Hi Lee! I really appreciate you stopping by MG Book Village today to tell us about your upcoming book, THE GUARDIANS OF ZOONE (release date: Feb 25, 2020). I’m a HUGE fan of this series, but for those who aren’t familiar with the first book, THE SECRET OF ZOONE, can you give them a bit of a synopsis, please?
The Secret of Zoone is a story about a boy named Ozzie who feels stuck in his life—that is until a giant winged tiger (a skyger!) guides him through a door located in The Depths of his apartment building and takes him to the bustling nexus of Zoone, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds in the multiverse.
One problem! The portal collapses behind them, which means Ozzie is stuck again . . . though, if you’re going to be stranded anywhere, it might as well be Zoone. As Ozzie figures out a way to get home, a new threat looms over the nexus—and it might just be up to Ozzie and his new band of friends to save Zoone and the entire multiverse.
Did you know when you wrote THE SECRET OF ZOONE that it was going to be a series, and do you have an idea of how many books there may be?
Actually, I first started this project by world-building the nexus of Zoone and populating it with different characters and creatures. I didn’t actually have a plot in mind at the very beginning. The plot grew as the world grew. I thought if I could build a compelling location, then it would be easy enough to run around in it. Because there are so many different worlds connected to Zoone, there is a lot of potential for adventure.
How did writing Book 2 differ from writing Book 1?
I find every book presents its own challenges, but Book 1 required a lot of groundwork in terms of the world building and also for me to figure out and establish a certain narrative style and voice.
Book 2 was easier because I knew my voice and characters really well. The challenge becomes what to do with those characters. I think readers want each book in a series to be similar enough to the first one so that they can have that sense of revisiting—but they don’t want the same old thing again, either. So, it’s a challenge of making the story significantly different and taking the characters in a new direction. Readers want to see characters grow, from book to book.
That’s certainly what I tried to do with The Guardians of Zoone. One of the main things I wanted to explore in this book is the relationship between Ozzie and his Aunt Temperance.
One of the things I most enjoy about this series is the creative world-building, and how Zoone is a gateway into many other worlds. Where do you find your inspiration for these worlds?
For me, writing has a broad definition. Many people think writing is just slaving away at a keyboard—but for me, that’s just one part of the process. I spend a lot of time in my brainstorming journal, doodling, mapping, diagramming, and sketching. I’m a very visual person, and have some illustrative background, so I find it easier to write once I’ve developed my characters visually.
I also build a lot of props. I imagine so many different things for my worlds—suitcases, creature eggs, keys, potions, jewelry—and I want to bring those things to life. So, I build a lot of props to go with my worlds. I think this helps me create more unique and interesting details for my books and, quite frankly, building and drawing is good thinking time for me. How many people have told me that they’ve worked out a plot problem while doing the dishes? For me, it’s while sculpting a dragon egg!
I also take a lot of inspiration from travel. As a writer, I am always “on.” When I travel, my brainstorming book and camera go with me everywhere and I just record whatever I find interesting (even if I don’t know WHY I find it interesting at the time, I still record it . . . because I know it will serve as fuel for me down the road).
Do you have a favorite character or relationship in this story?
A central part of Guardians is the relationship between Ozzie and his Aunt Temperance. In Book 1, she gets left behind and most of the things we learn about her are through Ozzie’s memory or perspective. In Book 2, his beliefs about that relationship—and about her, actually—are challenged. It was a lot of fun to explore that relationship and the character of Aunt Temperance in particular. If I had to pick a character that I’m most similar to, it would be her. Where she’s at in her life during the events of this book is inspired by the challenges I faced when I was in my late 20s. I was never in the circus like Aunt Temperance (just the circus of life!), but I did have major life decisions and crises to face during that time.
What is the most interesting feedback you’ve had from young readers about your writing?
I find that my characters and worlds tend to inspire artistic expression. I receive a lot of fan art from readers or I see a lot of photos of kids who decide to dress up as my characters. This past Halloween, a girl went as Fidget (the princess with inappropriately purple hair), which I thought was amazing. It’s great in general when kids choose to dress as any book character (as opposed to one from a movie)—and when it’s my own character, it’s very humbling. There was also a class that performed scenes from one of my books, which was also very exciting.
