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.

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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:

kendra_sketchbook_designs

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.

bumblebean_booktree

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!

oki_key

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

kendra_box_editions

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…

Happy Anniversary to Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers!

kendra_box_editions

Yep, time flies.

October 2015 marks the ten-year anniversary of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers being published. It wasn’t my first book every published, but perhaps my most significant.

In that time, the book has had multiple reprints in both paperback and hardcover, won the Mom’s Choice Award, been nominated for the Chocolate Lily Award and the Surrey Book of the Year, and been featured in CCBC’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens.” It’s been published in China and across all the digital platforms. (Back in 2005, digital publishing didn’t really exist—can you believe it?) And, of course, it spawned the rest of the series: The Door to Unger, The Shard from Greeve, The Crack in Kazah, and The Search for Arazeen.

Earlier this year I began to wonder how I would celebrate—or at least recognize—such a momentous anniversary. Coinciding with this anniversary is the fact that this year saw the publication of the final installment in the series, so it seems that I should do something.

Well, after some discussions with my publisher, I decided the best way to celebrate the anniversary is by giving something away. And I mean FOR FREE.

So what exactly is the gift?

Well, details on that are coming soon! But let’s just say, if you are one of those young readers who has been emailing me begging me for more of Kendra, then you will be pleased!

Introducing Mercy Moonwing

I have been introducing all the new characters, week by week, to help celebrate the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.  Today is the final introduction! This is a character close to my heart: Mercy Moonwing.

Mercy Moonwing

Who she is:

Mercy is like another character I introduced earlier in this series of introductions, Timmons Thunderclaws, in that she is part of the underground resistance known as the Knights of Winter. She is a key member of the group because, as a character who can fly, she can provide critical reconnaissance for the group. So, essentially, she is a scout—though her long beak is also useful in a skirmish. The only problem is that Mercy is quite forgetful and often confuses or mixes up details, including the names of her fellow knights. So she also serves as a bit of comic relief.

Where she came from:
Since this was the last Kendra Kandlestar book, I decided I would base some secondary characters on the people I know and love. In earlier posts, I explained about Paipo Plumpuddle (a friend and dedicated reader) and Charla Charmsong (my goddaughter).

Well, Mercy is based on my wife, Marcie. To begin with, Marcie loves hummingbirds, so that part was a natural fit, especially since I had been wanting a bird character to be a member of the Knights of Winter.

And Marcie flies, too, in way—on her skates at least! Actually, on her feet, Marcie is clumsier than I am (and that’s saying something). But on her skates, it’s like she’s dancing on air.

marcie_skating

And, then, there is this other photo of Marcie that I love, with her poising ever so gracefully near the edge of the Grand Canyon. When I saw her do this pose, I really did think of her as a bird.

Grand Canyon.

Here’s my first sketch of the Knights of Winter, including the character of Mercy Mooning.

Knights of Winter Woodsong - sketch

In earlier posts, I chronicled the dangers of basing characters on real people. In the case of Mercy, it was no different! I remember sharing an early draft of my Arazeen manuscript with Marcie and her getting upset because I broke “her” wing. To which I replied: “Er . . . you don’t have a wing.”

In any case, Mercy ends up without a broken wing, too—not because of Marcie’s request, but just because the plot ended up changing in subsequent drafts.

The Search for Arazeen goes digital

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen - ebook cover

It’s been out in “real life” for a month or so—now, the final book in my Kendra Kandlestar series is available digitally. You can purchase it from your favorite ebook provider, including iBook, Kindle, and Kobo.

If you’ve already read it, be sure to rate it, review it, or send an Een-mail through kendrakandlestar.com!

I especially love getting Een-mails from kids! You can check out some of my favorites here.

Introducing Timmons Thunderclaws

As part of the celebrations for the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I am introducing a new character each week. So far, I’ve introduced Tuttleferd T. Thistle ToePaipo Plumpuddle, and Charla Charmsong.

This week’s character is another animal: Timmons Thunderclaws.

timmonsthunderclaws_old

Who he is:

In The Search for Arazeen, this ornery old badger serves in the underground resistance known as Knights of Winter. In his much younger days, he served in the role of captain of the Een Guard. He retired from that position to try and live out his days in solitude in the outskirts of Een, but his loyalty to to the sorceress Winter Woodsong  compelled him to return and join her resistance movement against the would-be emperor, Burdock Brown.

Where he came from:
To be honest, Timmons Thunderclaws isn’t an entirely new character. He was mentioned in Book 3, The Shard from Greeve. Winter Woodsong sent Kendra and her friends to go hide with the badger, but they never made it that far, and ended up getting sidetracked. Even though we didn’t get to meet Timmons in person, I liked the idea of the character enough to then show him in Book 4, The Crack in Kazah. Timmons appeared during a scene when Kendra travelled back in time and saw the badger guarding the Elder Stone during her parents’ youth. He was never mentioned by name, but he did get an illustration:

Timmons Thunderclaws.

Finally, in The Search for Arazeen, Timmons gets some proper page time, complete with significant lines of dialogue. He plays an important role in the events at the end of the book. He represents one of those minor characters who has turned out to be a particular favorite of mine.