order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


Here’s the first episode of Matt Bird’s and my new podcast, Secrets of Story


Here’s some good news that I haven’t mentioned on the blog yet. I just started co-hosting a podcast with Matt Bird, author of the brand-new screenwriting/novel-writing advice book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (which you should go out and buy right now).

For years I’ve been a fan of Matt’s storytelling advice blog. I’ve gleaned insights from it, recommended it to other writers, and even shamelessly cribbed from it for the writing classes I’ve taught. Now Matt has boiled down the essence of his enlightening-but-sprawling blog into a tight, super-useful, enjoyable book.

(I’ve commented a lot on the blog, too, and even did a series of guest posts about all the crafty techniques Star Wars employs to convince us Luke Skywalker is a great hero, and not “whiny” as some critics lazily characterize him. Here is part 1, part 2, part 3, and a final tangent).

What’s the podcast about? Well, it turns out that although I agree with most of what Matt says, we also have significant disagreements! Every week Matt brings up some storytelling advice from his book, I disagree, and then we argue and banter about it—entertainingly, I hope. Sometimes I’ll talk Matt around to my point of view. Sometimes Matt will convert me to his. Sometimes we’ll discover a new truth together. You can subscribe to the Secrets of Story Podcast here. Leave a review, too, if you’re so inclined!

The first episode has us disagreeing about one of Matt’s recent blog posts, Channel Master Thespian. Matt’s claim, as far as I can tell, is that to make your script as good as possible, you can’t imagine the best actors in the world are performing the roles you wrote, but rather the worst. He claims you need to make your script bulletproof by removing anything that could be characterized as “hammy.” I disagree with this, and try to persuade Matt that such obsessive self-doubt and perfectionism leads to timid, defensive writing. Matt argues that most audiences distrust what they’re reading or watching, and that the artist starts off at a disadvantage that s/he must quickly overcome; I don’t deny that the artist must work hard, but I feel that there is a natural amount of initial audience goodwill that can be capitalized on instead of denied. Anyway, you can hear the episode here on iTunes, or if you’re not an iTunes person, here it is on SoundCloud:

Question: how do I even know Matt? I met Matt through his amazing wife Betsy Bird, way back when The Order of Odd-Fish was published. Betsy is a children’s librarian and superblogger, and way back in 2009 she did a great interview with me on her essential children’s literature blog Fuse #8. She’s also the author of one of my daughters’ favorite picture books, Giant Dance Party, and she co-wrote Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, which is an inside look at some of the unruly personalities and untold stories about the folks who write children’s literature (sometimes quite scandalous!). She also has a humor anthology for girls coming out in Spring 2017 called Funny Girl, with contributors like Raina Telgemeier, Cece Bell, Jenni Holm, Rita Williams-Garcia, Shannon Hale, and more!

Quite a couple, the Birds. Two blogs and four books between the two of them. They used to live in New York and were long-distance friends, but last year they moved to the Chicago area and Betsy now works with my wife Heather, both of them at the Evanston Public Library!

They say to hold your friends close, and your enemies closer. I’m of the philosophy that you should hold your talented and productive friends even closer than your enemies. So I’m glad that the paths of the Birds and the Kennedys have converged! May they never diverge!

Now go listen to the podcast, fool! Only fifty or so days left of America, so let’s listen to podcasts!

Where do we go from here?


My niece Freya found this in the street the day after the election. She wrote, “The anger I have feels so righteous that it’s difficult to replace it with optimism and courage. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave. Today I’m in mourning.”

Me too.

Eight years ago, I wrote an elated post celebrating the election of Barack Obama. I really thought the U.S. had turned a corner. I wasn’t naive. I knew there were problems the U.S. Deep intractable ones that aren’t solvable overnight. Some of those problems became worse, as the Republican party radicalized and Obama’s management of the economic wreckage left behind by Bush did not work fast enough (thanks partially to an utterly intransigent Republican party that blocked almost everything Obama did, holding the budget hostage and forcing a credit downgrade). Even still I had a lot of hope. And Obama ended up being a fantastic President. Last week I voted for Hillary Clinton.

Eight years later, I now realize how complacent I’ve become. I knew injustice happens, even though it doesn’t really happen to me. I knew that women and people of color, and especially women of color, get a raw deal in this country. And as a white man, I profit off it without lifting a finger.

A few weeks ago I tweeted, “Hermione is so bossy and shrill! That’s why I’m voting for Baron Harkonnen” as a joke. But apparently that’s how white America actually feels. And make no mistake, this is white people’s fault. Don’t recite to me statistics about how a nonzero percentage of people of color voted for the wrong guy. That’s a rounding error in comparison. White men and women, who make up 70% of this country, overwhelmingly voted for a monster.

So now it’s time to figure out what to do next.

Halloween 2016: Harry Potter style!

Lucy and Ingrid are 7 and 5 years old and they’re enthralled with Harry Potter (of course). We’ve been reading our way aloud through the series, book by book, and I’m now reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to them. Every year we have a Halloween party where all the neighborhood kids come, and this year Lucy wanted to be Hermione, so we thought we’d throw the party with a Harry Potter theme! (Ingrid preferred to dress up as Saorise, the selkie from the movie Song of the Sea, but she was still on board. She’s the one in the video who is sprawled out on the couch, too pooped to participate.)

You can check out Lucy’s guided tour in the video above. Unfortunately, once the party got underway, I was too distracted and sociable to take many pictures! (I was also helping to run the “haunted house” that we’d made in the basement, which started out as a cart ride through Gringotts, until an alarm got tripped, and the kids have to crawl through a tunnel to escape the vengeful goblins, which unfortunately led to an Azkaban swarming with dementors! Many children screamed that day.)

Who were Heather and I dressed as? Well, Professor Trelawney and Professor Snape, naturally. Oh, come on, somebody must have shipped these two! It’s not out of the question!

Have you seen these wizards? VERY DANGEROUS.

The thing that took the most work were the candles floating in midair. We made about twenty of them. More labor intensive than I expected, although they were nothing more than cardboard tubes with glue-gun dribbles down the sides to simulate melted wax, all painted white, with an electric mini-candle stuck in the top, hung from the ceiling with fishing line. Hat tip to Pins and Things for the idea!

Some wanted posters for Sirius Black and Bellatrix Lestrange. Speaking of Sirius Black, there’s his head in the fireplace, just like in books 3 and 4!

Here’s some Hogwarts students just hanging out in the stairwell. Not everyone was in-universe. Some upstart telekinetic girl from Stranger Things made an appearance as well.

halloween2016_hogwarts-kids-on-stairs halloween2016_chris-as-stranger-things-eleven

Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of all the other great costumes that night: the father-and-son Han Solos, the impeccable Mrs. Weasley, the Sirius Black, the Alexander Hamilton, Link and Zelda, and more! In any case, another champion Halloween. Already looking forward to next year!