How a new children’s book series reminded me about the magic of world-building

How a new children’s book series reminded me about the magic of world-building

Author (and friend!) Kallie George recently wrote a guest post on my blog in which she described her world-building process for her brand new children’s book series, The Heartwood Hotel. 

Since that post, Kallie officially launched the series with a fun and engaging event at Kidsbooks, our local bookstore that specializes in catering to young readers.

heartwoodhotellaunch-kalliegeorge

The launch was a stupendous success. Families were lined up down to block as they waited for the doors to open, clamoring to hear Kallie share her new world. For Kallie, that mean not only mesmerizing the kids with a reading of the first book in the series, but also providing amazing and tangible pieces that were completely interactive.

I was reminded, once again, about the magic that can happen when you really put the “build” into world-building.

Mapping

In the earlier post on my blog, Kallie talked about using mapping as a way to construct a believable and interesting world. If you haven’t read that post yet, then I really encourage you to do so.

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Mapping has long been a key technique that I use in my own writing process, and, as Kallie describes in her post, I helped her map the Heartwood Hotel, too. Personally, I map all kinds of spaces in my books, everything from entire worlds to one-room settings. I find it’s a great way to “stage” a scene and to help make it logical.

These maps don’t need to be slick and professional for the purposes of the author’s writing, but, of course, they can end up becoming the basis for something your publisher can use for the final book.

Dioramas

The kids who turned up to meet Kallie at her book launch were in for a real treat. Kallie and her husband Luke put in many late nights working on a model of the Heartwood hotel–a sort of doll house complete with furniture and accessories.

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The only thing missing?  Well, that was the figures. But no worries! Kallie provided wooden peg figures so that the kids could make their own animal critters that were the perfect scale to roam around the Heartwood Hotel environment.

heartwoodhotel-joanne

Of course, the kids got to take their peg figures home with them, but I love the idea that they could imagine that they got to stay in the hotel first.

Props

Well, if you’re going on a vacation, you also need a suitcase. Kallie provided miniature suitcase templates that could be cut out and folded into shape.

heartwoodhotel-activity

heartwoodhotel_suitcase_on

If you weren’t so lucky as to attend the launch, you can still make your own Heartwood Hotel suitcase. Just head over to the official website to download the template.

The final activity that I wanted to mention was that the kids attending Kallie’s book launch also had the opportunity to leave behind a record of their stay at the Heartwood Hotel by filling out an entry in one of the many pages in the beautiful guestbook created specifically for the book launch.

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I thought this was a fabulous idea . . . the kids could base the entry on the peg figure they created, or even put their own name (though, really, no humans are allowed at the Heartwood!). This guestbook really helped immerse the kids in Kallie’s world.

Why put the build into world-building?

If you’re a fantasy author—especially a fantasy author for kids—I think you have a really great opportunity to bring your world to life in every way you can. Maps, dioramas, really can make for a magical book launch or school visit.

Building for your readers

We live in an interactive but highly-digitized world. More than ever, there is something enchanting about kids being able to look at a tangible, three-dimensional prop and to hold it their hands. I can’t tell you the number of times a child has examined one of my dragon eggs or magical potions and asked, “Is it real?”

So, these add-ons can really help attract kids to the worlds you have created or deepen their affection for the love they already have for a story. If you ask me, they are a must for a book launch or school visit!

Building for you

So, making magical potions, building a diorama, sketching a map . . . they might be great for promotion, but what do they do for the book itself? Do they make the words better?

I think so. The writing process can be arduous and taking a break from the screen to build something connected to your world can really help you examine your story from a different angle. I like to think of it as getting to play in my world, but in a different way than using words.

I can recall so many times in which I’ve imagined a magical item, written about it, then built a prop of it, only to realize that the final prop is vastly different than the way I originally imagined it—in a much better way. So, in essence, prop building helps enrich the ideas in my story. When you’re a fantasy writer, that’s critical.

Building for teachers

Kallie and I have worked as creative writing teachers, often in tandem, for many years and we have always taken the philosophy of putting the “build” into world building seriously. We often encourage our students, young and old to draw maps of their worlds, build diorama of key settings, create costume designs for characters, and to find or fashion important props.

