The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #3

I’m posting the Code of Conduct from Spell Sweeper, my latest middle-grade novel, with commentary by the main character Cara Moone.

THE SPELL SWEEPER CODE OF CONDUCT

(Do as I say, not as I bespell)

Rule #3

Trim your broom after each spell sweep. If an untrimmed broom is used on a different site, it could result in cross-contamination and possibly hazardous consequences. (Ka-boom!)

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As is explained in Spell Sweeper, as the broomcorn absorbs spell dust, it grows and changes color, usually red, blue, or purple. You can swipe to see an example of a broom that has some spell dust!

Spell Sweeper is available now in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #2

I’m posting the Code of Conduct from Spell Sweeper, my latest middle-grade novel, with commentary by the main character Cara Moone.

THE SPELL SWEEPER CODE OF CONDUCT

(Do as I say, not as I bespell)

Rule #2

Do not lose or damage your broom. (Especially when it’s a cool one made of dragonwood.)

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Below is the broom that served as the inspiration for the one Cara uses in the book (well, after her original one gets, uh . . . eaten). I discovered this broom at Granville Island Broom Co. and instantly knew it had to be Cara’s.

Spell Sweeper is available now in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #1

We’ve had the twelve days of Christmas, so I figured I would give you twelve days of entries from the Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct—with commentary by Cara Moone.

THE SPELL SWEEPER CODE OF CONDUCT

(Do as I say, not as I bespell)

Rule #1

Do not attempt clean-up of a contaminated site unless directed to do so by your crew leader. (Side note: Yeah, like I’m wandering around, looking for extra things to scrub.)

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Truthfully, these “side-sections” of the book were some of my favorite parts to write, because I could just let Cara’s voice do its thing!

By the way, one of the contaminated sites that Cara and her dysfunctional crew clean up in the book. These are my own photos of the Whistler train wreck, which I first visited in September 2019. At that time, I was just beginning to think of an idea for a book that would have “something to do with brooms.” It turned out that this location became the basis for a major scene in Spell Sweeper. (But let’s just say the site turned out to be a lot more “contaminated” and, uh . . . monster infested, in the book than it is in real life.)

Spell Sweeper is available now in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

Kiki’s Delivery Service: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

I revisited many “magical learning” and “broom” books as I was working on Spell Sweeper, and one of my favorites is Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono. (The classic book that inspired the beloved film of the same name.) 

Thirteen-year-old Kiki sets off, in the tradition of witches, to find a town to serve for a year. When she arrives at the seaside town of Koriko, she starts her own business—delivering parcels by broomstick. At first, she assumes it will be easy—hey, she’s Kiki!¬—but she soon discovers that winning over the locals of Koriko is not so easy. Thankfully, she’s got her wise-cracking cat Jiji on her side . . . as well as her magical broom. 

This book has many charming details, but I think my favorite is the silver bells that Kiki’s mother hangs from the treetops—when they ring, they signal that Kiki’s has zoomed into them.

The book in the photo is translated by the version I have is translated by Emily Balistrierie and illustrated by Yuta Onanda.

My own book, Spell Sweeper, is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

The Worst Witch: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

I’ve been posting about books that inspired my new middle-grade book, Spell Sweeper—and an important one is The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. I love an underdog story (obviously!), and I don’t think it’s only my book that owes a lot to this classic series, but every book about magical schools that comes since. (The first one, by the way was published in 1974.)

Mildred is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. She can’t seem to do anything right, whether it’s casting a spell or flying a broom. If she’s going to survive witch school, she’s going to have to do it in a more . . . unconventional way. 

I think this enchanting book is perfect for younger readers who aren’t quite ready for the more detailed worlds and problems of a middle-grade book, but who still want all of the magical fun. The Worst Witch includes so many of the classic elements of magic school: broom flying, cats as familiars, and potions class. I especially love all the names of the instructors: Miss Amerlia Cackle, Miss Constance Hardbroom, Miss Davina Bat, Miss Imogen Drill . . .

The books also include beautiful illustrations by the author (the edition in the photo is a special edition with full color throughout). Highly recommended!

My own book, Spell Sweeper, is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

The Sword in the Stone: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

Here’s another book that served as inspiration for Spell Sweeper . . . The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White.

Like many, I was first introduced to this story through the animated film by Disney (one of my all-time favorite scenes is the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim). The book includes this duel, though it’s much earlier on, so doesn’t serve as a climactic moment.

I think The Sword in the Stone is one of those foundation stones for modern fantasy books. When it comes to wizards and owls, we can’t help to think of Harry Potter, but long before Hedwig, there was Archimedes, who served as Merlyn’s familiar (and was my favorite character in both the film and the book). 

