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!

Scintillating Settings: Tip #2 for improving fictional spaces

cam_dyn_mapSince I’ve been working intensively the last couple of weeks with my creative writing students on improving their approach to setting, I decided to share some of those thoughts on this blog.

Last week, I talked about the basic necessity of understanding your setting. Once you’ve got an understanding of your physical space, you can then move on to the next stop


Tip #2: Describe your setting emotionally

Ultimately, this is the difference between saying: “The gray building was fifty stories high” versus “The building towered above them, gray and ominous.”

I think the most important thing is to understand WHAT should be described. So many times, I have drilled it into my students’ heads to add more description that they often end up going too far. They describe the smallest details . . . usually the ones that we all take for granted in everyday life.

For example, I’ve read long paragraphs about a character opening a door. Such a description includes everything from looking at the door, putting the hand on the doorknob, turning that doorknob, pushing the door, and then entering the room.

Now, this might be interesting if we were reading a horror story or a suspenseful thriller, but my students usually give me these scenes just to describe a character coming home from school. While they have achieved a high degree of technical accomplishment in these passages, the description doesn’t do anything in the way of moving the reader.

The general rule for myself (and one I try to communicate to my students) is this: describe it only if it impacts the plot, the character, or the mood of the scene. Then, once you’ve identified what needs description, then express it with emotion.

There are no rules for how you can bring emotion to a scene. Most writers, I think, do it instinctively. But when I struggle in my own writing, I always fall back on the basics: using figurative language, employing the five senses, and peering inside the heart and mind of the characters in the scene.

I think using the five senses is particularly important. We are so accustomed to thinking visually, but really the sounds, smells, and temperature of a room can really add a lot to any scene.

During a recent reorganization of my studio, I found this old version of my manuscript for Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger. The circle around the opening paragraph of the chapter shows me that I wasn’t happy with my description of the setting. The opposite page shows my handwritten attempt to improve it.


Below is a scene that one of my students recently reworked to improve his setting. His first draft of this chapter was void of any description at all. He had simply said that his character entered a shed.

Now check it out:

I turned the handle and the rusted hinges creaked as the door opened with clouds of dust puffing. Inside was what I expected. Tools and farming implements. Paints and brushes. Insects and mice. I shivered and a cold sweat dripped down on my face. I walked inside and my stomach did loop-de-loops. Something dragged me inwards. Not physically, but mentally, like a magnet to magnet.

There is so much mood and emotion in this scene. We, the readers, know something magical is about to happen. We’re invested!

My next tip on setting will focus on drawing on the power of characters to help emphasize a setting.

Not your average wizard


I just finished an illustration of Oroook, that Unger Wizard who first appeared in Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger. Even though Oroook was only in the book for a few scant moments, he set off quite a chain of events in Kendra’s life—and so far, we’ve never had any insight into his motivation. That will change in the final Kendra book, The Search for Arazeen.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Oroook, especially since he is one of the few characters who I’ve killed off (see my post on that subject). So, sadly, we won’t actually get to meet Oroook directly again, but in this final Kendra book readers will come to learn more about his history and how he came to meet Kendra’s mother, the infamous sorceress Kayla Kandlestar.

Take a tour of the Een Museum – part 1

Een MuseumThis past week I worked as writer-in-residence at General Gordon Elementary in Vancouver, and brought with me the travelling Een Museum. The students loved it, so I thought I would catalogue all the current pieces and display them here.

These items come from a variety of sources. Some were built with inspiration from the drawings. In other cases, the props inspired situations in the book. No matter the case, they are all “real” objects that you can hold and touch . . . making the Land of Een seem all the more real (which, of course, it is).

I’ll post all the items over the next few days. Here’s the first four items (some of my favourites) . . .

Box of Whispers
A replica of the box that Kendra searched for in the outside world.

Een Museum - Box of Whispers


Kendra’s Whisper

A replica of the secret that caused Kendra such angst while searching for the Box of Whisper. Notice the swirling murkiness—ah, secrets are complicated things!

Een Museum - Kendra's Whisper


Door to Unger

A replica of the door that guarded the temple maze of the Wizard Greeve. The teeth—the door’s gate—can actually open.

