Category Archives: Random Musings

Jack Fry 2004?-2016

Sad day. Our loyal pitty Jack passed away today due to complications from cancer. He was a terrific companion and a stelar example of his much maligned breed.

We didn’t pick Jack out. He picked us. Sort of. Someone dumped him on our property and here in Hays County, TX they euthanize all pit bulls. We couldn’t let that happen. When we first got him he had issues because he had clearly been abused. But he matured into a mellow fellow who rewarded our trust with his own.

He was the most expensive dog we’ve ever owned.  One rattlesnake bite and a broken leg from trying to fly out a second story window add up.  But he was worth it.

He also inspired the single most popular series in the Over the Hedge comic. We did a 2-3 week installment on a harmless puppy pit bull (Verne and RJ spent the series up a tree). The outpouring of appreciation from pit bull owners the world over was astonishing. I received at least a dozen photos of pit bulls sleeping with babies.

Jack has left a hole in Kim’s and my heart. We’ll miss he dearly. At some point we’ll get another dog. And we’ll almost certainly get another pitty. He or she have some big paws to fill.

Bye, Buddy.

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My Acceptance Speech for the Denise McCoy Legacy Award

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:

  1.  I do it because I have to.  It’s a compulsion. I would (and have) done it for no money.
  1.  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.
  1.  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.
  1.  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.

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The Naughty List Cover Reveal

NaughtyList_cComing 9/22/15 from Harper Collins. A twelve year old girl who’s boycotting Christmas accidentally gets her little brother on the Naughty List and travels to the North Pole to get him off.

Special thanks to Rick Farley, Harper Collins Art Director, for help with color, shading, perspective and all that stuff I paid no attention to in art class.

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Praise for Odd Squad: King Karl from School Library Journal

From the August issue of SLJ:

Gr 3-7–Much like Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books (Abrams), comic strip creator Fry’s latest series entry brings readers a middle school student low on the totem pole, with harebrained schemes that play out through a mix of text and imagery. Lead character and narrator, Nick, also has an astronaut who often appears in his reflective comments, acting like a blend of a conscience and a parent, reminding Nick that his ideas usually look better on paper than in practice. In this installment, Nick and his best friend, Molly, both members of the school’s “Safety Squad” (part hall monitors, part crossing guards), begin to worry about him, but not because Karl owns a talking bird who wears a top hat and spends much of his time talking to sea monkeys. Instead, they worry that a “secret” group, known as MELZ (after their school’s namesake Emily Dickinson) is recruiting him and not them. Nick also worries about state testing; caring for his grandmother after she “breaks her butt” dancing with her boyfriend, the school janitor; and his maybe crush on Molly. The story is a humorous blend of outrageous and believable. The content is young and the text simple, making this most likely a better fit for upper elementary students than for middle school.–Sarah Knutson, American Canyon Middle School, CA

Check out the first four chapters of Odd Squad: King Karl by clicking on the link to the right.

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Bouncing Across Suburbia

oh130924Rules and Hammy? Seriously, RJ? How long have you been in this strip? PAY ATTENTION!

Yes, I know I’m yelling at a fictional character I created which means I’m sort yelling at myself.

But myself doesn’t yell back which means I’m mostly sane.

Mostly.

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High Midnight in the Texas Senate: A First Person Account

A friend of mine was at the Texas State Capital last evening and sent me his first person account of the aftermath of Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster of Senate Bill 5 severely limiting abortion rights in Texas as the Republican majority attempted to pass the bill before the midnight deadline.

Every species of of the genus human had been packed together by the hundreds, then the thousands, in the hallways outside the Chamber for hours, until the air was thick with Texas sweat. For a time, people sat, then it became too crowded. The circus was multi-dimensional, with cheerleaders leaning out from the upper balconies to whip comrades below into a frenzy. A young man with glistening dark skin pulled off his “Rick Perry Sucks” shirt and waved it at the crowd, inciting the bulls and energizing the metal-studded emissaries of the Socialist Workers. More and more and more state troopers arrived. 

 Word leaked from inside the Senate chamber that a little old lady had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat when the lt. gov. ordered the galleries cleared, but in pauses between chants, the crowd could sometimes hear defiance still shouted from those same galleries inside the now-locked-down Chamber. A small knot of leaders urged patience and relative calm, over-riding the occasional call to storm the barricades from young back-benchers. Then, at something like 11:45 p.m.,  Democratic senators texted aides to Cecile Richards and the state party chair, who we were standing next to us, that the Repubs were forcing a vote. Passions were high because the Pharisees had just rammed through bogus points of order that ended the Wendy Davis filibuster on the flimsiest of pretexts. From inside the chamber someone asked supporters to turn up the noise, to be so loud that it would make it hard to vote — and the roar became a deafening howl that rose to an impossible pitch, then rose again, louder and still louder, echoing off the walls of the rotunda from four stories of packed partisans. I believe Orwell or Hemingway would have translated it as “No se pasaran [They shall  not pass],” though it’s possible that not everyone there was ruminating on the vagaries of the Spanish Civil War. 

