Rick Riordan's Blog, page 3

February 19, 2014

<!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:78; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 18 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:78; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 18 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1073743103 0 0 415 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page WordSection1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} </style> --> <div class="MsoNormal"> Especially when I'm busy writing, I find it's very important to read a lot! Below are some of my favorite recent finds:</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Xb1584bAAqY..." imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Xb1584bAAqY..." height="320" width="206" /></a></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">I think this is my favorite book in an excellent trilogy, because the odds are so severely against our anti-hero Jorg. The stakes are high and the plot twists are perfect. Having killed his uncle and secured a small kingdom in the mountains, young Jorg now faces a powerful, charismatic enemy – the Prince of Arrow – who seems destined to unite the Broken Empire. The action jumps back in forth in time, from the siege of Jorg’s capital to several years before, showing us how Jorg traveled the empire and gathered his resources to fight a seemingly impossible battle. We also see part of the story from the viewpoint of Katherine, the woman Jorg wants more than anyone, and the woman he is destined not to have. Though Jorg continues to be the most Machiavellian of protagonists, not hesitating to kill, maim or destroy if it serves his goals, we come to understand him more in this book, and it is impossible not to cheer for him. He is a refreshing, brutal wind, blowing away all the romantic trappings of high fantasy – chivalry, honor, good versus evil, and faith in a higher cause. Sometimes, when you see that white knight riding by with his armor gleaming and his smile flashing, you just want to pull him off his horse and punch him in the face for being too perfect. If you’ve ever had that feeling, Jorg is your man. </div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Wgmf7ZLAY0E..." imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Wgmf7ZLAY0E..." height="320" width="212" /></a></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence.</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br />A wonderful, surprising, and worthy ending to the Thorns trilogy. If you’ve followed Jorg Ancrath through the first two books, it shouldn’t shock you that Jorg does not give you the ending you might expect, but it’s an ending that makes perfect sense. As with the past two volumes, this book jumps around in time, from Jorg’s journey to the seat of the empire to vote for a new emperor, back to his earlier journeys through Hispania and Afrique in search of power and answers. Looming on the horizon is the Dead King, a mysterious force who has raised armies of the dead and bent powerful necromancers to his will. Eventually, Jorg will have to face both the Dead King and the other players in the internal struggle for the throne of the empire. How he manages this . . . well, let’s say he employs his typical Jorgian style and panache. There will be blood. It was hard to say goodbye to Jorg and his story, but I’m anxious to read Lawrence’s future books set in the Broken Empire. Highly recommended.</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FrzUQiWwORA..." imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FrzUQiWwORA..." height="320" width="212" /></a></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">The Twelve, by Justin Cronin.</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">Cronin’s first book in this trilogy, The Passage, received a lot of buzz. The Twelve is the second. The trilogy tells the story of an engineered virus that creates a race of vampires – “Virals” – which almost wipe out humanity. The writing is strong, the characters are sympathetic, the post-apocalyptic world Cronin describes is terrifying and believable. The reader does have to have some patience, as Cronin tells the story in several parts that at first seem only loosely connected. Just when you are completely riveted in the story of the outbreak, he flashes forward seventy-nine years, where you have to learn to care about a whole new set of characters in an entirely different situation. If you can stick with it, though, the parts do create a satisfying coherent whole. I had a little trouble getting into the rhythm with The Passage, but found The Twelve a quick, compelling read, since I was now accustomed to Cronin’s narrative structure. I will certainly be anxious to see how he wraps up his trilogy in the third volume, due out later this year. If you like Stephen King’s The Stand, check out this series.</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Gfyj7mnVXa0..." imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Gfyj7mnVXa0..." height="320" width="213" /></a></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare. </div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">Okay, so I’m far behind the curve on reading this, but I very much enjoyed my introduction to the world of nephilim, Shadowhunters and demons. Clare constructed a vivid, believable parallel world with great characters, punchy dialogue, and a winning mix of humor, pathos and action. I like her take on warlocks, vampires, and werewolves, and of course I’m a big fan or urban fantasy, where these fantastic elements mix into the regular gritty city life of New York. Clary Fray is a sympathetic protagonist, though I was equally drawn to the supporting cast. I especially like that the villains are believably three-dimensional. Even when you do not support them, you understand what motivates them. There is no easy black and white, good and evil dichotomy. I’ll be interested in seeing where the series goes from here, and what Clare does with her Victorian prequel series The Infernal Devices.</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-75fygKInrDY..." imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-75fygKInrDY..." height="320" width="210" /></a></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie. </div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">I’m a big fan of Abercrombie's stark gritty fantasy books for grown-ups. His fiction pulls no punches and takes no prisoners (unless those prisoners are later tortured and executed). So I was curious to see how he would approach the world of young adult fiction in Half a King. The answer: brilliantly. Abercrombie creates a fantasy world that is somewhat neo-Viking, set around the Shattered Sea (the Baltic and North Atlantic?) ages after the elves (21<sup>st</sup> Century man?) shattered god (Blew everything up?) and disappeared. Our protagonist, Yarvi the youngest son of the king of Gettland, was born with a deformed hand in a world that values only able-bodied warriors. He is prepared to spend his life in the Ministry, as a sort of combination priest/physician/royal advisor, but his plans are upended when his father and older brother are both killed in an ambush. Suddenly Yarvi must be king and avenge his family, but very few Gettlanders are prepared to have ‘half a king’ – a weakling with only one good hand. Without giving any spoilers, I can tell you that Yarvi will have to endure many hardships and many adventures before he can find his true destiny. As in all Abercrombie’s books, friends turn out to be enemies, enemies turn out to be friends; the line between good and evil is murky indeed; and nothing goes quite as we expect. Abercrombie also throws in his trademark dark humor and got me to laugh even during some grim scenes. With eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action, Half a King is definitely a <i style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">full </i>adventure. I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of the book. When it’s published in July, be sure to check it out!</div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-9ZJouUymDZY..." imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-9ZJouUymDZY..." height="320" width="208" /></a></div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. </div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div><div class="MsoNormal">Another great fantasy, this novel follows a talented rogue and conman, Locke Lamora, through his adventures in Camorr, a city loosely patterned after Venice, but set in a world where humans have built their society over the ruins of a much older race called the Eldren. Locke rises from an orphaned beggar to become one of the most wanted thieves in the city, and along the way makes some enemies in very high places – the Duke’s head of secret police, ‘the Spider,’ the capa of the city’s underworld (who doesn’t approve of targeting the city’s nobles) and a new player in town, the Gray King, who has his own deadly agenda, along with some unbeatable magic backup. Lynch’s world is so vivid and fully formed that the reader feels as if he’s been dropped into the crowded bazaar in an exotic city and left to find his way out. At first, this can be overwhelming. Everything is different: the days of the week, the gods, the geography, the slang. On top of this, Lynch jumps back and forth in time from Locke Lamora’s past to his present. I confess I got bogged down at the beginning and had to come back to this book several months later. But if you keep going, the payoff is well worth the effort. Give it a hundred pages, and you’ll be hooked. If you like intelligent funny dialogue, clever protagonists facing equally clever antagonists, and vivid original world building, Scott Lynch is your guy. When I got to the end, I immediately ordered the next two books in this series. </div><div class="MsoNormal"><br /></div>
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Published on February 19, 2014 08:02 • 1,490 views

