Tales Q&A with Peter Lerangis
Do you remember the Point Horror Book Series from the 90’s? The Point Horror Series was a series of young adult point horror books and was launched in 1991 by Scholastic always with the Point Horror banner on the spine and on the top of every point horror book. There were a number of authors that wrote these books for Scholastic: R L Stine, Diane Hoh, Caroline B Cooney, Sinclair Smith to name but a few.
They were basically what I was reading and enjoying as a young adult and thanks to the author Juno Dawson, who started #PointHorrorBookClub on her website in 2013, I have started to re-read these books that I used to rush to the shops every weekend and buy and sit for the whole weekend reading.
Juno announced in January 2015 that she was no longer able to carry on #pointhorrorbookclub and with her blessing I am going to try and carry it on with version 2! Juno has done a fantastic job – I hope I can keep up her good work *gulps*
For links to #pointhorrorbookclub posts old and new please click here
The #PointHorrorBookClub have recently read the awesome Drivers Dead by Peter Lerangis.
For this task I recruited some awesome #PointHorrorBookClub members as well as myself with some burning questions for Peter!
And Peter answered ALL of them!!
Check out the #PointHorrorBookClub ‘s verdict on Drivers Dead here
NB – as this is a discussion this will contain spoliers!
About Peter Lerangis
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. Eight of his books have made the New York Times–Children’s Bestseller Lists: The Colossus Rises, Lost in Babylon, and The Tomb of Shadows, and The Curse of the King Books 1 through 4 of The Seven Wonders series; The Sword Thief, The 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, presented by the American Library Association “for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences,” and it was selected for the 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults list. The Sword Thief was Amazon.com’s #5 best-selling children’s book in 2009.
His novel Smiler’s Bones, based on the true story of a Polar Eskimo boy orphaned in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, was selected as a N.Y. Public Library Best Books for Teens 2006, a Bank Street Best Books of 2006, and a Junior Library Guild pick.
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.
Among his most popular titles are the Spy X and Watchers series, the two-book Antarctica adventure, a series of humorous chapter books (Abracadabra), two young-adult thrillers (The Yearbook and Driver’s Dead), four middle-grade novels (Spring Fever, Spring Break, It Came from the Cafeteria, and Attack of the Killer Potatoes, and many movie novelizations (The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow).
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.
Peter has conducted workshops for the National Book Foundation, the Southampton Writers Conference, the Highlights Foundation, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and once, for the international writers’ organization, PEN, he participated in a panel along with a Sandinista rebel and a Newbery winner. Over the years he has visited schools all over the world and become known for his humorous, informative presentations.
In his spare time, he likes to eat chocolate. Lots of it. Seriously, he loves chocolate.
It’s very exciting to have Peter here on Tales…I feel very honoured…so thank you so much Peter!
Here we talk about Drivers Dead, The Yearbook, Point Horror, breaking the rules and more!
*breaks out buttery popcorn and settles in for the ride!*
Hi Peter. Welcome to Tales Of Yesterday and to #PointHorrorBookClub! Thank you so much for stopping by! We are so excited and thrilled to have you.
Great to be here. Just a second. Setting aside my popcorn. It’s messing up my keyboard. OK, there.
Firstly, yay to Point Horror…we have read two of you contributions to Point Horror now, The Year Book and Drivers Dead and we loved them both!
Someone at Winchester High thought it would be fun to make up creepy poems about certain seniors and get them printed in the yearbook. Everyone figures it’s a joke . . . until the selected seniors start turning up dead.
Kirsten’s not a very good driver. And the driver’s ed classes aren’t helping. No matter how hard she tries, she just can’t get the hang of being behind the wheel. When Rob offers to give Kirsten a few tips on how to improve her driving, he turns up missing after the first lesson. Now Kirsten’s getting a crash course–in murder.
Michelle: How did writing for the Point Horror brand come about?
My editor at Scholastic, Regina Griffin, plied me with a lunch so lavish I wasn’t able to think straight. She very carefully asked me if I’d like to try my hand at writing a horror novel. I was so relieved she hadn’t asked me to pay for lunch, I said yes on the spot.
Paul & Emma: Did you create the titles or PH editorial team? Did you decide on the punny title of Driver’s Dead or was this assigned to you?
They thought of both titles. That’s all I got: The Yearbook and Driver’s Dead. No plot ideas, just titles. Yes, there was much chortling at the mention of the latter one. I got the feeling they were especially proud of that title. I liked it too.
Michelle: We all liked the title too….one of the memorable titles of Point Horror I think!
Billy – What was the process of Point Horror publication like for you? Caroline B Cooney, in another #pointhorrorbookclub Q&A by James Dawson (you can find that here) gave the impression that it was somewhat of a factory mentality, churning books out based on titles that would appeal to readers?
