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.

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Enter the Goodreads give-away for The Secret of Zoone

Enter the Goodreads give-away for The Secret of Zoone

My latest middle-grade fantasy book, The Secret of Zoone, is being released in March 2019, but you can get a sneak-peek by entering HarperCollins’ contest on Goodreads for a chance to win an advanced reading copy.

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Just visit the Goodreads page by December 19, 2018, for your chance to win a copy of the ARC. These tend to be prized collector pieces down the road, but you might want to enter the contest simply for the chance to visit Zoone before anyone else.

After all, who wouldn’t want to visit the nexus of the multiverse, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds? While visiting, you can hang out with a clumsy kid, a princess with inappropriately purple hair, and an overly-friendly skyger.

I’ll be talking a lot about this book in the coming months, but for now I encourage everyone to check out the page for a chance to win your very own copy of the ARC for The Secret of Zoone.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant winged cat—check!

Boy with a key—check!

Princess with inappropriately purple hair—check!

Doors—check!

Station house in the background—check!

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

WELCOME TO ZOONE, CROSSROADS OF THE MULTIVERSE

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

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

~

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

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

 

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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Finding the threads: weaving together different strands of inspiration for a new children’s book series

Finding the threads: weaving together different strands of inspiration for a new children’s book series

Everyone has a different approach to writing. Some of my friends are unabashed “pantsers” (flying by the seats of their pants as they write), while others are plotters. I’m somewhere in between. I like to plot to a certain point, then fly by the seat of my pants, trusting in the process.

What about you?

Last year, I reached the stage that so many authors dream of: signing a three-book deal with a major publisher. In my case, it’s a children’s middlegrade book series called Zoone, which will start coming out with HarperCollins in 2019.

It’s really exciting, but it’s forced me to confront a schedule I’m not used to, essentially having to deliver three books in three years.

Book 1, no problem! It was mostly done anyway. But I took a decidedly different approach to Books 2 and 3.

I’ve written sequels before (four of them, in fact, for my Kendra Kandlestar series) and I find myself facing the same situation: the world is created, the main characters established, and now it’s time to make something that equals—and hopefully surpasses—everything I achieved in Book 1.

A New Approach

The differences with this series is that 1) it just doesn’t involve one made-up world and 2) it doesn’t have one major plot arc stretching over all three books. (An emotional arc, yes, but not a plot one).

World-Building

This time, I’ve created a multiverse filled with many different worlds. I don’t cover them all in the series, but there are dozens that are mentioned, which has prompted me to become an expert record-keepering, building a “bible” of kingdoms, empires, and lands. This bible lists all the important details of each world: flora, fauna, official symbols and colors, type of money, and of course any specific mentions in any of the books.

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Plot

In a way, world-building is the easy part for me. Or at least the super-fun part. Plot is always a bit more challenging. This time, I decided to tease the plots out of my world-building.

Inspiration from everywhere

Even before I had a contract, I knew I wanted to do more than one book with these characters and worlds. So, for the past few years, I’ve been collecting lots of inspiration, especially from my travels. At the time, I didn’t worry about where exactly anything would fit; I just focused on recording the things that inspired me.

I took a lot of photos, of course, but more important to my process are the ideas recorded in my various notebooks. I usually like to have one notebook per project, but in the past couple years, I’ve been filling those up and now am in the multiple notebooks stage for this one project.

Hunting for inspiration

Some places I went to intentionally to seek out specific inspiration. For example, Hạ Long Bay in Vietnam was a place I knew that would serve as a model for one of the worlds I wanted to build.

Of course, in today’s world of connectivity, you can browse photos and videos of virtually any place on the planet. But there are some ideas that you can simply only stumble upon by being in a place.

That’s exactly what happened at Hạ Long Bay for me. I knew the limestone cliffs would inspire me, but I hadn’t considered the interractions with the people. To be honest, I didn’t even think there were people (other than tourists) at Hạ Long Bay.

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But it was on the second day of our tour when I wandered onto the deck of our boat at the crack of dawn to hear this almost-woeful call: “Something to buy? Something to buy?”

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I gazed over the railing and there, appearing out of the mist, was a young girl on a boat full of snacks and sodas.

She was, as I later learned, a Vietnamese boat child. These children live with their families on their junks and traditionally eke out a living by fishing, but now they’ve adapted to the hordes of tourists and add to their income by selling stuff. We were told that many of the children live out their entire lives on the boats. It’s only recently that the government has been making some changes to try and ensure these kids get some formal education.

