How One Children’s Fantasy Book Inspired Me to Rethink My Artistic Process…

Lyra’s Oxford

Philip Pullman published his trilogy, His Dark Materials in 1995.  The three main books in the series included:

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the U.S.)

The Amber Spyglass

The Subtle Knife

Lyra’s Oxford is a companion novel to the set, along with Once Upon a Time in the North. When I was looking through my book collection, I found an old copy of Lyra’s Oxford in my bookshelf. It was sandwiched between a few other paperbacks I’ve neglected over the years. This edition is simply beautiful in the way it is designed and executed. It is this design that made me take a step back and rethink my creative process.  Take a look at the photos below:

The artwork is the most striking aspect of the book’s visual appeal.  Jon Lawrence, illustrator and engraver, contributed these visuals to the book. The aesthetic is amazing. For me, I can’t resist the look of woodcut and engraved design, nor can I resist the appeal of engraver as a metaphor.

Engravers work on their products with sustained effort over a long period of time, eventually rendering an intricate whole from thousands of little creative decisions.  The parallels to the writing process are pretty obvious.

Jon Lawrence’s work inspires me.  The artwork, layout, and overall aesthetic of this edition urged me to sit down, slow down, and rethink what I do.

Mapping Out A Story

In the center of Lyra’s Oxford, a neatly creased fold-out waits for readers to discover its secrets. This unassuming piece of paper is folded into eighths, with the facing page entitled “The Globetrotter,” a “Series of Maps for the Traveller.”

The Globetrotter – Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman

As the reader unfolds each section, the pages reveal publications, sketches, and advertisements that directly and indirectly allude to characters in the whole His Dark Materials series. It is an outstanding example of keeping continuity within a series.

When fully unfolded, one side of the fold-out  features a tricolor of Oxford, rendered in gorgeous engraver’s print. This style reminds me of the woodcuts of Will Schaff, another artist whose artwork I enjoy. The other side features a plain grid-style map of Oxford. Of course, the map is not the “real” Oxford. This is the Oxford of Lyra Belacqua, the main character in Pullman’s series. Still, there are similarities between both Oxfords.   


I felt a surge of curiosity when I first opened the map. My eye was drawn to each cartouche, emblem, and ink-lined street.


Fold-Out: Jon Lawrence, Lyra’s Oxford


Lawrence’s work does a great job at mapping out a story without even telling it. I imagine the collaboration between Pullman and Lawrence was riveting; or, at least I hope so! While I looked at this map, I thought about a comment my fiancé made in my early journey of planning The Staghorn Crown, a fantasy quintet that follows the lives of four girls as they come of age in a magical fortress called the Stellaria.  As I drafted the first scenes of The Staghorn Crown, Laura turned to me and said, “I assume when this is published, you’ll have a map of this place.”

Of course, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted the Stellaria to look like, but I had not thought about hiring an artist to make it. Until then, I had made my own sketches of rooms, towers, and ancient keeps.

After my encounter with Jon Lawrence’s engravings, I could enrich the reading experience of my novels by having these maps available. My search for the best artist to render them is underway, and I continue to sketch in the meantime.

Keeping My Goals, Changing My Process

What is my largest take-away?

I learned that I need to periodically slow down and look at the bigger picture. How will my own books provide an experience for the reader? How can I make my own writing immersive? After all, I enjoy the experiences provided by Pullman, Martin, Gaiman, Rowling, Barnhill, and Nix,  and feel inspired whenever I read them.

Lyra’s Oxford gave me the space to sit down and rethink my creative process. I have so many questions:

How do I craft fiction with excellent continuity? How many revisions will this take? I write this, smiling and knowing that it will take enough revisions to make me happily exhausted.

Part of this blog is documenting this complex process.

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am a self-publishing author and teacher.  My overall goal is to write a twelve-novel fantasy saga. In 2016, I created the world, mapped out the books, and treated the project as a hobby. My fiancé and I traveled to England, where I was inspired by the beautiful seaside town of Whitby and the Yorkshire Moors.  After that, I had to create these books. It’s become a little bit of an obsession.

While this dream began with a student’s response to a writing exercise, it has since grown. I hope it keeps growing. In the end, creating these twelve books is about sharing a great story with others. I have decided to keep the same goals, despite add one important aspect to my practice. I am thankfully spending more time slowing down.

The Goals I will Keep, No Matter How:

  • To complete the series and build a readership over the next six years.

  • To release preview chapters and installments of my work online to readers, patrons, students, and friends/family.

  • To become part of a writing community so I can see, appreciate, and share the magic of writing.

I hope the little decisions I make along the way are guided by these larger aspirations.

