Saturday, January 30, 2016

Apollo at the Printing Press

So much goes into making a book! This week my editor Steph took a trip to the printing press where the cover for The Hidden Oracle is being prepared. The factory is very close to Camp Half-Blood on Long Island (not kidding) and Steph sent me a report with pictures so I could see the process. Now you can see too! No photos of satyrs or centaurs were included for security reasons.

First the Disney team checked sample print sheets and picked the ones they liked the best. They looked for the right shades of color, the right quality of printing and . . . uh, a bunch of other stuff that authors like me have no clue about. Below, Marybeth from Disney Production and Joanne from the Design Department examine the samples with the press workers. "Make this orange more orange!" says Marybeth. "Make this Apollo more Apollo-y!" demands Joann.

Then the printing gets started! To make the super snazzy cover you see above, the press workers first run plain white sheets through an embossing machine, stamping the logo on with silver foil. This is why the words for the title are shiny and raised. Below is a roll of silver foil and a white sheet just printed. I'm told the naiads at camp like to run around with ribbons of this stamped silver foil wrapped around them like beauty pageant queens, yelling, "I'm Miss Universe!" but I cannot vouch for that.

Next the color is applied to the page. Because Apollo is so special, the press workers created a unique orange yellow color just for his cover -- a color NEVER SEEN BEFORE and definitely NOT FOUND IN NATURE!  (Or if that's not true, don't tell Apollo.)  Here is Apollo orange, below. In press shop speak, it is described as "somewhere between color 803 and color 804." Apollo appreciates the poetry of that description.

Three jackets fit on one sheet of paper. Here they are coming off the machine:

Who is that handsome devil in the sunglasses? Oh wait! That's me. Yes, just for this book, Steph asked me to make an author photo that would give me more of an "Apollo cool" vibe, so I went with the Hawaiian shirt and the sunglasses. This photo was taken in Boston during the winter, so that's not really a smile. My face is simply frozen.

Anyway, the color can change from page to page, so the workers have to monitor each sheet and adjust the color settings as they go to make sure each cover is up to snuff. Have you ever come across a weird-looking copy where the writing doesn't match the embossing or the image is a little skewed? This happens whenever the Hermes cabin kids sneak into the printing press and throw firecrackers at the press workers' feet. Cherish those odd copies. They are special.

Here's what the printing machine looks like, with rolling plates of the cover image, just like the Treasury uses to make money. So if you think my books give me a license to print money, well, not exactly, but close!

Once the pages are printed in full color, they are laminated, which also has to be carefully monitored, since laying a thin sheet of plastic over the paper can change the way the color looks. Here's a short video of the laminating machine in action:


And here is Jack, the head pressman at the company, with my intrepid Design supervisor Joann, who has been responsible all my covers with Disney-Hyperion. They look happy and proud of the amazing cover that is even now churning through the presses out on Long Island. Thanks, guys! And Jack -- you are named after one of my favorite swords! Cool!

People often wonder why it takes so long to make a book. Fans say, "You finished writing it already? Why can't I have it NOW? NOW!!!!"

And then, every year, they send me this GIF:

Every year. Like . . . every year. And don't get me wrong. I appreciate the enthusiasm.

The thing is, the book isn't in my house. It takes months and months to create. The process you see above? That's just for the book jacket. It took an entire day to approve the process. And now the covers for the first printing will be running off the presses non-stop until next Tuesday. That's how many days it takes just for the cover! Then they send the covers to a different factory where the actual pages are printed and bound. Then they have to be boxed and shipped all over the country.

On top of that, there are actually TEN different editions of the first printing. Barnes and Noble has their own exclusive edition. Walmart has one. Target has one, and so on, each with some sort of account exclusive like a map or a piece of art or a special add-on. Each edition has to be printed separately to keep them all straight.

Complicated! I'm glad I've got a crack team of folks at Disney to oversee this stuff for me. I had enough trouble running off thirty copies of a worksheet for my fifth period English class. I can't imagine trying to print millions of copies of a book and deliver them all across the country! But never fear, Disney-Hyperion is on the job. The book will be beautiful. And it will be ready in the stores, new and sparkly and just the right color of Apollo orange, on May 3!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Rick's Recent Reads for December

I hope everyone has had a happy holiday season! If you're looking for some good books to enjoy for the New Year, here are a few I've enjoyed recently.

