Welcome to the Crossroads of the Multiverse: cover reveal for The Secret of Zoone

Welcome to the Crossroads of the Multiverse: cover reveal for The Secret of Zoone

After sitting on this beautiful design and artwork for the last couple of months, I’m finally able to officially reveal the cover for THE SECRET OF ZOONE, the first book in a new series I’m writing for HarperCollins Children’s Books, due out in March 2019.

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It was my intention all along to not illustrate this book, and I’m so happy with that decision—because I simply adore the cover, with its beautiful artwork by Evan Monteiro and whimsical hand-lettering by Michelle Taormina. A big thank you to HarperCollins for providing such an awesome team, including my editor, Stephanie Stein, who guided me through the process.

I’m so thankful that Stephanie and her team allowed me and my agent, Rachel Letofsky, to participate in the design of the cover. Even though I am in a unique position, having worked as both a professional graphic designer and illustrator, I knew that didn’t automatically mean that I would be invited to contribute. Which is all to say that I am really grateful—and thrilled—that my ideas and character suggestions were incorporated into the artwork.

In a future post, I’ll show some of those sketches and ideas, but suffice it to say that this cover really matches what was dancing inside my imagination:

Giant winged cat—check!

Boy with a key—check!

Princess with inappropriately purple hair—check!

Doors—check!

Station house in the background—check!

Here’s the official text that will appear on the dust jacket:

WELCOME TO ZOONE, CROSSROADS OF THE MULTIVERSE

When an enormous, winged blue tiger appears on his aunt’s sofa, Ozzie can tell he’s in for an adventure. He’s thrilled to follow Tug, who calls himself a skyger, through a secret door in the basement of his apartment building and into Zoone, the bustling station where hundreds of doors act as gateways to fantastic and wonderful worlds.

But some doors also hide dangers—and when the portal back to Earth collapses behind them, Ozzie gets more than the adventure he bargained for. With the help of a friendly blue skyger, a princess with a peculiar curse, and a bumbling wizard’s apprentice, Ozzie will have to fix his only way home . . . and maybe save the multiverse in the process.

~

I can’t wait to introduce everyone to Ozzie, Fidget, Tug, and the rest of the ZOONE crew in 2019. In the meantime, I’ll continue posting new visuals and background art for the book.

And, hey—the book is already available for preordering. Just sayin’.

 

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Exploring Cambodia, Day 3 & 4: elephants, lions, and flying frogs

Exploring Cambodia, Day 3 & 4: elephants, lions, and flying frogs

My wife and I press forward on our “inspircation”—a holiday that is part vacation and part inspiration-finding for our 2018 projects. We spent Day 2 of our time in Cambodia trekking through some of the biggest temples in Angkor, but had preplanned to take Day 3 off from the temples and to hang around Siem Reap, explore the markets and the hotel pool.

We did this partly to rejuvenate physically, but also just mentally. Venturing through Angkor has been such an overwhelming experience—it’s hard to absorb everything. We felt that a day off in between would set us up to better appreciate a second day of exploration.

Poverty paparazzi

It’s not just the beauty here that is overwhelming, though. It’s also the poverty. Everywhere you go, whether it be temple or town, there are people trying to sell you something, people who are in desperate need. I’m not much of a shopper; I tend to buy one or two things every time I travel, and they’re rarely trinkets. And I’m not the kind of person who wears a T-shirt with the names of places I’ve been scrawled across the front. But here, every time you leave a temple, or, in the case of the town of Siem Reap, a restaurant, people scurry up to try and sell you their goods.

“Kind lady! Kind man? Something to buy? Something to buy? I have cheap price for you!” This is the common refrain we hear.

In many cases, those people are children. They are particularly hard to turn down. One thing that I have found particularly distressing is a penchant by tourists to photograph these children. In one case I saw an entire tour bus of people crowd around an infant boy, snapping shots at him like he was a celebrity and they were some sort of poverty paparazzi. It wasn’t that the boy was smiling, laughing, or doing something cute and precocious. He was stark naked, wandering around in the dust and dirt in his bare feet.

