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Francess L(in) Lantz Biography (1952-) - Sidelights

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Author Francess L. Lantz got her start writing for children as a librarian. Her first title, Good Rockin' Tonight was published in 1982, and Lantz has written a variety of books since, from serious young adult novels to funny middle grade stories to series books like "Hardy Boys" and "Sweet Valley Twins."

Born in 1952 in Trenton, New Jersey, and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Lantz displayed a passion for writing at a young age. Her father, an architect, would draw with her as she wrote and illustrated her own stories. As she grew up, she gained a reputation as a tomboy among her friends. "My stories were usually about war, or spies, and they were always violent," she once commented. "Despite this, my fifth-grade teacher encouraged my talent and allowed me to stay inside during recess to tape record my stories with my friends." While her early dreams involved growing up to become a famous writer, the Beatles' coming to the United States in 1964 changed everything for the twelve-year-old budding author. Lantz continued to write, but now wrote songs, accompanying herself on the guitar. After college, she moved to Boston, hoping to become a famous rock star. Despite many performances and lots of good times, she never landed an album deal, and she went back to school to become a children's librarian.

As a children's librarian, Lantz would take the children from her story hour to a local graveyard once a year to read them scary stories. "Yes, I took the kids to a nearby graveyard and scared the pants off them," Lantz told SATA. She continued, "After a couple of years I was having trouble finding new stories that were short, easy to read aloud, and really scary. In desperation, I wrote some myself. They were a big hit with the kids and that was when I first thought, hey, maybe I could write children's books." Her first attempts were picture-book texts, followed by a scary fantasy novel and two mysteries. Although none of these sold, Lantz continued to write, and her next novel, Good Rockin' Tonight, a title for young adults, was published.

While Lantz began her career by writing young adult novels loosely based on her own life, she eventually switched to middle-grade books, where she could add more humorous elements to her stories. In Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed!, Lantz tells the story of Dwight Ewing, who hopes that the earth will swallow him up, so he won't have to endure his embarrassing family. After moving them to a small town, Dwight's father draws all sorts of attention to the family through his determination to raise seeing-eye pigs for blind people who are allergic to dogs. As a way of saving face, Dwight convinces everyone that his father is really wealthy and is engaged in his present porcine pursuits in an attempt to educate his children as to the ways of regular folks. Along with the predicted backfire to Dwight's misrepresentation, Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed! contains "some very funny scenes" involving swine, as well as insight into the problems that can spring from even an innocent lie, according to School Library Journal contributor Nancy P. Reeder. In Stepsister from the Planet Weird, Lantz introduces readers to Megan, who is in despair over her mother's upcoming marriage because it will mean having a "perfect" stepsister, Ariel. The truth, however, is that Megan's new step-family are aliens. Though Ariel is popular at school, she misses her home planet, where she can be in her native gaseous form. Though Megan and Ariel hate each other, they team together in an effort to keep their parents from getting married. Lantz tells her tale in the form of diary entries from both Megan and Ariel, and the book's "zany humor" combines with the author's "wit . . . [and] character development" to result in a novel that appeals to even reluctant readers, in the opinion of School Library Journal reviewer Cheryl Cufari. A critic for Publishers Weekly called the novel "a light, fast read."

Although Lantz concentrated on writing for preteens during the 1980s and much of the 1990s, she returned to her focus on young adults with Someone to Love and Fade Far Away. In Someone to Love, published in 1997, fifteen-year-old Sara finds that her liberal ideals conflict with her parent's materialistic lifestyle. As her parents plan to adopt the baby of Iris, an unmarried mother who is extremely poor, Sara is drawn to Iris, who represents the independence, romance, and adulthood Sara dreams of. Sara encourages Iris to be a part of the child's life even after her parents adopt the baby; her parents disagree and threaten not to adopt the child. Hearing this, Sara convinces Iris to run away, and the two of them will raise the baby together. "The novel explores all sides of adoption very well," wrote Anne O'Malley in Booklist. Again focusing on a fifteen-year-old protagonist, Fade Far Away is narrated by Sienna, the artistic daughter of a famous sculptor and his wife, a woman obsessed with her husband's advancement in the arts community to the exclusion of all else, including her daughter. In a novel that Kliatt reviewer Claire Rosser called "intense and challenging," Sienna must contradict her mother and support her father's efforts to reevaluate his priorities after he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. "This emotionally charged coming-of-age story borrows the glamorous trappings of the art world," showing Sienna coming to terms with her father's failings and her own growing sense of self, according to a Publishers Weekly critic.

