Archive for November, 2011

Author Bio: B.L. Sauder (from the author’s website)

Bonita (Bonnie) Lynn Sauder was born in the northern city of Grande Prairie, Alberta in 1961. In 1979, Bonita moved to Edmonton to attend college and later University of Alberta where she completed her Bachelor of Education majoring in English Literature. After longing to live in China, she was convinced by a friend to move to Hong Kong where she spent several wonderful years. It was in Hong Kong where she met her husband and after moving to Singapore for a year, they decided that Cape Town, South Africa was the place they wanted to be. Bonita’s two sons were born in the Cape and she completed her Master of Education in Language and Literature. In 2000, family and friends in Vancouver beckoned Bonita and her young children back to Canadian soil where they lived until 2005. During this time, Bonita wrote “Year of the Golden Dragon”, the first book in what she calls her “Journey to the East” trilogy. While she was searching for a publisher, Bonita and her husband were once again drawn back to Asia, this time to live in Bangkok. After several years, her family has returned to Canada along with their two ‘fu dogs’.

B.L. Sauder & Myself at the SCBWI Conference

I met author B.L. Sauder during this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference.  We immediately connected. Along with other writers Lissa Price, Melanie Abed, Kristen Kittscher and Sophia Chang, we bonded over food and stories and formed the Secret Asian Club, the premise being we all had a secret (or in mine, Sophia’s and Lissa’s case not so secret) Asian in us. We all spent the three conference days, attending panels, sessions and workshops together.

B.L. Sauder, myself, Sophia Chang & Melanie Abed (Secret Asian Club) at the SCBWI Pool Party

Although Bonnie and I had only spent three days together, we felt like we’d known each other for years. She was one of the reasons the SCBWI Summer Conference was fun and memorable for me.

Here’s an interview with author and friend B.L. Sauder.


The Fabulous B.L. Sauder, author of Year of the Golden Dragon

1. What were your favorite books growing up?

I always liked fables, folktales, rhyming verse then abridged versions of the classics ranging from “Lorna Doone” and “Robinson Crusoe” to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Later I got into work that was less western such as “Siddhartha”, “The Far Pavilions”, “Lost Horizon” and “Cry, the Beloved Country”.

2. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I’ve always enjoyed writing but I never thought of pursuing it as a career. It wasn’t until I started writing “Year of the Golden Dragon” and learning more about the ‘writing life’ that I realized it might be a good option for me. I went to the ‘Writers & Readers Festival in Vancouver in 2001 and sat with writers, teachers and children to listen to a series of author presentations put on by well known authors. It really inspired me to take my writing to another level.

3. What inspired you to write “Year of the Golden Dragon”?

My husband is an ABC (American born Chinese) and long, long before I met him I was interested in everything Chinese: the people, country, language, art, furniture, literature, poetry and of course the food. By the time we had children, my husband and I had moved from Singapore to South Africa. Since I am an English teacher and lover of books, I searched everywhere for books with Chinese characters to read to my sons. It was tough. Even when we went to the US and Canada, I found several beautiful books such as Ed Young’s artistic rendition of “The Monkey King” and Amy Tan’s “The Moon Lady” but I wanted a modern day quest story with a sprinkle of fantasy and a Chinese twist. I couldn’t find anything like that, so I wrote my own.

4. Which character in “Year of the Golden Dragon” did you enjoy writing the most and why?

I enjoyed writing Chen Hong Mei, my 16-year-old protagonist. There are many Chinese women in history who have been known for their beauty, intelligence, leadership or bravery. I wanted Hong Mei to have it all—without realizing it.

5. What compelled you to live in China? What is it about the East that continues to draw you?

I don’t know if there is one really good answer for this. I just know that for as long as I can remember from when I was about 3 or 4, I’ve had a thing for all things Chinese. It really hit me when I first began travelling and landed in Beijing on the Trans-Siberian from Moscow. As soon as I crossed into China, I felt different than I had in any other country. I know it sounds weird, but it felt as if I was coming home. This was in 1991 and the course of my life completely changed. I NEEDED to figure out how to spend more time there. When I returned to Canada I decided that I would go to university and study to become a teacher (which I knew I’d enjoy) and also study Mandarin. And that’s how it began. Eventually, I returned to study in China, but only for a few months. I decided that Hong Kong would be easier place to live and work and I could travel to China when I wanted. And that’s what I did. I was very, very happy living in Hong Kong and traveling in China and around the rest of Asia. Don’t get me wrong. I love Canada as my homeland…but I also feel quite at home in many parts of Asia, but mostly Hong Kong and China.

B.L. Sauder at her book launch at Neilson Hays

6. How long did you work on your book? How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?

I worked on my book on and off for about five years. This includes the time I wrote fairly steadily while my children were at school and it also takes into account the weeks and months I didn’t write due to school vacations or when I just didn’t have the time due to family commitments. Rewrites? Who knows? I’m one of those people that constantly tweak as I write so it takes me forever to finish the so-called first draft.

7. Tell us about your path to publication.

My path to publication was not as bad as some but probably not as good as others. First, I knew nothing about the publishing aspect of writing. Everything I learned was from conferences, the internet and books taken out of the library. I followed advice that I thought sounded reasonable which was to research as many publishers first before sending queries. In Canada, it is not common to have an agent when you are first starting out or an editor, I don’t think. I’m not sure. I don’t have an agent and a friend of mine was taking an editing course so she edited the first complete draft of ‘Golden Dragon’. Once I had followed some of her suggestions and made a few changes, I started sending out queries—perhaps to about a dozen publishers in the US, Canada and the UK. I was asked to submit full manuscripts to one in the UK, and two in Canada. Each of publisher had ‘Golden Dragon’ at different times, so the process took quite awhile. Finally, after being rejected by the UK and one of the Canadian houses, I received an email from a publisher saying they were interested in “Year of the Golden Dragon”, but they wanted to know more about me. Was I Chinese? Once I explained my background and experiences, they said they would publish my book. And that’s how I got my publisher, Coteau Books in Regina, Saskatchewan to take me on.

