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Ridley Pearson Author Interview
Mystery author Ridley Pearson has his hands full juggling four series for readers across all ages. And this month, in his latest release, In Harm's Way, the author brings together the heroes of his two adult series. RT's Assistant Web Editor Whitney Sullivan tracked Pearson down to ask about his newest thriller, his rock band and the author's busy schedule.
Ridley Pearson: The act of bringing Sheriff Walt Fleming and Sergeant Lou Boldt together was unexpected. Boldlt "walked on" to the story without invitation. Barged into my outline. But when that occurred it seemed so obvious to me I wondered why I hadn't thought of it earlier. They compliment each other very well: Walt is outdoorsy and wise in the way of a woodsman, very good with people; Boldt is almost a criminologist in his methodical approach to investigation.
WS: This is the fourth installment of your "Killer" series. Can you share a detail that you know about Fleming that hasn't made it into one of his novels?
RP: A big part of who Walt "is," including his turbulent relationship with his father, results from his brother's death. That has yet to be explored in the series.
WS: Walt Fleming and Fiona Kenshaw both have young people relying on them. How did you make these relationships come to life? Did you use some of your own experiences raising children to craft these characters' parenting?
RP: I didn't do this consciously, but now that you mention it: you're right. My wife and I surround ourselves with younger people and try to be part of their lives — something taught by example to me by own parents — so I guess it just happened (happens) organically.
WS: For In Harm's Way you took on the seedy underbelly of high profile sports figures and the women who date them. You've also had Fleming protect an attorney general, stop a biological terror attack and foil a scheme to steal a piece of national history. Which of these challenges has been the most difficult for you to create?
RP: Writing shouldn't be difficult. It should be enjoyable. At the same time, you want it to challenge you as a writer; that is, you don't want to write "the same book" over and over. I tackle subjects and characters that interest me, hoping that by loving what I do it will interest my readers as well.
WS: In Harm's Way was originally called Killer Silence, which title do you prefer and why do you believe that that one better represents the story?
RP: We worked with three titles for what became In Harm's Way, including Killer Body — the first working title that I've wanted to use in the series since it started. Killer Silence fit the relationship between Walt and Fiona. Walt, who's an upstanding guy is faced with the idea of bending evidence to protect Fiona — and all he gets from her is silence. Ultimately, once Boldt walked into the story it lost it's shot at a Killer title. That was the end of that. And everyone in this story ends up in harm's way, so once I realized/identified that, the title was obvious to us all.
WS: You peppered In Harm's Way with many red herrings. Can you tell our readers a bit about the
process of creating false leads for this particular mystery?
RP: Well, first of all I outline. I know what's coming; I know where the story's going. I don't actually lay false leads into the story as intentionally as it may appear; I try to work with cops and experts, and figure the direction they would go in a particular investigation — it is usually those attempts that lead to the false clues. When it is intentional, it's planned out over the course of the outline to give the reader the right information, but let them assume the wrong thing because of it.
WS: We know Sun Valley, where Fleming is based, is your neck of the woods. If someone comes for a visit, where do you suggest that they stop for a coffee (or beer) if they were looking to spend time at Fleming’s local hangout?
RP: The favorite burger joint is Grumpies in Ketchum. But don't bring a credit card. The Pioneer on Main Street, Ketchum, is a must. As is Zou 75 in Hailey, ID and Vintage in Ketchum — two of the finest dinners you'll have anywhere.
WS: In addition to Fleming and Boldt you also write (and co-write) two series for children. How has writing for a younger audience affected your adult novels?
RP: I hope that the more stories you tell on paper the better you get at it. But who knows!? The main thing writing for YA has given me is more brain exercise. I love to stay mentally engaged and writing sure does that for me.
WS: You recently spent a year in China and are working on the first novel in a series set in Shanghai. Your two adult heroes, Fleming and Boldt, are both inspired by actual people. Will you tell us about the hero of your newest series — and is he (or she) based on someone you met abroad?
RP: The new novel is an act of love. I fell in love with Shanghai and China. I've put many real people into the novel, though the lead character is more a composite of people I've read about. I'm really looking forward to the publication of the novel (sometime early in 2012). It's a watershed moment for my writing career.
WS: Can you share a detail that RT readers can keep an eye out for in the upcoming story?
RP: At the heart of the female protagonist's story is lost love. A marriage was arranged for her (oh, yes, that still happens in China!) and she fought against it; it has impacted her life forever and directly affects her in the novel.
WS: You are the bassist for The Rock Bottom Remainders, a band that includes Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Scott Turow, Greg Iles, and Kathi Goldmark - where can finds find out more about your music and schedule?
RP: My website www.ridleypearson.com lists any future performances of The Rock Bottom Remainders. I also use Twitter (@RidleyPearson) and Facebook to keep things current. Information is also on www.rockbottomremainders.com.