Of course, these techniques can also be used to help kids connect to books as readers. In my time as an author, I’ve seen pictures of kids connecting to my worlds through costume, dioramas, and figurines. Recently, one student even made her own history book or “EEN-cyclopedia” of my worlds!

What do you think? If you’re a teacher, do use these techniques? If you’re an author, do you use them? If so, which ones?

More Kendra Peg Figures

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Legends & Lore from the Land of Een

Legends & Lore - Kindle CoverThroughout the month of October, I was celebrating the ten-year-anniversary of my Kendra Kandlestar series. But what’s an anniversary without gifts? So what makes a good gift for such a momentous occasion?

How about a brand-new never-before-released Kendra Kandlestar book?

FOR FREE.

Yep! You can download “Legends & Lore from the Land of Een” for FREE from your favorite digital provider. Or, you can even download a PDF, directly from the Kendra Kandlestar website.

This book is a companion book to the series. It includes some favorite stories, myths, and tales from the Land of Een. A few fan-favorite characters pop up here and there, too. Most of the material comes from existing stories and notes, things that I had written to help build the world of Kendra Kandlestar, but couldn’t be included in the actual books. I’m glad there is finally a place for at least some of these stories.

This is especially for all those young readers who have kept sending in their letters asking for more Kendra Kandlestar, even after five books. Well, this gift is for you.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Kids respond

This month of October, I’ve been celebrating the ten-year-anniversary of Kendra Kandlestar (the first book in the series, The Box of Whispers, was published in October, 2005).  The celebration culminates on October 31st when I release a new companion book to the series. Kendra Kandlestar: Legends and Lore from the Land of Een will be available as a free download on all digital platforms. Stay tuned for the links!

But back to today’s particular celebration! In previous posts, I’ve discussed the ideas and inspiration for the different elements of the series; today I wanted to celebrate the things that authors have no control over . . . reader response.

I’m very grateful for all of the love that has been thrown Kendra’s way over the past decade. In addition to numerous hand-written letters, Een-mails (very similar to emails; you can send one through kendrakandlestar.com), and notes, I’ve had the joy of receiving all sorts of photos showing fan engagement.

Here’s some of my favorites from over the years, from kids small and big alike!

Dolls and figures
I think one of the things I enjoy the most is when readers reinterpret my characters and turn them into other incarnations!

More Kendra Peg Figures kendrakandlestar_pegfigures

This is a Kendra doll in progress. Check out them ears!

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Dioramas and models
There are many magical environments and items in Kendra’s world. Here’s some of them brought to three-dimensional life . . .

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boxofwhisper_prop

Kids in costume
Of course, Kendra’s hair makes her a great candidate for a Halloween costume. When she was younger, my own goddaughter, Charlotte, dressed as Kendra and came to my book launches. Here’s a picture of her these many years ago . . .

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But many kids over the years have chosen to take on the task without bribery from me . . .

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Kendra Kandlestar costume.

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Fun stuff
Now for the really fun stuff!

This cake was made by my friend Carrie for the recent launch of the final book in the series, The Search for Arazeen:

arazeenlaunch_kendracake

Someone used Oki as the basis for a jack o’lantern:

okipumpkin

And a very big fan (I mean both in the size of her fandom and in her physical age) got an Oki tattoo!

Oki Tattoo

Drawings
Of course, kids have given me all sort of Kendra Kandlestar artwork over the years. I love to see their versions of these characters.

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Sonya's drawing of Kendra Kandlestar.

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

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Kendra Kandlestar

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

There are so many other drawings, cards, notes, and items I could show. Rest assured, I cherish them all, and have kept every single one ever given to me. Thank you so much for loving Kendra and sticking with her long ten-year journey!

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Designing Whispers

boxofwhispers-3dIn my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the setting, heroes, antagonists, and overall inspiration for the book.

For this installment, I’m discussing the visual design. Since I come from a graphic design background and am also the illustrator of the series, I was allowed to have a strong say in the overall look of the book—which is far from the normal situation in publishing.

I had a lot of passion for the way the books should be presented, so I was accommodated! When I was a child, my favorite books were those from the turn-of-the-century, when art deco was the flavor of the day. In those books, such as the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, art, text, and delightful elements of design seemed to dance together to create a magic portal into the world of storybook.

