My magical classroom

Unlike Cara Moone in my latest middle-grade book, I never went to magic school as a kid—but I was in a classroom that was incredibly magical.

It started in Grade 3 when I was sent to the hall to sit at a lonely desk and fill out a piece of paper. I thought I was in trouble at first! There was a sheet of paper with rows of circles, and the instructions said to draw. 

I can’t remember what I drew exactly, but it definitely wasn’t confined to within those circles. In the weeks ahead, there were a few other tests, and at least one interview with some old guy that came across as very scientific. In my imagination, he hooked me up to electrodes and tested my brain patterns (but I actually think he just asked me complicated questions).

Grade 4 . . . everything changed. I was put into a “creative learning” class with Mrs. Clough. We had a giant room with a small number of students. Some of the students came and went, but as for me, I was in that same classroom with the same teacher for three years.

During those three years, my creativity was nurtured and enflamed. I was given permission to be me. (I grew up on a farm in a small rural town and let’s just say that painting pictures or writing stories did not have many practical applications). 

Being in Mrs. Clough classroom was a foundational experience in my life. That room was my haven, a place where I could write, draw, build and explore. Many stories and ideas blossomed within those walls. I became a critical thinker, a dreamer, an enactor.

Mrs. Clough’s classroom helped make me who I am today, both as a writer and arts educator.

How can you ever repay those teachers in your life? It’s impossible, but I’m doing my best today by sending Mrs. Clough signed copies of my books.

Incidentally, that classroom still exists. Eventually our school was turned into a town center and our classroom was converted to become part of the public library . . . so, yep . . . my books are sitting on shelves in the place where I learned how to embrace my creativity.

A matter of character and voice

Last week, I was a guest at a book club (MGLitBC) and had a question from one of the participants about the audiobook version of Spell Sweeper (yes, there’s an audiobook!), and what that process was like.


The book is narrated by Sandy Rustin, and the excerpts I’ve listened to are amazing. When I was listening to samples of other books Sandy had narrated, I knew she could capture the voice of main character Cara perfectly.

However, full disclosure: I haven’t listened to the entire audio book of Spell Sweeper yet. This is partly because I already know the book inside out and the various (and towering) TRB stacks located throughout my house are forever calling to me. But I plan to rectify this situation soon; the audio book is cued up and ready to go!

One final note of interest . . . I didn’t actually know Spell Sweeper would get an audio book when I was writing it; otherwise, I might have changed some of those names (like Dörgés!). It wasn’t just Sandy’s job to pronounce those names; I had to record audio samples of all the character names and made-up terms in advance of audio book production. During that process, I fell into this whole trap of thinking how Cara would pronounce certain names and words. The book is first-person narration and I’m not sure how accurate she would be—she’s not exactly obsessed with the finer points of politeness. So, there’s this line between getting things right while trying to remain true and authentic to Cara’s voice. Ultimately, I pronounced everything as accurately and authentically as I could and advised that we let Cara’s voice shine.

Magic is messy—and so is making brooms

Magic is messy—and so is making brooms

We read—and discussed Spell Sweeper—in my creative writing workshop with tweens and teens this weekend, so a natural activity was to imagine our own magical brooms and write about them.

Check out these amazing creations!

As you can see, there is a lot of “hair-cutting” that occurs to get the brooms to the desired length and shape. By the end, it looked like wow had experienced an ill-advised encounter with Rapunzel!

This is a pretty simple activity that involves basic supplies: sticks for handles, twine for the straw, some black thread, and white glue (paint optional). For full instructions, check out the Teacher Resource Guide that is available on my website.

I can’t wait to read the stories that accompany these brooms!

As for the book discussion itself, well I really work hard on my students to be honest in their appraisals of books. It’s especially hard to do when the creator is standing in front of you, so in previous years I never led lit circles on my own books for that reason. But then I decided that it’s a better idea that they read their instructor’s work, so now we tackle it as best we can. We rate our books out of ten, and I’m happy to report that my book received an average score of 8.15/10. (Actually, I’m extremely happy with that because it proves that they were indeed honest).

I will mention that Zuki, the magical fox creature (kitsune) was by far the favourite character.