8. How has your life changed since you got published?

My life has not changed too much since being published, except that people take me more seriously now. Before, if someone found out I was writing a book they might say something like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve always wanted to write a book too!” Then, they would move onto the next topic.

9. What genre do you love to write (fantasy, historical fiction, romance, etc) Why?

I love to write many kinds of things: short stories, rhyming verse, adventure, fantasy. I guess the things I am writing.

10. Do you write outlines for your stories, or do you just follow wherever the story leads?

I know I should say that I write outlines because that is what I teach students. However, the truth is, that I get an overall idea of the story and then just sit down and see where it leads me. I do, however, have to go back fairly often to make sure everything is fitting together.

B.L. Sauder at her book launch at Neilson Hays

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

If I am really into writing, a typical day begins with me dropping off my kids at school, taking the dogs for a quick walk and then eating a bit of breakfast. Then I sit down and write until I feel myself getting stiff—maybe three or four hours. I take a short break, eat something and make some tea and sit down again until I either have to pick up my children or they come home. I never write in the evening or on weekends. That’s when I try to catch up on things around the house—cooking, doing laundry, answering emails etc. Quirks? None that I know of.

12. Do you encounter challenges in your writing life? What are these challenges and how do you overcome them?

Yes, my challenges are that I spread my time too thin. I would like to sit down four or five days a week and write. The reality is that between my family, nomadic lifestyle and community service, I have not been very successful at managing my writing time. I’d like to say I’ve tried to overcome this challenge by sticking to a schedule. It works—sometimes.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes. I’m trying to finish the follow-up to “Year of the Golden Dragon” and am also writing to local and international schools about doing author readings during 2012 which is the Year of the Dragon!

14.What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?

I would say that if you want to write, sit down and WRITE! You do not have to be ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’. You must be dedicated to being the best writer you can be and that takes practice.

15.What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?
Read everything you can in whatever way you can get it—books from the library or bookstores—use an e-reader—listen to audio books on a road trip or before you go to sleep–pick up magazines, brochures, newspapers, newsletters, the encyclopedia, travel journals, handouts—anything. Just read. It’ll give you a constant supply of ideas and help you to learn more about the world you live in. And the best thing? Being a good reader makes you a better writer. After all, who ever heard of a writer who didn’t love reading?


Be sure to come back for Friday’s Spotlight Week Giveaway!

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Welcome to another Spotlight Week!

I’m very happy to turn the spotlight on author B.L. Sauder. I met Bonnie at this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference and we became fast friends. I’m excited that today, I get the chance to finally review her book.


Mystery surrounds Hong Mei’s life. Her father trained her in the art of Gong fu when she was young in order to prepare her for something big. But before her father has the chance to tell her what her training is for, he is taken away. Her mother avoids questions about her father,  and instead focuses on raising Hong Mei the best way she can. Her mother’s magical healing abilities are a way for them to survive, though they have to move from town to town when people start getting suspicious of them. Just before the Chinese New Year, Hong Mei receives a series of emails from a certain Madam Ching, who professes to have information regarding her missing father. Eager to be reunited with him, Hong Mei responds to the email and finds herself trapped in a web of blackmail and deceit. Hong Mei’s desire to see her father again leads her to follow the villainous Madam Ching’s instructions.

Brothers Ryan and Alex were orphaned years ago when a fire killed their parents. They’ve never solved the mystery behind the sudden fire, but they were fortunate enough to have been adopted by caring relatives. They travel to Hongkong with their aunt and uncle to celebrate the Chinese New Year. While they’re equipped to mingle with their many relatives, and to eat strange Chinese foods, they aren’t prepared for the magical adventure that befalls them when they meet a strange Chinese girl who calls herself Hong Mei.

The three become a reluctant team, and they soon discover the truth. What they thought were just bedtime stories told by their parents suddenly becomes reality. The eve of the Chinese Year of the Golden Dragon is filled with strange and shocking revelations about themselves and their families. The legend of Black Dragon told to them at a young age, and the jade pendants they all wear grow to be more than a symbol of their missing parents—they become the link that connects the three children’s lives. In order to be reunited with their loved ones, they must work together and race against time to fulfill a task that was set for them two thousand years ago.

Fantasy, adventure, myth, and drama all roll into one wonderful read in B.L. Sauder’s  Year of the Golden Dragon.

Sauder’s vivid descriptions of Hong Kong and China certainly made me feel like I was right there with Ryan, Alex and Hong Mei. The author has also done a great job of incorporating a lot of information about Chinese culture throughout the story. Young readers will come away with a new curiosity about the exotic culture, and might even develop an interest in history and myth. I enjoyed how the characters developed and changed throughout their adventures, and I’m sure reluctant readers will appreciate the book’s fast pacing.

The book’s ability to encourage readers of all ages to take an interest in different cultures, along with the lessons it teaches about family and friendship certainly makes Year of the Golden Dragon a worthy read.


Tune in next Wednesday for an interview with B.L. Sauder, author of Year of the Golden Dragon

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Guest Blog Post at My First Book

The wonderful Misha Gericke was kind enough to allow me to share my ramblings in her blog My First Book. I’m a bit nervous as it’s my first ever guest blog.

I hope you show your love and support and hop on over to My First Book. I’d love to hear from you all!

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Thanksgiving and All The Things I’m Thankful For

Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.  ~E.P. Powell

Thanksgiving is in two days. Since I will be very busy that day (eating all the food I can and just enjoying some time with family and friends), I thought I’d do my Thanksgiving post early.

Allow me to share with you all the things I’m thankful for:

1. My family and friends, whose unending support and undying patience is truly something to be grateful for, (especially as the road to publication is long and winding).

My family

2.  My furry muses Muffin(on the shelf) & Millie (resting on the bag below), who like to keep me company as I write in the office.

Muffin and Millie

3. The amazing writing groups I belong to, and the awesome people I get to share my love of writing with: the Torrance Children’s Book Writers (soon to be CBWLA), and the SCBWI.



4. My martial arts family, Doce Pares L.A., who help strengthen my mind and body with the lessons they teach.

Filipino Martial Arts: Doce Pares, Los Angeles

5. I’m also thankful for good health, and being able to live in a wonderful, warm home. Both of which allow me to  follow my dreams and write.