You also have the visual aesthetic of Merlyn with the long white beard, which goes on to be found with so many other wizard characters (Dumbeldore included). I tried to make fun of this trope with Cara’s master in Spell Sweeper, Trick Quibble. Instead of the long white beard, he has only a single chin hair (yes, it’s long, but singular), which kind of annoys Cara because it’s as if Quibble has never read a fantasy book.

What I also love about The Sword in the Stone is Merlyn as a teacher. He isn’t simply teaching spells or tricks, but philosophy to young would-be-king Arthur. I tried to bring in a bit of this to Spell Sweeper, especially with Headwizard Singh’s enigmatic paradoxes that she introduces to Cara.

Whether you are a reader or a writer of fantasy (or both!), I highly encourage you to read this foundational book.

Spell Sweeper is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

Wizard’s Hall: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

Here’s another book that served as inspiration for Spell Sweeper . . . Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen. 

While writing Spell Sweeper, I read or re-read different books about wizard schools or “magical learning.” The big one, of course, is Harry Potter, but Wizard’s Hall actually predates the creation of Hogwarts by several years.

Wizard’s Hall is about a boy named Henry with “unmanageable” hair, green eyes, and a perpetual smudge on his nose—as if the nose “led him into trouble.” Well, Henry ends off going to a school of Wizardry in the English countryside. He doesn’t fit in at first, making a mess of even simple spells—but he makes a couple of good friends and, together, they end up thwarting an evil sorcerer who is trying to take over the school and “lands beyond.” 

This book obviously has the same basic premise of Harry Potter, but it’s the world-building of Hogwarts, with all the classes, spells, and creatures, that I think make it so appealing. Still, if you’re a fan of books with magical schools—or, really, children’s lit in general—then I recommend Wizard’s Hall because I think it’s always good to understand and explore the DNA of more current fantasy works.

As for Spell Sweeper, I wanted to honor many of the classic wizard school tropes, but try to provide a quirky twist, almost a gentle satire. The magical school in Spell Sweeper is called Dragonsong Academy—sorry, it’s located in Canada, not England—and it has a lot of the same fun details of those British schools: fun classes (Spellography, Oology, Wizard Yoga), intriguing creatures (squix!), and fantastical talismans (Eurybia’s Torch—but, uh, please stand back). 

Spell Sweeper is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

The Little Broomstick: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

I wanted to write a bit about the inspirational sources for my new middle-grade book, Spell Sweeper. Most people understandably connect Spell Sweeper with Harry Potter, but there are so many other “broom” or “magical learning” books that I was thinking of when I was generating ideas for Caradine Moone and her dysfunctional crew of magical janitors (Cara’s words, not mine). 

The book that served as a primary influence was The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This is a classic book, originally published in 1971 (the edition in the photo is 2018 by Hodders Childrens Books). 

The Little Broomstick has a voice in the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, and what really imprinted on me was the idea of a lonely broom sitting there, waiting to spring into action. And spring it does! When young Mary finds a broomstick, she accidentally ends up investing it with magic and it instantly whisks her away across the English countryside to arrive at Endor College, school of witchcraft. But this is not a lovely school—Mary discovers a menagerie of animals being subjected to evil experiments, including her own cat. With her broomstick as her trusty companion, Mary sets out to free the animals. 

This book is also the basis of the wonderful animated film Mary and the Witch’s Flower from Studio Ponoc.

Side note, I just love the use of the word “besom” in this book, which means “a broom made of twigs tied around a stick.”

My own “broom” book is out now. Spell Sweeper is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

Happy birthday to SPELL SWEEPER

Today, my new middle-grade fantasy book SPELL SWEEPER officially comes out with HarperCollins Children’s Books. A particularly big thank you to my agent Rachel Letofsky, my editor Stephanie Stein, and to the wonderful cover art by Maike Plenzke (I feel like I won the lottery)!

Spell Sweeper is my tenth MG novel. Hard to believe, and I’m grateful and humbled by all the support from readers, teachers, librarians, and fellow kidlit creators.It’s been my honor to have worked with so many kids—thousands of them—in classrooms and libraries all around the world, sometimes via technology, sometimes right on site (I’ll never forget the monsoon in Bangkok!). 

I am so grateful for every review, rating, letter, email, fan art, photo of a fan in a costume, and acknowledgement or nudge of encouragement along the way. I could have never done it alone. Do I have another ten books in me? I’ll keep you apprised!

Even though Spell Sweeper is my tenth book, it’s very different from any other I’ve written. This isn’t simply because it’s written in first-person present tense, but because it’s the most personal, drawing on some of my own insecurities I experienced as a kid (well, who am I fooling; I still experience them). These are the same insecurities that I see in so many of the young people in my life. It’s a burning desire to be something better—coupled with the fear that you simply aren’t good enough . . . and what that will mean for your place in the world.