In front of me, my daughter and her friend, shook fists in the air and chanted, “Whose house? OUR house.” Directly behind us, hung an oil painting of Ann Richards. Then the vote came down, two minutes after the session legally ended at midnight, and those less informed of parliamentary procedure were introduced to the power of the chair. But even now the argument continued, since among the woes of the modern age are computer date stamps on electronic voting machines, which marked the bill passed as of the next day, mocking the lt. governor’s physical stopping the clock and his ruling that the bill had made the deadline. “Hell no, we won’t go,” chanted the crowd. The Senate argued on. A chief protagonist for the bill, an aspiring Jesse Helms in the making, complained loudly that it was unfair to have to conduct business “with so much ruckus.” And back against the wall, the image of Ann Richards smiled, ever so faintly. 

Senate Bill 5 was indeed rendered moot when it was discovered the time stamp for passage read 12:02 AM.

It was not pretty and it was not decorous.

It was wonderful.

 

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Odd Squad: Bully Bait Cover

Behold the official, double super secret probation cover for my middle school illustrated novel, The Odd Squad:  Bully Bait (Disney-Hyperion).  It’s Due on book shelves (both real and virtual) February 12, 2013.   I got the Advance Review Copy last night and it looks pretty sweet.   It has weight and mass and occupies actual physical space.  In other words, it’s a real book!

It’s for ages 8-12.   And anyone who’s emotional development arrested in middle school.   Which includes me and I’m pretty sure most Hedge fans.

So, if you are a parent or a grandparent or a great grandparent or a librarian or a book store owner or a lover of Shakespeare spouting ex-hippie school janitor/mentors (you’ll see) please stay tuned.  We’ll be promoting more as we get closer to publication date.  In the meantime, I have to write Book 2.

It’s due September 15th.

Yikes.

 

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Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Award Acceptance Speech for a “A Wrinkle in Time”

I was in the grocery store yesterday and purchased the 50th Anniversary edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  I read it first when I was 13 and loved it.  I thought it might provide some inspiration as I enter the final sprint to finish my first children’s book.  I was right.  It’s just as smart, funny and engaging as I remembered.

Included in this anniversary edition is L’Engle’s wonderful and inspiring 1963 Newbery Award Acceptance Speech which I’ve posted below.

“But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

The Expanding Universe

August, 1963

For a writer of fiction to have to sit down and write a speech, especially a speech in which she must try to express her gratitude for one of the greatest honors of her life, is as difficult a task as she can face. She can no longer hide behind the printed page and let her characters speak for her; she must stand up in front of an illustrious group of librarians, editors, publishers, writers, feeling naked, the way one sometimes does in a dream. What, then does she say? Should she merely tell a series of anecdotes about her life and how she happened to write this book? Or should she try to be profound and write a speech that will go down in the pages of history, comparable only to the Gettysburg Address? Should she stick to platitudes that will offend no one and say nothing? Perhaps she tries all of these several times and then tears them up, knowing that if she doesn’t her husband will do it for her, and decides simply to say some of the things she feels deeply about.

I can’t tell you anything about children’s book that you don’t already know. I’m not teaching you; you’re teaching me. All I can tell you is how Ruth Gagliardo’s telephone call about the Newbery Medal has affected me over the past few years.

One of my greatest treasures is the letter Mr. Melcher wrote me, one of the last letters he wrote, talking about the medal and saying he had just read A Wrinkle in Time and had been excited about it. This was one of the qualities that made him what he was: the ability to be excited. Bertha Mahony Miller in her article, “Frederic G. Melcher – A Twentieth Century John Newbery,” says that “The bookstore’s stock trade is …explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly…” I like here to think of another Fred, the eminent British scientist, Fred Hoyle, and his theory of the universe, in which matter is continuously being created, with the universe expanding but not dissipating. As island galaxies rush away from each other into eternity, new clouds of gas are condensing into new galaxies. As old stars die, new stars are being born. Mr. Melcher lived in this universe of continuous creation and expansion. It would be impossible to overestimate his influence on books, particularly children’s books; impossible to overestimate his influence on the people who read books, write them, get enthusiastic about them. We are all here tonight because of his vision, and we would be less than fair to his memory if we didn’t resolve to keep alive his excitement and his ability to grow, to change, to expand.

