by Keith Raffel
Recently I sat down with Ridley Pearson to talk about his newest thriller, In Harm’s Way.
In Harm’s Way is the fourth book in your Walt Fleming series. Could you give us a sneak preview?
In Harm’s Way is more of a straightforward murder investigation than I’ve written in quite some time. It is part procedural, part psychological thriller, featuring murder, mayhem, love, and angst – a nice sample of life.
When an unidentified male is found dead alongside of the road in Sun Valley, Idaho, Sheriff Walt Fleming seeks the advice and assistance of legendary homicide detective Lou Boldt. Together the two must negotiate their way through Sun Valley’s rugged backcountry, as well as its wealthy and desperate inhabitants, in order to keep those they love from finding themselves in harm’s way.
Walt Fleming is a sheriff in Sun Valley. Isn’t that in your neck of the woods?
It sure is! I’ve lived either full-time or part-time in the Sun Valley area for nearly 30 years. I’ve known Sheriff Walt Femling (the model for Walt Fleming) for nearly all of that time. So it’s really fun for me to write about it. The setting is a real character, a natural extension for me. It’s home.
Do you have the arc of the Walt Fleming books all plotted out?
Believing that character is the pedestal upon which fiction stands, I’ve plotted out long-range character arcs for the series, as opposed to plot arcs. The plots seem to raise their heads according to events in the area, events that both I and the real Walt monitor constantly. The characters need to grow and evolve to book to book – so I’ve looked ahead (and into the past) to have some idea where these characters, collectively and individually, are headed. Which is a long way to answer – yes. But maybe not in the way readers might expect.
Lou Boldt from your previous series play a role in In Harm’s Way. Did you bring him back because you missed him?
Sergeant Lou Boldt (former lieutenant) was the alpha dog of nine novels I wrote set in Seattle. He had become, and remains, a part of me. When the real-life model for the character passed on, I decided to retire Boldt for a while. And although the outline for this book did not at first include him, it became apparent to me as I began writing it that he was to be a part of it. It’s fun having him back.
How do you manage? You’re juggling your Walt Fleming series for adults along with an adventure series for young adults and the Starcatcher series you co-write with Dave Barry. Come on, Ridley, you’re making the rest of us look like pikers.
Hardly! I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. What would I do with all my time if I didn’t write? The truth is, I’ve been offered so many great opportunities – co-writing with Dave Barry, chief among them – that it’s impossible to say no. I have a lot on my plate any given day, but I think we all do. I’m not complaining.
Do you have any time at all for fun?
Yes! I get to write 11 hours a day! (As to the other stuff? It’ll have a wait a few years.) Family first (always!), then work. There’s not much left after that.
How different is it, writing books for adults, teens, and kids? How do the writing muscles you exercise for one audience influence what your write for another?
Maybe the second oldest human tradition is storytelling. It’s probably something that separates us from all other creatures. From the moment the first caveman dragged back some carcass and began celebrating his conquest, storytelling became a rich part of the fabric of human life. As writers, we are just continuing that tradition. The caveman’s fire has turned into a laptop. But the conquest, the exaggeration, the attempt to win the girl -it’s all still there. All I really do, all Dave and I do, is try to tell a compelling story. I honestly don’t think about the age of my reader, or much about the reader at all. For me it’s about the characters, the plot, the pacing. and the music of language. The rest will take care of itself.
You write the Starcatcher series featuring Peter Pan with famed humor columnist Dave Barry. Isn’t he a little bit of a Peter Pan himself? Doesn’t he even promise not to grow up in his last solo book?
One of the things that Dave and I share in common is that we never really grew older than 14. We are both adolescent goofballs, and I think it’s one of the reasons, if not the reason, we get along well. If Dave ever does grow up, I will feel very alone.
What’s it like writing for Disney?
Disney Books and Hyperion Books for Children are terrific publishers. Both with the Starcatchers series co-written with Dave, and my Kingdom Keepers series, they have been incredibly supportive and generous with their time and energy. Coincidentally, both Dave and I publish our “adult reader” books and fiction with Putnam, another phenomenal publisher that just “gets” so well the roles of author and publisher, and the importance of the relationship between them. I’m in an incredible position right now; you asked me about why I write so much every day, and part of the answer would be: so that I don’t lose these wonderful publishers!
Ridley’s not a common first name. Has anyone ever asked you about directing Blade Runner or Alien?
I can promise you this: I’ve been asked far more times if I’m Ridley Scott than he has if he’s Ridley Pearson. It’s not lost on me that only one of my books has been turned into a film, and that I happen to be a huge fan of Scott Free productions. If only the twain would meet…
I hesitate to ask this for fear of being inundated, but what’s next?
I am focused right now on the publication of In Harm’s Way, so I’ll spare you the bibliography. But yes: I have several books being published in the next 12 to 15 months, a stage play adaptation of Peter and the Starcatchers opening off-Broadway, and lots of projects in the works, including my next crime novel/suspense/thriller set in Shanghai where I lived and taught last year. So I’d better get back to it…