All the things worth worrying about—and the things that are not

secret_of_zoone_coverI’ve been a little anxious lately in advance of the release of my new book, The Secret of Zoone, worried about ALL THE THINGS. Will the book sell? What if it “fails?” This is my first book with a big New York house. What if this is my only shot, and I blow it?

Then, yesterday, I had an uplifting and grounding experience when I visited Meadowridge School to deliver a presentation and workshop.

First of all, there were so many joyful faces, so many kids dressed in beautiful, colorful clothes for Lunar New Year. One of these kids was a student who took my creative writing class last year. I can’t believe I bumped into her in such a giant school! She called me from down the hall, then came and hugged me. She was with her mom, who insisted that we take a photo together.

Afterward, I delivered my presentation and workshop to some pretty enthusiastic fans of Kendra Kandlestar. One girl came with her hair in Kendra’s seven braids and a boy came as Professor Bumblebean (and he talked like him throughout our workshop session, too!).

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It was pretty overwhelming to receive their outpouring of love for Kendra. Their joy as we workshopped together was palpable. We wrote “visual stories” and were having so much fun that I lost track of the time—and I guess they did, too, because we went right through recess (there’s no bells at the school).

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Then, as I was packing up all my dragon eggs and other magical items I had brought to inspire the crew, I noticed a book on display on the library bookshelf. It was a book written a few years ago by another student under my mentorship. It was so cool to see it so prominently featured there, and I thought how it must inspire all these other kids who come to visit the library.

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As I drove home, I contemplated, not for the first time, what it means to be a children’s author, and how strange it is to release something into the world that you then completely lose control of. These kids have a relationship with Kendra Kandlestar that transcends ALL THE THINGS. They could care less how many other kids have read it, how many copies it has sold, or if it was written a kajillion years ago.

I don’t know if these kids—or any kids—will love my new characters of Ozzie, and Tug, and Fidget in the way that these kids love Kendra, Oki, and Captain Jinx. But there will probably be a few. And that is humbling.

 

 

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Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

I had the joy of starting off the new year in a fun way: by leading a “Dragon Masters” camp for tweens.

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The camp was hosted by the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) and involved sculpting dragon scales, painting gemstones, drawing fantastical creatures, and—of course—writing about dragons, too!

One of the best aspects of this three-day camp is that I had only 15 students, which meant that we could really immerse ourselves in the activities and I had a lot of one-on-one time with each one of the kids. Many of them had worked with me in the past, so it was a fun way to reconnect with them.

“I Am” poetry

The first activity we worked on was a pair of point-of- view poems. Students brainstormed two characters, one a thief trying to steal something from a dragon’s lair, and the other a dragon who was being threatened by the theft. The students wrote one poem from each perspective.

To help with this activity, we sculpted our own dragon scales, prompting many of the students to choose this as the item that the thief would steal from the creature. Of course, the students had to come up with a reason for the theft and the response from the dragon.

One thing about sculpting, is that it’s good thinking time for writers! While the kids sculpted, they could work out some ideas for their writing. But, of course, the sculpting project in itself was a lot of fun.

Sculpting dragon scales

Here are some photos of the scales in progress. We started with plastic shapes cut from a soda bottle, then plastered them. Some students opted to sculpt ridges or shapes into their design; others decided to do a flat surface, leaving the detailing for the next phase.

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We actually had to let the scales dry overnight, but by the next morning they were ready for the students to add more detail by bejweling them (if they chose). By using acrylic gems, the students were able to add intricate detail and give their scales texture. By using the strips of acrylic gems (available at any dollar store), you can gain some uniformity, too.

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Afterwards, we painted the scales with mod podge, to help bind everything together.

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The last step was painting. I find that painting everything with a black base provides a rich undercoat; once this coat is dry, students can dry brush on a variety of metallic colors to help achieve that dragonish feel.

Of course, each student had a very specific idea for what their dragons looked like, or the type of environment they lived in, so their scales were design to match these concepts.

Here are a few of the completed projects:

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Developing a story

After the students had explored the point-of-view poems, I had them choose one of the points of view, either the dragon or the thief, and then develop that perspective into a longer, more conventional story.

The poems were more about capturing character emotion, but the story provided the students with an opportunity to flesh out a plot.

I led the students in some brainstorming exercises and provided them with some vocabulary words to help invigorate their stories. (Honestly, I’m tired of my students overusing the word “run” so we worked hard on developing a list of alternate ways to describe how characters such as dragons and thieves might move.)

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Gems of sorcery

One of the other projects that we worked on was painting glass cabochons to look like magical gems. The idea here was that these gems could be found in a dragon’s lair or a character could already be in possession of them and use them to train or communicate with a dragon.

