The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: A picture is worth 43,561 words

kendra_box_editions

Well, it’s hard to believe, but it’s been ten years since the publication of the first book in my Kendra Kandlestar series, The Box of Whispers.

To commemorate a book that has given me so much, I thought I would do a series of posts on some of the inspirations and imaginings that went into the creation of that book—and, ultimately—the whole series…

* * *


The Land of Tween is a secret, magical place
inhabited by talking animals, Gnomes and other Faerie folk.
If you wish to find this enchanted land,
look between Here and There—but be warned!
It is surrounded by Giants, Trolls and a
great many terrible monsters. So perhaps it’s best
to turn the page and visit Tween from the safety of your favorite reading chair…

een_book_gardenAnd so began the adventures of Luka Long-Ears and the Box of Whispers, all those years ago, when I set out to write a story that would capture the elements that I so loved as a child: magic, monsters, and mystery.

Of course, if you know the adventures of Kendra Kandlestar, then the first thing you’re wondering is who in the name of all things Een is Luka Long-Ears? And what is the Land of Tween?

Well, long before there was Kendra, Uncle Griffinskitch, or even the Land of Een, there was a much different story brewing in my imagination. This is typical of writing. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most authors don’t have a perfectly-conceived story in mind when they begin working on a project.

It’s kind of like farming. (A metaphor that I feel entitled to use since I grew up on a farm and spent many a long day toiling in our orchards and fields. And the chicken coop. But that doesn’t help this particular metaphor, so let’s set that one aside for now.) Yes, the seeds—the originating ideas—get planted. Then begins the hard work of cultivating (writing) and fertilizing (adding in more ideas) and, eventually, editing (rather like weeding). Along the way, the story begins to sprout and blossom, but sometimes it shoots off in different directions—and some things which you try to weed out keep coming back. But that’s okay—when it comes to weeding, sometime those weeds take over the garden in a way that is most helpful. (Though, my mother will tell you that weeds are never helpful when it comes to farming.)

The process of creating Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers was no different. It can be very exciting to create a story—but it can also involve some heart-breaking decisions, and there were many ideas and characters that I had to change along the way.

To begin with, the whole story for Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers grew from a single idea I had one day in the spring of 2002. Thing is, I wasn’t setting out to write a story—not at first. All I wanted to do was paint a picture of some small creatures creeping past a giant eye. As I sketched some concepts of this scene in my head, it became apparent that the big eye belonged to a snake-like dragon and that the tiny creatures—mostly little animal critters—were sneaking off with a valuable treasure.

Eventually, those sketches became the painting you see below. I guess I had a lot of Tolkien in my head at the time, for I think the scene is rather reminiscent of The Hobbit, what with the red dragon and the vast sea of treasure.

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

After I finished this painting, I taped it to my studio wall and left it there for a few weeks. I often due this with new artwork, just to see if I still like it after awhile. (I tend not to trust my initial reactions.) Well, every time I passed by this painting, I found myself stopping to contemplate it. Not for its artistic merit—that’s for sure. But what captured my interest was that I clearly felt there was a story at work in this scene. But what was it? Here were some tiny creatures sneaking past the beast with a box and a key. But what was the significance of these items? Why would they be so concerned with the box and the key when they are surrounded by all this gold? And who were these characters anyway?

As I pondered these questions, a few ideas began to germinate. Clearly, the box was valuable to the characters. I decided it must contain something very precious. But what? Over the course of a few days (perhaps it was weeks), it became clear to me. The box contained secrets . . . but not just one secret, or the secrets of one or two characters. It contained all the secrets in the land where these tiny characters lived.

And so the ideas for The Box of Whispers was born. What began as a mere painting turned into a story of some 43,561 words!

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the evolution of some of the characters…

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