I hope Spell Sweeper takes you on a fun ride, but that it also shows you the beloved story of a chosen hero who must face the darkness from a different perspective. We are all significant!

Spell Sweeper is available at your favorite retailer as a hardback, digital, or audio book. Check out order links HERE.

And, hey, if you want to know some top ways to support authors (without buying their books), then check out a previous post.

The Best Fantasy Book EVER

No . . . that’s NOT the tagline for my next middle-grade book. It’s the tagline for YOURS.

Let me explain! 

I am always on the hunt for new ideas to provoke, inspire, and entertain my teen-aged creative writing students. Many of them tumble down the rabbit hole of a long, epic project and I feel a big part of my job is to simply keep them motivated along the way with short and sweet writing projects.

That is where the The Best Fantasy Book Ever project comes is . . .

The pure unabashed joy of imagining

So many of us writers love imagining the package of a book. We love visualizing it on the shelf of the library or the bookshop, love picturing a reader curled up with our book in their hands. This is the type of enthusiasm I wanted to try and capture in this project. I also wanted my students to really unleash their imagination without having to worrying about actually having to . . . deliver.

The title comes first

I’d be curious to know how many authors start with a title—that is to say, they have a title before they have a first draft of the manuscript, or even a first chapter. Personally, I’m all over the map. I have baptized books very early on in the process with a title, while others it took many drafts of the manuscript before I could settle on a name. (As a side note, I’ve never had a publisher change a book title on me, though I have known many authors who have had this happen.)

As for this project, the title definitely comes first! I ask students to generate the title of a fantasy book using three simple wheels I created and posted on a hidden page on my website. 

There are three wheels, each producing its own word. String those words together, plonk a “the” at the beginning and—voilà! You have the title of the Best Fantasy Book Ever.

Here’s the hook

Next, I ask my students to write the back-cover copy for the book. Of course, this serves as an opportunity for me to explain the purpose of this text (NOT to summarize the book, but to sell it) and give some tips on how to write this sort of copy. 

The results have been a lot of fun so far—and fantastic. I tried to use words that offer built-in story elements, words such as “last” or “apprentice” or “treason.” I also have a lot of words to suggest fantastical settings, such as “cloud” or “palace.” 

I have ended up swapping out a few words here and there since I first built the wheels—I suppose, I could just expand them, too, adding more words, which I might do in the future. So far, though, no two students in any one class have generated the exact same title.

One thing that I find interesting is that very few of my students have felt the need to re-spin the wheels. They could easily do this, and I wouldn’t even know, since all of my classes that I have delivered this project for have been virtually delivered. At the end of the process I always ask how many times they have spun the wheels and I’ve only had a couple of students admit to spinning twice.

Bonus material!

There are a lot of possible extensions to this project. Some of my students wrote fake testimonials or reviews to grace their back covers. Others have written biographies of the authors they imagined wrote the books. Some have even written the opening scenes. Others have produced cover designs.

The freedom to create

I’ve now delivered this project to several different groups of teen-aged students, and I’ve had some time to reflect upon the results.

Many of my students get really caught up in creating something perfect. They are so attached to an idea that they want to write that they freeze halfway through a first chapter, petrified by their own dissatisfaction. Others peter out of steam later on in a manuscript because they get stuck on the ongoing nuances of the plot (I call this “Plot Paralysis”). 

The Best Fantasy Book Ever project is aimed at helping remove that layer of self-conscious second-guessing. This is a fake book. They don’t have to deliver on it. They have no attachment to it. They just gush out their ideas, then move on.

However . . . there is some magic going on during this process. Because they are not thinking of the big picture, the big possibility, they simply do—and in doing, they are generating fresh ideas, interesting characters, premises, settings, and plot circumstances. Sure they might not write this book . . . but they’ve just bottled a bit of fuel for other projects.

Of course . . . I am waiting for one of my students to tell me they are going to write a book based on the hook they created for the Best Fantasy Book Ever project, because having read some of their back-cover copy . . . well, let’s just say there are some pretty amazing ideas out there!

By the way . . . for my upcoming book, Spell Sweeper, the title came early. I had been contemplating the ideas of magical brooms for a long time, but I wanted to do something with brooms that did NOT involve flying. I finally just asked myself this question: “What if brooms in the magical world were still for sweeping?” From there, the title seemed obvious and natural, though I had a few variations: The Secret Society of Spell Sweepers, Caradine Moone and the Secret Society of Spell Sweepers, and (my favorite): Cara Moone Definitely Does Not Want to Be A Spell Sweeper. Pretty quickly, though, I decided that the simpler Spell Sweeper was the best fit.

You can pre-order Spell Sweeper here. As you can see by the cover image, the tagline is NOT the Best Fantasy Book Ever—it’s Magic is Messy.