Door of the Day: The shop of door knockers

Door of the Day: The shop of door knockers

OldShanghai-padlock

This is a lock on one of the many stalls in Old Shanghai, which we wandered in 2017.

Do you know what you can buy in Old Shanghai? ANYTHING. Gadgets, trinkets, baubles, and mostly watches. Me? From the shop secured by the lock above, I bought a door knocker and put it on display in my studio.

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I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate the release of The Guardians of Zoone on February 25!

You can find order links for the books of Zoone HERE.

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The magic of brooms: my new writing project

The magic of brooms: my new writing project

I’ve been working on a new project, which I can’t say too much about yet, but it’s a middle-grade fantasy book that involves brooms.

Most people think of brooms and fantasy and they automatically think Harry Potter, or, at the very least of some witch or magic-maker flying across the sky . . . but I want to approach the subject differently.

Don’t get me wrong—I love all the broom flying that happens in fantasy books like Harry Potter, The Worst Witch, Discworld or the newer Apprentice Witch series by James Nicol. My wife and I even purposely planned a vacation around spending a day at Alnwick Castle in England, where they filmed the broom flying scenes for the Harry Potter films. We took broom flying lessons there (and failed!).

Broom flying at Alnwick Castle

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But you may not know that, aside from potential flight capabilities, brooms have other magical associations in common folklore. Some of these are to do with marriage, such as a newly-wed couple jumping or stepping over a broom while holding hands to invite good luck into their home. There is also the idea that brooms can sweep away trouble or bad spirits. The overall theme is the idea of luck or success.

It’s that element of magic that I am drawing upon in my new book.

My interest in brooms far predates my lackluster attempt at joining at quidditch team. My grandfather used to make his own brooms. He grew the broomcorn, harvested it, then fastened the stalk to handles. In fact, I still have one of his brooms, made over forty years ago.

My grandfather’s broom

Grandpa's Broom

Maybe that’s why I have always noticed brooms in my travels. I see them everywhere. I’ll be strolling along and notice one perched, almost slyly, against a street pole, a park bench, a temple wall. And they are old-school brooms with often crude handles and natural straw bristles. Every time I see these brooms, I always feel that they have been up to something, something just a little bit out of the ordinary.

A few years ago, I started photographing the brooms. I never knew quite why, except my rule as an author is this: If something interests me, I record it. It doesn’t matter if I know exactly why something interests me, I just capture the detail, the moment, with my camera and/or notebook, and then let things percolate . . .

Broom at Ta Som temple, Cambodia

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Street broom, Hanoi, Vietnam

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Park broom, Qibao neighborhood, Shanghai, China

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I percolated on this idea for a long time, and was busy working on other thing, like my Zoone series. But the time came this summer to finally begin developing this idea in earnest. Part of that process means doing some research and I’m particularly lucky, because I just so happen to have a traditional broom-maker in my neighborhood.

Researching brooms

So, one crisp fall day, I headed to the Granville Island Broom Co. and peppered Mary, one of the owners, about the tradition of broom making and watched her process. It’s somewhat mesmerizing and a lot more complicated than I originally imagined.

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Granville Island Broom Co. sells and ships all over the world, and it’s no wonder—their brooms are works of art.

Here’s a photo of the broom I bought, which has a handle fashioned from manzanita wood:

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I’ll just say, for the record, that my infant son also loves Granville Island Broom Co. I mean it is a pretty enchanting place!

These days, I’m working in earnest, outlining, writing, rewriting. As I said above, my intention is to focus on brooms for what they are intended to do: sweeping. Sound mundane? Just remember, folklore says that brooms are for sweeping away bad fortune or evil spirits. Or, if you prefer, magic . . .

 

Are you a traveler? Then pack your suitcase for Zoone!

Are you a traveler? Then pack your suitcase for Zoone!

In just three weeks, my new book, The Secret of Zoone, will be hitting shelves. Typically, this is a time for an author to invest extra time in marketing, host a launch, and plan tour or bookstore events.

For me, it means something just a little extra—building props! While I am usually making props throughout my writing process, preparing for events usually means I’m thinking not so much about how to help bring my fantasy worlds to life for me, but to help promote them to the world.

The idea

Since Zoone is about the nexus of the multiverse, where travelers from many different worlds cross paths, it was a no-brainer to introduce a suitcase as a prop. In addition to being a great “set piece”, I knew a suitcase offered one other advantage: I could fill it full of MORE stuff—even display copies of my books.