That whole situation sent a spark flying through my imagination. I remember sitting with my wife afterwards and stopping halfway through a sentence to stare blankly into space (I do that a lot). When she asked what was going on, I replied with one of those countless “What-if” questions that every author asks his or her partner about a plot.

After I asked my question (which, of course, I can’t reveal) I immediately rejected the idea. I knew it would cause A LOT of problems overall to the series. In particular, it would flip something already established in Book 1 completely on its head. As soon as I realized THAT, I knew it was completely the right call to make for the series. Yes, it’s a problem for me to write, it’s a problem for the characters to deal with. So now I’ve got to go that way—it will make the rest story. That initial spark of inspiration has become a lightning bolt. And it would have never have happened if I hadn’t actually gone to Hạ Long Bay.

Inspiration accidentally discovered

There are times when I’m not seeking for inspiration AT ALL. When we went to Hawaii a couple of years ago, it was to seek true R&R, to take a break from our creative but consuming careers, and to switch off.

Yeah, right.

Thankfully I was clever enough to pack my brainstorming journals. Inspiration walloped me from every direction on that trip, not only in terms of the diverse landscape of the big island of Hawaii, but in terms of the wonderful wildlife.
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Time to deliver

So, now I’m in this fun (harrowing?) stage of combing through everything, trying to find some thread of a storyline from this tapestry of setting sketches, character and creature doodles, and ramblings scribbled across all these different notebooks.

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There’s not only drawings and words made while in Hawaii and Vietnam, but also Korea, Cambodia, Ireland, and England. I am now seeing a theme in my notebooks: I rarely wrote facts down about each of the places we visited. I was already creating new worlds in my sketches and notes. Those experiences went through my filter and instantly became alternate realities.

It’s still the roughest of brainstorming, but at least there is a lot of fuel for me to dwell upon and to—hopefully—turn into something concrete.

Well, there you have it. Time to do some plotting—and some pantsing.

 

Exploring Cambodia, Day 5: Seeing a different way of life on the floating villages of Tonle Sap

Exploring Cambodia, Day 5: Seeing a different way of life on the floating villages of Tonle Sap

For the final full day of our “inspiration” in Siam Reap, Cambodia, my wife and I decided to take a day trip out to Tonle Sap to see the floating village of Kampong Phluk.

We booked the trip through our hotel and were picked up by a van that then drove us to connect with a bigger bus, and more tourists. As is the case with so many tours, we had one couple that seemed to be bungling along at every step of the way—and that included step 1, getting going! It took ten minutes for our guide (Sok) to track the couple down and then, at last, we were off into the Cambodian countryside.

The drive was about an hour and a half and along the way we could see a more rural part of the country, far removed from the gentrified tourist hub of Siem Reap. Along the way, Sok told us stories about what it was like to grow up in Cambodia. He said that he stayed in school as a child, even though his parents urged him to quit and work as a fisherman or a farmer. But he persisted in his education, learned English, and joined the burgeoning tourist trade.

Sok went onto say that Cambodians are quite thankful for the tourists, as it has raise the quality of life. This was actually something Marcie and I had talked about at great length—do the tourists like us or dread us? We had seen so many people treating the people poorly (read my post on what I dub the “poverty paparazzi“), but, according to Sok at least, we provide a positive outcome for the people. I hope that’s the truth.

We eventually arrived at the pier and were loaded into a boat. As we wound our way down the waterways, we could see many fishing boats, nets, and houses on stilts. It wasn’t a peaceful ride—our boat, and the many other ones just like it all run on grumpy petrol engines that growl and grunt the entire time.

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Kompong Phluk is a five-hundred-year-old village situated on the Tonle Sap, the major lake and river system in Cambodia. In fact, Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia, and has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere site because of its wide range of endangered flora fauna.

The direction of the water in Tonle Sap changes twice a year, resulting in extreme highs and lows in the water level. During the dry season, the bed of water is completely dry. During the wet season, the water rises immensely. It’s for this reason that the houses are either built on stilts or on rafts of petroleum barrels.

95% of the economy during the wet season is based on fishing, the other 5% on farming. This changes to 50-50 during the dry season.

Once we landed at the village’s main dock, we were swarmed by children, keen to see and talk to all the strangers. Their English was quite strong and they were particularly interested in one girl in our group who was above average height. They kept pestering her to tell them her height and then they went on to wonder what type of job she had. It was quite amusing to watch!

We ventured down the dry and dusty streets, cognizant of the fact that it would be a water way at a different time of year. Right at the dock is a large Buddhist temple. Due to tourism, it’s being refurbished and looks in really great shape. You can see it below, in the distance, as I turned around halfway down the street to photograph it:

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And this is the view that was in front of us:

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All the kids in the village go to school, which is free. The expensive part is procuring supplies, so we made a donation when we came upon the kindergarten.