Anatomy of a cover: Spell Sweeper

Anatomy of a cover: Spell Sweeper

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts for Spell Sweeper (thank you so much, Intraweb) and every time there are comments about how amazing the cover is—no kidding!

I feel like I won the cover lottery, with artwork done by the amazing Maike Plenzke and some incredible design and typography by Jessie Gang.

Here are a few notes pointing out details and aspects of the cover:

Early sketches of the cover showed the picture frames hanging straight, so that was one detail that was amended in the final. There was no advice offered for the portraits in those frames, but in my mind they definitely represent some of the characters from wizard history that Cara references throughout the book.

Below are some of my own sketches and the photo of the broom reference!

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #12

Here is the next rule from the Code of Conduct, as described in 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 #12

All magical entities, or traces of magical entities, must be immediately turned over to the proper authorities. Do not attempt to keep these creatures as pets. 

(I take this rule as more of a suggested guideline.)

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Readers of Spell Sweeper will know that this is the rule that Cara wholeheartedly breaks by adopting a baby squix. I really wanted this creature to be something that was so ugly it was cute. Below, is my concept drawing.

Yep, I definitely nailed “ugly.” Thankfully, cover artist Maike Plenzke came up with a MUCH better alternative . . . something that was ADORABLE.

I definitely want a stuffy version of this critter! Maybe I’ll figure out how to do that eventually, but I have had fun making squix eggs (when Cara first encounters her illegal pet, she’s still in the shell).

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

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #11

Here is the next rule from the Code of Conduct, as described in 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 #11

Do not attempt a purge if a magical creature is in the vicinity. If in doubt, summon the local wizard Secretions from magical entities—blood, mucus, urine, venom, yolk, etc.—can be as dangerous as feral spell dust. Ensure all surfaces are scoured and cleaned of these substances before departing a site. 

(I’ve heard dragon pee leaves an odor that can last for decades.)

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Below is a photo of me in Spell Sweeper costume, but maybe when it comes to dragon urine, I should go with costume option Number 2!

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

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #10

Here is the next rule from the Code of Conduct, as described in 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 #10

Do not attempt a purge if a magical creature is in the vicinity. If in doubt, summon the local wizard authority. 

(You guessed it!)

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Yep, Cara has opinions. And some issues with authority (unless, SHE is the authority, then it’s all good). 

My own dealings with wizards are limited, but I did once visit a castle full of them and you can see my photo of them idly standing around chit-chatting while a cart full of brooms sits nearby, begging to be swept into action.

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

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #9

Here is the next rule from the Code of Conduct, as described in 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 #9

If you cannot contain it, rope it off and summon the local wizard authority. 

(Seriously, why don’t they just scrap this code and replace it with the phrase: “Just call a wizard!”)

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In Cara’s own words from Spell Sweeper: You’re probably familiar with the bright yellow “caution” tape for securing the scene of an accident. When we do a purge in Bliss territory, it’s procedure to rope off the entire area to ensure no one stumbles upon any magical activity. Our tape reads: Chemical Spill Containment Site: Do Not Cross—because no Bliss would take Danger: Feral Magic at Work seriously.

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

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #8

Here is the next rule from the Code of Conduct, as described in 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 #8

Do not be seen, heard, or smelled. 

(They should add “tasted” to this list, because I’m not even a real spell sweeper yet, and I’ve already been nearly eaten twice.)

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If you’ve read Spell Sweeper, then you know Cara runs into a dangerous “mouth-thingy” in the fabric of magic—followed soon after by an angry mama squix. That encounter? Well it’s a bit of a train wreck. 😉

As for me, I have never met a squix or a mouth-thingy in real-life. Though you can swipe to see the time I once faced off against an ornery orc.

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

The Spell Sweeper Code of Conduct: Rule #7

Here is the next rule from the Code of Conduct, as described in 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 #7

Do not attempt explanation if you are accosted by a Bliss during a purge; summon the local wizard authority. 

(“Nothing to see here, folks—this is definitely not dragon egg yolk smeared all over your porch.”)

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BTW, Spell Sweepers are not only responsible for cleaning up spell dust left behind when wizards cast spells, but also any other magical . . . er, secretions.

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