It’s time for the Book Owl Word Search (BOWS!)

It’s time for the Book Owl Word Search (BOWS!)

I’m participating in the Book Owl Word Search (BOWS). To find out more about the Word Search and how to play visit the official BOWS webpage.

See if you can find my secret word in the story below and continue the search to the other authors on my team and find their words as well!

Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!

I’m on the ORANGE team, and by participating in BOWS, you can enter to win all of these great books:

secret word is sacrifice

Now, onto the text where you can search for my secret word. Below is a “side-story” that I drafted as part of my writing process for my middle-grade book The Secret of Zoone. While staying in the magical multiversal hub of Zoone, it’s mentioned that my main character Ozzie has read a book of Ophidian fairytales. Well, this is one of them . . .

The Delicious Dragon
A fairytale from Ophidia

Long ago, when dragons still mined for gold, there lived a princess, high in the mountains of Ophidia, in a magnificent castle lair. Her name was Merigna and she was the same as all princesses: greedy, gold-hoarding, and vile in appearance. Her eyes were pale and blue, her hair was so long that it fell in curls upon her shoulders, and her nails were long and painted a crimson red. 

But these were not the worst things about her. 

Each night, she awoke with the moon and, after a hasty breakfast, rushed to the royal vault to count her treasure. Every gold coin and gemstone came from the dragons who dwelled in the forests below; it was what they forfeited to the Princess. The dragons toiled day in and day out, mining treasure from the deep earth. 

Yes, the dragons had natural weapons, but, like all dragons, they were timid and gentle-hearted beasts. And from her mountain-top lair, the Princess commanded the thunderclouds, so that whenever the dragons pondered revolt, she threatened to destroy them with her power.

The Princess was the master of them; the dragons were her slaves. But there soon came a time when she was not satisfied with merely counting her treasure. She wanted to swim in it, so she demanded that the dragons work even harder. Double the amount of treasure poured into her vault each week. Soon the level of treasure was so high that Merigna could slither and slip through the mounds of gold. She let the coins spill through her fingers and rejoiced in the tickle of the gemstones as they massaged her skin. 

For a time, the Princess was satisfied with this nightly routine. But, as she grew in age, so did her indulgences. No longer was swimming in treasure forged by dragon fire enough to placate her greedy heart. She began to demand the egg of a dragon be brought to her once each week, so that she might feast upon it for her breakfast. 

Her soldiers ventured into the forests to pluck the eggs from the nests in the dragon villages. The dragons quavered at the approach of the soldiers, and each day they wailed, “Do you not know how precious and rare our dragon eggs are? They are laid only to be our children, not to be the fruit for your Princess’s delight.”

The soldiers brought back the dragon pleas to Merigna, but she was a princess, and, like all princesses, her heart was cold and unyielding. She demanded the soldiers perform her bidding and so it came to pass that each and every week, under the plaintive gaze of the moon, she devoured a dragon egg for her breakfast. 

It was not long before the race of dragons began to decline, their numbers becoming sparse, their species rare. Entire villages soon lay abandoned in the forests. 

And, yet, Princess Merigna’s ravenous appetite only continued to grow. There came a time when she demanded not only her daily swim in dragon gold, and her weekly dragon egg breakfast, but to dine on a roasted dragon hatchling for her Full-Moon Feast. 

Each month the soldiers would escort the gluttonous Princess into the remaining dragon villages, where the dragons were forced to present their young for inspection. Only the tender, most juicy dragon would do for Princess Merigna. Once she had made her choice, the sacrificial hatchling was taken away to her mountain lair and slain for her Full-Moon Feast. 

The dragon numbers continued to dwindle until there was only one remaining village left and the species hovered on the knife-edge of extinction. Finally, in desperation, the village elders called for one of their most adventurous citizens. His name was Grust, and he was a handsome creature, with vivid green eyes and a long black tongue.

“Go forth into the mines of Ophidia,” the village elders told Grust, “and search for the ancient dragon-witch known as Estrella the Wise. It is said that she slumbers, sometimes a hundred years at a time, deep below the surface of the earth, deeper than memory. If anyone can save us, it will be the dragon-witch.”

Grust was eager to accept this quest, for there were only eight children left in all the village, and one of them was his own beloved son. With this weighing on his heart, he descended into the mines and began his search for the fabled dragon-witch.

For many weeks did young Grust travel, with each step delving deeper and deeper into the mines. He passed through the Cave of Fangs, where dripping stalagmites rained acid. He navigated the Poison Tunnel, where toxic gasses leached from fissures in the rock. He even crossed the Bridge of Fire, which arched over a bubbling sea of lava. At last, he arrived at a quiet and humble hole, deep within the earth. He could feel heat emanating from this dark cave and knew at once that this was the domain of Estrella the dragon-witch.

Grust was a brave dragon, but now he hesitated, lingering with uncertainty on the dragon-witch’s doorstep.

“I can hear your breathing, and it has awakened me,” rumbled a voice from the hole. “If you mean to enter my cave, then do so now! Otherwise, let me go back to sleep; for I have only slept these past 99 years, and am feeling grouchy.”

