Rick Riordan is the best-selling author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Kane Chronicles, as well as the Tres Navarre mysteries for adults. His latest series, The Heroes of Olympus, is a sequel to the Percy Jackson books told from the perspectives of seven different demigods. The Mark of Athena, the third book in The Heroes of Olympus series, brings together the characters from the first two installments — The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune — on a quest to defeat the earth mother Gaea. The best part? Annabeth, who’s been around since the days of The Lightning Thief, will finally get her say. Riordan took the time to speak with EW about his newest book — and why his wife and kids are his best editors. When you’re done reading the interview, check out the exclusive book trailer for The Mark of Athena below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: My dad told me to tell you that you have big kids among your fans too. He wants to know if there will be another Tres Navarre novel.
RICK RIORDAN: [Laughs] You know it’s not anywhere in the near future because the kids books are keeping me so busy. I love [the Tres Navarre series], so not anytime soon, but never say never.
Why did you turn to children’s literature? What drew you to it?
Well, I was a middle-school teacher for many years. My students knew me as a storyteller. I would do mythology tales in the class and they would always say, “Mr. Riordan, you should be a writer.” I would always put them off and say, “No, no, I already write for adults.” It took me a while to figure out my students were right. It really is the audience I know best. What really triggered it for me was when my older son Haley was having trouble in school. The Percy Jackson story was something I told him as a bedtime story. That’s where the series came from.
What’s the difference between writing for kids and writing for adults? Is there a difference?
Most of the tool kit is the same. Kids, if anything, are harder to write for because they are a more discerning audience. They will not stay with you if you go off on a tangent or if you give them extraneous information that doesn’t serve the story. You really have to tell a tight story. You have to give them humor and suspense and believable characters. All those things that adults want too, but you have to be really on your game when you’re writing for kids.
How does The Heroes of Olympus compare to the Percy Jackson series?
The main change there was that I decided to do a Roman take on classical mythology and play with the idea, “What if there were two camps — a Greek camp and a Roman camp?” The interaction between those two branches of classical mythology is really at heart of The Heroes of Olympus. It is nice to explore that world from multiple perspectives and really get inside the head of seven main characters rather than just Percy. It let me reinvent my own world, which kept me interested and hopefully kept the readers interested too.
What was it like to switch into third-person narration, particularly for a character you’d written from the first perspective before?
It was a tricky thing to do. I was worried about it, but after I got into it, I found that I could maintain [Percy’s] voice, but just do it as a third person narration. It worked out fine.
Can you talk a bit about the mythology behind The Heroes of Olympus series? You unite Roman and Greek mythology in an interesting way…
My biggest challenge was keeping all the names straight for the reader. I have to say the kids seem to have no trouble with that at all. It’s usually the adults who I lose. The kids are in the zone. They know this stuff and I have to really keep on top of this because if I do make a mistake or make a reference that’s wrong, they’ll catch me. They’re very perceptive about everything mythology.
The Mark of Athena is where we’ll see the stories of The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune come together. Was it hard to keep track of everyone?
The scope of the book is huge. My biggest challenge is to take all the different strands, all the things I’ve set up, and merge them into one huge stage. That was the biggest challenge, but I have to say it was also the biggest treat. Some of the relationships that came out of the book, I was not at all expecting. I just hadn’t really considered all the different permutations. I’m really pleased with how it came out.
What can you tell us about The Mark of Athena?
The difference with The Mark of Athena — other than just the fact that it’s got all of the characters together — is that it’s truly Annabeth’s story. This is a character that we’ve known since The Lightning Thief, but we’ve never been inside her head before. The Mark of Athena is really her story. There’s a lot going on, but at the heart it’s about Annabeth figuring out what her stirrings are, what her mother Athena needs from her, and how she can come to terms with her destiny.
I’ve read that you use your wife and kids as sounding boards. What’s that process like exactly?
My wife has been my best editor since I started writing books with the adult mysteries back in 1997. She doesn’t pull any punches. I really appreciate that I have someone to be very honest with me. My kids are very much the same way. Haley is sort of aging out of my target ages — he’s 18 now — but he is an incredible editor. Patrick, my younger son, is 14, and he’s just a fabulous copy editor. We had to put him on the payroll.
He makes his allowance from copy-editing?
It started as a joke. I had copy-edited The Son of Neptune and the copy editor at Disney had and my editor had, so three professional people in the writing business had looked at it already. [Patrick] said, “Well, if I look at it for mistakes, will you pay me 10 dollars a mistake?” I sort of laughed and said, “Yeah sure.” I figured there were not going to be any in there. He found 40 mistakes that all three of us had missed. The kid’s going to put himself through college being a copy editor. [Laughs]
My introduction to your books came when my mother bought The Lightning Thief out of sheer desperation to get my brother to read something. I feel like your books are a good choice for children who may be reluctant readers. Why do you think that is?
That’s great to hear. Every time I hear that, I feel validated. My older son, he was a reluctant reader. I was a reluctant reader as a kid. I worked in the classroom with tons of reluctant readers and they are the ones that I was always trying to reach. Anybody can reach the kid in the front row who’s the A-plus student who reads anyway. You really earn your keep as a teacher if you can reach the kid who’s trying to hide in the back row and never found a book that he or she really enjoys and reads for pleasure. If you can find something that really engages that kid then you’ve done your job.
What advice do you have for parents with children who are reluctant to read?
First, model reading. If the adults in the family are too busy to read, the kids are going to feel the same way. So it’s really important [for the kids] to see their parents reading. The second thing is just to provide a quiet time during the evening or sometime that the kids can read. It doesn’t really matter what they’re reading as long as the expectation is there that this is the time that we’re going to set aside to let reading happen. [Finally], listen to your kid about what their interests are and let them have an active role in picking what it is that they’re going to read.
The Mark of Athena hits shelves on Oct. 2.