I hadn’t a clue about the factory. Blessedly I wasn’t given any guidelines whatsoever. They just wanted me to write something scary. (My editor was — and still is — a dream!) I was reading a lot of Stephen King at the time, and I loved his unpredictability and crazy imagination. I vaguely recall trying to read one or two PH novels, but they didn’t seem like the kind of thing I’d like to write. At the time, I was also ghostwriting a lot of other series, so I looked on the horror stories as a way to break out of formula writing and stretch my wings a bit. I really wanted to write something odd and fresh and surprising. So I gleefully and ignorantly set to writing my own kind of book, and I was just happy they thought it was good enough to publish.
Paul: How were your Point Horrors allowed to be so totally off-template?
Since I never knew about the template, I never asked! Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Paul: How important was it to try and include ‘real issues’ like racism and sexuality, which are barely ever mentioned in other Point Horrors.
For me it was very important. The best horror writing for adults always has a social subtext, don’t you think? The basis of horror is confronting fear of the unknown, and for teens especially, the unknown involves things like sexuality and race. YA books nowadays honestly discuss sexuality, but back then it was the topic we writers didn’t mention overtly, as if we were guests at some great-aunt’s dinner party. Also, the plight of Vietnamese refugees was a big issue in the early ’90s U.S. Friends of mine lived in a community in New England where people scribbled racist threats on the sidewalks in front of houses where Vietnamese immigrants had moved. So I wanted to tackle that.
Emma: Did you have to work towards a specific word count for Point Horror?
I don’t think so. I always think in terms of page counts, not word counts, so I sort of set my mind on 200+ pages. The publisher didn’t seem concerned one way or the other.
Michelle: Why did we only get two Point Horrors from yourself?
There were actually four. I wrote a couple more for Scholastic UK a few years later (X Isle and Return to X Isle), which about 37 people read. The thing was, I came along pretty late in the cycle. By the time of Driver’s Dead, I think the popularity of Point Horrors was on the wane in the U.S.
Michelle: *rushes to find the other two Lerangis Point Horrors!*
Paul: Have you read any other Point Horrors? Which one was your favourite?
Honestly, I never did. I was much more focussed on reading adult horror.
Mark: If you had to write one more PH what would you call it?
It. Is that taken? I’m terrible at titles.
Michelle: Can you give us three words that would describe the book Drivers Dead!
I. Barely. Remember.
(Sorry! It was more than two decades ago! I can barely remember what I had for breakfast today.)
(Oh, wait, that’s twenty-one words.)
Emma: With regards to Drivers Dead – Where did you get your inspiration?
I’d been totally freaked by a Stephen King story in which something moves in a photograph, and that affects the plot. You probably remember what that story was, but it’s a blur to me. Anyway, I wanted that element in there. And I’d been following a heart-breaking discrimination case in the news about a wrongfully accused Vietnamese boy who had been killed. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that sense of horrible injustice. Plus, I’d been given that title, Driver’s Dead, and I loved the idea of setting a plot around learning to drive. I remember, as a teen, what a big deal that seemed — I mean, you’re just a scrawny kid, and you’re in control of this two-ton beast that could flatten the strongest human being alive! That’s a little powerful.
Emma: Was it always your intention that Kristen would be a tougher female lead?
Yes, I thought a lot of female protagonists in books at that time were boring. Plot conveniences for the boys. The girls and women I knew were nothing like that.
Emma: Can you explain the mystery of the car?
Ohhh, I knew you’d ask specifics. It was 22 years ago! Did I say that already? As I can best remember, the car was a mysterious kinetic thing throughout the book, a symbol of menace that actually existed on the border between reality and depiction-of-reality. You never quite knew what its purpose was until the end, when you saw that it was an instrument of revenge controlled by the ghost of Nguyen. Does that make sense? I hope so.
Michelle: How do you think you would react if you experienced any of the supernatural occurrences or goings on in Drivers Dead?
I’d move immediately and seek professional help.
Mark: Regarding ‘Drivers Dead’, what do you feel the fate of Gwen and Virgil would have been?
Oh dear, by now they’d be tearing their hair out over their horribly rebellious teenage kids, poor things.
Michelle: I would have loved to have seen Drivers Dead on the big screen! If you could cast your characters in a big Hollywood film adaptation who would you choose?
Anyone but Justin Bieber.
Michelle: Can you give us three words that would describe the book The Yearbook!
Nasty doggerel — yay!
Billy: With regards to The Yearbook did you consciously target the book towards young men by having the protagonist as a male, as they were usually girls due to the target demographic?
If I thought about target demographics, I’d be in a different business.
Michelle: Again I would love to have seen The Yearbook on the big screen! If you could cast your characters in a big Hollywood film adaptation who would you choose?
Anyone but Justin Bieber.
Or Miley Cyrus.
Mark: Were any of your characters based on real people?
I think David in The Yearbook was something like me in high school. Most of my characters are composites of people I know — almost never one person only. By doing that, the reactions and dialog seem real, but I’m not confined to one specific personality type. It’s kind of a literary mitosis. If I’m doing my job right, a fully fledged new human being arises out of primordial bits.
Billy: I’d love to know what you’re up to now and where Point Horror has taken your career? Do you still write horror? Is it a favourite genre of yours?