Grust swallowed, mustered his courage, and crept into the cave. Even in the darkness, he could catch a glimpse of the dragon-witch. She was thin and bony, with dull scales and ever duller teeth. Only her eyes were sharp; they glinted bright and green with cleverness.

“Tell me, why have you disturbed my slumber?” Estrella boomed.

“There is a princess who vexes our people,” Grust informed the dragon-witch. “I have been sent to ask for your help.”

“There is always a princess,” Estrella grumbled, twitching her long tail, which was crooked and kinked, and missing many of its scales. “What is this one doing?”

Grust told Estrella of the terrible Princess Merigna, and her appetite for baby dragons. Now, Estrella had lived a long time, but even she was horrified to hear such a tale. After Grust was finished talking, Estrella sighed, closed her eyes, and began to think. She thought so long that Grust wondered if she had fallen back asleep. 

But, eventually, she opened her luminous green eyes and said, “I have devised a plan to save dragonkind. I will brew a potion, and you must take this back to the village. Whichever child is chosen by Merigna must smuggle this potion into her lair. Then, just before Merigna slays the hatchling, he should down this elixir.”

“What will it do?” Grust wondered.

“It will give him great power to defeat the Princess,” Estrella claimed.

Grust agreed with the plan, and Estrella set to work in her chambers, brewing and concocting her potion. For several days she worked and when at last she was done, she poured a portion of the substance into a small glass vial and thrust it into Grust’s claws. 

“My work is done,” she told the dragon hero. “Now, return at once to your people—and let me go back to sleep!”

Grust thanked the dragon-witch and made all haste back to his village. By the time he returned, there were only seven hatchlings remaining—for during his absence, Merigna had come to claim one more of them. And, now, it was the night of the full moon, and the princess was coming any moment to choose her next victim. Grust had returned just in time!

All the hatchlings, including Grust’s own son, were lined up in order to be presented to the evil Princess. When she arrived, she prowled in front of them, surveying their plump bodies, and ravenously licking her lips. Since there were only seven hatchlings, it did not take her long to choose one of them; Grust’s own son.

Just before Merigna’s soldiers loaded the hatchling into her chariot, Grust rushed to his son and embraced him. During this moment, he was able to pass the potion to the hatchling and explain the plan. Grust’s son was a clever and brave dragon and, with a nod of understanding, he hid the vial in the curl of his tail, then went forth with the loathsome Princess. 

Now, Merigna was a particularly bloodthirsty princess, and though there was a royal butcher and a royal cook in her employ, she preferred to conduct the deed of killing the chosen hatchlings herself. After the soldiers had deposited Grust’s son in her personal chambers, the Princess unsheathed her knife and smiled maliciously at the innocent hatchling. 

The poor dragon was quaking in fear, but he remembered the potion that his father had bestowed upon him. With a quick flick of his tail he tossed the vial into his mouth, gnashed it in his teeth, then swallowed it whole. He felt the liquid drizzle down his throat and prepared for its powers to take effect.

The Princess approached, brandishing her blade. Grust’s son opened his tiny mouth, expecting to gush fire and rage upon dragonkind’s worst enemy.

But only a mere puff of smoke emerged. The potion had failed. Princess Merigna conducted her deed and the dragon hatchling was roasted. Soon the princess was sitting at her royal table to enjoy her meal. 

But enjoy it, she did not.

As she took the first sweet taste of dragon, Merigna’s throat constricted. Her eyes bulged; her stomach boiled with fire. She dropped her silver fork and clutched desperately at her neck, gasping for air. She collapsed to the ground, thrashing and writhing in agony. Next, she began to scream—so loudly that her cries thundered down the mountains and into the forests of Ophidia. After a few moments, the cries ceased all together. 

Princess Merigna was dead.

Deep down in the mines of Ophidia, Estrella the dragon-witch chuckled in her sleep. She had known all along that the liquid in the vial would not give the hatchling power. She had brewed a deadly poison because she knew that the only way to trick Merigna into ingesting it was by poisoning the hatchling first. 

That crafty old witch! Her ruse had worked, and now the dragons were free. Grust mourned for his son, but dragons always know to put the greater good before their own selfish needs. He knew that the sacrifice was a worthy one.

Alas, there always seems to be another princess on the rise, greedy for gold and dragon suffering, but for now, what can we say? Blink of an eye, flick of a tongue, hiss no more—this tale is done! 

* * *

Continue BOWS at the next stop on Kelsey Elise Sparrow’s website. Good luck!

Yep, I wrote a book about wizard school

My latest middle-grade book is called Spell Sweeper, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books. 

You can add Spell Sweeper to Goodreads HERE or preorder it HERE. You can also request a digital or audio advanced reading copy via NetGalley or Edelweiss

Release feels like a long way off (the book is coming out as hardcover, ebook, and audio book in November 2021), but I wanted to provide some insights into my inspirations. Spell Sweeper is very different from anything else I’ve had published. It’s written in first-person present-tense and is set firmly in this world (as opposed to my other books, which take place in completely made-up worlds). 