This was very much a tradition I wanted to echo when it came time to present Kendra Kandlestar to the world. This is most dramatically seen on the first page of each chapter in The Box of Whispers, which makes use of large, elaborate typography. I looked in particular to Ozma of Oz (Chapter 1 shown below, left).  Published in 1907, this third book in the Oz series was illustrated by John R. Neill (and was also my favorite in the series as a child).

design

Here are some of the other “chapter title pages” in The Box of Whispers:

Box of Whispers.indd Box of Whispers - Interior.indd Box of Whispers - Interior.indd

Incidentally, I should mention that the character featured in the illustration above was named after one of my favorite characters in the Narnia series, Puddleglum. Since my character—Pugglemud—was encountered in a marsh, just like C.S. Lewis’s Puddleglum, I thought it would be a nice homage. The characters share nothing else in common and, at the time, I thought Pugglemud would play his role in the story and then quietly slip away. Unfortunately, he’s rather like a bad weed; he kept coming back in future books. If I had known this, I probably would have not given him a name that is so similar to Puddleglum.

Box of Whispers - Interior.indd Crack in Kazah - interior.indd Box of Whispers.indd

It goes without saying that I was very pleased when one of the early reviews for The Box of Whispers made a comparison between it and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

For the final installment, I’ll talk about some of the fun fan engagement that’s happened with the book.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: monsters, monsters, and more monsters

In my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the original inspiration for both the premise and characters. Today, we get into the fun stuff—the monsters!

Even in the earliest drafts of this story, I was clear about one thing: there would be no shortage of monsters in this story. After all, the original opening of the book stated that the land was surrounded by “Trolls, Giants, and a great many terrible monsters.”

As demonstrated by this line, I originally wanted to populate my story with the type of creatures that already existed in traditional fairy tales. The Trolls in particular were to play a major role, for it would be an infant Troll—then named Grugel—that would be rescued by the heroine (then Luka, as shown in the illustration below).

luka&grugel

Why did I make the decision to change the Trolls to Ungers? Well, as I developed the story in greater detail, it became apparent to me that these creatures shared a very special relationship with Kendra and the Eens. I decided that I didn’t want Grugel to be associated with the traditional fairy-tale characters of Trolls so eventually made the decision to call him an Unger, in order to establish his species as one that was original and unique.

Of course, there were creatures other than the Ungers that appeared throughout the story, namely the worm-like Skarm and the Goojuns. We get to see the Skarm in all its glory as it battles the brave Captain Jinx:

skarmattacksjinx

Alas, the Goojuns were only mentioned in the tale about Jinx’s Uncle Jasper. Because their role was so minor, I never included any final illustrations of the Goojuns in the book, though here is one of my concept sketches:

goojun_concept

Of course, future books in the series, feature many Goojuns, plus the other members of the monster tribes: the Izzards, Krakes, and Orrids.

The biggest and boldest monster in The Box of Whispers is that menacing old creature, Rumor the Red Dragon. Though his character survived intact from that very first concept painting I did (which you can see here), the way the dragon looked went through many changes. You can see by the illustration of him below that he originally looked a bit more like a snake (especially because he has no wings).

rumor_concept

It eventually became crucial to give Rumor wings once I realized that he needed to fly across the world stealing “trinkets, baubles, and all manner of curios” to fill his massive vault of riches.

In my next installment, I’ll talk about the evolution of the book’s setting from The Land of Tween to the Land of Een.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Magic rabbits and parakeets

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

One of my projects this month has been to celebrate the ten-year-anniversary of The Box of Whispers, the first book in my Kendra Kandlestar series.

In an earlier post, I talked about how a single painting inspired the premise for the book. What I didn’t say was that it also served as the inspiration for the characters.

That painting, as you can see in the close up below, featured a rabbit, a parakeet, a mouse, a cricket, a gnome-like character, and—of course—the giant dragon.

Detail of concept painting inspired by The Hobbit.

All of these characters made it into the earliest drafts of the story, which back in 2002 was entitled Luka Long-Ears and the Box of Whispers. That’s right—there was NO Kendra to be found anywhere in those pages. Instead, it was the central character of Luka the rabbit that set off on the frightening journey to recover the precious box, which—by the end of the story—contains her own dark secret.

