Bidding farewell to our magical creature

Bidding farewell to our magical creature

Life sometimes works in strange ways. Here I am, prepping to teach a creative writing camp next week in Korea. The theme?

Magical creatures.

And this was the week that we had to finally let go of the most magical of creatures, our cat Griffin.

Anyone who has ever lost a pet knows how hard it is. They are constants in our lives and in our homes, loyal and unwavering. For me, Griffin was not just a pet, though—he was my work buddy. Being a writer can be lonely, but not when you have a cat purring and gently pawing your elbow throughout the day.

Inspiration

In fact, as I look back on photos of Griffin, it’s almost a chronicle of all the writing, illustration, and prop-building projects I’ve worked on in my career.

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griffin-brainstomringbooknap

griffin-dragonegg

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griffin-kendramanuscript

griffin-paintbrush

In particular, my current book series, Zoone, owes a lot to Griffin. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have been able to write it without Griffin’s inspiration.

There are so many children’s books about cats, and I find most of them depict cats as standoffish, persnickety, or mischievously clever.

But I never felt that was Griffin. He was concerned with three matters: food, sleep, and affection. Not only receiving affection, but giving it.

The neighborhood character

We constantly found out about his escapades in the neighborhood. Like the time a kid came to our door on Halloween, saw Griffin, and exclaimed, “Oh, this is where Griffin lives?” (We found out that Griffin would wander up to the sidewalk each day when school got out, sprawl on the pavement, and greet all the kids coming home. They all knew his name from his collar tag.)

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Another time, we saw a guy eating his lunch out in the adjoining courtyard and he told us that Griffin came and spent every noon hour with him so that he wouldn’t be lonely.

Then there was the time I received a call from someone who asked if I had just moved. The answer was yes, and the caller went on to explain that she was my old neighbor and that her kitten was depressed because Griffin used to visit every day. (She had my number from Griffin’s tag. She even asked if we could do a playdate, but we realized the mechanics were just too difficult.)

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When it came to our son, Griffin showed extreme patience. He let Hiro tug his tail or snatch his fur and if he ever really got upset, he batted with his paw (and not his long outdoor cat claws). Eventually, Hiro would crawl up to Griffin and greet him the same way Griffin greeted him, by bunting his head along his body.

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Griffin featured in all of my school presentations—talking about pets is such an easy and immediate way to connect with kids. And when I reviewed stories by my creative writing students, Griffin often left pawmarks on their pages. A seal of approval, maybe?

When I wrote the character of Tug the skyger (a winged blue tiger) for The Secret of Zoone, I automatically gave him Griffin’s personality. There is no cynicism or sarcasm in Tug’s personality. He’s just an earnest and loyal sidekick. When my editor at HarperCollins bought Zoone, she told me it had a lot to do with Tug—that he was, in fact, one of her all-time favorite animal characters.

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A magical creature

Griffin was with us a long time. I adopted him as a kitten, seventeen years ago. My sister was visiting me and when we brought him back to my flat, he immediately began bounding around the place like a little monster. I knew then that he should be named after some mythical creature. Then he began to fly—almost literally, bounding up the wall as far up as the light switch. (I think that’s the other reason why he inspired my character of a flying tiger.) Then I knew he needed to be named after a flying mythical creature.

No matter what we were doing around our house—making Yoda Yulefest cookies, carving pumpkins, or just watching a movie—Griffin was there.

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Letting him go

We know that Griffin had a rich and full life, but it’s still hard to let him go. He showed no signs of age really at all until last fall, when he had to get some teeth pulled and we were told we should start giving him water infusion once a week to help keep his kidneys going. But in May he stopped eating. Obviously concerned, we took him to the vet. Bloodwork came back negative, then he seemed to pick up again. But when he stopped eating again, we carted him back in and discovered that he had multiple tumors.

His time had come. He wasn’t in any acute pain, so we took a few days so that we could try to adjust to the fact that we had to let him go. So that we could say goodbye. I was down to feeding Griffin high-calorie gel from my fingertips. He stopped grooming, so I had to brush out his fur on a regular basis. I gave him steroid cream, just to perk him up and try to stimulate any sort of appetite. After a lifetime of sleeping on our bed, he mostly slept curled up in the corner of our bathroom.

