When Ransom Riggs’ first YA novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, was released, the world was taken aback by how amazing the story, which melds found images with Ransom’s incredible imagination. And now, we’re back to being awe-struck since the release of the follow-up, Hollow City this month. Ink snagged a few minutes with Ransom to chat about the two books, the coming movie and more.
Survey Says with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City author Ransom Riggs:
My best friends call me… Ransom — or Randy, if they’ve known me long enough. (That was my nickname when I was younger, because I didn’t know anyone else in the world named Ransom and used to find it slightly embarrassing.) (I’m over it now.)
I had a surprisingly non-traumatic time in high school
And back then, I was… a geek by default (I went to a geek school). But I did a lot of work with the drama club, so I guess I was a drama geek.
My favorite color is… blue.
I got my first kiss when I was… *blushes*
And he was… wait a second here (Editor’s note: Sorry, Ransom!)
Never have I ever… been to Borneo
And I really, really want to… see its famous lemurs
I am seriously crushing on… my wife, Tahereh Mafi (she’s so cute!)
I wish… she was with me right now, but I’m in the middle of a book tour alone, and I really miss her.
My favorite book is… Tahereh’s Shatter Me series is my current fave, and I can’t wait for all her fans to see how it ends! (Ignite Me, the final book in the series, comes out Feb. 4!)
The best book I read in school was… Moby Dick, although I didn’t know it was very good and only read 100 pages of it before I dove into the Cliff’s Notes instead. Then I read it again in college and was blown away.
I absolutely could not write without… coffee. lots and lots of coffee. Preferably dark and concentrated and sugar-free.
If I wasn’t a writer, I would… make films.
But I knew I was going to write great things when… my mom always said I’d make something of myself one day.
My favorite punctuation mark is… definitely the interrobang!
The grammar rule I always mess up is… I before E except after C. That still catches me.
The best thing about writing is… the way it feels like you’re creating something out of nothing, even though you’re not — we draw on things we’ve read and experiences we’ve had and the people around us; our writing is made from the fabric of our lives and experiences.
And the worst thing, sigh, is… copyediting! It doesn’t matter how many times I got over a chapter of writing, I’ll still find typos to fix.
Let’s get serious! Below, Ransom answers Qs about Miss Peregrine, writing novels around photographs and building a support group…
Q: I love the story about how Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children came to be—taking to the photographs and creative a narrative based on them. What was the process like?
I started out with a batch of old photos that inspired me. That’s where some of the original characters and settings for miss peregrine came from. Then, once the story began to form in my mind, I knew I needed more and different sorts of photos to illustrate my new ideas, so I went out looking for specific sorts of characters, settings, situations, etc., in photos. I would never quite find exactly what I was looking for, but I’d get pretty close — and then I’d change the writing a bit to match the new photos. So it’s a process of push and pull between the story and the pictures, and hopefully, in the end, they integrate seamlessly.
Q: How do you think it would have been different, if it had been a picture book? Would it have told the same story?
I don’t think so! I don’t think I could’ve made such a complex story with just photos; it would’ve been really disjointed, just a collection of funny-looking people without much relation to one another. I really needed the writing to make the photos hang together.
Q: Where did the notion of these peculiar children, and the peculiar things they can do, come from? How do you go about creating your characters?
Initially, the ideas came from the photos. I knew I wanted to write about an island where children with strange powers lived, but I wasn’t sure what the powers were. I’d look at my photos, find one of a kid covered with bees, say, and that inspired me to create Hugh Apiston, the boy who can control bees (who live in his stomach when they’re not otherwise busy). But it’s not always like that — I have plenty of characters who look normal; whose peculiarities aren’t obvious at first glance. They came about like most writers’ characters do — from their imaginations!
Q: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a best-seller. It’s being adapted into a film and Tim Burton is directing. Um, whoa! What is that like?
It’s crazy! I’m so thrilled. He’s been one of my favorite directors since forever. It’s not in production yet, so things haven’t really geared up to full speed, so I imagine it’ll get even crazier in a little while. But I still pinch myself when I remember that Tim Burton has actually read my book. It doesn’t seem possible.
Q: Aside from Miss Peregrine and Hollow City, you have another photography book out. Why are photographs so important in your work?
I tend to make my hobbies into my job, and for a long time, one of my main hobbies has been taking and collecting photographs. They spark my imagination. And Talking Pictures, the other photo book — which is more of a coffee table art book, not a novel — is all found photos that have writing on them. Little stories already written on the photos themselves, front or back. I think it comes partly from my love of movies — which is words and pictures combined — and this is my way, as a guy who went to film school — to make stories out of both words and pictures.
Q: In your website bio, you talk a lot about the importance of creative communities. How can a teen go about finding and joining, or creating, a community like that, and why are they so important for young creatives?
I wish fanfic had existed when I was a teen, because that’s a creative community I definitely would love to have been a part of. I think the best of these communities start with a few people and build organically from there, so I’d say if you’re passionate about something, find a few other people who share your passion and make that the seed. Without communities like that, you feel isolated as a young creative person. I didn’t even realize it was possible to have a life as a writer — to have that be my job — until I went to the Young Writer’s Workshop at the University of Virginia in the summer after 9th grade, and was suddenly surrounded by 100 other kids who wanted to do the same thing I did. It was so exciting and validating. It felt, suddenly, like the life I’d never quite been brave enough to imagine for myself was possible.
Q: What’s one thing you know now about writing and being a creative professional that you wish you knew back when you were getting started?
I wish I had been a little more flexible in my goals. In middle school, I wanted to be an author and nothing else. Then in high school I decided I wanted to be a movie director and nothing else. Well, because those are pretty hard jobs to get — or make for yourself, to be more accurate — I ended up trying and doing a lot of things I never imagined doing, like writing for local newspapers and websites, editing videos for the internet, and directing voiceover for a video game. It took me a while to realize that the path to what you want to do is rarely a straight line — I had to do lots of other things before I wrote a book, and I’m glad I did. Say yes to opportunities, even if they’re not exactly what you imagined yourself doing!
Thanks so much, Ransom! Grab a copy of Hollow City, out night, on Amazon here.