A Between the Lines interview with Ridley Pearson

by Andrew Peterson

Who is the man with the infectious smile, charming personality, and overflowing generosity?  The answer can be found within ourselves.  Ridley Pearson represents the best humanity has to offer.  His love of life and the intricate balance it seeks is plainly evident in the stories he crafts.

ridley-pearson.jpgAlthough he’s quite modest about it, Ridley Pearson is a household name in more than 70 countries.  With over 12 million copies sold worldwide, his 38-plus books have been translated into 22 languages.

Ridley’s novels resonate with his readers because there’s passion behind the words.  Simply stated, he loves to tell stories.  If he’d lived 15,000 years ago, he would’ve been the hunter sitting at the campfire recalling the day’s hunt to a captive audience.

Not many authors can take credit for helping the police solve a real-life homicide case.  Ridley’s research for UNDERCURRENTS (1988) did just that.  Since then, Ridley has contributed to active police task force investigations on both the city and federal level.  His knowledge and understanding of police procedures adds realism and true-to-life color to his novels.  If he hadn’t become an author, I think it’s fair to say Ridley would’ve made a great detective.

I asked if there was something in his life that has influenced his writing.  “My life as a musician has made me open to the collaborative effort that exists between the writer and editor.  I see my books as a group effort.  I’m too close to my stories and characters to know when they get tiring or worn.  I count on editors like Christine Pepe to help me find the good and discard the not so good.”

Like Ridley said, authors don’t work alone from beginning to end.  At some point, we turn our books over to editors and/or agents, people we trust and people with whom we share a common goal–making our manuscripts the best they can be.  Self editing is important, but an independent look is invaluable.

Ridley’s path to publication didn’t happen overnight.  His success is the result of countless hours in the chair, writing, editing, rewriting, and re-editing.

“I think every writer remembers where he or she was when getting the call your first book sold,” says Ridley.  “I know I do.  I was living in Idaho at the time and went outside and ran around the yard screaming.  I’d been writing 6 hours a day for 8 years at that point.  It was an important moment.  I was paid about enough to buy a microwave oven for each of my first three books.  I was still writing for the love of it when UNDERCURRENTS surprised us all and went (in paperback) onto national best seller lists.  Suddenly I could quit my day job(s).  It was a great moment.”

rock-bottom-remainders.jpgA few years back, Ridley met an interesting man and it’s been a literary match made in heaven.  Through an act of divine fate, they both became charter members of the infamous Rock Bottom Remainders band.  It’s made-up entirely of authors.  How did such a controversial rock group form?  I asked Ridley for a brief history.  “The RBRs were put together by a author media escort in San Francisco, Kathi Goldmark.  I was asked to play bass in an all-author band.  Kathi had no idea who might end up in the band, but I agreed.  Three weeks later I found out the band included Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan.  I about fell out of my chair.”

When asked if the band practices together, Ridley responded with, “Practice?”

What’s it like being on stage with Stephen King and Greg Iles?  “Greg Iles is a monster musician,” says Ridley.  “He probably shouldn’t be in the band.  Steve is a monster.  And a musician.  He probably shouldn’t be in the band.  Which goes for ALL of us.”

There’ve been rumors flying around about the band members being pelted by female undergarments hurled onto the stage.  “Our first gig we had women’s underwear thrown on stage.  Turned out it was staged by Random House.  We’re too old and too lousy to have groupies.  But we have Roy Blount, Jr. so we’re happy!”

More on this unusual collection of authors can be found here. But be warned, do not visit this website directly after eating.  Yes, I made that mistake!  In all seriousness, the band sounds pretty damned good.  It sounds even better after a few shots of tequila.  There are tons of YouTube videos, so if you want to see Ridley in action playing the bass, check them out.  The RBR’s Wordstock Tour kicked off on April 19th as members of the band met to begin a week long trek starting in Washington D.C.  They also visited Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

Ridley’s 38 books break down into 25 crime novels and 13 young adult books, many of them co-written with the aforementioned Dave Barry.  Ridley’s also contributed to 4 short story anthologies, including the ITW sponsored, THRILLER 2, edited by Clive Cussler.

The YA series are just terrific.  Have you ever wondered where Peter Pan came from?  Ridley and Dave got together and talked about it.  When the discussion was over, it had been decided–they were going to write a prequel to Peter Pan.  And it became an instant hit.  PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS (2004) had a print run of 350,000 copies!  There are 3 more books in the Starcatchers series,  PETER AND THE SHADOW THIEVES, PETER AND THE SECRET OF RUNDOON, and PETER AND THE SWORD OF MERCY.

The other YA series are Kingdom Keepers (3 books), Never Land (3 books), Steel Trap (2 Books), and Science Fair (1 book).  How many authors get permission from the Walt Disney Corporation to write books about its theme parks and characters?  An elite few.

Ridley attended his first ThrillerFest this year.  “I’d been trying to get to TF for the past several years but I always was on book tour during that time.  This year I finally made it and had a blast.  I really enjoy seeing and listening to other authors, and I have a lot of friends in the business, so a good time was had.”

I was fortunate to be sitting next to Ridley for the book signing at ThrillerFest V.  It offered me an opportunity to personally thank him for helping me kick start my writing career.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without his kindness and generosity.