6. And last, but not the least, I’d like to thank YOU. Yes YOU, who read my post and take time to leave such encouraging comments. Thank you, all my faithful bloggy friends for keeping me company in my writing journey!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May you enjoy the holidays and find more things to be thankful for!

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LA Tour Day 2: Silver Lake/ Echo Park /Fashion District

My YA novel’s  main center is in downtown L.A, so I wanted my main character Nalia to live somewhere nearby—but not so near as to be too accessible. After all, if I make it too easy for her to get to where she needs to go, there’ll be less drama.  (Yes, writers have to make lives harder for their characters for the sake of their readers.)

I found Silver Lake to be the perfect area for her to live in. It’s 15 mins by car,(which she doesn’t have, of course, so she has to take the bus) and it’s far enough away from downtown to have its own distinct “flavor”.

East of Hollywood and Northwest of downtown, Silver Lake is a hilly suburban area where hippies and creative artist types gather. Which is perfect since my character happens to live with some Hollywood-creative type people.

I had researched the area for my first draft—picking out my characters’ houses , where they like to hang out and so on. I wanted to see these buildings for myself so I dragged Lena and Maiko on another tour.

November 13, 2011 Sunday

9 – 10 AM Breakfast at Lamill Coffee House

Lamill Coffee House on Silver Lake Blvd, photo by Lena Chen

I was looking for potential hang out places for my characters when I found Lamill Coffee House on Silver Lake Blvd.  And boy, was I glad I did. The place is a hidden gem in the Silver Lake Area.

We went there for breakfast and ordered three different items which the three of us shared.

Lamill Breakfast, photo by Maiko Morotani

Eggs Benedict, photo by Maiko Morotani

The best thing we ever tasted was the brioche donuts. The vanilla cream dip that came with it was so fresh we could see speckles of vanilla bean.

Tea, Cafe Con Leche and Brioche Donuts with Vanilla Cream, photo by Maiko Morotani

There were all sorts of people having breakfast there that Sunday–from hippie artist types to botox-injected Hollywood types. Lamill’s decorations were certainly something to behold. I’d like to come back there at night just to see how the place could transform with all the lights.

Inside Lamill photo from Lamill’s website

Silver Lake Area

After a hearty breakfast, we drove around the Silver Lake Reservoir and then headed for Carnation Ave where my characters supposedly reside. I took pictures of houses my characters could  live in.

After walking around the area and looking at various houses, we drove to another one of my character’s potential hang out spots.

Echo Park Area

Stories Bookstore & Cafe is in the Echo Park area, which is right beside Silver Lake.  It’s a bookstore and cafe in one–and they sell both new and second hand books.

Stories Books & Cafe on West Sunset Blvd.

We hung out there for awhile, browsing through books and other interesting items.

Stories Bookstore

Stories cafe

I found a good bargain on a set of 5 Spiderwick chronicles book. After about half an hour, we decided to head to our next stop. But before we stepped out, Maiko decided she wanted to try the little rocking chair by the shop’s display window.

Maiko enjoying the little rocking chair

Echo Park Lake was another place mentioned in my story so I wanted to check it out. This is was Echo Park Lake supposedly looked like:

Echo Park Lake

Unfortunately, when we got there, the whole area was fenced in. Apparently they had started a two year park renewal program. They had drained the whole man-made lake so it was just a big muddy hole. I’m looking forward to seeing it once it’s finished.

As we were about to leave, I saw a homeless man pushing a cart right in front of a large complex of apartments.  I thought it was a good photograph, as it told a story.

12 NN – 2 PM – Fashion District: Santee Alley

We were still full from our big breakfast, so we decided to postpone lunch and go straight to the Fashion District in downtown, which was supposed to be our last stop.

L.A’s Fashion District sprawls across 100 blocks. Wholesale shops of textiles, clothes and other accessories offer discount prices.

Stores on Maple Street

Parking place attendants compete for business and direct cars to their various parking spaces. They stand in the street, waving orange flags and calling out how cheap their parking fee is.  We were careful about where we chose to park. Some spaces had big signs saying $3, but underneath in very small letters, they wrote that the $3 was for the first15 minutes only, and that the real day rate was $6 or more.

Luckily, we found a rooftop parking space which charged only $4 for the whole day.  Wonderful aromas wafted from Mexican food trucks parked along the road.

Food trucks along Maple Ave.

There was so much to take in on the streets alone–from colorful shop fronts to interesting items being sold.

Storefront on Maple

We made our way to Santee Alley, one of the most popular shopping locations in the fashion district.  It’s an actual alley located between Santee Street and Maple Avenue and is known for its colorful bazaar like shops and its discounts.

On our way there, we passed by a shop selling all kinds of shoes and boots.

A whole wall of boots and shoes

I wanted to take tons of pictures of Santee Alley, but the sights and sounds immediately drew me in and the chaos of crowds walking down the alley, coming and going into the various shops made good photography slightly impossible.  I did manage to take this picture of the alley:

Santee Alley

The shops along Santee Alley sold all sorts of things — colorful underwear, perfume, shoes, toys, clothes, suits, bags and other accessories, are just a few of what you can find there.

Underwear store along Santee Alley


I don’t know if these are sneakers or boots-snoots? booteakers?

Maiko found her favorite smurfs

The smells, sounds and general bustle of the alley made Maiko a little woozy, so we decided to leave the alley and turn onto the main streets, which was a bit less busy.

Our mouths dropped open when we saw some ginormous T-shirts being sold in one corner.

giant tee-shirts

We saw pirated DVD’s laid out on the streets and vendors selling them for $5.  I felt bad for the birds and bunnies being sold on the street. They were exposed to all the noise and to the heat of the sun. I wanted to buy them all just to save them from the vendors.

birds and bunnies sold on the street

A couple of hours in the fashion district was enough to make us hungry. So we made our way back to the car and then headed for a late lunch at a 103 year old restaurant called Philippe’s.

Philippe’s in downtown LA’s Chinatown

Philippe’s is the home of the original french-dipped sandwich. It was established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu–who accidentally invented the french-dipped sandwich when he dropped a sliced french roll into a roasting pan still filled with hot juices from the oven. You can read more about Philippe’s history here.

