Books-A-Million Interviews: Rick Riordan on Writing, Fiction, and Mythology
Rick Riordan is an instantly recognizable name among young readers. His ability to write almost native teenage prose and weave together the ancient and modern has made him a rockstar certain elementary and middle school circles.
His famous characters include the likes of Percy Jackson, Lester Papadopoulos (a.k.a. the god Apollo), and now Magnus Chase. Between movies and books, Riordan is a staple of modern children’s fiction.
The newest book in the Trials of Apollo series, The Dark Prophecy, is set to release on May 2, 2017. We were able to catch Riordan while promoting the book and ask a few questions about his process, his stories, and his new imprint, Rick Riordan presents.
BAM: What’s the first myth you remember hearing or reading?
I think I first heard the Persephone myth as an explanation of the seasons when I was in kindergarten. It made sense to me, because in Texas we really only have two seasons, winter and summer, so I got it. I never liked the hot Texas summers though; I remembered wishing Persephone would spend a little more time with Hades so we could have cooler temperatures.
BAM: How do you “cleanse your palate” between different series when writing two books a year?
Reading is an excellent palate cleanser. I usually go into research mode for about a month, reading for the new project and also reading unrelated books. I’m a big fan of history, science fiction, and fantasy, though my taste is pretty eclectic.
BAM: Mythologies are remarkably complex. How much research do you put in before you start a new novel?
I have a pretty solid base of knowledge for the mythologies I write about, but yes, there is a lot of complexity, and so I always review the myths I’ll be writing about and check my facts as I work. It’s like working on a puzzle. You know what the general picture is going to look like when it’s all assembled. It’s just a matter of sorting out the pieces and figuring out which ones to use where.
BAM: Which mythology is more challenging to write about, Greek or Norse? Does one have more original source material available than the other?
Norse is far more challenging, simply because our primary sources are so limited. The Vikings were not big writers. We have to rely on fewer sources, most of which were written centuries after the Viking Age. There are a lot of holes in our understanding, which I have to patch with educated guesswork using more recent Scandinavian folklore or other Germanic traditions, trying to recapture the “DNA” of the original Old Norse worldview. But I have always been drawn to Norse mythology. It’s fascinating stuff.
BAM: Percy popped up in Book 1 of the Trials of Apollo series, and the last line in HAMMER OF THOR suggests that Magnus Chase will eventually meet him, too. When you’re writing scenes with Percy and Lester, or Percy and Magnus, is it difficult for you to keep their voices distinct?
I find that the narrators’ voices are really very different, so no, it’s not a problem. Percy and Magnus do indeed meet in Magnus Chase Book 3, but I found that writing this scene was very natural. As for Apollo/Lester, he’s in a class by himself. His voice is VERY different from either Magnus or Percy.
BAM: Do you have plans for Lester/Apollo to visit Camp Jupiter?
Oh, yes. The Trials of Apollo series is meant to be a chance for fans to revisit all their friends from the first two Greek/Roman series, so all the characters from Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus will eventually make appearances, including our Roman friends at Camp Jupiter.
BAM: Congratulations on your Stonewall Book Award from the ALA for HAMMER OF THOR! Do you plan to delve further into the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community in your books? What has influenced your decisions in this regard?
I have made a conscious effort to expand on the representation in my books, because I want all kinds of kids to find themselves in these stories and know that they too can be heroes. It’s a very personal mission for me. I remember and am inspired by the many kinds of students I taught in the classroom over the years, including many LGBTQIA+ kids who really struggled with acceptance during middle school and high school. I want to tell them, “I see you. You matter to me. You can be part of the story and I will not erase you.”
BAM: The news of your new imprint, Rick Riordan Presents, is very exciting. Can you tell us a little about it?
I get so many readers asking me to write about Hindu or Aztec or Chinese mythology, but this always seemed an awkward idea to me, because I am a sarcastic American white guy who did not grow up with those mythologies the way I grew up with Greek, Norse, and even Egyptian. I didn’t think I was the best person to cover those stories, nor did I want to poach or appropriate cultures that weren’t mine and that I didn’t fully understand. Disney-Hyperion had been talking to me for a long time about starting an imprint, and I decided that a good use of my platform would be to find other writers from diverse, under-represented backgrounds who wanted to write high-interest, fun middle grade fantasy fiction, perhaps based on the mythology of their own cultures. Rather than me writing all those books, I would find and support other authors who wanted to tell their own stories. We’ve had great success so far, finding our first group of novelists to publish. Expect more news about them soon!