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When we took him in for his final vet visit, he was light in my arms, having lost almost three pounds in his final weeks. He never complained during that final appointment—he just purred and put his paw on my wrist. I thanked him for everything that he had given us then cradled him in my arms. And that is how he went.

Now our home feels empty. I feel like a goldfish—every three seconds, I’m wondering where his food dish is or why the cat flap is closed. Then I remember.

I’ll have to finish my Zoone series without my writing buddy at my side. But I’m thankful he was there at the start. Writing Zoone is truly something that I feel is helping me cope with losing Griffin, that a small part of him resides in Tug and will continue to live on.

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Cover Reveal for The Guardians of Zoone

Cover Reveal for The Guardians of Zoone

I’m excited to reveal the cover for THE GUARDIANS OF ZOONE, Book 2 in my new series with HarperCollins Children’s Books.

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The stunning cover art by Evan Monteiro depicts an exciting moment from early on in the book, featuring portal pirates, a skyger, a cosmic storm, and one of my favourite new characters: Captain Traxx.

Another favourite character of mine, first introduced in Book 1, is also shown on the ship, climbing the ratlines. She’s got a lot to do in this sequel, and I really enjoyed spending this extra time with her.

I’m so pleased with the cover, and very grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in the design. Even though I am a professional illustrator, I did not want to provide the artwork for the Zoone series—however, I did want to provide ideas, and I was allowed to do just that.

When my editor asked me what I wanted to have shown on the cover, there were two scenes from the book that came to mind. One was a dramatic chase sequence that takes place in the world of Creon and the second was when the heroes were aboard the airship known as The Empyrean Thunder.

Here is my original thumbnail that I provided to my editor:

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At first, I thought we should focus on my trio of heroes. But I also thought we could work in some of the pirates, so I provided my brainstorming pages of the pirate captain, Captain Traxx, who is the mercurial self-proclaimed “Queen of the Cosmos.”

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I also provided a photo of my brainstorming page of what the ship itself looks like:

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There’s a couple of things to point out:

1) As you can see, I took some inspiration from The Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

2) I love coffee.

3) As you can also see, many of my design ideas made it to the front cover. Instead of zooming in on the characters, the artist decided to pull back and show more of an epic perspective of the scene.

Based on the feedback I’ve received so far, it was the right decision!

Not every author gets the opportunity to participate in the cover design phase of a book. I know many colleagues who simply get shown their cover after it’s complete and are given NO say whatsoever. So, I’ll just repeat how grateful I am that I was consulted.

The Guardians of Zoone is scheduled for release in February 2020. You can find out more about the book here.

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 3 (robots are liars)

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 3 (robots are liars)

Day 3 of TD Canadian Children’s Book Week marked the mid-point of my tour and it was very different from my previous days, mostly because I got to spend the whole day at one school. This was a nice switch! When you are a prop guy like me, there’s a lot of set up and pack up, and I only had to do it once today—as opposed to Monday and Tuesday, when I had to do it multiple times, and as quickly as possible to make the next event. (Hey, it’s my own fault!)

An oldie but a goodie

I spent the day in a gorgeous hundred-year old school called Summitview Public School located in the town of Stouffeville, Ontario. I was so busy hunting for the school that I didn’t even see the big sign out from with my name on it. The librarian pointed it out to me, so I rushed out at the break to take this photo, and one of the exterior of the building:

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Trees, doors, and a magical item or two!

Because I was there the entire day, I got to speak to the entire student body, from K-8, but in different groups, which I really appreciated. It not only made each group more intimate but allowed me to tailor my content to each age level.

For the younger group, that meant a lot of raw creativity and energy. We brainstormed magical trees and, for the group tree, ended up with a potion tree that was happy to dole out his magic to any passersby (the greedy little dragon who lived in his branches, however, had other ideas!)

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Of course, each student also created a tree of his or her own, and I managed to snap a couple of shots:

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For the intermediate groups, I was able to combine the brainstorming with a little bit more of a discussion on the writing process. They had such great questions! And, of course, they had some very intriguing designs for their doors. Here’s just a handful of the ones that were produced:

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0D4EE817-2EE1-4F3F-9D72-99A208C1EDA1

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16E5F49A-76DC-48BE-9352-79F88EA737CE

224FF666-F271-43DD-85EC-7C853C184250

3588E19D-1DEC-4773-9F09-1B304DD734CA

346896B7-DF71-4E11-A5DC-B644570CA357

73486227-3862-4545-AE6B-FAC1FE592AC3

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My final group was with the Grades 6-8. I had a lot of time with this group so I really covered some of the professional aspects of publishing, such as how a book cover is designed. Of course, I did allot some time for brainstorming, and we did the idea of magical markets.

