Rick Riordan, Mark Oshiro talk collaborating on ‘The Sun and the Star,’ writing a book about healing, and the intent behind that final scene

Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro joins us in a discussion about The Sun and the Star, the latest novel set in the Percy Jackson universe which follows Nico di Angelo and Will Solace as they descend to Tartarus.

It’s been nearly two weeks since The Sun and the Star hit store shelves, and I still can’t get this book out of my head. It seems the rest of the Percy Jackson fandom feels the same way, considering TSATS has been trending regularly and the book just hit the number one spot on the New York Times Bestselling Children’s Books list.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the The Sun and the Star book tour stop in Boston, which marked the start of the tour and the official release of the book on May 2. The energy levels from the crowd never dwindled over the hour-long presentation, which featured both authors being interviewed by editor Steph Lurie the nymph Gorgyra. There was a slide show, plenty of laugher, and even a surprise guest in the form of Becky Riordan, Rick’s wife. It was a fantastic time, and if you want to hear a blow-by-blow replay of everything that happened, you can listen to Prophecy Radio episode #82.

Prior to the show starting, I was able to sit down with both Rick and Mark to talk about The Sun and the Star‘s collaborative process, a few of those shocking guest appearances, and whether we could see another standalone novel set in the Percy Jackson universe. This is your spoiler warning in case you have not finished the book.

Check out the interview below, edited for clarity, and be sure to tune into Prophecy Radio: A Percy Jackson Podcast episode #83 for a full discussion of The Sun and the Star. We air weekly, and we cover all of Rick Riordan’s projects, including books, adaptations, and his middle grade imprint, Rick Riordan Presents.

Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro talk ‘The Sun and the Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure’

When did you come to the realization that you would be okay allowing another author to write in your world, and was that initially a very difficult decision to make?

Rick Riordan: I think it was something that I knew had to be the case if I was going to do a book that was strictly from Nico and Will’s points of view. It was not so much about becoming okay with it, as it was making sure, I think—if I was collaborating with someone, I wanted to make sure that it really felt like an equal partnership, that I didn’t want to have it feel like, oh, I’m just using a person as a ghost writer or taking the credit for something. I wanted it to be a full partnership.
And then finding the right person. And Steph and I were very lucky that Mark was available for that. So I think that settled any qualms I might have had about… is this gonna work out? A, Stephanie was there to help facilitate, and [B] Mark’s just a lovely person, as well as being talented.

And what made you decide that Nico was the best character to start with to kick off these standalone novels?

RR: Well, I don’t know that this is gonna be, like, a whole series of standalone novels. I don’t want to promise that. We haven’t had those conversations at all. This was very much an experiment, and it’s been a lovely experiment. I don’t know what’s next, I really don’t. But Nico was the obvious choice just because so many people love Nico. I love Nico. Everybody wanted to hear Nico’s story. And so, you know, I had to think about that: Okay, this is the story a lot of fans want to hear. They deserve to hear the best version of this story that I can make. And the best version I can make is with the co-author Mark.

And so, what are some of the strengths that the other person has that you felt supplemented your own writing and made the book stronger because of it?

Mark Oshiro: Until I wrote the Star Wars middle grade that just came out this past March, I had never done action. You know, something that has a fast pace where you’re thinking about, well, what is the end of a chapter? How does it lead to the next one? There’s a very specific sort of Percy Jackson structure in my mind that the 15 books have. A big reason why I reread them multiple times while writing this project and beforehand was just getting a sense of that. And that’s not my strength. I write things that are much more sprawling. They’re way more emotional. My prose tends to be on the more poetic side. So that was a huge challenge for me, initially. And with Rick’s help, and also Becky Riordan, Rick’s wife, [I was able to] figure out certain voices or whatnot. So, I definitely leaned on Rick. I remember leaving notes in the manuscript, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ Or like, ‘I think this is right and I’m not sure,’ but I had questions, and we used the notes of the manuscript to talk back and forth. So, I mean, that was the thing that I learned… how do you write in that space of writing action, but also including humor, but also not deflating mistakes? How do you keep all of those things in balance? And that’s absolutely what I learned from Rick.

RR: And for me, it was really about giving the scenes room to breathe and letting the characters express themselves more and have a little more emotional life to them, I think. And that was really something that was helpful for me to see how Mark did it and to kind of, hopefully, learn from that. And it’s been really, I think, a very fruitful kind of symbiosis.

We get to visit Percy and Annabeth in this book very briefly. What is that like for you to go back and check in on them every once in a while? We have Chalice of the Gods coming up. Does that inspire you to keep looking at their story and what they’ve done in the past and possibly what’s gonna happen in the future?

RR: For sure, for sure. I mean, they’re never far from my mind. Percy and Annabeth are obviously very near and dear to me. They’re loosely modeled after me and my wife. So that relationship is definitely something that I care deeply about, and I like keeping tabs on them. And it was interesting going back in time for Chalice of the Gods when they’re still a little bit earlier in their senior year than in the Trials of Apollo. To sort of backtrack.