I guess the people found that . . . actually, I can’t even begin to imagine what was the mindset behind that episode. They clicked their photos then scurried off in a herd, leaving the boy exactly where he was, ambling around in the dust, his mother sitting nearby, slightly bewildered. Or perhaps she wasn’t bewildered at all. Perhaps she was just used to this sort of happening. But I can’t imagine she wanted it. It’s not like any o the herd gave her money for photographing her son. Her naked son.

It’s the norm here for the children in these “strip malls” of shops to be naked, at least from the bottom down. They might wear a T-shirt, and that’s it. Why someone would want to photograph a naked kid is beyond me. I find it disturbing on so many levels.

In another instance, a woman with a very expensive camera photographed a little girl trying to help her mom sell souvenirs outside a temple. She even clucked at her and tried to direct her pose, tried to make her smile. Then she sauntered off, pictures taken, without so much even looking at the girl’s wares, her mother, or even offering a dollar. It disgusted me, as if, somehow, this tourist felt the girl was just another part of the landscape for her to coax into her camera.

So, without bowing completely to western consumerism, which equally upsets me, Marcie and I have tried to buy what we truly need (hats, water) and what we truly want (a few items of clothing, a book, and odds and ends) from the locals, and we’ve endeavoured to tip well. Which, really isn’t hard to do when you can eat a meal for $5 and have a draught of beer for fifty cents.

The positive side I’ve tried to take from all of this is to admire the Cambodian people for their hard-working spirit and perseverance. It’s humbling. But, if you go to Cambodia, please just leave their kids alone!

That’s enough about my rant when it comes to how people treat other people. Time to talk more about temples . . .

Elephantine traffic

We had the same guide as the day before, Yam. He picked us up in his tuk-tuk at 9 am, which provided us with a much more leisurely start to our day compared to the 4:30 pick up two days previously, when we had set out to watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat.

This time, we got to whisk into the Angkor region in full daylight. In fact, our route took us past and through many of the temples we had already visited, including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

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We had a “only-in-Asia” moment while passing through Angkor Thom. Yam had to pull out and pass an elephant!

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We just didn’t pass giant mammals, though; we also passed beautiful countryside. Here you can see farmers and their livestock, going about their daily lives.

I was able to snap this photo from our tuk-tuk:

countryside_farmer.jpg

Notice how she is not naked. It’s called discretion, my dear poverty paparazzi. Oh, right. My rant was finished already.

Preah Khan

Even though our start was later, the weather was significantly cooler. The sky was clouded, so the sun wasn’t hammering at us as with our visit to the other temples. We hoped this would make our day a lot easier—and it did. The previous temple day had involved six bottles of water each, but on this day, we barely made it through one apiece!

Our first temple of the day was Preah Khan.

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Near the entrance, we happened upon two flanking figures, each grasping the tails of cobras in their hands. I recognized this figure as Garuda, having seen many depictions of this mythical creature on my visits to Thailand.

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Once we entered Preah Khan, we found it to be expansive, beautiful, and, in many sections, falling apart. There is a large crew installed there to conduct renovations, but part of the charm is to suddenly turn a corner and find rubble filling a doorway. To me, it just helps signify the passage of time, giving the place a sense of romance and adventure.

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There weren’t as many tourists here as we had seen at previous temples and, because the site is so vast, we had plenty of opportunity to take photos without having to worry about getting in any one else’s way.

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preahkahn_marcie_columns

Inside the centre of the complex, we found an old monk providing blessings. Marcie was instantly attracted to her energy; despite her crooked frame and frail limbs, the monk was radiating positive energy, treating all passersby with her toothless grin.

Marcie received a blessing, which, now that I think about it, was a powerful moment for her that played out later in the day (more on that later). Suffice it to say for now, that part of this blessing involved the monk whisking away negative energy.

