ridley2For a Disney fan, backstage access to any Disney attraction, personalized park tours with Disney Imagineers, or unlimited admission to Disney theme parks would be a dream come true.  For best-selling author Ridley Pearson, it’s just another day at the office.

For the third year in a row, I had the distinct pleasure to meet the dynamic, witty, and affable Ridley Pearson at a book signing to mark the release of a new installment of his popular Kingdom Keepers series.  Just a day after the book’s official release on April 2, Ridley was at the cavernous Barnes and Noble in Paramus, New Jersey.  Joined by approximately 150 other Kingdom Keepers fans (including our very own MakAttack98!), I was excited to hear Ridley speak once again.

At 7pm on the button, the author strode in, quietly and charmingly shaking hands with the guests.  It was a cold April night, but many had waited nearly two hours to pick up the penultimate work in the seven-part series, Kingdom Keepers VI: The Dark Passage.  The books, geared for young adult readers, draw fans of all ages who are eager to read about five teenagers striving toridley1 save the Disney Parks from the Overtakers, Disney villains bent on stopping the magical power of dreams and wishes.

Ridley welcomed guests in front of a backdrop of his latest work and explained he had just come straight from a viewing of the new Peter and Starcatchers, the off-Broadway play based on the works he co-authored with Dave Barry.  In an excited and proud tone, he also remarked that the story was being turned into a movie, with Hunger Games’ director Gary Ross aiming for a December 2014 release.

With that, Ridley then turned his attention to the Kingdom Keepers.  On this second night of his national book tour, he regaled the rapt audience with the story of his first trip to Walt Disney World, when he was already in his forties.  Good friend Dave Barry insisted on traveling with Ridley, claiming to be a “Disney expert” who could show Ridley and his family the ropes of a Disney vacation.  In the spirit of “one up-manship,” Ridley called his publisher (then a subsidiary of Disney Books) and asked how he could impress his friend on the trip.  The result was a magical Disney vacation, complete with surprises and extra magic that left the “expert” Dave Barry elated.  “It was the one time in my life I one-upped Dave Barry.”

After returning home from this first trip to Walt Disney World, Ridley called to thank his publisher for the assist, and he was directed to call a representative at Disney Books, Wendy Lefkon.  The conversation he then had would mark a milestone for him, and spark the genesis of the Kingdom Keepers!

During his call with Wendy, Ridley remarked that he was so impressed by the story that was ever-present in Disney attractions.  As an author, Ridley clearly was very sensitive to the skill associated with story-telling, and was impressed by how these attractions featured clear beginnings, middles, and endings.  Wendy spoke to him of Imagineers, and explained how all Disney attractions have a “backstory” that is developed even before the attraction is built.  Ridley made the connection immediately, as he had created lengthy backstories for his popular adult thrillers.  It was then that Wendy asked the question that would change everything: “Have you ever thought about writing for kids?“  She suggested Ridley should write an age appropriate, thriller-type novel set in the Disney theme parks.

Still enthusiastic from his trip and intrigued by the idea, Ridley said he would love to, but explained that he would need full access to parks; as an author, he needed extensive research and access to establish credibility with his reading audience.  He laughed as he recalled the exchange, noting that Wendy gently said that such access would violate Disney policy.  However, against all odds, a month later, Ridley’s phone rang, with the voice at the other end saying, “Okay, you’ve got full access!”  The Kingdom Keepers were born!

Ridley then went on the describe his backstage Disney experiences, which would make any self-respecting Disney fan drool–from the Imagineers who traveled with him to explain the finite details of attractions to the before-dawn tours of attractions.  He tantalized us with tales of his special Disney park pass (oh the envy!) and regaled us with the notebooks of pictures and notes he has on the attractions.  He has been able ridley3to examine Blackbeard/Barbosa’s ship in Pirates of the Caribbean first-hand and saw dolls in it’s a small world move even when the power was off (inspiring a Stephen King-level incident in an earlier Kingdom Keepers work).

I was most riveted when he spoke of the two and a half hour walk through of  Expedition Everest, a research trip so important that Disney flew in its lead engineer to do the tour with Ridley.  A dynamic and entertaining speaker, Ridley had the audience in stitches as he gregariously described his solo trip on the ride, screaming the whole way.

Towards the end of his conversation, Ridley began to discuss the end of the seven story arc.  Influenced by his encounters with fans, many of whom have read his books multiple times, Ridley explained he did not want to leave out the community of readers when ending the story.  In an innovative and ground-breaking twist, he has worked with Disney Books to devise a way for his thousands of readers to become part of the story-telling and help the Keepers to defeat the Overtakers once and for all.   Kingdom Keepers Insider, a free, online application, will engage Keepers fans in weekly questions and tasks, which will be used by Ridley in crafting the final book, fittingly called Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider.  The energy and excitement about the creative approach rippled through the room, and I felt myself swept up in wondering how I could contribute!  {{I will post more about this in a future blog next week, but the first chapters of Kingdom Keepers 7 are available online, and the first of twenty-week’s worth of reader input is already being solicited!}}

The night was a wonderful dose of Disney magic for this Disney fan.   Ridley’s admiration for and study of Disney was very apparent in his hour-long talk.  He made the comparison to other theme parks, where, as he put it, “you pay people to make you throw up [on their rides.]“  At Disney, the emphasis on story makes guests want to keep coming back.  Ridley’s spirited and energetic retelling of his Disney experiences made me want to dive into the latest book.  I’ve already registered as an “Insider” and look forward to sharing the challenges here with you!

The evening ended with the opportunity to meet Ridley and have him sign our books.  Upon seeing our ridley4WDW Radio gear, Ridley lit up and spoke of his excitement over the WDW Radio Cruise in November, where he will be special guest.  If the evening’s talk was any indication, the cruise will be yet another inviting, funny, and rich Disney experience.

If you’ve never read any of the Kingdom Keepers series, I strongly encourage ANY Disney fan to pick up the books.  They are imaginative and fun works loaded with rich detail that allows us all to escape “backstage” and see in our mind the details behind the magic.  Ridley’s fierce attention to detail and unparalleled imagination help bridge the time between Disney trips with a magical dose of the parks.

And, starting next week, watch for the return of the WDW Radio Disney Book Club, which will feature conversations about Ridley’s latest work, as well as peeks at his Insider Challenges!

Ridley will also be our very special guest on our WDW Radio Cruise on the Disney Fantasy, November 2-9, 2013! Join us for a week of fun, sun, and special events, presentations, quests and more with Ridley! For more information, visit WDWRadioCruise.com

Purchase your copy of Kingdom Keepers VI from Amazon.com (affiliate link)

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4 Responses to "Kingdom Keepers VI Release–and How YOU Can Help Write KK7!!"

  1. Hope you had fun seeing Ridley. I’m excited to see Ridley on my birthday at Once Upon a Toy at DTD, this will be my third time seeing him to sign my fifth & sixth book.

  2. “oh the envy!” is right!!!!!!

    That would be funny if Lou hadn’t announced it was him as the special guest yet and you and Mak were hearing it for the first time from his mouth!

  3. CriesDuringWishes says:

    Looking forward to book club- count me in!

  4. So awesome. Looking forward to the book group and webcast!

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