Monday, September 12, 2011

Meet R. A. Pedersen, Author of The Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

So.. I'm R. A. Pedersen - author of  The Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia in paperback and on Kindle/nook/etc. It's available worldwide and has sold in Japan, Italy, Norway, Germany, the UK, Canada, etc.. and of course the USA.

It occasionally hangs out in the top 10 of the genre and is generally
well reviewed. I also work/write as a blogger for the Unofficial Guide
to Walt Disney World and as well as my own website,

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What else do you do besides writing?

I have an affinity for theme parks and travel. I'm also trained a a
theatrical designer - sets, props, lighting etc. - and have worked as
a scenic painter. My interest in theme parks and themed design is
what got me into theater. I wanted to learn how to create entire new
worlds in the physical realm.

While I thoroughly appreciate the ability of good literature to do the
same in the mind, I do enjoy being able to explore a dimensionally
realized world. In fact, most people don't tend to draw a connection
between the art of literature and the art of themed design. Good
thematic design is not necessarily storytelling (though that can be an
element), but rather adherence to thematic principles - the same as
those in literature.

For example an author works with sentence structure, cadence,
alliteration, symbolism, etc. while the thematic designer works with
their own tool set to achieve the same goals. They work with form,
color, texture, scale, etc.. It's all in the hope of achieving a
similar result, the evocation of a theme - an idea, a statement. As
mentioned, story can be part of the thematic work, but it's not a
requirement. It's the non-linear "story-less" designs in themed design
that tend to be the most intriguing.

2. How did you first get into writing?

A high school course in AP Literature. Before that I didn't write much
and didn't think much of it. With timed writings and an extensive
reading list it became an idea that I "could" write and down the road
a matter of if I "should" write. I still break a ridiculous number of
rules and get myself into trouble from time to time just like in high
school. I do think my writing is entertaining and enjoyable though. I
think that's where the "paid writing" jobs have stemmed from. People
have seen what I can do and enjoy it.

To explain - In college I wrote more, like everyone does in college,
but I also started getting involved in the internet and social
blogging and such. I started being asked to write/blog and
occasionally ghostwrite for various websites. It started with little
gigs here and there and turned into a continuous side-job. I was
offered a gig working for The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by
Len Testa because he liked both my writing and my ability to find

I learned a lot about books and publishing working for The Guide as I
went through my undergrad degree. I would help fact-check chapters of
the book and occasionally suggest rewrites where information had
become outdated. I also got to go on research trips to theme parks and
test stays at resort hotels. Best. College. Job. Ever.

If you're not familiar with the book: The Unofficial Guide to Walt
Disney World
essentially stemmed a whole franchise. The book is
extremely popular and sells incredibly well. It sits at/around the
#500 spots of all books on perpetually and makes enough
money to warrant hiring a small army to work on its yearly revisions.
It also supports an active blog where I'm now a paid blogger.

For a guidebook like that you learn how to research, research,
research, and also how to convey information to people in ways
they'll understand. With the experience from the Guide I felt I was
ready to tackle a personal point of interest and write out The Epcot
Explorer's Encyclopedia

3. Tell us about your latest book.

The Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia is essentially a history of
all-things "Epcot." The theme park it came to be had evolved out of a
concept for a utopian little society, city, and scientific consortium
spurred by Walt Disney's idealism. Much of the book focuses on the
park itself, because that's what was ultimately built, but there's
still a lot to be learned about culture, history, and politics in
respect to the park. Negotiations with both nation states and the
largest corporations on the planet reveal some fascinating insight
into what it takes to build what was, at the time, the world's largest
and most expensive single-site construction project.

4. Is it part of a larger series?

Possibly. At the time I started the project I was fully committed to
several other books exploring the history of the other Disney parks as
well as lesser-known theme parks. I learned through the experience
though that there are huge gaps in knowledge for certain areas. They
say it takes twenty-years removed from an event to really learn the
truth behind what had happened.

People notice these sorts of gaps in reading The Epcot Explorer's
- and I commiserate. I wish there was more to write in
some instances. You include something to be thorough, and it sort of
backfires because it's so brief that people think you're leaving
information out or ill-informed. Sometimes in a theme park - or
design, or life, or anything - an element doesn't get fully fleshed
out or realized and it's hard to discuss it.

I have also dabbled in playwriting and drama, so there might be
something coming down the pipe from that. I may also attempt some good
old fashioned fiction culled from the stories I've got floating around
in my head, or I might just go with some other non-fiction point of

5. What was your inspiration for your book?

I felt there was a need to preserve and understand Epcot -
particularly for the general public. To an outsider it might seem a
little silly to think so highly of a theme park, but Epcot wasn't
founded as an amusement park with some rides and shows. Rather, it was
meant to be a real educational establishment with art, culture, and
real scientific research conducted daily. The park still actually does
much of this, but Disney - oh, Disney - in these modern times with its
corporate culture has seemingly lost sight of everything the park was
created to do.

 "Edutainment" isn't marketable and profitable to them so those parts
get pushed aside to sell the thrills and technological aspects.
There's still a lot of the original good intentions in Epcot despite
the changes over the years. It was meant to be a monument to humanity
and it succeeds at that, even with some of the bad parts.

6. What motivates you to want to write? What do you enjoy about it?

I like information. It's why I got involved with The Guide and its
research aspects. Also, I like sharing that information. I enjoy
people being better informed of the facts - good, bad, or otherwise -
so they can make informed decisions for themselves. I don't think just
floating through life without understanding how anything works or how
things got to be the way they are is a particularly healthy existence.

It's not all just positive "let’s all hold hands and dream of a better
world" fluff either. After having spent a semester in Paris studying
art I can talk about art. I have seen tons and tons of bad art - lots
of it in Paris - but being educated and informed about art I can
coherently discuss why I think it's bad art. It also helps me further
appreciate good art for not being bad in the first place.

Without being informed people struggle to form their own opinions and
are swayed by others into thinking things they otherwise might not.

7. Do you have any advice for new writers about perfecting their craft?

Learn new things and don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's wonderful
if you can investigate and learn from other peoples' mistakes, but
sometimes you have to make them yourself to really learn the lesson.
Also, don't shy away from opportunities. If you've got something you
really believe is worth writing - write it. If you actually care it
will show through and people will overlook your mistakes and your
"amateur" status and you'll sell books. A good idea, not perfectly
conveyed, is still a good idea. Just try not to murder it ;)

Always, always - ALWAYS - do what's right for you. Other people are
not -you- and they may not give you advice to help -you- despite their
best intentions. If I had followed other people's advice the book
would never have been written and I'd likely be living on the street.
My first paycheck came from saying "screw it" to the advice of
spending the next year rewriting and copy-editing. Instead I hit the
"publish" button to push the book through. It kept me from poverty.

I know it sounds dramatic, but I really had been unceremoniously fired
and was living off savings while job hunting. I took all that free
time and did what I had wanted to do - write that book. I figured if I
was going to go down in flames I'd do it with style. Everything I had
been told said the book would fail out of the gate without all the
professional polishing. It didn't. It paid the rent. People bought the
book because they could tell I cared about what I had written and I
had worked hard at it. Also, I don't think I completely suck at
writing - so there is a base level self analysis to run before
starting into this as a career.

And that's me, or at least "me as Author." Hope you enjoyed it and
maybe learned something ;)

-- R. A. Pedersen

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