I first met Ridley on the 2005 Maui Writers Alaskan Cruise where I attended his week-long workshop.  I was floored when Ridley approached me after class and paid me a nice compliment.  He gave me his freelance editor’s contact info and suggested I get in touch him.  He warned me that Ed Stackler is super busy and doesn’t take on many new clients, but Ridley told me to contact Ed and use his name.  The rest is history.  Ed took me on, helped me polish and edit my debut novel, and then asked Ridley for a huge favor.

My publisher wanted a Ridley Pearson blurb and wanted it right away.  Well folks, the timing was bad.  It was one week before Christmas, he hadn’t done his shopping yet, and he had a pressing deadline going.  But even with all that, Ridley stepped up to the plate, read my book, and wrote a terrific cover blurb:

“The most Brutally effective thriller hero to appear in years.”  — Ridley Pearson, author of KILLER WEEKEND.

I have no doubt the endorsement of such a high profile author helped sell many thousands of books.  I’m truly blessed.  Thanks Rid, you’re the best!

Since that blurb, Ridley’s written three additional books in the Sheriff Walt Fleming series;  KILLER VIEW (2007) and KILLER SUMMER (2009). His new release, IN HARM’S WAY (Aug 2010) unites Seattle’s Lou Boldt with Sun Valley’s Walt Fleming and promises to be the best crime novel yet.

Here’s a quick snapshot of IN HARM’S WAY:

in-harms-way.JPGSun Valley sheriff Walt Fleming’s budding relationship with photographer Fiona Kenshaw hits a rough patch after Fiona is involved in a heroic river rescue and she attempts to duck the press.  Despite her job and her laudable actions, she begs Walt to keep her photo out of the paper, avoiding him when he can’t.  Then Walt gets a phone call that changes everything: Lou Boldt, a police sergeant out of Seattle, calls to report that a recent murder may have a Sun Valley connection.  After a badly-beaten body is discovered just off a local highway, Walt knows there is a link–but can he pull the pieces together in time?

I like how Ridley’s woven two separate series characters together into a single book.  There are 9 Detective Lou Boldt crime novels.

Ridley’s good nature has crossed international boundaries.  In 2008-2009 he and his family lived in China for nearly a year.  “China is a fascinating place.  Our second daughter is adopted from there and we wanted to give her a year in the country of her origin.  I taught creative writing, in English (a first at the university level) at Fudan University.  An incredible year!”

The class was called, Mythic Three Act Structure in Contemporary Fiction.  The class Ridley taught on the 2005 Alaskan Cruise had a similar theme–a lesson I’ve carried with me to this day.

Where does his generosity in helping aspiring writers come from?  The answer shouldn’t surprise anyone.  “I was mentored by several accomplished writers for those 8 years I was trying to sell my fiction.  It meant the world to me, and it’s the only reason I ever got published.  I try to pass that on whenever possible.  It’s hard to now, because I’m crazy busy and traveling all the time, but if the opportunity arises to teach for a weekend or attend a conference, I try to do that.”

During my interview, I used the word “icon” to describe him.  He resisted the label.  “I am anything but an icon.  That’s Mike Connelly and Lee Child.  I’m a day laborer at best.  I write 11 hours a day; several books a year because I’m writing YA now as well.”

Respectfully, I must disagree, not about Child and Connelly being icons, but about Ridley not being one.  Folks, he’s writing about Disney characters!  Characters we all grew up with.  He and Dave Barry have crafted a brand new story about the origins of Peter Pan! And that’s not iconic?  It absolutely is.  He plays in a rock band next to Stephen King, Greg Iles, Amy Tan, Scott Turow, and Mitch Albom to name a few.  And that’s not iconic?  I admire Ridley’s modesty, but honestly, he’s barking with the big dogs–has been for quite awhile.

When all else is peeled away, what makes Ridley truly happy?  “My family is everything to me.  Everything.”

That says a lot–a value many of us share.  Family must always come first.

Traditionally, I like to ask this question of all the Between The Lines guests:  What advice would you give to authors who have yet to get an agent and become published?

“Stay in the chair.  Carve out a specific amount of time and stay in the chair.  Be prepared to take criticism and DO something with it.”

– – –

For a complete listing of all Ridley’s novels and links to many additional interviews, I encourage you to visit his website at www.ridleypearson.com You’ll have a choice to go in one of two directions:  Toward his crime novel page or toward his young adult adventure page.  Each is masterfully crafted and easy to navigate.
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In 1990, Ridley Pearson was the first American to serve as the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellow in Detective Fiction at Oxford University, England. In 2008-2009 Ridley served as a visiting professor in the College of International Language and Literature at Fudan University, Shanghai, China where he taught Mythic Three Act Structure in Contemporary Fiction. He lives in St Louis, MO with his wife Marcelle, and their two daughters.

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is the author of First To Kill, the debut in a series featuring Nathan McBride, a former marine sniper and CIA operations officer.The next McBride novel, Forced To Kill, will be available early next year in exclusive audiobook format from Audible.com.Andrew works as a volunteer firefighter, enjoys scuba diving, target shooting, flying helicopters, hiking and camping, and an occasional sad round of golf.

Visit Andy at: www.andrewpeterson.com.
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