order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

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The Odd-Fish Art of Diana Todd

I’ll be honest. When I put out the call for submissions to the Order of Odd-Fish art show, I expected good art. But I didn’t expect to get my socks rocked off like this. I can’t tell you what an awesome experience this has been, to see my handful of words blossom into gorgeous, skillful, colorful pictures. THANK YOU, ALL ARTISTS.

Today I want to share three pictures from Diana Todd—each one engagingly different, each one showcasing a different aspect of her prodigious talents.

The first one, above—Jo and Ian on their ostriches, with the Odd-Fish banner—is good enough to be a book cover. It’s beautiful! Diana’s clearly spent some time poring over photos of real ostriches, right down to their knock-kneed stance and the imperious look in their eyes. The armor and regalia are exquisite, especially the authentic-looking ostrich tack (stirrups!) and the semi-transparent feather headpiece. This is the best kind of art: doing the diligent research, and then setting it on fire with imagination! Marvelous!

By the way, the young ‘uns might not remember this, but there was a video game called JOUST back in the 1980s in which you fought battles on flying ostriches. I played this game obsessively on my Atari, and it is of course the inspiration for the ostriches of The Order of Odd-Fish.

Please, do yourself a favor and watch this 1980s commercial for the JOUST video game. It is in the grand tradition of 1980s commercials that imply, “If you buy our product, it will come to life and destroy your house.” Commercials were longer back then, giving them time to become completely insane. Hang on for the last thirty seconds—I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s positively Lynchian:

But wait, there’s more Diana Todd art! Such as this, Dame Delia’s field notes for the Schwenk:

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I can totally see Dame Delia snatching up a crumpled paper bag and scrawling these expert sketches of the beast as she chases it across Eldritch City. It might be too small to see here, but scribbled among the sketches are the notes “The Schwenk—Struthiconiicopteri Schwenkii” (I love the pseudo-Latin scientific name!) along with “sharp bill” and “crest is rarely raised” and “caught a glimpse of the bird in flight” and “tracked the bird around the city for several hours. It is just as elusive as Korsakov said!” This is beyond fan art; this is an authentic document from Eldritch City that somehow flew into our world.

Diana makes the Schwenk even more enigmatic by never fully revealing it, but only capturing it in a few hastily-executed sketches, each showing a different aspect. Making it feel that much more real. Masterful! At last, the Schwenk has found its John James Audubon.

And now, the last art from Diana—a tableau of the main characters of Odd-Fish. But since it’s Diana, this is no ordinary tableau. Everyone’s hanging by a thread!

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What a joyous, buoyant feeling this one has! Ian and Nora are hanging from Jo’s legs, and Korsakov and then Sefino are hanging from Ian’s leg, and Audrey’s hanging from Nora’s arm—and there’s Aunt Lily floating nearby with her own balloon (a reference to her reckless hot-air ballooning in California?), and the Belgian Prankster popping up in the corner. This is just wonderful composition, summing up the essence of all the characters in their expressions and body language.

I love the close attention to detail here. Who remembers Ian’s tan corduroy jacket? Diana does, apparently. And Nora’s Teenage Ichthala shirt is the perfect touch. But my favorite thing is how Colonel Korsakov is pouting about something . . . as though he had been unexpectedly scooped up by Nora’s foot, and is patiently enduring the indignity of flight. Another strength: I like how Sefino looks like a fop, but also looks like a real cockroach.

Smashing work, Diana! To be so talented so early in life is a gift. I’m honored that you’ve done such brilliant work for The Order of Odd-Fish. Thank you!

The Origins of Eldritch City

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Another knockout entry for the Order of Odd-Fish art show! This time it’s the creation of the universe as depicted in the Odd-Fish tapestry: the All-Loving Mother tricked by Aznath, the Silver Kitten of Deceit into vomiting the 144,444 gods into existence.

I love this! It’s gorgeous, raucous, and strangely solemn. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Order of Odd-Fish may not be known to many, but it’s known by the right people.

Karen Alexander is the artist—you may remember her from the great Lily Larouche portrait she drew back in January. Great work, Karen! This is just what I imagined the tapestry to be like—wild, colorful, crammed with life, but its rambunctiousness streamlined into a flowing whole.

Even better, Karen has included many of the gods mentioned in Odd-Fish in the picture! Can you find all of them? Along with Ichthala, the All-Devouring Mother and Aznath, the Silver Kitten of Deceit, there’s also Zam-Zam, the Dancing Ant of Sadness; Fumo, the Sleeping Bee; Quafmaf, the Pigeon of the Moon; Nixilpilfi, the Gerbil Who Does Not Know Mercy; Mizbiliades, the Bleeding Butterfly; Pzarnarfalasath, the Rhinoceros Whose Laughter Destroys Worlds; Zookoofoomoot the Maggot of Dismay; Pft the Mouse; and more! Karen’s giddy profusion of gods puts me in the mind of the otherworldly bathhouse in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away—which was, after all, precisely what inspired me.

Karen’s densely populated, lovingly detailed, fantastically imagined fragment of the tapestry also puts me in mind of the panoramic bas reliefs at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the temples around it. No picture can do these reliefs justice—they’re just too big, they demand the viewer’s entire vision field—but this might give you an idea, when the Hindu gods and demons are churning the Ocean of Milk to create an elixir of life:

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Thanks again, Karen, for bringing another aspect of Odd-Fish into visual reality. Your work is exquisite!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the kind reviews for Odd-Fish that are still coming in (a year or so after it came out!) from far-flung places all over the world. Lyndon Riggall from Tasmania (!!) wrote a great review on his blog A Quick Word. In Dublin, Ireland “Lady Schrapnell” So Many Books also wrote an enthusiastic review of the Odd-Fish audiobook. And a great thumbs-up from Miss Corene in Vancouver, Canada! Closer to home (much closer; Bolingbrook, Illinois, as a matter of fact), Mr. S’s BiblioBlog has a generous review.