 Adult contemporary fiction. I have been studying Italian in my free time and so decided to try reading one of the most popular Italian writers of today: Elena Ferrante. There have been many articles about this author's mysterious anonymity. Her real identity is unknown except to her publisher because she wishes to have a normal life. I get that. Still, it only adds to the intrigue, as you can't help but wonder who writes these marvelous books. My Brilliant Friend is not the sort of book I would normally pick up as I prefer fantasy fiction. This is contemporary realistic fiction about two women who grow up together in the 1950s and 1960s in a poor neighborhood in Naples. The cast of characters is large, and for me, an American reader, I was missing some cultural context that made it a little bewildering at first. I read the book in English (because my Italian is not that good yet) and the style was both deeply intimate and jarringly matter-of-fact. The narrator Elena tells us everything about her upbringing in a neighborhood where harsh poverty is the norm and family violence is unremarkable, even, for instance, when a father sends a daughter flying out a second story window. Elena grows up side by side with her friend/foil/personal albatross Lila, who is naturally brilliant at everything and more beautiful than Elena, but who is held down by circumstances to work in her father's shoe store while Elena has a chance to escape her life through education. The book is a blow-by-blow confessional, following the two girls from their earliest memories through their early adulthood. The short chapters keep the pages turning, and by the end of the novel I found myself very involved in the lives of the characters. It is epic in the best sense of the word, and yet quiet and personal in its scope. At the end, there is a cliffhanger so brutal I immediately had to go and buy the next volume of this series. Wow, cliffhangers work! I should try them some time . . .

Middle grade fantasy. Micah Tuttle's grandfather has a secret. When he was a child, he visited a magical circus, the Circus Mirandus, which changed his life forever. There he met a magician who promised him a miracle -- a miracle that has yet to be collected.

Ever since Micah's parents died, he has been raised by his grandfather Ephraim, and Micah lives for stories about the Circus Mirandus, even though his sour Aunt Gertrudis insists these stories are dangerous nonsense. Now Ephraim is dying, and he calls in his magical favor from The Man Who Bends Light. Soon Micah and his friend Jenny are plunged into a world where parrots deliver messages, elephants solve calculus problems, magic is real and illusion is more powerful than reality.

Circus Mirandus is a fabulous read for elementary-aged kids who like fantasy. It is full of fresh wonders, gentle humor and sympathetic characters. Like Hogwarts of Harry Potter, the Circus Mirandus is a place you will immediately want to explore and possibly take up residence in -- a fabulous creation with surprises in every tent. I finished the book in two nights, and was excited that the author seemed to leave things open for a sequel. If so, I have my ticket ready for a second trip!

YA sci-fi adventure.  (Minor spoilers follow) Red Rising introduces us to Darrow, a sixteen-year-old miner who toils deep in the mines of Mars a few hundred years in the future. In Darrow's world, humanity has spread across the solar system, and has been organized into a strict caste system of colors, with Gold at the top and Red at the bottom. Darrow is a Red, but he is making the most of his hard life in the mines. He is good at his work. He has a beautiful wife Eo (they get married young and die young down in the mines) and though the Reds live in abject poverty, they are a proud tough clan. They appreciate songs and drink and family. They also hold on to the idea that they are sacrificing for the good of humanity at large. They have been told that they are pioneers on Mars, making the planet habitable through their hard lives mining helium-3, and some day the surface of the planet will be able to support life thanks to their efforts. Some day, the other colors will join them on Mars.

Then Darrow's life is shattered when he and his wife are arrested for trespassing in a garden that is restricted to the Bronze administrators. Soon Darrow finds himself alone, bereft and marked for execution. He is plucked from the jaws of death by a resistance group known as the Sons of Ares, who show him the Big Lie of his existence: the surface of Mars is actually already inhabited. The other colors have formed great cities, and are allowing the Reds to keep toiling as slaves while the Golds and their minion classes live lives of relative ease. The Sons of Ares have a plan for Darrow: because of his dexterity, constitution and quick mind, he is just the right double agent they need. Using advanced genetic manipulation, they will make Darrow a Gold and send him to infiltrate the Institute, the training academy which produces all the top leaders of the Society that controls the solar system. Darrow's job is to rise as high as he can within the Gold ranks so he can assist the Sons of Ares in their eventual revolution. The only problem: Darrow first has to survive the Institute.

I found Red Rising absolutely compelling. I tore through the book and am anxious to read the next two books in the trilogy. You will recognize many ingredients from other YA/fantasy series. The tone, especially at first, reminded me of Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go. The big discovery of society's true nature was reminiscent of the Matrix. The caste system is like Divergent. The Institute sorts its students into houses like Harry Potter. The cutthroat competitions among the Golds is very like The Hunger Games. And the nature of the training is described as a year-long deadly game of capture-the-flag, in which the houses (all named after Roman gods) fight one another while the proctors float about them and watch from a levitating mountain called Olympus. That, too, seemed oddly familiar.

 And yet Red Rising is more than the sum of its parts. Pierce Brown manages to craft all these elements into something new, something believable and exciting. I couldn't help getting swept away in Darrow's story as we follow him from the lowly life of a miner to the very heights of Olympus (literally), wondering along the way if his secret identity will be discovered, or if he will 'go Gold' and forget his rebel benefactors and his mission. The book is satisfying in itself, but it leaves a lot of tantalizing questions for the second volume, which I have already started reading. If you like YA adventures, like the ones mentioned above, this is definitely a book you should check out!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy New Year!

