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The Order of Oddfish

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More Hailey McLaughlin art, plus accidental #twitfic

I’ve been busy! I spoke to the Michigan Library Association on Thursday, then Ogden International School on Friday, then appeared at the first annual Princeton Kidlit Festival in Princeton, Illinois on Saturday. The charming, irascible, Newbery award-winning Richard Peck headlined the event. There’s a newspaper article about it here. I’m looking forward to participating next year too! Tonight I’m appearing at an Illinois Library Association author cocktail hour with NPR’s Peter Seagal and other writers, and tomorrow the amazing Betsy Bird of the School Library Journal’s Fuse #8 blog comes to town. It’s a good kind of busy.

But wait, you say: what this picture above? It’s another great piece of Order of Odd-Fish fan art from Hailey McLaughlin. (Here’s the first thing I ever got from Hailey, which absolutely blew my gourd, and will blow your gourd as well: a triptych of Lily Larouche, Colonel Korsakov, and Commissioner Olvershaw, both old and young versions. Makes me want to write a prequel!)

Hailey was kind enough to include a cross-dressing Neil Gaiman in the art, a sly reference to my latent but still fierce Newbery feud with him. Hailey has also drawn herself into the piece, in the upper left—as a Wormbeard squire who is coming to realize some inconsistencies in the Odd-Fish universe. Her Ian, Jo, and Audrey are also choice! I got to meet Hailey at the Odd-Fish fan art party in April, and I was utterly charmed. We have since become friends.

Here’s something else from Hailey that’s utterly charming—Sefino and Colonel Korsakov from Odd-Fish, rendered in the style of Pulp Fiction:

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At first the mind resists. And then . . . it totally makes sense!

In that spirit, let me leave you with this. Have you ever heard of #twitfic? Very short fiction written for Twitter. That is, each piece has to be 140 characters or fewer. I’ve seen some masterpieces of compressed narrative under the #twitfic tag, especially by Adam Callaway (twittering as @Sensawunda).

Anyway, there’s a movie theater around the corner from my house. The other day I looked up at the marquee—and the movie titles seemed to make a great piece of accidental #twitfic:

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Kind of takes you on a journey, doesn’t it?

These Are My People

To the left: A deliciously detailed armored ostrich. It’s Ethelred, Jo’s mount from The Order of Odd-Fish! Yet another piece from April’s Order of Odd-Fish fan art show—a piece that, to my shame, I haven’t yet featured on the blog. (I swear, I’ll get to them all soon . . . )

To the right: Zach Dodson, brother of Seth Dodson (who helped me last week in my Audrey Niffenegger impersonation). Zach’s the artist behind the ostrich, and he’s also the co-owner of Featherproof, a terrific Chicago publisher that puts out books by the likes of Brian Costello, Amelia Gray, Blake Butler, Christian TeBordo, and more.

You may remember Zach as “Tex-Mex Party Mix,” one of the battling costumed dancers at our Dome of Doom dance party back in April. He’s the one with the cowboy hat and the mustache on his forehead:

Zach, Seth, and Mike Renaud host Chicago’s Show ‘n Tell Show, a live talk show “where the guests are dynamic designers, photographers, illustrators and poster-makers.” It’s a fantastic idea—the design equivalent of “readings” for writers, but instead of reading stories, designers show off their work and chat about how they did it. Zach and Mike play more or less themselves, but Seth dresses up in a flower-print housedress and wig to play the Spokesmom (“the spokesmodel who is also your mom”), whose function is to react to the designers with the kinds of things your mom would probably say.

If you’re making an opening credits sequence for a show about design, it had better be well-designed. The Show ‘n Tell Show opening credits sequence, by Optimus, doesn’t disappoint—a jaw-dropping Muppets / Terry Gilliam / moon-man musical happening—seriously, this is a must-watch:

The other day I attended a Featherproof release party for Lindsay Hunter‘s fierce, foul collection of short stories, Daddy’s. Lindsay and Mary Hamilton (whose similarly brilliant, award-winning chapbook We Know What We Are just came out in July) run my favorite reading series in town, Quickies, in which “each reader has four minutes to read a complete work of prose. No poetry. No excerpts. No cheating.” If you read for over four minutes, Lindsay and Mary whistle you off the stage; if you persist, they physically remove you.

