It’s wonderful being an author and having so many kids enjoying my books. That’s always been my dream job, and I feel very lucky to be able to do it.
If you talk to me for five minutes, you know how much I love Rick Riordan’s books. Percy Jackson has been in print for nearly a decade, but I only discovered him five years ago as a college freshman. Planning to read the book before the movie released, I opened up The Lightning Thief and fell completely in love with it; about three days later, I had finished all five books in the series. At the end of the spring semester, I traded in my used textbooks for The Red Pyramid, and that fall, The Lost Hero became part of my personal library as well. I’ve been collecting Riordan’s books on their release days ever since.
After years of reading and rereading his modern mythology adventures, I finally had the opportunity to see Rick Riordan live. For the final book of his Heroes of Olympus series, he appeared at the Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, MA, to speak about his experiences with teaching and storytelling throughout his life, as well as to share fun facts and sneak peeks into his series. Porter Square Books in Cambridge organized the sold-out event and provided signed copies of The Blood of Olympus.
Here’s a rundown of this amazing event!
First of all, the line of readers waiting to get inside went around the corner and down the street—or perhaps “up the street” is more accurate, considering that it was on a hill. Young readers, some of whom I’m not sure were even alive when The Lightning Thief first hit bookstore shelves, bounced up and down in line with parents in tow, with a smattering of teens and non-parent adults like me throughout. There were plenty of Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter tees, and some fans even cosplayed. I myself spotted a few Percys and Annabeths, a Nico complete with Stygian blade, and two Team Leo nymphs (ya’ll looked awesome, btw).
Just inside the first set of doors was a table set up with free Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter shirts for attendees. Beyond that, the temple was not only architecturally beautiful, but also huge—I would estimate over a thousand people were at the event, and everyone had a seat.
For anyone who thinks kids are becoming less interested in reading for fun, I’ve got about seven hundred grade-schoolers to introduce you to; it was like the biggest Christmas party in Boston, but instead of waiting for Santa and his bag of toys, we were all waiting for Uncle Rick and his bag of plot twists.
Uncle Rick, as many fans affectionately call him, finally appeared to the deafening screams of joyful children and the respect of their slightly-overwhelmed parents. With a projector set up at the front of the room, Riordan chronicled the people and events in his life that shaped him into the writer he is today.
He spoke about his family and childhood, complete with a slideshow of baby pictures and middle school yearbook scans, and how he hadn’t much enjoyed reading as a kid. The material that engaged him most was a family comic book collection—featuring a few mythological figures, whether as guest stars in a Superman title or, naturally, Thor—and, later, The Lord of the Rings.
Riordan said that when his uncle would tell him stories as a kid, that ability to create struck him as a kind of “magic” all on its own. It wasn’t until later, he admitted, that it occurred to him that the stories he made up were like that, too. A particularly delightful anecdote recounted how, in his teen years, he submitted a short story for publication and received his first rejection letter, which nonetheless encouraged him to continue pursuing writing. His mother framed the letter and hung it on the wall.
“She was so proud,” Riordan quipped. “Meanwhile, I have to walk by my rejection every day!”
Even when his house tragically burned to the ground in his college years, he recounted that the framed rejection letter survived without a scratch. It apparently still hangs in his mother’s living room.
A chorus of cooing filled the venue when Riordan’s slideshow turned up a picture of his wife. The slide was titled: “I find my Annabeth.”
After a series of yearbook photos boasting the stylin’ long hair of the seventies and eighties, Riordan transitioned into a picture of himself as a young teacher, excitedly narrating that he finally had to cut his hair (applause!). Teaching at the middle school level and understanding from his own experience how tough school can be for some kids, Riordan dove into unorthodox teaching to make connections with his students. Studying Korea meant tae kwan do lessons, and for Greek mythology, his students actually had a pyre to send handwritten messages to the gods. “I don’t know why the school let me get away with it,” he noted.
Writing was a secondary job. At first, Riordan found some success writing murder mysteries for adults. He showed us pictures of his “road map,” an enormous diagram that he used to break down his stories chapter by chapter before delving into writing. He also showed us his first manuscript (well over 300 pages printed) and said he was rejected fourteen times before his first book was picked up.