I loved the character of Luka. But as I began to work more earnestly on the book, I began to feel that the themes and messages of the story were outgrowing little Luka. After all, a rabbit character seemed to fit better with a very young audience, and it was fast becoming apparent to me that the story I was writing was better suited for readers slightly older in age. I felt that the story would be stronger if it was led by a more human-like character.

So, alas, I made the hard decision to change Luka into the Elfish little Kendra. It was a lot of work to make the change, for it involved not only rewriting the story, but—as the illustrator—completely rethinking the visuals of the book. As you can see by the illustrations below, I had already completed several pieces of artwork featuring Luka. Even my original draft of the cover gave the spotlight to the long-eared rabbit!

luka_long_ears_cover

Here’s a page from my sketchbook, showing some of the early designs for Kendra as an Een:

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As for Luka, she did not disappear entirely. Readers who pay close attention will see that Kendra has a lot of rabbit in her character! Not only does she have magical carrot seeds, she also has long braids (instead of long ears), which she tugs fretfully throughout her adventures.

And, for those of you who have paid really close attention, you will still catch a reference to Luka in the book. Eventually, I decided that Luka Long-Ears is a talented tailor living in the Faun’s End. In Book 3, Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve, you can even find a picture of Luka as she sews Kendra’s robe.

luka_long_ears_tailor

Of course, Luka wasn’t the only character to undergo a dramatic change. Originally, Luka’s parental figure wasn’t Uncle Griffinskitch, but her wise old friend Tuttleburg the parakeet. Since the original painting showed Tuttleburg with a wizard’s hat, I made him into a magical bird.

Since Tuttleburg originally filled the role of Kendra’s guardian, he had to do all the important things such as participating in the Council of Elders—though, as a parakeet, he had a perch instead of a chair.

parakeet

Once I made the decision to replace Luka with Kendra, it seemed to make sense to make Tuttleburg the Uncle figure—and that meant he could no longer be a parakeet.

Interestingly, I had already developed a minor gnome-like character called Wolden Whitebeard. I loved the original illustration of him:

wolden_whitebeard

So I decided to promote him to be a main character. So really Tuttleburg and Wolden united to become old Uncle Griffinskitch.

Children often ask me how I came up with the name of Uncle Griffinskitch. I’m afraid the answer is rather silly. He is named after my cat, who goes by Griffin publicly, but to close friends and family is known as Skitch. When Griffin was a kitten, his tiny fuzzy body promised a blissful, short-haired future. Alas, he now sports so much hair that he indeed rivals his fictitious counterpart, Uncle Griffinskitch.

studio_griffin

The change from Luka and Tuttleburg to Kendra and Griffinskitch is easily the boldest difference between the early drafts of the manuscript and the final book. However, there were a few other characters who experienced some growth, as it were. If you look back at that original painting, you will see that the gnome character originally held a sword and was fairly old, sporting a gray beard. He was known in my first draft of the book as Grimble Green. But I decided to turn him into a Professor who loved books. As you can see by the illustration below, Grimble Green kept his age for a time, sporting an elder’s beard:

grimblegreen

As time went by, I decided that I wanted Uncle Griffinskitch to be the clear elder and leader of our impetuous band of heroes. So Bumblebean became younger and a bit more bumbling.

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Of course the other thing the character had lost during his transition was his sword. I needed to find a new warrior to help the heroes in their quest for the Box of Whispers. I decided that the cricket from the original painting—now a grasshopper known as Juniper Jinx—would be the soldier. I thought it would be funny to make the smallest character in the story the strongest.

Jinx now became as tough as the hide of the monsters she would fight throughout the book. Of course, because grasshoppers have more than two arms, I thought it would be a good idea to give her enough weapons for all of her hands. Here’s an early sketch for her:

jinx_sketch

I suppose Oki, the little mouse, is the only one who really didn’t change through any of the drafts of the story. Not only did he remain timid and smart, he was always the best friend of the story’s heroine. And, of course, he always got to carry the key to the fabled Box of Whispers!

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

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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…