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The Order of Oddfish


Podcasting With The Birds

December 6, 2017

I’ve been on some podcasts! Three of them, to be precise. I should’ve told you. I keep meaning to post about each podcast episode right after it drops, but then I’d get distracted, and well, here we are. But I’m ready to share them now!

Let’s kick this off by featuring my appearance on Betsy Bird’s podcast, “Fuse 8 and Kate.”

I’ve known Betsy Bird for a long time. I met her when she was a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library. She interviewed me on her children’s literature blog Fuse #8 when The Order of Odd-Fish came out, she videotaped my showdown with “Neil Gaiman” in which I wrested the 2010 Newbery Medal from him, and she used the mighty power of Fuse #8 to get the word out about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival back when we were starting it up. Now Betsy and her family live in the Chicago area, so I get to see them all the time!

Betsy’s podcast “Fuse 8 and Kate” has an intriguing premise: in each episode, Betsy and her sister Kate consider some “classic” children’s picture book and ask: is it really that great? The hook: Betsy knows almost everything about children’s literature, and Kate knows almost nothing. Since they’re sisters, they have a rapid-fire, push-and-pull, goofily humorous rapport. Come for the kidlit discussion, stay for the sisterly banter!

They invited me on back in October, their “Spooky Books” month. I suggested we discuss the bizarre 1929 Newbery Honor Book Millions of Cats. No spoilers, but despite being an award-winning children’s book, “Millions of Cats” actually has the highest body count of any book of all time. You listen to the episode right here (and hear me do an a cappella version of their catchy theme song). Stick around for the post-credits extra!

Betsy has a post about the episode on her indefatigable blog here, complete with extra images and links, including to the amazing 90-Second Newbery of Millions of Cats done entirely in Minecraft.

My chemistry with Betsy is fun and collegial. My relationship with her husband Matt? Exhilaratingly contentious! He writes a storytelling advice blog called “Secrets of Story” and has a book out of the same name (which I highly recommend to all writers!). I am Matt’s co-host and sparring partner on his podcast “Secrets of Story” (You can find the first four episodes of the podcast on my blog here, here, here, and here).

Matt’s big innovation is a checklist he invented, which he uses as a tool to analyze story structure and to help writers find out what their broken stories might need. It turns out a lot of writers and gurus have their own idiosyncratic system. For instance, a writer whom I admire, the Community and Rick and Morty showrunner Dan Harmon, has something called the Story Circle. I thought it would be fun to compare Matt’s checklist to Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. And that’s just what we do in this, episode six of “Secrets of Story,” by testing both frameworks against Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here is Matt’s own post about the episode, and you can also listen to it here:

In that episode, we refer a lot to Dan Harmon’s storytelling theories, which he has laid out in fascinating detail on the Channel 101 site. (As it happens, Channel 101 was an inspiration for my 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, and I adapt some of Dan Harmon’s advice for kids making movies about Newbery books here).

Anyway, here is Dan Harmon’s storytelling advice:

Story Structure 101: Super Basic Stuff
Story Structure 102: Pure Boring Theory
Story Structure 103: Simply Before Moving On
Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details
Story Structure 105: How TV is Different
Story Structure 106: Five Minute Pilots

In these two posts Dan goes even deeper into his storytelling methods using specific examples from his own work:

Could You Explain Your Story Breaking Process?
Could You Explain a particular Community episode?

Think we’re done with this post? Nope! There’s one more episode of “Secrets of Story” that I haven’t yet posted. On episode 5, Matt and I have on a special guest, children’s author Jonathan Auxier (Sophie Quire and the Last StoryGuard, The Night Gardener, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes).

Matt and I had been quarreling about point of view in the comments sections of this post and this post on his blog. In this episode, Jonathan swoops in like a gentle schoolmaster, magnanimously and classily ironing out Matt’s and my disagreements, and basically making us both seem like petulant bickering babies. High-roaded by the special guest?! I won’t make that mistake again!

You can read Matt’s post about this episode here, and you can listen to it here:

Okay, I think we should be caught up on my podcast appearances now! I’ll be back soon to announce the final cities and dates for the 2018 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. I think this will be the best year ever!