Een Museum - Door to Unger.


A whisp of Uncle Griffinskitch’s beard

The ornery old wizard was rather fond of his full-length beard; here’s a snippet of it. When asked for the sample, the shaggy old Een only muttered, “Humph!”—so it had to be taken discretely.

Een Museum - a whisp of Uncle Griffinskitch's beard


Finding your voice

I’m soon off to Korea to teach at a couple of writing camps and so have been working hard to prepare some of the material. One of the workshops I’m excited to teach is about voice. I’ve always loved a strong narrative voice. It’s the number one thing that hooks me. Similarly, if a book—especially a children’s book—lacks a strong voice, then I am completely turned away. There are numerous examples of very successful and popular books that just haven’t grabbed me because of their lack of voice. Which means, of course, that not everyone is so attached to voice as me.

Nonetheless, every author needs to find that individual way of telling a story. Me? I’ve always told the Kendra Kandlestar books in that old-fashioned style, as if your grandfather has sat you down in front of the fireplace and decided to tell you a tale. (Some reviewers criticize me for this style; others love it.) However, I’ve always changed my voice when it came to writing down the legends of Een.

These sections of the series have been some of my favourite to write. They are purposely in a completely different style and voice. I wanted to give the legends weight and history, so I drew upon classical works such as The Old Testament, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Iliad for inspiration. Here’s  the Legend of the Wizard Greeve (this appears in The Door to Unger):

In the Days of Een, when all were one, goodness flourished in the lands and the race of Eens knew only happiness. In those ancient times, there came to be the first council of Elders. Upon seven seats in the Elder Stone sat seven Elders, and they were all brothers. For many seasons, these first Elders guided the Eens wisely; but one brother, the Wizard Greeve, came to know envy and hatred. He desired to lord power over his brethren and so he used his dark arts to plot against them.

But one of the brothers, the Elder Longbraids, discovered the treachery of the wizard Greeve. And so it came to pass that six brothers turned against one; and they banished Greeve from the lands of Een.

To the north did the dark wizard journey, to the verdant plains, rushing rivers, and lush forests did he carry his wickedness. And there did he construct a temple, a deep underground maze that served as a terrible monument to his fiendish heart; and in that place the plants withered, the rivers shrank, and the great trees fell. That place became a wasteland and there, in that jumble of rock and ruin, did the heart of the wizard Greeve swell with hunger for revenge against his brothers.

 And so it came to pass that the Wizard Greeve devised a plot to triumph over the remaining Elders of Een. Each of them did he vanquish with his dark arts, each of them knew his dark heart—save for one. The lone survivor, the Elder Longbraids, fled to Een, his beloved land, his heart afflicted by his brother’s deed. And now did Elder Longbraids seal off the land of Een by the spell of the magic curtain, a great barrier he did create so that the land might be protected from the hideous monsters that came to skitter or crawl or slither across the wide earth. The  wizard Greeve, his heart was not soothed after exacting revenge upon his brothers. His hatred remains yet, in that wretched place, and all who trespass there come to know the curse of Greeve . . .

>>> But here’s the question: How do you teach voice?

Well, I’m not sure you can teach it. All I’m going to try and do is demonstrate what it is and coax my students into trying to explore their individual styles. One of the things I thought I could do is take the above myth and rewrite it in a different voice. So, here is the first part of the “The Legend of the Wizard Greeve” modernized . . .

Ages back, when there was sunlight and everyone in the land was feeling “lad-dee-da,” the Eens were feeling alright. Back then, there were these old fellas, seven of them, hanging out in this Elder Stone and they were all bros. For a long time they were just hanging out, ruling and everything, but then one of the fellas who went by the handle “Grendel Greeve” became wicked-bad. He was greedy and wanted some coin. So he tried to cheat his bros.

But then one of the bros, this fella with long hair that they called Leemus Longbraids, he was all like “get out of my face.” And so the six bros all agreed to chuck that jerk bro out of Een. 

Well, the new version needs some work. It’s not very consistent. That’s the problem with switching voice! It just isn’t easy. Maybe I’ll spend some more time on it . . . but really, I should get back to writing Kendra Kandlestar 5!

A big key to success . . .

