Walking in the footsteps of the Wizard of Oz

Walking in the footsteps of the Wizard of Oz

My wife and I are currently on vacation in California and ended up visiting Coronado Island yesterday, which is just off San Diego.

I have actually been to Coronado once before, but this time around I had a little more time to explore the city and, especially, snuffle up some of the haunts of one of my all-time favourite authors and inspirations: L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz series.

Books of WonderAbout the Oz series

Most people know Oz from the 1939 movie or the book—a lot less know that L. Frank Baum actually wrote fourteen Oz books in total. As much as I love the first book, with its establishment of the iconic world, characters, and elements (yellow brick road!), some of my favourite titles are the ones later in the series. It just so happens that some of those titles were written while Baum was staying ion Coronado Island.

Getting to Coronado Island

Once you’re in San Diego, it’s quite easy to get across to the island. You can drive or take the bus, but Marcie and I opted for the ferry. We caught it at Broadway Pier, which was only about a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel (incidentally, we’re staying in the historic Horton Grand Hotel—a beautiful building with very affordable rates).

The ferry is about $5 per person, each way. After a fifteen-minute ride, we arrived at the island, where we took the free summer shuttle across to the west side of the island, where most of the restaurants, hotels, and sites are located. Also, it’s where you can hear those gorgeous waves rumbling in from the Pacific.

Baum on Coronado Island

L. Frank Baum spent many winters in California. Not only did he stay at the Hotel Del Coronado, but he rented a nearby home and it’s here where he wrote part of his second Oz book, The Marvellous Land of Oz. Subsequently, he wrote three more of his books on the island: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (#4 in the series), The Road to Oz (#5), and The Emerald City of Oz (#6).

The house that Baum rented while writing the three books can still be found today. It’s on 1101 Star Park Circle (aptly named!) and is only a short walk from the hotel.

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You can’t go inside the house, but you can stand on the doorstep to see the plaque commemorating Baum. Also, there’s a few fun knick-knacks decorating the front.

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After visiting the house, we went to the Coronado Museum of History and Art (1100 Orange Avenue) where you can see first editions of the three books Baum wrote on the island.

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The Emerald City

As the story goes, Baum took inspiration for the conception and description of his own Emerald City from the Hotel del Coronado.

This fact is in some dispute, but it’s hard not to look at the spires of the historic building and ignore their “Oz-ness.” You will note the flag on one of the spires—it looks like an emerald crown. Coronado is known as the Crown City, but also has the nickname “Emerald City.”

Baum also designed the crown-shaped chandeliers in the Crown room at the hotel.

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I highly recommend visiting Coronado, especially if you’re already in the San Diego area. And, if you are an Oz nerd like me, then you’re in for an extra treat, discovering the historic connection between Baum and the island.

In Baum’s own words: “Those who do not find Coronado a paradise have doubtless brought with them the same conditions that would render heaven unpleasant to them did they chance to gain admittance.”

 

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Picture Perfect Covers

Picture Perfect Covers

This past season, I taught a creative writing class for tweens and teens that took inspiration from art history.

I described many of those classes, activities, and inspirations on this blog. The result of all that hard work by the students was that they each were given the opportunity to make their own book. That included not only producing all the words for the book, but any illustrations and artwork—including the front covers.

Here are the final covers that the students came up with. They did the artwork and I helped them with the design and typography.

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The books are professionally printed with perfect-bound spines. Yes, I’m biased, but I think they turned out pretty well!

Hanging out with meerkats in Seoul

Hanging out with meerkats in Seoul

On my recent trip to Seoul, we noticed the sudden proliferation of “pet” cafés. Even when we were strolling through the shopping district of Myeong-dong, we noticed cat mascots advertising the cafés.

Now, in Seoul, you can find not only cat and dog cafés, but ones with sheep, raccoons, and more exotic fare . . . such as meerkats. Well, that’s the one we really wanted to visit, so one drippy morning, we set out for the Hondae area.

In my imagination, the sheep café was a place where you sipped coffee and pet wooly lambs as they wandered around. As it turned out, the sheep were kept in an enclosure outside of the cafe. In other words, it was like a petting zoo. Better for the sheep, of course, and probably the customers, but there went my pastoral imaginings!

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We knew the café didn’t open until noon, so arrived just about that time. However, the one thing we didn’t realize is that you can’t actually interact with any of the animals until about 1pm because the staff take the first or so to feed all the animals.

