Francess L(in) Lantz (1952-)
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights, Autobiography Feature
Born 1952, in Trenton, NJ; Education: Dickinson College, B.A., 1974; Simmons College, M.L. S., 1975. Politics: Democrat.
Agent—Kendra Marcus, Bookstop Literary Agency, 67 Meadow View Rd., Orinda, CA 94563.
Dedham Public Library, Dedham, MA, children's librarian, 1976-79; writer, 1979—. Semi-professional musician in Boston, MA, 1974-79; "nanny" for babies in Boston, 1979-83. Santa Barbara City College, Adult Extension, Santa Barbara, CA, teacher, 1989-93.
Authors Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Good Rockin' Tonight, Addison-Wesley (Boston, MA), 1982.
A Love Song for Becky, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1983.
Surfer Girl, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1983.
Rock 'n' Roll Romance, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1984.
Senior Blues, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1984.
Can't Stop Us Now ("Overnight Sensation" series), Dell (New York, NY), 1986.
Making It on Our Own ("Overnight Sensation" series), Dell (New York, NY), 1986.
Varsity Coach: Take Down, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Swept Away: Woodstock Magic, Avon (New York, NY), 1986.
Varsity Coach: Double Play, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Swept Away: Star Struck, Avon (New York, NY), 1987.
Swept Away: All Shook Up, Avon (New York, NY), 1987.
Sweet Valley Twins: Center of Attention, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Sweet Valley Twins: Jessica's Bad Idea, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
The Truth about Making Out, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
Dear Celeste, My Life Is a Mess, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed!, Avon (New York, NY), 1992.
Turn It Up: Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Rock Band or Rap Group, Avon (New York, NY), 1992.
Rock, Rap, and Rad: How to Be a Rock or Rap Star, Avon (New York, NY), 1992.
Randy's Raiders, Rainbow Bridge (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Be a Star!, Rainbow Bridge (Mahwah, NJ), 1996.
Neighbors from Outer Space, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1996.
Someone to Love, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
Spinach with Chocolate Sauce, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1997.
Stepsister from the Planet Weird, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Fade Far Away, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
Lights! Camera! Love!, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2000.
Love Song, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2000.
A Royal Kiss, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2000.
Letters to Cupid, American Girl (Middleton, WI), 2001.
"LUNA BAY: A ROXY GIRL SERIES"
Pier Pressure, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Wave Goodbye, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Weather or Not, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Hawaii Five-Go!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Oh Buoy, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Heart Breakers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles and reviews to Kliatt. Restaurant and movie reviewer for Santa Barbara Independent, 1989-91.
Stepsister from the Planet Weird was adapted by Disney as a television film, 2000.
A middle grade novel for Dutton.
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
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.
Francess Lantz's Home Page, http://www.silcom.com/~writer (July 30, 2004).
Francess L. Lantz
Francess L. Lantz contributed the following autobiographical essay to SATA:
When I was born, the trumpets blared, the red carpet was rolled out, and the stars in the sky spelled out FRANCESS.
Well, not quite, but my birth was definitely greeted with delight at 55 Fairway Drive, Yardley, Pennsylvania. That's because my mother was in her forties and had suffered through three miscarriages before she became pregnant with me. There had been no guarantee the fourth pregnancy would be any different. The only certainty was that it would be her last.
And yet, despite the odds, there I was. The world's most wanted child. Darling Francess, spelled with two s's, just like princess.
Not surprisingly, I grew up feeling pretty special. My parents and grandparents paid lots of attention to me. They cooed and clapped when I walked, talked, or stuck a green bean up my nose. So you can imagine what they did when I drew pictures, made up stories, sang and danced. The applause was deafening!
Children respond to praise, and I responded by doing more of what came naturally—being creative. My father was an accomplished artist, and we spent many happy hours drawing "tattoos" on each other's hands and arms with ballpoint pens. My mother had written poems and plays in her youth, and she eagerly typed up my stories with the correct spelling and punctuation. My grandfather was a wonderful fiddle player, and he never tired of playing "Turkey in the Straw" while I danced.
Life was good—except for one thing. My mother was a very fashionable woman. Her blond hair was always perfectly coiffed; her clothes were stylish. She thought I would be a junior version of her—a feminine little angel who loved pretty clothes and ribbons in her hair. But noooo. I hated having my hair combed, I chose pants over dresses, and I liked cap guns better than dolls.
Then, when I was four years old, I had a revelation. The activities I liked (playing Army, writing stories about war, climbing trees) were considered boy activities; the clothes I liked (shorts, T-shirts and Army helmets) were considered boy clothes. Therefore, I could not be a girl. I had to become a boy.
