One of my projects this month has been to celebrate the ten-year-anniversary of The Box of Whispers, the first book in my Kendra Kandlestar series.
In an earlier post, I talked about how a single painting inspired the premise for the book. What I didn’t say was that it also served as the inspiration for the characters.
That painting, as you can see in the close up below, featured a rabbit, a parakeet, a mouse, a cricket, a gnome-like character, and—of course—the giant dragon.
All of these characters made it into the earliest drafts of the story, which back in 2002 was entitled Luka Long-Ears and the Box of Whispers. That’s right—there was NO Kendra to be found anywhere in those pages. Instead, it was the central character of Luka the rabbit that set off on the frightening journey to recover the precious box, which—by the end of the story—contains her own dark secret.
I loved the character of Luka. But as I began to work more earnestly on the book, I began to feel that the themes and messages of the story were outgrowing little Luka. After all, a rabbit character seemed to fit better with a very young audience, and it was fast becoming apparent to me that the story I was writing was better suited for readers slightly older in age. I felt that the story would be stronger if it was led by a more human-like character.
So, alas, I made the hard decision to change Luka into the Elfish little Kendra. It was a lot of work to make the change, for it involved not only rewriting the story, but—as the illustrator—completely rethinking the visuals of the book. As you can see by the illustrations below, I had already completed several pieces of artwork featuring Luka. Even my original draft of the cover gave the spotlight to the long-eared rabbit!
Here’s a page from my sketchbook, showing some of the early designs for Kendra as an Een:
As for Luka, she did not disappear entirely. Readers who pay close attention will see that Kendra has a lot of rabbit in her character! Not only does she have magical carrot seeds, she also has long braids (instead of long ears), which she tugs fretfully throughout her adventures.
And, for those of you who have paid really close attention, you will still catch a reference to Luka in the book. Eventually, I decided that Luka Long-Ears is a talented tailor living in the Faun’s End. In Book 3, Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve, you can even find a picture of Luka as she sews Kendra’s robe.
Of course, Luka wasn’t the only character to undergo a dramatic change. Originally, Luka’s parental figure wasn’t Uncle Griffinskitch, but her wise old friend Tuttleburg the parakeet. Since the original painting showed Tuttleburg with a wizard’s hat, I made him into a magical bird.
Since Tuttleburg originally filled the role of Kendra’s guardian, he had to do all the important things such as participating in the Council of Elders—though, as a parakeet, he had a perch instead of a chair.
Once I made the decision to replace Luka with Kendra, it seemed to make sense to make Tuttleburg the Uncle figure—and that meant he could no longer be a parakeet.
Interestingly, I had already developed a minor gnome-like character called Wolden Whitebeard. I loved the original illustration of him:
So I decided to promote him to be a main character. So really Tuttleburg and Wolden united to become old Uncle Griffinskitch.
Children often ask me how I came up with the name of Uncle Griffinskitch. I’m afraid the answer is rather silly. He is named after my cat, who goes by Griffin publicly, but to close friends and family is known as Skitch. When Griffin was a kitten, his tiny fuzzy body promised a blissful, short-haired future. Alas, he now sports so much hair that he indeed rivals his fictitious counterpart, Uncle Griffinskitch.
The change from Luka and Tuttleburg to Kendra and Griffinskitch is easily the boldest difference between the early drafts of the manuscript and the final book. However, there were a few other characters who experienced some growth, as it were. If you look back at that original painting, you will see that the gnome character originally held a sword and was fairly old, sporting a gray beard. He was known in my first draft of the book as Grimble Green. But I decided to turn him into a Professor who loved books. As you can see by the illustration below, Grimble Green kept his age for a time, sporting an elder’s beard:
As time went by, I decided that I wanted Uncle Griffinskitch to be the clear elder and leader of our impetuous band of heroes. So Bumblebean became younger and a bit more bumbling.
Of course the other thing the character had lost during his transition was his sword. I needed to find a new warrior to help the heroes in their quest for the Box of Whispers. I decided that the cricket from the original painting—now a grasshopper known as Juniper Jinx—would be the soldier. I thought it would be funny to make the smallest character in the story the strongest.
Jinx now became as tough as the hide of the monsters she would fight throughout the book. Of course, because grasshoppers have more than two arms, I thought it would be a good idea to give her enough weapons for all of her hands. Here’s an early sketch for her:
I suppose Oki, the little mouse, is the only one who really didn’t change through any of the drafts of the story. Not only did he remain timid and smart, he was always the best friend of the story’s heroine. And, of course, he always got to carry the key to the fabled Box of Whispers!