Ridley Pearson Totally Saw Two of Those ‘It’s a Small World’ Dolls Move at Disney World

Photo: Matthew Eisman/2012 Matthew Eisman

Writers tend to be lone wolves, but Ridley Pearson, the prolific author of both adult and children’s thrillers (including the Peter and the Starcatcher series), is clearly a team player. On a panel today at BookCon with fellow kids’ adventure author James Dashner (of the Maze Runner series), he talked, among other things, about his far-flung and often very entertaining collaborations from Dave Barry to the Disney Corporation.

On Stephen King, with whom Pearson is in the novelist supergroup the Rock Bottom Remainders:

What’s interesting about Stephen is he’s an absolutely normal guy. He’s not one of these macabre, dressed-in-all-black kind of guys. But it turns out that his fans are psycho. We played in Nashville, and we always ended with Stephen because that’s how we knew we’d get the most applause. This band is the worst band you’ve ever heard, but we play for good causes. So we’re up onstage and Stephen’s playing away, and we have that Bob Dylan moment, everybody’s swaying with their lighters in the air, and standing down here looking up at Stephen is a perfectly attractive 35-year-old woman with her mouth wide open and all ten fingernails on fire. Those are Stephen King fans. Let’s hope they were plastic nails.

On the Disney Corporation, which published his series The Kingdom Keepers, set in Disney parks:

When Disney was interested in my writing a thriller set inside their theme parks I said, ‘That would be great but I’d have to have full access to them day and night.’ They said, ‘We don’t do that,’ and I said, 'Okay, then I can’t write the book.' The next month my editor called up and said, ‘I got you a VIP pass and it’ll get you into any theme park around the world for free, and if you call ahead, we will get a Disney Imagineer to show you around when the park is closed. So I’ve done this 28 times now.

One night, riding It’s a Small World at Disney World when all the power was off, he was absolutely convinced that two animatronic dolls had moved. So in his first book, “Two of the dolls move and then six of the dolls move, and then all of the dolls move. And I have them biting at these kids and causing them to bleed. I knew I had to get this first book approved by the Disney attorneys. It took them 11 months. From that moment on, they still review the books and take months to do it, but they’ve never censored a word out of these books. Well, at one point I had a scene where Minnie Mouse was speaking and my editor said, 'Dude, Minnie Mouse can’t speak in your book.’”

On Dave Barry, with whom he wrote Peter and the Starcatchers and 11 other children’s novels:

I had to introduce Dave to the word outline, and he had to look it up in Webster’s … But I learned from him. He’s a journalist, so he has to have it right by Friday night. He was always on me — I love to complicate and he likes it simple. And get it right the first time. I’d be surprised if I’ve ever written fewer than four full rewrites. He’s willing to go back and forth six or seven times, but once chapter one is done, he never wants to see it again.

On the creative team that adapted Peter and the Starcatcher into a Broadway musical:

They let us make comments — who knows how many of them they actually took. I love theater, and I’ve never seen anything go page to stage, and it was a six-year process. They let me come back and see the next stage that they were in. The very first time they did it, it was some students from Williams College reading from pages cut out of our book. And then it opened on Broadway six years later — it was unbelievable. We got a team that all liked each other, some of the actors stayed with it four years. Sometimes you get lucky, I think.