When my YA fantasy The Order of Odd-Fish first came out, I had no idea about publicity. "I shall withdraw into a Salinger-esque haze," I muttered to myself at the grocery store. "I will cultivate an air of mystery ... why not? The book is done, what more can I say? Anyway, the very fact I am incommunicado will only make me seem more intriguing!" My fans taught me differently. And it turned out that, far from being completed, the creation of the world of Odd-Fish had only begun.
I learned that fantasy fans are eager co-creators. Soon they were making and posting online astonishing Odd-Fish fan art. Impressed, I got in touch with these ambitious young artists. I started featuring their art in a special gallery on my website. Then the trickle became a deluge!
APRIL 17 GALLERY SHOW
Artists like these deserve proper recognition. So on April 17, to culminate this creative outpouring, I’m putting on a gallery show in Chicago of all the great Order of Odd-Fish fan art I’ve received. I’m working with Chicago theatre groups Collaboraction and Strange Tree to pull it off. We’re decorating their space to portray scenes from Odd-Fish. Characters from the book will stroll around the gallery, and the evening will climax with a costumed dance party! The week after, we’re bringing in school field trips for author performances, art viewings, and writing workshops. This is not only a great way to honor the fan art, but it’s fun publicity for the book, too.
Jo and Ian with Odd-Fish
Banner" by Diana Todd
It hasn't just been illustrations. Check out this cake by Elise Carlson, which won the “Most Creative” prize at the University of Florida’s Edible Book Contest. It depicts a pivotal scene from Odd-Fish in which a giant fish vomits a building onto a beach:
My editor described it as
“simultaneously the most impressive
and least appetizing cake I’ve ever seen.”
Last year, I noticed that a high school student named Max Pitchkites had posted some impressively original cut-paper Odd-Fish art on Twitter. I was so blown away, I contacted him and asked for more. In the space of just a few months, Max went on to illustrate all twenty-eight chapters of the book. Max is no longer just a reader. He’s now a collaborator and a friend. Click here to see all his amazing work.
When I announced the art show, I went on to the artists' social networking site DeviantArt and invited Odd-Fish fans to submit. The response was tremendous. With every new piece of art, I was thrilled to make a personal connection with my readers. None of these connections would've been possible before the Internet, of course. Our generation of writers is blessed with being able to be in close contact with those who appreciate our work in a way that was impossible before.
"The Belgian Prankster"
by Kathleen Simmons
In short: to be a mysterious, inaccessible mandarin is to miss out on all the fun! How else would I have learned about this homemade beer based on Odd-Fish’s villain? Matt Mayes and Meghan Rutledge of Chicago brewed and bottled this Belgian ale in their basement. Gabe Patti painted the label. They invited me over to try it, and it was delicious! More new friends, and an opportunity to enjoy one of my characters in liquid form. They’re making a keg of it for the art show!
I’m astonished at how creative and generous Odd-Fish fans have been. I think this tendency is unique to fantasy and science fiction. Fantasy fans want to be part of the process of creation of the stories they love. I especially appreciate it when the artist puts their own twist on Odd-Fish, adding elements that aren’t technically in my story but probably should've been—ideas that are quintessentially Oddfishian, and yet uniquely the artists’ own.
The great grand-daddy of the genre, J.R.R. Tolkien, famously likened fantasy to "sub-creation." For me, it has also become an experience in "co-creation." If you are a fantasy author, don’t ignore your co-creators. Collaborate with them. Amazing things will follow.