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Rick Riordan is a teacher and a writer, and has won many awards for his mystery novels for adults. He says that the idea for Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief first came to him while he was teaching Greek mythology at middle school in San Francisco. But rumour has it that Camp Half Blood actually exists, and Rick spends his summers there recording the adventures of young demigods. Some believe that, to avoid a mass panic among the mortal population, he was forced to swear on the River Styx to present Percy Jackson’s story as fiction. Rick lives in Texas (apart from his summers on Half Blood Hill) with his wife and two sons.
Rick won the Askews and Red House Children’s Book Awards for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief in 2006, and was named the US Children’s Choice Author of the Year in 2011.
Rick Riordan talks about The Lost Hero
Have you enjoyed returning to the world of Percy Jackson and how do your three new main characters shape up to Percy, Annabeth and Grover?
Jason, Leo and Piper share the story more. You are inside each of their heads through the course of the book, so I think readers will actually get to know them better. It’s a different dynamic that with Percy, Annabeth, and Leo, too, because the three new demigods are all in the same boat. They are all newcomers. They are all three struggling with being a demigod and have to figure out this new world together.
You have introduced some pretty powerful Roman gods into the mix. What are the differences between them and their Greek counterparts
The gods reflect the culture where they live, so in Rome they tend to be more imperial and warlike. They are not as approachable, not as laid back. Basically, if you’re talking to Jupiter, be on your best behavior or you’ll get the business end of a lightning bolt.
With hundreds of Roman and Greek gods out there, how did you chose which to feature in The Lost Hero?
I simply pick the ones I’m most interested in, the ones I haven’t done yet, and the ones that seem to fit the locations I want to explore. Probably my favorite in this book is Khione, the goddess of snow. I didn’t even know the Greeks had a goddess of snow until I began researching.
Did you have to go to Rome or Greece to research the book?
Don’t I wish! I have been to Greece, and it certainly helped with the book indirectly, but I don’t fly off to Europe to research just because of time. I don’t think you need to be in Greece or Rome to appreciate the mythology, though. That is universal. In a sense, Greece and Rome are everywhere in Western civilization. You can’t escape their legacy no matter where you live.
What about Chicago, New York or Hollywood, which feature in the book? Did you meet any filmstars for research purposes?
I tend to write about places that I’ve been already, so I don’t make research trips specifically to explore locations. It’s more that I travel to locations incidentally and the ones that interest me end up in books. No, I didn’t meet any film stars, but my own family has been dealing with issues of fame and public media on a smaller level, and so I thought it would be an interesting issue to explore. As a school teacher, I’ve also taught children of quite a few famous people – media personalities, rock stars, pro sports stars, billionaires, etc., so I also drew on that experience.
Can you tell us a little bit about Jason, Piper and Leo, the heroes of your new book.
They are some of my favorite characters I’ve ever created. Jason was probably the hardest to write, because he wakes up with amnesia, so he’s a blank slate. Getting to know someone who has no past was tough! On the other hand, Jason quickly learns that he’s a very powerful demigod with incredible abilities. Readers will also find out that he has a personal connection to a demigod they know from the Percy Jackson series.
Piper is the daughter of a famous movie star, and while you’d think this would make like easy for her, it’s been a constant problem. She rarely gets to see her dad and gets in trouble at school just so she can get his attention. She has never known her mother. Her dad is Native American, Cherokee, and so she’s always struggled with her own identity. Her family comes from extreme poverty on a reservation, but her dad made it big and lives in a mansion in Los Angeles. Piper’s never been sure where she belongs. And then her dad is kidnapped by a monster, and things get really complicated.
Leo is a riot. He grew up with his mom in Houston and learned to work with tools in her machine shop at a young age. After her death (very tragic, very mysterious) Leo bounced around between foster homes and used his sense of humor to keep from getting beat up in the rough neighborhoods. He’s the class clown, but he’s got a heart of gold. (And if he didn’t, he could probably make one.) He also has a secret ability that no demigod has possessed in hundreds of years, and it might get him into a lot of trouble.
Although we don’t meet him again in The Lost Hero, Percy is clearly in danger – is he going to be okay?
Well, if I told you that, I’d spoil a huge part of the series! Suffice to say, you will find the answer as the quest progresses. When readers get to the end of The Lost Hero, they’ll have a good idea where the second book is going.