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There was plenty of time and space here for me to find a quiet spot, take out my notebook, and do some brainstorming and note taking. I’m trying to capture as much inspiration to help aid the world building I need to do for my new book series, Zoone. Marcie snapped this photo of me “at work”:

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And there is plenty of inspiration to be discovered here. Similar to other temples we have visited, there are many areas at Preah Khan where the trees have insinuated themselves into the stone walls and become permanent fixtures.

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Those are the big-picture views, but here a few photos of the details I captured at this temple:

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preahkahn_errodedbuddha

preahkahn_figure&plant

On the way out, we saw this solemn monkey. One of the guards was trying to coax him to take a banana, and the little fellow wouldn’t go for it. The guard finally tossed it to him and let him eat it at his leisure. Here’s my photo, taken from a distance. Thankfully, one of those poverty paparazzi weren’t around, or they might have tried to make him dance for their amusement. (Though I suppose I am guilty of photographing a naked monkey.)

preahkahn_monkey.jpg

Neak Pean

We met Yam on the East side of the temple (so didn’t have to backtrack through the entire temple), and he carried us away to our next stop: Neak Pean. This is a unique site, constructed on a man-made island, which means taking a long walkway across the water to reach it.

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The views are stunning. The temple is in the middle of a pond on the island and while you can’t actually reach it, it offers some stunning perspectives.

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One such perspective came from Marcie. If you have ever met my wife, then you know that she pretty much lives in her own world (we call it “Marce”—you can pronounce it “Mars” with a longer “s” sound at the end).

Here is basically how our conversation went at a holy Buddhist temple:

Marcie: Maybe we’ll see flying frogs.

Me: Those don’t exist.

Marcie: Yes, they do. I’ve seen them.

Me: No, you haven’t.

Marcie: I’m pretty sure I have.

Me: There’s no such thing as flying frogs.

Marcie: Well, there are flying squirrels.

Me: Those are two different things! One’s a rodent and one’s an amphibian.

Marcie: Well, I still think we’ll see one.

Which, incidentally, is why you can’t win an argument with my wife. Because if she decides something’s true, then it is. Then, once we were back at the hotel, I looked up flying frogs and it turns out they do exist. Sigh. I hate being wrong.

We trekked back along the bridge to reconnect with Yam. By this time the bridge was busier and it’s really not that wide—especially when there are herds of tourists all stopping, posing, and turning with giant bags on their backs. I’m surprised I didn’t see anyone plunge into the water. I’m surprised it wasn’t one of us.

At the end of the bridge, we ran the same gauntlet as before—a long line of merchants trying to sell us anything and everything. We had already bought a guidebook to Angkor, so we settled on the response of “we already have it!”

prastaneakpean-marketstreet

Ta Som

After Neak Pean, we headed to the beautiful temple Ta Som, sequestered in the jungle. The main entrance is capped by giant faces, similar to the ones we saw at Prasat Bayon.

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ta_som_heads

Once you enter through the gate, there are a few different corners to explore. We realized that we had started developing a system to our explorations; instead of going straight through, we immediately branch off at our first opportunity and venture through the outskirts, slowly moving inward. This seems to be the opposite of what most visitors do, so gives us a bit more privacy and room to meander and contemplate.

ta_som_gate

I keep finding lonely brooms tucked away in different corners of the temples. I don’t know why they capture my attention . . . there’s just something whimsical and magical about an unused broom in such a location. (Hmm. Maybe there’s a story brewing here.)

ta_som_broom

At one point, Marcie got “low”; anyone with diabetes will understand the term. It means she suspected having low blood sugar, and so had to check her levels. She has to do this throughout the day, then make adjustments accordingly, either by giving herself insulin through her pump-injector or by eating and drinking.