It’s still a favourite genre, but I’ve been branching out into all kinds of things. I won’t bore you with the details, which you listed so nicely in the bio above, except to say that I’m knee-deep in writing the final book of my Seven Wonders series, after which I will be writing a trilogy. I could tell you about that but then I’d be struck by spoiler lightning, which leaves a nasty scar.
Michelle: Could you tell us a little about some of your other books?
The Seven Wonders series is about four kids in a secret project on an uncharted island, where they find they have inherited from an ancient Atlantean prince a very special genetic mutation — their best talent will be turned into a superpower, but they will die by age 14, unless they find and return seven magical objects that were taken from Atlantis and hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, six of which no longer exist.
The 39 Clues series was a multi-author, multi-platform middle-grade adventure series about a brother and sister competing with ruthless family members to find a formula leading the greatest power ever known to humankind, following clues left by their ancestors, who include some of the most famous (and notorious) characters in world history.
Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am is about a high-school boy who enlists to serve in Iraq and returns home after an accident in which his long-term memory has been wiped out, and he must learn who he is from scratch.
Smiler’s Bones is a historical novel based on the true-life story about a Polar Eskimo boy who was brought to the States from Greenland in 1897 as a publicity stunt and who remained and grew up in New York City after all his family members died. Upon discovering as a teen that his father’s burial has been faked, the bones kept by a museum for display, he begins an outraged and very public quest to return home.
Michelle: Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
I loved Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, and Ray Bradbury. I thought Dr. Seuss was a genius. And I really devoured the Freddy the Pig and Tom Swift series.
Michelle: What do you think makes a good story?
My agent always liked to say there were only two stories: A Stranger Comes to Town, and You Are Going On a Long Journey. I’m not sure I agree. But what makes a good story for me always boils down to this: Does it excite me to think about it? Are the characters and the plot unexpected? Am I really interested in how it turns out? If I were reading it, would I want to hang on in one sitting?
Michelle: How do you think your Point Horror contributions have stood the test of time compared to your writing now
I don’t know. I don’t read them. I’m always afraid I won’t like them. How do you think they do?
Michelle: Well we really enjoyed them and compared to some Point Horrors they seem to have stood the test of time quite well!
Michelle: Are there any authors you would like to collaborate with? Who?
No. You have to split everything 50/50. It’s hard enough at 100. Well, OK, if Stephen King called me, I’d rethink that.
Michelle: Over on Tales Of Yesterday I have recently been asking YA authors if music has any influence to their writing and/or characters. Is there a particular song that influenced your Point Horror contributions and/or it’s characters and if so how or why?
I remember being so scared about writing The Yearbook. It was really the first novel I’d written that came completely from me. Up till then, I’d only done ghost-writing. So on the one hand I wanted it to be fresh and unconventional, and on the other I wanted to avoid the temptation to try to shove everything I had into one book. I was so nervous I began each day lying on the floor to calm my nerves. My friend gave me a recording of the vocal group Chanticleer, and they sang an Ave Maria by a composer named Biebl, which always took away my anxiety and gave me courage. Over the writing of that book I kind of went crazy over classical music and listened to all kinds of it every morning before I wrote. Once I started writing, thought, it was total silence. I’m still that way.
Side note – Michelle: I found this video…..there’s a man with a super cool moustache …it made me giggle a bit…I apologise!
Thank you so much Peter for taking the time to answer these questions and feature on Tales Of Yesterday and #pointhorrorbookclub. We all love your contributions to Point Horror and wish there were more! It really is an honour and I look forward to reading more of your books!
Thank you for those extremely kind words. It’s been a pleasure. What a dream-come-true it is to write books that are still remembered twenty-plus years later. I feel lucky and honoured.
You can buy Peter’s books here
So there you have it #pointhorrorbookclub! Peter answered everything we asked! I think it was nice to read a slightly different side to the story of Point Horror and how they came to be. Peter seemed to have more free reign and left to it in a kind of way and to do it his way. Maybe that’s why his contributions have stood the test of time just that little bit better than some of the others? Who knows? Nice to see that the publishing team came up with the titles again…this seems to be the common ground of creating Point Horror!
What did you all think?
PS – Mark….I took you challenge of getting Peter Lerangis on the blog for #pointhorrorbookclub and I feel proud! 🙂
Why not join in Point Horror Book Club and the discussion on the 13th of every month?
You can find links to all #PointHorrorBookClub post here
Don’t forget to use the #pointhorrorbookclub on twitter so I can see your thoughts or tweet me using @chelleytoy
Are the Point Horror books we loved as a teenager still our favourites on the re-read? Are you new to Point Horror? Has our opinion changed? Are they still as good? Do they stand up to modern day YA Horror? Or are the a whole load of cray cray?
Another huge huge thank you to Peter for featuring on Tales and a huge round of applause for such a fab answers!
*claps hands excitedly*
Do you remember Point Horror? Which was your favourite? Would you like to join in on #pointhorrorbookclub ?
Happy Point Horror-ing!