some of my favourite doors from around the world (they are in no particular order) . . .

This one is at Alahumbra in Spain.


Just a cute little red church door I passed by during my last trip to New York City.


These opulent doors adorn the Grand Palace in Bangkok.


This is the detail of a door knocker at Heavenly Park in Beijing.


This is just a door to the delightful “Iron Fairy”—a restaurant in Bangkok. Inside, they also have a secret door, hidden as a bookshelf (though it was too dark for me to take a photo of it).


This is a door knocker detail from a palace in Korea (though I can’t remember which one; it may have been Kyeong-bok).


I loved this ornamentation on this door at the parliament buildings in Ottawa.


This one reminded me of a face. It can be found at a church in Prague.


I think some of my favourite doors are the old wooden ones. This one is at the cathedral in Salisbury.


From Shanghai Alley in Vancouver, this brightly coloured door evoked a sense of mystery.


This doorway is at the cathedral in St. Albans. I don’t know why; every time I see this photo, I think of Narnia.


This is another door at St. Albans.


The very austere and intimidating door at St. Paul’s, London.


This is a hidden doorway at the walls around Suwan. It’s designed in such a way so that you can’t see it easily from the outside; defenders can quickly zip inside their walls, leaving pursuers or attackers confused.


These doors can be found at Watpho in Bangkok.


Finally, how about a place badly in need of a door? The summer I was writing the Door to Unger, I visited the maze at Hampton Court in England and tried to find my way out. (I did, but not after a bit of confusion!)