I just snapped this photograph while she was checking her blood; even though you might be in the most magical place in the world, diabetes stops for no one! But, on the other hand, Marcie doesn’t stop for anyone either. Having Type-1 (or juvenile) diabetes has never prevent her from exploring, or taking on, the world!

ta_som_marcie_testing

Despite the fact that the temple is surrounded by walls, the trees are having their own say. This is no more apparent than at this gate, which has been oppressed by a giant strangler fig. We loved this image, and took (or had taken) many photos:

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Beyond the tree, on either side, was a long wall, and the jungle. I ventured along it, leaving Marcie to rest at the gate, and found more trees reaching onto the wall, as if they were attempting to pluck the stones from the ground and devour them whole.

ta_som_junglepath

Then I came upon what looked like a gigantic (but, thankfully deserted) ant hill and decided I better whisk back into the temple before I got attacked by something. Like an ant. Or a monkey. Or maybe one of those trees!

East Mebon

After Ta Som, we took a short ride to the temple known as East Mebon. It was once surrounded by a moat, creating an artificial island, but now the surrounding area is dry. We ending up dubbing this the “elephant temple” for the statues of the magnificent creatures that are positioned on the four corners of the outer and inner walls.

As with Ta Som, we entered the main gate, climbed the stairs, then immediately veered to our left to explore the outskirts of the complex, thus avoiding the crowds and finding our own places of solitude. It was here where we found the first of our elephants.

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The outer walls are lined with trees now, creating shady and romantic walkways.

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Once again, there was time for me to sit, contemplate, and brainstorm. And what’s better than brainstorming next to an elephant? Marcie captured these photos of me—notice how I’m sitting out in the open, without even a hat. This is something I would have never been able to do when visiting the other temples, two days earlier. That’s how different the weather was. The temperature this day was perfect: warm and comfortable.

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Eventually, we made our way into the inner city, taking in the turrets, doorways, and stairways.

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eastmebon_marcie_doorway

eastmebon_lef_doorway

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Pre Rup

The next temple on our itinerary, Pre Rup, was similar to East Mebon in its architectural features, size, and layout—so much so, in fact, that I confess I’ve had trouble sorting out my photos between the two of them.

There are no elephants at Pre Rup (though many lions), which is one distinguishing feature. The other is that the jungle is not so close, offering a far more expansive view of the surrounding landscape.

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This temple not only offered us spectacular views, but, for Marcie, an epiphany. Standing up there, high above the world, she was suddenly overcome with emotion and experienced what she described as a significant moment of clarity. I’ve had a similar experience many years ago on the Great Wall of China. I haven’t pressed Marcie, yet, on exactly what became clear for her—but I’m pretty sure it’s no coincidence that she had been blessed by that old monk only a few hours earlier!

Prasat Kravan

Our final temple of the day was a small one, Prasat Kravan. In some way, it was an anti-climatic finish to our day. Not only is the temple small, it was being swarmed by workers who were setting up for an event. We assumed the hubbub was for a wedding, but Yam informed us it was for a corporate VIP event.

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prasat_kravan_settingup

Still, we found some interesting details, such as this inscription inside one of the door jambs, weathered by time:

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And here’s a final parting shot of Marcie, summing up how we’ve felt at the end of our tour:

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Our adventures aren’t quite done yet. We’re off to explore a floating village and then heading to the big city of Phnom Penh. More inspiration to come!

 

 

 

 

A boy in an inside-out shirt, a flying tiger, and a thousand doorways: My new book series!

A boy in an inside-out shirt, a flying tiger, and a thousand doorways: My new book series!

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve signed with HarperCollins Children’s Books for a three-book middle-grade series. Book 1, The Secret of Zoone, is about a boy who stumbles through a secret door and into a magical station at a crossroad between worlds (so, as you can guess, a lot happens there).

I can’t wait to introduce readers to my cast of characters, including . . .

Ozzie, the boy in the inside-out shirt . . .

Tug, the skyger with failed wings . . .

Salamanda Smink, the inept wizard’s apprentice . . .

and Fidget of Quoxx, the princess with inappropriately purple hair.