February 14, 2014

As a Valentine's Day treat for my fans, I’m announcing a new short story, “The Staff of Serapis,” that will appear in the paperback of THE MARK OF ATHENA, publishing on April 8. In this adventure, Annabeth encounters more oddities in the subway than usual, including a two-headed monster and a younger blond girl who reminds her a little of herself. . . .

Yes, folks, this is the story you've asked for, in which Annabeth Chase teams up with Sadie Kane. Dang, it was fun to write the dialogue between those two! This story is a follow-up to "The Son of Sobek," in which Carter met Percy. Staff of Serapis is even longer, sixty pages, and I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite!

"But what if I've already bought THE MARK OF ATHENA?" you ask. "Do I have to buy it again just to read this story?"

Well, the story will be released first in the paperback edition, since I wrote it specifically to promote the paperback's release, but fear not. Eventually there will be another way to get "The Staff of Serapis." Just as they did with "The Son of Sobek," Disney will be releasing "The Staff of Serapis" later on as an e-single and audio, read by yours truly. As soon as I have more information about the exact e-release date, I will let you know. As always, this information only applies to the US market, as that's the only country I get info for. I can't say if/when it will be available in other countries and other translations.

Now again, please be aware this is a SHORT STORY. In print, it runs a little over sixty pages, though it packs a lot of adventure into those pages. It's not a full novel, because I have been spending most of my time working on THE BLOOD OF OLYMPUS, and I know you don't want me taking more time away from that project than I absolutely have to! The e-single will be priced accordingly, and I hope you find the adventure worth it!

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Published on February 14, 2014 04:15 • 2,788 views

February 1, 2014

If you missed it, here's a short interview with me that appeared in the Boston Globe.
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Published on February 01, 2014 08:02 • 936 views

January 21, 2014

Kudos to Najmah, a sixth grade fan, who recently did this video on reading for the Charlotte Observer. She talks about The Son of Neptune and how she likes to read in class, even if she sometimes misses what the teacher says. (My bad!) I love what she says at the end, "Books are like the essence of your soul." Keep reading, Najmah!
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Published on January 21, 2014 08:13 • 1,679 views

December 20, 2013

ón. I'd read Zafón actually began his career writing middle grade fantasies. The Prince of Mist was his first book, and it did not disappoint.

The war in Europe plays only a background role in the book, much as it does in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The Carver family decides to leave their urban home in Spain to escape the war. They move to a small beach town which has more than its share of secrets. Young Max discovers that their new family house was owned by a doctor and his wife, whose son drowned many years before. There is a strange walled garden behind the house, filled with creepy statues of circus performers. There is a shipwreck just off the coast, and a strange old man who runs the town lighthouse. The town clock runs backwards. Strange voices whisper in the house. Max and his sister Alicia soon meet a new friend named Roland, whose parents died in a tragic accident when he was small. Together, the three of them begin to unravel the mystery surrounding the town, which is entwined with an evil force from the past -- an entity known as the Prince of Mist.

If you like quick, creepy reads with mystery and menace, The Prince of Mist is for you. It will keep you turning the pages, and probably leaving your lights on, late into the night.

My final foray into World War II territory (for now, anyway) is Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, a young adult novel which really defies description, but I'll try. At its heart, Code Name Verity is the story of two young British women, Maddie and Queenie (or Julie), who undertake a secret mission behind enemy lines in Occupied France in 1943. The novel begins as a confession being written by Queenie while being held as a prisoner of the Gestapo. Clearly, her mission has gone terribly wrong. Queenie has been captured, tortured, and forced to write her story for her interrogators, and while that story is fiercely compelling in itself, the more we read, the more we begin to sense that there is more to Queenie and her mission that we are being told. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that there are games within games being played here. The whole experience for the reader parallels what the characters are feeling. Who is telling the truth? Whom can we trust? Who is an agent, a double-agent, a collaborator, a spy? Wein clearly knows her subject matter, whether it is airplanes (the author is a pilot) or life during World War II. Her characters are so real they leap off the page. Maddie and Julie embody courage, pluck and humor even in the darkest of circumstances. By turns heartrendingly sad and fiercely uplifting, Code Name Verity is the best YA book I've read in a long, long time. If you like historical fiction, or spy thrillers, or just books that constantly surprise you with, "OH MY GOD, THAT'S WHAT'S GOING ON???" moments, you should really read this. (I include both versions of the US cover, as it has changed. Which do you like best?)

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Published on December 20, 2013 09:19 • 970 views

December 9, 2013

Thrilled that The House of Hades won the 2013 GoodReads Choice Award in the Middle Grade category! Thank you to everyone who voted!
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Published on December 09, 2013 14:22 • 957 views

December 8, 2013

A few notes on getting published, for what it’s worth, expanding on some of the tweets I offered yesterday morning. Much of this I’ve said before, either on the blog or on my website, but many aspiring writers are interested in figuring out the enigma of getting published, and I don’t blame them.