Maiko and I outside Philippe’s

I doubt if the decor has changed in Philippe’s since they moved to this location in the 50’s. They even had some old school phone booths lined up in the back of the restaurant.

old phone booths

There were long lines can at Philippe’s, but the wait for some good, cheap food wasn’t so bad. The fastfood style servers  lined up on the counter were fast and efficient.

Long lines at Philippe’s

The food was good too. We ordered pork and beef french dipped sandwiches, banana cream pie and coleslaw. They have their own special mustard which you can add to your sandwiches. Its taste reminded me a bit of wasabi–with that slight kick that goes all the way up your nose.

French dipped sandwiches

The coleslaw was really, really good and the french dipped sandwich was certainly something. I love that their lemonades sell for 75c and their iced teas for 65c. Even better, regular coffee sells for the original 10cent price!

Our tour was fun and informative as usual and I came home with tons of ideas for rewriting my 2nd draft.

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I had decided to set my YA Urban Fantasy novel Los Angeles. Not only is it a fascinating city filled with a variety of experiences, it also exudes diversity which always adds more flavor to any story.

It’s also where I live.

Even though I write mostly fantasy, I like to set my stories in real, actual places.

Research is a very important part of writing any story, and so for the sake of research, I decided to go on a tour of L.A. It’s a great way for me to take in the sights, sounds and smell of the city I’m setting my story in.

It’s also a great excuse to tour the city I’ve lived in for years, with my best-est friends. J

I decided to create itineraries for 4 different L.A. daytrips. Mostly we’ll go on Saturdays, although at least one tour is schedule for a Sunday.

Since my story is based in downtown L.A., most of my daytrips will be based around the area. I hope you don’t mind joining me as I discover my own city of L.A.

L.A. Tour Day 1: November 5, 2011, Saturday

9 AM – 1o AM: Los Angeles Flower District

Southern California Flower Market Building, photo by Maiko Morotani

The Southern California Flower Market and the Los Angeles Flower Market comprise most of L.A.’s Flower District. These are basically two large warehouses filled with individual stalls of wholesalers.

They sell everything any flower shop would need to run their business – vases, pots, ribbons, flower wrappers and of course, flowers.

The Southern California Flower Market, which was also featured in the movie Valentine’s Day, is open from Monday to Saturday, from 6 am to about  4pm.

We had to pay a $1 entrance fee, since we weren’t members. If you’re looking for great flower bargains the L.A. Flower District is the place to be. Flowers sell for wholesale prices so you can buy a dozen roses for about $5.

Chili at the flower market

We also peeked into the second floor of the flower market, where they sell holiday decorations.

Fall decorations sold at the Flower Market

My favorite part of the Flower District tour were seeing all the different kinds of flowers they sold. I was particularly amazed to see blue roses.

Blue roses photo by Maiko Morotani

I was even more amazed when I saw this beautiful blue orchid.  I might have to come back again one day just for these.

Blue orchids

10 – 11:30 AM  L.A. Jewelry District

Most of my story is set in the Jewelry District of downtown L.A, so we spent a lot of time taking pictures of the various buildings and stores around the area.

Jewelry District, photo by Maiko Morotani

We parked at a building right across from Pershing Square and visited to the A & A Jewelry Supplies Store.

A & A Jewelry Supply Store in downtown L.A’s Jewelry District, photo by Lena Chen

One of my characters is a jeweler and I wanted to learn more about the supplies he might need, and what he might do. Jerry, who works at the A & A Jewelry Supply Store illuminated me on the important tools of a jeweler.He even gave me a copy of their catalog so I can look at pictures of the many tools they used.

With Jerry, A & A Jewelry Supply Store clerk,photo by Maiko Morotani

Some Jewelers tools, photo by Maiko Morotani

We walked through the St. Vincent Jewelry Center, where many small stalls of wholesale jewelers sold their wares.

Maiko and Lena at the St. Vincent’s Jewelry Center

In the building that housed the St. Vincent’s Jewelry Center, we found the hidden St. Vincent’s Court–a food court whose shop facades had interesting designs.

St. Vincent’s (food) Court

I took a picture of the alley which figures greatly in my YA story.  I will definitely be able to describe my character’s experience with great care now that I’ve experienced the alley’s  smells and its varied offerings for myself.

The alley in my story — across the street from St. Vincent’s court

Halfway through our wanderings, we got hungry and decided to have a snack at Clifton’s Cafeteria.

Clifton’s Cafeteria was built in 1935 and is known for its strange forest oasis design. They’re under construction for 6 months, so we didn’t get to see the cafeteria itself.

Clifton’s Cafeteria’s Forest Design

But we did get to sample the fruit tart and monkey bread from their bakeshop.

posing with the fruit tart and monkey bread at Clifton’s

Our last stop in the Jewelry District was Pershing Square, a large park near the center of downtown L.A.

Pershing Square, Downtown L.A.

Here,  people can relax, sit in the many chairs, enjoy the various sculptures and artworks around and even take their dogs out for a walk (there’s a section for walking your pets within the park).

11:45 – 4 PM Chinatown

We were starving by the time we sat down for some dimsum at CBS Seafood Restaurant in downtown L.A’s Chinatown.

dimsum at CBS Seafood Restaurant, Chinatown

Servers pushing carts filled with different foods cruised down the restaurant aisles. We picked what looked good to eat and the server handed us the steaming dish and then stamped our check.  Maiko and Lena seemed to enjoy the chicken feet, though I didn’t try it myself. I enjoyed  the  buns and dumplings.

The 2011 Open Martial Arts Championship was held that day at the Alpine Recreation Center in Chinatown. We headed there to watch different martials arts and schools compete in empty hand forms and weapons forms  for a couple of hours.

martial artists and family members watching the tournament

We had fun watching the different Kung Fu schools showed of their styles and forms. Taekwondo, and Tai Chi schools were also present. I was a little sad that my own Filipino martial arts weren’t represented. I think we would do well in the Weapons category. I l plan to tell my Master about this. Maybe next year we’ll join.

