Explore the land tucked between the cracks of Here and There

Yesterday, I announced the new editions of the Kendra Kandlestar books are being reissued by Simply Read Books. Part of this process has involved giving a facelift to the official Kendra Kandlestar website.

The site now better matches the look and feel of the new editions. It has a cleaner look and interface and, best of all, an expanded “Eencyclopedia” that allows fans of the series to explore characters, places, items of magic, and more. There’s also updated teacher guides and activities available . . . so if you want to design your own world, make an Oki shadow puppet, or decode a secret message, then it’s all there, waiting for you!

Oh, and while visiting, you just may want to send off an Een-mail.



A new journey for Kendra Kandlestar

Kendra Kandlestar Reads

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while, but now I’m pleased to make it official: the Kendra Kandlestar series is getting a new life with a new publisher.

Simply Read Books is taking over the series, republishing books 1-4 with a new look and feel, and preparing to publish the fifth and final installment of the series, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

Simply Read Books is known not only for books with beautiful words, but books with beautiful design and artwork. They have redesigned the Kendra Kandlestar covers to give them a fresh look (and to add the series number to the spines!). I particularly like the new title design, which was created by Sara Gillingham.

I am also thankful to be working with the Simply Read editor (and my long-time colleague) Kallie George on the series. In truth, she has contributed in one way or the other to Kendra Kandlestar’s journey along the way, so now her ideas, guidance, and support become more substantive and official.

The new print editions of The Box of Whispers (Book 1) and The Door to Unger (Book 2) are officially available NOW, with The Shard from Greeve (Book 3) and The Crack in Kazah (Book 4) to follow in Spring 2014.

Book 5 is scheduled to be released in Fall 2014. I’ll make an official announcement of the release date for Book 5 when we have it, but, er . . . that date is partly dependent on me finishing the book. Which I’m working hard to do. Really!

Part of the reason I haven’t been able to finish Book 5 as quickly as planned is the work I’ve had to do to produce the new editions of the first four books. Each book had to be re-read, re-edited, and get some design facelifts, which required my involvement along the way. There have been some artwork additions and replacements as well. In short, the author part of me wanted to tweak some of the words and the illustrator part of me wanted to update some of the illustrations that I just wasn’t quite happy with. All in all, some of the wrinkles have been ironed out!

But don’t worry, no plot points have been changed—it’s the same story it has always been . . . a story of a misfit girl yearning for just a little bit more. Oh, and there’s a whole pile of monsters too.



In the den of the enemy . . .

Here’s an illustration I recently finished for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

This is a depiction of a pivotal scene in the book, one I talked about writing in a previous post. Here, Kendra finds herself inside the lair of her antagonist, Shuuunga the Unger witch.

I was originally going to make this a much more expansive illustration, as you can see in a photo of the unfinished version below:


Ultimately, I decided that the illustration just needed to concentrate on the two characters:


But I did love all Shuuunga’s witchly items, so I decided to turn them into a separate illustration:


Who knows . . . both the illustrations and the words may end up undergoing significant revision yet!

“Publishing Possibilities” at the PNBA in Portland

A big thank you to everyone who turned out to the educational session I hosted with colleague Kallie George at the Pacific National Bookseller Association’s fall tradeshow in Portland, Oregon on October 6th. You never know how these things will turn out, and we were happily surprised to find a packed room. People tend to come and go during these sessions, but my lovely wife Marcie, spying from the audience, said at some points there was standing room only.

Kallie and I spoke on our individual experiences in the publishing world and discussed some of the recent trends that we’ve observed and identified. With our combined experience, we could discuss a range of publishing possibilities; I’ve had some successful experiences self-publishing, while last year Kallie signed a three-book deal with Disney-Hyperion—about as big as it gets in our industry!

Many people were interested in our individual writing processes as well. I’m used to sharing my creative approach with kids all the time, but it’s a little different sharing my charts, plot outlines, and character brainstorming interesting. I suppose I imagine that “grown-up” authors know these tricks already.

This event capped a tour that also  took me to eight libraries and a bookstore. Luckily, trip involved only transportation by car. Why “luckily?” Well, just look at all the gear I ended up taking with me!


I’ve written some blogs about the earlier part of the tour already. Here’s a few shots from our event at the PNBA (purposely without audience) . . .





Torturing Characters 101

I just returned from a nine-day tour that took me to eight libraries, a bookstore, and a conference (which is always scary because it involves talking to—eek—adults). I spent a great deal of my time expounding my opinions on what it means to be a writer. In short, I think it’s mostly about torturing our characters. I always tell my kids, “Don’t feed your characters. Don’t give them warm places to sleep. Your job, really, is to cause them problems.”

This tends to make them laugh or scratch their heads . . . but as soon as I put their imaginations into action, they readily get the point. After all, they may love their Harry Potters, Percy Jackson, and so forth—but what they really want is to see those characters wriggle their way out of trouble! ]

When I’m dealing with a big group, I generally like to do interactive character design. As you can see, the students are rarely kind in creating their creatures . . . In the case below, “Freekalafondo” has a skin issue, a third eye (in his chin), brown teeth (because he uses peanut butter as toothpaste), and a staff that fires magic gumballs. Oh, and the body of a chicken. (That’s mostly to torture ME, since I famously am not a fan of chickens. Unless it’s dinnertime.)