Thanks, all you reviewers, for taking the time to write nice things about the book. And of course, thanks to all the artists who are rocking my world right now.

New art, and Odd-Fish paperback is out!

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Jaw drops to floor.

Brain explodes with awe.

Eyes joyfully melt.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hailey McLaughlin’s contribution to the Order of Odd-Fish art show: a double triptych of Lily Larouche, Colonel Korsakov, and Commissioner Olvershaw, both in their prime and in their old age. WHAT A DOOZY!

It’s accompanied by dialogue between the characters, also by Hailey:


“Oh the good old days! I remember when I took down a Segregating Cyanide Serpent with nothing but a half broken biscuit sword and a Christmas cactus!”

“Ah yes, I heard about that when I first came to the city. I had just arrived, you know. I was so fortunate to have been rescued by the eel-people, but if worse had come to worse, I knew my digestion would have gotten me through!”

“YOU TWO ARE THE MOST COCKAMAMIE CADS I’D EVER HAD THE UNFORTUNATE COMPANY TO SHARE OZONE WITH! WHEN YOU WERE STILL POOPIN’ IN YOUR HUGGIES I WAS OUT SHANKING THE FIENDS OF THE UNIVERSE WITH NOTHING BUT MY THUMB! I BET YOU THINK YOU’RE SO CLEVER TO HAVE ALL YOUR LIMBS BUT ONE DAY YOU’LL WAKE UP AND ME AND MY THUMB WILL BE THERE WITH BELLS ON! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME!?!?!!”

When this art first arrived in my email, I was so blown away I couldn’t write back at first—I had to get up and walk around the room, my heart beating in excitement, my eyes twirling.

I can’t decide what I like best: the vivacious Audrey Hepburn feel of young Lily Larouche, the dashing figure Korsakov cuts as a young KGB agent, or the terrifying decrepitude of Olvershaw as he reaches out to demolish you with his thumb (and if you zoom in close enough to the hi-res version, you can even see his crinkly nose hairs!). A visual feast!

Choice details: Korsakov’s teeny-tiny teacup, Olvershaw’s thumb fluttering on the edge of a stringlike arm, and the nonplussed cockroach assistant. I could go on and on. It makes me so happy. Well done, Hailey! I’m honored and ecstatic.

Remember, everyone’s invited to contribute to the Odd-Fish fan art show, which opens the weekend of April 17. Deadline is March 15!

Odd-Fish PB

The good news doesn’t stop there. Today is the release day for the paperback of The Order of Odd-Fish, with this new cover by Paul Hornschemeier!

I’ve mentioned Paul before on the blog. What I haven’t yet shared is that he designed the brilliant invitation for Heather’s and my wedding. It’s a map of our relationship, mashing together all the places Heather and I have lived and traveled into one vast Pangaea. The name of this land is a combination of our names, James Kennedy and Heather Norborg: NOREDY. Click for a closer view:

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Personal favorite detail: that distance is measured in “Kenneborgs.” I’m lucky to know Paul, and I’m thrilled to have his cover for the paperback.

I’m having a paperback release event at 57th Street books in Hyde Park this Thursday (2/11). I’ll also be reading at Claire Zulkey’s Funny Ha Ha series at the Hideout tonight (Tuesday, 2/9) with stand-up comedian Cameron Esposito, author Kate Harding, writer Fred Sasaki, writer Robbie Q. Telfer, and filmmaker Steve Delahoyde. And of course, Claire Zulkey herself. If you’re in Chicago, swing on by!

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It was a busy weekend. On Friday I went to see Newbery award-winning Rebecca Stead (and her editor Wendy Lamb) speak at 57th Street Books. I thought Rebecca’s book When You Reach Me was brilliant in every way; I’m shocked something this quirky and unclassifiable snagged the Newbery. 1970s lower middle class New York City coming-of-age story AND a time travel mind-blower? Playful appropriation of A Wrinkle in Time AND game show fairy tale? Laser-accurate diagnosis of junior high school friendships AND page-turning mystery? All this in about 200 pages? And she makes it all look easy? YEP.

To my startled pleasure, Rebecca knew about me—Betsy Bird of the indispensable Fuse #8 blog had recommended Rebecca read my cri de coeur against the secret bloodthirsty rituals of the American Library Association, which she enjoyed. It’s not every day your writing is complimented by a Newbery award winner. What an honor!

During the Q&A, Rebecca and Wendy mentioned the various ways Rebecca wove When You Reach Me closer together with A Wrinkle In Time—in a way When You Reach Me is a kind of sly rewriting of Madeleine L’Engle’s book. Anyway, along those lines, I mentioned how clever I thought it was when, after Sal broke off his friendship with Miranda, he started playing basketball alone, and Miranda could hear his basketball constantly bouncing. This immediately brought to my mind the creepy basketball-bouncing boys on Camazotz in Wrinkle. It was, I thought, a deft parallel.

I got halfway through saying this and then stopped. Both Rebecca and Wendy were staring at me in surprise. That detail, which I had thought was a masterstroke of subtle counterpoint, was completely unintentional—it hadn’t occurred to Rebecca or her editor until that moment! Rebecca shared other stories of unintentional parallels that were spotted by readers. It was a fascinating talk.

Saturday, fellow Brother Delacorte and author of paranormal romance spoof I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It Adam Selzer helped me with a Dome of Doom writing workshop at 826CHI. More about that later—this post is already too long, and Adam filmed the whole thing. Video coming soon!