New York Times best-selling author Ridley Pearson is the Disney corporation’s best-kept secret. The East Coast native, who has made St. Louis home for the past 13 years, has written more than 35 suspense novels for adults and adventure books for children during the past 30 years. His book, Peter and the Starcatchers, a prequel to Peter Pan that he co-authored with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and humor columnist Dave Barry, was published by Disney and adapted into a Broadway play that earned nine Tony nominations—the most of any play in history. It received five Tony awards at the June 10 ceremony. Ladue News recently spoke with Pearson about life in St. Louis, playing ‘terribly’ in an all-author rock band, and his career success—from books to Broadway.
LN: Why did you decide to move to St. Louis?
RA: We first came here when my wife went to Principia College. We decided to stay because we wanted to live in a place with Midwestern values for our kids— Paige and Storey. We are huge boosters of St. Louis—we love that you can get anywhere in 20 minutes and that there are three dozen museums, incredible restaurants, an abundance of theaters, sports teams and more. Everything about this place is amazing.
LN: Tell us about your latest book, The Risk Agent.
RA: My family lived for a year in Shanghai, and I gained insight into the city when I taught a course in writing at Sudan University. The Risk Agent features an American corporation that loses two employees—a Chinese woman and an American man—to kidnapping in Shanghai. Hopefully, it’s a thrill-a-minute and you really get the feel of Shanghai’s politics and culture.
LN: What inspired you to delve into the adult thriller and children’s adventure genres?
RA: I started out writing about 25 crime and espionage novels—some of them best-selling novels and some of them not. As your kids get older, you start reading books to them and you get that perspective. Then a series of opportunities led me to write the children’s series, Kingdom Keepers, which follows five kids at Disney World after dark.
LN: Describe collaborating with humorist Dave Barry on your Peter Pan prequel series.
RA: I met Dave Barry in an all-author rock band—Rock Bottom Remainders— which until recently, had been touring for 20 years and includes Stephen King and Mitch Albom. We’ve always been really terrible. But Dave and I became friends and we’ve vacationed together. And once when I was staying with him in Miami, it was right after I started reading Peter Pan to my daughter and she asked me how Peter Pan met Captain Hook. I presented a story idea based off that to Dave and said, You write jokes for a living and I kill people for a living, do you want to collaborate on this? His eyes got wide and he said, I’m in. Peter and the Starcatchers became a Broadway play. Now, it might be made into a movie. I have the best job in the world.
LN: What are you reading lately?
RA: I read everything. The more you read, the better you write. Right now, it’s Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel—a really dense book all about the reign of King Henry VIII in the 1520s. And for the New York Times, I recently reviewed Marie Lu’s Legend—a Hunger Games-like book that is very well-written and really terrific.
LN: What authors inspire you?
RA: All authors inspire me. Writing a novel is such a labor of love. I wrote nine full drafts—almost 6,000 pages—of The Risk Agent to get it perfect. There is this misconception that authors have a cigar and Brandy and write while lounging under a lilac bush…then get sent a million dollars—and that is so far from the truth. But if the writing, plot and characters all come together, it’s as beautiful as the St. Louis Symphony. As writers, that’s what we all strive to do.
LN: What is your advice to aspiring authors?
RA: An idea for a book is a dime-a-dozen. You really must know a beginning, middle and end to a story. You need to know the characters that are going to inhabit and live in that book. The other thing is to designate a time every day, week or month to write—whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours—and don’t make excuses for not being there and doing it.
LN: What’s next for you?
RA: I just wrote the last few pages of the sixth book in the Kingdom Keepers series. I am also working on a Disney trilogy with Dave Barry, as well as some TV projects that may never see the light of day.