A Kung Fu student showing off his staff skills

After watching kids and adults of all ages and levels show off their skills through various forms, we began our own self-guided tour of Downtown LA’s Chinatown.

We visited a Taoist Temple on Yale Street.

Taoist Temple on Yale Street

The temple welcomed visitors of all kinds and allowed picture-taking inside the temple itself. Maiko and I got to take some colorful pictures inside the temple while Lena took the time to pray.

Inside the Temple

The Taoists worship many gods and we saw figures of each of them in cubicles all over the altar’s wall.

Taoist gods, photo by Maiko Morotani

We walked down North Hill Street on a mission to find the F. See On Antique Store, which is owned by author Lisa See’s family, and which she featured in her book On Gold Mountain. The store’s proprietors were happy to have visitors and eagerly chatted with us.

Lisa See’s family’s antique store

We passed by Foo Chow Restaurant, where they filmed Rush Hour featuring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.

Foo Chow Restaurant, Filming Location for Rush Hour

We went back down N. Hill Street to  Ten Ren Tea Time at the Far East Plaza. We ordered some boba tea and sat down to rest our feet a little. I ordered lychee oolong tea, which wasn’t as sweet as I expected it to be. Lena ordered some taro tea which proved to be a bad idea, as it gave her serious stomach issues minutes after.

I looked at the various teas the store was selling and chose to buy  some lychee rose and awakening teas.

Ten Ren Tea Shop teas

After our little break, we drove to the Central Plaza on North Broadway Street.

Central Plaza Gate

I realized later on that we had already explored a little bit of the Central Plaza when he were looking for the antique store. The Central Plaza shops offer a variety of Asian items as well as novelty items.

Central Plaza

I had fun checking out the many display swords and knives they offered. Maiko had fun trying out the Chinese straw hat.

Chinese straw hat

The very last stop of the day was at Pheonix Bakery, Chinatown’s largest and oldest  bakery. They opened in 1938 and became famous for their strawberry cream cake.

Lena and I in front of Pheonix Bakery

The strawberry cream cake was sprinkled with almond flakes and was extremely delicious! We were too busy eating that we forgot to take a picture of the awesome cake, so I had to borrow this picture from yelp:

Strawberry Cream Cake, photo by Kelly H. (Yelp)

By 5pm we headed home. We ended the day by having dinner with some friends at Cho Dang, a Korean Restaurant in our area.

Dinner with friends at Cho Dang

**Tune in next time for LA Tour Day 2**

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We held our first ever Picture Book Bootcamp last Saturday, November 12th, 2011. The 3-hour workshop was facilitated by our TCBW’s Second Scribe (a.k.a Vice-President) Lucy Ravitch.

Most of the material came from Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books, Nancy Lamb’s Crafting Stories for Children, as well as past SCBWI conference talks and other writing retreat Lucy Ravitch has attended.

Lucy did an amazing job of compiling all she’s learned from Ann Whitford Paul’s & Nancy Lamb’s books, past SCBWI conference talks and other writing retreats she’s attended into 21 pages of extensive notes.

The LA Public Library Harbor Gateway Branch librarians were helpful as usual. Librarian Donna (who became a member of our group after our first meeting at the library), was kind enough to reserve our usual conference room, and to photocopy a page of our materials when we were missing two copies.

The meeting room normally holds 10 people, but we managed to rearrange the table and bring extra chairs to accommodate all 21 picture book writers who RSVP’d for the event.

Attendees of the Picture Book Bootcamp

Lucy brought 45 different picture books, which she beautifully showcased.

A showcase of picture books used in Lucy’s Talk

She used many of the books to illustrate various points of her talk—from picture book writing techniques to the many styles and types of picture books.

Lucy’s discussion included instruction on how to create compelling characters, create an eye-catching first line and a great story beginning, hold a story together, develop a satisfying story ending. She also discussed the art of picking a great book title, and the benefits of making a dummy book. She also briefly touched on the language of the story as used in picture books, and rhyming in picture books.

Before the meetup began, Lucy had asked everyone to pick two picture book manuscript samples from the board. Writers who attended used the manuscripts as a sample to work on some of the writing techniques Ann Whitford Paul discusses in her book.

Lucy uses picture books to illustrate various writing techniques

Writers who attended added their own notes to Lucy’s 21 page handout, and eagerly asked questions.

The workshop ended a few minutes before 4pm, and we all gave Lucy a big round of applause. Everyone clearly appreciated all the effort she put into  the handout, as well as the presentation.

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The first time I saw Michael Reisman, he was wearing glasses, and a fuzzy, brown robe (in the 100 degree heat). And– he was speaking with a thick, Irish accent.

I see you raising eyebrows, well here’s proof (not of his accent, but that he was wearing a bathrobe):

This was at 2010’s West Hollywood Bookfair. Michael, with the help of several willing teens, and some cool props, had explained what his books’ hero Simon Bloom did in all his adventures.

Michael and the other authors at the bookfair were super easy to talk with and were all eager to share their wisdom on writing. (You can watch their video interviews HERE.)

With author Michael Reisman at the 2010 West Hollywood Bookfair

So that was the first time I met Michael. I emailed him and all the other authors afterward to ask if they were interested in being featured in a spotlight week and he was the second one to agree. I sent him the interview questions a couple of weeks later and waited…and waited some more.

A year later, I bumped into him at the SCBWI Summer Conference. I almost didn’t recognize him because he wasn’t wearing his famous brown robe—and glasses. I was amazed that he recognized me, as I was few pounds lighter from when we first met. (–a fact I am quite happy to share with all of you).  He apologized profusely for making  me wait for his author interview answers. He explained the circumstances behind this great delay and I assured him that it was all right. I know how very tough writers’ schedules are and I really didn’t want him to worry about the interview.

With author Michael Reisman at the SCBWI Summer Conference

On the anniversary of our first meeting, he finally emailed me his author interview questions. I was so happy that I could finally feature his awesome books in my Spotlight Week, and have him gain more fans through this author interview.

Michael really put a lot of thought into answering every question and I truly enjoyed reading all of (his ramblings, as he put it). I hope you enjoy it just as much.