This group was a little reserved to begin with, but at one point the cork suddenly popped and they burst forth with ideas. They pitched so many of them at me that we actually ran out of time (the teacher had to do the equivalent of yanking me off the stage with a long cane)!

Some of the items they came up? Well:

  • a jar of human souls
  • a vial of toenails from a king
  • a skirt that allows you to fly
  • shadow spray
  • truth serum (in a bottle shaped like a question mark)
  • a bottle of dragon tears
  • a portable hole
  • an orange, which, whenever you peel it, offers you a different type of fruit (and it’s unlimited)

Summitville-magicalmarket-group

A piece of advice I gave them is to try and be as specific as possible in their ideas—and they took it to heart. That’s why I was given ideas such as “a bottle of king’s toenails” as opposed to simply “toenails.” When you’re specific, the ideas are more interesting and more evocative!

What an engaged and creative bunch—all of them! It was a really great day, which was capped off with more event . . .

Adding to the Buzz

Fiona, one of the older students, started a podcast at her school called “What’s the Buzz?” (The school’s sports teams are “the stingers”, so they got a bee theme here). So, at the end of the day, I sat down with Fiona and recorded a short interview. She was so poised and confident (and prepared)—I was impressed.

Summitville_fiona_interview

Kindred spirits

It’s not just the kids I enjoy meeting at schools—it’s also the educators. I certainly love to talk about the process of writing, but I also love to talk about the process ofteachingwriting. I’ve had so many great conversations with teachers and librarians these past few days, and it was no different at Summitview. Constance Calvert, the librarian, runs a really great show and I really enjoyed talking “shop” with her!

Favourite question of the day

I’m going to pick two favorite questions, and I feel like I’m entitled because one was from an actual session and one was from the podcast I did with Fiona.

So, from one of my workshop sessions: “Are your favorite characters always your main characters?” (The answer is “no!” I often prefer the side characters in my stories in terms of the ones I grow quite attached to.)

My other favorite question came from Fiona’s interview and was the last one she asked me, which was: “What’s the one questions that I didn’t ask that you would like me to?”

I chose: “What character in your book are you most alike!” (I won’t tell my answer here—I think I’ll wait until the podcast is posted!)

Did I get lost? Yes, because robots are liars

Um . . . does a bee buzz? In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned that the potential for me getting lost today was low, because I had less travel. I should have never written with such bravado because the robots ganged up and sent me on a whirlwind circle around the greater Toronto area. Google Maps, my GPS, even the hotel website all provided an address that sent me down a freeway with NO hotel. So, basically, I’m in the middle of a stretch of freeway with nothing around me and the GPS is telling me I have arrived at my destination.

I pulled over more than once to try and figure it out. Eventually, I looked up the hotel on Google Maps, found a nearby Tim Horton’s, and plugged its address into the GPS and that got me to my destination. (Take that robots!) I’m staying here for three more nights, so at least I won’t have to hunt for the hotel tomorrow.

Oh, oh.

Did I just jinx myself?

Stay tuned . . .

About Book Week

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. Hundreds of schools, public libraries, bookstores and community centres host events as part of this major literary festival.

 

10 Easy ways to support an author

10 Easy ways to support an author

This spring has been a busy one for myself and many of my friends. Seems like everyone in my author circle has a new book to launch, so we’ve been having fun celebrating and getting lots of personally autographed books.

My own book, The Secret of Zoone, came out officially on April 9th, and we celebrated by launching at our favorite local indie store, Kidsbooks.

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However, it wasn’t the first launch of the season. Preceding mine was the release of two new books by my friend Holman Wang: Great Job, Mom!and Great Job, Dad!

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At his launch, Holman talked about the different ways that readers can support authors. And make no mistakes about it—authors need support! Even though it might not seem like it to the casual reader browsing the shelves of the local bookstore (or the virtual shelves of amazon or any other online retailer), authors aren’t necessarily automatically getting tons of reviews or attention for their books.

Any attention helps!