The project is pretty simple; all you have to do is paint on the backside of the cabochons with fingernail paint. Abstract designs work well and are easy to do, though some of my students tried their hand at painting dragon eyes.

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Welcome to the Dragon Races

One of the challenges of teaching a camp is making sure students always have something to work on. Everyone creates at a different pace, and I like to have everyone work organically, which means instead of developing a checklist of projects that MUST be completed, I just have a cauldron of projects to choose from once we start getting close to the end.

For the final day of our camp, I brought in my own custom-made dragon eggs to inspire extra stories about dragon’s hatching.

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And, finally, for those students who had written, sculpted, and painted everything I had them finish off by imagining there was a dragon race coming up and had them illustrate posters.

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This turned out to be a really successful camp. I want to thank the organizers and my two assistants, Jamie and Chelsea, who helped the kids work on their art projects and did a lot of the clean up. Jamie and Chelsea have been students of mine in the past and it’s really gratifying to see them step into a different role.

Next step? We’ve collected all the students’ writing and drawings and we’ll be publishing them in a short anthology.

The kids are all right: in which my students get published

The kids are all right: in which my students get published

I’m just wrapping up another term of creative writing classes for tweens and teens through CWC (the creative writing for children society).

Publishing books for kids

One of the unique things about our program is that we publish our students’ writing in the form of professionally-bound books.

In the Fall term, we publish anthologies, and I’ve recently mocked up the cover that we plan to use for the individual classes:

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Digital publication on amazon

Our Spring term is a little different. In that term, each students get to work on publishing an individual book. Many kids choose to write a chapter novel, though we also have some who choose to work on a collection of short stories or poems.

Certain students who have been with our program for multiple terms choose to also publish their books on amazon, so I thought I would share the covers and purchase links of those students who published books in 2018.

All proceeds go to support education of kids in developing countries (CWC is currently providing financial support for several teenaged girls in Guatemala, helping them complete their high school education).

Without further adieu, here is our latest series of books . . .

Realm, by Chloe Kang

The first time I met Chloe I knew she was a writer. You’ll never see her without a book clutched in her hands and her enthusiasm for writing bursts from every pore. She’s a lover of fantasy, so it’s no surprise that she crafted a book about a character stuck in a pixelated realm . . .

BUY THIS BOOK

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Mosaic, by Yongsuh Lee

Youngsuh Lee and was inspired by her volunteering with immigrant children from Southeast Asia in Seoul and observing the changing fabric of Korean society.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Undefined, by Cassandra Feltrin

Cassandra is a gifted middle-school student who wrote a dystopian thriller. She’s just one of those students that seems to shine in everything she does.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Unconditional, by Rosie (Jimin) You

Rosie, one of our long-time students in Korea, wrote a book of poetry. She was always a very poetic soul, even as a young kid, and now she’s coming into her own as a teenager.

The other neat thing about this book is that Rosie took all the photographs that appear alongside her words.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Twisted, by Avary Fawcett

Avary is one of your current young stars, skilled at twists, turns, and clever characterizations.

BUY THIS BOOK

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The 10 Dimensions, by Brian Leong

Brian is one of our youngest authors to be published. He is a passionate advocate for kids in developing countries, so is really pleased that all proceeds for his book will go to help those in need.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Salvatore, by Andrew Marzec

Andrew is another one of our long-time students. I first met him and his twin sister when they were only in Grade 3 and their passion for writing and creativity was on full display then. Now, they are teenagers!

BUY THIS BOOK

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Living In Secrets, by Rachel Kwon

Rachel is another one of our current CWC stars; a thoughtful young writer always striving to improve her craft. I am so proud to have been her mentor.

BUY THIS BOOK

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The Darkness is Just the Light in Hiding, by Elyse Nah

Elyse is one of our long-time students based in Oregon—and she’s an extremely gifted writer. She has a natural storytelling voice and a talent for creating memorable characters.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Murder with Lies, by Sarah Marzec

Sarah is yet another one of our long-time students—I first met her and her twin brother when she was only in Grade 3! She is a talented and thoughtful writer.

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Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

I spent the last few weeks as an artist-in-residence at a school for particularly awesome teens. It’s a specialized school with only fifty students and, since this is my third or fourth stint there, I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know the kids.

For this term, I decided to embrace the Halloween season and have the students imagine character through intensive costume and prop-building. As an instructor, this is a challenge because no one is doing the same thing. That means there’s not a lot of demonstrations on my part, but a whole lot of problem-solving.

This means finding the right type of material for each student’s individual project and then helping them build what’s in their imaginations.

The Theme

We loosely chose the theme of superheroes, though many students decided to lean towards a fantasy or steampunk design.

Over the last few weeks, they drew, painted, sculpted, and built!  Here’s some photos of some of the many projects they created.

