Ransom Riggs didn’t intend to sell a million copies of his first novel. He didn’t even set out to write a novel based on strange, old photographs–a book that would become New York Times bestseller, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. In fact, the idea of threading a story through a series of random photos was a challenge presented him by his editor at Quirk Books, to whom he had shown the old images as an idea for a picture book. With his editor’s challenge and a few vintage pictures in hand, Ransom embarked on a journey through antique shops, homes, and swap meets across the USA to find more images, more pieces to the puzzle.
“I feel like I take inspiration from a lot of things, not just books,” says Ransom, as we meet with him minutes before his big book signing at Fully Booked. “I wasn’t even that familiar with young adult literature before I wrote this. I went to film school and was a big fan of photography… I draw inspiration from photography, movies, stories, and light,” he shares. And as Ransom traveled the country in search of inspiration, he discovered, in his words, “a weird subculture of people who collected snapshots of people who weren’t their family members.”
It is apparent that, to this man, weird is synonymous with good. “I read a lot of Stephen King,” he says. “[Growing up], I loved stuff like The Twilight Zone–a little bit paranormal, a little bit creepy.” Mix that with his penchant for slightly off-beat music from artists like Rachel’s and dreadlocked cellist Zoe Keating, a sprinkling of Terence Malick films, and a love for fantasy classics by Lewis and Tolkien, and you understand the literary direction that Riggs takes in Miss Peregrine’s.
Ransom Riggs was born in Maryland, but grew up in Florida where he had a lot of free time to dabble in writing and film during his youth. Eventually, he made his way to Los Angeles where he studied film at the University of Southern California and began working on screenplays. It’s a mash-up of influences, and it seems to all come together quite nicely, in a manner that people on the other side of the world have managed to relate with.
As Ransom Riggs enters the atrium of Fully Booked Fort, he is greeted by hundreds of excited fans. Camera phones are in the air, flashbulbs go off, and it seems Riggs is just as excited to meet everyone, as he videos the event on his iPhone. He is casual in his manner, occasionally funny and always appears interested in the people he meets. His book has now sold a million copies with a sequel coming out in 2014, the crowd learns. And by the way, a movie is in the works. And while we’re on the subject, the High Priest of Peculiar himself, Tim Burton is said to be on board to direct Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the movie.
It’s a wonderful turn of events for Riggs’ own life story, and having learned a bit about him, one can’t help but parallel the collecting of life experiences with his collecting of photos for his story. “I feel there are stories everywhere, just in the air,” says Ransom, minutes before descending into the crowd. “If everything you are reading and taking inspiration from are other books, your stories are going to sound like other books,” he says. And if Ransom’s life and work are any barometer for the success of that method, well that doesn’t sound too peculiar now, does it?