Ridley Pearson is a #1 New York Times best-selling author of more than 50 award-winning books for readers of middle grade and young adult. His novels have been published into two dozen languages and adapted for television network and the stage.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome to Kite Tales! Your best-selling Peter and the Starcatchers series is co-written with Dave Barry and includes illustrations, but that still must be a very different process from writing your new DC Comics Super Sons graphic-novel series. How does it feel to use words so sparingly?
RIDLEY PEARSON: Words are like coins; you can spend them freely or carefully. One of the projects Dave Barry and I co-wrote was to retell the Peter Pan story through the artwork of Disney Legend Mary Blair (artist). We were given 1,500 words, max. Despite an abundance of glorious artwork from the 1930s there were pieces of the story unrepresented by the archival artwork. Dave and I learned firsthand the importance of every single word.
In some ways, the question represents a misunderstanding of the process of writing graphic novels (one I also had heading into the Super Sons project). Your question might be rephrased as: “How does it feel to use dialogue so sparingly?” For, in fact, the author of a graphic novel may write as many as 2-300 words to describe a single panel (a framed image on a page, of which there are 1-6 per page). The writer describes in excruciating detail the lighting, the framing (“camera angle”), the design of the landscape or an interior of a building, the positioning of each character, his/her clothing, and especially mood and expression. (The “tells” of character.) The artist reveals 90% of a graphic novel story but through the words of the writer. It’s a fascinating process. To your question: there is very little dialogue in a graphic novel, and that was a steep learning curve for a newcomer like me!
CVZ: Super Sons: The Polarshield Project, centers around saving the melting polar ice caps—such an important topic. Do you think that kids will make the connection that the climate change problems in a graphic novel are actual problems our world is facing?
RP: I’ve had wonderful feedback from parents of children reading the Super Sons series. One dad told me that he and his daughter spent two hours discussing both the climate change challenge in the book(s), but also the theme of immigration and name-calling. (People being driven from their homes by climate change are bullied as “Floodrunners” in the novels.)
CVZ: It took you 8 ½ years of writing 6-7 hours per day before your first book was under contract. That’s dedication! What made you keep trying?
RP: I’m a storyteller. I just apparently have that gene. I think it came from hours of storytelling by both my grandfathers, a love of reading and theater. I began writing songs at 15. By 18, I was writing for a folk-rock band. Music writing and performance occupied my next 11 years. But always storytelling. During those years I began to write screenplays, out of the love of story. None sold. But I was mentored by two wonderful men who gave me a sense of confidence. I had a lot to learn, and I’m still learning. (I hope!)
CVZ: You also have the successful Kingdom Keepers series and Lock and Key series. You’ve said that you outline a book to ensure the plot works and, once written, you will revise the novel 4-9 times. How does that process apply to a series?
RP: When I know I’m writing a series (in the case of the Kingdom Keepers I did not know until two years after the publication of the first book), I apply outlining to the series, the same as I do each book, even each chapter within a book. The “simple” idea of beginning, middle, and end, is not so simple to execute. Planning a series, I may not know much detail of the remainder of the books to come, but I know significant plot moments, landing points, and ultimately how the future books will fit into a dramatic arc.
CVZ: You’ve been writing since you were 10—the age of a middle-grade reader. How do you stay in touch with the audience you write for?
RP: I may be related to Peter Pan. I’m not sure I’ve ever grown up. When working with Dave Barry he used to tell book audiences that he and I never matured past 13. He may be right!
CVZ: What’s next for you?
RP: I’m currently writing an original concept series for DC Entertainment (graphic novel series) called, Indestructibles. It is loosely, distantly, tied to the Super Sons and explores a young boy who discovers there’s very little out there that can harm him. Soon, he finds a few others just like him. Bad guys, beware! I have a third Kingdom Keepers starting in March of 2021 and I’m in discussion for some other projects with Disney Books as well. (Shh!) I’m working on two possible streaming series for producers. (These never seem to get picked up, but they’re a ton of fun to write! Yes, I still love writing, whether it’s going to sell or not!) And I’m nibbling around the edges of a new adult thriller.
CVZ: In closing, do you have a piece of advice to help writers on their paths to publication?
RP: Read, read, and read. Those are the three most important pieces of advice. I mark the books I read with notes, exclamation points, and stars, rereading those paragraphs and chapters that light me up (and make me envious!). Dedicate some small or large amount of time to writing. Make it your time. Own it. Turn off everything and dig in. It’s amazing how keeping some kind of routine, once a day, once a week, ends up with a finished piece. Keep at it. It’s a muscle; it takes time to get strong.
CVZ: Thank you so much! I look forward to reading your books for years to come.
Ridley Pearson is an Edgar nominee, Fulbright Fellow, and #1 New York Times best-selling author of more than 50 award-winning suspense and young adult adventure novels. His novels have been published in two-dozen languages, and have been adapted for network television and the Broadway stage. Ridley’s middle-grade-reader series include The Kingdom Keepers, Steel Trapp, and Lock & Key. The Peter and the Starcatcher series, co-written with Pulitzer Prize winner (and bandmate), Dave Barry, (adapted to the stage by Rick Elice) was awarded five Tony Awards.
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Author image courtesy of Dave Barry and book cover images courtesy of DC.