Rick Riordan is a very busy man. Last week saw the release of The Lost Hero, the first book in his new series, The Heroes of Olympus, and he’s currently on a 12 city tour to promote the book and meet his readers. Then there’s the upcoming release of the graphic novel version of his book, The Lightning Thief. Finally, he’s just shipped off the second book in the Kane Chronicles to his editor, in anticipation of a spring 2011 release. Yet, he still found time to sit down this past weekend to talk about children’s fantasy, mythology and The Lost Hero.
(Keep reading to learn how you can win an autographed copy of The Lost Hero.)
GeekDad: As a former teacher, do you intentionally try to impart education in your writing or at least leave the breadcrumbs that lead to deeper reading?
Rick Riordan: First of all, I always want kids to feel like they’re having a good time reading the story, but while I’m doing that I’m hoping that they’ll get into the mythology too. My goal as a classroom teacher was to make it so fun for the kids in my class that they didn’t realize that they were learning — and that’s still my goal as a writer. I want them to finish a book and want to pick up the next one. It’s subversive learning, it’s trying to make it fun.
GD: You have two sons. Do you use your kids as sounding boards or write with them in mind?
RR: The Percy Jackson books began for my older son, Haley, when he was 7. I started telling him stories because he’s ADHD and dyslexic, like Percy Jackson. So, I used them to keep him interested in reading and he’s the one who told me I should write them down. They became novels based on his feedback. Patrick, my younger son, got into the act when he got old enough to read and they’re still my front-line editors, my wife and my 2 sons. I wouldn’t dream of sending a book off to my editor until they’ve had a chance to look at it first. We sit down together and we read it aloud – that’s what we did with The Lost Hero . My kids they don’t mince words. If it’s slow, they will let me know. If there’s a joke I thought was hilarious and they don’t laugh, I know I have to change it.
GD: The Lost Hero is out now. How much time has passed in that world since the end of The Last Olympian?
RR: Really only a few months. The big battle in The Last Olympian was in August and The Lost Hero happens in October. So only 2 or 3 months have gone by. I did that on purpose, because I wanted the characters from the Percy Jackson series to be involved and I didn’t want the readers to be wondering what’s going on with them. It was my way of letting them revisit that world in a fresh twist, but also to catch up with Percy and Annabeth and the rest of the gang from the first series.
GD: How is the Lost Hero going to differ from the Percy Jackson series?
RR: The most obvious thing is the way its told. It’s third person with three different narrators. The three new demigods are Jason, Piper and Leo and they take turns narrating the story in the third person. It was really interesting to do that, but I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how fans would take to it. But actually, a lot of people have told me they prefer it because you get into the heads of the characters more. So by the end of The Lost Hero you know all three of them a lot better than you know any of the supplementary characters in Percy Jackson (because in Percy Jackson, it’s just Percy telling the whole story). So it’s a different approach. Other than that, it’s the same kind of action, same kind of humor and I hope I’ve thrown everyone a curveball at the end of The Lost Hero because I’m really turning the world of Percy Jackson on its head. But so far, the feedback has been great and the fans are loving it.
GD: So, will we be seeing Percy, Annabeth, Grover and the rest of the characters from the first series soon?
RR: Absolutely. Annabeth is in chapter one and Percy, well, he’s not in the book, but he’s certainly a very important part of the book. You will be seeing him, for sure. He’s got a major role to play in the series. I think I can safely say that, at some point or another, you’ll see all the Percy Jackson characters in the new series.
GD: It looks like there’s going to be some melding of Roman and Greek mythology this time around. Why did you decide to include Roman mythology in this series?
RR: That’s something that the kids have been telling me and asking me about for five years now, since I started The Lightning Thief. Everywhere I go, kids say “Why don’t you do something on the Roman gods?” and it’s tricky, because the Roman gods are the Greek gods, just with a slightly different spin. I started thinking about that and thinking about the variations. In Percy’s world, I explained that the gods followed humanity around. They go from Greece to Rome to the rest of Europe and finally to America and I started thinking what it would be like if the Roman aspect of the gods was still around and how would that be different? How would Jupiter be different than Zeus? So, playing with that idea gave me the idea for the new series. You’re going to get a lot into the Roman aspect of the gods, the Roman spin on all those old stories and it’s really given new life into the Percy Jackson world and has opened up all these new possibilities. I’m loving it!
GD: Percy Jackson is really an unlikely hero. He gets average grades and he is faced with some very real challenges like ADHD and dyslexia. What kind of feedback have you heard from families about creating this hero who has magical powers, but at the same time is very much like the kid next door (or the room next to you)?
