From Boston to New York and Back Again

Becky and I are just back from a busy weekend with events at the Boston Book Festival and New York Comic-Con.

Before I get into that, however, some words to acknowledge the ongoing horrors in Israel and Gaza. As many of you may know, I am no longer on social media. My accounts post only updates on my books and related projects. I do not read posts, reply to posts, or share my thoughts about world events on those forums. That doesn’t mean I don’t have strong feelings and reactions. It means I am offline as completely as possible, except for the occasional blog post like this one.

I will say this: Over the last eighteen years, I have received many fan letters from young readers, both Israeli and Palestinian, who often told me that my books helped them escape the fear, grief and anxiety they were dealing with at the time. Some had lost family members to violence. Some were writing while in the distance they could hear explosions, gunfire, and the launching of rockets. They used my books as a way to escape into another world, where the monsters were fictional, and where demigods usually saved the day. While I am always glad that my books can help young readers find joy during difficult times, my heart breaks every time I hear about the things they have to deal with. I am grief-stricken by the horrific events now unfolding, especially because I know that they are part of a long historic pattern that has been robbing too many children of their childhood and perpetuating hatred for far too long.

I am also quite aware that when anyone, myself included, tries to speak about this issue, the reader is waiting to pounce, thinking, “Yes, but whose side are you on?” That is exactly the wrong question. If there are two sides to this issue, those sides are not Palestinian/Israeli or Muslim/Jewish. The two sides are humanitarian and dehumanizing. Dehumanizing has a long evil history. It is appealing and easy to buy into, because humans are tribal animals. We are hardwired to think in terms of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’  We are the real humans, the good guys, the ones with God on our side. Those other people are evil monsters who don’t deserve empathy. Hate mongers have thrived on dehumanizing for as long as there have been humans. It provides them with a purpose, a way to rally support, power, and scapegoats. It is  easy to point to atrocities committed by our enemies, while justifying or minimizing the atrocities committed by ourselves or our allies.

Humanitarianism is a much harder sell. It requires us to empathize, to see other groups of people as equally deserving of dignity and quality of life. It requires not always putting ourselves and our needs first. But in the long run, humanitarianism is our only hope. If violence could end violence, if we could put an end to “those other people” once and for all, human history would read very differently than it does.

So yes, I am appalled by the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians. I am appalled by the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Both things can be true. Both things must be true. My thoughts are with all the people who have died, who have lost loved ones, who have had their worlds and their lives shattered, especially the children. More death and violence will not break this cycle, which has been going on for generations. There is no military solution. Even since I first wrote the post, only twenty-four hours ago, the Israeli government’s brutal retaliation against the entire population of Gaza has reached genocidal proportions. This is not only an atrocity. It is folly. Answering misery with misery only creates more fertile ground for extremism, dehumanizing the “other side,” letting hate mongers thrive, stay in power, and reduce us all to our most monstrous impulses. The only real solution is treating each other like equally worthy human beings, and negotiating a peace that allows all parties a chance to live in security and dignity, with hopes for a future that does not include bombs and rockets and gunfire. This means security and support for Israel, yes. It also means a secure Palestine which is allowed to get the international aid and recognition it needs to build a viable state.

Do I think that will happen? Unfortunately, no. Humans are simply too selfish, too ready to blame “the other” for all their problems, too ready to dehumanize, though I also believe, perhaps paradoxically, that most people just want to live their lives in peace and have a chance for their children to have a brighter future. The problem is when we don’t allow other people to have those same hopes and dreams — when it becomes a false choice of us versus them.

What can I do? I will continue to write books that I hope will give young readers some joy. I will resist the urge to demonize entire groups of people. I will call for less violence, not more violence. And when asked whose side I am on, I will tell you I am on the side of humanitarianism.

So with that said, I return to the world of books . . .

The Boston Book Festival on Saturday was my last publicity event for The Chalice of the Gods. It was great to celebrate the book in my hometown on a beautiful October day. Special thanks to the Henry family for introducing me, to Harvard Book Store for supplying our books, and to Liz Phipps Soeiro, director of Boston Public School Library Services, for moderating our Q&A. Any time we can get several thousand people together to share their excitement about reading, it’s a good day.

Be sure to check out this great illustrated article by Sage Stossel in the Boston Globe!

A favorite moment: During a VIP meet-and-greet backstage before the event, I showed a young visitor a small clip from the upcoming TV show on my phone. This was one of the scenes that would be shared at ComicCon the next day, where Percy is surrounded by Clarisse and her cronies during capture-the-flag. This young man’s sister, also present, was a big fan of the books, but he himself had not read Percy Jackson and didn’t know much about it. He watched the clip, became outraged on behalf of poor Percy, and pointing to Clarisse’s crew, demanded, “Who are these people?” I couldn’t help but laugh. I said, “Yeah, Percy is asking himself the same thing right about now.” I think our visitor was convinced to check out the book, and to watch the show.

On stage at ComicCon

Later that afternoon, Becky and I took the train to Manhattan. We were not scheduled to appear at ComicCon, but we thought it would be fun to surprise the fans at the panel for the Percy Jackson TV show. Becky and I — as executive producers for Mythomagic, Inc. — appeared on stage toward the end of the panel on Sunday and introduced the last clip: the same capture-the-flag clip I mentioned above. We were so honored by the huge welcome we received from the crowd. Becky thanked all the demigods in their orange T-shirts for coming out, braving the many monsters at ComicCon in order to make the panel. I think it’s safe to say the exclusive footage from the TV show was well-received. I am not allowed to share that footage with the wider public — you’ll have to wait until the show airs on Dec. 20 — but I think you will be pleased!

In the meantime, here is some character art that was shared online by our show’s account @percyseries, showing our amazing cast in costume!

The late great Lance Reddick as Zeus. Power personified.

Toby Stephens as Poseidon. Truly a god of the sea.

Jay Duplass as Hades. Would you buy a used afterlife from this man? Think carefully!

Adam Copeland as Ares. War and violence, delivered with panache.

Megan Mullally as Mrs. Dodds (aka the Fury Alecto). You’d best do your homework, kids.

Jessica Parker Kennedy as Medusa. Putting the ‘gorgeous’ into ‘gorgon.’

Jason Mantzoukas as Mr. D (aka Dionysus). Where does he get those marvelous shirts?

Glynn Turman as Mr. Brunner (aka Chiron). A gentleman and a scholar, also half a stallion.

Charlie Bushnell as Luke Castellan. Amazing as either a friend or enemy! (And the scar is there. You just can’t see it under the helmet.)

Dior Goodjohn as Clarisse LaRue. Pure menace never looked so good!

Timothy Omundson as Hephaestus. The god of machines and fire shows himself, if ever so briefly, from behind the curtain!

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hermes. Just wait until you see him play the part. ‘Nuff said!

Virginia Kull as Sally Jackson. The mom we need, not the mom we deserve.

Timm Sharp as Gabe Ugliano. Yes, he’s actually smiling in this picture, but that’s probably just because he’s dreaming of sandwiches and get-rich-quick schemes.

Suzanne Cryer as Echidna. How can such a lovely person embody such an icily sinister, primordial power like the Mother of Monsters? You will be terrified when you see . . .

Now Becky and I are back home in Boston, and I am back to writing my next book, WRATH OF THE TRIPLE GODDESS. Stay safe, keep reading, and see you on December 20 for the Percy Jackson premiere on Disney+!


Rick Riordan