This wasn’t a complete loss, because as any pet owner knows, animals are most active when they know their tea is coming. We enjoyed watching the meerkats scramble around, campaigning for their breakfast, and then eating once their kibble was sprinkled into their pen.

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There are many other animals at this particular café as well: cats, foxes, genets (a slender, sort of cat-like animal), a raccoon (for some reason, tailless), and a wallaby. Most of the animals were in pens or enclosures, though the wallaby was hopping around the entire time and we were allowed to hand-feed it.

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Eventually, we were allowed to enter the meerkat enclosure. There were a lot of (understandably) rules for this. We had to empty our pockets of all items—food, coins, anything that might cause grief to the meerkats.

Then, it was just a matter of going inside the enclosure, sitting down and let the meerkats come introduce themselves!

Myself, Marcie, and our friend author Stacey Matson were the first ones allowed in for the day, along with two other visitors. The meerkats swarmed us! So much so, in fact, that Marcie only lasted a few minutes before asking to leave. The meerkats were scrambling up the backside of her dress and some were tugging at her diabetes pump, so she figured it better to get out.

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Eventually, the meerkats settled down and even began to nap on some our laps. Stacey, in particular, had one meerkat go completely comatose on her lap!

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As for me, I turned out to be a meerkat lookout point!

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By the way, can you see the sweat dripping off my forehead? It’s not from nerves of dealing with meerkat’s—that’s just Seoul’s famous humidity!

Raccoon dogs and romantic vistas at the Palace of Prospering Virtue

Raccoon dogs and romantic vistas at the Palace of Prospering Virtue

One of my favorite experiences on my recent trip to Korea was a visit to Changdeokgung, otherwise known as the Palace of Prospering Virtue. Changdeok is one of the five grand palaces in Korea, the others being Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changguyunggung, and Gyeonghuigung.

I had actually been to Changdeokgung many years ago, but that was a rain-plagued visit, so I was looking forward to a more thorough visit.

If you’re looking for big and expansive, then I highly recommend heading up the road to Gyeongbokgung. However, in my opinion, what Changdeokgung offers is a more intimate and romantic experience. The fee is only 3,000 won (less than three US dollars).

Some history

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, Changdeokgung was originally built in the 1400s by King Taejong, during the Joseon dynasty. It was the site where rulers and ministers hammered out affairs of state, and where the royal family lived. Changdeokgung was burnt down, like all palaces in Seoul, during the Japanese invasion of 1592, but was rebuilt in the 1600s.

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Go early!

Changdeokgung features a “secret garden” tour, so we booked spots for the first English version tour of the day, which was around 10:30 am. We arrived in advance of that to do some exploring of the rest of the grounds and that was definitely the right decision; there were hardly any visitors at the palace, which gave us beautiful views, uninterrupted by the hordes of people you usually find at tourist sites.

Take water

You’ll know this anyway if you visit Korea in the summer, but definitely make sure you buy a bottle (or two) from the onsite store before you embark on the Secret Garden tour. You’ll need it!

An impressive main gate

This is Donhwamun Gate, the main palace gate. It’s a two-story structure and is the largest of all palace gates in Korea. It once houses a giant bell and drum. The gate was destroyed in the 16th-century Japanese invasion.

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Below, are pictures of the main courtyard and Injeongjeon, the main hall. As I mentioned above, the courtyard was mostly empty and we were treated to one of those awe-inspiring moments where you can slip into your imagination and wonder what it might have been like to tread these stones in a bygone era.

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You can also get photo-bombed by your own wife!

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So many doorways

As my friends and students know, I love doors and details—and there’s no shortage of them to be found at Changdeokgung.

An ornate access panel to a chimney:

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Decorate roof tile:

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I loved coming across doorway views like this during my maundering:

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Traditional (and weathered) door:

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Happy tiger sculpture:

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The traditional Korean buildings were heated from underneath. This opening shows where servants would have placed fuel below the floor, accessed from the outside of the quarters:

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I adored the many shapes, patterns, and colors that could be found as we explored the labyrinthian network of buildings:

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I never tire of the swooping rooflines you see at the Korean palaces:

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Doorway with sign written in traditional Chinese characters above (can you see the sweat dripping off of me?):

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Another doorway:

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Stunning detail and color on the roof beams:

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Window shutters:

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Magnificent doorways:

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Not that secret garden

After exploring the main grounds, we headed to the starting point of our tour of the Secret Garden. Obviously, it is a very evocative name, reminiscent of the famous children’s book, but the true explanation of why the garden has that name is far less magical. As our tour guide explained, the name in Korean is “Biwon” and comes from the office of the same name that existed in the 1800s.

