Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Pearson probes Peter Pan

Ridley Pearson talks about his adventure with Dave Barry

Express Staff Writer

Longtime Hailey resident and best-selling author Ridley Pearson will be in town this week to sign copies of his new book.

"The only time there was a bit of yelling was working on the plotting. Dave (Barry) would yell 'they can't do that!' And I'd yell 'Well, what about this?!' We had an awful lot of fun."

—Ridley Pearson

What do caustic Seattle cop Lou Boldt and Peter Pan have in common? Well, they've both been written about (if not actually conceived) by best selling author Ridley Pearson. A 22-year resident of the Wood River Valley, Pearson now lives in St. Louis with his wife Marcelle and two daughters.

Of course, Pearson didn't dream up Peter Pan, but he has taken on the task of filling in some blanks, such as what happened to Peter and the Lost Boys before they took up eternal residence in Neverland?

Just published is a classic-in-the-making, "Peter Pan and the Starcatchers," a brilliantly conceived and produced collaboration between Pearson and humorist and author Dave Barry.

The authors not only write together, they perform together in a band called Rock Bottom Remainders with fellow authors Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom.

Three generations of the Pearson clan sign books tonight at Iconoclast in Ketchum from 6 to 8 p.m. Betsy Pearson is signing her book "Sun Valley Journal." Ridley Pearson will be accompanied by his daughter Paige, who inspired the novel, to sign "Peter and the Starcatchers."

"Peter Pan and the Starcatchers" is a compulsively readable book with beautiful illustrations by Greg Call.

Its quirky take on the pirate milieu sets up the Peter Pan myth quite nicely. The concept was born after Pearson's 7-year old daughter Paige asked how it came to be that a little boy named Peter met pirates.

"I started thinking about it immediately," Pearson said. "Ten days later I was in Florida for a Rock Bottom Remainder show and staying with Dave. Across the breakfast table one morning we were sharing what each guy was working on. I mentioned that I was thinking of writing a prequel to Peter Pan. His face lit up. I mean this is Dave Barry," Pearson said sounding amazed all over again. "I clutched my hands under the table. It turned out I caught him on the right day. I caught him at a moment that was like the moment when Paige said it to me. Dave is a big fan of Peter Pan. It's a fun combo."

Now that remark is a bit of an understatement for anyone aware of Barry's delicious sense of humor.

Indeed, the idea of one of the funniest writers alive combining talents with the impeccable plotting abilities of Pearson is more than beguiling.

Pearson is quick to point out that among Barry's 26 books, two, "Big Trouble" and "Tricky Business," were hugely popular and successful novels.

"The only time there was a bit of yelling was working on the plotting," Pearson demurred with a laugh. "Dave would yell 'they can't do that!' And I'd yell 'Well, what about this?!' We had an awful lot of fun."

They especially enjoyed themselves on the book tour they undertook this fall. They insisted on wearing an eye patch (Barry) and a huge fake mustache (Pearson) for their interviews, even the televised ones.

"We had a little bit of fun on tour. Normally, you never go on tour with anyone else. It's total exhaustion with all the same questions, but together we could vamp off each other and tease. There's also nothing like doing a book tour with a bunch of kids in the audience."

Though Disney Editions published the book, Pearson said it wasn't in their minds to write a children's book. But just as J.M. Barrie, the author of "Peter Pan," wrote with children as inspiration, he never wrote down to them.

"We've found adults are reading this as much as kids," Pearson said. "We didn't set out to write a kid's book, we wrote a prequel. We're not trying to teach lessons or vocabulary. It's a fun fast story about Peter Pan. Hopefully it's action packed enough for all audiences ... and that's what we're finding."

The tale begins with a group of orphans, including one who is named Peter, sailing off on a ship called the Never Land. A mysterious trunk is loaded on board as well. Wild adventures ensue on their journey, along with the introduction of characters such as Slank, Fighting Prawn, Alf, Smee and Little Richard (a nod to the authors' side life as rock musicians, no doubt). There is even a character named Storey, a reference to Pearson's other daughter and one all-important villain, the pirate Black Stache.

Barry and Pearson are already at work on book two of the series, "Peter and the Shadowthieves."

There is, apparently, a lot of ground to cover before we meet the Darlings.

Meanwhile, "Dave and I will write three Starcatchers a year. They are 'Lemony Snicket' sized, about 150 pages. Disney's developing a franchise," Pearson said. "Dave says we have Paige locked up in a room, but we are feeding her."

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