I don’t offer these ideas to burst bubbles or discourage, but I think it’s always best to have a clear picture of what you are dealing with.

The assumption:

The main reason I’m not getting published is because I don’t have a foot in the door. If only I knew an agent or an editor or someone important to give my manuscript the attention it deserves, I would get published.

My take on it:

Connections, at best, might get you a slightly longer and more polite ‘no.’ They help much less than you might imagine.

The first time I got published, my only connection was a local novelist whose six-week writing course I had taken. I paid her to line-edit my first manuscript, which was very helpful, and which anyone can do if you’re willing to pony up the time and money. Most communities have adult education classes in creative writing at local colleges or high schools.

At any rate, when the time came to query agents, I asked permission to use my teacher’s name, then wrote in my query letter that so-and-so, author of x novel, suggested I contact this agency. Did this help? It’s hard to know. I got many, many rejections from agents. The agent who eventually accepted me as a client had never heard of the novelist who recommended me. She just liked the premise of my book. After I got an agent, she shopped it around and got rejections from thirteen publishers before one said yes. I considered myself lucky. My first manuscript was published! That’s better than many aspiring writers manage, but I certainly had no inside track.

The second time I launched a series, Percy Jackson, I still used no connections. I intentionally sent out The Lightning Thief anonymously, under the pseudonym Ransom Reese. I wanted the manuscript to sink or swim on its own, without relying on the people I knew in the business (though honestly, I didn’t think those connections would make a difference either way). The result? Lots more rejections from agents. One agent liked the premise enough to give it a shot. She had better luck with the publishing houses than I had the first time around, but it had nothing to do with who I was or the people I knew. It was all about the book.

No agent or editor will say ‘yes’ to you simply because they know you and think you’re a nice person. Publishing is a business – a bizarre, sometimes maddeningly convoluted business, but a business. If an editor takes a risk on a novel, his or her job is on the line. The editor has to love the manuscript and believe it will sell. Whether or not you have a personal connection is irrelevant. In fact, I’d venture to guess the submissions that editors dread most are from people they know. It makes it awkward to say no, but ‘no’ they will say, unless the novel is dynamite.

Similarly, agents have to make money by representing books that sell. They build their reputations by finding new authors who turn out to be successful. Whether or not they know you -- that means nothing. I recently spoke with an agent about writers’ conferences. Often I will encourage aspiring writers to go to such conferences, where you can listen to editors and agents speak about the business, schmooze with publishing industry types, and practice making your pitch. I asked this agent if meeting an author in person affected her decision to represent them.

The answer: no. At best, a personal meeting will assure that she would agree to look at the query letter and sample chapters (which she would do with any project that intrigued her). But if the idea or the writing did not ‘wow’ her immediately, she would reject the project just as fast. I then asked how many new clients she had found at writers’ conferences, since she had attended dozens. She looked rather sheepish. “None. Not one.”

My point: no number of connections will get a bad first novel published.

The flipside to this may seem radical: A good novel will find an outlet one way or another, whether you know someone or not.

Yes, agents and editors say no 99% of the time. But remember they are actively looking for great writing. That’s the whole point. They would be in heaven if every novel that came to them read like The Next Big Thing, or even just a moving novel with quiet appeal. The sad fact is (and every editor and agent I’ve ever spoken to will quietly confirm this) most submissions they get are nowhere near publishable. The writing is clunky and garbled, showing a poor command of grammar and style. The ideas are tired and cliché.

I hear the embittered writers out there, because I used to be one of you. You’re thinking, “Ha! That description sounds like the last bestseller by X #1 New York Times novelist I read.” Sure, we’ve all read successful books and wondered how they got published. Taste is purely subjective, right? “Why, I could write better than this!” we confidently declared. Easier said than written.

Even mainstream or genre blockbusters, so easily dissed, have some quality that made them successful in the first place. The pacing is good. The plot has twists that no one else has quite mastered. The settings and characters are memorable. Most of all, there is a certain level of technical competence to the writing. Even if he or she isn’t Shakespeare, the writer knows how to craft readable prose. This is no small feat, nor is it something that every (or even most) aspiring writers can do.

When an agent comes across a novel that reads like . . . well, a real novel, it is a rare and joyful event. The agent will not care if they know you. They won’t care if you are twelve years old or ninety years old. They will get on the phone and offer to represent you.

Which raises the awkward question: “Um,” you say, “but my manuscript is amazing and awesome and I write so well! Why have all these agents said no to me?”

Explanation 1:

It’s possible you are writing a book that the publishing industry would find difficult to sell. If the editor doesn’t see an audience for your story, he or she will most likely say no. A story about your grandmother’s struggle as a waitress in Louisiana in World War II? Well . . . aside from your immediate family and/or waitresses in Louisiana, who will want to read this? Maybe they will! Maybe you’ve managed to elevate family history into an art form, touching on the human condition in such a way that it will leave readers everywhere in tears. But the market is flooded with memoires that simply didn’t catch on. Everyone thinks they have a family story that the general public is dying to read, just like people so often think their guests are dying to see their pictures from their recent trip to the Grand Canyon. Most of the time – not so much. We are not interested in your story just because it’s your story. We are only interested if you somehow find a way to make it our story.

In a similar vein, if you write Cyberpunk zombie novels set on Mars and involving dinosaurs, the publisher may have a hard time marketing such a novel. (Hmm, actually it sounds pretty good to me!) These niche markets are small and difficult, unless again you somehow manage to make the story appeal to a broader range of people.

