Welcome to Whoville

Whoville.I’m used to visiting magical worlds in my head, but while vacationing in the wintery Okanagan Valley this past week, I felt as if I had visited Whoville.

The heavy snowfall made all the trees bend and round, just as if they had been drawn for a Dr. Seuss cartoon, making the scenery appear truly magical . . .

It all just goes to show that no matter where you go, or what you do, you can find inspiration—I’m pretty sure some of these vistas will end up in a future story.

Skating

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

Skating.

Snowshoeing

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Inspirations from The Hobbit

With all the recent hype surrounding the theatrical release of  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I find myself recalling my early inspirations for Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. It was ten years ago and I had just finished writing my first published book, Corranda’s Crown (thankfully now out of print!). I wasn’t sure what I would write next, so I just ended up doing a lot of painting. One of the pieces I produced was this one:

The Painting inspired by The Hobbit that inspired Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers

This painting clearly riffs on The Hobbit, a story that has fascinated me since I was a boy. Truth be told, my first connection to Tolkien’s world was not through his books, but through the wonderful animated version of The Hobbit that was made in the 1970s. Over the years, I was exposed not only to the books, but to all of the wonderful artwork that was produced of Middle Earth.

Myth & Magic: The Art of John HoweAs an interesting side note, the premier illustrator of Tolkien’s world, John Howe, is Canadian by birth and, in fact, spent some of his youth in the same rural community—Keremeos—that my mom grew up in. If you want to explore Howe’s visionary take, then I encourage you to find a copy of the wonderful book, Myth & Magic: The Art of John Howe.

In any case, at the time I produced my humble painting, I had just re-read The Hobbit, so images of Middle Earth were vividly dancing in my imagination. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t thinking that my painting would lead to a book; I was just painting for fun. Don’t ask me how or why I chose the particular characters who are sneaking past the dragon. I just followed my whimsy and ended up with this peculiar gang of misfits.

When the painting was completed, I hung it on my studio wall, as is my custom, and left it there for a few weeks to see if I liked it. Funny thing is, I found myself concocting a little tale in my imagination to go along with it. I began asking myself, “Who are these characters?” And, “What’s inside that mysterious box?”

Detail of concept painting inspired by The Hobbit.

Well, the next thing I knew, I was answering these questions in my sketchbook. Then, to cut a long story short, I ended up writing Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. Alternate cover for Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of WhispersNot all of these original characters survived my writing process to make it into the final book. You can probably guess that the rabbit became Kendra Kandlestar, but I wonder if you can find the precursors of Uncle Griffinskitch or Professor Bumblebean?

I never thought about my audience at the time, but Kendra Kandlestar has ended up being a sort of Hobbit for kids. The publisher thought it would be ages 8-12, but really, it’s turned out to be more for 7-11, with many parents and teachers reading it to their five- and six-year-olds. I suppose it’s all of the illustrations that call down to those younger kids.

There have been comparisons to the later books in the Kendra series to Lord of the Rings (I think Agent Lurk and Trooogul obsessing over the shard from Greeve has something to with that). Personally, I tend to think those books owe more to Star Wars than anything else . . . but I’ll leave you to be judge of that.

The Force of Folding

I just wrapped up a few creative writing classes in which we were studying the Origami Yoda books. For the uninitiated, these are fantastic middle-grade books by author Tom Angleberger. There are three books so far: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and—the latest—The Secret of the Fortune Wookie (featuring my all-time favourite character).

Speaking of fortune, I’ve had the great joy to meet Tom Angleberger in person. He is certainly full of the Force, which you can tell if you listen to the interview we did in 2011. 

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Darth Paper Strikes Back The Secret of the Fortune Wookie

One of the best things about the Origami Yoda books is that they offer teachers lots of great hands-on activities, foremost of which is Star Wars Origami. I thought I would post some pictures of some of my students’ creations.