The garden has actually had many names, but during the Joseon period, was mostly called “Huwon.” The garden was originally developed for use by the royal family. It offers stunning views, featuring a lotus pond, pavilions, and meandering pathways.

The Lotus Pond

The first place we arrived at on the tour was the gorgeous Lotus Pond. You can see the gate on the far side of the pond. The main doorway is for the king; the two flanking it are for his ministers. These doors are lower, forcing the ministers to crouch (bow) as they enter, emphasizing their servitude to the king.

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I loved this face peering over the water. The last time I visited the garden, water was streaming out of its mouth.

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Raccoon Dog

While I was off taking photos of the pond, my friend Stacey was at the other end and got to see an animal I’ve never heard of: a raccoon dog. Here’s her photo:

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The tour guide told her that the animal is “not cute” and that she preferred cats. She also warned Stacey to keep her distance; the raccoon dog is wild and could have rabies. It seems to resemble a fox more than a dog, but gets its name from the distinctive mask.

Nature by design

The rest of the tour took us through different portions of the garden, though some areas were closed. Along the way, we were treated to many scenic views, all purposely designed.

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And I thought I was old

The tour ended with a stop by the Hyangnamu (aromatic) tree, which is believed to be over 700 years old. As you can see in the photo, it is propped up in places, but you certainly can’t blame it. Many visitors see different shapes and creatures in the curving branches of the tree, the most common being an elephant.

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As I mentioned off the top, Changdeokgung is well worth the visit. It may hover in the shadow of Gyeokbokgung, but you can easily see both palaces, as they are within walking distance of each other.

The Galactic Glitch: In which we film a cheesy movie for our space camp

The Galactic Glitch: In which we film a cheesy movie for our space camp

In an earlier post, I described the creative writing “Space Camp” that I taught with fellow writers Stacey Matson and Marcie Nestman through the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC).

In preparation for that week-long endeavour, we got together with our creative friends and filmed a short Star Wars-inspired film.

The project was developed by my friend Luke Spence Byrd. His day job is working for Industrial Light and Magic, but he recently had some time off and wanted to work on something that allowed him to have some creative license. He’s done previous films in preparation for our creative writing camps, so when he found out our theme was “space”, he went all in.

Luke rented a space for a day of filming and we set up multiple green screens so that we could shoot against them. I’m no actor to begin with, but filming with limited physical props and virtually no practical sets was very challenging!

The only real set piece we had at all was a console for our spaceship, which my friend Rob and I built in the days leading up to our shoot day.

The console began with a pile of household junk and some plywood reclaimed from Rob’s scrap pile!

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This is how it ended up looking:

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It turned out pretty well for a quick-and-dirty job. It even had functioning LED lights that sparked to life with the flick of a few switches.

The only other thing I really did to prep was to put together my costume. Thankfully, I had many bits and pieces left over from previous events:

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It also helped that our friend Jeff Porter, our cosplay and costume guru, had many costume bits to help us out with the filming. And it also helped that Luke has a full-size Jabba the Hutt costume that we could use!

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The cast consisted of myself, actor and playwright Marcie Nestman, authors Stacey Matson and Kallie George, the aforementioned Jeff Porter and Rob Stocks (who actually didn’t intend to be in the film, but got roped into it once he was on set). Oh, and, of course, R2D2, whom you will see in the photos below . . .

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Well, the film turned out to be way more ambitious than originally intended. As it turned out, we could only finish a trailer in time for our space camp, plus a couple of scenes that really helped us when it came to a few specific writing activities. The rest of the film will be finished later this year.

But, for now, here is the trailer for CWC and the Galactic Glitch:

 

 

A galaxy of adventure at the creative writing SPACE CAMP!

A galaxy of adventure at the creative writing SPACE CAMP!

I recently returned from Korea, where, in addition to participating in an award ceremony at the Canadian embassy (read about that here), I led a creative writing camp on the theme of space, along with author Stacey Matson and playwright and actress Marcie Nestman.

Activities to connect writing with space adventure

The purpose of the camp in Korea was simple: inspire kids to write creatively. As such, Marcie, Stacey, and I tried to come up with as many inspirational activities as possible.
Since our theme was space, it wasn’t hard to generate ideas . . .

