Our Albuquerque Barnes & Noble hosted Riggs in grand style. While the “events” that were set up for ticket holders were presented mostly by Riggs’s traveling crew (our stop was the 9th on his whirlwind book tour in a van decorated with lively Conference of the Birds artwork), B & N employees helped, too. I’m not sure who provided the chocolates, cookies and sweet drinks, but it didn’t matter. In the hour before Riggs danced in, the guests, numbering approximately forty by my count, had a great time. One woman sitting in the front row, a gold ticket holder, even came dressed as a character from Riggs’s stories.
There was so much to do: tattoos stamped at the tattoo booth, photos taken by the participants themselves in front of a giant poster backdrop, and a mysterious event known only to gold ticket holders (my ticket was silver, which included a hardcover copy of The Conference of Birds). Three notebooks, signed by Ransom Riggs, were given away.
Riggs grew up in Florida. When he was twelve, he found old photographs with his grandmother at a collector’s store in town. His fascination grew and he soon became a collector himself, scouring old photos at swap meets and flea markets. He especially liked the photos that had writing on the back, such as an old photo of a young girl named Dorothy who, on the back, said that she had died of leukemia at his age. He’d never before thought that anyone his age would die. Photos then were ten cents a piece; later, as he grew more serious, he paid more.
He would find creepy stuff, such as a collection of men with blank eyes (these poor souls either had cataracts, were blind, or came from another world, not sure), which appears in The Conference of the Birds, war time photos, and Gothic photos, to name a few. He kept his photos into albums. No permission was necessary for these unclaimed photos (I had to ask). And then he came to a photo of a peculiar child. Hmm.
When he was thirteen, he joined a writer’s group called Inklings. He wrote Stephen King-like stories alongside old ladies writing their memoirs.
After a stint at film school, trying his hand at screenwriting, and other jobs, he was encouraged by the editor of a small publishing company to write a novel, and his novel of an island full of kids with strange abilities was born. He thought the novel wouldn’t get any attention, but it slowly gathered momentum, and was made into the movie, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The ending of the novel was a cliff-hanger, and two more novels followed, a trilogy. The end. He thought. But now he is in the middle of another trilogy, writing the latest novel, half-way done and slated to come out in 2021, while on the road in his van, traveling on his book tour across America.
Riggs’s wife, Tahereh Mafi, is also a bestselling author, with six books in her New York Times and USA Today bestselling YA Shatter Me series, and her novels A Very Large Expanse of Sea, longlisted by the National Book Award for YA, and Furthermore, Gr 5-7. They share an office, write side-by-side, and he shared with his characteristic terrific sense of humor that she very kindly and gently reads his early drafts.
After Riggs blew in front of the crowd, seated by tickets, I was struck with his attitude. He thanked B & N for having him, expressed his gratitude that his readers have stuck with him through his six-odd year writing journey. He said knowing that his readers were waiting for this book was a big shot in the arm for him.
He began his talk by answering questions that are usually asked, which I thought was a big time-saver. This way he covered a lot of more territory than might have been missed by having to save time for a lengthy Q & A session, though he did allot some time for Q & A at the end.
- He said writing is a great escape; channeling whatever feeling—sadness, joy, etc., into good fiction is a good way to get our feelings out.
- In the beginning, he used his photos to inspire his characters, but now the story has its own momentum, and he goes with that.
- He listens to music, not while writing necessarily, but music helps him to think up ideas.
- Writer's Block strategies: Writer's block is a sign that the author is trying to force the character to do something that doesn’t come naturally, or the author is too attached to the plot. Any author suffering from writer's block needs to back up and think about what they’re trying to write.
- The most important thing Riggs has learned? Writing faster doesn’t make it worse! Just write the book instead of all that other stuff!
Introductory photo: From Ransom Riggs's Facebook Pages
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter, and is working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.