The charming Michael Reisman,

author Of “The Simon Bloom Series”

1.  As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think I wanted to be a dinosaur, but that didn’t work out. Beyond that, I loved telling stories but mostly did it through drawings. I thought it would be great to be a cartoonist or a comic book writer/ artist. (I wasn’t – and am still not – that good an artist, though, so I’m in quiet awe of those who can draw so well.)

2.  What were your favorite books growing up?

I’d have to say A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth (as well as comic books like X-Men and Spider-Man), but around 6th grade I shifted into reading stuff not written for young readers (like books by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Jack Chalker, etc.). And sometime during 6th grade, I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which has been my favorite ever since.

3. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

(Ah, this is where you get to see just how long-winded I can be…) I didn’t think I had any real writing ability until junior year of high school when my English teacher – Mrs. Fenster – gave us an assignment that let us be as creative as we wanted. And she liked mine so much that she gave me a really high grade and read it to all her classes. I realized, for the first time, that the strange ideas floating around in my head could be entertaining for someone besides me. From then on, I enjoyed writing papers/ essays that I was allowed to be creative in, but I did little more than dabble in such writing. It was only after I graduated from college and had an idea that I thought would make a good book that I decided to try writing one. Soon after, on vacation, I saw someone working on a laptop in a café overlooking a beach. I don’t know if that person was a writer, but it occurred to me that if I wanted, I could write books in cafes or wherever I wanted, and that was very appealing.

I didn’t decide to take writing seriously until years later, though. I was living in Los Angeles and working full time in a movie company job that I was miserable at. It was a good job for someone who wanted to become a producer or work in film development, but I realized I had no interest in it. I had started a 2nd book, but by the time I got home from work I couldn’t imagine sitting in front of a computer any longer, so I rarely got anything done. I took another vacation with the intention of using time away to decide if I would stop writing, let it be a once-in-a-while thing, or if I would make writing my main focus. Once again I was by a beach when I made up my mind – I couldn’t imagine stopping writing, so I’d have to dedicate myself to it entirely, working whatever jobs I could to pay the bills.

4. What’s the most unusual job you had before you became a full time writer?

While I think it’s perfectly normal, some think my work reading scripts/ books for movie/ TV companies is unusual. (I still do it a little now – I give notes on projects or tell whether I think the script/ book would make a good movie/ TV show.) I’ve had odd temp jobs like washing tents at some party-planning place or spraying cologne at the local mall when I was in high school. But I think my most unusual job was my very first one in Los Angeles. It was a long-term temp job at 20th Century Fox Feature Casting. We had TV stars and movie stars and musicians and sports stars coming in to meet with my bosses and, having just moved to LA, I was used to seeing none of those. It was also a nutty job…fast-paced and hectic and crazy. Doesn’t sound that unusual yet, right? Well, on my very first day my boss was filming a video for an upcoming executives’ retreat. She pretended to interview an orangutan named Sammy, the star of Dunston Checks In (a Fox movie). My boss – the head of Feature Casting – pretended to interview him for a role in a Tarzan project that was in the works at the studio at the time. This was my 2nd week in LA and my first day at this job, and here was a camera crew in the Senior VP of Casting’s office, filming her chatting with a small orange ape in a leopard-print leotard-thing. Does that count as unusual?

Author Michael Reisman as Simon Bloom’s Narrator

5. What inspired you to write “The Gravity Keeper”?

Ok, another long answer: Part 1 is, I read tons o’ comic books in elementary school, and I’d sometimes imagine my own superheroes/ villains. Sometimes, I’d even draw them. (Most were animals or – for lack of a better word – things, ’cause I couldn’t draw humans very well.) One hero that I never drew (because he was human) was called Lawbreaker because he had the power to break the laws of science. Part 2 is, I was also fascinated by teacher’s having books – called Teacher’s Editions – that had the answers in the back. Answers!!! Oh, if only I could get my hands on that… Part 3 is I had some really fun teachers in high school (yes, I swear it’s possible!). My Chemistry teacher (Mr. Oliver) was funny and a bit nutty, and he had this great way of making scientific principles and laws and such stick in your head. I also had a funny and wacky Physics teacher (Mr. Friedman) and a very sharp-witted AP Biology teacher (Dr. Giglio). The three of them helped me realize how much fun science could be. Part 4 is many years in the future, when I worked as a reader for Nickelodeon and decided to try writing for young readers. I remembered my Lawbreaker-idea and how wild and interesting science could be. I wondered, what if what we thought were the laws of science were only a small part of the real nature of the universe, because we could only understand a little bit. But if someone had something…like a Teacher’s Edition…with the real answers to the universe in it…well, that would be pretty cool, huh? (I know, I know, that’s a really long explanation. Maybe I should make something up like, “Oh, it came to me in a dream.” Simpler, no?)

6. Which character in “The Octopus Effect” did you enjoy writing the most and why?

That’s a difficult question. I loved writing the core 3 characters as their friendship deepened, especially as they started to get their Octopus-themed powers. That allowed me to get fairly creative with what I had them do and how they reacted (e.g. Alysha’s jet propulsion was A Lot of fun to write, and I still love thinking about Simon’s gravity-arms). I also enjoyed getting to show Flangelo kick a little butt. And writing the Narrator-parts is always great fun, because writing in his voice makes me laugh. But Sirabetta was probably the most interesting to write. She learns some harsh lessons in this book, and she’s also dealing with a lot of personal issues. Sure she’s mean and a bit crazy, but she’s also a very sad character who’s had some tough times. To me, she’s more than just a villain. So, basically, I didn’t really answer your question, did I? (Though I will admit that naming and writing Phineas the lionfish was hugely enjoyable.)(Yes, I’m a total dork.)

7. Do you write outlines for your stories, or do you just follow wherever the story leads?

I don’t really outline. I write down the basic idea and start jotting down things that come to mind, like a few scenes or some characters and what they might do. Mostly, I ask myself questions and answer them…I sort of talk to myself in writing form to figure certain things out. I don’t usually do too much of this before I start writing, especially if I’ve envisioned several chapters and want to get started actually getting it down. That being said, I’m working on something new now, and I decided to try fully outlining it first. It’s weird, because that means making all the decisions of what will happen throughout the book before actually starting to write it. I’m refining that outline now and will soon dive in to the actual writing…I’ll have to see how that works out.