I’ve been working on this world (worlds!) in one way or the other for ten years. It’s involved not only writing, but a lot of doodling, drawing, brainstorming, prop-building, and traveling the world.

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zoone_tug&ozzie_nocovers_brainstorming

zoone_doorknockers_brainstorming

zoone_mongo_brainstorming

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I’m so thrilled that the series has finally found a home. It combines many of the things I absolutely adore: doorways, keys, talking (and flying) animals, magic, and steampunk.

I want to thank my agent Rachel Letofsky with CookeMcDermid for all of her support, but in helping me get the manuscript in shape and, of course, in finding a dream publisher for it.

I also want to thank all those people who helped by preceding the book: the one and only Marcie Nestman, Paige Mitchell, Kallie George, Sarah Bagshaw, Renuka Baron, and a cast of young readers, including Nadia and Rachel.

I’m currently hard at work with my wonderful editor, Stephanie Stein, to complete final edits on Book 1 for its release in 2019.

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:

changdeokgung_happytiger

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:

changdeokgung_heatingdoor

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

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changdeokgung_marcie_doorway

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

changdeokgung_marcie_roofline

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:

changdeokgung_raccoondog

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.

changdeokgung_700-year-old_tree

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.

Designing a doorway to Storyville

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I’m just at the tail-end of a tour of schools in the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna. The schedule has been intense, as I’ve been often delivering four workshops a day spread across two different schools.

At each school, I delivered a different brainstorming project, depending on the age of the audience and my allotted time. For the youngest students (the kindergartens and Grade 1s) I led a round of Monster Design 101, while for the older students we either mapped a hero’s journey across a fantastical landscape or designed a magical doorway. Any of these activities serve as an excellent springboard into a story. In each case, the students complete their own individual brainstorming sheet while simultaneously contributing to an overall group one.

The result is always distinctive and unique . . . and always a concoction of wonderful ideas.

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Even though part of my brain was exhausted by week’s end, another part was percolating with ideas. In my very last visit of the week, the students and I group-designed this particular door:

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I decided to take inspiration from it and write my own story, which I present below. It doesn’t match the door design exactly, but, as I always tell my workshop participants, brainstorming isn’t your boss. It’s just your guide and you need to feel free to veer off in different (and hopefully better) directions.

* * *


Time for Dinner

Tom raced down the street, school bag clattering on his back as he headed home. Coach had kept them behind for extra time and now he was going to be late for dinner. Again. And tonight Mom was making his favourite: spaghetti.

He was salivating over the thought of those home-made meatballs when he passed by the alley and came to a screeching halt. His older brother Daniel had warned him to never go down there, but that was Daniel for you. He thought he was the Boss of Everything. Besides, the alley was a shortcut home. Tom didn’t hesitate—meatballs were waiting for him!

He scampered into the alley and found himself in a narrow space with moody shadows clutching at him from either side. But other than that, it really wasn’t that scary. It was even pleasantly—and surprisingly—warm.

He was halfway through when he came upon the door.

That brought him to another stop. Because this wasn’t the type of door you encounter in everyday life. To begin with, it had a peculiar shape. The bottom was normal enough, starting in a rectangle, but at the top it branched off into different directions before tapering into five distinct points. Taking a step back to gain a better view, Tom realized it looked just like a claw. The door’s slats of wood appeared as if they had been once painted a bright red, though now very little of the color was left—just a tattered and peeling curl here and there. Otherwise, the door was mostly bare and grey, though two ornamental hinges danced whimsically across the wood in the curling shapes of dragon tails. They looked like they had once been a bright and proud black, though now they were so corroded by rain and time that long streaks of green dripped from them like poison tears.

There was a small doorknocker set in the middle of the door. It was in the shape of a face and was clenching a heavy ring of metal in its teeth. It had a wide-eyed expression; Tom decided that it looked surprised to see him. Then he looked down at the door handle. It had a round knob with a curlicue pattern.