To stay updated on my books, consider joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group, where you can connect with Laura and me on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and self-publishing. You can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey. 

Books of Brylennia Reading Group (1).png


YA FRIDAY: 3 Books to Add to Your Shelf


In an earlier post this Monday, I previewed three books: Pax by Sarah Pennypacker, Ghost by Jason Reynolds, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman for IMWAYR.

For this week’s YA Friday, I’d like to keep the tradition of previewing a book I have read, one book that I’m partway through, as well as one that I am looking forward to. If you have read any of these books, please like and comment below, letting us know your thoughts!


Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive Book Poster Image


Reading Status: Finished

Summary: The young readers edition of Unbroken is a great non-fiction pick for WWII enthusiasts. The book follows the successes and struggles of Louie Zamperini, an olympian and airman during the Second World War.  Laura Hillenbrand recounts his life story, infusing the pages with heart-breaking moments, intriguing factual information, and stories that illuminate the full spectrum of the human condition.

While there are some intense moments for younger readers, this edition is a solid book to add to the YA shelf. I have included a link to Common Sense Media for teachers and parents to review the books content. Unbroken was made into a popular movie, but as my students would say… the book is often better!

Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media Review: Unbroken – Young Adult Edition


Graceling Book Poster Image

Reading Status: Partway Through

Summary: Kristin Cashore hooked me with the first 100 pages of Graceling. The main character, Katsa, is a Graceling. Like other Gracelings, society has marginalized her for her abilities and appearance – an apt metaphor for how remarkable women are treated in our society.

All Gracelings excel at a skill or talent. Katsa’s happens to be killing. With this skill, she makes a marvelous assassin and enforcer, but her uncle, the King, uses her. Within the first fifty pages, Katsa begins to question her role in the Kingdom. She meets Po, another Graceling from a privileged part of society. Po is Graced with excellent combat skills. While I am only nearly 100 pages in, I can safely say that have enjoyed every page so far.

Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media Review: Graceling

The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial: Magisterium, Book 1 Book Poster Image

Reading Status: Looking forward to!


Callum Hunt has been warned to stay away from magic, yet despite his father’s warnings, he has failed. Callum has “failed at failing” the Iron Trial, opening him for admission to the Magisterium.

As I have not yet started this book, I am very interested your own comments and suggestions. Should I read it? Here’s a delicious quote from the back cover:

“Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.”

Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media: The Iron Trial

If you enjoyed this post or YA Fridays, please like and follow this blog. Share your thoughts in the comment section!


Fantasy Fans United

We are building a community for fans of fantasy fiction. Make a post with the hashtag #FantasyFansUnited on any of your social media accounts. All posts should be related to fantasy fiction, cinema, or artwork.

Fantasy Fans United

This call to action, and this week’s Coffee Question comes from Evanston, Illinois.


Who else is looking for fantasy on WordPress?

When looking through the WordPress Reader, a friend of mine noticed the under-representation of fantasy enthusiasts on WordPress.

Knowing that there is a wealth of people interested in fantasy fiction, world building, swords and sorcery, magic, and medieval-inspired stories and novels, we couldn’t help but pose this question this week.

This Week’s Questions

Are you looking for fantasy too? What kind of fantasy content do you want to see on WordPress? Do you have a fantasy blog, website, or other content that you could share?

Sharing your thoughts, content, and WordPress sites allows other readers to see your enthusiasm for this genre.

Paper Palaces may decide to feature your blog posts and site content on Twitter and Instagram if it is relevant to future posts and questions.

Read my answers to these question below, or start sharing your own answers in the comments section!

My Answer:

I’m definitely looking for more fantasy on WordPress. I would like to see more fantasy book reviews, short stories, and novelists. I’m interested in characters with depth and magical worlds that feel complete.  Honestly, I’ll follow any content that seems interesting or tickles my interest.

For more about Coffee Questions please visit our site page.

What’s your answer? Comment below or post on your blog with the hashtag #fantasyfansunited.

The Witch’s Uprising – Making Noteworthy Titles for Young Adult Novels and Middle Grade Lit

The Witch's Uprising - Cover II Wattpad Edition

While working on a novel is the thrilling, the process is often fraught with little challenges. For example, finding the correct title for the book, section titles for the book’s major divisions, or the simply picking names for each character and town are often difficult tasks. Rushing the process is never a good idea; however, one cannot wait forever. During the early stages of world-building,  when the risks are low, most of name-making is easy. As the book nears completion, it’s tougher.