Looking back on 2015, I have a lot to be thankful for. Thanks to you, my amazing readers, Magnus Chase: The Sword of Summer has been #1 on the New York Times middle grade bestseller list for eleven weeks! Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes, which came out in August, is on that list again at #8. And  Percy Jackson celebrates a mind-boggling 378 weeks on the series bestseller list. Demigod power!

What am I excited about in 2016? Oh, perhaps sharing this with you in May:

Have a wonderful New Year, demigods, and here's to reading lots of great books in 2016!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Lightning Thief musical returns

This is cool, guys:

On January 31, 2016 at 11 a.m. Theatreworks (@TheatreworksUSA) will present The Lightning Thief, a musical adapted from the book The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, features a book by Joe Tracz with music, lyrics, & orchestrations by Rob Rokicki (@rrokicks). The Off-Broadway premiere of The Lightning Thief was nominated for Outstanding Musical by the Lortel Awards in 2015.

The Kaye Playhouse is located at East 68th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues. Tickets for all performances will be $25. Discounted rates for groups of 4 or more are available as well. Tickets may be purchased by phone: 212-772-4448, online:, and in person at the box office, which is open from Noon-6pm, Monday through Saturday.

Now I am not directly involved in this production. I haven't seen it. *But* I did give Theatreworks my blessing to create it, and I've heard a lot of fans talk about how good it was. It's fun, silly, accurate to the story, and entertaining, plus there is toilet paper. TOILET PAPER! A scene from an earlier staging of the musical is above.

If you missed it the first time, I highly encourage you to catch this return showing!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Hidden Oracle

And here they are together -- the US and UK versions of The Hidden Oracle, book one of The Trials of Apollo, coming out May 3, 2016. What do you guys think? Excited? I am!

You can also read a special excerpt courtesy of the Guardian.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Hidden Oracle cover and excerpt!

Apollo says: "Bullseye!"

USA Today has an exclusive reveal of the cover for The Hidden Oracle and an excerpt from the book!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Rick's Recent Reads for November

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the good books I've read! Here are a few of my recent favorites in case you're looking for a good holiday read (or a holiday gift). As always, your mileage may vary, but I loved all of these for different reasons.

 The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Adult fantasy.

I picked this one up because I greatly enjoyed Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but this novel was even better. Jemisin blew me away with her world-building and beautiful writing. It's the tale of an alternate earth called the Stillness, which is plagued by constant seismic activity. This leads to frequent near-extinction events called "Fifth Seasons" that keep humans on their toes. The evidence of past civilizations litters the planet -- ruined cities, incomplete 'stonelore' handed down from earlier generations, and strange obelisks that float through the atmosphere like low-altitude satellites and serve no apparent purpose. The civilization that we meet in this book, the Sanze Empire, has survived for centuries by harnessing the power of orogenes -- people born with an innate ability to control their environment. The orogenes can stop earthquakes or start them. They can save cities, or drawn power from living creatures and "ice" them. Their powers are terrifying yet essential, so the empire develops a caste of Guardians who have the power to neutralize the orogenes when necessary. The orogenes are held in contempt and called "roggas" by ordinary humans. Despite all their power, they cannot control their own lives. They are either hunted down and destroyed or sent to the Fulcrum to be trained and used by the empire. Imagine Hogwarts, if Hogwarts treated its students like chattel. The world Jemisin creates is as horrific as it is brilliant.

My advice is to give the book at least fifty pages before passing judgment, because it takes a while to understand what is going on. There is a lot of terminology to get used to, and the book is told in three intertwining narratives that at first don't seem to match up, but once you get into the world and into the story, it is a fantastically rewarding read. I can't say much about the plot without giving away some of the wonderful surprises, but if you want to read about a truly dystopian world that holds a mirror to the darkest of human motivations, this novel will haunt you long after you finish it.

Revolutionary, by Alex Myers. Historical fiction.

I picked this up after reading an article about the author in the Boston Globe.  Alex Myers, a transgender man, explores the American Revolution through the eyes of one of his distant ancestors, Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the war. That premise grabbed me right away, and I was happy to find that the execution of the novel was just as interesting. Deborah's story is told with empathy and clarity. She escapes the horrors of one life, hoping for the sort of freedom only a man could have in Colonial times, yet the price she pays is a hard military existence where she is always on guard against being discovered. There is honest talk about rape and violence, but I would certainly say the novel is appropriate for high school readers and older. If you are interested in history told from an alternate, disenfranchised point of view, this is a compelling read.


Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. Young adult fantasy. 

