Pine View School for the Gifted graduate Ransom Riggs has a New York Times bestseller under his belt and a movie based on the book is on the way. He recently visited Sarasota for a book signing on his national tour.
Of his local alma mater, Riggs said, “I really loved it … it was safe to be a little bit nerdy and care about your grades. … No nerds being shoved into lockers there. You really wanted to learn.” Riggs said this “peculiar” school lacked the typical “high school cheese” and had an alternative focus on creativity and learning. It took growing up a bit for him to realize how special that experience really was.
Riggs went on to Kenyon College and then to film school at the University of South California with no intentions of becoming a novelist.
“I wanted to make movies,” he said. But to support himself through school and in the dry spell he faced after graduation, he took all the writing jobs he was offered. The most fruitful was writing for Mental Floss, a bi-monthly trivia-based magazine, which taught him how to produce on a deadline as he researched and composed daily trivia questions. The discipline of daily writing, even when he wasn’t always inspired, surely helped him get on track when he was offered the chance to write a Sherlock Holmes handbook for Quirk Books, a publisher of pop-nonfiction largely sold in trendy stores such as Urban Outfitters. This began a long-standing relationship with Quirk Books, which later published his bestseller.
In the midst of “doing the Hollywood hustle,” working on screenplays and interning in production companies, Riggs continued collecting old photos, a hobby he developed as a preteen. As a young man, he found his first old photo at a flea market in Venice that reminded him of a girl he had a crush on, and he carried it with him on a regular basis. At some point, he turned the photo around and was crushed to read, “Dorothy died of leukemia in 1932.” Riggs realized, as he said, that this was the photo of a ghost. This began a fascination with the mysterious photos that people sell or give away, and he realized he had something. He developed Talking Pictures, a book of old photos with messages on the back that told the stories he imagined about the people found in these abandoned images.“I think these pictures have a lot of soul,” Riggs said. This project ultimately led to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a junior adult fiction book that hit number #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2012 (after 45 weeks on that list). The book is currently in paperback and Tim Burton is making the film version for wide release on a date as yet unscheduled. In a roundabout way, Riggs finds himself making a major motion picture by supplying the creative content.
His advice to aspiring creatives?
“Try everything. Say yes to every opportunity that comes along,” Riggs said. He suggested that in a fast-paced world, it doesn’t pay to focus on one area, when that industry could quickly dry up and leave you needing to re-invent yourself.
Instead, he offered, “Make your own job … you need to be really flexible as the world changes.”
“I am not done; there is so much more I want to do,” Riggs asserted. From his success with Miss Peregrine, I’m sure the Hollywood hustle will soon be following him.