(Laughs) If I was interviewing the Cardinals I’d be terrified...
You’ve published more than 50 novels, including ‘Peter and the Starcatchers,’ which you co-authored with humor writer Dave Barry, and the popular ‘Kingdom Keepers’ series. What made you decide to become a writer?
Well Dave Barry’s answer is that he and I had no useful talents. I think my answer would be that I’ve always had a bit of the storyteller bug in me. I started writing short stories when I was 10; I’m sure they were atrocious! I laid off in high school & college because I didn’t have time. Then I started on the road as a singer/songwriter, and later as a writer. It was just something I really loved. Even now, if I was working for a big company I think I’d be writing on weekends. I just really love telling stories.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share for children who are interested in writing?
I literally go into schools and give writing workshops, I have so many tips, but I think the two easiest are, if you’re writing fiction, make sure you have a beginning, middle and end even before you start. It sounds obvious, but it’s really the hardest part. Also, if you’re serious about writing, schedule some part of a day or week where you’re going to do nothing but write; turn off the phone and internet and do nothing but write. Usually that will at least get you to a finished story that you can rewrite. It turns out they don’t pay us to write; they pay us to rewrite.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a writer?
I think that follows on the last question; there’s at least a belief that writers write a book, turn it in and it’s published. Of the 50 plus books I’ve written, I’ve never had one that didn’t get rewritten at least four times.
My kids love the level of detail in your books. Can you tell us a little about the research that goes into writing a novel?
Really early on, I realized that the more believable your novel is, even if it’s fantasy, the less likely it is that the reader is going to throw it across the room. I spend a lot of time gathering as much fact as I can, and then keeping notes on my research experience and really trying to put my characters into my experience. For instance, in the first ‘Kingdom Keepers’ book, there’s a scene set in Small World—that actually happened to me. I was in there alone with an Imagineer, it was spooky as heck, and two of the dolls moved! I literally jumped out of my seat, and ended up writing that chapter. But that was really from personal experience. Two of those dolls did move! They were in Europe—I think they were either German or French. Of course the guy I was with told me I was nuts, but I’m telling you, they stepped forward...
You mentioned the ‘It’s A Small World’ scene in the first ‘Kingdom Keepers’ book—it’s among the most memorable scenes I’ve ever read in a book! It’s very creative!
(Laughs) It’s not creative! It’s based on personal experience!
It takes a unique mind to take that experience and create this amazing story! What’s it like to spend a day in a Disney park with you?
Spending an early morning is interesting. I’ve been in the parks 28 to 30 times before they open, if you include the trips on the Disney ships. I’m allowed to see things other people don’t see. Disney is extremely generous; they let me see things I shouldn’t see. I’m lucky. None of this would have been possible without the Imagineers.
You live right here in St. Louis, so I’m curious, are there any places around here that you like to visit for inspiration when you’re working on a new book?
You know, I think inspiration is overrated. I’m a professional writer and it’s my job to be in my office by 8 every morning, and I’m generally here till 4:30 in the afternoon. I write for a living; I don’t wait for inspiration. That’s not to say I’m not inspired; I am, all the time. But you can’t go looking for it. Wherever I happen to be at that moment, that’s where I find it.
What was the impetus for the ‘Kingdome Keepers’ series?
Now there’s a piece of inspiration. My wife and I took our family to Magic Kingdom when the kids [Paige and Storey] were very little, and we kept them out for the fireworks. On the way out I realized, none of the characters were coming out with us. And I thought, why not? Where were they? What were they up to? It was literally at the turn styles at those exits that I had that big ‘aha’ moment.
‘Kingdom Keepers’ are the books that my 9-year-old stays up past bedtime to read. What books were your favorite ‘break bedtime’ reads when you were a kid?
I was into Rudyard Kipling and ‘The Jungle Book.’ Later, as I was more mature, I was into Poe, and of course Poe keeps you awake for four days. And in my teens I was into John D. MacDonald, a mystery writer. You go through phases, but early, early on, it was something called the Landmark books. And of course the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I was fascinated by television — ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E., ‘Get Smart,’ ‘I Spy’—it’s whatever suits your fancy. But mine was Kipling—I loved being in another country and loved, loved all the animals.
You just recorded an upcoming appearance on Disney Channel 365, is that right? What was that like?
Oh, those are so much fun! They’re stressful fun. They’re very expensive, there’s a giant crew there, they bring in a Disney star, and they bring in a 365 host. I’ve had the joy of working with Joey [Joey Bragg from ‘Live & Maddi’] and Tory Freeth [Disney Channel 365 host] on three or four of these, so I’ve gotten to know them, and we always go somewhere that’s special to the books. We were the first film crew allowed into Walt’s restored office. We have a blast shooting them, but they aren’t without their moments of chewing your fingernails!
What future projects do you have in the works?
I’m right now working on the third and final book in ‘The Return’ series, and just this week I’ve agreed to work on another trilogy in my ‘Kingdom Keepers’ series. They are a new slant on something in Walt Disney World that will make logical sense to my readers. I have a trilogy of books, the first of which comes out in September from another publisher that explores the early days of Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes. That’s a really exciting project to me!
Thanks again for taking time to talk with us. You have a full plate!
Yes, but it’s a fun plate!
To purchase Pearson’s books or to keep up with his latest appearances, visit ridleypearson.com.
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