While he was writing for adults, he was also telling stories for his sons. Riordan regaled his older son, Haley, particularly with myths until he ran out. “There hasn’t been a new one in two thousand years,” he joked. Haley suggested he make one up.
The next slide, featuring a well-known illustration of a boy with black hair and sea-green eyes, was titled simply: “Peter Johnson.”
Riordan talked about how he created a demigod with ADHD and dyslexia, like his son, so that he could relate to Percy. It started with one story about finding a stolen lightning bolt, and Haley urged him to write it down when he finished. Riordan protested at first, saying he didn’t have the time and needed to focus on writing his adult novels.
Haley’s response? “No, Dad, write it down.”
From there, Percy’s adventures spiraled into a modern mythological epic. Riordan gave a shout-out to his agent and editor at Disney Hyperion, then showed the crowd designs his team debated before deciding on the iconic cover for The Lightning Thief. As he recounted each book in the series, he included pictures of some of the covers from around the world.
Once he’d gone through the Percy Jackson and the Olympians covers, he talked about his Egyptian mythology trilogy, The Kane Chronicles, as well as his recent release Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, a collection of mythological tales from our favorite demigod’s point of view (read as: sassy and hilarious).
Finally, the moment we’d all been waiting for: Riordan delved into his Heroes of Olympus series. He joked that he could keep writing Percy books—“Percy Jackson 6, Percy Jackson 7, Percy Jackson 25…”—but that he wanted to explore different characters and ended up with seven characters alternating points of view.
“Seven! What was I thinking?” he shouted. Once he’d created those characters, though, he knew he had to see their stories through. Up on the projector, he flashed images of the new heroes joining Percy and Annabeth: Frank, Hazel, Piper, and Jason. Kids screamed and cheered (as they did after just about every story he told or slide he brought up on the projector; think rock star, only better).
“And everybody’s favorite,” Uncle Rick said, bringing up a new slide. “Octavian!” After a mix of yelling and booing, he amended his slide with a picture of above-and-beyond fan favorite Leo Valdez. The cheers were deafening. (I may have been part of it, shhh. Who doesn’t love Leo?)
We also got a sneak peek at a forthcoming book, complete with exclusive cover, which will act as a companion to Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and chronicle the heroes of mythology. Finally, Uncle Rick left us with the text logo for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, his new Norse Mythology-inspired series that will take place “right here in Boston!” Book 1, The Sword of Summer, is set for a 2015 release.
“Magnus Chase, Annabeth Chase…” he teased. “They are related.” We’ll just have to wait and see how exactly.
To wrap up his talk, Riordan answered fan questions off of index cards. The first glorious inquiry started with a compliment about how strong and smart a female character Annabeth isand followed up with: “Why is her magic hat of invisibility a Yankees cap?” The Boston audience roared with laughter.
“She is from New York,” Riordan chuckled back. He also assured us that he’s been to Fenway many times since moving up to Boston and that he likes the Sox.
The questions he had time to answer covered a good range of topics. He admitted that his protagonists were largely boys because, where he’s a male writer who started off telling stories for his sons, male characters come more easily to him, and joked that for readers who want to marry his characters: “Well, they can’t break up with you!”
His final question was what kind of advice he would give to aspiring writers, and his answer was threefold:
- Keep reading.
- Keep writing. “Writing is like playing a sport. If you don’t practice, you won’t get better.”
- Never give up. “If I had quit after five rejections or ten rejections…I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
On my way out, I picked up my preordered copies, signed by Uncle Rick himself. It was a long ride home, my fingers itching to start turning pages and uncovering the final installment. While I know that Rick Riordan’s books all share a universe—he’s published crossover stories between Percy’s world and the Kanes’, and a few characters have popped up in multiple series—and the Heroes of Olympus series alone proves that the story still goes on, The Blood of Olympus still marks the end of an era.
If I didn’t have to come to work today, you can bet that I would have stayed up all night reading. As it stands, I’m a few hundred pages in as of this blog post, and I fully intend to finish this book ASAP. Before you have a chance to break my heart again, Uncle Rick, I want to thank you for the joy these characters have brought me.
I have solidified friendships through Percy, connected with college professors over buying books on their release days, and just plain enjoyed curling up with books that make me happy. Here’s to you!
Happy reading, fellow demigods! #therewillbeblood