Okay, I know that sounds kind of crazy. But remember, this was the 1950s, when male and female roles were clearly defined and quite distinct. Boys were supposed to be strong and brave and athletic, and they could grow up to be anything they wanted. Girls were docile and demure, and they were supposed to grow up to be wives and mothers, or (if you absolutely had to get a job) teachers, librarians, nurses, or secretaries.
I wanted to be strong, brave, and athletic, and join the Marines. In my little four-year-old head, that meant I had to be a boy. So I set out to become one. I insisted my parents stop calling me Francess and start calling me Tommy. I begged my mother for a short haircut and boy clothes. My Christmas list was filled with boy toys like plastic soldiers, race cars, and baseball cards.
To my parents' credit, they didn't go ballistic. They humored me and told themselves it was just a phase. I was allowed to get a short, pixie haircut. I had to wear dresses to school and church, but I could wear shorts or pants at home. At Christmas, I got all the boy toys I requested, plus a few girl toys I hadn't. My parents even called me Tommy, although they couldn't keep the amused smile off their faces.
Well, the years passed and my tomboy phase didn't go away. I hung out with three boys in my neighborhood. Their names were Johnny, Artie, and Richard, and they used my lowly wannabe status to make my life miserable. They were constantly daring me to do rotten things, like smash the neighbor's jack-o-lantern or drag the nerdy kid from down the street into the bushes and pull down his pants. I did everything they asked me to (and usually got in trouble for it) because I desperately wanted to be accepted as one of them—a macho, rule-breaking, take-no-prisoners boy.
There were good times too. We lived across from a golf course and most of our adventures happened there. We found old golf balls in the bushes, cleaned them up, and sold them to the golfers for a dime or twenty-five cents. We bought Cokes and candy bars at the pro shop. We played King of the Hill on the greens, caught frogs in the water trap, and sledded down the hill behind the seventeenth hole.
We did lots of rowdy things too, like soap our neighbors' windows and toilet paper their bushes on Mischief Night (the night before Halloween). Once we climbed a tall maple tree on the golf course, waited until a golfer got ready to tee off, and screamed just as he connected with the ball. The guy hit into the rough, then cursed and looked around, wondering where the heck that sound had come from. We hid among the leaves, snickering with malevolent delight.
I had female friends too. My best friend was a classmate named Dottie, and I loved her because when we played Army, she let me be the Drill Sergeant and boss her around. That sounds mean, I know, but after being lorded over all weekend by the neighborhood boys, I needed someone who would let me lord over her. We did other activities together, too, like Girls Scouts and school band.
Fifth grade was the height of my tomboy phase. Like the ten-year-old boys who were my friends, I was mesmerized by blood and guts and war and violence. I read anthologies of horror stories and drew pictures of people in black hoods torturing unwilling victims. I watched the movie West Side Story and completely missed the anti-violence message. All I saw was a bunch of really cool dudes carrying switchblades and acting tough. Inspired, I decided to create my own fictional gang, the Ravens, and write stories about them. In every story, at least one person was violently murdered.
My poor parents, who up to now had been extremely tolerant of my weirdness, were getting nervous. If this tomboy thing was just a phase, why wasn't it passing? My mother told me later that she and my father considered sending me to a psychiatrist. They might have done it, too, if it wasn't for the influence of my wonderful fifth grade teacher.
When I walked into her classroom, Jane Anstine was twenty-four years old and in her second year of teaching. She was fun-loving, enthusiastic, and eager to do whatever it took to get her kids excited about learning. She took one look at me and realized right away I was a good kid. I got As and Bs, I had friends, I didn't pull the wings off flies. In short, the odds were good that I wasn't going to grow up to be a sniper. So instead of being shocked by my stories of death and destruction, she encouraged me to write more. She even let my friends and me stay in at recess and record my stories on the school tape recorder (with background music and gory sound effects).
Even though my parents tried to tolerate my tomboy craziness, I knew they were hoping it would soon be over with. Miss Anstine didn't feel that way. She liked me just the way I was. In fact, she made me feel that my writing and artwork were something special, that I was something special—not just to my immediate family, but to an objective outside observer. She made me want to keep writing, keep drawing, keep creating.
Miss Anstine was such a positive influence on me that I stayed in touch with her through the years. In fact, we're now good friends. I even dedicated one of my novels, Mom, There's a Pig in my Bed, to her. And, I'm pleased to report, she's still a teacher and still encouraging kids to laugh, learn, and be themselves.
The next three years were just as critical to my development as Ms. Anstine's class was, but in a completely different way. For starters, I entered adolescence. My body was changing and I could no longer ignore the fact that I was, in reality, a girl. Then I discovered boys, and suddenly I didn't mind so much.
It's not as if I turned into the feminine princess my mother wanted me to be. Far from it! I still wrote gory stories, although now they were about spies (the subject of my favorite TV show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), not street gangs. But the big difference was that there were male spies and female spies in my new stories, and when they weren't assassinating enemy agents, they were making out.
