Happy Anniversary to Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers!


Yep, time flies.

October 2015 marks the ten-year anniversary of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers being published. It wasn’t my first book every published, but perhaps my most significant.

In that time, the book has had multiple reprints in both paperback and hardcover, won the Mom’s Choice Award, been nominated for the Chocolate Lily Award and the Surrey Book of the Year, and been featured in CCBC’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens.” It’s been published in China and across all the digital platforms. (Back in 2005, digital publishing didn’t really exist—can you believe it?) And, of course, it spawned the rest of the series: The Door to Unger, The Shard from Greeve, The Crack in Kazah, and The Search for Arazeen.

Earlier this year I began to wonder how I would celebrate—or at least recognize—such a momentous anniversary. Coinciding with this anniversary is the fact that this year saw the publication of the final installment in the series, so it seems that I should do something.

Well, after some discussions with my publisher, I decided the best way to celebrate the anniversary is by giving something away. And I mean FOR FREE.

So what exactly is the gift?

Well, details on that are coming soon! But let’s just say, if you are one of those young readers who has been emailing me begging me for more of Kendra, then you will be pleased!


Working on the cover for Kendra Kandlestar 5 (part 2)

My last blog post showed some of my early cover designs for the fifth and final Kendra Kandlestar book, The Search for Arazeen. Those initial concepts just didn’t work, so I decided to work on some more simple compositions, ones that focused solely on Kendra.

I produced three different designs. The first one showed Kendra amidst the flames of battle. Here’s my initial sketch:


I also did a colorized version . . .



The one below was a more peaceful concept, showing Kendra before the battle that happens in the book. I had actually produced this drawing for one of the interior illustrations.


Here’s the inked black and white version of the above.

Kendra at Clovinstand

My editor really loved this illustration, so I decided it might serve as an option for the cover. So I flipped and colorized it:



The final concept was also based on an interior illustration that I had already produced for the book interior.  These were the original rough sketches . . .


Below, is an inked version. I kept coming back to this illustration a lot, so decided I could produce a version of it for the cover



Below, is a colorized version of the illustration. As you can see, I also removed any discernible background and added some mood with the swirls of clouds.


I also made one alternate version, with some swords pointing at Kendra. I thought this would help add a bit more drama to the picture, plus visually accentuate her.


In my next post, I’ll show what each of these three illustrations looked like in the cover template, along with some of the color variations we played with.




Workshopping Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen

This weekend I did something for the very first time—and that was intensively workshop a piece of my own writing with my students.

To be clear, I always share my work (and my process) during workshops and presentations, but that’s quite a different beast from actually getting students to critically examine a specific piece. But, this term, I have been working with an experienced group of young writers and, as such, we’ve been doing professional workshopping of a different student’s chapter each week. It’s an intimidating process, but I felt my students conducted themselves fairly and professionally. So, when one of my students asked if I would submit my own writing to the group for analysis, I had no choice but to say yes!

I chose to workshop a chapter in my new Kendra Kandlestar book, The Search for Arazeen. In this chapter, there is a critical event that happens in Kendra’s life, and I have to make sure that I get it just right. So, it seemed a natural choice to have besieged by my class.

When the workshop sessions was complete, my students questioned if I was actually going to take their critique seriously and incorporate any of their changes. The answer is “definitely!” They gave me many detailed and astute observations related to logic, sentence flow, and plot structure.

Here’s a snapshot of some of their notes. I included a few illustrations throughout the chapter, which provided them with a nice canvas for doodling!



Scintillating Settings: Tip #3 for improving fictional spaces


I’m at the part of the program with my creative writing students in which I’ve been really pushing them to improve their descriptions. You can check out Tip #1 and Tip #2 in other posts, and here is Tip #3 . . .

Tip 3: Show the setting from a character’s perspective

Like the other tips, I suppose this one might seem kind of obvious. But it’s not always the case with my younger writers, so I like to remind them of this tried and proven technique.

What I tell my students is this: Essentially, our characters are the cameras through which the readers experience our worlds, so describe a new setting through their eyes. Too many times we can default to technical descriptions of settings. While these descriptions might be accurate, they don’t do much for adding emotion to a scene. By describing a setting through a character’s feelings, thoughts, and reactions, we can draw on that excellent notion of showing instead of telling a story

Below are some examples from the book I am just putting the final touches on, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen. In this scene, my main character, Kendra, and her companions have been sailing through the skies in their airship and have at long last discovered the mystical place known as The City on the Storm.


