order of oddfish cover order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Moviemaking Class at the Treehouse Children’s Museum!

July 6, 2022

A big part of why I’ve enjoyed putting on the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival for the past twelve years is it’s given me an excuse to travel around the country and meet fantastic people. The Treehouse Children’s Museum in Ogden, Utah has hosted screenings of the film festival for years, and I’ve really loved becoming friends with Lynne Goodwin, Rob Goodwin, Wes Whitby, and the rest of the folks who run the place. Back in 2019 I taught a 90-Second Newbery filmmaking class at the Treehouse, and it went so well that we decided to do it again this year!

Being a kid’s museum, the Treehouse has tons of resources for moviemaking: sets, costumes, puppets, and more. And the ten young filmmakers were so creative and ingenious! Special thanks to Caden and Will for helping out too. I couldn’t have led this camp without their help.

So let’s watch the movies that those kids produced! This first one is an adaptation of “The Garden,” a short story from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together. It’s by Parker, Beatrice, Crew, Max, and James, and I posted it on the 90-Second Newbery website here.

In the original story, Toad plants some seeds and is very impatient waiting for them to grow. It’s a gentle story about learning how to wait for good things. This movie implies that the original story is perhaps a bit too gentle, and what the story really needs are three ruthless assassins who are out to destroy Frog and Toad! Luckily, the three bumbling hunters never accomplish their goal. The performances are what make this movie so fun to watch: Toad’s earnest eagerness for his seeds to grow and Frog’s gentle and calm nature ground the movie, which makes the over-the-top performances of the three manic assassins even funnier. The infectious enthusiasm and ace comic timing of the actors make this movie super fun to watch. Stick around for the post-credits sequence!

The next movie is by Georgia and James, and it’s an adaptation of E.B. White’s 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web. Ingeniously, they retell the story in the style of The Hunger Games! From the very beginning, with the title screen “Mockingpig” done in a Hunger Games manner, we feel we’re in good hands. The charismatic performances for Fern, and the Effie-Trinket-like character, and the county fair announcer were full of energy and great details (I particularly liked the way Fern looked back sadly at Wilbur as she walked away, and how Wilbur was thrust up into the air, Lion King style), and I was impressed with Wilbur’s performance too, playing his role with innocent sincerity. Charlotte’s voiceover performance was sensitive and comforting too, and gave the movie an emotional heft. The movie made resourceful use of the sets, costumes, and puppets at the Treehouse. I especially liked the black-and-white nightmare vision of pork, and how Wilbur bests the other pigs in an explosion-heavy insult battle at the fair! Good use of emotion-setting music and the occasional stock footage too. This movie was a delight! Here’s the post about it at the 90-Second Newbery website, and here’s the movie itself:

The next movie is by Wren, Lyla, Evie, Faith, and Parker, and it retells Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora and Ulysses in the style of a movie trailer! The performances of all the characters were engaging and funny—I loved Flora’s put-upon exasperation, the mom’s snarling pushiness, the dad’s hapless manner, the evil cat, and of course Ulysses’s energetic heroic nature. The scene with the vacuum cleaner and Ulysses was ingeniously shot (and I loved the delivery of the line “Oh no! I think I killed a squirrel!”) and the final around-the-world fight between Ulysses and the mom was ludicrous fun. Outstanding performances, snappy camera work, and ace editing really made this movie come together amazingly well! You can also find this movie here at the 90-Second Newbery website.

As it happens, the young filmmakers had some time left over on the last day to shoot even more video, so they also put together this bizarre movie of short sketches and non sequiturs:

Thanks so much to the folks at the Treehouse for making this happen, and thanks especially to the young filmmakers behind these amazing movies! I hope I can come back next summer to do it again!

I go to Milwaukee: Boswell Books and Resurrectionists!

June 10, 2022

Last night I drove up to Milwaukee to speak about Dare to Know at Boswell Book Company. What a fantastic experience! Staff members Jenny, Jason, and Kay have been big supporters of the book from the beginning (you can read their reviews of Dare to Know, and buy it through Boswell, here). When they asked me to come speak at the bookstore, I leaped at the chance.

And people came! Like, people I don’t know! Every author has had the humiliating experience of showing up for a bookstore event and finding that no one has come. But we had a bunch of people show up, several of whom had already read Dare to Know and who had really smart, probing questions about it. They treat you right at Boswell! (By the way, Jenny of Boswell interviewed me for the bookstore’s blog. Check it out if you want to read about how programming my Atari 800XL, Blade Runner, and selling door-to-door as a kid inspired Dare to Know, plus my soft spot for “unlikeable” characters.)

I met wonderful people. Two of them were Gregory Sadler and Andi Sciacca, who are both faculty at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Greg dug Dare to Know, and it was a delight to speak to both of them about philosophy and writing. Greg has a YouTube channel about philosophy that I’m looking forward to diving in to. There’s a possibility I might get to make an appearance on it, too! I’ll keep you posted.

Another great thing about coming to Milwaukee is catching up with my friend Joe Cannon, whom I met when I was eighteen in college. He’s always been an incredible musician (and we even collaborated on an abortive musical at one point), and his band Resurrectionists happened to be playing that very night! Here we are back in the 90s, and now:

After Joe came to my thing at Boswell, I came to his show at a pretty great punk bar called Last Rites. I’ve followed all of Joe’s bands throughout the years. The last time I saw Resurrectionists, they were more rueful and melancholy. This time they tore everyone’s skulls off, and the last two songs of the set were some of the best I’ve heard Joe do, really soaring and anthemic. I’m really looking forward to when their album comes out.

The vibe of the night was unpretentious and frankly a bit friendlier than shows I’m used to in Chicago. The other bands that night (Marc Alan, the Size 5’s, and El Escapado) were fantastic as well. I should come to Milwaukee more often!

DARE TO KNOW in Esquire, and I’m on the “A Little Too Quiet” podcast!

May 19, 2022

The paperback edition of Dare to Know comes out on June 7, which means it’s getting some extra promotional juice. I spoke at the Bay Area Book Festival a few weeks ago with some other great authors such as Kate Folk (Out There), Claire Stanford (Happy For You), and Vauhini Vara (The Immortal King Rao). There’s a good write-up of the panel here, if you’re interested . . .

And then, as if by magic, this week my fellow panelist Claire Stanford and I both showed up in Esquire‘s list of books, “What To Read If You Miss Severance.” I haven’t seen Severance yet, so I guess it’s time to fire up my Apple TV+ subscription again. There are some heavyweights on this list, too, including Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Powers, and Ursula K. Le Guin! Thanks, Esquire!

In other news, I’m in edits for my next novel Bride of the Tornado, which Quirk Books is slated to put out in March 2023. I’ve been working on one version or another of Bride for years and I’m really, really excited for it to finally see the light of day. Think Rosemary’s Baby meets Twin Peaks and you won’t be too far wrong! And I’m already hard at work on my third book for Quirk. After years of not publishing anything after The Order of Odd-Fish, I’m committed to striking while the iron is hot!

I’ve been on a bunch of podcasts lately, but I realized I haven’t been properly featuring them on the blog. Here’s one I did back in March for the Ferndale Public Library, which is just a few miles from where I grew up in Troy, Michigan. In it I talk to host Jeff Milo about how the internet feels different than it used to, why it’s okay to write “unlikeable” characters, how M.T. Anderson’s Feed is the proper successor for Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and much more. It’s a good interview!

Newer Posts - Older Posts