(Needless to say, when I read at Quickies back in 2008, I played to lose. It was a keen pleasure to be “physically removed.” I don’t understand why more contestants don’t take this route.)

At the last Quickies, all the readers (as a surprise to Lindsay) wrote and read a story in Lindsay Hunter style. Lindsay seemed both mortified and thrilled to hear imitations of her prose style and explosively vulgar delivery paraded before her. One of my favorites was by fellow writer Jac Jemc, who, as it happens, also did art for the Order of Odd-Fish art show—pages from Jo’s father’s secret message to her, written in a code of colors, here executed in embroidery:

This is one of the pieces I heard the most praise for. I love it; it’s hanging in my apartment. Is there something a little weird about hanging up fan art from your own book in your house? Whatever, I do it. And this piece stands up well enough on its own, as a kind of abstract thing, that I can get away with it.

What other shenanigans are happening in Chicago? How about Shame That Tune:

Shame That Tune is the brainchild of the aforementioned Brian Costello and Abraham Levithan (of the band Baby Teeth fame). I was a contestant on this strangely compelling game show just two weeks ago. The premise behind the show, from their website:

On “Shame That Tune,” there are three contestants. Each will first spin a “Wheel of Fortune”-style wheel, divided into musical sub-genres (e.g., “Bob Dylan’s Christian Phase,” “Keith Richards solo,” “Led Zeppelin III”). The contestant then tells an embarrassing anecdote, no more than three minutes in length (timed by a giant LED clock), from their high-school or junior-high diary. Costello then interviews the contestant for exactly five minutes while Levitan composes, on the spot, a song about the embarrassing anecdote, in the style of the musical sub-genre that came up on the wheel. The winner is determined by applause based on audience response to his/her story and the resulting song.

Abraham is a masterful and hilarious on-the-spot composer, with an instantly appealing, slightly disquieting unctuous-but-creepy stage manner when he’s at the piano. He gazes at the audience in a lazily flirty, borderline slimy way as he effortlessly composes and performs songs on the spot. I first saw him do this at the late, great Dollar Store reading series he did with Jonathan Messinger, and it’s always a treat.

The ladyfriend of Abraham’s co-host, Brian Costello, is Sara Bassick, an old friend of mine. In keeping with the theme of this post, Sara also made something for the Order of Odd-Fish art show: these adorable Odd-Fish-themed buttons:

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Thank you, Sara! I love these! When they were made available at the party, I was startled at how rapidly they were snatched up. I had to set some aside for the schools who toured the gallery the next week. Those kids loved them too. Another victory for Sara Bassick, a designer in her own right.

A certain bestselling novelist once said about being an artist in Chicago, “Chicago is great if you want freedom to do your thing without anyone interfering or noticing.”

I’m sure that novelist would agree that Chicago is great because not only do you have the “freedom to do your thing,” but also because there’s tons of opportunities to participate in “our thing.” I love how readily and generously artists, writers, and designers collaborate in Chicago . . . the Odd-Fish art show really brought it home for me. (I’ve already mentioned Megin Wardle’s scale model of Colonel Korsakov’s digestion, and Matt Mayes and Meghan Rutledge’s Belgian Prankster beer . . . )

“Without anyone interfering or noticing?” On the contrary, the thing I like best is how everyone interferes with and notices each other. I’m lucky to know them. Thank you!

NIFFENEGGERAMMERUNG

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Followers of the blog may remember how, back in May, I promised to impersonate bestselling novelist Audrey Niffenegger for charity. It was all in the spirit of fun for an auction benefiting the Evanston Public Library. Ms. Niffenegger herself was auctioning off “an enchanting evening with Audrey Niffenegger,” that is, a dinner party at Russian Tea Time in downtown Chicago which was valued by the auction as “priceless.”

