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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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

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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