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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Famous lost boys create new magic

Dave Barry, left, and Ridley Pearson co-authored
Kelly Milner Halls Correspondent

When J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) wrote Peter Pan just before the turn of the century, he probably didn’t take kids like 5-year-old Paige Pearson into consideration. Because after her father, acclaimed suspense novelist Ridley Pearson (“The Body of David Hayes,” Hyperion) read her the classic sea yarn, many of Paige’s questions — like how did Peter meet Captain Hook — remained unanswered.

Piqued by his daughter’s curiosity, Pearson set sail on a new adventure, a Peter Pan prequel, with a modern day “Barry” by his side. In September of 2004, Pearson and his friend, humorist Dave Barry (“Boogers Are My Beat,” Crown) launched the not-so-good ship Never Land and a new kind of magic with “Peter and the Starcatchers” (Hyperion, $17.99).

Pearson and Barry mastered the quick pacing of a rare young reader phenomenon — a boy-friendly page-turner — in chronicling Peter’s trek toward Barrie’s more familiar story. But there is also a sparky new heroine on board – and she’s tougher than Wendy and Tinker Bell combined.

“I’ll be honest,” Barry said in a telephone interview. “Molly is my favorite character. I felt more in touch with her than Peter.”

“I think that’s because we both have daughters,” Pearson agreed. “We both didn’t like how weak Wendy was in the original story — how subservient she was to Peter. We wanted to write a great adventure story with a young woman character like our own daughters, who are pretty much kick-butt little girls.”

So Molly Aster became more than the obedient teenage daughter of the British Ambassador to Rundoon, the Never Land’s dangerous island destination. She became a Starcatcher-in-training, a girl charged with protecting the ship’s mysterious cargo from falling into – and onto – the wrong hands. She also became the object of the clever orphan Peter’s subtle but emerging adolescent desire.

“Whenever we wrote a Molly and Peter scene,” Pearson said, “we were very aware that this was happening between a boy and a girl.”

“Yeah,” Barry agrees. “We were in touch with that 13-year-old ‘Maybe we SHOULD take a shower,’ realization.”

Together, Molly and Peter unite to keep powerful magic from the ranks of the evil. But even as we witness the priceless sea chest being carried on board, we know the task will not be easy. Pearson and Barry foreshadow the ominous wonder as a motley crewmember lifts the sea chest from the dock, and experiences a rush of euphoric scents and sensations, including these:

“Alf could see light now, swirling around his head, colors and sparkles, moving to music, dancing to the sound of bells, yes it was bells, tiny ones, by the sound of them, and it was a sweet and joyful sound, though Alf could hear something else in it, something that seemed to be trying to tell Alf something. He strained to hear it, he wanted to hear it …”

“That was Mr. Pearson,” Barry insists, “It was Ridley’s idea from the start to have a mysterious treasure on board. The whole plot evolved from that single idea.”

“But the fact that it was Stardust,” Pearson counters, “That was all Dave. And that was the point. We knew we wanted this to be a magical book. So the treasure had to be something incredibly important. Dave came up with that idea.”

Email collaboration, Pearson and Barry insist, was the true magic driving Peter and the Starcatchers – regardless of who contributed individual plot twists or mystical pauses. And the end results, say both writers, more than justified the parallel means.

“I just love this book,” Pearson says. “I’m so proud of this one. I even love the illustrations, the packaging. It just came out so well. And part of it is writing it with someone like Dave.”

“That’s it,” Barry continues. “Usually, by the time one of my books comes out, I see nothing but the flaws. But with this one, with Ridley, I’ve had the opposite feeling. And the kids at the signings are so great. My assistant is a kid’s fiction nut, and she’s been telling me this for years. But it seems as though the children’s literature audience is more interested in the value of the story. They just seem like they’re more into it than the mainstream adult crowds.”

Devout new Starcatcher fans are already clamoring for more Peter. And according to Pearson, they won’t be disappointed. “There will be a sequel,” he says. “One more older Peter book, and several shorter books written for the middle grade readers.”

“Not only that,” Barry chimes in, “but we think it’s going to be a terrific story. We’ve already got it outlined – and that’s Ridley’s influence again. He’s the strict one. I never outlined before.”

Is there also a Starcatcher movie in the making? “We hope so,” Pearson says, though he admits the release of Universal’s 2003 version of Peter Pan makes live action an unlikely consideration. And both insist if the books are sold for big screen adaptation, they probably won’t be demanding creative control.”

“It’s like when you sell a house,” Barry says. “You don’t come back later and say, ‘Hey, I don’t like what you did with the kitchen.’”

Did Peter and the Starcatchers answer all of Paige Pearson’s original questions? “Yeah, I think so, most of them,” Pearson says. “But there will always be others.”

And that’s okay, according to Barry, who fondly explains why they’re up for the Paige Pearson challenge. “For one thing, Ridley and I are both pretty immature at heart,” he says. “And we both really like good stories. In fact, I would have loved reading this book when I was a kid.”

“And if you write what you really would like to be reading,” Pearson concludes, “it’s hard to go wrong.”

Judging from Peter and the Starcatchers enduring double-digit sales rating, thousands of book buyers have signed on for the Never Land’s maiden voyage. Stardust or not, thousands of readers obviously agree.