How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
I wrote 6-7 hours a day for 8 1/2 years before my first fiction was under contract. I think of it as my graduate school days—although I was “there” long enough to be a brain surgeon.
Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn’t make work?
I have abandoned any number of outlines. The advantage of outlining or framing your story ahead of writing is that you don’t get halfway in and realize you have a dud. A novel’s storyline has to be something the writer can live with for 10-14 months. It’s a relationship, not a one night stand.
Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
It is the thrill of a lifetime. Each time I tear open the package with a new book in it I get gooseflesh. My name is on a book? Seriously?
Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind just when you need one?
Observing is the key to getting new ideas. I keep a notebook with me at all times to write ideas down.
Will you be writing any more Lou Boldt or Walt Fleming books?
I am currently writing about John Knox and Grace Chu who appear in the The Risk Agent series. I have many more ideas for both Boldt and Fleming and would love to write more about them both sometime.
Will there be another Steel Trapp or Starcatchers book?
I LOVE Steel Trapp and Starcatchers but I’m busy with Kingdom Keepers right now, but someday, who knows?
Can Ridley to come to my area or school?
Disney and Writers House schedule my appearances based on the sales of the books. So talk to your friends about getting my books and that will help.
Also, local bookstores can request for Ridley to come to their store. The bookstore would need to contact to Jen and she will get in touch with Disney Publishing and/or Writers House.
I use a speaking agent, Nikki Franklin, to book school appearances. Because it takes me away from writing, there is a fee to have me appear at your school. However, I make school visits while on book tour, so check the Appearances page to see if I’m coming to your school anytime soon.
What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas?
I love telling stories. I’ve been a storyteller much of my life, and I think the novels allow me to express that. My ideas come from experience, newspapers, listening to others, observation. It’s all around us. Everything has a story if you take the time to listen and look for it.
Have you found certain methods or tricks for writing novels?
I don’t have tricks. It comes down to hours and hours of work. I rewrite every novel no fewer than four times, sometimes as many as nine times. You can’t believe how many hours that consumes. It’s ENDLESS. You have to be patient to be a published writer, and you have to practice humility, because the editor (or teacher) is nearly always right.
Do you have any writing advice for beginner writers?
If you read, read, read and study the way various authors make characters come to life on the page you will see that working both with the five senses and internal thoughts can really help. My advice is to read the character descriptions in the books you love and to especially pay attention to how they speak and what they say as that is what shapes people’s impressions of us and therefore readers’ impressions of characters.
Most importantly, pick an amount of time each day, 30 mins, 1 hour, and sit down and DO IT.
Being an experienced author, what do you generally have to submit to a publisher to get your book published?
My experience now, 48 published novels, and that of the beginning novelist are VERY different. Typically an agent (it’s critical to have an agent) want to see a completed outline and three or four really well-written chapters. The competition out there is fierce. My agencies receives 20,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year–with thousands of solicited manuscripts to read on top of that.
At what age did you start writing?
I started writing when I was ten. Took a long break during high school and college (homework!) and started up again after college as a songwriter. From there it moved to script writing and eventually novels. I was first published in 1985.
How can I get Disney to approve my ideas/writing?
I am lucky to have been asked to write for Disney and love working with them. That said, writing ideas are not copyrighted, but stories can be. Disney owns the copyrights to The Kingdom Keepers stories and also owns the trademarks on the Disney characters, but anything can be written when done in fun. I suggest you keep writing and not worry about getting published.
Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
I always have a beginning, middle and end in mind when starting a novel. Sometimes I have a 50 page outline. Sometimes only a collection of thoughts on character or plot. But the big mistake first time writers make is filling up the car, getting behind the wheel and starting off driving without knowing a destination. A quick formula for running out of gas.
Do you have to enter a different mind-set to write different stories or different characters?
Within every novel you enter so many mind-sets. You have to be the beautiful woman, the psycho criminal, the judge, the jury. That’s the role of an author: to play everyone. if you don’t play them convincingly, your characters are cardboard.
How can I become a Kingdom Keepers Insider?
Go to Kingdom Keepers Insider either on your computer or the KKI app on your smart phone and sign up. Join in writing fan fiction, reading excerpts from Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider and find new ebooks to be posted there, too!
Can I audition for a Kingdom Keepers movie?
As of now there aren’t any plans for a Kingdom Keepers movie. In addition, I am not involved in hiring any actors, that would be through producers.
Is there going to be a Kingdom Keepers movie?
Disney currently has no plans to make any Kingdom Keepers movies. I would love to have the Kingdom Keepers become a movie! Unfortunately it is not up to me.
Can I film a Kingdom Keepers movie?
Ridley doesn’t own the rights to The Kingdom Keepers, Disney does, so he cannot give permission one way or another.
How did you come up with the Kingdom Keepers series?
I was fortunate to be asked by Disney to create an adventure book that takes place in the Disney parks.
The idea came to me when I came out of the Magic Kingdom with my family and I looked back to realize all the guests were leaving but the characters were staying behind. I had a “Toy Story” moment. When the door to Andy’s room closes, the toys all come alive. It occurred to me that when we all leave the parks, and the characters have not, that there’s stuff going on in there that we don’t know about. What I envisioned was a battle for control of the parks between Disney’s “wonderful” villains and his princesses, princes, heroes and characters. It was into that world I threw myself as a writer and out came the Kingdom Keepers.
How do you get all the info for the Kingdom Keepers books?
I am very lucky in that Disney gives me private tours when the parks are closed. I get to walk the attractions and go on the rides when no one is around. It’s special!
Will there be anything about the Kingdom Keepers after book 7?
I am working on a follow up series after Kingdom Keepers is done. Stay tuned to the website for the latest information.
Why did you choose Maleficent as the predominant villian?
Maleficent is one of the top villians of villadom…and she personally scares me!
Is Wayne a real person?
Wayne works as a loader at Splash Mountain. If you see a white haired guy loading on log…that’s him and you can ask him. He is retiring mid 2014, so hope you get a chance to meet him before he goes!
Is the Escher Keep real?
Escher’s Keep is one of the few fictionalized attractions in the books. I did visit the apartment but wanted to come up with a more interesting way to reach it.
What is your favorite Kingdom Keepers book or Disney character?
This is like choosing between your children! I have to say I love them all!
How has writing the Kingdom Keepers books changed your life?
Writers create worlds where the imagination is set free to roam. Sometimes that world is down the street, or inside your home. Sometimes it is a world of hope or despair. As writers, we buy into our own creations. What has been compelling about the Kingdom Keepers series is the ability to translate a world that already exists, but a world where imagination is already built into it: they realm of Disney. It is such an honor to be given the access I am given, to be allowed to “push” the boundaries of what’s already there. I strive to treat the material with the respect and even reverence it deserves. I hope to embellish one’s Disney experience––not ever attempting “to improve” or even come close to what is already there.
For me, this world, this series, continues to excite me as a writer, to take me places I’ve never been (but have dreamed about going, creatively) to give me license to open my imagination and travel to new and unusual places with people (my characters) I’ve come to love and feel as friends, and enemies. I’m ever grateful to my readers and to Disney to let me take this ride.
What is the Kingdom Keepers Quest and can I participate?
The Kingdom Keepers Quest takes place in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and is for school groups of ten or more kids. School groups apply through Disney’ s Youth Educational Services (YES). Groups get a special price to enter the Magic Kingdom and the teacher facilitates the Quest.
I am working on a second YES program for the Animal Kingdom.
A Quest for ANYONE to take can be found in the Birnbaum Guide books. You can purchase the books in the parks or online.