Secrets and Skygers…
My friend Lee Edward Födi is launching his new book this week, and it’s AMAZING! To celebrate this event, I’ve invited Lee over onto my comfy couch for a chat about The Secret of Zoone. Join us, won’t you? [And yes — there is an awesome book giveaway at the end!]
Author Lee Edward Födi
To begin with a bit of background. 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 Zoone series (HarperCollins) and the Kendra Kandlestar series (Simply Read Books). He has also illustrated books for other authors. Lee teaches kids how to put their own daydreaming to good use at schools, libraries, and through workshops with the Creative Writing for Children (CWC) society, which he co-founded in 2004. During his free time, he’s a traveler, adventurer, and maker of dragon eggs. He lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife, son, and unhelpful cat.
kc: Now Lee, as you know I’ve been a fan of your Kendra books forever. It’s the magic of the Eens that has always captured me. I won’t ask you to give away the secret, but where is Zoone? What took you there the very first time?
LEF: Zoone is the nexus of the multiverse—a world between worlds, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand places. You can think of it as a train station, but instead of trains coming and going, there are portals that people can take to reach different worlds.
Zoone stems from my own love of and yearning for travel. I grew up on a farm, which meant our summers weren’t spent vacationing—they were spent harvesting. How I vacationed was through books. Narnia was my go-to series and one of my favorites was The Magician’s Nephew. That book features a place called “The Wood Between the Worlds”, where pools in a magical forest lead to different worlds. I had always wished that C.S. Lewis had written more stories using this location. Eventually, I decided that I could do my own version of a world between worlds.
So, I started doodling and brainstorming ideas, gradually creating the nexus of Zoone. Like Lewis’s idea, my final idea turned out to be a forested realm, but instead of pools as entrances to the worlds, Zoone uses doorways.
kc: Ha! We’re going to talk about your doorways in a minute. But first, tell me a bit about Ozzie. Did you know where you were going with him when you began the story? What about the other players in the story — do you have a fave?
LEF: Way back in 2007, I wrote a scene of a boy coming home from school to discover a lion lounging on his couch. Those two characters evolved into Ozzie and Tug the skyger. A lot of this evolution played out in my notebook through drawings and doodles. Even though Tug’s physical appearance changed significantly (a skyger is a winged lion), his personality is pretty much spot-on (or stripe on!) compared to that first scene.
Ozzie is the character who really changed. He went from a serious no-nonsense boy to a daydreaming kid who can never keep his shirt on straight or his shoelaces tied up.
I think a lot of readers will adore Tug, mostly because of his gentle and earnest personality. I love Tug, too, but the character that resonates the most with me is Ozzie’s Aunt Temperance. In many ways, she based on me. We don’t get a whole lot of Aunt Temperance in this book, but she’ll play a much bigger role in Book 2, The Guardians of Zoone.
kc: Ooo– I can’t wait to meet Aunt Temperence! But let’s go back to the audience. Your Kendra Kandlestar books have always resonated with young readers. How was writing Ozzie different from writing Kendra?
LEF: The voice of the Zoone books is quite a bit different than the classical storytelling style I chose to go for in Kendra Kandlestar. Ozzie’s voice is a little more modern and conversational.
The other big difference, of course, is that Ozzie is a boy—in fact, he is the first main character boy I’ve written so far. I think I shied away from writing boy characters in the past because I wasn’t a “typical” boy growing up and I wasn’t sure how to capture an authentic boy voice. Eventually, I realized that it didn’t matter. There are plenty of characters who aren’t typical in children’s lit, and my boy character didn’t need to be typical either.
kc: I love that. The less typical, the better to my mind. Okay — here come the doors! I happen to know that you have, for a long time, had a fascination with doors. Have any of the interesting doors you’ve found in your travels make their way into this story?