This version was okay. But just okay. I decided I wanted to slow down the pace of the scene (this is an important end to a journey) and wanted it to have a bit more “wonder.” I decided the best way to do this was having more of a connection to Kendra’s thoughts and emotions.


I think the final (or what is close to final) version turned out much better!

By the way, here’s another map I found in one of my student’s brainstorming journal . . . they don’t always show them to me, but I can ferret them out when I snoop. And they are wonderful!


Danger in the jungle

Here’s an illustration I’ve been working on for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen. In this scene, Kendra and her companions happen upon a stone guardian that is meant to warn them from going any further. Here’s my first version:


Even though I’ve been to a few jungles in real life, I really haven’t drawn them before. Even though I like the above drawing, I felt everything needed to be much bigger.  So I did an alternate:


It now feels a bit more tropical, so I think this is the one I will go for. Incidentally, the design of my stone guardian was inspired by the Korean totem poles I’ve seen on one of my many trips to Asia.


Wooden totem.

The would-be princess of Arazeen

This week I’ve been working on some illustrations to go with a fun scene in Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen. Kendra is thought to be a princess, so is forced to give up her humble wizard’s robes for some elegant gowns and a new hair style.

Here are the illustrations, along with an excerpt of the text . . .


There is a great deal of pomp and ceremony that comes with dining with a king. Kendra herself had little experience with such affairs, and so it was with great surprise that she found herself whisked away that afternoon by a retinue of royal attendants. Within their clutches, she was measured, mapped, and made up—as if she was nothing more than a lifeless model in need of beautification.

“We’ll have to do something about this wretched hair,” scowled the head attendant. Her name was Fayda and if she was stingy with her smiles, she was less so with her opinions.

“I’m keeping my braids,” Kendra proclaimed, jerking away from Fayda’s hands, only to bump into the prickles of a hedgehog who was busily measuring her waist.

“Arms out, Princess Star,” the hedgehog fussed. “Your gown must fit perfectly.”

“Why can’t I just wear my robe?” Kendra wondered.

“Your highness, if you could focus,” Fayda sighed. “We really must fix your hair.”

“The braids stay,” Kendra insisted.

“The king will not like it,” Fayda scorned, but she said nothing further on the subject.

In two hours, the ordeal was over and Kendra was finally pushed before a tall mirror. She gasped when she saw her reflection; indeed, she could hardly recognize the girl staring back at her. She was dressed in a dazzling patterned crown that curved out like a giant bell (How am I going to walk in this thing? she wondered). As for her hair, this was now stacked in a high nest of braids, while two longer plaits hung on either side of her face.


Oh, by the way . . . Uncle Griffinskitch doesn’t escape refinement either in this part of the book. Here he is, preened and adorned with bows. He looks none too happy about it.

I’ve always though Uncle Griffinskitch was a little bit like the Shaggy Man in The Road to Oz, but this particular version of my grumpy old wizard reminds me more of the Braided Man, who appeared in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.


The Bearded Man and Dorothy by John R. Neil

Kendra Kandlestar’s New Year resolution

Uncle GriffinskitchWell, not that kind of resolution. I’m talking about the final pages of Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

Back in December, I reported the important milestone of finishing my first complete draft of the book. It was at that point that I sent out the manuscript to my group of trusted others to solicit their feedback.

Mostly, the response was positive, though one comment was consistent: everyone hated the ending. The climax was fine, it was the very end, the last chapter that shows what happens after all the dust settles. I wrote this chapter very quickly, and made it short and sweet. I already felt this book was quite long (the longest in the series yet) and so just wanted to tie everything up and leave the reader wanting more.

Turns out I accomplished that goal. I left the reader wanting more, all right—just not in a good way. Every single reader felt the ending was far too abrupt, as if I had suddenly just switched off the electric.

This whole process has been interesting to me. I’ve never written a series before, so this is the first time I’ve had to tie up not one, but five stories. I found it very difficult. Perhaps it’s because I was having trouble getting excited about this chapter; after all, all the good stuff already happened in the climax. Or perhaps, it’s just been hard to bid farewell to a magical world that has consumed my attention for over a decade.

