Door of the day: Beauty and story

Door of the day: Beauty and story

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This is a gorgeous green door I happened upon at Changdeokgung in Seoul, Korea. It has beautiful metal adornments and a bit of weathering—in other words, some story! This is my favorite kind of door

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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Door of the Day: The door with winged handles

Door of the Day: The door with winged handles

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Here are some angels for you on this day, found on the handles of this door in Seoul. This door led to my heart’s desire—COFFEE! You’ve probably read a book where the author described the door flying open . . . well, this one may literally do so with these two winged souls minding the entrance!

By the way, in Korea, coffee is an evening thing, NOT a morning thing, as is the case in North America. When I go to the coffee shop first thing in the morning in Seoul, I usually have the entire place to myself!

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

There are many types of coffee in the Zoone multiverse, but one of the most beloved hot beverages is Elandorian coffee, prized for its rich and invigorating flavors.

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

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Door of the Day: The red door

Door of the Day: The red door

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Here’s a close-up of a vibrant red door in Garosu-gil, a neighborhood in Seoul, Korea, featuring ginkgo trees, stylish restaurants, and boutique shops. This is a door to one of those shops! The door is lovely, but I was as equally enamored with the wall!

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

Of course, portals in the Zoone nexus do NOT have walls. They are free-standing, surrounding Zoone Station on four different platforms of concentric circles.

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

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Door of the Day: some are guarded by beasts . . .

Door of the Day: some are guarded by beasts . . .

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This is a door from Gyeongbok palace in Korea, with a traditional lock to secure its weathered wood.  I have walked the grounds here a few times, and have never tired of its beauty!

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I especially love the haetae guarding the gates and entrances to different buildings with the complex—haetae is a famous creature from Korean mythology. It is a protective creature, said to guard against natural disasters.

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I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate the release of The Guardians of Zoone on Feb25!  There are no haetae in Zoone but there is, of course, one very unique skyger named Tug!

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

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Door of the Day: One of my favorite places!

Door of the Day: One of my favorite places!

I often stay in Jongno-gu when I’m in Korea. I love the winding streets, the architecture—and the doors! Just check out this beautiful door knocker on this well-used and weathered doorway:

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I’ve wandered these alleyways many times! They can feel like a maze, but you never know what you will find when you turn a corner. Here, the traditional often suddenly collides with the modern. You can find many amazing restaurants sequestered here, especially ones featuring traditional cuisine.

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and love visiting Tapgol Park, a peaceful place beyond the bustle of the neighborhood. Here, no one is staring at their palms! Instead, this is the place where old people (like me?) retreat to listen to their radios and share stories beneath the watchful eyes of treasured monuments.

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Then, if you get hungry, you can wander down the street to try traditional bungeoppang, which is traditionally shaped like a fish and filled with red bean past. However, in the Insa-dong tourist district, it’s shaped like . . . poo (they call it poo-dough) and comes in different flavors (one of them being, of course, chocolate).

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In truth, this is one of my favorite places in the world, my home away from home.

I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) and The Guardians of Zoone (February 25).

Yes, there is peculiar food to be found in the worlds of Zoone, too! Ozzie and his friends sample many of it—but I recommend going to Insa-dong and trying the poo-dough before tasting “witch pie,” which has all kinds of disgusting flavors, such as worm intestines.

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books can be found HERE.

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Door of the day: A secret entrance!

Door of the day: A secret entrance!

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Today’s door of the day is a secret one, found at Suwon, Korea. The exterior wall jukes, which might have confused attackers to make them think that retreating defenders had vanished into the stones!

Suwon is a beautiful old walled city; you can walk that wall and see the old gazing solemnly upon the ever-encroaching modernity. I visited Suwon during my very first visit to Korea, back in 2007 (I’ve been more than 20 times since!), and I fell in love with it.

