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The Order of Oddfish


Listen To Me On THREE Podcasts! The Secrets of Story Podcast and The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian and NewberyTart

January 17, 2019

The 2019 season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is beginning, and I’m very busy getting ready for it. In cities all over the country, I’ll team up with other bestselling and award-winning children’s authors to present short kid-made movies that retell Newbery-winning books. These screenings are always raucous, hilarious, and packed! I’ll start in San Antonio on February 9 and then I’ll be doing shows in a different city almost every weekend until Boston on April 28. Check out our full schedule, and make your free reservations, here. You should come! The shows are so much fun!

To tide you over while I’m so busy, here are some podcasts that I’ve been on lately.

A few weeks ago we dropped the eighth episode of the Secrets of Story podcast that I host with storytelling guru Matt Bird. He has a Secrets of Story website that has lots of good advice for novelists, screenwriters, and storytellers of every stripe . . . but I disagree with Matt’s advice a lot, and so therefore: podcast gold!

Here is the corresponding post on Matt’s blog, which I include because of the lively discussion that broke out in the comments section.

What’s this episode about? Well, there’s a lot of bad advice about storytelling floating around the internet, right? And in my opinion the worst of it treats stories like a kind of paint-by-numbers algorithm. But this advice is so seductive, because it’s often presented in such clear, confident, seemingly unassailable terms. Beginning storytellers might be tempted to take it too seriously, which is profoundly misguiding and (I feel) tends to lead to mechanical, stale, boring stories.

Obviously, one should be familiar with some of this advice. It should be part of one’s mental furniture. But when it becomes a robotic recipe, or a demanding checklist, you have to be careful that it doesn’t squelch your quirky individual spark. I mean, it blew my mind when I was 15 years old and I first learned about Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” and obviously lots of stories follow its general structure. But it’s a profound mistake to try to slot every story into that particular structure, especially your own. I’ve learned a lot of Dan Harmon’s “Story Circle,” which is based on Campbell’s structure (Matt and I even did an appreciative episode of the podcast about it, complete with lots of links to Harmon’s helpful explanations), but what about stories that don’t fit that structure? In this episode we explore alternative storytelling structures that go beyond the Hero’s Journey / Story Circle scheme.

We talk about Boogie Nights, In Search of Lost Time, Brideshead Revisited, The Last Jedi, Beowulf, and other stories that aren’t so much about a hero solving a large problem, but rather about an old world passing away and getting supplanted by a new situation. I bring up the precursor and inspiration to Joseph Campbell, an amateur anthropologist named Lord Raglan (that is, “Fitzroy Richard Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan”—that’s him hanging out with me and Matt in the picture above).

It seems to me that Joseph Campbell appropriated the first half of Lord Raglan’s hero archetype—about the rise of a hero—but Campbell discarded the other half of Lord Raglan’s structure, which is about the decline of the hero. A hidden second act to the well-known Hero’s Journey! A kind of shadow structure! What happens to the hero after they finish their journey? What is the story about the hero’s decline? Matt and I explore the idea in this podcast, and then we start fighting about Russian bots and Breaking Bad. Just another day on the internet.

I was also recently interviewed on The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian,, a kids’ science fiction podcast that I think can best be described as The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the K-8 set. It’s funny and inventive and super popular (with an upcoming book, even!). And it’s all the brainchild of my good friend Jonathan Messinger and his son Griffin. Here they are in the studio:

On this episode Jonathan and I banter about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, our longtime friendship (I’ve known him for like twenty years), and I make a bunch of insider Finn Caspian jokes that might only make sense if you’ve listened to the podcast. Which you should! Start from episode 1, listen to them all, and work your way up to our interview! Jonathan is a peach and I’m lucky to know him. Here’s the episode:

And oh wait! There’s one more podcast I recently appeared on that I should mention. It’s called the Newbery Tart podcast and it’s hosted by Jennie and Marcy (a librarian and a bookseller, respectively) who are reading and drinking their way through the entire catalogue of Newbery books, and interviewing authors and illustrators along the way.

In this episode we talk about some of the highs and lows of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s a good episode, and they were generous and funny interviewers! The children’s book world has so many great people in it. I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Okay, that’s it! Three podcasts! Enjoy! I’m off to review hundreds and hundreds of submissions for the 90-Second Newbery. See you on the other side!