The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Kids respond

This month of October, I’ve been celebrating the ten-year-anniversary of Kendra Kandlestar (the first book in the series, The Box of Whispers, was published in October, 2005).  The celebration culminates on October 31st when I release a new companion book to the series. Kendra Kandlestar: Legends and Lore from the Land of Een will be available as a free download on all digital platforms. Stay tuned for the links!

But back to today’s particular celebration! In previous posts, I’ve discussed the ideas and inspiration for the different elements of the series; today I wanted to celebrate the things that authors have no control over . . . reader response.

I’m very grateful for all of the love that has been thrown Kendra’s way over the past decade. In addition to numerous hand-written letters, Een-mails (very similar to emails; you can send one through kendrakandlestar.com), and notes, I’ve had the joy of receiving all sorts of photos showing fan engagement.

Here’s some of my favorites from over the years, from kids small and big alike!

Dolls and figures
I think one of the things I enjoy the most is when readers reinterpret my characters and turn them into other incarnations!

More Kendra Peg Figures kendrakandlestar_pegfigures

This is a Kendra doll in progress. Check out them ears!

kendradoll

oki_stuffie

Dioramas and models
There are many magical environments and items in Kendra’s world. Here’s some of them brought to three-dimensional life . . .

diorama_ratchetsstump

boxofwhisper_prop

Kids in costume
Of course, Kendra’s hair makes her a great candidate for a Halloween costume. When she was younger, my own goddaughter, Charlotte, dressed as Kendra and came to my book launches. Here’s a picture of her these many years ago . . .

charlotte_kendra_costume

But many kids over the years have chosen to take on the task without bribery from me . . .

kendracostume03

kendracostume02

Kendra Kandlestar costume.

kendracostume01

Fun stuff
Now for the really fun stuff!

This cake was made by my friend Carrie for the recent launch of the final book in the series, The Search for Arazeen:

arazeenlaunch_kendracake

Someone used Oki as the basis for a jack o’lantern:

okipumpkin

And a very big fan (I mean both in the size of her fandom and in her physical age) got an Oki tattoo!

Oki Tattoo

Drawings
Of course, kids have given me all sort of Kendra Kandlestar artwork over the years. I love to see their versions of these characters.

jeannie_kendradrawing

chloe_kendra_christmas

sueah_kendradrawing

graceli_kendradrawing

Sonya's drawing of Kendra Kandlestar.

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

elc_fanart_yash

elc_fanart_suhavi

elc_fanarts_chanice

elc_fanart_emma&yasmin

elc_fanart_agam

elc_fanart_alexander

elc_fanart_lika

Kendra Kandlestar

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

There are so many other drawings, cards, notes, and items I could show. Rest assured, I cherish them all, and have kept every single one ever given to me. Thank you so much for loving Kendra and sticking with her long ten-year journey!

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Designing Whispers

boxofwhispers-3dIn my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the setting, heroes, antagonists, and overall inspiration for the book.

For this installment, I’m discussing the visual design. Since I come from a graphic design background and am also the illustrator of the series, I was allowed to have a strong say in the overall look of the book—which is far from the normal situation in publishing.

I had a lot of passion for the way the books should be presented, so I was accommodated! When I was a child, my favorite books were those from the turn-of-the-century, when art deco was the flavor of the day. In those books, such as the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, art, text, and delightful elements of design seemed to dance together to create a magic portal into the world of storybook.

This was very much a tradition I wanted to echo when it came time to present Kendra Kandlestar to the world. This is most dramatically seen on the first page of each chapter in The Box of Whispers, which makes use of large, elaborate typography. I looked in particular to Ozma of Oz (Chapter 1 shown below, left).  Published in 1907, this third book in the Oz series was illustrated by John R. Neill (and was also my favorite in the series as a child).

design

Here are some of the other “chapter title pages” in The Box of Whispers:

Box of Whispers.indd Box of Whispers - Interior.indd Box of Whispers - Interior.indd

Incidentally, I should mention that the character featured in the illustration above was named after one of my favorite characters in the Narnia series, Puddleglum. Since my character—Pugglemud—was encountered in a marsh, just like C.S. Lewis’s Puddleglum, I thought it would be a nice homage. The characters share nothing else in common and, at the time, I thought Pugglemud would play his role in the story and then quietly slip away. Unfortunately, he’s rather like a bad weed; he kept coming back in future books. If I had known this, I probably would have not given him a name that is so similar to Puddleglum.

