Literary 'It Couple,' Both Best-Selling Authors, Work Side By Side

Sep 1, 2016
Originally published on September 1, 2016 1:07 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's meet a literary it couple. The husband wrote a best-selling series about kids at a magical boarding school, "Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children." The movie adaptation opens later this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN")

EVA GREEN: (As Miss Peregrine) We're what's known in common parlance as peculiar.

INSKEEP: Indeed. The wife in this couple is also a best-selling author. They both have new books coming out aimed at young adults. NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered how they make it work.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: With oodles and oodles of style, Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi share a sunny, Spanish-style home in Santa Monica, all books and velvet couches. The two are slim and elegant. They float around being gently dismissive of that it-couple label.

RANSOM RIGGS: It makes me squirm a little bit.

TAHEREH MAFI: That's really funny.

RIGGS: I don't even know what that means.

ULABY: Riggs and Mafi write fairytales - alluringly visual, preciously constructed and in the eyes of some critics, a bit twee. The space they share is no different, right down to the workroom where they write together.

MAFI: It's out back.

RIGGS: Come on.

ULABY: Thirty feet through a green backyard, past a fountain to a renovated garage. Giant windows lets sunlight spill over Ransom Riggs' childhood piano and the massive Persian carpet that belonged to Mafi's grandmother.

MAFI: And we sit side-by-side at this long desk, and we look out over our yard.

ULABY: They wear noise-canceling headphones, and this married couple writes and writes and writes. Mafi's family is from Iran. She's Muslim and started covering her hair when she was 5 years old. Often, she wears a chic turban that makes her look like a mid-century movie star. But her concerns are contemporary.

MAFI: Islamophobia, the stereotyping, discrimination, racism - I've never lived in a world where that didn't exist for me. So I feel like that's something I carry with me everywhere I go.

ULABY: And she addresses those concerns in fables. Her bestselling young adult fantasy series "Shatter Me" is getting adapted for TV. She says it and her new novel "Furthermore" are not specifically metaphors about Muslim women who cover, but they are about girls who get ostracized and bullied for sticking out.

MAFI: As a Middle Eastern girl in the world, really, there's a reason why I keep coming back to that. And I think it's because I'm always feeling like, when will I stop being judged?

RIGGS: I had not a lot of experience with that sort of thing, you know (laughter) - when I - growing up in Florida.

ULABY: But Ransom Riggs also writes about outcasts. His books are enormously popular.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Cheering).

ULABY: Fans lined up outside a conference called VidCon earlier this summer to hear Riggs speak with an old college buddy. Backstage, Riggs reunited with John Green, who happens to be the rock star author of a young adult mega best-seller, "The Fault In Our Stars" and VidCon's co-founder.

RIGGS: How are you?

JOHN GREEN: I'm good. I'm good.

ULABY: Green and Riggs bonded over the surreal experience of having their books turned into movies. Green wondered where his friend was on the roller coaster of fame.

GREEN: Is it just starting or does it feel that you are in the middle?

RIGGS: It feels like it hasn't quite started yet. I still go to bed at a reasonable hour and...

GREEN: (Laughter) I'd be interested to talk to you in a hundred days (laughter).

ULABY: Meaning, after the movie comes out. Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi met while moving in the same young-adult-author swirl of conferences and panels. They've been married for three years. And they've noticed their new books are happier and more fairytale-like than ever before.

MAFI: I don't know how that happened. We had like some kind of mind meld.

RIGGS: Yeah, it's really - it was really unintentional. But we both became more fantastic and less gritty and more colorful in these last stories, more fable-esque and fairy tale-ish.

ULABY: Here's the thing about fairy tales - you know they're constructed. But it's hard not to yearn for their pleasure, their fantasy, their order. Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi have written plenty of them, but they might be their own best fairy tale. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.