This is a fun activity and works well with larger groups, but I was also fortunate enough on this tour to have some smaller audiences, which allowed me to roll out my interactive mapping workshop. In this activity, we create a character and an item that the character has either lost or had stolen. We put the character and the object in two opposite corners of the page and then send the character off to reclaim said object.

I draw one big map at the front of the audience and, meanwhile, the students draw their own maps, taking inspiration from the group map, but not necessarily copying it. Of course, along the way, I take many suggestions to cause our characters pain. This happens with landscape obstacles and various creatures. When things get TOO tough, I have the kids create a haven for their character where he or she (or it) can meet a mentor figure and receive three helpful items. These can be a combination of sidekicks, talismans, potions . . . anything that helps. As the journey proceeds and we keep mapping the story, these objects get used up. It’s kind of like a video game.

For the group map, I usually use my alter-ego, Mr. Wiz, as the hapless adventurer. For SOME reason, the students delight in torturing me and are never at a lack for suggestions to cause me pain. On this particular tour, sharks seemed to be the pain-de-jour.

Well, the group map is never a work of art. We go quickly and it’s hard for me to keep up with the students’ barrage of ideas. But, as I always explain to them, this activity isn’t about art, but about brainstorming. What we’ve really done by this point is map out an entire plot for a story. All the students need to do then is convert their individual maps into words!



Editing, the good old-fashioned way

Even though I’m currently on a reading tour, I’ve been spending my evenings working hard on editing (and illustrating) Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

I’m at that critical process where I’ve actually printed out the manuscript and am reading it the old-fashioned way, in advance of handing it over to my editor.

I do this with each book, and each time I get to this point, I ask myself the same question: “Do I really need to print it out?” After all, I’ve usually edited the manuscript on screen a dozen times by this point. But, every time I’m surprised at how many serious edits I make at this stage.

So, while it may not be so good for the trees, it’s very good for achieving a better story. Personally, I believe it’s because I’m away from the distraction of my computer screen, and all those pesky red or green squiggly lines telling me that “Trooogul” is not a word and that he has atrocious grammar. (And, yes, I know I can make a custom dictionary . . . but it never seems to be able to keep up with all my character names and their various ways of expressing themselves. Such is the downside of creating your own fantasy world.)

In the case of The Search for Arazeen, I have found myself resculpting a few key scenes during this round of editing. One of these scenes is a critical moment between Kendra and her main antagonist in the novel, Shuuunga, the Unger witch. This scene is a tricky one, as it needs to accomplish a great many things in terms of character development and plot.

I found myself getting a little stuck while editing this scene. As it happened, I had some of the drawings alongside my binder, so I ended up migrating over to one of the illustrations and began sketching anew. Before I knew it—ta da! I had ironed out the wrinkles in the scene.

Of course, I usually draw as part of the brainstorming process, but this might be the first time I’ve ever drawn my way out of conundrum encountered during the editing stage.

In any case, the technique seems to have worked. Of course, my editor may well disagree once she gets her hands on the manuscript. But that’s a battle for another day . . .


Back to the beginning

I’m currently on an author tour of libraries in the Okanagan Valley (about five hours away from Vancouver). Today, I presented in Osoyoos, the town where I spent my entire childhood.

A lot has changed—not least of which is the location of the municipal library! Turns out it has moved from when I was a kid. I hunted it down; low and behold, it’s now in the building where the elementary school used to be.


In fact, it’s actually in the very corner of the building where my classroom was located for three important years of my life. For Grades 4, 5, and 6 I was in a special creative program that meant I was in the same classroom with the same teacher, Mrs. Clough. I often like to think that this is where much of my creativity flourished. So it was pretty special to return. The windows in the photo above are the same ones I used to look out as a kid as part of my daydreaming routine.


Mrs. Clough doesn’t live in Osoyoos anymore either, so I sent a note to her to ask if she knew our old classroom was now the library. She replied to say yes—and pointed out that the very room where I wrote so many stories and books actually now was holding my published books. (Something that hadn’t occurred to me until she mentioned it—but pretty cool.)

Feeling so reminiscent, I took a quick detour after leaving the town to drive past the farm where I spent my teenage years. It’s been a long time since I smelled the scent of apples during harvest time, so that was a moment I enjoyed.


By the way, this is the character we created during the brainstorming portion of my presentation: a slimy, booger-infested creature named Armando. Apparently, he bathes in mud and brushes his teeth with snails. (Blech.) And I’m not sure about the cat. That’s either his buddy—or his lunch.


I guess I have to take some responsibility for his characteristics. After all, during the afternoon, the kids had gazed upon my Een museum, which includes a few disgusting items. Like a dragon’s tooth. And a bottle of fermented goblin eyes. Oh. And an egg. (Well, it’s a skarm egg, but the disgusting part is not that it comes from a skarm, but that it’s an egg—which, as anyone knows, is one of the most vile substances on planet Earth.)