The problem

We actually have quite a few vintage suitcases in our house, but most of them are quite big, and many are a little tired. In other words, they’re not that sturdy anymore. My suitcase would have to be small enough to take as carry-on for a flight and be durable enough to survive lugging around to schools, libraries, bookstores, and conferences.

Scouring websites wasn’t that helpful. You can buy vintage suitcases online, but I knew I’d need to see the item in order to know if it would work. So, that meant scouring local antique stores. Which I did! At one point, I was even picking my way through the overflow storage of a shop, sussing out what they had squirreled away.

The chosen one

I eventually found a case at a store called Baker Dozen’s Antiques on Main Street in Vancouver. They had a good selection of suitcases, and I decided to go for this little fella:

vintage suitcase

It was a little beat up (no problem!), but it was the right size. I took it home, began cleaning it up . . . and that’s when I decided that I needed to give it a retrofit.

The project

It wasn’t long before I decided I needed to “Zooneify” the suitcase. Especially the inside, which, on closer inspection, turned out to be pretty gross. It had cloth lining, some of it stained, and emitting that sort of pervasive stench that sticks with cloth and felt after eons untold.

So, Step One was to gut the interior.

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I put so much “knuckle-grease” into this project, that I didn’t even realize that I had bashed up my hand, tugging and yanking on the lining. It looked like I had gotten into a fight:

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When I was done gutting the suitcase (and bashing up my hand), I was left with rough, exposed wood that showed staples and nails. I’d have to make my own new, lining. But before I got into that, I decided to turn my attention to the outside of the case.

Painting the case

My original plan had been to cover the suitcase with these vintage-style travel stickers I had created to go along with my book. But prop building is always the same for me: In for a penny, in for a pound. I now decided that the color of the suitcase wasn’t ideal, and that I would paint it.

Zoone Station is described in the book as being turquoise, so that’s the color I chose. I had never painted a suitcase before, or this type of material, so I did some research on finding the best kind of paint and ended up going with some premium satin acrylic paint that I could buy at the local craft store.

Then I began painting . . .

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All the extras

As I said above, in for a penny, in for a pound. I decided I wanted to add some metal embellishments to the case: hinges (it didn’t have any), corners, and a steampunk-style gear on the front. I collected these places from all over the place: the craft store, the hardware store, and the Internet.

Unfortunately, they were all different colors, including the locking mechanism that was already on the case.

That meant, painting all the bits so that they at least looked close. I ended up painting the bits with black enamel model paint, then brushing over with another type of metallic acrylic paint to give everything a vintage coppery feel.

For the gear, I decided this would be the wizardly version of a combination lock. I found a brad with a “Z” embellishment, which I used to attach the gear to the case. Yes, the gear actually spins.

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What’s inside counts

The entire time I was painting and working on the exterior, I was strategizing what to do with the inside. I knew I could make a simple lining using illustration board, but I didn’t want to just paint it a plain color. I decided it needed a bit more flare.

I tried finding samples of wallpaper, but this turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Most stores don’t carry it in quantity and buying online was a challenge because I couldn’t actually see the scale of the pattern. Shelf liners would have been a good option, but it seems that most of the ones in stock around the city are either clear or fake wood.

I finally ended up using scrapbooking paper, spray gluing it to the illustration board, then adding a veneer of mod-podge to protect it and stiffen it up.

I agonized over some of the patterns and options, but finally ended up going with something that had a subtle polkadot design. After all, I knew I would be filling the case full of wizardry items, and didn’t want the pattern itself to be too distracting.

The final touches

Once the outside was painted and the inside lined, I could add all the accoutrements, inside and out. That meant affixing the metal embellishments. Then I added my vintage travel stickers and started figuring out what sort of things would go inside the case.

My idea is that this case would belong to a wizard on his way to the Convention of Wizardry that is taking place at Zoone during the events of the book. That means a bunch of whimsical items to suggest and hint at his character.

Most of the props I fashioned myself, such as the miniature bestiary book, the dragon egg, the dragon scale, and the fox-box full of charms. I will probably add a few more things as we go along.

This will also serve as a great inspiration for classroom visits; students can imagine the character who owns this case and write a profile and story about him.

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And, of course, it will make a great display the next time I’m at a book store or conference and displaying my books!

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.

Secret of Zoone - ARC cover.jpgContest details

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’.