And, of course, this book isn’t just about Nico. You’ve talked about how Becky helped you early on with Will’s character throughout the book. Can you speak a little bit more to that?

MO: Yeah, I remember in particular, there was a great note she gave me about, I think… the thing I was struggling with was that Will doesn’t know the Underworld. And so I was like, ‘Well, how do you write a character who lacks knowledge, whereas the other person is basically an expert?’ And not just in the Underworld, but Nico is one of three characters who has ever made it out of Tartarus. And so I remember in those early outlines and certainly in the first draft, Will kept coming off as incompetent, which was not what I wanted. He’s not incompetent, he just doesn’t know things. But Will is so brave, and he’s also a quick learner. If anything, we’ve learned through the series that he picks up things super quick. So the biggest thing she helped me with is, well, how can you convey that he doesn’t know this thing, but he’s willing to learn? And then how does he pick it up? How does he learn things as he’s traveling? So yeah, the biggest help that I got from both Rick and Becky was figuring out that specific balance.

You’ve also shown us how you went through the original series and made notes while writing the book. And there are so many specific references to characters and moments from the past. It feels like a love letter to the whole series. Did those come together very naturally, or was it very strategic to place those puzzle pieces together?

MO: I would actually have to go piece by piece because some of them are from the very original outline before I was even involved. I had to actually read the outline today to be like, what did I come up with? Because the thing [is], when you’re talking about this, when Rick’s talking about it being a symbiotic relationship, [it’s] because it went back and forth so many times because we were both adding things, changing things. It is actually hard for me to read it on a sentence by sentence basis and be like, who wrote this sentence? I don’t actually know. There’s certain ideas, like very chaotic things that I know I came up with. But I mean, it was strategic in the sense of the past is important. I loved the idea that you don’t have to read the series, but you can still read this as a standalone. But why not also give some sort of this emotional… I don’t like thinking of it as a reward because the book is not a reward, but there’s little gifts for the readers who’ve been here the whole time. I also think it was fun. There are some scenes, once they get into the Underworld with people who no one ever guessed would show up. Those were things that I just thought, well, this would be interesting. There’s a particular… Oh, and see, this is weird. [Struggles with whether or not to talk about spoilers.] There’s the scene with Menoetes and he reveals—

I was shocked!

MO: For me, [I was like,] why don’t I give a scene that is, like, who would be most challenging for Nico? Nico, who is open and friendly and who is so loyal. What if that’s tested? And I loved, in that moment, that Will was on board in one second. And so much of what Rick and I were doing was… this whole book is this exploration of how does a couple stay together? And so they have these little moments where things are difficult and challenging. And I thought that was an interesting way to bring that up while also doing this callback to this character. And it just is so chaotic. It’s just so fun to write. But, you know, we really wanted to explore their relationship and what it means to have to put in work.

Related: Mark Oshiro talks the evolution of ‘Into the Light,’ writing stories for transracial adoptees, and continuing to challenge themselves

That’s a great segue into my next question because you have said in the past, last time we talked, that you don’t think people will be able to guess which parts were yours and which parts were Rick’s. So can you each talk about some of the moments that you brought to the table that are wholly your own?

RR: Yeesh. I don’t, I mean, I don’t know. Honestly, it really is… When I look back on the manuscript now, if I look at the edited version, it’s pretty clear that it was a mutual thing. [Laughs] It all blends together. I mean, I guess I could say that, you know, the Camp Half-Blood world building part of it that predates the novel itself… you could say that’s stuff that I initiated, but even there, I think Mark really colored outside the lines in a beautiful way and made it bigger and more interesting, and—to use your word—chaotic in the best possible way.

MO: I’m even struggling to think of… I mean, the Cocoa Puffs are your idea.

RR: Well, Becky’s actually.

MO: Oh, well, okay, so even that I’m wrong on, like I thought, yeah. But that was not me at all. And I had someone on Twitter today who was like, that has Mark all over it. And I’m like, that was not me at all.

If I would’ve guessed, it would have been you.

MO: No, it wasn’t me at all. That was in the original outline. Menoetes is [Rick] as well. That was your idea as well.

RR: Yes, but the way that Menoetes was presented was beautifully done. I mean, you fleshed that character out.