Like Percy, your three new heroes are affected by ADHD. Is this a pre-requisite for demigods? What is your experience of the disorder?
Both my sons have ADHD, so I’m quite familiar with it. I put that in the book for them. The same is true for dyslexia. I liked the idea that these conditions could be a mark of honor rather than a stigma, because children with these differences tend to do very well in life if they can just get through their school years. ADHD can make you incredibly focused on things you care about. Both conditions can make you a creative thinker, because you have to find new solutions to problems just to get through the day. A study recently came out that found a disproportionate number of billionaires have ADHD.
How are you looking forward to your tour of the UK this November?
It’s been over a year since I’ve been to the UK and I’m very excited to come back. I always enjoy visiting the schools and traveling the beautiful countryside. London is one of my favorite cities, as well.
A highlight is bound to be your “Virtually Live” event where you’ll talk live to thousands of schoolkids. Scared much?
Well, I’ll be in a little room by myself, so if things go wrong I suppose I can just pull the plug. But no, I’ve actually done webcasts like this before and always enjoy them immensely. Besides, I taught American middle school for years. After that, pretty much nothing scares me!
What advice do you have for a child who thinks their schoolteacher might be an ancient Greek monster in disguise?
It’s a very common experience, sadly. Don’t aggravate them! Without proper training, you could get in a lot of trouble. Just know, wherever there are monsters, there are probably satyrs on the lookout, trying to protect young demigods. Find a classmate who seems to have satyr qualities (eats anything, laughs like a goat, walks funny, has big hair that might hide horns). They will protect you! (possibly)
You’ve been called “The Myth Master” on account of your amazing ability to open portals into ancient myths for contemporary readers. What is it about myth that attracts and intrigues you?
Myth is timeless, ancient, and surprisingly relevant. I love taking characters that are eons old and making them seem like best friends to modern young readers. We can laugh at the gods or get angry at their jealous, selfish ways, but ultimately we understand them, because they are very human.
How hard or easy is it for you to make such ancient myths real and relevant for young readers today?
It’s actually easy for me, which I suppose is why I keep doing it, and why I love my job so much. Writing down the stories and polishing them up is a challenge, but coming up with ways to modernize the characters and events is a snap. I suppose that speaks to how timely the myths still are.
I wrote a lot of short stories when I was young, and even sent a few in (to get rejected). I was never serious about writing at university. I focused most of my creative energy on music, and was lead singer in a folk rock band, if you can believe it.
After college, I became a teacher, and was quite happy with the idea of doing that the rest of my life. However, I read a lot of mystery books in my spare time, and eventually decided, on a lark, that I would try writing a hard-boiled private eye novel. My first was published in 1997. I wrote grown-up mystery novels for about seven years before I started the Percy Jackson series for young readers.
Where do your ideas come from?
My son Haley was studying the Greek myths in second grade when he asked me to tell him some bedtime stories about the gods and heroes. I had taught Greek myths for many years at the middle school level, so I was glad to comply. When I ran out of myths, he was disappointed and asked me if I could make up something new with the same characters. I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I remembered a creative writing project I used to do with my sixth graders—I would let them create their own demigod hero, the son or daughter of any god they wanted, and have them describe a Greek-style quest for that hero. Off the top of my head, I made up Percy Jackson and told Haley all about his quest to recover Zeus’ lightning bolt in modern day America. It took about three nights to tell the whole story, and when I was done, Haley told me I should write it out as a book.
I had a lot to do already, but I somehow found the time to write the first Percy Jackson book over the next year. I just really enjoyed writing it. The story was such fun, and so different from my adult fiction, that I found myself spending a lot of time on it. Now, I’m sure glad I did!
Can you give three tips for becoming a successful writer?
1. Read a lot! This is where you’ll get your inspiration, your “fuel” for your writer’s engine.
2. Write a little bit every day. Writing is like a sport. The more you practice, the better you get.
3. Don’t get discouraged! Rejection is part of writing, but if you stick with it, you will succeed.
Favourite place in the world
The San Francisco Bay Area, because it’s so beautiful and such a fun place to live!
Guitar, reading, online games, travel.
If you hadn’t been an author, what would you have been?
A teacher! I taught school for many years, and loved it. If writing didn’t keep me so busy, I would definitely be back in the classroom.