Good news, “Kingdom Keepers” fans! Author Ridley Pearson told me exclusively that this week’s release of “The Return: Disney at Last” is not a final farewell to Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa and Philby. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to beloved characters — for readers and for authors — but Pearson’s next project might help ease that transition. He’s been hard at work on the first book of a new trilogy set in Epcot, and it could hit shelves as soon as February 2018.
For more details about what is in store for the Kingdom Keepers, read what Pearson had to say when my children and I interviewed him last week at Walt Disney World.
We understand that you have a new series in the works that will be based at Epcot and the Kingdom Keepers characters will continue on in it. Tell us more!
I’m not killing them off, but they are very different. I think it’s really important in these kinds of series that you don’t just parrot yourself, especially if it’s just financially driven or something. I want fresh, new ideas so the idea for this is that Walt Disney had a vision for Epcot, and it was a community of about 60,000 people with the Epcot park as its center. And so, I’ve brought that to life. We move maybe 15 to 20 years in the future, and we meet the Kingdom Keepers as adults and their kids are whom we follow. It’s a trilogy, and it’s just wicked fun.
What else can you tell us about your new Disney project?
There are touches of “Peter and the Starcatchers” in there. Again, it’s two stories at once. One of these characters, who is the child of one of the current Kingdom Keepers, gets off into a land. And I had no idea [this was going to happen] because this wasn’t in the outline and I really follow when the story leads me someplace I didn’t expect. I’ve had so much fun with that side of the story. And then the story that stays here in the park — because I’m imagining (and working with the Imagineers and people who do tech all over the park) about what it might look like in the future — has been so fun. And so I’ve added pavilions and I’ve way ramped up the tech. You’ll see a new night show, and I hope you’ll get to feel what it’s like to get to live right here in Epcot.
If you look at an architectural rendering of Epcot plans and you look from the air, it would look like flowers. Each petal of the flower is a community of 5,000 to 10,000 people with a little town at its center. And they go around a bigger community center and all of that feeds into Epcot as clusters. There are like eight of these around Epcot. And so one would be where Finn and Amanda live and Maybeck lives nearby but Philby is [in another]. So everyone is sort of spread out around this thing.
It’s a planned community but the kids do all sorts of devious stuff to sneak out, and the poor parents are realizing that their kids are so much like them and they wish they weren’t because they also are becoming Kingdom Keepers right before their eyes. They almost wish they could stop them because they know how risky it is.
Is there one central villain who will drive the new series?
Yes and no. There’s certainly a group of familiar villains, but there also are a lot of new villains. It’s a conspiracy group, basically. If you have reached Book VII in the first series, where the Overtakers are basically taken out, and you get to the end of the third book in the second series, which tells us how they started, one would wonder what villains could still be out there. If you dig into the heart and soul of the early books … one of the things that makes the movies work, makes the parks work in the Disney universe is that we all believe. And if you believe hard enough, it makes things real. Like when the Imagineers put Maleficent into the park at night to scare me, I’m scared. That’s really Maleficent. And so, the whole idea of the Kingdom Keepers has been that if you believe enough in the villains, they would also become real, just like Mickey and Minnie. And so, there’s a method to the madness in that if we believe … kind of like if you build it, they will come. And you have to look at another one of Walt’s dreams to understand all this, but it’s probably easier said in the book.
How far are you in the writing process?
I’m closing in on the end [of the first book].
What do you find conducive to writing the “Kingdom Keepers” novels?
I think that some people romanticize it, where you’re in a beautiful setting like this with an umbrella, working away, drinking lemonade. It’s work. So, I limit the distractions. I often try to get an office [wherever I am] with a really nice view and then my wife teases me because I just lower the blinds immediately because I don’t want to see anything else. I work at home, in libraries, in coffee shops, on planes, in the gate areas of planes. None of my novels has been published without writing it four full times, and most of them are like six full times. So, if it takes four or five months to write the first draft, which is a ton of fun, then it’s just brutal, slow, slow work to fix everything and tie it all together and get rid of the excess and trim it down and tighten up the characters for the next seven months. And then someone says, “You have to turn it in now,” and so I do. But it’s work, so I work wherever I can work.
I have always wanted to write these books here at Walt Disney World. I’ve wanted to stay at the Grand Floridian for like four weeks and come in and out of the parks and write, write, write. I’ve never had that luxury. I may get that luxury because our final kid goes off to college in the fall. If I could just get here for a month, I just know I’ll feel it, even more than I already do.