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In 2005, with seven adult mysteries under his belt, the San Antonio writer and teacher launched a series for kids: Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Now Harry Potter producer Chris Columbus has signed on to bring book one, The Lightning Thief, to the screen. Percy’s print adventures continue with book three, The Titan’s Curse.
What inspired you to branch out?
It was a fluke. My nine-year-old son was dyslexic and ADHD, so reading was a horrible chore. He liked Greek mythology, so I started telling him myths. When I ran out, I created a modern boy, Percy Jackson, who is ADHD and dyslexic and finds out that he is the son of Poseidon. The Lightning Thief was the result.
Do you take a different approach with younger readers?
Kids are tougher critics. They have no patience for self-indulgent authors. They want a tight story, sympathetic characters, humor, action, mystery—the whole package.
Have you set any horizon on the Percy Jackson stories (as J.K. Rowling famously did with the Harry Potter books) or are you taking things one book at a time?
It will be a five-book series. That will allow me to cover pretty much all of Greek mythology and wrap things up while the series still feels fresh and vibrant. The story arc for all five books has been more or less in my head since the beginning, but the details develop as I go along. I try to strike a balance between organizing in advance and letting things happen organically. Part of the fun of writing a series is discovering all the little twists and turns I didn’t envision.
Any new adult fiction on the way?
The next Tres Navarre novel, Rebel Island (due August 28), is set on a fictional island near Port Aransas in a hurricane.
Other than your earlier Tres Navarre books, San Antonio seems to be a rare setting for novels. Is there much of a San Antonio fiction-writing community?
San Antonio has a very active writers’ community, and it’s gotten more vibrant over the past decade or so. Jay Brandon writes an excellent series of legal thrillers set in San Antonio. David Liss, who’s written some highly acclaimed historical novels, also lives here. Nationally renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye is a San Antonio treasure. That’s just to name a few. We also have a fantastic local writers’ group called Gemini Ink, which sponsors workshops and literary events. San Antonio may or may not be the subject for all our local writers, but it definitely provides inspiration. It’s a beautiful setting with a rich cultural heritage.
You seem to be hitting your stride as a writer. Have you set any specific goals for yourself—creatively, commercially, or critically?
I’ve found that things happen when they’re meant to happen. I started writing when I was 13, but I didn’t find the right story to tell until I was 29, when I got the idea for Big Red Tequila. My students had been telling me for years I should write for kids, but I didn’t get the right story until my son needed me to create The Lightning Thief. So sure I have goals and I’m enjoying the success of my books, but at the same time, I’m letting things unfold as they will. My main hope is that the right stories will continue to find me, and I’ll be able to tell them in a way that connects to readers.
Has Hollywood made any overtures toward the Percy Jackson series?
When The Lightning Thief was in manuscript form, it quickly got into the hands of the film scouts, so we had interest from very early on. Fox 2000 optioned the book. A preliminary script was written by Joe Stillman, the screenwriter of Shrek, though the studio is now working on a different script. Just recently, Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films, signed on to direct and produce the movie. No word yet on casting or release date.
How have your book-signing crowds changed?
They’ve increased exponentially and gotten a lot younger!
When you write the fifth—and final—Percy Jackson book, will you be tempted to kill him off?
Perry will go through many dangers, and not all of his friends will go unscathed, but I don’t foresee his imminent demise.