Box of Whispers - Interior.indd Crack in Kazah - interior.indd Box of Whispers.indd

It goes without saying that I was very pleased when one of the early reviews for The Box of Whispers made a comparison between it and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

For the final installment, I’ll talk about some of the fun fan engagement that’s happened with the book.

Designing characters for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club ~ Round 5

I’ve been posting some of the artwork that I’ve been doing for the BC Summer Reading Club these past few weeks, but it’s now my work on the project is officially official.

So far, I’ve mostly been designing the look and feel of the characters that we are going to use for the material. Here’s the final versions of them—as you can see, we decided to go with a more “sketchy” look for the style of artwork:

Our pilot, the flying squirrel:

Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - pink clothes

Our navigator, the travel bug:

travelbug_sketchy

Our engineer: the polar bear:

polarbear_sketchy

I’ve also been working on the designs for the “portal passport”. My first attempt was a bit flat . . .

Portal Passport 01

So the team at the BC Library asked me to “up” the gadget factor, which I did:

portalpassport02

It’s by means of this book that the characters will take their travels. (The theme of the 2016 reading club is “Book a trip”.) I’m not sure if we’re going to use them, but I’ve sketched some (mis)adventures that the crew has in various locations around the world.

piranhaproblems-amazon

noodlenosh-shanghai

mummymishap-cairo

portraitpose-Paris

sharks-australia

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Reading ’Tween the Lines

In my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the heroes, the antagonists, and the inspiration for the overall idea. Today’s topic is the setting.

Just like many of the characters in the book, the setting of the story went through a significant transformation. Originally, I had called this place where the tiny folk lived the Land of Tween. This was because they lived “Between Here and There.”

However, this was over ten years ago, and the term “Tween” was quickly being taken over by the media as a reference to those kids who weren’t quite kids anymore—but weren’t teenagers either.

I decided I need to change Tween to something else. This was one of those cases where the simplest decision became the easiest! I chopped off the first two letters and called it the land of “Een.”

Originally the inhabitants of the magic land in the story were going to be all manner of fairy-tale characters such as pixies, gnomes, and elves. This is demonstrated in the early drawing of Winter Woodsong shown below.

summerstarlight

As you can see, she was originally a fairy, complete with star-dusted wings. Because of this starry appearance, she was first known as Summer Starlight, but eventually it seemed more appropriate to change the name of the “Eldest of the Elders” to Winter Woodsong.

Certain locations within the Land of Een also went through some changes as I developed the story.

Below, you can see a concept sketch of the Elder Stone.

Elder Stone concept.

As shown by that drawing, there is a time when I thought the home of the Council of Elders should look more like a towering castle, with flags and ornamentation.

Eventually, I decided I wanted it to look more like a natural rock, as is shown in the final illustration:

The Elder Stone

The idea is that you might walk right past it and—unless you were really looking closely—you might not even notice it. Interestingly, I revisited the idea of the Elder Stone as an opulent castle in Books 4 and 5 of the series.

The Box of Whispers also established the Magic Curtain, which is the border that surrounds the Land of Een. In the original publication of the book, there was no overall map of Een, though you could see part of its border in this map from Professor Bumblebean’s notes:

Professor Bumblebean's map of Een

The idea of the Magic Curtain, this boundary that guards and hides Een from the outside world, came to play a major role in future Kendra Kandlestar books.

In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the inspirations for the visual design of the overall book.