8. How long did you work on your first book? How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?

My first book that sold – Simon Bloom, the Gravity Keeper – was really my 5th book I’d written. I was kind of writing it at the same time as another book, working more on one or the other depending on my mood. For some reason, I consider that other book my 4th novel and Simon Bloom my 5th. Anyway, for Simon Bloom I had to do a lot of research, too. It focused on physics and though I liked the subject, I didn’t remember enough of it from high school to work it into a magical system. So I got some books to help me understand the different laws and theories, chose what would make good super-power equivalents, figured out the basics of the world and how the Teacher’s Edition worked, and I wrote. Not including the research or the 4th book-writing, I’d say it took about 6 months for a first draft (including 2 different major restarts). I launched right into a fix-up draft before showing it to a few trusted friends who loved it as is. I did another fix-up draft, then I showed it to a couple of professionals (an editor and an agent) I’d been in touch with, but both told me they didn’t like the mixing of 1st and 3rd person narration. I got nervous and did a major redraft that made it all 3rd person (a change I never liked but feared was necessary). I kept revamping the order of the first few chapters, and the agent who wound up repping me was planning on passing until I sent her the latest version with the chapter order working better. Basically, I was the poster child for what Not to do, and I got lucky that this agent (Nancy Gallt) was feeling merciful enough to take another look and, finally, represent me.

Author Michael Reisman signing copies of his books

9. Tell us about your path to publication.

My agent sent my book – then called the Teacher’s Edition – out to editors but, as I waited for responses, I kept feeling foolish for having made it all 3rd person based on 1 editor and 1 agent’s comments. I felt it wasn’t at its best and kept thinking that even if it got published that way, I’d always regret not having my Narrator talk in 1st person the way I preferred. After we received many rejections, the awesome Debbie Kovacs at Walden Media read it and liked it. Walden was entering into a partnership with Penguin at that time, and soon it landed in the hands of Eloise Flood – then the publisher at the Penguin Young Readers imprint Razorbill. She read it and told Debbie/ my agent that she liked it a lot. She gave super-detailed notes, going page-by-page through the manuscript, but eventually said that she had to pass on it as it was. I was understandably sad about that, but I decided I would fix what had been bothering me for the last many months of rejections by other editors: I’d bring back the Narrator the way I wanted him to be. So I reread all the rejection emails/ letters from editors, reread all of Eloise’s notes, reread that 1st/ 3rd person earlier draft and reread the 3rd person draft that had gone out to all the editors. Then I rewrote the whole book using the parts I liked most from both drafts and taking into account the comments I’d received that resonated with me. And then my agent sent it back to Eloise at Razorbill, telling her we wanted to show it to her first because she’d put so much time and thought into her notes…and this time, Eloise made an offer!

10. How has your life changed since you got published?

There are a lot of cool aspects to it. It’s a great feeling to hold a print version of something I wrote…I carried the advanced reader copy of my first book around in my computer bag for a long time, just so I could take it out and look at it sometimes. To my delight, Simon Bloom, the Gravity Keeper is currently in various foreign languages – Portuguese, German, Basque, Greek, Spanish and Catalan, with versions in Japanese and Hebrew coming soon. I get to see how my favorite chapter title in Gravity Keeper (“It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hit By Lightning”) looks in different languages. The Gravity Keeper is also being developed as a feature movie by Walden Media and I’m excited by how that’s moving forward. I’ve gotten to meet some authors who I not only admire but who have been inspirational to me. I’ve gotten to do talks for people of all ages with audiences ranging from 15 to 300 or so, talking about writing and science and life as an author. And that’s amazing! I love hearing from readers of all ages, especially when they tell me how they’ve been positively affected by my writing. There are even some videos and fan-art made about Simon Bloom, and that thrills me. It’s an incredible feeling to know that the characters and stories I’ve come up with have made people smile and, perhaps, inspired them.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Well, I’m a night-person, so my typical work day involves waking up in the late morning and doing some work at my home-office space. Then I often head out to a café where I’ll get some caffeine (and sometimes, food) and do more work. I’m usually there from 2 or 3ish til 6 or 7ish, then I go home and power-nap, work out, eat dinner (really my lunch), and head to a late-night café for my next shift. That place closes around 1am, and after that I’ll eat ‘dinner’ and perhaps do more work from home or, if I’ve gotten enough done that day, I’ll veg in front of the TV a bit – I have to keep up on movies/ TV for work…honest! I try to be in bed by 4 am or so. I don’t think there are any real rituals in that, though I do have favorite seats in the different cafes I frequent. Nothing superstitious about the seats – just near outlets and, preferably with a window view or a good view of the whole café. (I like to people-watch…when I needed some villains and heroes for The Octopus Effect, I literally looked around the café and chose people for characters’ names/ appearances.)

Author Michael Reisman, photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

12. Do you encounter challenges in your writing life? What are these challenges and how do you overcome them?

Oh, sure – I don’t know any writer who doesn’t. They include difficulties in getting my ideas to translate from your brain to the page the way you want them, or getting others (agents/ editors) to believe in a project as much as I do, or getting the word out on my writing. And, at times, accepting that something just isn’t ready yet (as much as I want to send it out to the world)…sometimes I need to put something down for a while and then revisit it with fresh eyes, for example. Maybe the biggest challenge for me is to remember that there are forces at work beyond just me and the page – the economy, the state of the industry, decisions being made that I cannot influence. To deal with this, I can only do the best I can on my end and not try to control what I can’t control.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

I’m working on a lot right now. I’ve been developing some ideas for TV shows…animated and live action…and I’ve been working on a movie treatment (a prose description of how the movie will work) for an animated project. I’m also making an outline for a new middle grade novel I’m working on. After that, there’s a middle grade novel I finished but need to revisit to fix up certain core problems in it.

