Rodman Philbrick, a talented author who lives in Maine, Skyped with one of my eighth grade classes this week. Some of the students, in two of my reading classes, had read The Last Book in the Universe for their literature circle books. Philbrick is also know for many other amazing books, such as Max the Mighty, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, and The Young Man and the Sea. Mr. Philbrick was great interacting with the students and did not get flustered by our technology glitch. He was amazing to speak with and I had many students elated after our session. Students were excited about meeting a well-known published author and having someone who enjoys writing listen to them. I even had a student thank me for setting this up - this was just icing on the cake!
Here are some of the answers to questions my students asked him.
Where did you get the idea for The Last Book in the Universe?
The idea came to me when my editor called and asked if I had any ideas on science fiction stories, as a company was currently paying $1500 for ideas. Lying, I said yes as $1500 is a lot of money. When the publisher proceeded to ask what the idea was I looked over my desk and suddenly the idea for the title just came to me - The Last Book in the Universe. When the publisher began to probe about what it was about I told him that I did not want to give anything away. After hanging up with the publisher I realized I know had to make a story out of the title I stated.
How do you draw your reader in on the first sentence, page, or paragraph (what makes a good hook/lead)?
In the first sentence, chapter, paragraph I want to make a promise to the reader that this is a story that is worth your time. I begin by thinking back to the age group that I am writing for and then I begin to think of my manin idea or theme for the text. By thinking of my theme I can give an overall feeling in that beginning of the story to hopefully make the reader to continue on through the book. I know as I am finishing a chapter that I want the reader to continue reader. Therefore, I leave the endings of the chapters for the reader to want more, to want to turn to the next page.
How many drafts of each piece of writing do you generally go through?
I write everyday, usually about 5 pages on a good day, and the next day I re-write what was written from the day before. I am constantly editing my own work and when I write I assume that the reader is as smart as me. Therefore, I do not continually restate what I have already said from earlier in the book, which makes me do a lot of crossing out as I am editing. I am always hopeful that whatever I am writing it is the best thing that I have ever written, and I have to think this way in order to write well. I am pleased that students are continuing to read his books, such as The Last Book in the Universe, which was published in 2000. I think this really says something about the books.
How long did it take to write The Last Book in the Universe?
As I stated from before, this was originally a short story for a magazine, but after I finished I decided to extend it. It then took me about four to five months to finish this to become a novel.
When writing The Last Book in the Universe was there a general lesson or theme you were trying to have your reader understand?
I know when I was your age I hated books that the teachers used to push on us that had lessons. That is why I write my stories to have the reader just to have fun. I hear a lot today about this book having a Dystopian theme. I have to tell you that when I first heard this word I had to look it up because I did not know what Dystopia meant. When I wrote The Last Book in the Universe there was not talk about Utopia and Dystopia, as there is today because of the Hunger Games novels. So I guess I was a forward thinking about this in some ways, but it truly was not intentional. I know that I borrowed from science fiction movies on some of the ideas, such as mind probes. Really mind probes are to be thought as I guess like a series drug addiction and escape to allow you not to experience life (get away).
What is your favorite genre to write and read?
I like writing about a kid who comes from the wrong side of tracks and then somehow triumphs over some adversity. I believe that I use my personal experiences to build on this. Really, what is most important to me is the character and their development, not the setting. I want the reader to really connect to the characters. I want to stimulate reading for students to not only pick up books that I have written but other books as well- just to have you get out there and read!
I am an avid reader and I usually read mystery or suspense novels. I can invision what is occurring, like a movie when I read these texts and it keeps my mind sharp.
Thank you Mr. Philbrick! I also want to thank my 4th period Reading class- you were great audience members and asked some really good questions!