A Week of Firsts

One thing I love about doing author visits: Every week is different. I never know what to expect, but it’s always fun.

My week started with some excellent news: the Fox movie studio has bought the rights to make the Lightning Thief feature film. They’ve had it under option for almost three years while they’ve worked on the script (twice) and negotiated with Chris Columbus, who will direct. Now they’ve exercised that option and bought the rights, which means they’re fairly confident the project is going forward. This is a good sign. Some of you may have heard of the looming Writers’ Guild strike in Hollywood, however, so all projects might grind to a halt for a few months until that is resolved. The wheels move very slowly in the movie business from what I’ve seen, so don’t start standing in line for the movie yet, but the omens look favorable.

Tuesday, I headed to Duncanville, near Dallas, where I had a fantastic visit at Hyman Elementary. Jenny the librarian and her staff really went all-out to prepare the kids. The PTO had made Camp Half-Blood T-shirts for all the teachers, and the classes had held a door decorating contest. Some students had done research projects on Greece. Others had made pictures of Greek monsters. One class turned their door into a coliseum entrance and wrote all their names in Ancient Greek. One thing I’d never seen before: The school held a pumpkin-decorating contest, and several of the entries were based on Percy Jackson. I saw a Medusa pumpkin (scary!) and the cover of the Lightning Thief done in pastels on another pumpkin. I’d never autographed a pumpkin before, but I signed the Percy one. I understand they’ll be auctioned off later for charity.

Yesterday I was in Kyle, Texas talking to the kids of Wallace Middle School. It was another first. The entire school was without power, so they had to bus all three grades to the district’s performing arts center for the presentation. Since they were leaving the school anyway, they decided to make the exodus into an evacuation drill. It’s not the first time I’ve been compared to a natural disaster . . . The arts center was a great place to have the presentation, fortunately, and because it was such a large group, I broke down and made a Powerpoint presentation so everyone could see my show-and-tell stuff. I used to use Powerpoint all the time in my classroom, but I’d never used it with my author spiel. It worked quite well. I got to show off some early drafts of the Percy covers that only exist as computer files. It’s nice to have another tool in the presentation toolbox! After the author talk, the band and cheerleaders came on stage and held a pep rally while I signed books. Never done that before, either! It felt quite . . . peppy.

At one of my presentations this week, I also had my first parent protestor! Well, he wasn’t holding a picket sign, but he did attend a session and take copious notes because he objected to the school doing a presentation about Greek gods. It went against his religious beliefs. I’ll admit it made me feel a little self-conscious, seeing this scowling face in the back of all those excited kids – his pen furiously recording my every comment. But I do give the parent credit for attending the session. At least he was gathering information and trying to make an informed judgment based on what he saw. So many times, people object to books they’ve never read, based on hearsay or knee-jerk reactions. I hope I gave the parent the information he was looking for, one way or the other! Another school reported an upset parent this week, too. She did not attend or read the books, but she didn’t like the idea of Greek gods. She went on the website, saw that I’d written an adult mystery called The Devil Went Down to Austin, and was furious. “He even writes books about the devil!” she complained. (In case you’re wondering, the book is about scuba diving. The title was inspired by the old Charlie Daniels song.) I’ve gotten surprisingly few comments like this so far, but I take it as a good sign that I’m starting to get more. It means the books are getting a higher profile. Nobody protests books they’ve never heard of.

Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking at the San Antonio Book & Author Luncheon, which is a big deal. They always get a sell-out crowd of about a thousand people. It’s quite the social outing. There’s a whole slew of great authors, but it marks a first because the amazing Naomi Nye, San Antonio’s poet laureate, is speaking, as am I. The luncheon has never before featured San Antonio authors. In fact, years ago I remember a former book editor for the Express-News telling me bluntly, “It’s a shame, but the luncheon will never feature a San Antonio author. We need to bring in higher profile authors from outside to attract a crowd.” For the first time, two San Antonio authors get to speak, and the luncheon is still very much a sell-out. What an honor to attend, and how gratifying!

And now, I’m off to another school visit. Have Powerpoint, will travel!

Rick Riordan