Jewelry Design

One of the main projects I introduced was jewelry design and creation. Using glass cabochons and fingernail paint, the students came up with different designs. These make fantastic accoutrements for superheroes, wizards, magical thieves .  .  . you name it.

I think they are all beautiful, but I will admit I’m partial to the ones that look like dragon eyes!

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Masks and Goggles

Every good superhero needs a mask, right? Many of the students chose to build masks or decorate goggles to help bring their characters to life.

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Enchanted Bottles

I brought so many containers of supplies to the school that I wasn’t even sure what I had there half the time. But one of my students found the “bottle box” and from then on many of them became obsessed with building enchanted bottles. Using colored sand, acrylic gems, beads, moss, feathers, and other material, they created a veritable wizard’s den!

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Wands and other magical props

Many of my students chose to build props that you can hold and carry.

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One of my friends showed up at my house one day with a box of sticks that he had pruned from some trees on Vancouver Island. “I figure these will make great wands,” he said. (I guess I have a reputation as a prop-builder.)

I decided to share the sticks with my students, and many of them made some cool items with them.

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Drawing, painting and multimedia

A significant part of the project was drawing, designing, and conceptualizing characters.

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Many of my students combined these drawings and brainstorming notes with their props to submit final “character design” projects.

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Wrapping up and saying good-bye

It’s always a bittersweet moment for me to wrap up a term at this school. These kids are so FABULOUS. They come to class each week, often thinking of themselves as less-than, and all I ever think is how I wish more people were like THEM: introspective, caring, creative, and community-minded.

We built a lot of amazing props over the course of the last nine weeks, but we hopefully we also built a lot more.

A storytelling carnival in Korea

A storytelling carnival in Korea

I recently returned from Korea where I led a week-long creative writing camp for tweens and teens with authors Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. We survived the heat (at one point, it was 49 degrees Celsius, with humidity!) and managed to deliver a great program for our students.

Creative approaches to writing

Our creative writing camp was delivered through the Creative Writing for Children Society of Vancouver (CWC) and was designed around the theme of a Storytelling Carnival. This gave us lots of fuel for creative ideas—including gift parcels (in old-fashioned popcorn bags) full of fun activities such as yo-yos, stickers, and circus animal erasers.

At our camps, students usually write a lot of stories and poems, illustrate their work, and build props, working towards the goal of publishing an anthology of their creations.

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Storytelling

This year, we added a whole other factor under the expert leadership of Dan Bar-el: Oral storytelling. Each evening, Dan led “campfire” sessions, in which the kids created stories and practiced telling them. The younger students wrote stories based around the idea of a carnival and did the storytelling in themes. Our older kids took on a greater challenge: their subject was taking traditional Korean myths and telling modernized versions.

Prop-building, steampunk style

One of the main projects I led at camp was helping the students to design and decorate their own steampunk style books. I did this project at local libraries in BC a couple of years ago, and decided to bring it to Korea.

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The idea is that the students not only get a cool notebook by the end of the project, but it can serve as inspiration for a short story. There are plenty of tales of dangerous or forbidden books in the fantasy genre (think of the chained books in Harry Potter), so I thought this would be a good way to stir the imagination.

Here are a few photos of some of their creations:

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Character brainstorming

One of my favorite activities that I led was an interactive brainstorming session. I had the kids brainstorm a character who might participate in the circus, including coming up with all the minute details. As a way to galvanize them, I brainstormed my own character at the front of the group, using their individual suggestions to help build my character.

Here’s my character . . . “poop boy”:

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And here’s a few of the characters the students came up with:

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Afterwards, the project was to write a short “I Am” poem about the character. I decided I would write one based on the group character we developed. Here it is . . .

I am a poop boy

I am a poop boy
Shovelling truckloads of dung
Every
Single
Day.
It never ends.

Lions, monkeys, and elephants
—which is worse?
I can’t tell you.

The monkeys swing above me
Bombarding me with feces.
Sometimes, they even fling it at me,
Forcing me to wear
A handkerchief around my head.

The lions mangle and maul me,
Snatching at me with weaponized paws;
Those razor nails scratch and scrape me
Until I look like shredded paper.

And the elephants?
They leave behind MOUNTAINS of poop.
I wear three masks around my face,
A clothespin on my nose,
Goggles across my eyes,
But nothing seems to work.
The stench always wriggles its way through,
Causing everything to run:
My eyes, my nose, even my ears.

I wish I could run.
Away.

But I can’t
—not if I want to achieve my dreams.
One day, I will stand and strut
In the glare of the bright lights
And be the star of the show
With a crack of my whip
A twirl of my cane
And a tip of my hat.
People won’t call me
Stinky Will anymore.
No, sir!