In a way, it feels full circle—because I begin the writing process by drawing and building, and that’s how readers respond.
Do you have a new project on which you’re currently working?
I may return to Zoone at some point, but right now I’m working on a new book that is due out with HarperCollins in Fall 2021. There is not too much I can reveal at this point, but I can say what I’ve already mentioned on Social Media, which is that it’s a book about magic brooms. Most people think fantasy plus brooms equals flying, but, in my book, brooms do what they are meant to do—sweep. It’s just that they sweep up a very particular thing . .
I’m so excited to hear about this, I can’t wait to read another story from you!
Now I’m going to ask a question near and dear to my heart because tomorrow is I Read Canadian Day: how do we spread the word about the wonderful authors and stories being created in Canada?
One of the great things about Canada is that we’re a tight-knit community. I see this in the kidlit author community— seems like everyone knows everyone—and if you don’t know someone, it’s only two degrees of separation. So, in that way, it’s easy to let the entire community know about an event like I Read Canadian Day, so that we can cross promote.
The bigger challenge is letting people in the general public know about all of our great Canadian books. So, my advice would be to embrace, shout about it, celebrate it as much as possible. Or, to put it another way: “Be like Kathie!” I so admire your devotion to and promotion of Canadian authors. If we keep talking about Canadian lit, then maybe we can get through to the general public.
I do think an important part of this is the perception of Canadian lit content. I have this feeling that the average person tends to hear the words “Canadian literature” and thinks of books that are overtly “Canadian” or are cherished classics, like Anne of Green Gables. Of course, these books should be continued to be celebrated—but Canadian kidlit has so much more!
In my opinion, a Canadian story isn’t one necessarily set in Canada, or one that expressly covers an aspect of Canadian history or culture (though, once again, I will emphasize that these types of books are important). To me, a Canadian book is one that is simply written by a Canadian—these books are automatically invested with our particular Canadian sentiment. For example, Jonathan Auxier’s GG-winning book, Sweep: A Story of a Girl and Her Monster takes place in Victorian England, but I think it really captures a Canadian sense of values. I think we need to keep promoting the diversity of Canadian literature that already exists—diversity of cultural voices, diversity of genres, diversity of types of story.
Personally, I’m passionate about I Read Canadian Day—and it’s not just because I’m a Canadian author, but because I also work as an educator and I want my students to learn about these great books. I am the co-founder and lead mentor for a creative writing program for kids (it’s called CWC) and as part of our weekly classes we have lit circles. To help celebrate I Read Canadian Day, our organization is asking all of our mentors to put Canadian books on our lists for the month of February. Of course, our classes routinely feature Canadian authors, but this is our way of drawing special attention to it.
What a fantastic answer, I’m so glad I asked you the question!
Where can our readers find you if they want to know more about you and your writing?
I’m on the main social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) and I also have my own website, leefodi.com, which features a lot of content for readers—especially librarians and teachers. There are book trailers posted there, along with teacher guides with some fun activities that can be rolled out in the classroom. Since I’m an educator myself, I take pride in my fun activities! I also have a newsletter that you can sign up for on my website—each newsletter features an activity, with handouts, that can be used in the classroom.
Thank you again so much for joining us today, and best of luck with your book’s launch. We should also let people know that THE SECRET OF ZOONE just came out in paperback, so if they haven’t picked up a copy yet, they can do so now.
Thank you so much for your support. I love the MG Book Village community. Writing can be a lonely enterprise, and MG Book Village provides one more way for me to connect with the larger creative world.
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 The Books of Zoone and the Kendra Kandlestar series. Lee has also illustrated several picture books for other authors.
When he’s not daydreaming himself, he teaches kids how to put their own daydreaming to good use at schools and libraries, and through workshops with the Creative Writing for Children (CWC) society, which he co-founded in 2004. CWC was started to help immigrant kids to express their creativity through writing, and Lee is really proud of the work he does with students, helping kids from a range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to tap into their creativity.
During his free time, he’s a traveler, adventurer, and maker of dragon eggs. HeI especially loves to visit exotic places where he can lose himself (sometimes literally!) in tombs, mazes, castles, and crypts. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, Marcie, and son, Hiro.