In just three weeks, my new book, The Secret of Zoone, will be hitting shelves. Typically, this is a time for an author to invest extra time in marketing, host a launch, and plan tour or bookstore events.
For me, it means something just a little extra—building props! While I am usually making props throughout my writing process, preparing for events usually means I’m thinking not so much about how to help bring my fantasy worlds to life for me, but to help promote them to the world.
Since Zoone is about the nexus of the multiverse, where travelers from many different worlds cross paths, it was a no-brainer to introduce a suitcase as a prop. In addition to being a great “set piece”, I knew a suitcase offered one other advantage: I could fill it full of MORE stuff—even display copies of my books.
We actually have quite a few vintage suitcases in our house, but most of them are quite big, and many are a little tired. In other words, they’re not that sturdy anymore. My suitcase would have to be small enough to take as carry-on for a flight and be durable enough to survive lugging around to schools, libraries, bookstores, and conferences.
Scouring websites wasn’t that helpful. You can buy vintage suitcases online, but I knew I’d need to see the item in order to know if it would work. So, that meant scouring local antique stores. Which I did! At one point, I was even picking my way through the overflow storage of a shop, sussing out what they had squirreled away.
The chosen one
I eventually found a case at a store called Baker Dozen’s Antiques on Main Street in Vancouver. They had a good selection of suitcases, and I decided to go for this little fella:
It was a little beat up (no problem!), but it was the right size. I took it home, began cleaning it up . . . and that’s when I decided that I needed to give it a retrofit.
It wasn’t long before I decided I needed to “Zooneify” the suitcase. Especially the inside, which, on closer inspection, turned out to be pretty gross. It had cloth lining, some of it stained, and emitting that sort of pervasive stench that sticks with cloth and felt after eons untold.
So, Step One was to gut the interior.
I put so much “knuckle-grease” into this project, that I didn’t even realize that I had bashed up my hand, tugging and yanking on the lining. It looked like I had gotten into a fight:
When I was done gutting the suitcase (and bashing up my hand), I was left with rough, exposed wood that showed staples and nails. I’d have to make my own new, lining. But before I got into that, I decided to turn my attention to the outside of the case.
Painting the case
My original plan had been to cover the suitcase with these vintage-style travel stickers I had created to go along with my book. But prop building is always the same for me: In for a penny, in for a pound. I now decided that the color of the suitcase wasn’t ideal, and that I would paint it.
Zoone Station is described in the book as being turquoise, so that’s the color I chose. I had never painted a suitcase before, or this type of material, so I did some research on finding the best kind of paint and ended up going with some premium satin acrylic paint that I could buy at the local craft store.
Then I began painting . . .
All the extras
As I said above, in for a penny, in for a pound. I decided I wanted to add some metal embellishments to the case: hinges (it didn’t have any), corners, and a steampunk-style gear on the front. I collected these places from all over the place: the craft store, the hardware store, and the Internet.
Unfortunately, they were all different colors, including the locking mechanism that was already on the case.
That meant, painting all the bits so that they at least looked close. I ended up painting the bits with black enamel model paint, then brushing over with another type of metallic acrylic paint to give everything a vintage coppery feel.
For the gear, I decided this would be the wizardly version of a combination lock. I found a brad with a “Z” embellishment, which I used to attach the gear to the case. Yes, the gear actually spins.
What’s inside counts
The entire time I was painting and working on the exterior, I was strategizing what to do with the inside. I knew I could make a simple lining using illustration board, but I didn’t want to just paint it a plain color. I decided it needed a bit more flare.
I tried finding samples of wallpaper, but this turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Most stores don’t carry it in quantity and buying online was a challenge because I couldn’t actually see the scale of the pattern. Shelf liners would have been a good option, but it seems that most of the ones in stock around the city are either clear or fake wood.
I finally ended up using scrapbooking paper, spray gluing it to the illustration board, then adding a veneer of mod-podge to protect it and stiffen it up.
I agonized over some of the patterns and options, but finally ended up going with something that had a subtle polkadot design. After all, I knew I would be filling the case full of wizardry items, and didn’t want the pattern itself to be too distracting.
The final touches
Once the outside was painted and the inside lined, I could add all the accoutrements, inside and out. That meant affixing the metal embellishments. Then I added my vintage travel stickers and started figuring out what sort of things would go inside the case.
My idea is that this case would belong to a wizard on his way to the Convention of Wizardry that is taking place at Zoone during the events of the book. That means a bunch of whimsical items to suggest and hint at his character.
Most of the props I fashioned myself, such as the miniature bestiary book, the dragon egg, the dragon scale, and the fox-box full of charms. I will probably add a few more things as we go along.
This will also serve as a great inspiration for classroom visits; students can imagine the character who owns this case and write a profile and story about him.
And, of course, it will make a great display the next time I’m at a book store or conference and displaying my books!