Explanation 2:

Taste is somewhat subjective. We all know that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels were rejected by numerous publishers. In retrospect, I’m sure those editors feel like idiots. Some publishers rejected The Lightning Thief, too. The less said about them, the better! But to be fair, editors have to go with their guts. They have to feel a strong connection with the novel in order to accept it. Once an editor acquires a book, they must defend it to everyone in the company. They have to represent it to the sales and marketing team. They have to fight to get the book a proper cover and a proper marketing budget. Most of all, they have to fight to even get the other people in the company to read it and be excited about it. You can’t do this unless you are wild about the book. Sometimes, books are simply sent to the wrong agents or editors.

To solve this, be very careful when submitting your work. If you write romance, make sure you are only sending to agents who love romance. If you write books somewhat similar to X author or Y author, find out who represents those authors and try those agents. If nothing else, this shows the agent in question that you have done your homework. Agents, in turn, try to be careful about which editors they submit manuscripts to, but they aren’t always right or successful.

So what if you target your submissions carefully, and still the agents and editors are ignoring you? Is this because you are so far ahead of your time, so avant-garde and original that no one recognizes your true genius? Well, maybe. Or maybe . . .

Explanation 3:

That well-written, brilliant manuscript of yours? Uh . . . how to say this. It’s not as well written or brilliant as you think it is.

It is exceedingly hard, nigh impossible, to be objective about our own work. You have to believe in yourself and your own talent. You have to have a thick skin and persevere in the face of rejection. But you also have to listen to criticism if that criticism seems well founded. If twenty different agents have told you ‘no,’ something is wrong, and it’s probably not with the publishing industry for failing to acknowledge your brilliance. For some reason, your query letter isn’t getting their interest. Your sample chapters are not grabbing them.

It may be (I cover my head to avoid bottles thrown at my face) your writing simply isn’t there yet, and/or you haven’t found the novel you need to write.

I said earlier that my first novel-length manuscript was accepted for publication, and that’s true. But that wasn’t the first thing I wrote. I started writing short stories when I was thirteen. For years, I submitted stories to magazines and collected rejection notes. I would dabble with manuscripts only to give up halfway through. The truth was, I wanted to get published, but I had nothing much to say, nor did I practice writing enough to say things well.

It’s a Zen thing. You have to forget you want to be published in order to get published. At least, that’s how it worked for me. I went into teaching. I kept writing just for fun. Then, one day, the story I needed to write came to me. I was homesick for my native city of San Antonio. I’d been reading a ton of private eye novels. I decided to ‘visit home’ by writing a detective novel set in San Antonio. Suddenly, all these disparate things came together – my pleasure reading, my writing, my knowledge base, my yearning for home. And ka-bam. As I wrote Big Red Tequila, I knew it would be my first published book. It just felt different from anything else I had ever written. It grabbed me. It compelled me to write. It wasn’t something I could fake or force. It simply happened.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a lot of hard work. I went through a full two years of edits, and it was still rejected many times.

After it was published, it did only modestly well. A private eye novel set in San Antonio didn’t appeal to a vast audience. I kept my day job. I gnashed my teeth at the unfairness of the publishing world. Why wouldn’t more people read my work? Why wouldn’t the publisher promote me better?

But in truth, I still hadn’t arrived. I was publishable, but I wasn’t yet good enough at my trade to be truly successful. That took another ten years. Finally, another novel grabbed me. The Lightning Thief combined all my skills at writing, all my years teaching middle school, and my desire to tell a story for my son that would keep him interested in school at a time when he was really struggling with ADHD and dyslexia. The ingredients all came together, and I was ready and skilled enough to capitalize on them. Finally, I managed to create a story that appealed to a lot of people.

Looking back, I see now that the only variable I could control – and the only one that mattered – was my own craft. Connections did not matter. Perseverance did. Practice did. And learning to accept that maybe, just maybe, I still had a lot to learn about writing. I still do, for that matter.

I firmly believe that quality will be recognized. It may not be immediate. It may not be through the channels you expected, or in the way you expected. But if you truly have a wonderful manuscript, it will find a publisher. It will find an audience.

You do have to accept, however, that sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes the manuscript you have written is not, ultimately, the manuscript that will make you successful. I needed seventeen years to get published, and ten more years before I could become a full-time writer. Maybe your quest will be shorter than mine. I hope so! However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the world of publishing is against you. Publishers very much want to find new, exciting novelists and make them famous and filthy rich. But that requires a brilliant compelling book. Sometimes we convince ourselves, “Hey, I’m that guy! I’m brilliant and compelling!” But maybe we’re not – at least, not yet.

One thing I’ve discovered. People who believe they are awesome and wonderful at their profession are often . . . not. People who have more self-doubt, who question themselves and are always examining what they did wrong and how they might do better – those folks are often better than they think they are, and they are much more likely to improve. It’s a difficult balance, between self-confidence and self-reflection. No wonder writers are a little barmy. But it is an important balance to strike.

So What’s the Secret Formula?

There isn’t one. There is no shortcut or path to success that will circumvent years of hard work and uncertainty.

So many times, aspiring writers have asked me to lunch to ‘pick my brain.’ They have the impression that I have some secret knowledge to impart. Some of my magic will rub off. If I just put in a good word with the agent, or read their book and gave them a blurb, their career would be made!

Sadly, I have no magic. I don’t know anything you don’t know. I just have more practice banging my head against the wall of the publishing industry, wringing my hands, and staring at blank screens. You can have this wonderful experience, too!

Blurbs – those little quotes on the covers of books – help very little if at all. I’ve been blurbed by wonderful authors. I’ve blurbed many other authors. I have yet to see any evidence it affects sales at all. In fact I recently came across a novel blurbed by none other than J.K. Rowling. A dream endorsement! The novel was one I’d never heard of. It was languishing in the bargain bin. No one, not even the Mother of Wizards herself, can wave a magic wand and make you a success.

“So, yeah!” you are saying. “Great pep talk! Thanks a lot, Riordan!”

But in a way, this knowledge can be reassuring. You aren’t missing anything. There is no secret being hidden from you. You are not being rejected because you missed a meeting of the Secret Society of Successful People. You do not need to know a publisher or an agent or Rick Riordan to get your novel published. You just need to labor long and hard, like all the rest of us, until you build your chops, pay your dues, and find the novel you need to write.

