I'm absolutely delighted to welcome a fantastic author / illustrator whose latest and MOST INCREDIBLE book is out SOON!
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Lee Edward Födi is an author, illustrator, and specialized arts educator—or, as he likes to think of himself, a daydreaming expert. He is the author of several books for children, including Spell Sweeper, The Secret of Zoone, and The Guardians of Zoone. He is a co-founder of the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC), a not-for-profit program that helps kids write their own books. He has the joy of leading workshops for kids in Canada, the US, Korea, China, Thailand, and other places here and there. Lee lives in Vancouver, where he shares a creative life with his wife Marcie and son Hiro.
There's nothing magical about wizard school
. . . at least, not for Cara Moone.
Most wizard kids spend their days practicing spells and wielding wands, but Cara? She’s on the fast track to becoming a MOP (a.k.a. Magical Occurrence Purger). You see, when a real wizard casts a spell, it leaves behind a residue called spell dust—which, if not disposed of properly, can cause absolute chaos in the nonmagical world. It’s a MOP’s job to clean up the mess.
And no one makes more of a mess than Harlee Wu. Believed to be the Chosen One, destined to save the magical world, Harlee makes magic look easy. Which makes her Cara’s sworn nemesis. Or she would be, if she even knew Cara existed.
Then one of Harlee’s spells leaves something downright dangerous behind it: a rift in the fabric of magic itself. And when more rifts start to appear around the school, all in places Harlee has recently used magic, Cara is pretty sure the so-called “Chosen One” isn’t going to save the world. She’s going to destroy it.
It will take more than magic to clean up a mess this big. Fortunately, messes are kind of Cara’s thing.
Did you always dream of being a writer/illustrator?
My mom said I was telling stories with pictures the moment I could hold a crayon. I created many books when I was kid—I always wanted to be a “real” author, which, for me, meant making proper books with covers, copyright pages (even when I didn’t really understand what those were), illustrations, and, of course, the actual story.
The very first book I have a record of is a messy little novel called The Farm 7720. The title was named after part of my phone number. Don’t ask me why! Also, don’t ask me why there is a table of contents, half scribbled out, on the cover, either.
So, yes, I always wanted to be an author. There were several times when I got off track during my life, but ultimately, playing with stories always called to me.
When did you start pursuing publication of your work?
I started when I was a kid, looking up addresses of publishers in The Writer’s Market, and sending off my work. Publishers must have been amused or mystified by my submissions! I didn’t actually get my first book published until I was thirty.
How long did it take from that first thought to release day?
This is a complicated question in a way because I don’t tend to have those singular “aha” moments. As I’ve gotten older, my process has become about paying attention to the things that spark my interest.
For example, over the last few years, I kept finding these lonely brooms hanging out, leaning against a telephone pole on a street corner in Hanoi, or tucked away in a corner of a temple in Angkor Wat. I started photographing them because I imagined they were up to something (especially when I wasn’t looking)!
I was working on another series of books then (Zoone), but one corner of my mind kept pondering these brooms. I felt there was a story with them, and I kept thinking of The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, with its impish “besom.” It was about that time that I remembered that my grandfather used to make his own brooms. He grew the broomcorn, harvested it, and attached them to handles. I found one of his creations sequestered in the back corner of my closet. At that point, I knew I had to write a book about brooms!
Ultimately, I decided that I didn’t want to write a fantasy story where the brooms are used for flying. Then it suddenly occurred to me: What if brooms in the magical world were still for sweeping?
Then I began imagining a wizard school and what it would be like if you weren’t Harry Potter, but a student skulking in the corners who didn’t get any attention. That’s when my cauldron really started percolating . . .
This was in the summer of 2019. That October, my agent asked me if I had any ideas to pitch to my publisher, HarperCollins, and I had enough of the spell sweeper idea cobbled together that I could present the concept. My pitch was accepted, and I had less than a year to churn out a first draft—which I did. So it will be almost two years from start to finish, which is pretty quick in the publishing world!
What's been the hardest part of publishing a book so far?
In the past, it’s been the writing part—finding my voice, finding my story. With experience, that’s become easier. Or, at least it feels easier. Otherwise, I find marketing to be really challenging. I’m an introvert and find it difficult to communicate through all the traditional means such as social media. I work really hard at it, but I always feel like everyone is always so much cooler and more connected than me.
And the easiest, or most enjoyable?
I love building worlds and characters and figuring out the plot. It can be very satisfying, like finishing a puzzle. My particular process is more than the act of sitting at a computer—it includes drawing, doodling, sketching, drafting maps, and building props such as magical creature eggs and miniature brooms.
I also love doing research; yes, I’m a fantasy author, but I gain a lot of research by travelling and visiting fantastical sorts of places, such as castle, tombs, catacombs, and mazes. I also read a lot of books that are in the same genre or sub-genre that I’m writing. Spell Sweeper is a wizard school book, which was a bit of a crazy enterprise to take on because, let’s face it: Harry Potter. Rowling’s books are the behemoth of the genre, and when people hear wizard school, that’s automatically what they think of. But while writing Spell Sweeper, I was thinking of many other books about magical learning or magical brooms, and I spent some time visiting or revisiting these titles. I’m talking about books such as The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White), The Little Broomstick (Mary Stewart), The Discworld series (Terry Pratchett), Wizard’s Hall (Jane Yolen), Kiki’s Delivery Service (Eiko Kadono), Witch Hat Atelier (Kamome Shirahama), and The Worst Witch (Jill Murphy).
The other part of my life is working as a specialized arts educator (teaching creative writing, art, and art therapy), so being in the classroom and sharing my joy of the process is the other part of this career that I really love.
What's next for you?
I’ve decided to try something different and am writing two books at once. They are unconnected, with different topics and narrative styles. I’m trying this because if I find myself feeling low-energy on one, I’ll bounce to the next one. I’m hoping it will give me some momentum, and so far it’s working.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to writers just started their pursuit of publication?
Patience! I often tell my students that they don’t need to conquer the world and publish by the time they’re fifteen years old. What they need to do is improve their craft, and then good things will come.
So many of my students buy into the myth of the creative genius and that the process looks like this: Hatch a brilliant idea (usually defined as the best idea EVER) while walking down the street, rush home to laptop and gush out best idea EVER, then send for publication, rich and famous six months later. The truly problematic part is rushing home to the laptop, because as soon as the idea ISN’T gushing out, many of my students decide that they idea must not have been good after all, so they abandon their project and start over. In other words, they think writing should be easy, and if it isn’t, then they’re doing it wrong.
I have to continually challenge my students on this belief and convince them that it’s okay to take time, to develop, to cook the bread before trying to toast it and smother the jam on it.
Last book you just read?
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh.
What book are you reading now?
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley.
Best book you've ever read?
I’ll give you my three picks of 2021: The Fabulous Zed Watson by Kevin Sylvester and Basil Sylvester, Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh, and Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field by Angela Ahn. But if I give all-time faves, then it’s Watership Down by Richard Adams, followed by The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.
Yes, I realize I’m cheating. Who doesn’t when it comes to favorite books?
Best moment of your writing life?
Receiving wonderful artwork and letters from kids. They are so genuine and honest.
Name of your newest WIP?
Working title: The Dragon Courier.
If not an author, what would be your dream job?
Prop-builder on a movie set.
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