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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ransom Riggs makes a peculiar visit to Bellingham

By Hannah Blank

The glow of the SPARK Museum sign in downtown Bellingham illuminated the growing line of people waiting for New York Times bestselling author Ransom Riggs’ book signing held by Village Books on Saturday, Oct. 13.

When the doors opened, the hum of electrical currents and 1920s music guided guests to their seats for the final stop on Riggs’ book tour.

Best known for his book “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” Riggs’ fictional trilogy chronicles the stories of children with special talents, known as the peculiars, according to his website.

“A Map of Days,” the book that brought Riggs to the SPARK Museum, is the fourth installment of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”

Ransom Riggs wears a black shirt against a black background. His hands are folded/
New York Times bestselling author Ransom Riggs waits to sign books and chat with audience members. // Photo by Hannah Blank

According to Riggs, the significant difference between the two trilogies is the setting. He said the narrative will continue to follow the main protagonists of the first books but will be set in the United States rather than on Cairnholm, a fictional Welsh island.

To keep with the antique theme of Riggs’ novels, attendees were encouraged to dress up for what the Village Books dubbed the “Cascadia time loop circa 1925.”

Riggs said because he had so many ideas for the series it took a long time to plan and complete “A Map of Days.” The book was released Oct. 2, three years after Rigg’s last book, according to his website.

A major hangup was the change of tone, Riggs said. The first three novels were based in the gothic darkness of European history. Riggs said he wanted to explore the United States through the eyes of the peculiars.

“Our world is just as strange as the 1930s and 1940s,” Riggs said. “We just don’t see it.”

Red candles cast eerie shadows around the room. Riggs sat backlit on the stage as he spoke about his newest novel and the inspiration behind it.

Riggs mentioned his grandmother on multiple occasions throughout the evening. He said she was a major inspiration in his life, as she was a teacher, ran a farm with her husband and raised four boys.

As a child, Riggs said he remembered his grandmother taking him to garage sales on Saturday mornings because there wasn’t anything else to do. While she was looking for deals on lightly-used socks, Riggs said he looked for whatever could entertain a 10-year-old boy.

More often than not, he said it was shoeboxes of old photos that grabbed his attention.

“It’s strange to find these precious memories just adrift and orphaned at a garage sale,” Riggs said in retrospect.

For Riggs, the act of sorting and collecting vintage photos as a child influenced his creative process later on. As he continued to buy antique photos through adulthood, Riggs said they became an integral part of his book series as he built them into the stories’ plots to add a visual component.

Books await signing as excited audience members decide which one to purchase. // Photo by Hannah Blank

A photo that particularly impacted him was of a young girl he found as a child. On the back in pencil it said: “Dorothy, age 13, died of leukemia, 1930.” He said that the girl in the photo had become a sort of friend after all the time he had her photo in his room. The context that the back of the photo gave Riggs heightened the significance of that singular photo.

Freshman Adelle Tower came to the event after hearing about it at Western’s AS Info Fair. She started reading Riggs’ series her freshman year of high school and didn’t think Riggs was going to come out with any more books.

“The fourth book was a surprise,” Tower said. “I didn’t think he’d write another one because it ended so perfectly in the third book: to be continued on in the reader’s imagination.”

Fans formed a line following Riggs’ talk to take their photos with him. Many had their hands full with stacks of books for him to sign.

SPARK Museum director Tana Granack saw the book signing as a great opportunity to bring more people to the museum. He said he wants everyone to be able to appreciate the beauty of the inventions and their history.

Granack said the artifacts in the museum aren’t meaningful until people connect them with their story. Similarly, Riggs said the connection the photos have to his novels gives new meaning to them, bringing to life what was once forgotten.

“We have a variety of crazy contraptions and gizmos and gadgets and I love it,” Granack said. “I think that’s why when I look at [“A Map of Days”], I think well ‘this seems like that book could belong in our library.’”

According to Granack, it’s the stories that make things significant. Without the story, he said most of the objects in the museum, like burnt out light bulbs, are just junk. He said when you connect the object with the story, it’s priceless.

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