My Biography

Rodman Philbrick I started writing stories in sixth grade. But writing wasn't cool, like being good at sports, or being part of the in crowd, or winning fights on the playground. It wasn't a "normal" activity, and like most kids that age, I desperately wanted to be "normal." So writing became my secret life.

At the age of sixteen I completed a novel — a book–length series of stories about two characters. The narrator is a boy who admires his best friend, who is a kind of genius, and the gifted friend eventually dies a tragic death. The two buddies hang out in the basement and share a series of adventures. It was rejected. No surprise, actually, because I wasn't like the genius kid I was writing about. The book simply wasn't good enough to be published.

Eleven years after I finished that first novel, I was still unpublished. But I was determined to make my living as an author. So I kept writing. In the meantime, I worked a variety of laboring jobs — longshoreman, carpenter, boatbuilder — and started a couple of businesses that went nowhere. Finally, I found a publisher for my genre novels, which were mostly mysteries and thrillers for grown–ups.

Rodman Philbrick

After I had written more than a dozen adult genre novels, an editor I knew in New York asked me to write a mystery for young adults. I said I wasn't interested; but on my way home to Maine, I heard a voice in my head. It was the voice of Maxwell Kane, and he wanted to tell me the story of his little genius buddy. The voice in my head became Freak the Mighty, and much of it came directly out of the novel I had written as a sixteen year old.

That insistent kid voice in my head has helped me reinvent myself as a writer. That voice is still talking, demanding that I write down his story. It was that voice that made me realize that I do, indeed, have stories to tell for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders — stories about spirited kids who find a way to triumph over adversity.

How do you keep the voice coming? A good memory helps. I vividly remember my sixth–grade classroom. I remember what it smelled like, where I sat, what I could see out the window, and how I felt about things. Peel away my decrepit middle–aged exterior, and an important part of me is still twelve years old. It helps me when I sit down to write stories for kids.

Rodman Philbrick

And here's where the YA author gets the big payoff. If a kid enjoys a book, she or he really enjoys it. Kids read uncritically, in the best sense of the word. They care about how the story makes them feel. If a story makes any impression at all, they write to the author. Let me tell you, those letters are just wonderful. The vast majority of young readers speak to you straight from the heart. I liked this part, it made me laugh. I liked that part, it made me cry. That was the wonderful surprise, the something extra I never expected in my secret life as a writer. Letters from kids I've never met, but who speak to me with a clarity and personality that makes them leap from the page.

I love getting these fresh, wonder–filled messages from kids, and I'm profoundly grateful to the teachers who read my books to their classes, or recommend them. As a writer I'm convinced that encouraging children to write fiction, to hook into that marvelous machine called the imagination, has to be good for everyone. It's good for the teachers who see students bloom into writers under their tutelage. It's good for the kids, who learn that they can work the same kind of magic they find in books. It's good for all of us, because soon these kids are going to emerge as the next generation of authors — and there won't have to be any "secret" about it.

Rodman and Lynn Philbrick Rodman and his wife, Lynn, divide their time between Maine and the Florida Keys. Together they have co–authored a number of spine–tingling books for young adults. Rod's book Freak the Mighty has gone on to win numerous awards, and has been made into a feature film, The Mighty.