Lantz was selected by Roxy, a fashion brand, to launch a series of books about surfer girls called "Luna Bay." As author of the first several books, Lantz launched the world of five surfer girls living in Southern California and working as junior counselors at a surf camp run by one of the girl's parents. Roxanne Burg, writing for School Library Journal considered the series "Gidget for the 21st century." Lantz, a surfer herself, uses surf slang to make the world of the girls more real. "Some 7,200 people have signed up for an online book club where readers discuss the characters and their own lives," noted a reporter for Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. The reporter added, "Lantz discusses the story lines with Roxy surf-team members, which helps keep the books authentic."

Lantz once told SATA: "I was an only child with loving parents who encouraged my creative impulses. When I was ten, I wanted to be a writer, an artist, and a boy. At thirteen I discovered the guitar, decided it was okay to be female, and spent the next years making music.

"My novels are about contemporary kids trying to discover who they are and what they believe in. My protagonists often feel pressured by their parents and their peers to behave in certain ways. In the course of the novel, the main character struggles to do what she or he thinks is right, despite outside influences.

"Most of my novels are set in the present and contain references to current clothes, movies, music, etc. The reasons are two-fold: (1) I find it natural to write about what I know. I was a consumer of popular culture (rock 'n' roll, fashion, movies, etc.) as a teenager and I still enjoy it (especially rock 'n' roll) so I include it in my books. (2) Kids like to read about their world and their problems, especially if the author is close enough to their world to write realistically about it. I think I can do that.

"For some reason I find it very easy to remember my pre-teen and teenage years. I can vividly recall my feelings when I first heard a rock 'n' roll record, when my mother caught me rolling around on the sofa with my boyfriend, when I learned that my father had died. At the same time, I can now view these events from an adult perspective.

"Both these views, I feel, are required to write juvenile novels. If the author can see the world through a child's eyes and nothing more, his book will be onedimensional and claustrophobic. If he can only view kids from an adult perspective, his story will be manipulative and didactic. So far I think I've been able to integrate both perspectives. If I ever lose that ability, it will be time to stop writing juvenile novels and move on to something else."

In addition to continuing to write fiction, Lantz contributes articles to magazines and newspapers, and has dabbled in nonfiction with Rock, Rap, and Rad: How to Be a Rock or Rap Star, which Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Patrick Jones praised as "an interesting book aimed at all the teens who ever wanted to see their faces on MTV." She and her family live in Santa Barbara, California, where she enjoys visiting local schools to talk to budding authors.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July, 1993, p. 1955; April 15, 1997, Anne O'Malley, review of Someone to Love, p. 1420; March 15, 1998, p. 1216; September 1, 2001, Lolly Gepson, review of Stepsister from the Planet Weird, p. 128.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1997, p. 224.

Kliatt, May, 1998, Claire Rosser, review of Fade Far Away, p. 7; January, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of Letters to Cupid.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, September 24, 2003, Catrine Johansson, "Huntington Beach, Calif., Apparel Brand Rides Book Series Wave."

New York Times, June 11, 2000, Laurel Graeber, "Somewhere Between Big Bird and Buffy," p. 4L.

Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1990, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of The Truth about Making Out, p. 55; November 22, 1991, review of Dear Celeste, My Life Is a Mess, p. 57; January 6, 1997, review of Someone to Love, p. 74; November 10, 1997, review of Stepsister from the Planet Weird, p. 74; June 29, 1998, review of Fade Far Away, p. 60; January 3, 2000, review of Love Song, p. 76; June 23, 2003, review of Pier Pressure, p. 68.

School Library Journal, January, 1993, Nancy P. Reeder, review of Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed!, pp. 100-01; February, 1998, Cheryl Cufari, review of Stepsister from the Planet Weird, p. 109; May, 2000, Elaine Baran Black, review of Love Song, p. 172; August, 2000, Joanne K. Cecere, review of A Royal Kiss, p. 186; March, 2001, Darlene Ford, review of Stepsister from the Planet Weird, p. 88; February, 2004, Roxanne Burg, review of Pier Pressure, p. 148.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1993, Patrick Jones, review of Rock, Rap, and Rad: How to Be a Rock or Rap Star, p. 55.

ONLINE

Francess Lantz's Home Page, http://www.silcom.com/~writer (July 30, 2004).

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about 2 years ago

That was a wonderful book.