What a Job! Feature Article on a Recent School Visit

Friday, January 28, 2011

My debut in the Two River Times! This is a really nicely written piece about a recent school visit in Fair Haven, New Jersey. (The original article is 1000640/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Two_River_Times_Knollwood_School_Fairhaven_NJ_1-25-11.pdfhere.):


Yes, You Can Be a Writer, Author Tells FH Kids

by John Burton

FAIR HAVEN – Alice Adams, a fifth grader at Knollwood School appeared pretty happy Tuesday morning. Alice, 10, was sitting in the school auditorium, holding her writing journal and a copy of one of Peter Lerangis’s Watchers series of books, and was thrilled at hearing from the author himself.

“He wrote so many books,” Alice said, appearing to be amazed at how prolific Lerangis has been in his career as a children’s book author, and noted her own hopes of being a writer one day. “I really like writing fiction and mysteries,” she confided.

“My mission is to humanize” writing, Lerangis said following his presentation to students at Knollwood, 224 Hance Road. “There’s nothing lofty about it. It’s a career that is viable and possible.”

Lerangis, 55, is a New York City-based author of more than 160 books, most aimed at young readers, including the Watchers and Spy X series, and is one of the contributors to the The 39 Clues book series. He has also written movie tie-in novelizations for The Sixth Sense and Sleepy Hollow.

Lerangis has spent 25 years as a professional writer. “I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was 7.” But growing up in Freeport, Long Island, Lerangis said writing, as a profession was pretty alien. He never knew anyone who did it. But, thankfully, “I had the encouragement of teachers,” he said. “It really came from the schools.”

Writing was a love, “But I wanted to be a performer,” which teachers also inspired in him, he added. As an undergraduate student at Harvard (where he was classmates with Bill Gates, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and CNBC host Jim Cramer — none of whom he really knew), Lerangis majored in biochemistry, and then planned on attending law school, placing his deposit and ready to go. But the draw of the arts eventually won out, he said, pursuing theater acting, and ultimately waiting tables — badly, he admitted, about the waiting tables, that is. Work opportunities took him to doing freelance copyediting, which landed him a job with a children’s book publisher and off he went. “I just loved writing for kids,” he said, starting out as one of the contributing writers for the long-running Hardy Boys book series.

The performer side of Lerangis was on display in his presentation to the students, where he clowned around a little bit in the back and forth, as he detailed his own experiences, and told them of how he works and does what he does and what he loves to do.

Being a writer, he told them, “You get up in the morning, you have your coffee,” he explained, “and you get to stay in PJs.”

But he told of laboring all day on writing and rewriting, often times rejecting almost all he had written. And then family would ask him, “How was your day?” “I wrote three sentences. Next question?” would be his short response. But other times, he continued, he would just keep on working, sometimes throughout the night, when it was going well.

“People ask me, Where do you get your ideas?” he told the kids, answering, “Everywhere.”

“The writer’s mind asks one question: What if?” he said.

A case in point, was his fascination with empty and forsaken subway stations as he rides the New York system. What if the train stops at one of them? What If I see someone I know, but whom I thought to be missing? These are thoughts that ran through his mind that actually became the plot of one book in the Watchers series, where the young protagonist sees his long disappeared father at one of those abandoned stations.

Lerangis also told of being called by those representing then-First Lady Laura Bush, who asked him and other children’s authors to travel with her to Russia, getting to ride on Air Force One and meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, Lerangis told the kids, is quite short. “It’s like he got to the seventh grade and stopped,” he said, getting a laugh from the kids.

“It’s amazing what you can learn as a writer,” he said.

Aidan Eustace, 10, another fifth grader seemed impressed, noting he likes to read fantasies. “I learned anything that can happen to you can become a story,” was the lesson he took away from Lerangis’s presentation.

Lerangis does about 40 such school visits a year, either like this one, where he meets with students, or where he travels on a promotional tour for his latest work.

Patrice Horan, the school’s librarian, said she sought out Lerangis, based upon, “the books we have in the library and I look at the books that are going out,” tracking down those popular writers.

Lerangis held two sessions with students and was then scheduled to conduct a writing workshop with about 25 selected students.