By Jon Waterhouse
Rick Riordan doesn’t sound like someone who knows what it’s like to firmly plant himself atop The New York Times Best-Seller List. He comes off more like the middle school teacher he used to be: reserved, articulate and lighthearted enough to keep things entertaining.
Riordan is responsible for taking Greek mythology out of the classroom and making it cool again. His young adult book series, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians,” is about an unassuming 12-year-old boy who finds out he’s the offspring of a Greek god.“The Lightning Thief,” the first book of the series, makes its way to the big screen Friday. But Riordan has been so busy cranking out a pair of new books, he hasn’t seen it. The AJC caught up with the author recently by telephone.
Q: It seems like teaching middle school would be a great way to learn how to be a young adult writer.
A: Absolutely. … And when I was writing “The Lightning Thief,” I had my own students in mind. … I really enjoy being in the role of a teacher. I still kind of feel like I’m a teacher, but now I have millions of kids in my classroom instead of just 20 or 30.
Q: The character of Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy. Was he inspired by any real students?
A: Percy Jackson, like a lot of the characters, is sort of a amalgam of different students that I’ve had in the past. He isn’t based on any one person. … He’s partly based a little bit on myself — we have the same sense of humor. He’s partly based on my son, because at the time when I told him the story to begin with, they were both struggling with the same things. They both have [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder], they both had dyslexia, they both felt like they didn’t belong at school, they didn’t like homework, they didn’t like reading. So that part of his story is certainly based on my son’s own struggle. But Percy sort of evolved into his own character, as we hope all good characters do.
Q: You’re working on your new series, “The Kane Chronicles,” and more Percy Jackson material. How involved have you been with “The Lightning Thief” movie?
A: Unfortunately, with the success of the series, I feel more responsible than ever that I’m getting the books out in a timely way and that the fans who have gotten used to the series don’t have to wait any longer than they have to. I’m very excited about “The Kane Chronicles,” because it’s about Egyptian mythology, and it’s something new and fresh. It’s a chance to polish a different kind of mythology. So I wanted to do that, but I also didn’t want to leave the Percy Jackson fans hanging for too long. So I made a choice to juggle these two series, and it has made my schedule pretty crazy. … I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been able to see the film. … In terms of how involved I’ve been with the movie, not at all. I read a version of the script and gave some suggestions, but that’s it. It’s [director] Chris Columbus’ vision entirely. I think it’s important to remember that books and movies are different animals. And I hope people enjoy both and not get too hung up on the differences.