RR: I think kids wouldn’t like a hero who was too perfect, especially who was supposed to be like them and have him be without flaws. It doesn’t make any sense. Plus, the Greek model for heroes has been to have a fatal flaw. You’re never perfect and the more powers you have, the more you’re flawed. The gods are the same way. They have all these amazing powers, but they’re very human. They’re plagued by anger and jealousy and rage and all these other things. In Percy’s case, I made him ADHD/dyslexic so my son could relate to him. I have been amazed by the number of families that have written us and said my son is ADHD and he takes to Percy Jackson and suddenly he’s become a reader. He feels like it’s a badge of honor to be ADHD because of Percy. Or [a letter that said] my daughter has dyslexia and I was told she would never read a book. Then she started Percy Jackson and I found her with a flashlight, under the covers, trying to finish the last book by herself. This is wonderful feedback for a teacher and a dad. I can’t imagine what would be better.
GD: With the Harry Potter series, your work, Garth Nix, Phillip Pullman’s books and lots of others, there is some really great children’s fantasy out now. What kind of books did you read as a kid and what shaped you as a writer?
RR: We’re in the middle of a renaissance of children’s literature right now and there’s so much out there, especially fantasy. I wish we had this when I began teaching 20 years ago, but we didn’t. There really just wasn’t that much out there. When I was a kid, I loved Greek mythology. I loved Norse mythology. I loved The Lord of the Rings, that’s probably what got me into fantasy. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land on the science fiction side. A little bit earlier, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Those are some of the ones that I read that really got me on the path to fantasy.
GD: How do you think today’s children’s fantasy will hold up against the test of time?
RR: It’s hard to know what will end up being timeless and what will be something that doesn’t translate into the future, especially with the way we’re evolving since our culture is changing so fast. I’ll give you an example – my wife’s favorite book is The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and she tried to read that to our kids and they just couldn’t understand it. There were things like paying a dime to get on a subway and they were like “what is that?”, “what world are you describing?” … and no cell phones? Who are these people and why do they live like this? So, I don’t know how difficult it will be for future generations to look back. I have a feeling a lot of this fantasy is going to stick around. Greek mythology – those stories have been around for thousands of years and I think it’s because they’re timeless. They have everything you could want: heroism, villainy, the monsters and the magic – it’s all there.
GD: Were you pleased with how the Lightning Thief movie turned out?
RR: I didn’t see it. I really wasn’t involved and because I’m still writing about Percy Jackson’s world and The Heroes of Olympus. I have my own really strong image of what the characters look like and what the settings look like and I knew if I saw the movie I would never be able to get those images out of my head. I didn’t want that to happen. So I didn’t see it, don’t know a thing about it and I’m happy to have it that way.
GD: With plans for a Kane Chronicle book and a Heroes of Olympus book every year, what’s it like putting out a new book every six months? Is it tough?
RR: It’s crazy! But so far, so good. I have finished the second Kane Chronicles book and that will be out on time. So I’m already halfway through that schedule. Once the Kane Chronicles series is over – and that’s a trilogy, so I only have one more of those – so three more books on this schedule and then hopefully I’ll be able to go back to one a year. Nobody’s making me do that, it’s just a deadline I put on myself because I know that kids read a lot faster than I can write and a year is about as long as a kid wants to wait. A year when you’re nine – that’s an eternity …
GD: … and the sooner you get through the Kane Chronicles & The Heroes of Olympus, then the sooner you can move onto the Norse mythology!
RR: There’s a lot of interest in that and I certainly have tons of ideas. I’ve been thinking about the Norse mythology for about four or five years no, but I have so many other irons in the fire, I really have to get those things done first.
(Note: I brought my eight-year-old daughters, who are big Percy Jackson fans, and one of my girls had a question she wanted to ask Riordan.)
GeekKid: There are so many gods and goddesses and so many stories in Greek mythology. When did you become interested in those stories?
RR: I think I have been interested in those stories since I was your age. I really loved those gods and goddesses because I thought they were so cool. And like Percy, I used to imagine that my mom or my dad might be a Greek god and that I could be a hero. Isn’t that a cool idea? So almost as long as I can remember, but I really got interested in middle school, that’s when I started reading a lot about them.
The Lost Hero is available now. If you’d like to win an autographed copy, leave a comment below with your favorite Greek, Roman, or Egyptian god or goddess. We’ll pick a winner at random by end of day Wednesday. Edit: we’ve selected a winner, thanks for entering.