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We also came upon a few woman sorting, cooking, and preparing shrimp.

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Everyone in the village was really kind, welcoming us into their personals spaces and showing us around. You could even buy the dried shrimp by the bag full, so I suppose this was a little bit like touring the factory, then buying the product afterwards.

After about a half hour, our guide tried to round everyone up and get them back on our boat. Once again, this took some doing. There are many tourists boats and some of our party actually boarded the wrong boat at first, and we had to collect them and head off again.

We continued down the river towards the lake. All of the sudden, we were in a type of mangrove, surrounded by trees . . . and people.

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We wondered what was going on, but all was quickly explained. For $10, we could take a boat through the mangroves for a short excursion and meet up with the main boat again before proceeding to the lake.

Marcie wasn’t sure about this at first, but eventually decided to give it a try—and a good thing, as this turned out to be the favourite part of the tour for both of us. Our guide adeptly paddles us through the trees and, even though there were so many of us, we soon in a long single file and felt quite peaceful. We could hear the jungle birds and, peering up into the tree canopies, I spotted a monkey leaping from branch to branch. That was pretty cool.

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And then what happened? Suddenly, we came upon a slew of boats . . . we had just entered a floating village of corner stores. Seems like the obligatory stop at a halfway point of a tour to buy something happens even out here!

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The interesting part of this situation was that every boat was designated to stop at a specific store. One of the boats ended up doubling up, leaving one of the stores without a customer. We heard about that—the woman at that store began yelling and wailing. I don’t speak Khmer, but I can imagine!

As for us, we didn’t want to buy anything for ourselves, but the woman at our boat-store was very friendly and spoke excellent English. So, in the end, we decided to buy a tea for our guide and that seemed to make everyone happy. One thing we have learned is that it’s a really good idea to have lots of small bills here. You can use American currency (in fact, I think it’s preferred), but you need them in one-dollar notes. Change is often an issue, even for something like a ten-dollar bill.

After we were finished visiting the store, our guide continued paddling . . .

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. . . and eventually we arrived at a large floating restaurant. It was here where we could eat, drink, and watch the first hints of the sunset.

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For some reason, there was a giant snake in a cage in the very middle of the restaurant. I’m not sure if it was for the tourists to gawk at or if it was eventually going to be on the menu (snake and crocodile regularly feature here).

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Whatever the case, the thing was huge and I ended up feeling sorry for it, especially when one of the tourists began antagonizing it by poking it with a plastic straw.

At one point, I had to use the bathroom. That ended up being quite interesting. I had to navigate a narrow wooden walkway, about a foot wide, wall on my left, water on my right. The bathroom itself was rustic, with just a bowl and a nearby barrel with a ladle to scoop up water and do the flushing. That part was fine—it was the treacherous walk that I was worried about. I’m just clumsy enough to have ended up in that lake!

After this break, we were all loaded onto our boats again and trundled out into the lake to watch the sunset.

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Once again, this took some doing—people were getting on the wrong boats and one couple (the same one who had delayed us at the very beginning of the trip) ended up forgetting their belongings on the restaurant, which meant we had to detour back there after the sunset so they could collect them.

As for the sunset itself . . . you can see the pics for yourself!

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We had a great final day in Siem Reap and going on the tour allowed us to meet and connect with lots of people from all over the world (not only the people in the village, but our fellow tourists).

It’s quite humbling to see how so many people eke out an existence. Their homes and living spaces are so small. So many of us in the first world seem to wring our hands over wanting a detached house, or more space to fill with stuff, or this and that . . . and here’s just one tiny cross-section of people who live with so much less than the rest of us.

We’re going to miss Siem Reap, but look forward to our next stop: Phnom Penh!

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

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

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

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

Poverty paparazzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elephantine traffic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preah Khan

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

Our first temple of the day was Preah Khan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Neak Pean

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

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

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

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

Marcie: Maybe we’ll see flying frogs.

Me: Those don’t exist.

Marcie: Yes, they do. I’ve seen them.

Me: No, you haven’t.

Marcie: I’m pretty sure I have.

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

Marcie: Well, there are flying squirrels.

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

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

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

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

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

prastaneakpean-marketstreet

Ta Som

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

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

ta_som_gate

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

ta_som_broom

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

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

ta_som_marcie_testing

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

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

ta_som_junglepath

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

East Mebon

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

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

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

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

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

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eastmebon_marcie_doorway

eastmebon_lef_doorway

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Pre Rup

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

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

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

Prasat Kravan

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

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

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

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