I wasn't making out in real life—not yet—but I sure was interested. I was interested in fashion now too, and the latest rock music, and everything that was hip and happening and cool.
In order to study coolness at close range, my best friends and I decided to spy on a group of popular tenth graders at our school. We followed them around, eavesdropped on their conversations, taking notes on everything we found out. Pretending to be tenth graders ourselves, we wrote them love letters which we shoved in their lockers when no one was looking. We continued our deception until Bill, the leader of the clique, figured out our real identities. Uh-oh, payback time. One day, while I was following him down a crowded hallway, he suddenly stopped, smiled condescendingly, and patted me on the head. Needless to say, that was the end of our coolness fact-finding mission.
I was a big reader in junior high, and not a very discriminating one. I read any paperback that caught my eye at the drugstore—The Guinness Book of World Records, Black Like Me (the true story of a white journalist who masqueraded as a black man to study race relations in America), Mad magazine, an anthology of science fiction stories by Harlan Ellison called I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Marvel Comics, and lots of James Bond novels. High culture, low culture—it was all the same to me. If a book moved me in some way, I liked it.
Even more important to me than books, however, was music. I was already playing the clarinet in school, and I'd gone through a brief infatuation with the drums. Then, when I was in seventh grade, Beatlemania hit America. Like every other red-blooded American girl, I was madly, passionately in love with the Beatles (John was my favorite, then Paul) and all the other bands that followed in their wake. My bedroom walls were plastered with photos of the Fab Four, the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, Paul Revere and the Raiders. I spent countless hours in front of the stereo, ear plastered to the speaker, trying to figure out the lyrics to my favorite songs.
But there was one difference between me and my girlfriends. Like them, I swooned over the Beatles and dreamed of meeting them. But unlike my friends, I also wanted to be a Beatle. I wanted to play the guitar, I wanted to write songs, I wanted to perform in a stadium filled with screaming, love-struck fans.
So I asked my parents for a guitar and I got one for my thirteenth birthday. It was acoustic, not electric, but I wasn't complaining. Soon I was taking lessons at the local music store, learning folk songs from the Joan Baez Songbook. As soon as I could play two chords, I wrote my first song, "Why, Peter, Why?" Okay, the lyrics—about my latest crush—weren't exactly deathless, but they definitely were heartfelt.
Looking back, I wish I'd had the chutzpah to demand electric guitar lessons. I wish I'd started a band and learned to rock out. Who knows? I might have become the first female heavy metal star. But girls just didn't do that back in 1965. And at the self-conscious age of thirteen, with my "call me Tommy" days behind me, I didn't have the courage to buck the system. Besides, I was too busy making music.
Soon I had stopped writing stories, and I rarely took out my drawing pad. All my creative energy went into songwriting. I discovered that I liked minor chords and major sevenths, and I experimented with interesting, unusual chord changes. Along with the British invasion groups, I was listening to folk singers like Tom Paxton, Donovan, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Chad Mitchell Trio.
When I wasn't doing schoolwork, playing music, or watching TV (Wild, Wild West, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, The Avengers) I was skateboarding. Then my family went on a vacation to the New Jersey shore and I discovered surfing. My friend Nanette and I begged my parents to let us rent a board, and soon we were paddling out into the shorebreak. All we caught was whitewater, but when I stood up and felt the wave push me forward, my life was changed.
I must have been the only teenage girl in Pennsylvania who subscribed to Surfer magazine. I knew the names of all the surf stars—Greg Noll, Mark Doyle, Mickey Dora, Nat Young—and I dreamed of moving to California and visiting the famous surf spots I'd read about, places with exotic names like San Onofre, Rincon, and Malibu.
Then, in tenth grade, something happened that turned my world upside down. My father began to mysteriously lose weight. He spent a lot of time going to doctors and finally, he went into the hospital for a big operation. When he came home, he started to get better—but only a little. Soon, he was losing weight again. Meanwhile, my grandmother, who lived with us, had a stroke and died.
After my grandmother's funeral, my mother moved my father's architectural office into the spare bedroom. But Dad spent very little time at his drafting table. Mostly, he just lay in bed.
Something horrible was happening, I knew it. My mother, however, continued to act very normal and upbeat, and she seemed to expect me to do the same. My role, as best as I could discern it, was to continue living my life as if nothing unusual was happening.
I did my best, but inside I was freaking out. My father never got out of bed anymore; my mother spent her nights sleeping in a reclining chair by his side. I lay in my bed, eyes wide open, body coiled like a snake. Every time my mother walked into the hallway, my stomach clenched into a painful knot. She's coming to tell me he's dead, I thought. I held my breath and waited. When she walked back into his room, I let myself breathe again.
