The Denise McCoy Legacy Award goes to the best humorous children’s book of the year. Past winners include Lois Lowry (The Giver), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda), Tommy Greenwald (Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading) and Jarrett J. Krosoczka (The Lunch Lady). The late Denise McCoy was a beloved Albany NY bookseller who loved children’s books. Her friends and family give this award every year together to honor the best in humorous children’s literature.
Thank you so much for honoring me with Denise McCoy Legacy award. Thank you to Lynn Derry and Tom O’Brian, the 15-Love program and of course all the Albany area librarians that chose to honor Odd Squad King Karl. I’d also like to thank my publisher, Disney-Hyperian, my fast-talking editor Lisa Yoskowitz and the hardest working man in show business, my agent: Dan Lazar.
It’s humbling and a little surreal to see my name along with past recipients like Lois Lowry and Jeff Kinney. When I sit down to write I don’t think about awards all that much. A little. Maybe a little more than a little. Okay, I wrote this speech two years ago. Thank goodness you’ve saved me the embarrassment of never being able to give it.
I am not a natural writer (or cartoonist for that matter). It does not come easily for me. I come from the self-loathing school of writers. As Alain de Botton said, “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” It’s a fear based business for me. I fully realize this is not healthy. Two years of therapy have convinced me it’s not healthy. Despite that I procrastinate. I waste time. I play Candy Crush.
Why do I struggle? After all, this is supposed to be a FUN job. It’s better than almost any job I can think of. Maybe not as much fun as being Beyonce, but a lot more fun than being Donald Trump.
I think I struggle because writing is rewriting. It never comes out fully formed or even semi-formed. It comes out ugly and stupid and unfunny and just plain bad. I once did a presentation where I showed the first paragraph of King Karl from the very first draft to the 25th. I’ve only done that presentation once. It’s too embarrassing. And boring. No one really wants to see how the sausage is made. I’ll give you an example. I was fortunate to sit on the sidelines and watch the making of a 70 million dollar movie based on the comic strip I co-created. It’s not pretty. They made that movie twice. Once with Jim Carrey as RJ and with a completely rewritten script with Bruce Willis as RJ. About six months out from release it was just okay. The bones of a good movie were there, but it hadn’t quite gelled. Then, with the pressure of a deadline, it got better. Then, a lot better, And finally it came together and turned out to be pretty darn good. The point is you can’t tell when you’re watching the process (or you are the process). And that’s terrifying.
So, you’re wondering… Mike, if it’s so horrible, why do you do it? Four reasons:
- I do it because I have to. It’s a compulsion. I would (and have) done it for no money.
- I do it because it’s hard. It uses all of my abilities. It pushes me to do my absolute best. It gives me an opportunity (but not a guarantee) to succeed.
- I do it for the “mystery, the surprise, the thing you don’t know you don’t know.” Writing is one of those pursuits where the whole can add up to more than sum of the individual parts. It’s like the movie, Shakespeare in Love. Whenever there was some conflict with the staging of the play that would then be somehow miraculously solved, a character would stare dumfounded at the producer (Jeffrey Rush) and he would say, “It’s a mystery.” There’s a moment when creating something when it goes from the thing you want it to be, the thing you hope it can be to the thing it is. It suddenly and mysteriously flies. All on it’s own. When that happens (and it doesn’t always happen) it’s a beautiful reward.
- I do it for for the best review I’ve ever gotten. A ten year old girl once wrote. “I read each Odd Squad book four times. That’s my review.”
Writing children’s books is an honor and a privilege. As difficult and tortured as I make it sound, in the end it’s worth it. I get to create something out of nothing. I’m like a magician, except the first two dozen times I reach into the hat I pull out a beet, or a potato or a dry-cleaner ticket or a coupon for nasal strips. Eventually, I find the rabbit. And it’s beautiful and perfect and Publisher’s Weekly says “it’s circuitous story line and over the top characteristics can get in the way of the points Fry tries to make about friendship, bullying and outward appearances.”
This is when the rabbit looks at me and says, “Publisher’s Weekly can kiss my furry ass.” And I smile. Because even though I pulled him out of thin air. I had no idea he could talk.
How cool is that?
Thank you again for this wonderful award.