As he did with the villains of Peter Pan (in Peter and the Starcatchers, written with Dave Barry) and Disney (in Kingdom Keepers), Ridley Pearson reimagines the lives of two famous fictional characters in his latest middle-grade series. Lock and Key: The Initiation (HarperCollins, Sept.) launches a trilogy featuring a young Sherlock Holmes and his arch-nemesis, John Moriarty, as boarding-school roommates. In their first escapade, the duo becomes embroiled in a scandal involving the missing Moriarty family Bible, which was donated to the school a century earlier. The trilogy is narrated by Moriarty’s spunky younger sister, also a student at the academy, which Pearson has slyly named Baskerville.
“The backstory—what came before, whether centuries or a year ago—is always a really important part of the front story,” says Pearson, who notes that his then five-year-old daughter’s curiosity about Peter Pan’s past sparked the idea for Peter and the Starcatchers. “She was so curious about why Peter can fly, and why he never grows old, and how he first met Captain Hook,” he recalls. “That started me thinking, and, thanks to the genius of Dave Barry, the answers to her questions eventually became Peter and the Starcatchers.”
Pearson credits David Linker, executive editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, for proposing the premise of Lock and Key, which will reveal, over three novels, how and why James Moriarty becomes a renowned criminal mastermind.
“It took several months to figure out how to tell this story, which is set in the present day,” Pearson says. “As a writer, I spend a lot of time devising, outlining, and writing hero arcs, and the intriguing part of this trilogy’s concept is that, in a way, the story takes an opposite track. It basically entails writing the undoing of a character who is undermining and turning against all that he was raised for. That makes Moriarty very interesting to write.”
Pearson will participate in this morning’s “Crafting Adventure Tales for Kids” panel. Anticipating the panel discussion, Pearson, who has written many books for both adults and kids, muses that middle-graders are the “most challenging” readers to write for. “An adult will buy one of my detective novels and read it over a day or two, but middle-graders will read a novel three, four, five times,” he observes. “I met one 14-year-old gentleman who told me he’d read a Kingdom Keepers book 19 times. When you hear something like that, you realize that some readers know your books better than you do. Kids not only read novels carefully, they live them. It’s a giant mistake to talk down to young readers—they are so much smarter than we are. That’s how I approach every book I write.”
The panel will be at the Uptown Stage, 11–11:30 a.m. Pearson also has an afternoon gig today, signing galleys of Lock and Key: The Initiative, 2–3 p.m., at Table 4, in the Autographing Area.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.