Origami Star Wars

Origami Star Wars

Origami Star Wars

Origami Star Wars

Origami Star Wars

Origami Star Wars

By the way, I hope the next book involves Boba Fett (or whatever the origami equivalent of his name will be)!

The Secret of the Fortune Wookie

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen ~ Update!

Kendra KandlestarI just finished my first complete version of my manuscript for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, start to finish.

I actually completed it a few days ago, then woke up in the night and decided to rewrite the critical end scene. I worked on it for an afternoon, decided to go back to my original—and then rewrote it again to create a sort of hybrid for the two different versions. I’m still not sure about it, but I’ve left it with my “trusted others” to see what they think. Personally? I feel like the end is a bit like a Shakesperian play, with this character and that all entering and exiting the “stage” at one point or another. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

There has been a lot to accomplish in this last book in the series. I want to make sure that all the favourite characters have their moment in the spotlight, and I want to also make sure we (the readers and me) are able to bade farewell to certain settings or elements of the series too.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that I’m finished the book. There will be many edits and perhaps some major rewrites of certain scenes. And there are many illustrations to do as well . . . over a hundred!

Nonetheless, a certain milestone has been reached, so I get to celebrate Ald Meryn’s Eve with a certain peace of mind.

Writing with impressionism

Student impressionist paintingAs part of my “Picture Perfect” class that I’m teaching this term, I recently rolled out an interesting activity to help my students understand the creative process.

The focus of the program is to find inspiration for creative writing through a study of art history. During our unit on Impressionism, I asked my students (ranging in age from 9-13) to choose a personal photograph and then produce a painting in the style of Impressionism. I was surprised to see that they found this difficult. Many of them love Impressionist art, but their instinct and desire was to paint realistically. I kept asking them to break free from this constraint and to stop painting what they saw, but what they felt.

Student impressionist paintingThis caused a lot of frustration and more than one student completely painted over the canvases they had just spent a long time labouring over. Personally, I loved witnessing this. It reminded me of the writing process, of ripping a page out of notebook and throwing it away (unfortunately, hitting the “delete” button on a keyboard these days isn’t quite as satisfying). The point is this: Just because you spend a long time on something doesn’t mean you should keep it. For younger students, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Mostly, I find they assume that you achieve success in writing by spending an allotted amount of time on a piece. But, of course, when it comes to art—whether it be writing, painting, acting (you name it)—this isn’t true. There is not magical equation of time for achieving artistic greatness.

As an illustrator, I’ve completely scrapped drawings and done them over from scratch. As a writer, I’ve written entire scenes, chapters, and sections of a book that must be deleted because, even after all those hours of work, they just don’t flow with the overall narrative. I’ve learned to detach myself from the time part of the equation. I just worry about making sure I’m satisfied with the end result. (Though, I suppose, I’m never completely satisfied—but that is a subject best pondered later, at another time).

The other interesting aspect of this painting activity is that it allowed my students to write an interesting story in which a character is described in the act of painting. Having the experience of painting themselves, my students could describe the act with more truthful description and emotion.

And, of course, the paintings turned out well too, as you can see below.

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Student impressionist painting

Wishing you a happy Yoda Yulefest

This weekend is the annual “Yoda Yulefest” party we host each year. Authors, artists, actors and all those otherwise creatively inclined will descend upon our merry little home to celebrate the season. In advance, the Padawans and I have been busy making preparations, baking cookies and decorating the house.

Here’s this year’s edition of Santa Yoda cookies:

yodacookies2012_m&c

yodacookies2012

Our tree features many Yoda decorations, including this, the ultimate tree-topper.

Yoda tree topper

Plus, we have some fun dioramas. We figure Jawas and Ewoks are pretty much the Star Wars equivalent of Santa’s Elves . . .

yodayuletide-santac3po&reindeerR2D2

Yuletide diorama

The night will feature some Star Wars holiday music and, as is tradition, the annual reading of ‘Twas the Night before Yulefest, which you can read here by clicking on my post from last year.

Happy Yoda Yulefest to one and all!