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Newsmaker: Rick Riordan

Headshot of Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan Photo: M. Sharkey

Rick Riordan is best known for his Greek mythology–inspired Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which has since inspired a larger franchise. In May he released The Sun and the Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure (Hachette) with coauthor Mark Oshiro, about the son of Hades and his boyfriend on a journey to the Underworld. And in September Riordan returned to his original protagonists with The Chalice of the Gods (Disney Hyperion), chronicling Percy’s efforts to get into college.

Riordan spoke with American Libraries about his newest works and the longevity of Percy Jackson.

The Sun and the Star follows Nico, who has faced significant trauma and must learn to find “lightness” in the dark. How can this book help young readers experiencing trauma or grief?

It’s often easier to process our own trauma when we do so by proxy—especially in a fantasy world, where it doesn’t feel quite as close and personal. When you watch a character go through something, you can learn from them and take lessons away.

The big lesson Nico learns is how to be comfortable with his authentic self, open to other people, and open to love. It’s not an easy thing when you’re a son of Hades, when you’ve lost a lot of people in your life and basically been disappointed, let down, and hurt. How do you open yourself up after something like that? This is the book where he figures out how to do that.

The Sun and the Star takes place in the Percy Jackson universe but is a standalone story. What story elements would Percy Jackson fans be familiar with? And how do the themes or tone differ from what they’ve seen?

What will be the same is the kind of sense of humor, the ridiculousness of the Percy Jackson experience—these young, modern kids facing these ancient powers—and the road trip elements through the Underworld.

Because I was able to cowrite this with Mark Oshiro, there is a greater sense of authenticity, especially speaking about the LGBT experience—what that is like and how that informs the characters—and a broader kind of emotional base that Mark brought to the story.

This is the first time either of you has cowritten a novel. What adjustments did you make in your writing process? 

We have different styles. I’m definitely much more plot and action driven. Mark is more of an emotional, intuitive writer. It was a matter of being open to one another and making a goal that the book would be a true 50/50 collaboration: that Mark’s ideas were just as valid and important as mine were.

I started with an outline, sent it to Mark. They looked at it and did a more elaborate outline, then sent it to me. We went back and forth several times using [editor Stephanie Lurie] as our conduit. The drafting process was the same. At the end of the day, it’s difficult for us even to remember who wrote what line, because it really is very much a melding.

The Chalice of the Gods is the first time in nearly 15 years that you’ve written a story from Percy Jackson’s perspective. What can readers expect?

It was a treat to go back to Percy’s voice. It always feels comfortable and familiar because he’s so much a part of me and shares my sense of humor. I hope readers will get a sense of déjà vu in the best possible way and enjoy a reunion with these old friends. I know I did.

You are also an executive producer for the forthcoming Percy Jackson Disney+ series. Why do you think these stories still resonate nearly 20 years since the first book came out?

When I write a book, I’m not thinking about posterity. If the books are still resonating, it’s because 12-year-olds are 12-year-olds. What they go through, at their core, isn’t that different than it was in the 1920s, or the 1870s, or the 1960s. Some of these things are just universal. That’s true of Greek mythology, too. These stories are 3,000–4,000 years old—why are we still telling them? I think because they speak to the human experience.

What do you make of the recent wave of book challenges and bans?

It’s a shame. It’s a symptom of a fundamental lack of understanding of other people—a fundamental lack of empathy. And it makes me sad. It’s certainly nothing new. This has always been with us. It seems to be more pressurized [now]. A lot of these challenges and conflicts could be worked through if people would just talk to one another. But there’s very little interest in doing that, unfortunately.

That’s one area that libraries excel at: allowing access to lots of different opinions, worlds, and life experiences that you can learn about to become a better and more open person. Anything that takes that away makes us poorer as a society.

What role have libraries played in your life?

I still have very fond memories of my local branch library in San Antonio. It was a form of magic that you could go into this building, pick books, and they would just let you leave with them, read them, bring them back, and they would give you more.

The libraries at schools I found to be especially important to me because they were a sanctuary. They were a place where anyone could go and take a breath, relax, and explore a different world. There are a lot of times for students, especially those in middle school, when the library is critical.

I think about Frederick Law Olmsted’s parks like Central Park and how they’re described as “the lungs of the city.” I think of libraries that way. They are the lungs of the school. They allow the school to breathe.

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