It’s human nature to look for shortcuts and easy answers. The twenty-billion-dollar diet industry is counting on this! Everybody wants to believe a secret food or pill or no-pain program will make you healthy and attractive. Nobody wants to hear the truth – eat less, exercise a lot – because that’s hard.

Writing is the same way. Like dieting, it is something many people talk about doing, many people try to do, and very few will succeed at. Like the weight loss industry, the creative writing industry will try to sell you all sorts of secrets and tricks and special insider knowledge. The truth is a lot less appealing and glamorous. Writing is hard. Not everyone can do it. It requires a combination of innate talent and lots and lots of practice and endurance. It also requires the right story, and publishing that story at the right time.

Most people will not get published. Most people who do get published will never make a living at it. These are simply facts. But your chance is as good as anyone else’s – assuming you have the talent and the story and the drive to put in the hours, days, years to hone your skill. It doesn’t matter who you know or what writers’ group you belong to. It doesn’t matter where you got your degree, or if you even have a degree.

So forget about shortcuts and magic coattails. Forget about meeting so-and-so, who might introduce you to so-and-so. It’s all about the quality of your book. Now get out there and make a quality book.

Oh, right . . . I knew there was something I was supposed to be doing.
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Published on December 08, 2013 06:37 • 1,547 views

November 27, 2013

Ah, 'tis the season!

My mom found this old Christmas list I made when I was twelve years old . . .

So what was the discerning middle school boy hoping for in 1976? A schist-ton of Legos, apparently. I also wanted a Telstar, which was the cutting edge equivalent of the XBox One, capable of playing three (COUNT THEM, THREE!) different versions of Pong. Yeah, that'll keep you busy for several minutes.

I also wanted a strobe light, because those things were WAY groovy. And a hammock, and a warm hat. I'm not sure if I intended to use all those things at the same time. Glad to report some books actually made it on to my list, as well -- the Chronicles of Narnia.


Looking at this list, it seems an appropriate time to think about what I'm grateful for. Not just the loot I got as a kid, but the fact that I had parents who got me through a very tough time. Middle school was horrible for me, but I had support at home, and support from a few great teachers. These were the years when I learned to escape from reality by reading and building my own fantasy worlds. From a reluctant reader, I became an avid fan of sword & sorcery books, and then began writing my own stories.  Somehow, in the blinking of the strobe light and the beep-beep of Pong, amidst piles of Legos, a young writer was born, wearing a warm hat.

Fast forward to the present, I am even more grateful for all the blessings in my life. I get to write stories for a living. I have a wonderful family. We live in a beautiful city. I have the best readers in the world -- clever, funny, enthusiastic fans who (if I may say so) also have excellent taste!

My Christmas list these days would just say, "I'M GOOD. THANKS." Because honestly, I couldn't ask for more. For those celebrating the U.S. Thanksgiving, I hope you have a great turkey day, and please know that I'm thankful to have you as readers!

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Published on November 27, 2013 05:40 • 1,932 views

November 14, 2013

A quick update on Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, my collection of original Greek myths told from Percy Jackson's point of view. The US release date has been set for Tuesday, August 19, the day after Percy's birthday! Book releases are always slated for Tuesdays, for sales and marketing reasons I do not pretend to understand, so that's the closest date we could make it. No word on release dates in other countries yet. I don't usually get that information, but if I do, I will let you know.

Anyway, what a great way to celebrate Percy's birthday! Mark your calendars. Plan your blue cake and ice cream celebrations, and get ready for over four hundred pages of Percy telling you all the stories about the major gods in his own sarcastic and irreverent way. The book is filled with full-color illustrations by John Rocco, and the ones I've seen so far are AMAZING.

As if you needed another reason to look forward to summer, right?

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Published on November 14, 2013 08:34 • 3,563 views

