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Rod Philbrick Meets the Tinycawlers

Tom Cawler of the Tinycawlers

Seacoast author Rodman Philbrick’s latest storyl is about tiny people – really tiny people. The "Tinycawlers" live on an island in Maine. The new book was commissioned by the Boston Globe. In this exclusive interview, the author of "Freak the Mighty" and nearly 40 other books brings us up to date with his latest work.



Seacoast-native and author Rodman Philbrick will unleash a new adventure tale for children this week. The Tinycawlers, an original work ommissioned by The Boston Globe, will appear in eight Tuesday installments from March 28 to May 30. Twelve-year old protagonist Tommy Cawler is small for his age and often humiliated by his classmates. The adventure begins when Tommy spends the summer with his mysterious grandfather on a small island a few miles off the coast of Maine.

Rod PhilbrickPhilbrick¹s best known novel Freak The Mighty was adapted into the Miramax film The Mighty, starring Sharon Stone, Kieran Culkin, James Gandolfini, Gillian Anderson, Harry Dean Stanton, Gena Rowlands, and Meatloaf, and featured an original theme song by rocker Sting. Other popular works include The Fire Pony and The Last Book in the Universe, REM World, The Journal Of Douglas Allen Deed, and The Young Man And The Sea. His recent work for adults include Coffins and Dark Matter. caught up with its own movie critic who was in town to attend the Dover Reads program. As part of this special program, students, teachers, parents and residents of Dover were all invited to read the same book at the same time. This year the town selected Philbrick¹s recent novel The Young Man and the Sea. With his wife, author and editor Lynn Harnett, he divides his time between the Florida Keys and Kittery, Maine. J. Dennis Robinson submitted this interview with Mr. Philbrick.

OUTISDE LINK: Rod Philbrick official site

Author of "They Tinycawlers" and "Freak the Mighty"

SEACOASTNH: Your books often wink at classic literature. Freak the Mighty plays on the King Arthur legend. The Young Man and the Sea takes off from a Hemingway title. Was The Tinycawlers inspired by Gulliver¹s Travels and Peter Pan?

PHILBRICK: I did love Gulliver's Travels, but the inspiring factor was most likely my fondness for the Borrower stories by Mary Norton‹a family of little folk who live under the floorboards and scavenge the house at night. The idea of being very small is appealing to kids confronting a very large and mysterious world. Think Toy Story and, for that matter, Honey I Shrunk The Kids. So I guess maybe my sources aren't always quite so classic!

SEACOASTNH: And don¹t forget Land of the Giants and Darby O¹Gill and the Little People. But Tinycawlers adds a unique spin. The giants and the miniature people are connected in a unique way. You probably don¹t want to give anything away, right?

PHILBRICK: Right. I hate those reviews or interviews where we find out ahead of time that the butler did it after all. The only exception that works for me is the steam whistle option. That¹s when crowds gathered at the docks in Boston, awaiting word from London on the fate of Little Nell in Dickens’ latest installment, and the ship captain agreed to give the whistle one blast if Nell lived and two if she died. It was two, and ten thousand people instantly wept for a fictional character they had come to love. But somehow I don¹t see a steam whistle option available for The Tinycawlers. Read it and weep‹or not.

SEACOASTNH: Boston Globe readers see the story in eight weekly episodes, each with an illustration. Did this interesting format change the way you wrote the story?

PHILBRICK: Yes, it did. I'm keenly aware that a week will pass between each installment, and therefore the story segments have to be written in a way that leaves readers impatient for the next part, but not so impatient they turn their attention elsewhere.

SEACOASTNH: So you now have more empathy for Charles Dickens writing novels as newspaper and magazine installments?

PHILBRICK: I always did have empathy for Mr. Dickens. Not so much for the way he wrote‹his style is a bit too prolix for me‹but for his ability to evoke vivid characters who continue to live in the mind long after you¹ve finished the story. And there¹s also his own life to consider. As a boy he worked in a blacking factory while his father was in debtors¹ prison, and he went from there to being a author whose stories reached the entire world.Talk about overcoming adversity‹‹he¹s the model for his own hard luck characters.

SEACOASTNH: Tinycawlers is another "rite of passage" story for young adolescent boys. What brings you back to this theme again and again?

PHILBRICK: It's what I know, or anyhow what I know how to write convincingly. Although one of these days I may surprise everybody and write about a twelve year old girl instead of a twelve year old boy.

SEACOASTNH: The Tinycawlers steps out of reality into the realm of the fantastic. Was this a difficult leap to make, to work with characters 10 inches tall?

PHILBRICK: Not really. I've always been able to suspend disbelief when it comes to fantastic things occurring in fiction, providing it all makes sense somehow. I don't do witches and sorcery, but a clan of very small people who inhabit a remote island doesn't seem all that far-fetched to me. Maybe I need to have my medication adjusted.

Continue with PHILBRICK interview

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