I love a good fantasy rooted in folklore, and Novik does a great job mining the mythology of Eastern Europe for this novel. Young Agnieszka lives in a small town in an out-of-the-way valley where nothing much ever happens . . .  except for the fact that they live near an evil Wood that occasional swallows trespassers, drives villagers mad, or sends monsters to destroy neighboring villages. Oh, and also they are protected by a wizard called the Dragon who lives in a tower and does his best to keep the evil magic of the Wood at bay. In return for his protection, the wizard takes one girl from the valley every ten years to serve him in the tower. These girls aren't killed, but they are never the same after their ten years of servitude, and they never stay in the valley when they are released. Something about their servitude changes them . . . 

Agnieszka worries for her best friend, Kasia, who is the most beautiful girl in the village. Everyone is sure Kasia will be snatched up by the Dragon at the next Choosing. Instead, much to her surprise, Agnieszka is chosen to serve the Dragon, and that's when she discovered how dark and frightening the world really is.

Novik does a great job twisting our expectations -- inverting the tropes about fairy tale villains and heroes. You'll get magic and monsters, princes and wizards, sorcery and chivalry, but not always in the ways you might expect. Agnieszka has to go through some pretty horrible stuff. In fact, her story got worse so many times I had to put the book down a few times and catch my breath. This trip through the evil Wood is not for the faint of heart. But if you want a fantasy with strong characters and brilliantly original variations on ancient stories, try Uprooted!

 Pacific Crucible, by Ian W. Toll. History nonfiction.

I love history, and this is one of those books that is so good it reads like a novel. Toll brings to life the major players of the Pacific War on both sides of the conflict, drawing on Japanese primary sources as well as Allied. I have read a lot about the Second World War, but I still learned a great deal about this part of the conflict, which takes us through the rise of Imperial Japan, to Pearl Harbor, and on to the Battle of Midway. I am now reading the second in Toll's projected trilogy, The Conquering Tide, and loving it just as much. If you like accessible, highly readable history, this is a great choice.

Sick, by Brett Battles. Adult thriller.

Okay, so another novel about a plague that could wipe out humanity. We've read this before and seen it a million times, right? Nevertheless, this book was a great page-turner. Daniel Ash wakes up in the middle of night to find a nightmare situation. His wife is dead next to him. His daughter and son appear to be sick with the same virulent disease. He alone isn't affected. A team of unknown specialists in Hazmat gear swoop in and quarantine the entire neighborhood. Soon, Ash is separated from his children and being studied like a lab rat. Only when a secretive agent frees him from captivity does Ash realize there is a conspiracy in the works. Someone is developing a super plague, and his family and neighbors are only the first casualties. Ash must find his children, find those responsible for taking them, and -- you, know -- save the world from certain destruction.

I guess what makes this different from other plague-apocalypse novels is that the disease has not yet escaped fully. It's sort of 'Fear the Walking Dead' as opposed to 'The Walking Dead.' I found it an easy, exciting read. If you're after pure entertainment on your next trip, or just looking to relax with a good yarn, give it a try.

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan. Middle grade fantasy.

It's not really fair for me to recommend this yet, because you won't be able to buy it until it comes out in April, but I would highly recommend you keep it on your long-term radar.

Have you ever started reading a book thinking, 'Oh, well, I may not like it but I'll give it a try,' then quickly found yourself sucked into the story and thinking, 'Holy Hera, this is good!' That was my experience with Shadow Magic. It's told from the alternating perspectives of Thorn, the wayward son of an outlaw, and Lillith Shadow, the heir of one of six ancient magical kingdoms.  There should be no reason for these two to ever cross paths, but they do, and the combination is explosive.

Lillith is the heir of Gehenna, the kingdom of darkness. She wasn't supposed to become the ruler, but her family is murdered under mysterious circumstances, which leaves her next in line to the throne. Her family was once able to summon legions of the undead, speak to ghosts, and do all sorts of cool darkness magic that Nico di Angelo would approve of. Unfortunately, Gehenna's glory days are long past, and women are not allowed to practice sorcery upon pain of death, so Lillith cannot use whatever powers she might have. Gehenna is so weak, Lillith is forced to make a marriage alliance with their ancient enemies, the bright and shiny kingdom of light. (Gross!) 

Thorn, a young nobody from the north, is captured and sold into slavery to an executioner named Tyburn, who happens to work for the kingdom of Shadow. Thorn arrives in the land of darkness, and is soon plunged into a mystery with Lillith about who killed her parents. We find out that Thorn and Lillith both have unexpected powers and many secrets. We meet some fantastic characters, including a giant bat named Hades (How could I not love that?). 

This book is a wonderful page-turner for young readers. It's got all the elements of a great fantasy, rendered in a fresh, alluring, well-crafted world, with sympathetic characters and tons of mystery. I can't recommend it highly enough. Come spring time, get a copy. You'll thank me for it!