October 25, 2013

Last month I had the opportunity to chat via email with my friend and colleague Jonathan Stroud on the occasion of his newest publication: Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase. If you haven't yet picked up a copy, do so immediately. It's brilliant. 
Below is the interview in full. I had so much fun talking with Jonathan. It's not often I get to compare notes with another writer about how the creative writing process works. I hope you enjoy!
Rick Riordan/Jonathan Stroud       Q&A  
Jonathan: Hi Rick. Well, it’s a real joy to have this conversation with you. I saw you give a terrific speech at the US Book Expo earlier this summer, and I really regretted not having a chance to chat with you then. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I find about being a writer is that it’s a pretty hectic business. If we’re not zooming about doing events, we’re back at home, chained to our desks by our cruel editors and scribbling hard. In short, the opportunities to sit down and chew the fat with fellow authors are fairly few and far between. Whenever I do get the chance to hear another writer speak about their craft, I always find it fascinating, so I’m hopping with delight at the prospect of getting some fantastic insights (no pressure) from the author of Percy Jackson.
Rick: Thanks, Jonathan! Great to talk with you. I’m not sure I’ve ever told you this, but back in 2003, while I was writing The Lightning Thief, I walked into my local bookstore and saw The Amulet of Samarkand prominently displayed. I bought it immediately and loved it. I noticed Miramax (Disney-Hyperion) was your American publisher, and I was so impressed that they would publish such great fantasy I ended up choosing them at auction to publish Percy Jackson. I’ve never regretted it!
Jonathan: Okay, so the first thing I’d like to know is pretty simple. Tell me about your working day. I once met a distinguished fantasy author who said that she only ever wrote when the muse took her. She claimed she never just sat down and worked at it. I’ve got to say that I was sceptical: for me the muse is secondary to the importance of just keeping my backside in my chair for a certain number of hours each day. What about you? Are you the kind of guy who likes a settled routine, who starts and finishes his writing at regular hours, and who enjoys a cup of coffee at the same time every morning? Or are you more instinctive, going with the flow when the fires burn hot?
Rick: I wish I were a creature of habit. I really do. It might make my work schedule more predictable. Unfortunately I have yet to discover what a ‘typical’ writing day looks like for me. I try to write every day. That’s about as much as I can tell you. Sometimes that means fifteen minutes. Sometimes it means fifteen hours. That’s not to say I have no system or that I wait for inspiration to strike. My method for creating a book over the course of a year is more or less consistent. In the early stages of a manuscript, I spend a couple of months researching and outlining and just thinking about the scenes I want to create. That’s fairly light work, so I’m not at my desk all day. Once I get into the first draft, I’ll spend four or five hours a day writing, though again that varies widely. I’m much too ADHD to sit at my desk for five hours straight. I’m a ‘hit and run’ writer. I’ll write a few pages, get up and do some chores, take the dog for a walk, and come back later. When I get into the second and third drafts, the work gets real. That’s when I get laser-focused and can spend ten to fifteen hours at a time polishing and tweaking.
Now a question back to you: Have you found that your writing process has evolved over the years? I have yet to find the perfect system, or even a system that makes writing less painful and difficult, but certainly I’ve changed the way I operate drastically since I wrote my first novel. What about you?
Jonathan: I’d like to claim that I’m getting more efficient at writing novels, but it certainly doesn’t always feel that way! Like you, I tend to spend the early stages of a project writing notes, doing research, pondering different structures. I think of this as the ‘cappuccino stage’ because it slightly lends itself to that cliché of the writer (probably wearing a black roll-neck sweater or cravat or something) hanging around cafés, scribbling casually in notebooks. For me, this stage tends to merge into a sort of ‘phoney war’ phase, where I write quite a few random scenes, testing the waters, seeing which characters or concepts ignite. Then I start to put the first draft together in earnest. I always feel that it would be better to skip the phoney war bit altogether and just get on with things, but somehow I never seem to quite manage it. But I do think I’m slowly getting better at recognising quickly what does and doesn’t work, and I’m much more ruthless than I used to be at tossing aside ideas that fail. For me everything ultimately revolves around a pretty intensive few months when I’m constructing the first draft. During this phase I’ll aim for (and generally fail to achieve) 25 pages a week: the more momentum I can get, the better the results tend to be.
That whole ‘inspiration versus routine’ thing we discussed earlier is at the heart of my next question too. One thing that I’m really fascinated by, because it gives me continual problems, is how other writers balance plot and improvisation. For me there’s an endless tension between the side of my brain that wants to order things and create lovely neat chapter plans in advance, and the side that wants to freewheel into scenes, just letting my characters chat or bicker, and seeing where that takes me. Many of the things I’m proudest of in my books (silly jokes, rich details) appear unexpectedly as I write, and quite often they alter the whole direction of the story, which irritates the ‘orderly’ side of my brain no end! I end up sort of zigzagging between these opposites, frantically rigging up possible new structures before being carried off again on a slightly variant path. How does it work for you? Do you draw up detailed plans at the outset of each novel and then stick to them, or do you find yourself veering off course?
Rick: I can relate to that dilemma. And you have those fabulous footnotes from Bartimaeus pulling you in different directions, too! I outline each book beforehand, knowing full well that I won’t completely stick to the plan. My outlines are loose, which helps. I usually sketch out a paragraph for each chapter with the basic ingredients: location, characters involved, and which mythological monster or situation they will face. Location is very important to me. As my books tend to be geographic odysseys, I spend a lot of time thinking about where to take my characters and how that locale will affect the action. The details of each chapter, however, develop organically, and with every book, the plot takes turns I didn’t expect. That’s okay with me. In fact it’s one of the joys of writing. When all the elements come together, it’s like alchemy – creating something that somehow is greater than the sum of its parts.
Did you have some of those “Aha!” moments when you were writing Lockwood & Co.? I imagine you must have. It’s such a vibrant world you’ve created. Did any pieces click together even better than you’d hoped, or did anything about Lucy’s world develop in a way you didn’t expect?
Jonathan: You’re so right about the wondrous alchemy of writing. I love those days where you unexpectedly strike gold. It could be just a couple of great lines: that’s all you need to make everything feel worthwhile.
I think the ‘Aha’ moments tend to strike most often when you put two characters together and just let them talk. I bet you’ve had that when you got Percy bantering with Annabeth, say, or when he faces off against one or other of the gods. For me, Lockwood & Co ignited with my two young paranormal investigators just standing on the doorstep of a haunted house, having a conversation. They bicker gently, name-drop ghosts they’ve fought, try to mask their rising tension with a few jokes. Those couple of pages were enough to get me excited: I immediately wanted to find out more. For a long while I didn’t have a clue how this world actually worked, though, and I had to write quite a few scenes to help figure it out. Sometimes (for example a chapter where Lucy has various awful interviews with other paranormal agencies) they didn’t end up featuring in the book itself, but they were essential to make the world more concrete in my mind.