. . . is help! So I’d like to send out a big shout-out to everyone who helped out with a recent amazon Kindle promotion for Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger. Kendra was able to reach a lot of new readers and it’s all due to the networking help of different readers.

There are so many blogs and twitter feeds who have helped out, but in particular I’d like to mention the help of fellow creators (and friends!) Marcie Nestman, Stephanie Lisa Tara, James McCann, Kallie George, and kc dyer. Also, the website www.fkbooksandtips.com was a big help. If you’re an author and looking for promotional help, you might want to visit them.

Now it’s time for me to get back writing Kendra Kandlestar 5! Hopefully there will be more updates soon.

The Power of doodling: How I found the idea for The Door to Unger

I’ve been posting a lot of the sketches and artwork for the fifth Kendra Kandlestar book, but since amazon has a promotion to download Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger for free this week, I thought I would post one of the earliest sketches that inspired that book.

The whole idea for the plot of Door to Unger came from doodling. See, originally, I had NO idea for the book. I had written and published The Box of Whispers, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to write another Kendra book. I didn’t really have a specific idea or direction in mind. I began brainstorming, but nothing was really sticking. I remember thinking that I might even focus a sequel on Honest Oki, making him the central character instead of Kendra.

Well, the summer that all of this was floating around in my mind, I found myself in England. With all of its castles and dungeons, it’s a fantastic place for inspiration—especially when you’re writing a fantasy book. Strangely, however, I wasn’t traipsing through the maze at Hampton Court or up the Tower of London when I was struck with that magic bolt of inspiration. I was out in the country, sitting on a beach in Cornwall, staring out at the sea and the rocks. I had my sketchbook with me and I just began doodling. That’s when I came up with this sketch:

Concept sketch for Trooogul and Kendra

I’m not sure WHY I drew this picture. It wasn’t connected to any existing idea floating around in my coconut at the time. But as soon as I was finished this particular sketch, something sparked inside of me. By this picture I couldn’t tell if Kendra was being saved or stolen. And then I realized that she didn’t know it either. And that, in essence, became the nugget of the story.

I’m not sure how many times drawing has saved me when it comes to writing. But this is one of the best examples of just how connected my writing process is to drawing.

Oh! I should mention that this illustration turned out to be the focal element of the print edition cover. But that is another story . . .

My obsession with doors

With the current amazon promotion (you can download Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger for FREE until July 8th) I’ve been thinking a lot about doors. There are all sorts of doorways in The Door to Unger, and a lot of them were inspired by my travels. I just love finding doorways and taking photographs of them. In fact, my friends have been known to tease me for taking close-ups of these portals, but the truth is I find them just so fascinating.

In any case, here are some of my favourite doors from around the world (they are in no particular order) . . .

This one is at Alahumbra in Spain.


Just a cute little red church door I passed by during my last trip to New York City.


These opulent doors adorn the Grand Palace in Bangkok.


This is the detail of a door knocker at Heavenly Park in Beijing.


This is just a door to the delightful “Iron Fairy”—a restaurant in Bangkok. Inside, they also have a secret door, hidden as a bookshelf (though it was too dark for me to take a photo of it).


This is a door knocker detail from a palace in Korea (though I can’t remember which one; it may have been Kyeong-bok).


I loved this ornamentation on this door at the parliament buildings in Ottawa.


This one reminded me of a face. It can be found at a church in Prague.


I think some of my favourite doors are the old wooden ones. This one is at the cathedral in Salisbury.


From Shanghai Alley in Vancouver, this brightly coloured door evoked a sense of mystery.


This doorway is at the cathedral in St. Albans. I don’t know why; every time I see this photo, I think of Narnia.


This is another door at St. Albans.


The very austere and intimidating door at St. Paul’s, London.


This is a hidden doorway at the walls around Suwan. It’s designed in such a way so that you can’t see it easily from the outside; defenders can quickly zip inside their walls, leaving pursuers or attackers confused.


These doors can be found at Watpho in Bangkok.


Finally, how about a place badly in need of a door? The summer I was writing the Door to Unger, I visited the maze at Hampton Court in England and tried to find my way out. (I did, but not after a bit of confusion!)