Riordan was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Alamo Heights High School, and first attended the music program at North Texas State, wanting to be a guitar player. He transferred to University of Texas in Austin, and studies English and History; he got his teaching certification in those subjects from University of Texas in San Antonio. He taught English and Social Studies for eight years at Presidio Hill School in San Francisco.

Rick married Becky Riordan, originally from the East Coast, on June 5, 1985. Both had been born on June 5, she thirty minutes earlier. They moved from San Antonio to Boston in June 2013 when their two sons were of college and high school age, in conjunction with older son Patrick starting college in Boston. Haley Riordan inspired the Percy Jackson series as a bedtime story.

Riordan has created several successful book series. Tres Navarre, an adult mystery series about a Texan private eye, won the Shamus, Anthony, and Edgar Awards.

He conceived the idea for the Percy Jackson series as bedtime stories about ancient Greek heroes for his son Haley. Haley had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, inspiring Riordan to make the titular protagonist ADHD/dyslexic. Riordan published the first novel in the series, The Lightning Thief in 2005. Four sequels followed, the last, The Last Olympian in 2009.

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