Author Interview: Rick Riordan on The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005). From the promo copy: “What if the gods of Olympus were alive in the 21rst Century? What if they still fell in love with mortals and had children who might become great heroes — like Theseus, Jason and Hercules? What if you were one of those children? Such is the discovery that launches twelve-year-old Percy Jackson on the most dangerous quest of his life. With the help of a satyr and a daughter of Athena, Percy must journey across the United States to catch a thief who has stolen the original weapon of mass destruction – Zeus’ master bolt. Along the way, he must face a host of mythological enemies determined to stop him. Most of all, he must come to terms with a father he has never known, and an Oracle that has warned him of betrayal by a friend.” Ages 10-up.

Rick Riordan was a middle school teacher for 15 years in Texas and California. His first adult mystery novel, Big Red Tequila, was published in 1997. Since then, his Tres Navarre private investigator series has won the Edgar, Anthony and Shamus Awards. His short fiction has appeared in Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. His first book for children, The Lightning Thief, was named a New Times Notable Book for 2005 and one of the best books of the year by School Library Journal and Child Magazine. It has been optioned for feature film by Twentieth Century Fox. Rick now writes full time. He lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two sons.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My son was eight years old at the time, and having a hard year in school. He’d just been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and he didn’t like much in school except Greek mythology. I’d taught the Greek myths for years in sixth grade, so I tried to capitalize on his interest by telling him bedtime stories from the myths. When I ran out of myths, he asked me to make up a new one. Off the top of my head, I created Percy Jackson, a modern kid with ADHD and dyslexia who finds out that his real father is the god Poseidon.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

After I told the story, my son asked me to write it down. I spent a year doing that. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it except my immediate family. It was surprisingly easy to write. Some stories just come out more naturally than others. When I was done, I sent it out under a pseudonym, because I wanted the book to stand or fall on its own merits. I immediately got agent, who got multiple offers within a few weeks. I wish publishing was always that easy!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? Were your experiences as an author of adult mysteries and/or as a classroom teacher helpful? If so, how?

The main challenge was finding time to write, since I was already doing a book a year and teaching full-time. But as I tell aspiring writers all the time, if you really want to do something, you somehow manage to find the time.

Writing adult mysteries before The Lightning Thief was certainly helpful. I knew I could write a novel. I understood the mechanics of creating scenes and dialogue. My teaching experience was also indispensable.

While I was writing the book, I imagined my students as my audience. It helped me get the pace and the tone right. I knew middle school kids well. I knew what they found exciting and funny, and what they found boring.

In addition to your Web site, you also offer a blog to your readers. How would you describe the overall content and your approach to it?

The blog is nothing fancy. I add things to it as I have the time. I like the blog format because it’s less formal — like an on-line journal/scrapbook where I can store random thoughts, pictures, reviews, interesting news articles. I have fun with it, but I don’t spend a lot of time with it. I imagine my readers would rather have me spend my time finishing the next book, not writing blog articles!

What can your fans look forward to next?

The next Percy Jackson book, The Sea of Monsters, will be out in April 2006. There will be three more books in the Percy series. I’m also working on two more Tres Navarre adult mysteries.

Cynsational Notes

Awards and Honors for The Lightning Thief include: A Best Book of 2005, School Library Journal; A New York Times Notable Book of 2005; A Best Book of 2005, Child Magazine; Bluebonnet Award Nominee 2006, Texas Library Association; Askews Torchlight Award Shortlist, 2006.

Learn more about Rick Riordan’s books for adults. See also an Interview with Rick Riordan and read his advice for aspiring writers.