Category Archives: Random Musings

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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Video: Homeless Man, Kermits, Under Pressure

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I know how they feel.

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Dead Serious Screenplay

Occasionally, with great effort and little to no reward, I write screenplays.   Dead Serious is one of these flights of folly.

I started Dead Serious with my RingTales partner Jim Cox back in 2000.  It’s been through many iterations along the way.  Iterations is screenwriter speak for endless drafts for nervous, risk-averse executives.

Dead Serious is about a work-obsessed/family ignoring insurance salesman who dies, meets Death and agrees to show him what makes life worth living in exchange for his life back.   In other words,  “It’s Not Such a Wonderful Life.”  Oh, and it has a zombie penguin in it.

Jim dropped away somewhere in 2002 for a paying gig while I soldiered on.  It was optioned by Core Digital Pictures in 2005 for Beacon Pictures to produce for Disney.  Which is an impressive way of saying it went nowhere.   Eventually, I got it back and was fortunate to have the good folks at the Austin Film Festival arrange a live reading with actors and audio visual embellishments.  The reading went great.  Friends had that confused, incredulous look on their face that says, “You did this?”  Like I said, it was great. The reading was recorded with a static camera.  I’d post the video, but it’s basically unwatchable to anyone other than the screenwriter and his mother.

You can read a pdf version here or go to the Michael Fry page under my credits to find another link.

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Over the Hedge: 15 Years Old Today

Apparently we’re 15 years old today.  I was reminded by this nice acknowledgment
at the Daily Cartoonist blog.

LEWIS AND FRY’S OVER THE HEDGE TURNS 15
Posted by Alan Gardner
June 10, 2010
T Lewis and Michael Fry’s Over the Hedge will celebrate its 15 years in syndication on this Saturday. The feature currently runs in 250 papers and has been made into a full feature computer-animated film starring the voice talent of Bruce Willis, Wanda Sykes, Avril Lavigne, Steve Carell, Eugene Levy and William Shatner. The movie took in $335 million.

“If 12 year old T Lewis could have known what the grown up T Lewis would get to do, his mind would’ve melted,” Lewis said. “From bringing Mike’s words to life, to joining in the lives of RJ and Verne and Hammy, to nudging black and white lines together to create a unique world, working on Over the Hedge has daily been a childhood – and adulthood – dream come true.”

There have been four Over the Hedge book collections: Over the Hedge, Over the Hedge 2, Over the Hedge 3: Knights of the Picnic Table, and Over the Hedge 4: Stuffed Animals.

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Crickets and Cicadas and Frogs, Oh My!

I recorded this last night at about 11 PM on our back porch.

We live southwest of Austin, near Buda, TX on the edge of the hill country.  What you’re hearing is our nightly cacophony of insects and the occasional frog from our pond.   When I hear this I’m reminded of how outnumbered we humans are.  Outnumbered and ultimately outmatched by a menagerie of nightlife that hums and croaks and chatters and sings without a care whether we’re listening or not.

One summer (and the summers are HOT in central Texas) we went without air-conditioning because we couldn’t afford a repair.   It wasn’t that awful.  Sure, it was uncomfortable, but by 1 or 2 AM with the windows open it would cool down to the mid 70’s.   And in the sticky darkness I would finally fall asleep to this living lulabye.

Today, our AC works just fine and manages to successfully drown out this nightly serenade.

Not all progress is progress.

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