So here’s a little background . . .

Who in their right mind writes a book about wizard school?

What a dangerous enterprise! To the masses, the Harry Potter books are so popular and authoritative that many give J.K. Rowling credit for single-handedly inventing the concepts of wands, wizards with long white beards, owls as familiars, the Chosen One and many other fantasy tropes. (This is a testimony to the power of her characters, settings, and world building.)

Instead of trying to ignore this behemoth of a series, I tried to play upon it, giving my main character Cara Moone a slightly satirical tone as she confronts certain tropes in her adventures and, depending on her mood, is either impressed by them being fulfilled or miffed that they have been contradicted. 

Of course, I wasn’t thinking only of Harry Potter, but of the long line of fantasy books, movies, and TV shows that populate this genre (though at the same time understanding that for many of my readers, their own references may go no further than Rowling’s books). I was thinking about Jane Yolen’s Wizard’s Hall, The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, The Worst Witch by Jilli Murphy, Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, The Chronicles of Narnia, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire SlayerFirefly . . . the list goes on. I was thinking of how often we find these common (and cherished) tropes of a mentor, a magical talisman used to finish the quest, a prophecy of a chosen one.

***

Side note: 
I am particularly fascinated by the concept of the Chosen One. If you’re interested in exploring the roots of this archetypal character, then I suggest you check out the excellent two-part series from the IDEAS podcast:

The Chosen, Part 1

The Chosen, Part 2

***

Now, onto my specific inspirations . . .

My own experience of a magical school

In 2004, I met a like-minded dreamer named Joon-hyoung Park who was seeking a writing program for his daughters to take. He couldn’t find the right type of workshop, so he decided to invent one—and he wanted my help. The next thing you know, Joon and I had started a creative writing program in Vancouver for immigrant kids from Asia (our own school of magic!). 

Our workshops blossomed and bloomed, and now we host many programs for kids from all walks of life. We write stories, draw pictures, brew potions, build dragon eggs—you name it!

My wife and I have enjoyed an additional privilege—the opportunity to visit Asia to teach creative writing at schools, libraries, and education centers (I’ve been to Korea over twenty times!). Reading the stories by these creative kids—and about their dreams, desires, and fears—has definitely played a role in the creation of Dragonsong Academy. (By the way, it’s no exaggeration to say that our teaching experiences led us to Japan, and our son Hiro, in 2018.)

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of Harry Potter fans, but my students, being largely from an Asian background, always had trouble finding themselves in the books. (Yes, there’s Cho Chang, but as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t get to do any of the fun stuff.) So, one thing I wanted to do was to populate my school with characters that represent and reflect my students (and, for that matter, my son). These aren’t just side characters, but ones who are talented and powerful and often get to lead the charge.

The other common feeling I’ve observed in my students is a yearning to be popular and famous, whether it be in their families, at their schools, or on the Internet. Cara is like so many of us; she feels inadequate and is constantly pestered by those “why not me?” or “when is it my turn?” moments. The thing is that Cara has actually already “made it”, being one of the lucky few who gets to go to wizard school. The catch is that she views herself at the bottom of the pecking order. As a MOP (Magical Occurrence Purger), she’s left to clean up the magical residue left behind by “real” wizards. 

This concept of how we view ourselves—our luck, our privilege, our role—is something that I really wanted to investigate in this book, and it’s my hope that Cara’s journey rings true for readers.

My fascination with brooms

Speaking of being lucky, I’ve had the good fortune to visit the castle in England where they filmed many of the scenes for the Harry Potter movies. My wife and I went to Alnwick Castle way back in 2014 and we took “broom flying” lessons. 

For the record, I did poorly:

After that trip, I began seeing brooms. Everywhere. There was always one leaning against a park bench or in the corner of a temple, as if impatiently waiting for its owner to return. I wasn’t sure why exactly, but I felt there was a hint of magic happening with these brooms. Maybe they belong to a wizard who had just plonked down and darted off to fetch a tea. Or maybe they were abandoned during a scuffle with a dark adversary!

Truth is, I didn’t contemplate these broom encounters too deeply at the time. Instead, I just made sure to note them, take photographs, and make notes in my brainstorming journal, mostly because that’s what I’ve trained myself to do: pay attention to the things that spark me. 

Eventually, another memory was resurrected in my mind: my grandfather used to make his own brooms! He grew the broomcorn, harvested it, and bound them to broomsticks. I never saw my grandfather build a broom (I really wish I had), but I realized I had one of his creations in the dusty corner of my closet. On a subsequent visit to my parents, I scavenged their house to find they had their own collection of my grandfather’s handmade brooms. They all have the same humble construction—and, if you ask me, their own type of magic. Clearly, these brooms have been lingering in my subconscious all these years, waiting for me to tell their story.

But one thing I knew is that I did not want to write a story in which brooms were used for flying. I kept wondering what brooms could do in a magical world if they weren’t for zipping wizards and witches from Point A to Point B. 

Of course, the answer eventually became obvious . . . and Spell Sweeper was born.