14. What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?

There are lots of factors that are important in being a writer in any medium, especially in writing novels, that you hear about a lot: Learn as much as you can about how to write, read a lot (in all genres), revise-revise-revise, make sure your characters are believable and engaging, etc. All of these are important. But I want to underline the importance of one thing: persistence. Writing careers can be filled with ups and downs, stumbles and successes. If it’s really worth it to you, don’t be discouraged. If you believe this is something you truly want, then work hard and face down every setback or obstacle. Don’t expect it to come easily – you not only have to work hard, you have to harden yourself to the troubles you’ll face. You have to be patient with other people, with the industry, and with yourself most of all. I don’t know of anyone who was an instant success. And if you truly want to do this, if you truly love writing and want to make a career out of it, you have to be dedicated to improving your abilities, making contacts, and being persistent no matter the difficulties.

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

Hmm. Maybe, above all, to love what you love. If you love sports, great – that’s your thing. If you love science, great, that’s your thing. If you love to read, to dance, to sing, to draw, or if you love math, studying, building things, etc., then don’t let anyone tell you it’s not cool or wise to do it. (Unless, you know, it’s something that’s really dangerous for you or for others.) You don’t have to make a career out of it – you can do this thing as a hobby or a once-in-a-while interest – but if you love it and it’s not going to hurt anyone, don’t be afraid to make it a part of your life.

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Today we begin another Spotlight Week—about a year in the making. I’ll fill you in on the amusing details later, but for now, a short version should suffice.

I first met author Michael Reisman at the West Hollywood Bookfair last year and immediately fell in love—

With his books!

As soon as I read the back covers of both books, I knew I would have another item to my Favorite Book Series List.

In book one, Simon Bloom, The Gravity Keeper , the reader is introduced to eleven-year old Simon Bloom and his quirky friends Owen and Alysha. A strange breeze lures them into the mysterious Dunkerhook Woods, hidden at the very edge of their small town. Something falls out of the sky and lands on Simon’s head—it is a textbook unlike any other. The Teacher’s Edition of Physics gives Simon the ability to manipulate the rules of Physics through the understanding of specific formulas.  Simon has always dreamed of  being able to fly, and so the first law he changes, is the law of Gravity. He also learns how to manipulate friction. His friends also get in on the action. Owen, who has the habit of speaking stupendously-long-sentences-that-they-have-to-be-written-in-dashes, learns to control kinetic energy; while smart, mouthy, and always cool Alysha learns how to control electricity.

But with great powers come great responsibility—and great trouble. Tattoo-covered, megalomaniac Sirabetta discovers Simon has the Book and stops at nothing to relieve him of it. Simon, Owen and Alysha, aided by Ralphagon Wintrofline, Head of the Order of Physics, and Flangelo Squicconi, member of the Order of Biology, go on an action-packed and thrilling adventure that changes their lives and their view of the world forever.

Book two, Simon Bloom: The Octopus Effect, takes place 5 months after Simon, Owen and Alysha have become members of the Physics Guild. Simon has been elected as Co-Keeper of the Teacher’s Edition of Physics and shares its safekeeping with Ralphagon Wintrofline, Head of the Order of Physics. Things are going smoothly for the friends, until the Order of Science decides that there can be only one Keeper of the Book.

And just to further complicate their lives, Sirabetta, now in the body of an irate 13 year old, escapes to the undersea domes that houses the Order of Biology.  Simon and his friends follow her there. They go on another action-packed adventure through a series of mind-bending landscapes, making both new allies and new enemies in their adventures. Through it all, they learn about the laws of biology, gaining new powers and increasing confidence in their abilities to manipulate the laws of Physics.

There are so many aspects of the books to love.

The concept of the mysterious Union, which holds the secrets to manipulating the entire Universe in its many Teacher’s Edition Books is at once fascinating and absorbing.  Various Orders within the Union are responsible for overseeing the workings of Physics, Biology, Chemistry and other sciences in the universe.

Making the humorous tone of the book possible, is an all-seeing, bathrobe-wearing, pizza-eating, English narrator whose only job in life is to report, and comment on the three children’s adventures.  Employed by the mysterious Union, the Narrator isn’t supposed to do anything but observe—but he later on finds himself befriending and perhaps even aiding the kids themselves.

The weird and sometimes confusing  and often tongue-twisting character names (Ralphagon Wintrofline, Mermon Veenie, Flangelo Squicconi) only add to the tone of wit and humor with which the entire book is written.

But humor, wit, and a healthy dose of ironic sarcasm, are not the only things that make this book awesome. The story’s pacing is fast, and  plot itself is inventive and creative, and packed with enough action and adventure to keep video game-addicted boys hooked.

As a fan of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I was happy that Michael Reisman mentioned the books in his acknowledgements and even gave it a cameo appearance in his own books.

While all of these aspects make the books itself a worthy read, what I really love about them is that they introduce scientific concepts to children and make them look cool. Michael Reisman has done parents and teachers a favor by making science fun and intriguing. Anyone who reads the books will instantly find their interest in Physics and Biology peaking.

This is a series I would definitely recommend to both Science Fiction/Fantasy and adventure lovers alike. I am (along with many other fans) crossing my fingers in the hopes that the third book comes out soon.


Drop by again on Thursday for an interview with Simon Bloom Author Michael Reisman.

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My cousin Zamm, Tarot Card Reader Extraordinaire, launched her youtube channel last October 1st.

If you’re ever in need of a little mystical guidance, or if you’d like to learn more about tarot cards, or if you need inspiration for your next fantasy novel, subscribe to Tarot Zamm’s Mystical Junction channel.  It is currently airing its Second Episode. (Tarot Zamm is good, and I’m not saying that just because she’s my cousin!)

Mystical Junction features  not only free tarot readings, & tarot lessons, and but also a segment called Enchanted Earth.

Enchanted Earth highlights mystical elements in our world –such as mysterious places, paranormal experiences and unexplained/ supernatural events. Here she talks about things like soulmates, karma, single blessedness, & mystical locations around the world.

I contributed a video for the First Episode of Mystical Junction’s Enchanted Earth segment. (**Anyone with an interest in mystical/fantastical/paranormal topics is free to submit vlogs to be featured in her Mystical Junction episodes**)

With my I.T. wizard friend Lena’s help, I concocted my first ever vlog detailing my experience with dousing for ley lines in Stonehenge.

Allow me to share the full vlog with you today.

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