Years before Ransom Riggs began writing novels about “peculiar” children — like the boy who commands an army of bees in his stomach or the girl who makes fire with her hands — he was a child himself, of course.
By EDWARD M. EVELD
The Kansas City Star
And not so peculiar. A good kid, actually.
The author of the best-selling “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and now its sequel, “Hollow City,” would accompany his grandmother on Saturday afternoons to flea markets and swap meets.
Even though, he says, “for an 11-year-old boy, it was like hell.”
About the only thing he found remotely interesting was flipping through an occasional shoebox of old snapshots. One time he spent 10 cents on a vintage photo in a cardboard frame. The girl in the photo reminded him of a summer-camp crush of his.
Much later, such vintage, even creepy, photos would help launch Riggs’ first novel, which director Tim Burton is turning into a film due out in 2015.
Riggs, 34, comes to Kansas City Thursday to discuss his popular fantasy books, the first two of a trilogy.
Fast-forward from those outings with his grandmother in Florida to four years ago, when Riggs was wandering an antique store looking for furniture for his house in Los Angeles. At one booth, a vendor had curated thousands of old photographs, protected in plastic sleeves.
“I was blown away,” he says. “Every photo was like a found work of art.”
Riggs was drawn to these unknown landscapes and strangers in black and white, and he started his own collection.
The photos were openings into new worlds, he says. He particularly enjoyed the ones with messages scrawled on them — personal notes on the back, quips, confessionals.
Riggs was reminded of that photo he bought of the girl, which he displayed in his room next to Ken Griffey Jr. and Nolan Ryan, and the time he took it out of its frame to discover the writing on the back: “Dorothy age 15, died of leukemia.”
“That threw me,” he says. “She was this smiling, angelic-faced happy little girl. It was like I had been living with a ghost.”
Riggs took some of his newly collected photos, particularly the ones that evoked “Victorian creepiness” to a book editor. He was looking for a new project after completing his non-fiction book, “The Sherlock Holmes Handbook.”
Maybe an Edward Gorey-style book in photographs, Riggs suggested.
Or maybe a novel, the editor said.
The story took shape of a group of peculiar children with strange gifts living in isolation in Wales and who find a leader in a Florida teenager, Jacob Portman.
Accompanying the story in the books are dozens of photographs from Riggs’collection and from the archives of “more accomplished” collectors. Some photos suggested events, settings and characters in the stories, but sometimes the story elements came first and the photos were found later.
“There was a lot of give and take,” Riggs says. “I wanted them to integrate seamlessly.”
The photos in the books play another role. the
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