Saturday, June 23, 2018
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Interview: 'Miss Peregrine's' author Ransom Riggs talks growing up in Florida

Nothing is peculiar about Ransom Riggs' literary success; it's this new, cinematic part that takes getting used to.

Riggs' book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is now a movie directed by Tim Burton, whose goth sensibilities are well-suited for the assignment. It's the story of a Florida teenager's quest, and the supernatural misfits encountered at a dilapidated children's home.

Any resemblance to the author's childhood isn't coincidental.

Riggs, 37, grew up in Sarasota County's Englewood district, attending the Pine View School for gifted students. The page-to-screen circle was completed when Burton filmed a portion of his movie around Tampa Bay, not far from Riggs' former home.

The author recently answered a few questions by email from England, about the movie, his Florida childhood and how he "melted" when meeting Burton. Questions and answers are edited for length.

What do you think of Tim's take on your book?

The book was a labor of love for me, and the film was most definitely a labor of love for Tim. He made it his own while staying true to the spirit of the book, which is no easy feat. All the things he's best at shine through in the film, and while some things have been changed or expanded upon from the book, the changes only make the film more cinematic and visually poetic. There were a lot of things he did that made me say, "Why didn't I think of that?"

(Screenwriter) Jane Goldman did an amazing job turning a sometimes plot-heavy book that was a rather complicated mix of tones and genres into a film that feels very even and assured. ... And there was no better director in the world to tackle a story that's whimsical but dark ... an ultimately uplifting story about an outsider finding his tribe and what it means to be a family. That's Tim's bread and butter.

The book's young hero, Jake Portman, sees our corner of Florida as somewhere to tolerate and escape. Was growing up in Englewood that tough?

This is such a funny question, and one I totally deserve. I really enjoyed (most of) my young adulthood, but like a lot of teenagers who grow up in small places, you strain to flee the nest and see what's out in the bigger world. Jake feels suffocated by Florida because most kids I know did; because that's the basic condition of being a teenager.

I should add that I appreciate Florida much more nowadays, as an adult visitor. My happy place is 40 feet out in the Gulf of Mexico, sitting on a sandbar in 80-degree water, watching clouds crawl by. Absolute heaven.

How did your Pine View education help to prepare you for what's happening now?

I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for what's happening now! But Pine View ... was my little school for peculiar children. I was in the same class of 100 kids from grade 6 through 12, many of whom I still call friends. We didn't have any sports teams or even a real campus for half my years there. There was no pressure to drink or do drugs, and no one thought it was weird to care about doing well in your classes. ... It was a safe place to be young and weird, and I'm very grateful for it.

When did it hit you that your imagination was becoming cinema real?

The first time was in Tampa. They were shooting in a little house on a cul-de-sac, and there was equipment all over the yard. It looked a lot like the neighborhoods I grew up in, and shot homemade movies with my friends in ...

And then Tim Burton walks out of the house, all dressed in black, hair wild, dark glasses on. He shook my mom's hand and then told me he hoped he could do my book justice. That's when it really hit me that this was happening, and one of my favorite directors was really making a film of my little book. I can't remember much after that because I melted into a puddle on the driveway.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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