LEF: Doors have long been my fascination—or, maybe obsession is a better word! When I first started photographing them, I had no specific intention or purpose—I was just interested in them. Once I decided that Zoone was a world of doors, I became a little more purposeful in my photographing, making sure that I was getting all the parts, angles, and aspects of doorways I encountered so that I could draw upon them as inspiration. There are many specific doors—and especially their doorknockers—that I drew upon in my descriptions for Zoone (not just Book 1, but the upcoming sequels).
iA bricked-over door in Exeter.
kc: The land of Een is a place filled with imagination, but I wouldn’t describe it as a multiverse. What are the challenges of writing a story in such a different setting?
LEF: One of the first things that I did for this book was start building worlds. I did this mostly in my brainstorming journals, by creating profiles of different worlds, adding to them as they developed. At that time, I wasn’t sure what the plot of the book would even be about. I just started with designing the worlds and the characters that came from them. I think the challenge of building fantasy worlds is that they have to seem different and intriguing to the reader—but at the same time believable, as if you could actually go there.
As an illustrator, I spend a lot of time thinking visually. That means I draw symbols (like crests or flags or emblems) to represent those cultures. I also prop-build artifacts. I even write myths or legends to help ground those worlds in an imagined reality. Of course, the reader sees very little of this background work, but I think it has informed my writing.
Just as with the doorways of Zoone, I did a lot of research for the worlds in the Zoone multiverse by traveling and documenting different places. A good example of this is the Empire of Quoxx, which is where one of my main characters, Fidget, is from. We don’t get to visit Quoxx in Book 1, but we will in Book 3. Quoxx is a sort of fusion of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Longqing in China, Jejudo in Korea, and Japan.
Door knocker from Hanoi.
kc: Another place where all your travel has paid off! What’s been the most exciting part of discovering Zoone for yourself?
LEF: I always enjoy the brainstorming part of a writing a book. It’s the moment in the process when anything and everything is possible. This book has a big and ambitious concept, but it continues to be fun to develop—because I’m still working on it for the upcoming book in the series. I love inventing new corners of the multiverse and coming up with characters to populate them.
kc: How does writing this series compare with your earlier books? Does it get any easier with each new project?
LEF: Since I write fantasy, the first book in a series is always the most difficult for me, since I have to establish a voice and build the world. Subsequent books in a series are easier in the sense that those key decisions are made. The challenge then becomes pushing the characters in different directions and trying to keep everything fresh, while at the same time maintaining the spirit that readers (hopefully) loved the first time around.
The interesting part about Zoone is that the second book was completely finished and delivered before the first book was released. So, I don’t have a sense of what readers like about Book 1, whereas with Kendra, I did, because I didn’t even decide to write Book 2 until after the first one was out.
I don’t think writing ever gets easier. I’m always trying to explore different ideas or experiment with different voices. And when you experiment, you fail or get frustrated . . . but it’s all part of the process.
kc: Heh — I can relate to that for sure. So, what’s got you excited right now? Can you tell us something about your next project? And whereW can readers find you online?
I’m elbow deep in Book 3 of the Zoone series, The Legend of Zoone. And I’ve got a couple of new ideas that are rattling around in one corner of my brain—I’ll turn my full attention to one of them soon! Readers can find me online at www.leefodi.com, which has all the links to my social media profiles.
Thanks so much, Lee! It’s so exciting to see this new story take flight! And, if I can make a recommendation, if you are interested in the process of watching an author-illustrator’s story take flight, be sure to follow Lee on twitter. He’s great at sharing his process!
And now? It’s your turn. Want to have a peek at the very first book in this amazing story? I have two copies available, and will do a draw for them this upcoming week to celebrate the launch of THE SECRET OF ZOONE. To enter, leave a comment below, or share this post on FB or Twitter. And if you want, why not tell me what secret world YOU would open a door, if you could?
Edited to add: Just did the draw for two SIGNED copies of THE SECRET OF ZOONE by @leefodi. Congratulations to Maxine Cumming and @Mrs_Ennis_OMS! Email me with your snail mail addy: kcdyer at shaw dot ca.