“Priceless”! Well! All I know is this: when I was a small boy growing up in Michigan, I had sweatingly vowed to myself never to let Audrey Niffenegger outdo me in any way. So far, I’m pretty sure I’ve made good on that vow. I mean, The Order of Odd-Fish has sold about 12,000 copies. I don’t know how much more a “bestseller” sells, but it can’t be that much more, right? ANYWAY, EVERYBODY KNOWS IT’S JUST A BIG POPULARITY CONTEST, I DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO BE ON PROM COURT, I’D RATHER HANG OUT WITH MY “REAL” FRIENDS ANYWAY, SO STOP BEING SO IMMATURE ABOUT IT, AUDREY.

This is what my item description read:

Dinner with The Time Traveler’s Wife author, Audrey Niffenegger (as played by James Kennedy)

Face it: you can’t afford dinner with Audrey Niffenegger. But I, James Kennedy, the author of The Order of Odd-Fish, will pretend to be Audrey Niffenegger.

I promise it will be just as good. In fact, better! I’ll out-Niffenegger Niffenegger!

True, I haven’t read any of her books (though I’ve always really meant to). So I promise that before our dinner I will read all of her works, plus her Wikipedia page.

Ms. Niffenegger promises you an “enchanted evening” at Russian Tea Time. I’d do the same, but have you seen the prices there? $24 for beef stroganoff?! Jesus! Let’s just go to Margie’s Candies on Western instead.

SOLD for sixty-five bucks. Take that, “priceless.”

I knew I needed help to prepare. I got some drag accoutrement from the hilarious Seth Dodson, and I was accompanied that night by Brandon Will, who decided to go for a kind of Unabomber-in-his-Sunday-best look:

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On the drive over to Margie’s Candies, though, Brandon and I realized that my meticulous Niffenegger research had one crucial shortfall: I’d never heard Audrey Niffenegger speak, nor did I know anything about her personality. We hastily brainstormed and decided Ms. Niffenegger had a personal grudge against Eric Bana (who’d starred in the movie adaptation of The Time-Traveler’s Wife). We planned to somehow bring every conversation back around Audrey Niffenegger’s obsessive complaint that Eric Bana is “not being very believable as a time traveler” in various other time-travel movies (after all, he played a time-traveling Romulan in the Star Trek reboot, too—Jesus, Eric Bana! Is it possible for you to make a single movie that isn’t about time-traveling!).

We got to Margie’s Candies and sat down. It seemed Laura (our auction winner) was late. But then it turned out that she and her friend Jayne (whom she brought as backup) were there, but they were ignoring us—they were a little apprehensive about meeting a half-assed drag queen and the Unabomber. When we finally talked to Laura, she seemed pretty gobsmacked at first, but she later got into the spirit of it.

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We had a delightful conversation—an “enchanting evening,” if I may be so bold—over ice cream sundaes. It turns out, Laura admitted, “I did not do any research or read up on you and the experience.” Have you even read The Time-Traveler’s Wife? “No.” Wait, so did you realize the basic premise of this evening was that you’d be meeting a fake Audrey Niffenegger in drag? “Er, no.” Awkward!

Laura’s friend Jayne, who had accompanied her, was so uncomfortable that she refused to come over to our table at all. Why not, I asked? “She was pretty dumbfounded.” Dumbfounded at meeting a bestselling novelist? “Uh, yes, exactly.” Jayne fled Margie’s Candies before the interview was even over. (Quite a steadfast friend, this Jayne.)

Thanks, Laura, for contributing to the Evanston Public Library, and tolerating our tedious hijinks; thanks Seth Dodson for the wig, glasses, shoes and unmentionables; thanks to Brandon Will for accompanying me; and thanks to Audrey Niffenegger for being a good sport. I mean, I assume she’ll be a good sport. I imagine that being obnoxiously impersonated by an obscure fantasy author must be nothing but gratifying.