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Rod Philbrick Meets the Tinycawlers

Update from "Freak the Mighty" Author

SEACOASTNH: Especially in light of new archeological reports about miniature humans. Do you think there are more adventures possible for Tom Cawler? And where did you get that name?

PHILBRICK: One of my writing quirks‹and I have many, including a tin hat and a quill pen‹is that I can¹t really get going on a narrative until the characters have names that seem to work for me. The idea for Tinycawlers was banging around for four or five years until the name took form. Cawler just seemed an evocative name. Maybe a lonely voice in the wilderness, or hiding on a small island. And therefore Tinycawlers seemed to work as a title. It gives the reader something but leaves a mystery that needs to be solved.

SEACOASTNH: The Tidycawlers speak like tiny New England Quakers‹saying "thee" and "thy"? This clever device makes them seem like an ancient culture. Did you draw any of this from studying mythology, or make it up entirely?

PHILBRICK: I¹d like to think I made it up entirely, but no doubt it seeped into my brain from elsewhere. Oh yeah, one of the characters in the book I¹m working on now is a Quaker Abolitionist. Let¹s blame him.

SEACOASTNH: How many books have you published so far? Can you still keep track?

PHILBRICK: Not quite forty, I guess, although quite a few of my earlier novels are out of print.

SEACOASTNH: How many for children and how many adventure books for adults?

PHILBRICK: My first fifteen books were adult mysteries and suspense novels. Since then I¹ve probably written two young adult novels for every adult novel, including ten scary kids¹ stories that were a collaboration with my wife and partner, Lynn Harnett. The plan was for that by writing more for kids than adults, the author gets younger and younger, but that doesn¹t seem to be working.

Rod Philbrick and JD Robinson fish the rapid waters of the Piscataqua River / NH Gazette Photo

SEACOASTNH: Freak the Mighty has sold over a million copies for Scholastic Press and is still required reading in schools across the nation, and in other countries as well. Has feedback from young readers and teachers helped you understand why it still resonates with so many readers?

PHILBRICK: The why of it remains something of a mystery to me, and maybe to the readers, too. I certainly never expected it to be part of the curriculum in so many schools.

SEACOASTNH: And now a Freak the Mighty stage play? How is that going?

PHILBRICK: I was never able to find a publisher for the play, which was first produced by my friend Scott Weintraub at Crossroads Academy in Santa Monica. Therefore I decided to offer it free upon request on my website. Most of the teachers who request it use it in the classroom, more or less as a teaching tool for the book, but there have been a number of full-scale school productions, and no complaints so far.

SEACOASTNH: Although the film The Mighty was not a blockbuster, it has been very warmly received and is a solid DVD family rental. How do you feel about the film in retrospect?

PHILBRICK: I think they did a pretty good job, and consider myself lucky that it got made. I¹ve had a number of other novels option and/or developed into screenplays, but so far that¹s the only one that stuck. All movies are a crapshoot, and any author is lucky to be at the table, watching a bunch of other folks throw the dice and spend the money.

SEACOASTNH: Do you write differently since you¹ve had a book turned into a Hollywood film? Are you always thinking cinematically, and if so, does that help or hurt the writing process?

PHILBRICK: I've always been blessed or maybe cursed with a very visual imagination. I have to see a scene before I can write it, and that comes through in the imagery. But no, having Freak The Mighty adapted into a movie didn't change the way I write. I'm an old dog who is still trying to perfect his old tricks.

SEACOASTNH: A number of your books were recently released by publisher Peter Usborne in England and you toured there for 10 days. What was that like?

PHILBRICK: It was very cool, mate. Or rather, very warm. Having visited London a few times, mostly having to do with my adult crime fiction, I was expecting a very reserved reception‹that British literary type you see on PBS of BBC. But the kids, teachers, publishers, bookstore folks, and reporters were without exception enthusiastic and very kind to my wife Lynn and me. They take children's literature very seriously in the UK and Ireland, unlike many of the mainstream reviewers in the US, who assume that childrens¹ books are what you do if you can't write for grownups.

Continue with PHILBRICK interview

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