They’ll look at my fine clothes,
Not handed down to me
From some second-rate clown,
But tailored and hand-stitched
Just for me,
And they’ll call me Ringmaster Will
And all of these poopy problems
Will be just a distant memory.

~

Well, most kids came up with characters far more prestigious than a poop boy! We had a lot of ringmasters, acrobats, and knife-throwers. Having the brainstorming portion completed help them be more detailed in their poems and, also, helped me with editing their work–if, for example, I noticed a dearth of description in their poems, I could point them back to their visual brainstorming.

Many kids took the visual brainstorming to heart and did it for other stories and projects in the camp, too:

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The camp was a lot of work for Stacey, Dan, myself, and our team of counselors, but it was a giant success. No one melted in the heat (even when we made the kids go outside for certain activities) and we’ll soon be publishing our anthology.

Here’s a photo of Stacey, Dan, and I and our students at the end of the camp.

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There was no rest to be had though; immediately after the camp, Stacey, Dan, and I embarked on a tour of libraries in Korea. But more on that in a future post . . .

Propping up our stories: creating characters with prop-building

Propping up our stories: creating characters with prop-building

I’ve been doing a lot of prop-building lately—for example, crafting dragon eggs. Since prop-building is such an important part of my writing process, it’s something I like to bring to my students as well.

Getting away from the screen

One of the great things about prop-building is that it allows me to work on my book without staring at the screen. Let’s face it: Writing is hard and often exhausting. Sometimes, I feel like I have no words left in my brain, but I still have the desire to playin my world.

I’ve found that prop-building is a way to accomplish that. Working with tangible objects, working with my hands, has helped me to sort out plot problems. It’s kind of like doing the dishes and being suddenly struck by a eureka moment. Of course, when you wash dishes, all you get is clean dishes. When you build a prop, you get a tangible item from an imaginary world.

Nightmare Bottles

I’ve been working with a group of tween and teen writers this spring and one of the things I’ve tried to do is bring in the prop-building angle.

One of our first projects was to build “nightmare bottles.” This involves creating a character and metaphorically putting their fears in a bottle. Of course, this could provide fuel for a story in its own right, but the main purpose here was just to coax the kids into some brainstorming time.

Here’s some of their creations . . .

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Character Kits

The main prop-building project I introduced this term was to create a personal kit for each character. This could also be metaphorical or could actually appear in the students’ stories. I’m big on inventing interesting “tools” for my characters and, especially if you are writing a fantasy book, I think you have a lot of opportunities to add extra sizzle to your story.

For this project, the students get to decorate and paint the kits themselves, then fill them with a variety of mini-props that fit their specific characters’ journeys.

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This project has also tasked my students with a different approach to creativity. I’ve been trying to make sure they solve some of the problems they face.For example, one of my students wanted to build a spy kit with a gun. I looked around for toy guns and felt the creativity being sapped right out of me. I decided we could do something more original and unique. So, instead of buying a pre-made toy pistol, I bought tiny water guns and told the student to use it as a base for building something more unique.

He took one look at the brightly colored water guns and scoffed. I couldn’t convince him what a little paint a few cannibalized odds and ends could do. There was nothing I could do to change his mind, so I went home and built my own gun.

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Admittedly, my gadget turned out part steampunk, part alien ray gun, but I hope I’ve made my point! And, now, I have something more unique and interesting that I can use—yep, I decided this can belong to a character who’s currently running around causing havoc in one of my own stories.

That’s the power of prop-building!

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

I have been building dragon eggs for a couple of years now, but I recently took on the challenge of crafting a giant one. I originally wanted to build an egg so that I could use it as reference in a book I’m working on (not the MAIN book I’m working on, but a side project).

I realized that my eggs were all too small—I wanted a model that would be the exact same size as the one my characters would have to deal with in the book.

So, I hunkered down over spring break and set to work . . . Here’s all the stages, starting with the raw materials: a giant plastic Easter egg shell, acrylic jewels, and plaster.

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I started by plastering. This is the same type of material that doctors use for casts, but you can buy it at most art stores. I cut the plaster sheets into manageable strips then begin forming designs on the shell.

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The plaster dries quickly, but can snap off if you’re not careful. A coat of mod-podge does wonders to keep it intact.

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Once I was done with the plastering, I began the bejeweling phase, using a variety of different sizes and colors—the color variation doesn’t actually matter, because everything gets painted over at the end.

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I like to start with a black coat of paint, then build up color afterwards.

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I chose metallic greens for the final color, so started dry-brushing over the black undercoat.

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Here’s the final product, sitting in my studio and shown next to an average hen’s egg, to show scale!

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And here’s four of my dragon eggs, showing the different sizes, colors, and patterns.

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