On Book Tour, Author Speaks About Unexpected Success
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 20:02
Ransom Riggs is homesick.
As he explained to a standing-only crowd in the Tysons Corner Barnes & Noble on Jan. 29, he is very happy to be on the two-week long book tour for his second novel, “Hollow City,” but also relieved to be returning home.
“I feel like I’m in a washing machine stuck on the spin cycle. I think I’ve taken 17 flights in all,” he said.
Riggs should be used to chaos by now. His first novel, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” was published in 2011 to a limited release of about 2,000 copies.
“I wasn’t expecting anything. A book geared toward teenagers featuring black-and-white photos?” he asked, shrugging as if to say, “Who would read that?”
Who did read “Miss Peregrine?” A lot of people. So many people, in fact, that the novel was on top of the New York Time’s Best Selling Children’s Chapter Books list for three weeks, the highlight of its 63-week run on the list. It has been adapted into a graphic novel and will be released next year as a major motion picture directed by Tim Burton.
“Hollow City” continues the story began in “Miss Peregrine.” In the first novel, sixteen-year-old Jacob follows a trail of photographs to Wales in order to uncover the truth behind the mysterious death of his grandfather. He uncovers a “time loop” that sends him back to the 1940s where he discovers an orphanage for children with unique talents, such as controlling fire, becoming invisible and exercising incredible strength.
In “Hollow City,” the adventures of the peculiar children continue as, displaced, they search for a home in a new “time loop,” eventually landing in 1940 London, the “peculiar capital of the world.”
The most striking feature of “Miss Peregrine” and “Hollow City” is perhaps also the reason why they appealed to Burton. The stories use a unique format — Riggs constructs the narratives of the books around vintage, gothic photographs he finds for sale in bins in flea markets around the country.
“I love to write things that are clearly very fictional and fake but are rooted in reality,” Riggs said.
Rudimentary photo manipulation lends an eerie quality to the photos that appear to be normal at first glance, but upon examination have something fundamentally wrong with its subjects. On the cover of “Miss Peregrine,” the reader can find a girl who appears to be floating a few inches off the ground. Inside, a girl in a cemetery stares at a pond that reflects two girls back. What appears to be a cowboy poses with no head.
While writing the sequel, Riggs changed his methodology. Instead of being shaped by the photographs he finds, he instead hunted for photographs that best fit the narrative he had in mind and altered his story to accommodate photographs he found that were close to — but not exactly — what he had imagined.
More often than not, Riggs said, the photos that appealed to him were the ones that had a backstory. The first second-hand photograph he bought as a child appealed to him because the subject looked like a girl on whom he had a crush in grade school. It sat on his dresser for weeks until he flipped it over and read, “Coney Island, 1942, Died of Leukemia.”
However, Riggs never expected to be a writer. As he explained to the audience, he was a film school graduate and out-of-work screenplay writer bouncing from blogging job to blogging job. He finally landed at Mental Floss, where a coworker then recommended him to Quirk Publishers to collaborate first on “The Sherlock Holmes Handbook,” then on “Miss Peregrine.”
What Riggs finds most valuable about his meandering career path is the lesson he learned about seizing any opportunity available.
“The writer/director life is just such a small bull’s-eye and you don't want to find yourself standing there banging on that door, because in your life you're presented with hundreds of doors and all of them kind of sort of lead to your dream. But if you're just stuck on that one door, you'll never get anywhere. So yes, say yes to everything,” Riggs said.
Sitting in a film school classroom in his college years, Riggs must never have imagined himself in front of a small crowd of young adult fiction fans just outside the nation’s capital. But he said yes to writing, and while it may have taken him away from home for a short while, it did earn him a place as a New York Times Bestselling Author, which doesn’t sound too peculiar at all.