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Fantasy novels aim to engage younger readers

Rick Riordan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He’s a literary giant often ranked with J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. But Rick Riordan’s humility won’t allow him to accept that stature.

“I don’t think anyone rises to the level of J.K. Rowling. She has made such an impact. However, I am very fortunate. I certainly have had a lot of luck with my career,” Riordan said in a phone interview from his home in Boston.

“I am very aware that I have a situation that is very envious and really rewarding.”

Rebecca Roanhorse

His newest fantasy novel is “The Tyrant’s Tomb,” on sale Tuesday, Sept. 24. It’s the fourth in a five-installment series about Roman demigods fighting a triumvirate of evil Roman emperors. The series is titled “The Trials of Apollo.”

In it, young Apollo has been turned into a present-day human named Lester Papadopoulos.

J.C. Cervantes

Riordan has several different series that continue to be wildly popular, especially with middle schoolers. His high-action books bring together mythological gods and demigods, heroes who stand against the forces of evil.

Riordan wrote his first story for an eighth-grade teacher.

“She liked it. She said, ‘Maybe you can get it published.’ I didn’t know an average kid could submit a story. It was rejected, but I kept at it,” he said. “I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a writer.”

Riordan began writing in earnest when he was a full-time teacher in San Francisco. He taught middle schoolers because it was his way to repay his own middle-grade teachers who turned him on to reading. The first book he read was “The Lord of the Rings.” That story and a chest full of old comic books fired his imagination.

Rick Riordan will host an event spotlighting “The Trials of Apollo – The Tyrant’s Tomb” at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27 at the University of New Mexico Student Union Ballrooms, Student Union Building, main campus. Riordan will read from “The Tyrant’s Tomb” and will give a dramatic performance and an audiovisual presentation. Those will be followed by a Q-and-A with fantasy authors J.C. Cervantes of Las Cruces and Rebecca Roanhorse of Santa Fe. Cervantes and Roanhorse are part of the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion. Authors on the imprint incorporate mythological characters; Cervantes’ are Mayan, Roanhorse’s, Navajo.Tickets for the event are $25 and include a signed hardcover copy of “The Tyrant’s Tomb” and a free T-shirt.Tickets are available at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW, by visiting bkwrks.com, by calling the store at 344-8139 or, if available, at the door.

“I was always interested in Greek mythology, and a teacher said that ‘Lord of the Rings’ was based on Norse mythology,” he recalled.

In teaching ——and later writing ——about mythological demigods, he learned that they’re appealing to middle school readers.

“They’re heroes trapped between two worlds. I think kids of that age are in the middle in so many different ways. They’re not sure if they’re kids or adults. Everything is changing for them,” Riordan said.

He thinks his books can be a pathway for young readers to continue reading as they grow ——though not limited to reading his titles nor fantasy subjects. “Anecdotally, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback over the years (from readers) who went on to become classicists (those who study the classics), or historians or archaeologists, or those who learned ancient Greek,” Riordan said. “So it’s really rewarding that my books can affect young readers in all different ways and change lives.”

He’s so humble about his popularity as an author that he still views himself as a teacher, “but with millions of kids in my classroom now.”

“I hope I can light up their imagination and open it up to all possibilities,” he said. “And I want these kids to be lifelong readers and have reading that’s fun and relevant.”

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