Geoff Rodkey

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We’re pleased to welcome author Geoff Rodkey to our booth at ALA Midwinter. He’ll be signing copies of his book, Stuck in the Stone Age, which includes tools to help kids write their own fun stories, at Booth #1803. We asked Rodkey about his book, what’s next for him, and how libraries have changed his life.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Stuck in the Stone Age?

Writing a whole novel from an 11-year-old’s six-sentence idea was a fun challenge, and working with the Story Pirates—who’ve been bringing kids’ creative writing to life in Title 1 and other schools for over 15 years—was a real treat. But the most rewarding part was helping put together the Story Creation Zone at the back of the book, which gives aspiring school-age writers a set of simple, fun tools to help them turn their ideas into complete stories. If I’d come across a book like this when I was in sixth grade, it would’ve blown my mind.

What kinds of special creative tips and tools are available in the Stuck in the Stone Age Story Creation Zone to help kids write their own stories?

The core of the Story Creation Zone is a step-by-step guide that breaks down story structure into bite-sized pieces: Who’s your main character? What problem are they facing? Who (or what) is standing in their way? By tackling one piece at a time, kids can build a complete story in just a few steps. There’s also a ton of other useful info, ranging from writing tips that help kids make their stories more colorful to broader overviews of topics like genre and setting. It’s a great resource for any kid (or even adult) who’s interested in creative writing.

How have the debates behind We’re Not from Here affected you personally? When did you know you were ready to write it?

We’re Not from Here is a fish-out-of-water story about a family of human refugees who move to an alien planet and try to assimilate into a society whose leaders are highly suspicious of them simply because they’re humans. It was inspired by my doing school visits in the Midwest in 2015 and encountering Muslim kids at a moment when Islamist terror attacks were headline news—I wanted to write a story that would speak equally to both the innocent kids who are stuck in that situation and the classmates who might be frightened or suspicious of them based on their religious background. While I’ve felt like a fish out of water in many contexts in my life, I’ve never personally faced that kind of group-level suspicion, so I don’t know if I ever got to the point where I was “ready” to write the book…which is probably why I wound up discarding at least two novels’ worth of material to get to the final version. This was a tough book to write.

If extraterrestrials visited our planet, what do you hope they would say?

If they visit and don’t annihilate or enslave us, that probably means they’re not just more technologically advanced, but also more socially evolved than we are. In which case, I’d hope they have some good advice about how to manage our new digital age technologies so we can enjoy the benefits of things like smartphones and social media without all of the attendant pathologies.

How have libraries changed your life?

Libraries have been incredibly important to me at multiple life stages. I grew up in a town that wasn’t big enough to support a bookstore, but we had a beautiful old Carnegie-built public library, and it was my primary source of books as a kid. I can still remember the look and feel of all those Beverly Cleary hardcovers I burned through in the basement children’s section. As a teenager, I wrote a lot about current events for my school newspaper, and at a time when there was no Internet, the periodicals room on the second floor was invaluable for research—I spent hours at a time up there, reading through back issues of old national magazines. Now I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of multiple bookstores, but I still get the majority of my books from the New York Public Library. The hold shelf is like magic—I go on the NYPL web site, click on a book, and a few days later, it miraculously appears on a shelf at my local branch. I’m beyond grateful for that.