Lee Edward Fodi


Lee Edward Fodi is a children’s author, illustrator, and educator and self-proclaimed day-dreaming expert. He has illustrated the picture books I’ll Follow the Moon and The Chocolatier’s Apprentice and he is the author and illustrator of the five-book series: The Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar (Simply Read). He recently published the first book of his new series: Secrets of Zoone (HarperCollins Publishers), and is awaiting the Guardians of Zoone in 2020. In 2004, he co-founded Creative Writing for Children (CWC), a not-for-profit organization that seeks to foster creativity and literacy in first generation immigrant children.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer. I don’t really recall not wanting to do that. I don’t know if you remember from your days from CWC, but I used to show some of the books I used to write as a kid. I had some really terrible books, one I wrote when I was five or six called the Farm 7720. 7720 was part of my phone number so why I would put that as my title I’m not sure. I think I just love creating.

What have been some of the biggest obstacles or challenges you have faced as a writer?

Self-doubt for sure. I think that’s common with a lot of people. It’s a very competitive industry. and I always wanted to be a children’s author, but if I walk into the Vancouver Kidsbooks store, even if I’m a published author with books in that store, I see thousands and thousands of books and they look so amazing and it’s a little bit overwhelming, first in a nice way because I’m a part of all this, but in another way I think that the amount of books being produced now is crazy. A big obstacle is being in my own head. Artists might call it “imposter syndrome,” “Oh I shouldn’t be here,” “hat’s going on?!” It’s a funny thing to say, because prior to getting published I felt it was an insurmountable obstacle. But, when I got published, I thought it would be insurmountable to publish with a big company, but now I am. And I realize it’s a matter of perspective. I think when you are a creative person, whether you are writing or acting or whatever it happens to be, you are constantly introspecting about it and thinking about it. I think that’s part of being an artistic person to question things and create, but I think there is a personal turmoil to that.

What would a younger you be surprised to learn about your present self?

I think I would be surprised to have a career that involves teaching. I don’t think that was ever my trajectory and was never something I thought about, but something I truly enjoy and find satisfying. When I think about personal turmoil, I find that working with kids and teaching is very grounding. It’s so much fun to deal with people that aren’t caught up with the business side of creativity. They’re just creating out of joy and fun and that’s quite refreshing to see and fun to be around. I’ve also taught art therapy to at risk teens, and right now at CWC we’re teaching grade twelves who have the emotional and intellectual capacity of grade fours.

On your website, you consider yourself a daydreaming expert, what do you day dream about? Could you lead me through one of your thought processes?

I could try. I day dream constantly and I catch myself thinking about stories, character moments or story moments all the time. It’s my default behaviour. In today’s age we always have a phone and whenever someone has three seconds of free time, they pick up their phone and consume. They don’t introspect. Wherever I go I try to always take my notebook, whether that’s waiting for an appointment or meeting someone. I would say that this managing of my day dreaming is the expert part. If something catches my attention, all I need to feel is that it’s interesting, and record it. Anything I find interesting can sometimes turn into something down the road.

You’re a very avid traveller, how does travelling and exploring influence your writing?

They’re totally connected. I find it impossible to not be inspired and I think that’s one of the things I’ve taught myself to make sure that that’s okay and do what I need to do to record it. I remember going to Hawaii for the first time, and think I was just going to have a vacation, but I ended up filling several pages of my notebook because I was inspired by swimming with sea turtles and all these others things. I didn’t fight it and decided I’ll just put all this in my notebook. I find even though I’m a fantasy writer, I get all kinds of stories from travelling abroad, whether that’s trying different foods, going into different places. I went to Vietnam a few years ago because I wanted to base one of my worlds in that kind of scenery, and now I specifically travel for research because I find it’s a really invigorating way. You can do all the research you want on the internet, but until you’re in a place and having experiences, I don’t think anything can live up to that.

Where do you find yourself most at home?

I interpret that as almost where I’m most comfortable, but I think I would go a bit stir crazy if I stayed in one place for too long. I’ve always had this yearning to go and experience things, so I’m very lucky I get to go to Korea a lot for CWC and we tack on trips from there. I feel very at home when I’m travelling, but instead of comfort I feel very alive. When I was in Hanoi, I remember walking out of my hotel and a car and motorbike almost ran us over, and there was this stench going off, and I looked at my wife and mentioned how happy I was. I felt so invigorated and raw, you don’t get that here. I feel comfortable here, but I don’t always want to feel so comfortable.

Taking a bit of a U-turn, how has your process in writing Secrets of Zoone differed from your past novels?

Totally different. When I was younger, even as a teenager and young adult I would get this idea, and I would run to a piece of paper or my computer, and I would start writing like mad. But I would quickly run out of steam and get stuck, and now I realize that is not a system that works for me. I need to spend more time developing ideas. I don’t need one good idea; I need many good ideas. What I tend to do is get a white out book and start building ideas and characters and worlds and magical objects, and don’t worry too much about starting the book and writing down the plot. I build it almost from the back entrance. I find that’s a lot more successful because it gives me time to develop those ideas and let them percolate, and it gives character relationships to grow and they get time to interconnect. I’m not writing something and ripping it apart. I think I tend to see this in writers where we want to make something perfect. We want a perfect chapter one before chapter two. I’m a lot more flexible in my approach now. Now when I do turn on the computer, I write notes or bullet points and don’t focus on sentence structure. I focus on sculpting a rough shape and then fine tuning it. My students attempt to fine tune it right away, and might focus on perfecting one little thumb, but then realize the sculpture is not even a human.

While there are massive issues pertaining to the social, political and environmental realms of our lives, writers still insist on writing stories. Why do you feel it is important to tell stories, shouldn’t we be doing something more productive for the betterment of our society?

I think it is the artists, writers, and musicians who can galvanize these issues. I think that is the power of story to communicate issues. There is a great program on CBC called Ideas, and one of their most fascinating stories I loved was something about the Evolutionary Tale. There’s this theory among scientists that telling stories is a part of human evolution and it allowed humans to survive and thrive as opposed to Neanderthal’s. The theory claims that humans were telling stories like “Hey, Bob went down to this well and drank this water and turned purple and died.” It’s memorable! I’m making this up a bit, but I find that so fascinating because it challenges this notion that stories are purely entertainment, and don’t have any hard value. Stories are absolutely essential, and if you examine any kind of history where a society that’s taking a downward turn, and closing in on itself, the very first people that the government goes after are the artists, educators, the story tellers, the truth tellers. Not fact, fact is one thing, but truth can be more compelling than fact. Why do people cry when they read stories or watch movies? Because there’s a level of truth that is compelling. I think this “truth telling” is how we move goal posts further in society.

Jong Won is an alumni of the Creative Writing for Children program and is currently taking a Creative Writing BFA at the University of British Columbia. He likes shooting b-ball in his local neighbourhood.

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