Riordan, a secondary school teacher for 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and Texas, is the New York Times best-selling author of the Percy Jackson and Olympians series, the Kane Chronicles and the Heroes of Olympus. He has also written an award-winning mystery series for adults.
He turned to writing children's fiction after he wrote "The Lightning Thief" for his eldest son, Haley, who initially asked Riordan to tell home some bedtime stories about Greek gods and heroes.
"When I ran out of myths, he was disappointed and asked me if I could make up something new with the same characters," Riordan said.
"I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I remembered a creative writing project I used to do with my sixth graders — I would let them create their own demigod hero, the son or daughter of any god they wanted, and have them describe a Greek-style quest for that hero," Riordan said. "Off the top of my head, I made up Percy Jackson and told Haley all about his quest to recover Zeus’ lightning bolt in modern-day America. It took about three nights to tell the whole story, and when I was done, Haley told me I should write it out as a book."
During the next year, Riordan found time to write the first book in the Percy Jackson series.
"I just really enjoyed writing it. The story was such fun, and so different from my adult fiction, that I found myself spending a lot of time on it," Riordan said. "Now, I’m sure glad I did!"
Riordan left teaching after he realized he would be hard pressed to meet two book deadlines a year while keeping a full-time job.
"When I sold the Percy Jackson series to Disney Book Group, I realized that I’d now have to write two books a year to keep up with my deadlines — one adult book and one children’s book. I just didn’t think I’d be able to keep up that pace and do a good job in the classroom, so I made the reluctant decision to leave teaching," he said.
"The good part is, I still get to work with kids as a children’s author. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get more kids interested in reading mythology with my books than I ever did as a teacher."
He's on his way. More than 30 million copies of the Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus books have been published with the rights sold in more than 35 countries.
He is also the author of "The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones." and received the Children's Choice Books Award for Author of the Year in 2011.
Riordan says he started writing in eighth grade and an English teacher who encouraged him to submit his writing for publication.
"I became a middle school English teacher largely because of the impact Mrs. Pabst had on me 23 years ago, and I love having the chance to encourage kids to write the way I was encouraged," said Riordan, who his school’s first Master Teacher Award in 2002 for Saint Mary’s Hall. "That’s one of the reasons I was not anxious to leave the classroom to pursue full-time writing."
He also offered some advice for his young followers, especially those who are interested in someday writing stories of their own. First is to find a mentor.
"The first thing a young writer needs is a mentor who believes in his or her talent. So don’t be afraid to ask for help! Find a teacher you respect. Correspond with authors. You will find that a polite email will almost always get a response.
His second tip is to read.
"Read everything you can get your hands on. You will learn the craft of writing by immersing yourself in the voices, styles and structures of writers who have gone before you."
He says to write daily.
"Keep a journal. Jot down interesting stories you heard. Write descriptions of people you see. It doesn’t really matter what you write, but you must keep up practice. Writing is like a sport — you only get better if you practice. If you don’t keep at it, the writing muscles atrophy," he says.
Having a manuscript rejected is just part of the publishing process.
"Finally, don’t get discouraged! Rejection is a part of writing, and it hurts. The trick is to keep at it. Wallpaper your room with rejection notes, if you want, but don’t give up."
Riordan says the "Serpent's Shadow" was his favorite Kane book to write thus far.
"In this book, all your questions will be answered: Can Apophis be stopped? Will Ra ever be whole again? Is Bes really gone for good? What happens with Carter and Zia? And, of course, what happens with Sadie, Anubis and Walt?" he said.
if you go ...
What: Rick Riordan speaking about "The Kane Chronicles: The Serpent's Shadow"
When: Wednesday, May 2, 7 p.m.
Where: Timpview High School auditorium, 3570 Timpview Drive, Provo
Note: Tickets are free, available from the Provo and Orem libraries. Patrons who attend the event in Egyptian or Greek costume will be entered to win a signed, hardcover set of Riordan's novels.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.