Rick Riordan is the author of the #1 New York Times best
selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for children and the
multi-award-winning Tres Navarre mystery series for adults. His Percy
Jackson series features a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who discovers
he is the modern-day son of a Greek god. The Lightning Thief was a New York Times
Notable Book for 2005. Film rights have been purchased by Twentieth
Century Fox and a feature film is in development. For fifteen years,
Rick taught English and history at public and private middle schools
in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Texas. In 2002, Saint Mary’s
Hall honored him with the school’s first Master Teacher Award. In
2003, he was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. He
lives in San Antonio with his family.
is an award-winning teacher, artist, designer and writer who has
taught a range of fine arts, humanities, English, and graphic design
throughout her career. She was the recipient of the 2002 Trinity Prize
for Excellence in Teaching for her outstanding performance in public
education. Currently, she is on the faculty of the computer Science
Department at Trinity University. One of her proudest accomplishment
is being the mother of author Rick Riordan, whom she interviews for
is called Myth and Mystery. Both your Tres Navarre mysteries and the
Percy Jackson mythologically-based YA series have a central “hero”
who follows a quest of sorts. How are the two concepts of myth and
mystery treated as literary devices in your writing in general?
as relevant today as it ever has been. Mythology is the symbolism of
civilization. It contains our most deeply embedded archetypes. Once
you know mythology, you see it everywhere – from the names of our
days of the week to our art and architecture. You would be
hard-pressed to find any work of English literature that does not draw
to some extent on Classical mythology, whether it be the hero’s
quest or simply allusions to the Olympians.
mythology certainly makes one a more informed member of society, but
it’s not simply important to understand and appreciate Western
Civilization. Mythology is a way of understanding the human condition.
Myths have always been man’s attempt to explain phenomena – and
not just why the sun travels across the sky. Myths also explain love,
fear, hate, revenge, and the whole range of human feelings.
When I speak
to school groups, I often ask children what Greek god they would like
for a parent. My favorite answer was from a schoolgirl in Texas who
said, “Batman.” Actually, the girl’s comment about Batman being
a Greek god is not too far off, because it’s the same idea at work:
creating a superhuman version of humanity so that we can explore our
problems, strengths and weaknesses writ large. If the novel puts life
under the microscope, mythology blows it up to billboard size.
aren’t something that happened in the past, something that we left
behind with the Bronze Age. We are still creating myths all the time.
My young adult hero Percy Jackson allows me a wonderful opportunity to
explore the myth of America as the beacon of civilization, the myth of
New York, and the myth of the American teenager.
As for Tres
Navarre, the protagonist of my mysteries, he is also very much in the
Classical tradition. I would argue that the American private eye is a
direct descendant of Odysseus – the capable crafty hero who must
battle the forces of nature, the will of the gods, and the schemes of
evil men to forge his own version of justice.
that one of your favorite books when you were a child was Fletcher and
Zenobia by Victoria Chess and Edward Gorey. Any comments on those
characters and situations as a very early influence? Any other
memorable childhood books that shaped your work?
Edward Gorey has a wonderful sense of the
macabre, and I think children are drawn to darkness and danger much
more than adults sometimes realize. You need look no further than the
Brothers Grimm, or more recently the popularity of Lemony Snicket. Fletcher
and Zenobia was not overtly dark (though I did wonder about
Zenobia’s fear of axes). Still, it had subtle and subversive humor,
and it created a space for me, as a reader, to imagine myself in the
story. A good book is not just about narrative. It’s about creating
a geography wide enough to accommodate the reader. I could imagine
myself stuck in Fletcher’s tree, or sailing away to great adventures
on the back of a giant moth. As a child, I was also drawn to the work
of Roald Dahl. I was particularly delighted when James’ giant peach
squashed his horrible aunts.
moved away from home in Texas to live in San Francisco, how did your
memories (good or not-so) of growing up in San Antonio lead to the
subject and setting of your first mystery, Big Red Tequila?
Growing up, I often asked teachers what I should
write about, only to be given that old axiom, “Write about what you
know.” I hated that, since I didn’t know anything. It was only
after moving away from San Antonio that I realized what a unique place
it was. I needed distance to write effectively about my hometown, so
along with “write about what you know,” I usually tell aspiring
writers that they must appreciate what they know.
My first novel was driven largely by homesickness.
Growing up in San Antonio also affected my
writing style. The Southern storytelling tradition and the tall tales
of the Wild West are still very much alive in San Antonio. A good yarn
must be colorful and exaggerated. As a child, I remember sitting
around campfires at the Frio River, listening to the ways stories were
told – sometimes the same stories year after year, but each time
they would change and get grander, funnier, stranger. I imagine things
weren’t too different with tales of the Trojan War in the time of
Your Tres Navarre books have a strong sense of
locale; in fact, the city of San Antonio has been described as a major
character in the books. The Percy Jackson books, by contrast, take
young readers all over the country as well as to richly-detailed
mythological locations. In
general, what are your thoughts on the importance of locale in your
own work? Has that changed?
In my Tres
Navarre novels, setting is a character. I try to design each story so
that it could not possibly happen anywhere except South Texas – at
least not without losing its essence. A quote attributed to O’Henry,
perhaps apocryphally, listed four cities in the United States with a
completely unique, unmistakable character: New Orleans, San Francisco,
Boston and San Antonio. I think it’s no accident the first three
locales have long histories as literary settings, but when I began
writing I had San Antonio pretty much to myself. It is indeed a rich
location with its mix of cultures and its long colorful history.
Jackson books cover a lot more geographic territory. I basically
picked locations our family had visited so my sons could picture the
action as I told them the story. If there is a similarity in the way
the two series treat setting, it is the idea of writing as travel.
Readers like to be transported to exotic and interesting places. The
physical journey of the hero also reflects his spiritual journey. This
is an ancient theme. Like so many literary protagonists from Theseus
to Huckleberry Finn, Percy Jackson and Tres Navarre must leave home to
discover home. The return is an essential element of the hero.s quest.
incredibly proud of your achievements as a classroom teacher. How has
that experience influenced your books for young readers? How do you
balance the instructive with the entertaining? You’ve obviously
found a good mix of both if one reads comments from both educators and
When I write one of my children’s books, I
always imagine myself telling the story in front of my own classroom.
I try to fashion a story that works well read aloud, that will keep
the attention of a young audience. The more instructive a book is, the
more entertainment value it needs. I am interested first and foremost
in telling a good story, but it is always my hope to teach in a
subversive manner, so that students don’t even realize they are
learning something. Judging from the comments of librarians, who tell
me their mythology sections are getting a heavy workout these days,
I’d say my plan is working!