Money's no mystery
to Ridley Pearson -- Page 2
What was it like going to an exclusive boarding school like Pomfret?
It went both ways for me. At first, I was teamed up with a guy named Vern Dundee,
who was one of eight or 10 African Americans from a very depressed area in New
Haven, Conn., so actually my first experience living at Pomfret was living with
someone of far less means than me. It was really interesting. It was a real cultural
standoff and something that has educated me to this day. I got beat up, the whole
nine yards that you go through in those cultural clashes, by his friends. But
there was the whole other side. I'll never forget one of the guys who arrived
after Thanksgiving break via helicopter. I guess if you've got it, you arrive
by helicopter. In my junior year, I was really close with Bobby Kennedy, Robert
Kennedy Jr. We would go up to Boston or out to Hyannis Port. That was a whole
other level of lifestyle. You sort of saw all sides.
You took a left turn from your classmates after graduation.
Most of them went on to Ivy League schools or Stanford,
that sort of thing. I applied to Williams and didn't get accepted, and since it
was the only school I was interested in at the time, I ended up going to Kansas
University. Had I been accepted, I would have a completely different life now.
I loved KU, but it wasn't a challenge.
After college, you played music with your band, Big Lost, for about eight
RP: Yep. That
was a great economic lesson. We didn't make a lot of money and we lived communally
in a house on Cape Cod to keep our costs down and we loved and pursued our art.
It was non-commercial music. Otis and I sang and played guitars, then we had a
flute, a cellist and a bass -- so it wasn't a dance band at all. It was kind of
Eagles meets James Taylor. We wrote all original material and did well enough
to get steady gigs. We toured out West several different times, we did a basement
album, and there were all sorts of economic lessons in that: making a product,
promoting and selling it, fixed costs, unexpected costs. It was quite a lesson,
and I did that for year after year after year. I was thin, too. I got down to
about 135 pounds. We were starving, but man it was a great time in my life.
Didn't your parents try to set you on a more solvent course?
They didn't. I had a very loving and understanding family. Now that I'm an adult
and I see what they saw, I'm sort of appalled, but they tolerated me. My dad reminded
me constantly that of the 17 grandchildren on my mother's side, I was the only
one without a college degree and that if I wanted to go back to college, he was
there to support me. He was really great about the music though; he said they
would be at my gigs, but we're not going to give you a dime, and if you want a
dime, you've got to go to college. I know it must have killed them, but they never
made it something big enough to separate me and alienate me from the family.
The Fulbright Scholarship was a major turning point for you.
It was emotionally. It came as a result of "Undercurrents," my fourth
novel, which was a big hit. It was the most phenomenal year of my life.
Were you financially secure then?
No, I wasn't making much money because I had already signed on to a multi-book
deal. I made money off royalties for "Undercurrents," but my advance
was pathetic. My advance for "Probable Cause" was pathetic, but I made
six figures off it. That's when I started to see a real career here; up until
then, it was tough.
Quite a shift from starving musician to successful novelist, yes?
It was sort of earth shattering. As was joining the Remainders in 1991. A media
escort came up with the idea (for an all-author band) when she realized she had
toured with a bass player, a rhythm player, a sax player, a drummer, and called
us all up. When I found out who the other members would be, I realized I was going
to get to meet the biggest authors in America! We had a fabulous time doing it.
There were no egos at all. We all made great friends, and Steve King said after
the gig, "Let's all get on a rock bus and do a tour." So we spent three
weeks on the road together and they fused these friendships. We've all cross-pollinated
each other; I've written a project that tied in with a Stephen King miniseries
that made me seven figures, Mitch Albom is writing fiction, Dave Barry is writing
mysteries. These friendships are the most important friendships I have. They just
happen to be with some of the biggest selling authors in the world. Being around
these guys is just inspirational to me.
Do you manage your money yourself?
We do now. I don't have money managers. The one time we tried that, we were with
a national firm and they lost six figures for us two years in a row and we said
OK, I think we'll go back to doing it ourselves. We had a couple of accounts last
year that had a lot of money in them and gained 65 percent, and we said well,
that's why we do this. But I don't trade, anything like that.
Do you now consider yourself a success?
In the publishing world, I'm always insecure, I'm always afraid that next year
I'm not going to make a dime. Despite the success, and I've earned an awful lot
of money, there's always this little thing that says work harder, write harder,
get out there and promote more. Because it's such a fun life in a lot of ways,
you're so grateful to your readers that you want to earn it. I'm too Protestant-work-ethic
oriented to just go out there and plug golf balls or anything.