Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Introducing Peter Lerangis

I met Peter Lerangis at this year’s Allen County Young Author’s program. I was very impressed by his humorous author presentations, his friendly and spunky personalty, and his ingenious writing skills. So glad I met ya, Peter!

Here are some selections taken from his biography:

“Peter Lerangis is the author of more than 160 books, which have sold more than 5½ million copies and been translated into 33 different languages. Seven of his books have made the New York Times–Children’s Bestseller Lists: The Colossus RisesLost in Babylon, and The Tomb of Shadows, Books 1 through 3 of The Seven Wonders seriesThe Sword ThiefThe Viper’s Nest, and Vespers Rising (the latter co-authored with Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, and Jude Watson) in The 39 Clues series; and The Dead of Night, Book 3 in The 39 Clues: Cahills Vs. Vespers series.  His novel Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am, a collaboration with Harry Mazer, won the 2013 Schneider Award

“Peter was one of three authors, along with R. L. Stine and Marc Brown, invited by the White House to represent the U. S. in the first Russian Book Festival in 2003…

“He is a Harvard graduate with a degree in biochemistry. After college he became a Broadway musical theater actor. He has run a marathon and gone rock-climbing during an earthquake, but not on the same day. He lives in New York City with his wife, musician Tina deVaron, and their two sons, Nick and Joe.”


Through my correspondence with him, I asked Peter some questions about his writing and his reading history:

1. What inspired you to become a writer?
I don’t remember ever not wanting to be one!  As the oldest kid in a big extended Greek-American family who all lived pretty close together, I was the go-to caregiver for a huge gaggle of siblings and cousins.  They looked up to me, and I enjoyed entertaining them with imitations, stories, and jokes.  So in a way, I grew up as a storyteller.  And when I was old enough to write, my favorite thing to do was to hole up in my room with the door firmly shut and a pad of paper on the desk.  I would lose myself for hours letting my ideas spill out onto the page.  It was almost an out-of-body experience!  I was an unathletic, bookish kid, and writing made me feel expansive and powerful. 

2. What was the first book that inspired you to become an avid reader?
My parents read to me every night when I was little.  I distinctly remember my favorites: FerdinandMillions of CatsOne Fish Two FishTo Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.  When I was old enough to read, I started with Dr. Seuss but quickly became a fan of science fiction, mystery, and books about precocious animals.  I raced through the Tom Swift adventures and the Freddy the Pig series.  I was a huge fan of superhero comics, which are essentially extended serial fiction.  My dad loved to see my growing avidity, and he was the one who took the time to drive me to the library every week so I could check out books.  He took great pride in the armfuls I’d bring home, and he always gave the OK for my unreasonably large purchases from the Scholastic Book Clubs.  To this day, I love seeing dads involved in their kids’ reading lives—particularly sons—because I so looked up to my own dad as a role model.

3. Which authors have inspired your writing?
I didn’t realize it as I was growing up, but in my own way, I was carefully studying the revolutionary imagination of Ted Geisel, the over-the-top suspense and sensual language of Edgar Allan Poe, the boundless imagination of Ray Bradbury, and the earthiness of Jack London.  At age eleven or so, while reading London’s story To Build a Fire on a sweltering summer night, I started shivering with cold.  This floored me – that the prose itself had the power to create a physical change like that, with words alone.  I thought then that if I could ever do that for others, it would be the coolest way to make a living.  From that point on I began expanding my reading into all kinds of fiction, literary and popular, all the while trying to suss out exactly how the author achieved that power – what kind of words they used to tease out character and ideas, what kinds of things they held back. 

4. What made you base a series on the seven wonders of the ancient world?
Basically the idea was borne of three failed ideas that coalesced over years into something pretty exciting.

First, the Wonders.  One of the great highlights of my honeymoon in Greece was a romantic dinner on the harbor in Rhodes.  Of course, everyone there points out the location of the ancient Colossus astride the entrance, but I realized it would have been physically impossible to have built a monument of that size.  I began becoming interested in the Seven Wonders—how were they built, why were they so wonderful, why seven? etc. but never thought of myself as a nonfiction writer.

Second, Atlantis.  While in Crete, we heard stories of the sunken island, which the Cretans believe existed off their northern coast.  Well, there are many areas in the world that claim Atlantis, and all my life I was fascinated by the story.  But thousands of people had tackled that topic!  What could I possibly add to it?

Third, years ago I tried hard to pitch a series based on the idea of The Prisoner, a sixties-era TV series about a man trapped against his will on a mysterious island as part of a scientific/political experiment.  I wanted to involve a group of kids – but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why on earth they would be there.  So I put that aside too.

One day, somehow I put these three things together—and everything clicked.  Seven Wonders is about a team of four kids with a powerful genetic condition inherited from a prince who escaped the sinking of Atlantis—a condition that promises to magnify each kid’s greatest talent into a superpower, but also kill them by the age of 14.  They find themselves on the secret island home of an institute that has found a cure: if these kids can return to the island seven magic relics stolen centuries ago from Atlantis and hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, they will be cured.  And, unbeknownst to them, they will also save the world from destruction.

5. For people who are trying to become writers, what advice would you give them?
1. You have to want it more than anything else in the world. You have to be the kind of person who doesn’t settle for no.
2. Reading voraciously — all the time — is the single best training to become a writer.
3. It helps to be intensely curious about how your favorite authors make their work so good. What kind of words do they use? What kind of words do they leave out? 
4. You need to practice. Like a musical instrument or a sport, writing gets better with constant work. Write some things for yourself, pieces that no one else sees. Also write stories that you show to people you respect — teachers, librarians, parents, siblings, other authors, etc. Listen to their feedback. Learn to recognize useful and useless feedback. Useful feedback is your best friend, even though it may feel painful.
5. You must collect ideas. Write them down. A pad or a writer’s notebook is great, but anything will do, even a receipt or a scrap of paper. Collect your ideas from conversations, things you observe in everyday life, dreams, other books and movies, etc. When you have a bunch of them, read them over and decide which is the best. Which one makes you the most excited? Start working on that one. If you like it, chances are your readers will too.
6. You need to recognize that the stakes in your story must be super-high. Even in stories about everyday life, there must be some dilemma that seems impossible to solve, something the readers will hang on to until the very end.  Every story is a mystery.  What do you don’t reveal, how you don’t reveal it, and how honestly you lead the reader to the revelation, is the writer’s job. That’s what will pull your readers in.
7. Live life to the fullest. It’s easier to write compelling stories if you’ve experienced compelling events in your life.
8. Don’t worry about getting published right away.  I like to think that everything I write is the worst thing I will have written from now till the day I die—which is another way of saying I assume that I will improve with each story.  Writers must understand that often it is the fourth of fifth or twelfth work, not the first, that is ready for prime-time.
9. Did I say practice?
10.  Practice.

Discover more about Peter Lerangis at

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