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I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) and The Guardians of Zoone (February 25). There are many secret doors at Zoone Station, concealed in the walls to provide shortcuts or paths to forbidden chambers. In fact, Ozzie and Fidget will find one such door during their attempt to rescue an important member of their crew in The Guardians of Zoone.

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books can be found HERE.

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Door of the Day: three magnificent gates leading to a secret world

Door of the Day: three magnificent gates leading to a secret world

Here are three magnificent and imposing doors at Changdeokgung (the Palace of Prospering Virtue), one of five grand palaces in Korea—and a UNESCO world heritage site.

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This site also features a secret garden and, when we were there, we saw a neoguri (raccoon-dog).

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I’m posting door inspirations from my travels to celebrate the release of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) & The Guardians of Zoone (February 25) with HarperCollins Children’s books. There will be many photos from Korea, since it (and the UK) are the places outside of Canada that I spend the most time in!

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books are HERE.

 

In search of the nine-tailed fox

In search of the nine-tailed fox

This past summer, I led a summer camp in Korea with the theme of magical creatures. I have plenty of magical creatures in my own books—some of them borrowed from mythology (dragon, unicorns, perytons, etc.) and some are completely made up (like Tug the skyger, who is a main character in The Secret of Zoone).

But there is a creature I’ve been becoming more and more interested in, and that’s the fox spirit, which is prominent in Asian folktales and myths. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Korea, or maybe because so many of my creative writing students in Canada come from Chinese or Korean backgrounds. And, of course, my son being adopted from Japan has something to do with it.

The fox spirit in myth and legend

Legends about the fox spirit vary from country to country, story to story, but a common theme is that it is depicted with multiple tails—often nine. In Japan, it is called kyūbi no kitsune (literally fox with nine tails), in Korea it is called kumiho or gumiho (also, literally, fox with nine tails), and in China it’s called húli jīng or jiǔwěihú. Sometimes the foxes are seeking to gain all nine tails, which will take a thousand years (gaining a tail every hundred years) and allow them to transcend to a greater wisdom or being. They are sometimes associated with being evil (especially kumiho in Korea)—they can shapeshift into beautiful women and are often portrayed trying to seduce young men, even desiring to eat their livers!

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Last summer, when we first met Hiro, I encountered many fox effigies at the temple sites throughout Japan. When we returned to Tokyo this summer with Hiro, I made a point to seek out one of the temples in the city featuring the fox.

These are the benign versions of the fox spirit. Kitsune is associated with the God Inari, who is worshiped for fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture—essentially prosperity and success. That is why kitsune can be found at so many Shinto sites.

A trip to Toyoa Inari Betsuin

On a sweltering morning in Tokyo, we headed to Toyoa Inari Betsuin to see the many kitsune assembled at the shrine. It’s not always easy to make the trek across the city with a one-year-old in tow, especially when it comes to navigating the subway system. Actually the Tokyo subway system itself is easy—finding ways in and out with a stroller aren’t, especially at the older stations.

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But that minor inconvenience was offset by the beautiful shrine.

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When it came to finding foxes, we weren’t disappointed—there were countless ones at Toyoa Inari Betsuin.

Here are just a few of the many photos of the kitsune . . . such delightful creatures! Many of them were wearing a red bib (a symbol of good luck).

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To provide a bit more information about the shrine, I transcribed the information from the welcoming sign, which is also in the photo below:

The Toyokawa Inari is in reality the Toyokawa Dakini Shinten, one of the many Buddhist saints who were Protectors of the Buddhist doctrines. This saint has a beautiful countenance mounted on a white fox, carrying the ear of rice, and is called Toyokawa Inari. It has been enshrined in the Myōgon-ji, a temple in Toyokawa City, Aichi Prefecture, since the first founder Kangan Giin received an inspiration, enshrined it about 700 years ago. Since then, it has been worshipped by peoples of all walks of life, bringing them happiness and saving them from the suffering through the generations to this day.

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I’m pondering the idea of incorporating a magical fox with multiple tails in one of my upcoming middlegrade books. I think my many students with Asian backgrounds (not to mention my son!) will like it, though I know my magical fox won’t be an antagonist, but rather a helpful character.

