What Our Writers are Reading: Ridley Pearson
RIDLEY PEARSON is the best-selling author of nearly 30 adult suspense novels and more than 15 children’s adventure books, seven of which were co-written with humor columnist Dave Barry. Their children’s books include two much-loved series – NEVERLAND and STARCATCHERS, the inaugural title of which, PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS, spent 47 weeks on The New York Times Children’s Bestseller list and earned 5 Tony Awards when it opened in 2012 as a stage play. Pearson, working solo, is also the author of the popular KINGDOM KEEPERS series. He lived in the Wood River Valley for 20 years before moving to the Midwest to raise children with his wife, Marcelle. They have kept a home in Sun Valley and have many family members in the area. Ridley was an early friend to the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference when still a germ of an idea.
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You have written books for grown-ups and kids. Is there a difference in your approach?
The hope is to tell a believable story with engaging characters. Whether it is rated “R” for violence or “PG” doesn’t matter. I consider myself more a storyteller than a writer, though it takes one to be the other.
You have collaborated with Dave Barry on a number of your children’s adventure books – including, of course, the wildly successful PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. How does it work? Do you sit in a room together and talk it out or yuck it up or do you send pages back and forth? Is it fun?
All of the above. Dave and I outline the books together over the kitchen table, laying out the 80 or so scenes we see the story taking. We then separate the story by character. Whoever is responsible for a particular set of characters makes the stab at the first draft of a particular chapter; we then email the chapter back and forth until we are both happy with it. It takes a lot of trust and lack of ego because you have be “okay” with the other person shredding your work. It was great fun while it lasted – 12 books! We’ve moved on because of busy writing schedules, but I don’t think either of us has ruled out a reunion.
Speaking of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, were you happy with the play?
The Tony Award-winning play was written by Rick Elice (JERSEY BOYS, ADDAMS’ FAMILY); he did an amazing job. Both Dave and I have written screenplays and teleplays (separately) and Dave has collaborated on a screenplay. Thankfully, the play of PATSC was in more competent hands than ours!
You are a master of the suspense novel. Tell us what thrillers or crime novels are among your favorites and why. What ingredients are essential?
REBECCA by Daphne DeMaurier sets the gold standard. A character-driven narrative – rich in setting and filled with psychological suspense, romance and twists – this is not to be missed. The essential ingredients: the reader’s engagement with the characters; that “place” be a character not just a setting; that dialogue identifies character; and, that pacing be maintained to keep the reader breathless.
Is there a book – or books – in your childhood that set you down your writing path?
The books of Rudyard Kipling (all that wonderful jungle action!) thrilled me. As a late-teen, the mystery novels of John D. MacDonald made me want to write.
What have you recently read that knocked you out? Why?
ORPHAN MASTER’S SON – the point of view of this narrator and the reader’s submersion into the culture, politics and absurdity of North Korea is a “wow.”
Do you have a favorite of your own books? Crazy question for an author – especially such a prolific one – but perhaps there are one or two that please you the most.
As a writer for grown-ups: UNDERCURRENTS. Over the years, this is the book that keeps coming back around for me in so many ways. The research conducted for UNDERCURRENTS has helped police solve three different homicide cases.
As a writer for younger readers: the PETER AND STARCATCHER series because of the chance to work with Dave Barry; and the KINGDOM KEEPERS series because of the access Disney has given me.
Is there a book you reread, something that has stayed with you over many years?
I reread TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD every year. It is the quintessential, perfect novel: a young narrator, adults entangled in serious social issues, tension, humor, rich with meaning.
Is there an author who reliably makes you laugh out loud – other than Dave, of course?
Other than Dave? You are cruel!! He’s #1!!! Our band mate, Roy Blount, Jr. is another of the funniest writers I’ve read, along with Carl Hiaasen, a pal of Dave’s in Miami.
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Check back each month for a new interview in which journalist Anne Taylor Fleming asks well-known writers about their favorite books. And if you’ve missed an interview, you can find it here too.