So, provided to me by Holman, here are ten easy ways to support an author’s book:

1. Tell your friends about the book
The age-old strategy of word-of-mouth is still the best!

2. Write a review of the book online.
For the record, here are the links to the pages for my new book The Secret of Zoone:

Please consider rating the book (which is a simple click on most sites). If you have more time, consider leaving a review. Honest ones are welcome; this may not seem that intuitive, but ALL reviews generally help authors—even negative ones.

3. Take a book selfie for Social Media
This one can be a lot of fun, especially if you want to get creative. Some people like to show them reading the book in a certain location that relates to the book. (For The Secret of Zoone, I encourage people to take pictures of them reading it in front of doors. The older the door, the better!)

4. Turn the book face out on store bookshelves
You know when you peruse the shelves and you see some only as spines and others as facing out with the cover? Well, obviously the ones face out will get more attention!

5. Read the book in public
I don’t know about you, but whenever I see someone reading at the coffee shop, or on the subway or plane, I always sneak a peek at the cover!

6. Check out the book from the library
Some people feel bad for not buying a book, but only taking it out from their local library. But this really helps! It keeps an author’s book in circulation. Plus, if the library doesn’t have the book, but is getting lots of requests, then they will order copies of the book.

7. Lend the book to a friend
That’s the great thing about books—you can pass them on. Personally, I always love it when I see a dog-eared copy of my books knocking about at a school or library. It means that it has been read.

8. Ask your favourite bookstore or specialty retailer to carry the book.
There are thousands of books published every year, and not all of them automatically go into stores. So public engagement and requests really help.

9. Follow the author’s social media
This is a simple click, and most current authors are on the major sites. Myself, I’m on facebook, twitter, instagram, and youtube. I also have a newsletter that you can sign up for here.

10. Buy the book for yourself and others
If you (or your child!) loved an author’s book, then buy extra copies as gifts for birthdays or other special occasions. Book gifts can always be combined with other items that relate to the books. For example, you could buy a small stuffie of an animal that might appear in the book. (Sadly, there are no “skyger” stuffies yet—but let’s hope that happens!)

Of course, it’s one thing for ME to ask people to support me, but I feel that being a part of this community means also doing the supporting. I’m really lucky that a big part of my career is teaching creative writing to tweens and teens—that means I have a lot of opportunities to introduce books to my students, and to connect them to the authors.

Each time we have a book discussion in one of my classes, I tweet and tag the author so that they (and others) can see that we’re focusing on their book that day. This has been a huge success for me as a teacher because my students have LOVED connecting with the authors and are always thrilled when authors acknowledge our messages.

One recent success for us was when we discussed the book Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger (he of the Origami Yoda fame). I tweeted out a picture of my class holding up the book and wearing—you guessed it—fake mustaches. Tom Angleberger was so thrilled he offered to host questions from my students about the book. What an opportunity for them!

FakeMustaches!

So, I’ll close out this post by giving a shout out to some of my friends and colleagues who have recently launched books.

I already mentioned the books by Holman Wang, but here they are again—Great Job, Mom!And Great Job, Dad!:.

Matab Narisimhan‘s new middle-grade book, Embrace the Chicken, came out in January:

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Eileen Cook’s new young adult book, You Owe Me a Murder, was launched March 8th:

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Tanya Lloyd Kyi and Kallie George launched their new books, Mya’s strategy to Save the Worldand Wings of Olympus on April 25th:

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Nafiza Azad’s debut, The Candle and the Flame, comes out May 14th:

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Lots of books to celebrate this spring season. I hope you enjoy them. As for me? Yep, I have a lot of reading to do!

Thank you for a successful launch of The Secret of Zoone

Thank you for a successful launch of The Secret of Zoone

April 9th was the official book birthday of my new middle-grade book The Secret of Zoone and we celebrated in the best way possible—by launching at our phenomenal local book store, Kidsbooks in Vancouver.

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The event sold out, which meant all the aisles and corners of the stores were teeming with young fans. It’s hard to get bored in a bookstore, of course, but I made sure there were plenty of Zoone-related activities for attendees.

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The Secret of Zoone is about the nexus of the multiverse, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds. During the events of the book, Zoone is also the site of the Convention of Wizardry, which means there’s an entire conjuring of magic-makers descending upon the nexus. All of this is to say that I had a lot of inspiration to draw from one in terms of giveaways, prizes, and displays.