One of the great delights of your universe is the lovely fusion of the modern world with the mythic (I still chuckle at the fact that you get to the Underworld via Los Angeles!). When I was a kid I liked nothing better than reading about entirely invented fantasy lands, preferably brought to life with sprawling Tolkienesque maps. These days, though, and certainly as a writer, I’ve found that I instinctively prefer fantasy that keeps one foot in the real world. Somehow it makes the magical stuff more memorable and meaningful if it’s anchored in the everyday (and vice versa). In many ways Percy J himself – half ordinary kid, half most certainly not – symbolises this division perfectly. In my Bartimaeus books, Nathaniel and Bart are opposites driven together too. Anyway, were you a big fantasy fan, growing up? (I’m guessing so!) And have you also felt the same slight shift in emphasis over the years – the need to keep in touch with ordinary things?
Rick: The rise of ‘urban fantasy’ is a fascinating subject. That’s one of things I love about your work, too. The Bartimaeus books are set in London, and yet that familiar landscape is rendered into something much more fantastical. I’ll never look at Westminster Abbey the same way again. In your new series Lockwood & Co., we’re clearly in modern England, but then again, we’re not. Ghosts run rampant and children with rapiers patrol the haunted streets. I love the juxtaposition of familiar and strange.
Like you, I grew up with high fantasy. I had Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth taped to my bedroom wall. I would spend hours drawing my own maps of fantasy worlds. But when it came time to write Percy Jackson, I instinctively set it in modern Manhattan. I liked the idea of updating Greek mythology for a modern audience. The old stories are just so . . . well, old.I wanted to find a way to make them seem fresh and relevant for an audience of kids who find anything from before last month to be ancient history. I suppose the idea of fantasy set in the ‘real world’ isn’t new. We have Lucy slipping into the wardrobe during World War II. We’ve got Wendy Darling flying out of her Victorian bedroom to Never Never Land. One of the first modern urban fantasies I read was Little, Big by John Crowley and it blew my mind. Still, I agree that urban fantasy seems to be the new normal. I’m not sure why that is, but I agree it’s probably the appeal of opposites attracting. A Minotaur destroying a Cretan maze? Yawn. A Minotaur destroying the Brooklyn Bridge? Now that’s interesting!
I’m curious, too, about how you chose the setting for Lockwood & Co. Chronologically, it seems a fascinating mix of modern and Victorian, and the haunted Britain you’ve conjured up is a wonderfully creepy place. For you, how did developing this world compare to, say, the world of Heroes of the Valley, or the Bartimaeus books?
Jonathan: For me, figuring out how a new world works is one of the real highlights of the job. It’s so crucial too: I think one of the ironies of writing good fantasy is that it has to abide by its own laws – it must make sense under its own terms. These background rules take time to develop: I was still uncovering new secrets of Bartimaeus’s and Nathaniel’s worlds when writing the third book in that series, and there are plenty of things about Lockwood’s London that I don’t yet fully understand (don’t tell my editors this). With Heroes I was pretty sure from the outset that I wanted something set in a sort-of Viking age, but Lockwood’s exact period was more taxing. Should it be modern or Victorian? In the end I decided it was essentially modern (trainers, jeans, TVs), but set in a world without today’s zippy telecommunications (ie. no cell-phones for getting you out of a tight spot). Oh, and with a raging epidemic of ghosts. That’s enough to get me leaping out of bed in the mornings.
Both of us write extended series of books, and both of us benefit from the fun to be had with developing an extended universe across several titles. I’m wise to those possibilities now, but with The Amulet of Samarkand, I was a good sixty pages or so into the story before I realised that I simply had too many characters, plot threads and perspectives to cram into one book. I had to stop, sit back, and rework the concept into a trilogy before I could continue. What about you? When you were writing Lightning Thief, at what point did you know that it was the start of something so epic?
Rick: Well, as a reader, I’m certainly glad you continued beyond one book! I’ve always preferred reading series, whether detective fiction or fantasy or science fiction. I feel somewhat cheated if I invest my time getting to know the characters and the carefully crafted world in a novel, and then I’m never allowed to visit again. So for me, there was never any doubt Percy Jackson would be a series. That’s simply my default setting. The only question was how many books I would write. Because I like series, I do have to think long and hard about which projects to tackle next, because I won’t be committing to just one novel. I’ll be spending 3-5 years creating a multi-book arc.
And what about Lockwood & Co.? Do you have a definite number of books in mind for Lucy and the gang, or do you let the greater story arc develop organically as you go?
Jonathan: I’m currently thinking at least four books for Lockwood, possibly five. I’ve got the story arc scribbled down on the equivalent of the back of napkin: just a raw sentence or two for each book. The details of each one remain completely open at this stage – they’ll develop organically as I go. I know exactly what you mean about the pleasure of reading a great series, by the way: you can just immerse yourself in what the writer’s created for you. There’s a lovely sense of generosity about the whole experience.
I’m looping back into the mists of time for this question. I’d like to know how it all began for you. When I was a kid I was always scribbling something – comics, stories, games, drawings – and as the long-suffering audiences who’ve come to my events will know, I’ve still got the tattered originals to prove it. Looking back on it, I clearly always had the itch to write, but I didn’t fully appreciate this until my mid-20s, when I got my first books published. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think your path was always mapped out? Have you always been a writer, even when you were officially doing other things?
Rick: I knew early on that I wanted to write, from about age twelve. I would design my own comic books and sketch ideas for fantasy series. I drew maps, too, although sadly I have no artistic talent whatsoever. Most of my stories were bad knock-offs of Lord of the Rings. I guess today we’d call it ‘fan fiction.’ Back then it was just, ‘I don’t have any original ideas so I’ll just use that guy’s!’ Still, it did teach me a lot about writing. I was also an avid player of Dungeons and Dragons. Laugh if you will, but my years as a dungeon master taught me a lot about crafting a story and keeping the elements of a fantasy novel in check without letting the magical overcome the realistic. Or at least, so I like to hope . . .
Still, I had the urge to be a writer long before I had anything worthwhile to say. I had to forget I wanted to get published and simply practice my craft until the right story came along. Then, when the time was right and the story was right, I found my first novel. It was a reassuringly ‘Zen’ experience.
I’ve noticed that visual art is important for you. It’s one of the trademarks of your presentations, and during the years when I was touring the UK, I would often see mementos of your visits at schools and libraries. As someone who can barely draw stick figures, I’m envious! How did you get interested in visual art as a medium, and have you ever dabbled in the world of graphic novels?