Designing characters for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club ~ Round 3 (and 4!)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted sketches of characters that I’ve been working on for the BC Library Association’s 2016 summer reading club material. I’ve been working hard to fine-tune those characters, so thought I’d post some of the updated designs.

There has been some back and forth here, as the team and I tried to narrow down our crew members who will embark on an adventure via a sort of “portal passport.” We finally decided to go with the crew of a flying squirrel (as a pilot), a polar bear (as an engineer), and a travel bug (as a navigator).

Here’s my initial drawings of the final crew . . .

Flying Squirrel - color

Polar Bear - color

Travel Bug - colour - brown

The library team was quite happy with this cast, but did ask for some changes. For the squirrel, they wanted to emphasize that she’s a girl, so I smoothed out her mouth, accentuated her eyelashes and offered some different color combinations for her attire.  Here she is, in blue, green, and purple:

Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - blue clothes Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - green clothes Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - pink clothes

The team also wanted me to explore some brighter colors for the bug’s clothing, so I produced a few options, even playing with the color of his skin, too.

Travel Bug - color - green Travel Bug - colour - brown - alternate clothes 1 Travel Bug - colour - brown - alternate clothes 2

They were pretty happy with the polar bear engineer, so I didn’t make any changes to his coloring or design.

I also offered an initial design of what the portal passport could look like. In our imaginations, this is a sort of steampunk book that takes our crew members on an imaginative journey. The actual name of the campaign is “book a trip”!

Portal Passport 01

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: monsters, monsters, and more monsters

In my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the original inspiration for both the premise and characters. Today, we get into the fun stuff—the monsters!

Even in the earliest drafts of this story, I was clear about one thing: there would be no shortage of monsters in this story. After all, the original opening of the book stated that the land was surrounded by “Trolls, Giants, and a great many terrible monsters.”

As demonstrated by this line, I originally wanted to populate my story with the type of creatures that already existed in traditional fairy tales. The Trolls in particular were to play a major role, for it would be an infant Troll—then named Grugel—that would be rescued by the heroine (then Luka, as shown in the illustration below).

luka&grugel

Why did I make the decision to change the Trolls to Ungers? Well, as I developed the story in greater detail, it became apparent to me that these creatures shared a very special relationship with Kendra and the Eens. I decided that I didn’t want Grugel to be associated with the traditional fairy-tale characters of Trolls so eventually made the decision to call him an Unger, in order to establish his species as one that was original and unique.

Of course, there were creatures other than the Ungers that appeared throughout the story, namely the worm-like Skarm and the Goojuns. We get to see the Skarm in all its glory as it battles the brave Captain Jinx:

skarmattacksjinx

Alas, the Goojuns were only mentioned in the tale about Jinx’s Uncle Jasper. Because their role was so minor, I never included any final illustrations of the Goojuns in the book, though here is one of my concept sketches:

goojun_concept

Of course, future books in the series, feature many Goojuns, plus the other members of the monster tribes: the Izzards, Krakes, and Orrids.

The biggest and boldest monster in The Box of Whispers is that menacing old creature, Rumor the Red Dragon. Though his character survived intact from that very first concept painting I did (which you can see here), the way the dragon looked went through many changes. You can see by the illustration of him below that he originally looked a bit more like a snake (especially because he has no wings).

rumor_concept

It eventually became crucial to give Rumor wings once I realized that he needed to fly across the world stealing “trinkets, baubles, and all manner of curios” to fill his massive vault of riches.

In my next installment, I’ll talk about the evolution of the book’s setting from The Land of Tween to the Land of Een.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Magic rabbits and parakeets

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

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.

Detail of concept painting inspired by The Hobbit.

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!

luka_long_ears_cover

Here’s a page from my sketchbook, showing some of the early designs for Kendra as an Een:

kendra_sketchbook_designs

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.

luka_long_ears_tailor

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.

parakeet

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:

wolden_whitebeard

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.

studio_griffin

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:

grimblegreen

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.

bumblebean_booktree

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:

jinx_sketch

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!

oki_key