As an icebreaker, we handed out ordinary objects to kids (such as a fork or spoon) and asked the students to imagine that they had just met an alien and needed to explain the object’s purpose. There was just one hitch: they had to lie!

Intergalactic Explorer Application

In this activity, the students created a character who then had to fill out an “application” to become an astronaut and explorer. This involved a lot of creativity, since students weren’t restricted to imagining human characters!

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The Robot Catastrophe

This was one of the main projects for the camp. I brought a load of recycled junk (picked up at the wonderful Urban Source on Vancouver’s Main Street) and asked the students to choose different parts and gizmos. They then designed a robot with a very specific purpose (such as cleaning, protecting, or cooking). Afterwards, they built a physical model of the robot and did two separate writing assignments.

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The first assignment was to come up with an instruction manual for the robot. The key here was that they had to provide some warnings. This helped set up a problem for the second assignment, in which they wrote a story about a character who bought the robot, but ignored the warning, resulting in a catastrophic situation.

Here’s some pictures of some of the final models . . . they turned out really well!

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The Alien Baby

For this activity, students created their own alien “pom-pom” babies and then wrote a series of diary entries in which they imagined finding the intergalactic visitor. The fun part here, of course, was coming up with all the problems along the way!

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Alien Evidence

As you can see, we tried to weave in different styles of writing throughout the camp. We brought in newspaper writing by having the students creating a non-fiction style article about the discovery of aliens on Earth. To go along with this activity, the students drew “photos” of the evidence . . .

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Space Food

Even aliens need to eat! This activity helped us introduce the five senses to the students. Marcie prepared a box of “alien food” then had the kids sit in a circle while she handed out samples, one at a time. Along the way, the students had to record their responses according to taste, smell, sound, sight, and touch.

Afterwards, they drew on their experiences to imagine their own intergalactic space restaurant. Many of them drew menus to go along with this activity!

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Planet Obliteration, and other fun stuff . . .

Throughout the week, we had the chance to introduce many other activities, such as the visualization of a spaceship crashing, a Space News article, and a whole slew of games connected to our theme. My favorite game was one Marcie came up with: Planet Obliteration. In this game, the students had to use water guns to “destroy” a planet (a bath bomb).

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The camp was a huge success and was capped by a fun ceremony in which we shared our thoughts with the parents of our kids and showed a trailer of the space movie we made. More on that later . . .

 

 

Inspiring young imaginations in Korea

Inspiring young imaginations in Korea

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I recently returned from Korea, where I taught a creative writing camp for kids and presented at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul.

creativewritingcontest_poster.jpgA contest to celebrate Canada150

The event at the embassy was an award ceremony for a creative writing competition that was held in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. The contest was sponsored by The Korea Herald, Air Canada, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and CWC (the Creative Writing for Children Society of Vancouver, a company I co-founded in 2004).

Contest judged by Canadian authors

Over 200 students from elementary, middle, and high schools across Korea entered the contest and were reviewed and judged by three Canadian authors: myself, Stacey Matson, and Kallie George.

It was a great honour to be a judge and to read through all the diverse entries. The theme was a difficult one; in some way, the entrants had to incorporate the idea of “150.” It was quite entertaining to see how the kids wove this theme into their short stories!

A ceremony at the Canadian embassy

The award winners were announced on July 1 (Canada Day) and the ceremony was held on July 22nd at the Canadian embassy in Seoul. Joon Park, who is the CWC co-founder, Stacey Matson, Marcie Nestman, and I attended the ceremony on behalf of CWC. Unfortunately, Kallie George could not accompany us, but she was there in spirit.

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During the ceremony, we were privleged to meet the contestants and award them their prizes. There were 30 winners in various categories, with the top winner receiving a free round-trip ticket on Air Canada to travel to anywhere in Canada.

After the ceremony, Stacey and I held a Q&A session with the young writers. We were so impressed by their thoughtful and in-depth questions. I’m so proud of all the kids who entered and of their beautiful words that they dared to share.

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All contest winners will have their stories published in an anthology.

For more information, check out the article on The Korea Herald website.

About the Creative Writing for Children Society

CWC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the creativity, confidence and writing capacity of children through tailored writing programs. In CWC’s programs, students are guided by professional authors, illustrators, editors, and actors to write and illustrate their own books, which are professionally desktop published. Founded in 2004, CWC is based in Vancouver, BC.