Ransom Riggs, author of the surprise hit Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, says his own peculiar reality as best-selling author now feels a little more normal to him. (In order to make the book’s success less abstract, his publisher, Quirk, has made a nifty infographic revealing that, when stacked, sold copies of his book surpass the height of Mount Everest.) “It’s taken a while, because I really was not expecting such a hearty and enthusiastic reaction to the book,” Riggs says. “I thought it would be like a lot of books that come and go quietly. With any luck, you’re afforded a chance to write another. But it’s not demanded of you—no one’s pounding on your door asking, where’s the sequel?
”Fans of that first book (a deeply original fantasy-adventure story from 2011 illustrated with vintage photographs) have in fact been clamoring for its sequel, Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. The sequel reintroduces readers to teenager Jacob Portman, who can see hollows, shadowy monsters with an appetite for peculiars. With his band of peculiar friends (each gifted with an unusual power such as invisibility, the ability to create fire, the ability to levitate), Jacob must make his way to war-torn 1940s London, dodging shadowy monsters and ducking in and out of time, in order to help the peculiars’ beloved mentor, Miss Peregrine, return from her bird form to her human shape.
Though Riggs says Hollow City “had momentum going for it,” he still didn’t really know what direction it would take, and figuring that out took a lot of drafts. “The end of the first book is so open. They’re sailing off into the sunrise—they can go anywhere.” Riggs says he had set up a whole world in that first book but didn’t really get to explore in it. “I was itching to get out into this land of loops and time travel and monsters and meet other peculiars who do all sorts of neat things and see what’s there.”
That exploration took time. Riggs says he tried “every different avenue,” meaning he wrote “about three different books” before arriving at what would become Hollow City. “With the first draft of the book, I had them going all over the place. Global travel. Then I realized that this was a book about time travel to some degree, so they didn’t have to go a long distance geographically to find interesting things. They just had to go to a place with a rich history. That was London.” That both his first and second books have a British setting is, Riggs believes, a result of some “half-conscious bias…that Britain simply seems a more magical place than America. It was harder for me to imagine Miss Peregrine and her peculiar wards living in, say, a loop outside of Tampa, Fla., than it was some foggy island where Celts and Arthurian knights have probably been tromping around for millennia.”
Riggs, who has an MFA in film production from the University of Southern California and who has been “making short films ever since he got his hands on a friend's video camera at age 12,” says it’s hard to know how much that background has influenced him, though he does say he finds it exciting and quite freeing to “break out of screenplays and write a novel.…I don’t need to know how long it is, and I can write what the character’s thinking—amazing! All these very ironclad rules to do with screenwriting suddenly disappeared.” Still, he says, he can’t really write a scene until he’s imagined it visually, which may partly explain his attraction to the vintage photos that are such a distinctive part of these stories.
Many readers are curious about those photos, but Riggs says the collection that plays such an important role in the book (initially he used photos “sort of like headshots when casting a movie”) is a fluke. “It all started at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena…this giant swap meet that stretches for five football fields,” he recalls. “I was just looking for old furniture.” He’d known such photographs existed from long-ago visits to antiques stores with his grandmother, but not until he met a dealer named Leonard Lightfoot did he perceive them as “found art.”
Despite his own enthusiasm for the photos, Riggs never really expected his collection to interest young readers. “But I think it proves that teenagers will always surprise you,” he says. “That you cannot predict what they’re going to like or respond to.”
Riggs has been thinking about this, and he believes that teens are drawn to old pictures for the same reason that he was. “It’s like you’re solving the mystery of the people around you, of your parents and grandparents—who they used to be when they were younger. There’s something interesting about the archaeology of recent history that comes with exploring an old building or trying to solve the puzzle of old photographs that are just from a couple of generations back. The author says he loves the recently published graphic novel version of his first book and is delighted that Tim Burton (who’s been one of his “most favorite directors since forever”) will be directing the film version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, due out in 2015.
But even with all the excitement surrounding the publication of Hollow City, Riggs plans to start working on a third book. “I haven’t written it yet, so I don’t want to say too much, but the first two stories are part of an arc that hasn’t quite finished yet, and it will finish with the third book. There won’t be any lingering questions or hanging threads. But I don’t think I am going to close the door on the world. I know that this story is going to be over with the third book, but their world won’t be over.”
Jessie Grearson is a freelance writer and writing teacher living in Falmouth, Maine.