Tom reached out for the knob, only to hear, “Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

Tom dropped his school bag and leapt backwards, eyes darting. Who had said that? The alley was completely deserted. Then Tom’s eyes wandered back to the door and he saw the doorknocker quivering, its lips contorting desperately around the heavy metal ring its mouth.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

It was as if it was trying to talk—though all too ineffectually.

Tom tugged at one of his ears. This can’t be happening, he thought. He stared down towards the end of the alley, where he could see the sun beginning to set overtop the rooftops in his neighborhood. Just around the corner and down the street was his house. And spaghetti and meatballs.

Better to just go home, he thought.

“Mrphymmmhhh . . .” the doorknocker said with a sigh.

Then again, spaghetti and meatballs happened every week. A talking door? That could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

No wonder Daniel warned me to stay away from here, Tom told himself. Maybe he wanted to keep this magical door to himself.

He reached for the handle again. The doorknocker grunted and grimaced, still trying to talk, still making no sense. Tom turned the doorknob and yanked. It screeched in complaint and held fast; no one had surely opened the door in ages. That’s when he noticed the keyhole below the knob.

“Hmm,” Tom murmured.

He stepped back and contemplated the door anew.

Suddenly, there was a metallic creak. It came from a metal letter slot that Tom had not yet noticed, set a few inches below the doorknocker. Something was working its way through the narrow flap. Tom furled his brow and watched in curiosity as a piece of paper edged out. When it was all the way through, it fluttered to the ground.

Tom stooped to pick it up. It was old and thin, scorched and torn around the edges. In ragged writing, someone had scrawled in dark red ink: HELP ME.

“What the!?” Tom gasped. He let the paper dropped back to the littered ground of the alley. “Who is me?

He tried to open the mail slot with his finger, but it didn’t offer any view of what lay beyond. He put his ear to the surface of the door and felt heat radiating from the wood. But he could hear nothing except for the desperate pleading coming from the doorknocker.

I guess it’s asking for help—that’s what it’s trying to say, Tom thought. He could see a very intense look in that doorknocker’s eyes—well as intense as you could get for something that wasn’t exactly . . . alive.

Tom began to pace the alley. What to do . . . what to do . . .

He was just about to give up on the whole venture when he noticed the oddly-colored brick in the wall, next to the door. Most of the other bricks were grey and rough. But this one was blueish. Upon closer scrutiny, Tom decided that it was even glowing slightly. He reached out, hesitantly, and touched the brick.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

The brick slid outwards, coughing with dust as it did so. Tom had to stand on his tip-toes to see the top of it. There, nestled in a perfect coffin-like hollow, was a large brass key.

“Cool,” Tom murmured as he reached in and tugged the key loose. It was heavy and old-fashioned, and felt cool in his hands. Tom decided to not waste another moment. He plugged the key into the door and cranked the knob, allowing himself a self-congratulatory smile as he did so.

Yes, he was very clever, he decided. He had discovered the hidden key in the bricks. Could Daniel have done that? Well, he hadn’t, because otherwise Tom would have heard about it. For once, Tom was going to be the hero. For once, he was going to reap the reward.

Slowly, the door groaned inward. Craning his neck, Tom peered inside. All he could see was a murky black tunnel.

It did not look inviting—certainly not as inviting as spaghetti and meatballs.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!” came the muffled cry from the doorknocker from what was now the other side of the open door.

Tom took a step backwards. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. Then, from the depths of the tunnel, came an unearthly, sibilating rumble. A sharp and stinging odour reached his nostrils; it smelled like soot or burning metal, like a car trying to screech to a halt with warn-out brake pads. Tom took another step back, only to suddenly feel the door whack him in the back as it slammed shut. Tom tumbled forward, into the pitch black, and landed roughly on ground littered with what felt like pebbles and sharp sticks. He could feel the tiny shards digging into his skin. He clutched one of the sticks and held it up to his face for closer inspection, but he couldn’t discern any detail in the darkness.