The multiple tails also seem to match up very nicely with another main idea I’m developing for the book. I don’t have much else to say on it at this point, but let’s see how it goes . . .

Our magical creature camp in Korea

Our magical creature camp in Korea

I’m just catching up on organizing photos after our whirlwind trip to Korea and Japan this past summer—which means I’m finally getting around to blogging about the Magical Creatures creative writing camp that I taught along with my actor/playwright wife Marcie Nestman and fellow children’s author Kallie George.

Marcie and I are used to spending time in Asia—personally, I’ve been there over thirty times, most of it to teach creative writing camps or workshops. What WAS new this time was that we took our one-year-old son, Hiro, with us. So, seasoned travelers that we are, we had a very different type of adventure!

A magical theme

Since Kallie and I both recently released books featuring magical creatures—Kallie’s Wings of Olympus and my The Secret of Zoone—we thought that would make the best theme for our camp.

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Of course, there are plenty of books and films featuring magical creatures, so this was a great way to connect with and inspire our students.

 

The magical menagerie art exhibit

In The Secret of Zoone, one of the characters references the “Multiversal Menagerie,” an art exhibit featuring paintings of different creatures from across the multiverse. I thought I would take a cue from that and have my students do a creative writing project in which they produced artwork of a creature then wrote the information card that goes with it.

You see, I have this belief that not every writing assignment has to be a proper story. I worry that my students get so focused on plot, that they forget other elements of writing—such as description, setting, character development and BEING CREATIVE. I call this “plot paralysis” because students get so caught up in that ONE part of writing that they start ignoring everything else.

Projects like the multiverses menagerie are meant to help the students wriggle free of the shackles of plot and just have fun.

Our project started with brainstorming creatures  . . .

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Afterwards, the students turned their attention to final artwork. Some students chose to draw, some students chose to sculpt, and others chose to do both.

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The Eye of the Dragon

Another project I rolled out at camp involved writing a scene in which a character finds or steals a magical gem that gives that character the power of connecting with a creature. The students got to choose the aspect of that connection—it could be transforming into the creature, controlling it, or even seeing through its eyes.

Step one, however, was painting the gem of power!

I really love this project because it is relatively simple, but produces stunning results. In fact, many of my students end up wearing their jewelry afterwards (it’s easy enough to glue the gems to a metal ring or amulet).

The gems themselves are glass cabochons, which you can get in different shapes (such as oval or round) and the paint is simple nail polish. This project is very forgiving—even those students who don’t consider themselves artistic can create abstract designs. Also, if you make a mistake, a little nail polish remover helps you start over!

Here are some of the gorgeous designs produced by my students:

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The magical market

We delivered many other projects at the camp, but there is one other event I wanted to blog about—and that is our magical market night. Our camps our long—often six or seven days, and we find we need some sort of event in the middle to help break it up and provide a “boost.”

We usually host a tournament or some other team-building exercises; this time, Marcie had the brilliant idea of putting on a magical market. This was brilliant for a few reasons—not the least of which was that we could do it outdoors and avoid the intense summer heat and humidity. Also, we corralled our older students into coming up with the ideas for the stalls, and then running them during the event itself.

So, we ended up having all sorts of fun stations consisting of games, face painting, fortune telling, and—my favorite—food! We invented a new fizzy drink by combining soda water and pop rocks and also had glow-in-the-dark cotton candy. We gave the students fake jewels to use as currency, so they got to stroll our market and decide how to spend their loot.

Marcie had led a project in which the students designed their own lanterns for a made-up magical creature holiday, so we already had some decorations ready to go.

It was a HUGE success!

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Touring libraries in Korea

Touring libraries in Korea

In a previous post, I described the “Storytelling Carnival Camp” that in taught in South Korea with Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. There was no rest for the weary after this camp—we immediately whisked off on a short tour of libraries.