Jonathan: Wow, it’s interesting that you were into comics and role-playing games too as a kid. I’ve met quite a few other authors who were also. It reinforces my feeling that there are no hard and fast boundaries between books and other types of creative expression. As a child you move seamlessly from one medium to another, and it’s maybe only chance that dictates which one you end up doing. I tried D&D too, but could never quite get my head round the rules (or those multi-sided dice!). I ended up spending most of my time trying to create my own games. But I totally agree with you: games-design is greatpractise for a budding author. It’s got that essential mix of improvisation and structural control.
As for the art, you’re a bit overly generous about my talents! I guess I’ve always liked to sketch and do cartoons, and I think an awful lot of kids (including ones who won’t be massively into reading) enjoy it too. So I like to mix it up, and bring that element into my events wherever possible. Good cover art’s essential for a successful book, after all, so it just gives us another element to discuss. Graphic novels still interest me too. I helped collaborate on a graphic version of Amulet a few years back, and that was a wonderful experience. It was fascinating to see how the story could be successfully transferred to another medium – altered a little, but still remaining true to the essence of the book.
Influences now. I don’t mean literary – I guess that you, like me, will have read countless writers who inspired you in different ways over the years. I’m just wondering if there were any key people in your life who strongly influenced your writing, or the fact that you ended up writing at all. I had a marvellous teacher, Mr Bill Bowen, who got me standing up in front of the school, reading out my stories, when I was about 10: he, I think, gave me the confidence that I could write. There was also the Canadian writer, Douglas Hill, who wrote a terrific sci-fi series, The Last Legionary Quartet, in the late 70s: he visited my school and so entranced me that I actually sent him one of my little books. He wrote back a very kind and encouraging letter, which I’ve never forgotten. Not least, there’s my wife, Gina, who got fed up with me moaning about not having time enough to write, and told me to give up my job to make a go of it, which I’ve been doing ever since. They’re all on my list. Who would be on yours?
Rick: My parents were both teachers, and they both spent a lot of time reading to me. Their influence on my life choices – to teach and write – is hard to overestimate. When I was thirteen, I had a great English teacher Mrs. Pabst who encouraged me to send a story I’d written to a magazine. It was rejected, but that started me on the long path to becoming a writer. I firmly believe that one good teacher can change the course of a life. For me, that teacher was Mrs. Pabst. I became a middle school teacher, and later a writer, largely because of her.
A related question: you mentioned Douglas Hill’s visit to your school and how influential that was. Now that youare the visiting author, you have certainly affected the lives of many young readers and future authors. Does one encounter – either in person or by correspondence – stand out for you?
Jonathan: Curiously enough, one of the most memorable for me was an encounter with an adult reader. At an event in the USA, I met a soldier on leave from service in Afghanistan. He described a little of his experiences, and the (to me unimaginable) things he’d seen. He then said that reading my Bartimaeus books had given him a nightly respite, a few precious moments of escape. As he left, he told me he had another tour of duty starting a few days later. All my encounters with my readers affect me deeply, but meeting that guy left me particularly humbled and overwhelmed.
A careers question now! Before becoming a full-time writer I was an editor of children’s books. I never actually edited fiction – I was doing puzzle-books and non-fiction, mainly – but it taught me a bit about plonking words on paper. Best of all, it’s made me more relaxed about the whole editing process – the fact that lots of revisions and rewrites may be needed before the problems of a book are solved. So my old job has stood me in good stead. What about you? What aspects of being a teacher do you think have been most important in shaping your other career?
Rick: I never considered my teaching career as on-the-job training for writing, but in retrospect it was just that. Everything I know about the middle grade sensibility came from my fifteen years in the classroom. I learned how to keep things interesting, how to enliven dry subjects, how to use humor and sarcasm and modern references to appeal to my students. When I wrote The Lightning Thief, I imagined myself reading it to my own students after lunch, when their attention span was shortest. I wanted my book to be able to survive in the trenches of middle school, and to reach even those kids (especially those kids) who were not normally big readers.
And you? If you had been a student in my classroom, what would you’ve have been like? Were you the studious kid in the front row, or the daydreamer in the back, or something else entirely?
Jonathan: I’d have been sitting somewhere near the front, pretty studious, no real trouble, although you might have got annoyed at the amount of time I spent doing weird doodles in my rough book, or putting on silly voices with my desk-mate, Sam. I only once got a detention. Our maths teacher couldn’t keep control, and there was generally bedlam in his lessons. One day I was innocently getting on with my work, when someone chucked a large and soggy piece of bun – splat! – onto my maths book. I picked it up and furiously hurled it away over my shoulder… What can I say? It hit the teacher. When he asked who did it, dozens of fingers pointed right at me. Off to detention I had to go.
Okay, last question! I know that the Percy stories started out as tales that you told your son, Haley. When you gave your Book Expo talk, you spoke hilariously about many of the great letters you’d received from kids, and also the advice and encouragement your pupils gave you when you were starting out on Lightning Thief. So it sounds as if your audience was right there, all around you (it must have been thrilling, both for them and for you). But were you also writing for yourself, or for the child you’d been? Who are you writing for now? 
Rick: When I was a teacher, I used to say that I had to make the class fun for myself or there was no way the kids would enjoy it. The same is true of writing. I have to believe in the story I’m telling. I have to chuckle once in a while at my own stupid jokes. I have to have fun with the characters and the incredible situations. Yes, absolutely I’m trying to write books that I would’ve enjoyed as a child. Back in the 70s, I had a hunger for better entertainment. The cartoons were mostly rubbish. The fantasy novels were mostly bad imitations of Tolkien. The movies weren’t that great (until Star Wars came along) and the video games . . . well, Pongwill only take you so far. That hunger led me to create my own entertainment. I’m trying to write books that I wish I had in the 1970s but could never find.
Happily, we seem to be in the middle of a Renaissance of children’s literature. Is that your impression? Do you try to keep up with other YA/middle grade fiction, and if so, have you found any true gems recently?
Jonathan: You’re right, there’s SO much great stuff out there. It seems to me that there’s a wealth of good choices for everybody now, no matter what kind of books you enjoy. I try to keep up with my reading, but if the pile by my bed’s anything to go by, I usually seem to be a year or two behind. What have I really loved recently? Jack Gantos’s Dead End in Norvelt, which is a wonderful mix of comic characterisation, social observation and keen historical sense. Come to think of it, Gary D Schmidt’s terrific Okay for Now had the same virtues, so maybe it’s an American thing… Anyway, both books left me smiling enviously.
Phew! That’s it! Being an interviewer is an exhausting business! I had a lot of fun asking the questions, Rick, and I hope you enjoyed them too.
Rick: Thanks, Jonathan. Keep up the ghostly goodness with Lockwood & Co. This reader is anxious for more!
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Published on October 25, 2013 05:33 • 1,353 views