Sun Valley's Most Influential Leaders
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Pulling the Blinds
Ridley Pearson Gets Lucky in Sun Valley
BY RIDLEY PEARSON
The first thing I learned was to pull the blinds. Writing in the Sun Valley area is a blessing and curse — the curse being that one look out the window and a hike or a run down the wintry slopes of Baldy comes to mind. The blessing, well … Let's get real.
My writing career began in earnest at the kitchen table of my parents' second home outside of Bellevue. I had retreated there on my brother’s suggestion after spending 11 years on the road as a folk rock musician. Not that I knew it was a career beginning; it was a passion. I worked at Moritz Hospital as a housecleaner—cleaning the OR and the ER—as a freelance trade magazine writer (Robotics World, Arthritis Information Magazine, and other national treasures) and the bass player in several barroom bands. During the days, I pulled the blinds.
I spent my time as a spy in Canada, a musician in Seattle, a cop, a lawyer. I piled up rejection slips. Passions have a way of making one passionate. I couldn’t help myself. I began on a manual typewriter. According to the Wall Street Journal, I discovered I was among the first 250,000 people in the U.S. to own a personal computer. Mine was a Radio Shack, with a PCM operating system, and a cassette deck for “storage.” I wrote so much that the cassette deck broke. To keep it running, I had to stab a Q-Tip into the PLAY button. I still have a box of cassette tapes with early books on them. I graduated to a machine with a floppy disc the size of a Frisbee, then a “portable” Compaq computer that weighed more and was bigger than a Singer sewing machine (I freaked out a flight attendant by traveling with it. She’d never seen one. Miraculously, it fit beneath the seat with a shove.) I was a cyclist, a killer (on paper only). In fact, I was several killers.
It took eight-and-half years in all, but I sold a novel. I ran around the yard screaming and jumping in a euphoria I’m not sure I’ve ever felt since. After that scream, all elk were scared from the Valley; no duck was seen for over a year. That kind of scream. A published author. No Hemingway, was I. No John D. Macdonald. No Ken Follett or Robert Ludlum. But published.
I got lucky, as happens in careers when you work 14 hours a day passionately. My fourth novel was a national bestseller. Research for a subplot in the novel went on to solve a real homicide! I was awarded a midlife Fulbright at Oxford. I was invited to join up with some other best-selling authors in a one-time musical performance to benefit First Amendment rights. The band has been playing for 22 years now and includes Dave Barry, Stephen King, Amy Tan and many others. I got lucky.
Anyone in the “arts” looks back and wonders “what if?” We crash or tiptoe through life and, as is the expression, “When you reach the fork in the road, take it.” The smallest decision can change everything forever. Moving to the Sun Valley area was a whim. I was planning on five months, then back to the East Coast and more music. I stayed over 20 years, and now keep a second home in Hailey.
I was lucky—there’s that word again—to be in the area when Reva Tooley and Gordon Russell were putting together the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. I was thrilled and honored to be asked to be a part of the early meetings to get it going. I brought some of my fellow bandmates out, including Stephen, Amy and Dave. I’ve since reached out to others helping to fill spots as needed. Scott Turow is coming this year, a recent addition to the band. Attending the conference is not a hard sell, as it’s regarded as being among the top two or three writers’ conferences in the world (from the author’s point of view). Sure, there’s the setting, but the organizers did something brilliant from year one: they gave the authors dinners at private homes with only their fellow authors. This rarely happens at such events. Those dinners have introduced me to some amazing and gifted writers whom I now call friends, the late Frank McCourt among them—another we recruited into our crazy band. These are writers I learn from; friendships I treasure. “It happened in Sun Valley.”
Eventually I found my way around to writing about “home.” I penned a thriller/mystery series centered around the Blaine County sheriff at the time, my friend, Walt Femling. “Killer Summer, Killer View” and others allowed me write what I know. Sun Valley. The Wood River Valley. The quirks and peculiarities that make it such a wonderful and unusual place caught between desert and National Forest. I’m 48 books in now, and still going. I never let myself forget that I started at a kitchen table with a view of the mountains and the Broadford Slough. I started with five bucks in my pocket and a passion to do what I love. And I’m doing it right now, 30 years later, which makes it all the more unbelievable to me. (Probably to my critics, as well!)
Just lucky, I guess.
Jamie Lee Curtis dipped her toes into the children's book-writing scene with her first book, "When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth," published in 1993.
Judith Freeman divides her time between Los Angeles and the Camas Prairie. She is a novelist, essayist, critic and short-story writer whose first work of non-fiction came out in 2007.
Community School graduate, Alexander Maksik's novel "A Market to Measure Drift" comes out in paperback on June 3.
The Sun Valley Writers' Conference is a gathering of readers and writers into the realm of intellectual intimacy. This annual event brings the community together to be educated, enlightened and inspired.
Iconoclast Books originally opened on 4th Street (below Perry's) in 1994, moved to Main Street in the historic Griffith building in 2002, and found its current home in the Christiania building in 2007. Not only is it a fabulous bookstore, it houses a café with homemade soups and quiches.
A community bookstore in business for four decades, Chapter One Bookstore features a large variety of inventory and many used and out-of-print books. Cheryl Welch Thomas has been the sole owner for 23 years, but has worked at Chapter One for 40 years.