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L.T. Suzuki

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Blogs by L.T. Suzuki

Lee Edward Fodi Interview
12/21/2009 9:42:49 PM
Interview with author/illustrator of middle grade fiction Lee Edward Fodi

LTS: For the fans of beautifully illustrated middle grade fantasies, today’s guest blogger is the wildly talented Wizard of Words, Lee Edward Födi! An award-winning storyteller and gifted artist, I was prompted to do this interview by my daughter who happens to be a fan of ‘The Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar’ series. Lee is a regular at some of the writing conferences and literary events I frequent, but I first met Lee when I took my daughter to a book signing this author was part of at a local Chapters Bookstore earlier this year.
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Lee.
I understand you wrote your first book when you were only a small child! Is it fair to assume you had aspirations of becoming a published author from a young age or did you have another career in mind?
(Readers: Please note that if you wish to see beautiful samples of Lee’s illustrations and his plot-tree, visit my blog on my official website http://web.me.com/imagobooks.)

LEF: I always wanted to be an author. I remember writing and illustrating my very first book with a crayon, so I must have been very young. Afterwards, I started producing my own books just by using Hilroy notebooks and pencil crayons. Each book was complete, with a table of contents, illustrations, back cover copy, and even a copyright page! (I’ve included a photo of one my favourite books; this one I wrote when I was ten or eleven).
I don’t know if I really thought about writing as a career; it’s just something that I did. As I got older, I realized that working as a writer wasn’t as simple as just writing! I meandered through university, wondering what I could do for a career. Secretly, I still wanted to be a published writer, but I ended up working for several years as a graphic designer. It was a very creative job and one that I liked—but I’m not sure I loved it. Through all this time I still wrote. I finally had my first book published, and from there doors began opening for me in the world of children’s lit.

LTS: You are one of the few authors I know with enough talent to illustrate your own books (as well as works for other authors). This is one of the first things I’ve noticed studying the artworks contained in the two Kendra books my daughter owns. Your artwork is truly beautiful with a magical, whimsical feel! I know you have a diploma in Fine Arts from the University of BC, but is this a skill that was developed in tandem with your writing or was it a natural talent that was always there?

LEF: For me, the two have always gone hand-in-hand. It’s actually hard for me to imagine writing a book without drawing. In all likelihood, I’ll one day publish a book that doesn’t have illustrations—but that won’t mean that I didn’t draw as part of the process to sculpt the story. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. I find it extremely difficult to write without drawing.

LTS: You now have three books in’ The Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar’ series. What was the inspiration behind these stories and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?

LEF: This is a great question to follow up my explanation of how my coconut works. I actually call Kendra Kandlestar my happy accident. You see, I wasn’t trying to write a book at all. I was just painting a picture of some tiny critters sneaking past an enormous dragon and when I was done, I hung it on my studio wall, so I could stare at it and decide if I liked it. Well, before I knew it, I was building a story in my head, and soon I began scratching down some ideas in my sketchbook. Suddenly, my imagination was enflamed, and I had the first draft of a book. That first draft wasn’t very good—and it doesn’t much resemble the final version of The Box of Whispers, but it was the first gatepost along the road. I ended up with a 42,000-word book from that painting!
In the first painting, you can see that there’s no Kendra. It was a rabbit carrying the chest that eventually became the Box of Whispers. The rabbit had extra-long ears and was always tugging on them when she was nervous. Well, I came to the point, around the sixth or seventh draft of the book, in which I wanted to drop the rabbit and replace her with a more elf-like character called an Een. But I didn’t want to lose this aspect of the ear-tugging, so instead of long ears, I gave the character long braids—seven to be exact—and voila! Kendra Kandlestar was born. She became a feisty character, curious and impetuous. It’s another great example of how my drawing of the character spawned her personality.

LTS: My daughter loves your books because she said the illustrations, ‘even though they are black and white, are still detailed and beautiful while the stories are action-packed and funny’. She felt that even an older audience would enjoy your books. Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open the first book in this series, “Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers”?

LEF: Oooh…I like your daughter’s take. She kind of captures what I aspire to do: tell a great story that can reach everyone. It’s a storyteller’s tale; I always imagine an old man reading it out to his grandchildren around the fireplace or in the shadowy corner of a library.
In the first book, a precious treasure from the Land of Een—the Box of Whispers—is stolen and Kendra is one of five characters chosen to go retrieve it. At first Kendra doesn’t know why she is going on this quest or what is even in the box. Eventually, she will discover that it holds all the secrets of her people, including her own—one she’s desperate to keep hidden. So Kendra’s journey becomes a very personal one. Oh, and she ends up fighting a dragon.

LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it hard for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?

LEF: Well, I actually didn’t get an agent—unless you count myself. I had my first book published by putting on a wizard’s hat and wandering the convention floor of the Book Expo America. This was several years ago, in Chicago. I basically just walked around talking to different publishers and ended up getting a contract out of that leap of faith. So, I think you have to do two things as a writer. The first is obvious: you have to write—a lot. Then you have to take action. You have to go to conferences, you have to meet people, you have to learn about the business as much as about the craft. A lot of that can sound discouraging, especially if you’re one of those writers notorious for being shy. I can tell you that I was one of those types of writers. I stayed hidden in the shadows. I barely spoke at all, even in university. But forcing myself out in the world helped me become more confident and got me to where I am today.

LTS: Discovered at the Book Expo while donning your Wizard hat? I love it! Can you share that moment when found out you sold your debut novel, Corranda’s Crown to Royal Fireworks Press?

LEF: Well, I remember receiving this registered letter in my mailbox and thinking to myself that it was strange to receive a rejection letter that way. Then I opened it up and found an offer and a draft contract! Then I thought, wait a minute! How come there’s no fireworks? Shouldn’t people be knocking on my door with a case full of money and bottles of champagne! But that’s before I realized that getting a first book contract isn’t the culmination of the journey. It’s just the beginning.

LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?

LEF: This is an interesting question, because my approach has changed very recently. I used to write (or draw) when it struck my fancy, which—to be honest—was all the time. So I would just create whenever I could.
But now that I’m so busy travelling and promoting and running a full-time creative writing program for kids, I just don’t have the same luxury of time. I found that my writing and drawing were always being pushed to the periphery of my schedule. So I recently made a change to my routine. I get up an hour earlier every day and write for at least an hour and half before I check my email or get entangled in the demands of all the others aspects of my career. Then, of course, I take any other time I can to also create.

LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.

LEF: I’m an extreme plotter, no doubt about it. I will spend months plotting, making storyboards, or just sketching before I begin writing. I like to have a pretty good plan! That doesn’t mean my plan won’t change once I begin writing, but I like to think that writing is like building a house—I need a blueprint before I start banging up walls. For my third Kendra Kandlestar book, I had an intensive foldout chart of my plot tree. It allowed me to just see the overall plot of my book on one long page. That book was a bit complicated in terms of all the plot points that needed to occur, so I think that’s why I got so into the plotting. I actually did eight versions of that plot tree!

LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?

LEF: I love a good cup of joe; it’s my comfort drink, I suppose. I also like listening to music, especially without lyrics, when I’m writing. It’s like a slight distraction that helps me get into the mood. I especially like orchestral or movie-soundtrack type of music when I’m writing, particularly songs that will match the scene I’m working on. Of course, I will also write in complete silence sometimes. I’m known to speak my dialogue (with the accents and mannerisms of the characters) as I write. So I guess I don’t have a ritual. It just depends on my groove that day.

LTS: It must be an interesting to watch you at work, especially when you start speaking the characters’ dialogue! But during the creative process do you ever hit that dreaded writer’s block? And if so, what do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?

LEF: Well, I think there’s always something that I can do to help me create my book. Since I’m an illustrator, I will often draw my way out of writer’s block. If I’m stuck on a scene or a character, I find drawing helps me solve the problem. All else failing, I just go for a bike ride. I do a lot of “writing” on my bike.

LTS: For some reason, I can now picture you riding your bike with your Wizard hat on as you write and speak your characters’ dialogue! But now that I’ve pushed this image from my mind’s eye, another question: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?

LEF: Wow! I have so many favourites. Current authors I really like are Kate Dicamillo, Michael Morpurgo, and Linda Sue Park. But as a kid I absolutely adored L. Frank Baum (who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and C.S. Lewis (who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia). In particular, I liked Baum’s Oz books, because they had lots of illustrations and that story-telling flare that I try to capture in my own work. There’s no doubt I wanted to escape and go visit the worlds of Oz and Narnia as a kid. I think that’s why I write fantasy. I still enjoy escaping. I still enjoy the idea of creating a world and making it exactly as I want it to be.

LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?

LEF: There is no doubt about my answer to this question. I discovered that I love to speak and teach. When I was first getting published, a friend said to me, “You’ll have to become a speaker to promote your book.” I argued with him vehemently and said that I would never do that. Now, I absolutely love going to a school to talk with kids about reading and writing and helping them find inspiration for their own work. It’s like discovering a nugget of gold inside of me that I didn’t know existed. I always knew I loved to write and draw, but the teaching part is a newly-discovered passion.

LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?

LEF: I think everyone needs to be clear about what he or she wants out of publication. Some people want to be published to be famous. Some want to be published just because it’s the natural culmination of writing and it simply allows them to keep doing what they love. So I guess the question is: Why do you want to be published? Why do you write? It seems like it’s a silly question to ask—most writers will tell you instantly that they will always write, no matter what. But writing can be a grueling process, especially when you have an editor ripping apart your labour of love. But the key is to learn to enjoy that process, I think, and to trust in the process. The journey needs to be as much fun as achieving the final goal—in my opinion.

LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?

LEF: Well, I read mostly kid’s lit, so my stack is always quite high. Whenever I really fall in love with a book, I teach it as part of the creative writing program I run. That’s one of the best parts about reading—sharing the book. Out of all the books I read recently, I think I really loved ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. It’s an older book, but one I recently discovered. It builds off an old tradition, a story that I’ve heard from other cultures. But it has a great message and even though it isn’t intended for children, I find it’s a great book study with the higher intermediate grades.

LTS: You are one of the co-founders of the Vancouver-based Dream Workshop. Can you tell our readers about this not-for-profit program?

LEF: This program is my life’s passion. I wanted to develop a program that would create the type of creative environment that I craved as a kid. In our program, kids get to write, draw, and even desktop publish their own books. In our program, the sky’s the limit! We’ve now been running it for six years and have helped hundreds of kids nurture their creativity. I could gush about this program until my voice expired!

LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from middle grade fantasy into other genres? Can your fans expect a fourth book in the Kendra Kandlestar series in the near future?

LEF: There will be definitely be a fourth Kendra Kandlestar book. I’m working on it now! Then there will be a fifth book, and I think by that time I might be done. But you never know . . . I definitely want to write other non-Kendra books. I have lots of ideas, but most of them still exist in the realm of fantasy for middle-grade. It’s just a place I dearly love!

LTS: Thank you so much for taking time out of your crazy busy schedule to take part in this guest blog, Lee. You are my first author/illustrator interview, so I found your creative process fascinating! Now, I have to run out to the bookstore. My daughter is prompting me to pick up a copy of ‘Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard of Greeve’!

For more information about Lee Edward Födi, the Dream Workshop and his novels, check out:
Website: www.kendrakandlestar.com
Where to buy the book: Kidsbooks, Blackbond, Chapters/Indigo, Amazon


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