MO: You see, and so this is like, it’s hard. It is genuinely hard because everything was worked together. I think the only… Oh, wait, I do have an answer now that I can think about it… When I was writing the first draft, because I was struggling with this—Nico knows everything, Will doesn’t know everything. I kept having these scenes where Nico would explain why he knew something about Tartarus, but then Nico’s journey to Tartarus has never quite been on the page. So I think that was the first ambitious swing I ever took was I think I’m gonna write this flashback. And I didn’t tell Rick or Stephanie or Becky or anyone, I just wrote it. And it changed—like the details of it and stuff changed—but that was probably the first time writing the book that I just was like, well, let me see if I can do this. I don’t know how it’s gonna turn out, but I think if I do this, then we don’t have to have these constant callbacks of Nico being like, ‘By the way, I know this thing. By the way, I know this thing. This is how I know this.’ Why don’t we just show you? So very much in the school of show, don’t tell. And it just… I’m proud of it. It’s a very strange sequence, but that was probably the first big contribution I think I made.

In your tweet this morning, you also said that The Sun and the Star offered you the unique chance to examine how someone heals from trauma. Was that cathartic for you? Did you learn anything about yourself along the way while writing this book?

MO:This is gonna blow your mind. That’s him, too. In the original outline, that’s when I… We haven’t even talked about this. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this. Like more than, well, I knew I wanted to do it the second I found out about it. But when I read that outline for the first time, which was before we met, it made me cry because it was a book about healing. And so maybe some of the details I came up with and helped to ground me, but like, no, that’s all Rick too. Not all Rick, but like a vast majority of it. Absolutely, I think also writing this in 2021 at a time when the world—not that the world isn’t chaotic and strange now—but like that was a very tough time for a lot of people. And I’m thinking of that of readers too, who have been through volatile, upsetting things. What if there’s a book that says, but it’s also okay if you feel happy. And it’s also okay if you find a way to love the people in your life and learn that you have this wonderful community, even if one is a completely demonic camp counselor who just eats popcorn while you tell stories. So it was a very healing thing to get to contribute to.

And a very healing thing to read, by the way. So thank you for that. I also have to ask, who can we thank for the demigod Care Bear? Because that is a perfect visual.

RR: Was that me? I don’t know, I really don’t. I thought, wasn’t that you? I don’t remember. See?

MO: I don’t remember.

RR: We passed it back so many times. I’m pretty sure that was you, but I—

MO: I will accept that momentarily. But that’s the thing. We would literally have to go back through every draft to see when each change was made. I know the power itself was your idea. I might have named it Care Bear. But credit can’t go to one person, if that makes sense.

I think that does make sense. And I think it makes it all the better because of that.

MO: We hope so. We really do. There’s very little that is one person. And I love that being part of this, like I said, being able to write with abandon and knowing… I talk about this, too. One of the funnest things about this is, when you write a book on your own, you get your edits back from an editor, but the manuscript doesn’t change. You have to make the changes. I would get a manuscript back and half of it is different. And it was like getting to read a new book every time. And this one [points to Rick] would put some of the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard in it. So it was actually really exciting to get edits because I didn’t know what I was going to read.

I also want to talk a little bit about the conversation with Piper at the end of The Sun and the Star, where she says, ‘Do you know how many others have felt comfortable coming into their own because of you, Nico?’ This was so meta to me. And it felt like you two were telling Nico for us, the fans, how much he’s helped us throughout the years. Can you talk a little bit about coming up with that moment between Nico and Piper?

RR: No, that was you.

MO: That was me. That’s definitely me.

RR: Yeah, yeah.

MO: Actually the whole meeting wasn’t an outline, I don’t think.

RR: No.

MO: There’s about three or four scenes that were never in the outline during those first two drafts, or my first, and then it would be the third draft, because you wrote the second one, that I just came up with. So I will say, I felt like they just needed to have a conversation—period. Especially because one of the things that has hurt Nico so much is Jason. And it was this thing of like, oh, I think they should talk. And it’s interesting, I love hearing what people think was sort of like the intent of it. I was thinking of it more of me writing just to Rick. Like, do you know what this character has meant to us? But I also love that idea that it’s both of us saying it. Yeah, I don’t even know what to add to it because that’s really what it is… me saying, here is this character who means the world to so many kids around the globe. And now he gets his own book! Like, he’s got this whole adventure that he goes on. So that was sort of the idea initially, and then it warped as we sort of, mixed everything around it. But yeah, that’s where that impulse came from.

That’s awesome. Thank you so much.

MO: Oh, you’re welcome, thank you.

I also wanted to say too, going back to the Cocoa Puffs, because that was so funny. I think the fans are gonna have a field day with that. There’s gonna be so much artwork about Nico and his Cocoa Puffs. It’s gonna be fantastic.

RR: I can’t wait to see it.

MO: I’m glad you all know why me and Becky have been tweeting about Cocoa Puffs for months.

As soon as I got to that part, I thought back to your no context spoilers, and I was like, that’s what that means! And it just, it was so perfect. And her picture this morning of the book on the Cocoa Puffs.

MO: That’s a level of troll that I aspire to.

That really made me laugh.

RR: Yeah, well, thank you. It was great to have you.

‘The Sun and the Star’ published on May 2, 2023

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