I am of the first generation to profit by Mr. Melcher’s excitement, having been born shortly before he established the Newbery award, and growing up with most of these books on my shelves. I learned about mankind from Hendrik Willem van Loon; I traveled with Dr. Dolittle, created by a man I called Hug Lofting; Will James taught me about the West with Smoky; in boarding school I grabbed Invincible Louisa the moment it came into the library because Louisa May Alcott had the same birthday that I have, and the same ambitions. And now to be a very small link in the long chain of those writers, of the men and women who led me into the expanding universe, is both an honor and a responsibility. It is an honor for which I am deeply grateful to Mr. Melcher and to those of you who decided A Wrinkle in Time was worthy of it. The responsibility has caused me to think seriously during these past months on the subject of vocation, the responsibility added to the fact that I’m working now on a movie scenario about a Portuguese nun who lived in the mid-1600’s, had no vocation, was seduced and then betrayed by a French soldier of fortune, and, in the end, through suffering, came into a true vocation. I believe that every one of us here tonight has as clear and vital a vocation as anyone in a religious order. We have the vocation of keeping alive Mr. Melcher’s excitement in leading young people into an expanding imagination. Because of the very nature of the world as it is today our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subjects, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure, that they must be guided into creativity. These are forces working in the world as never before in the history of mankind for standardization, for the regimentation of us all, or what I like to call making muffins of us, muffins all like every other muffin in the muffin tin. This is the limited universe, the drying, dissipating universe, that we can help our children avoid by providing them with “explosive material capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly.”

So how do we do it? We can’t just sit down at our typewriters an turn out explosive material. I took a course in college on Chaucer, one of the most explosive, imaginative, and far-reaching in influence of all writers. And I’ll never forget going to the final exam and being asked why Chaucer used certain verbal devices, certain adjectives, why he had certain characters behave in certain ways. And I wrote in a white heat of fury, “I don’t think Chaucer had any idea why he did any of these thing. That isn’t the way people write.”

I believe this as strongly now as I did then. Most of what is best in writing isn’t done deliberately.

Do I mean, then, that an author should sit around like a phony Zen Buddhist in his pad, drinking endless cups of espresso coffee and waiting for inspiration to descend upon him? That isn’t the way the writer works, either. I heard a famous author say once that the hardest part of writing a book was making yourself sit down at the typewriter. I know what he meant. Unless a writer works constantly to improve and refine the tools of his trade they will be useless instruments if and when the moment of inspiration, of revelation, does come. This is the moment when a writer is spoken through, the moment that a writer must accept with gratitude and humility, and then
attempt, as best he can, to communicate to others.

A writer of fantasy, fairly tale, or myth must inevitably discover that he is not writing out of his own knowledge or experience, but out of something both deeper and wider. I think that fantasy must possess the author and simply use him. I know that this is true of A Wrinkle in Time. I can’t possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice. And
it was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant.

Very few children have any problem with the world of the imagination; it’s their own world, the world of their daily life, and it’s our loss that so many of us grow out of it. Probably this group here tonight is the least grown-out-of-it group that could be gathered together in one place, simply by the nature of our work. We, too, can understand how Alice could walk through the mirror into the country on the other side; how often have our children almost done this themselves? And we all understand princesses, of course. Haven’t we all been badly bruised by peas? And what about the princess who spat forth toads and snakes whenever she opened her mouth to speak, and the other whose lips issued forth pieces of pure gold? We all have had days when everything we’ve said has seemed to turn to toads. The days of gold, alas, don’t come nearly as often.

What a child doesn’t realize until he is grown is that in responding to fantasy, fairly tale, and myth he is responding to what Erich Fromm calls the one universal language, the one and only language in the world that cuts across all barriers of time, place, race, and culture. Many Newbery books are from this realm, beginning with Dr. Dolittle; books on Hindu myth, Chinese folklore, the life of Buddha, tales of American Indians, books that lead our children beyond all boundaries and into the one language of all mankind.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… The extraordinary, the marvelous thing about Genesis is not how unscientific it is, but how amazingly accurate it is. How could the ancient Israelites have known the exact order of an evolution that wasn’t to be formulated for thousands of years? Here is a truth that cuts across barriers of time and space. But almost all of the best children’s books do this, not only an Alice in Wonderland, a Wind in the Willow, a Princess and the Goblin. Even the most straightforward tales say far more than they seem to mean on the surface. Little Women, The Secret Garden, Huckleberry Finn — how much more there is in them than we realize at a first reading. They partake of the universal language, and this is why we turn to them again and again when we are children, and still again when we have grown up.

Up on the summit of Mohawk Mountain in northwest Connecticut is a large flat rock that holds the heat of the sun long after the last of the late sunset has left the sky. We take our picnic up there and then lie on the rock and watch the stars, one pulsing slowly into the deepening blue, and then another and another and another, until the sky is full of them. A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.

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Disney-Hyperion Picks Up The Safety Patrol

Yesterday I (actually my agent Dan) closed a two book deal for my new middle-school illustrated novel series, “Safety Patrol,” with Disney-Hyperion.   It’s about three misfit 8th graders who suffer peer allergies.  Nick, Molly and Karl are forced to band together in the lamest club in school:  The Safety Patrol.  With the help of janitor/mentor/possible ex-spy Mr. Dupree, they attempt to keep the school safe from bullies, a busy-body counselor and jell0-meat.

Sort of Mission Impossible for kids.

Tentatively scheduled for Spring/Fall 2013.

WooHoo!

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