3 Questions to Consider When Crafting Titles

1. Does the title accurately reflect the plot?

If the title does not accurately reflect the plot, you may have a problem. Readers have an expectation from the title. For example The Witch’s Uprising has a witch in it, and there is an uprising! There are no surprises from that title, however the logical questions are in place for a reader to ask. Who is the witch? Where and when is the uprising? What is going to happen?

While the title alludes to specific events in the book, it is also relates to a few thematic threads in the book. In other words, it takes on a deeper meaning when the reader is finished with the book and the series.

2. Does it sound appealing?

How a title sounds is really a matter of opinion, and yet another reason why writers should partner up with friends, family, beta readers and other authors.

Some aspects to consider:

  • Does the title include alliteration, assonance, and/or consonance? Is that good for your genre/book?
  • Does the title sound “catchy” or “sticky”?
  • Is the title too trendy or “catchy” sounding?

I suggest getting multiple opinions.

Can a reader infer much about the book, and would they still want to read it?

If the reader can infer meaning or even a tone from your title, you may have won. However, if your title is off-putting or stops a reader from opening the book, you should reconsider. Using a controversial title is obviously something up for debate. While controversial titles attract readers, there is also the chance of may repelling or offending prospective readers.

Crafting Noteworthy Titles for My Nine-Novel Series

Brainstorming with a Partner

My fiancé and I spent a night together, making dinner and talking about possible titles for each book in my nine-book young adult fantasy series A Thousand Watchful Eyes. This fantasy book series is part of a twelve-novel saga that you can support on Patreon, or follow for free on the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group.

When considering titles, we felt the need to create a sense of continuity between each book.  We wanted titles that would “stick” and directly reference the plot of the book. To do this, we used objects and artifacts from the series (daggers, crowns, swords, etc…).

Laura and I also made a concerted effort to use the word “the” to give a definite sense these titles were speaking to an event or object that the reader would encounter.

The titles are listed below for your perusal:

Series Title: A Thousand Watchful Eyes

A Thousand Watchful Eyes - Swords Clash Darkness White Banner - Twitter and Instagram

Book One: The Witch’s Uprising

Book Two: The Robber Kings

Book Three: The Year of the Forged Crown

Book Four: A Touch of Fire

Book Five: The Witch Queen’s Plea

Book Six: The Hunted Swordsman

Book Seven: The Hand That Heals

Book Eight: The Shattered Sword

Book Nine: Age of Dreams

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.



To stay updated on my books, consider joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group, where you can connect with me or Laura on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and self-publishing.

We will post occasional articles related to novel research as well, and you can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey!

Books of Brylennia Reading Group (1).png

Where have the posts been? What is “A Thousand Watchful Eyes”?

A few years ago, while working with students to create real and believable characters, I came up with an idea for forming a short story contest at our school. The contest involved creating a piece of flash fiction, no longer than a page.

Students were asking how to develop a character and a story in such a short space, so we began going over the ever-so-practiced Show, Not Tell exercise, where all the writers involved attempted to show or imply as much about a character as possible without explicitly stating the facts through boring sentences.

How an idea matures…

Students began to grow their own ideas into longer works, editing them and revising them throughout the year as part of an ongoing writing project. Many of the kids thirsted for fun wordplay, and soon after, I began asking myself why I hadn’t written more in my spare time.

As a result, I began the 40 Scenes in 40 Days project on Paper Palaces. Much to my embarrassment, it didn’t last that long, as I had no complete story to motivate my writing – just scenes. This all changed when one of my students asked me a question a few weeks later, “Whatever happened to Aurelia and the Crystal Dagger?”

He looked at me with wide eyes.

“That was just a scene I did in class to show you a couple tricks,” I said. He gave me a look that only the most serious of middle schoolers could give. It communicated the same feeling as when students begged for no homework or hope for longer summer afternoons.

“You should make it a story,” he said.

I went home that weekend, and after drinking several cups of coffee, thought why not? It was then that I had an idea which grew over the course of two years. I mapped out nine novels for a young adult fantasy series, under the working title A Thousand Watchful Eyes. This is my most current project, and I have never felt more thrilled to create as I do now.

What does this mean for the Paper Palaces blog?

From this day forward, this means that Paper Palaces will continue to have book reviews, opinion pieces, teacher-related content, and fiction, but the largest difference will be this:

Paper Palaces is now a home for A Thousand Watchful Eyes. With every step of my journey toward publication, I plan to build a readership that is vast and diverse, proving to my students that there are so many types of people in the world that value reading and writing – not just teachers!

Let’s Connect!

Are you working on a project? What is it?





If you want to show your support, you can follow this blog, or join the Books of Brylennia Facebook Page.  In either case, enjoy the stories and articles to come.

Books of Brylennia Reading Group (1)