Supporting literacy

The tour was put together with the help of the Canadian Embassy in Seoul and The Creative Writing for Children society. It is part of an ongoing effort to help build a cultural bridge between Canada and Korea and to help support literacy initiatives there.

Day 1: Yongin International Library

First stop of the tour was this palatial library in the city of Yongin. Actually, perhaps palatial isn’t quite the right word—the brand-new building is more like a stadium, and I mean that in terms of not only how it looks, but in its size.

In fact, at first we thought we must have the wrong place. How could we be visiting a library in a sports arena?

Turns out, it is just a magnificent and cavernous recreation and community center. There are all sorts of facilities in this facility—including a massive library.

When we first arrived, the place was empty, leaving me with a lonely, hollow feeling. All those unattended books! We were escorted to our presentation room and began setting up our computers and slideshows. Soon, families began streaming in.

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This turned out to be the most ostentatious of our events, with even local dignitaries attending. We could never quite figure out if it was the mayor of Yongin or the premier of the province.

We delivered our introductory presentations, then afterwards broke into three groups to deliver focused writing workshops. I decided that the focus of my tour would be to lead brainstorming sessions inspired by my book Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. I discussed with the students different enchanted vessels in mythology, such as Pandora’s box from Greek mythology and Urashima Tarō’s box from Japanese lore. Then I led an interactive session in which we designed our own boxes, imagining what each of them held, how they were opened, and who would find them.

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After the workshops, the library held a book sale. Even though the attendees were well versed in English, many of the kids asked me to sign their books in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Here’s a photo of the sheet showing the kid’s writing down their names, so I would have something to copy. (In truth, I do this no matter the language I’m signing in, because even the most innocuous-sounding names can sometimes have surprising spellings).

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When we finally exited our rooms, it was to find the library simply teeming with families. What an awesome sight. There were kids draped on stools and cushions, reading, playing, and basically enjoying the library.

Day 2: Mapo Community Library

The next day took us into the heart of Seoul, to a quieter, humbler library found on an unassuming street. This library is sponsored by a local university and we found the kids here to be quite tightknit, coming from the same neighborhood within the city.

They had pre-read my book Kendra Kandlestar series, which made it a lot of fun to talk and work with them.

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Since the kids were a little shy in asking questions, I took a poll to determine their favourite characters from the books.

Here are the official results:
Kendra: 5
Oki: 4
Jinx: 2
Uncle Griffinskitch: 2
Rumor: 1
Ratchet: 1
Undecided: 4

Poor Trooogul. Never got a sniff.

Mapo Community Library had a real cozy feel to it; you can tell it’s a type of haven, full of quiet nooks and corners for the neighborhood kids to come hang out in and talk with the warm and friendly staff. I wasn’t able to get many pictures here, just because of how the schedule went, but it was definitely a memorable environment.

Day 3: Sonpa English Library

The final day of our tur took us south of the Han River to a more distant neighborhood. This library is in an old water management system building that has been converted for community use. It is a beautiful space, however, with workshop rooms and a main presentation area.

Dan, Stacey, and I each delivered introductory presentations and then were lined up for a group Q&A. This was really quite fun. The library organizers had been worried that the kids would be too shy to ask questions, but they weren’t. I remember one question in particular: “What is your ultimate goal?”

That one made me think on my feet. I came up with what I thought was a pretty good answer at the time, but I actually can’t remember what it is now. (I just know I resisted the temptation to shout out “WORLD DOMINATION!”)

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After the Q&A, we each delivered short writing workshops again. In my room there was a board of questions specifically about my Kendra Kandlestar books.

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By the way, this library had the best bathroom I’ve ever visited. Just check out this urinal:

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A real success

All the audiences were super-engaged, despite the fact that English was the second language for most of them. I want to give a big thank you to CWC and the Canadian Embassy in Seoul for arranging and assisting in the tour and another giant shout out to the staff at each library for their warm and generous hearts. Their love of literature and children really shone in each of their spaces.

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