Every attendee was given a travel sticker of one of the Zoone worlds, along with a “ticket-key.” The kids got to choose their own sticker as well as write in the name of their own imagined world on their tickets.

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As for prizes, these included including book dust jackets, specially 3D-printed Zoone keys, and a pair of my hand-crafted dragon eggs.

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The main display (in addition to books, of course!) was my wizard’s suitcase, complete with its selection of magical creature items.

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Once everyone had their own ticket-key to Zoone, we began our program, beginning with an introduction to the book, followed by a short reading. I decided to read from Chapter 3 of the book (“A Skyger on the Sofa”), partly because it’s a fun scene that introduces one of Zoone’s most vibrant characters, Tug (just to tell you, he’s a skyger, which is a winged tiger).

The other reason I chose this section is because it was the very first scene I ever wrote for this book, way back in 2007. Of course, the scene evolved A LOT—in the original scene, it wasn’t a skyger on a sofa, but a lion in the living room. But the spirit of the scene certainly stayed the same over all these years.

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After the reading, I took a few questions, then drew the tickets for the door prizes, awarding Zoone keys, dust jackets, and dragon eggs! One of my long-time creative writing students, Joanne, helped me with the draw! (You might be able to tell she’s quite the character.)

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After that, the only thing left to do was sign books! 

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Signing - CWC family

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I’m so thankful for all the support and love I received that night. Of course, I’m so honoured to be able to launch at Kidsbooks. I’d also like to thank some specific people who helped make the night a success: Rob Stocks and Sarah Bagshaw for their moral support leading up to the launch (and for transportation!), Jeff Porter for 3D printing the Zoone keys, Jina Kim for her awesome photography (these are her photos decorating this post!), my CWC family for spreading the word, my wife and son for being their awesome selves, and—of course—all the teachers, students, and fans who turned up to rejoice in Zoone’s release to the multiverse.

 

Happy book birthday to me!

Happy book birthday to me!
Today is the book birthday for THE SECRET OF ZOONE!
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It has been a long journey!

The very first idea for this book arrived in my brain way back in 2007—before any of my current readers were even born!

There was a long period when I wasn’t sure if this book would ever see the light of a book shelf, or if I would even be published again at all. This can be a tough industry, but on days like today, we celebrate!

I want to thank everyone who helped bring this book to life:


My agent, 
Rachel Letofsky, for believing in Zoone way back when it was just a manuscript.

My incredible editor at HarperCollins, Stephanie Stein. I know most authors rave about their editors, but mine is actually APPEARING ON JEOPARDY this week, so I like to think that mine wins the sweepstakes! (But hopefully, not the literal sweepstakes at Jeopardy, because I don’t want her to retire.)

My cover team! I absolutely adore the art by Evan Monteiro and the hand lettering done by Michelle Taormina.

My pre-reading team: Nadia Kim, Bohyun Kim, Renuka Baron, Sarah Bagshaw, Kallie George, and Paige Mitchell.

Aunt Temperance's Zoone KeyJeff Porter, who took my simple design for a Zoone key and turned it into a file for 3D printing! (Doesn’t it look great

My Scooby Gang—your moral support has meant everything to me along the way.
All of my friends at Children’s Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia…; your moral support has also kept me going along the way.
The team at CWC, including Sarah-Steven Hong, Joon Park, and all the countless students. Many of them BEGGED to be in this book, so I decided to make you GLIBBERS. (If you don’t know what a glibber is, you will find out!)
My family, of course—biological, chosen, and otherwise! (My sister says this book is so good that it sounds like I didn’t even write it!)
And, the best for last: Marcie Nestman and Hiro, who have had to live with the rollercoaster life of an author and who have provided me with so much joy along the way.
It is such a privilege to be published by HarperKids Books. When I was a kid, my go-to series was The Chronicles of Narnia, currently published by . . . you guessed it! HarperCollins!

Dreams do come true!

The book is available at your favorite brick-and-mortar or online retailer. Here are some handy links for you . . .

US:
Indiebound: https://bit.ly/2EE6RvY

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2PPNfpM

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2CnqlTc

BAM: https://bit.ly/2Ly1TS9


Canada: 

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2QKTVeh

Chapters: https://bit.ly/2EAxIIx

Kidsbooks:https://bit.ly/2AaBl4C

 

I hope you enjoy discovering The Secret of Zoone.

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.