Then he heard the growl again. It came thundering through the tunnel, so loud and ominous it was like being grabbed by the pit of the stomach and turned inside out. Tom quickly scrambled to his feet and pressed himself against the now-shut door. He was still clutching the stick in one hand, but with his other, he reached behind him and fumbled for the doorknob. His hand found it, jiggled it, but it was locked shut.

Then, out of the blackness, a pair of amber eyes, appeared. They were shot through with red veins and punctuated by two knife-blade irises. Tom gulped. He may have even tried to scream, but no sound left his throat. Those eyes grew larger, closer. They cast a dim light in the cavern. Tom slowly lifted the stick he was clutching in his hand, as if it might somehow protect him.

It was only then he realized that it was a sliver of bone.

* * *

A few moments later, a wet and satisfied belch reverberated out of the alleyway and through the streets of the neighborhood. It was so loud it could be heard all the way to Tom’s house.

“What was that?” Tom’s mother wondered as she sat down at the dinner table.

“Who knows in this town,” Daniel replied as he plowed into his heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. “The better question is: What happened to Tommy this time?”

Tom’s mother sighed. “Late for dinner. AGAIN.”

Though, from a certain point of view—and, for the sake of argument, let’s just call that the point of view of a certain doorway lurking in a certain alleyway—Tom wasn’t late at all.

He was right on time.

Favorite doors of Shanghai

During my trip to Shanghai, I was able to find a lot of inspiration from the gardens, the architecture, and the overall sights and sounds of the city. Most of all, I found many wonderful doors!

Students, friends, and colleagues know I have a bit of a door obsession. I photograph them, write about them, and collect door knockers. I even have a trunk that is made out of an old door.

Here are some of my favorite doors and details that I was able to find during my recent trip to storied and exotic city of Shanghai. These come from Old Shanghai, Ancient Town in Qibao and the French Confession . . . or, otherwise, just here and there throughout the city.

oldshanghai-doorknockersquare

oldshanghai-doorlock

qibao-reddoorswithlionknockers

qibao-red-door-lionknocker

frenchconfession-door-swirls

frenchconfession-old-door

qibao-temple-exit-door-knocker

yugarden-doorwithtrees

yugarden-happydoorknocker

yugarden-exitdoor

yugarden-traditionalbrowndoorway

yugarden-traditionalbrowndoorway-detail

yugarden-traditionaldoor-square

old shanghai - gremlin door handle.JPG

yu-garden-door-knocker-sun-lion-01

Exploring Québec ~ Day 4

oldquebec-marcie-thinking

Day 4 was actually the final day of my time in Québec City. Since it was a truncated day, with part of it spent getting to the airport and flying home (which actually also turned out to be a better part of the night—but such are the risks that go with trying to make flight connections across a giant country such as Canada), Marcie and I did not do a great deal, other than visit the Museum of Civilization, have a final lunch, and then wander the old streets one last time.

The Museum of Civilization is in the lower old town, but in a very modern building. The main exhibit chronicles the history of the province and is brimming with all sorts of interesting relics from the past. I highly recommend it.

Well, one thing we learned about this place is that people are extremely convivial, full of love, and very proud of their beautiful cities. And well they should be! Even wandering through the time-worn streets of Québec City one last time, Marcie and I discovered many lovely doors and details.

How did we miss these previously? I’m not sure! But here are some of the final things we noticed.

oldquebec-yellow-door-flowerhandle

olddoor-reddoorstones

oldquebec-55-door-marker

oldquebec-bienvenudoorbuzzer02

oldquebec-doorbuzzer-gray

oldquebec-facedoorknocker

oldquebec-gray-door-handle

oldquebec-liondoorknocker

oldquebec-windowlattice

oldquebec-wooden-door-winebottle

Well, my next adventure, will be sticking my nose into my sketchbooks and laptop to work on the actual “writing” phase of my writing projects—and to teach some creative writing courses. One involves the theme of family history . . . but that’s a post for another time. In the meantime, I’m fuelled up with inspiration and ready to spring into a fall of creativity!