The irony here is that I always preach to my students about the importance of a resolution. In fact, I have an entire module for it. If you have ever been one of my students, chances are that you received my criticism for abruptly ending a story.

I suppose that you sometimes just have to take a sip of your own medicine. So, over the holiday season, I pondered all the criticism I received about the ending from my trusted others, and started planning how I could rewrite it. There was a lot to consider. How much do I tell about the characters? Do I show them days after the climax? Weeks? Or do I do it in the fashion of Harry Potter, and show my characters several years in the future? (Though, I must say here, that I feel like I already did that in Book 4, The Crack in Kazah; if you remember, Kendra is given a glimpse of her ancient self in that book.)

Well, after my lengthy rumination, I returned to my manuscript in earnest last week and rewrote that critical last chapter. I have to give credit here to my fiancée, Marcie, who came up with a stellar idea that I could use as a framework for this critical last scene. If this current version of the chapter sticks, you’ll be treated to a little farewell party with all of your favourite characters . . . and catch a glimmer of what they’ll get up to after the last page of this last book is turned.

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen ~ Update!

Kendra KandlestarI just finished my first complete version of my manuscript for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, start to finish.

I actually completed it a few days ago, then woke up in the night and decided to rewrite the critical end scene. I worked on it for an afternoon, decided to go back to my original—and then rewrote it again to create a sort of hybrid for the two different versions. I’m still not sure about it, but I’ve left it with my “trusted others” to see what they think. Personally? I feel like the end is a bit like a Shakesperian play, with this character and that all entering and exiting the “stage” at one point or another. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

There has been a lot to accomplish in this last book in the series. I want to make sure that all the favourite characters have their moment in the spotlight, and I want to also make sure we (the readers and me) are able to bade farewell to certain settings or elements of the series too.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that I’m finished the book. There will be many edits and perhaps some major rewrites of certain scenes. And there are many illustrations to do as well . . . over a hundred!

Nonetheless, a certain milestone has been reached, so I get to celebrate Ald Meryn’s Eve with a certain peace of mind.

And the title for Kendra Kandlestar 5 is . . .

. . . at last going to be revealed! It the number-one question I receive from fans and I’ve had lots of good guesses over the past weeks and months. You’ve all been incredibly patient (SORT-OF), but I’m finally ready to officially unveil the title of the fifth and final Kendra book.

So, what will it be?

Uncle Griffinskitch

Well, listen up—because here it comes . . .

Eldest of the Elders.

And the title is . . .


Ta Da!

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen

The obvious question now is, “Just what, in the name of all things Een, is Arazeen?”

Well, truth be told, this is really the crux of this book and rather hard to explain. But I’ll try! Simply put, Arazeen is a mystical place. Most Eens think of it as “paradise,” a place where all good Eens journey to after passing away from their earthly existence. If you know anything about mythology, then you might remember that the Norse had Valhalla, the Greeks had the Elysian Fields, and the Celts had Avalon.

So, the Een version of these heavenly realms is Arazeen. Though, I must tell you that many Een Wizards and sorceresses have a different idea about Arazeen: they believe it can be found before death. They don’t think of it as a physical place, but as a mystical state of mind or being. According to such beliefs, when a wizard achieves Arazeen, he has found inner piece, purity, or “oneness” with himself and the universe.

For those of you following Kendra’s adventures so far, you know she’s NOT been searching for Arazeen. In fact, she’s been on the hunt for the City on the Storm. And those of you who guessed that this book would be called Kendra Kandlestar and the City on the Storm were almost right. I strongly considered this as a title for the book. But it turns out that Kendra’s journey in this final tale is going to take her far beyond that castle in the clouds.

There will be plenty of action in this book as Kendra faces many old foes including Pugglemud the Dwarf and Agent Lurk. Other fan-favourites, such as Effryn Hagglehorn the Faun, Trooogul the Unger, and Honest Oki also play very important roles. And, of course, there will be some exciting new characters including Shuuunga the Unger Witch. You’ll even get to meet Oki’s little sisters (well, not ALL of them—he does have eight of them after all)!

The book will be released next Halloween. It’s a long time away—but no need to humph about it! I’ll keep posting updates on this blog to give you those sneak peeks.