One day my mother sat me down and said, "Your father has cancer. He isn't going to get better." But by then I was in denial myself. "Yes, he will," I insisted. Before she could respond, I got up and walked away.
Six months after my father's operation, an ambulance took him to the hospital. He didn't look like my father anymore. He had sunken cheeks, glazed eyes, and the body of a concentration camp victim. I couldn't bear to look at him.
Dottie and I were still friends, but she lived at the Jersey shore now. One day she called me up and invited me down for the weekend. My mother said, "I don't think you should go. Your father isn't going to live much longer."
I didn't want to hear that, and I definitely didn't want to see it. So I talked my mother into letting me go to the shore. I arrived at Dottie's house in giddy high spirits, like someone who had just been released from prison. We had a great evening together, talking, giggling, and listening to music.
The next morning, Dottie's mother walked into the room and kissed me. She had barely even touched me before. What was that about?
"Your father died this morning," she said quietly.
I cried, but only for a minute. I had learned my mother's lesson well. Act normal, stay upbeat. Deny, deny, deny. So I slipped my psyche into a set of emotional armor that would take me years to shed.
Eleventh grade was my rebellious year. I didn't want to be home with my grieving mother, so I hung out with my new friends, the freaks. This was the hippie era, 1968, and the freaks were the long-haired kids who listened to psychedelic music, protested the Vietnam War, and took drugs. They were a motley crew—male and female, rich and poor, college-bound kids and future drop-outs. But we had one thing in common—we didn't like our lives and we were looking for an escape.
I could have gotten heavily into drugs and screwed up my life completely, but luckily for me, a new, positive influence arrived just when I needed it most. The church I attended, St. Andrew's Episcopal, had recently hired a new priest. In fact, my father had served on the vestry that selected him. Frank T. Griswold, III, or Father G., as I called him, started on the job only a few months before my father died. He was young, handsome, energetic, and ready to shake things up.
One day, Father G. saw me sitting with the youth group kids, morosely strumming my guitar. He asked me if I wanted to play and sing in church on Sunday, and in that instant, the dark clouds began to part. Soon I was performing folk songs (religious and secular) at the ten o'clock service, and, eventually, writing songs with Father G. I also created posters to decorate the parish house, and even wrote some prayers that were recited in church.
Father Griswold gave me more than a place to perform. He and his wife Phoebe also gave me their friendship. When I was feeling sad about my dad or angry at my mom, they welcomed me into their home and lent a sympathetic ear. They took me seriously and treated me like an adult. They listened to my thoughts on life and love, religion and politics, and they didn't laugh.
Father G. encouraged me to attend a program for teens at an Episcopal conference center outside of Philadelphia. It was a fabulous experience! I worked with disadvantaged kids in the inner city, met a lot of liberal-thinking, creative teenagers just like me, and found a new audience for my songs.
When I came back, I shared my deepest longing and my secret fear with Father G. "I want to find a way to make a living doing something creative when I grow up," I told him. "If I don't succeed—if I have to settle for a regular job—I don't think I'll be able to stand it." How I was going to make that happen was still unclear to me. I just knew I wanted it with all my heart.
Like Jane Anstine, Father Griswold was a huge influence in my life. Today Father G. is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in United States. When I visit New York, he always finds time to see me. I dedicated one of the "Overnight Sensation" books to him, which he claims raised his "coolness quotient" considerably.
The summer of eleventh grade brought a new adventure. I applied to be an American Field Service exchange student and, after much essay-writing and many interviews, I was chosen. AFS matches students and families by interests, not by country. I had to be open to going almost anywhere in the world, and I was. In fact, I remember telling everyone I hoped I'd be sent somewhere really exotic, like Africa or India.
Well, I got my wish. I was matched with a theater-and music-loving family in Bombay, India. And I have to give my mother a lot of credit. She was still getting over the death of her husband, and now her daughter was leaving her, going halfway around the world for the entire summer. But after her initial shock ("India? Are you sure they didn't mean Indiana?"), she was completely encouraging. I'm sure she spent the summer biting her nails, wondering if she'd ever see her only child alive again, but she never let me see that. She was always positive and enthusiastic.
My summer was very challenging and very wonderful. AFS encourages its exchange students to immerse themselves in their new culture. I wasn't a tourist—far from it. I was supposed to eat with my new family, dress like my new sister, join in with my new family's daily activities. For me, that meant eating spicy foods after a lifetime of bland American cuisine. It also meant brushing my teeth with water that was far from clean by U.S. standards. As a result, I had diarrhea on and off the entire summer! But when I wasn't in the bathroom, I was having lots of new and exciting experiences. I took sitar lessons. I visited the Taj Mahal. I watched my Indian family act in a play (directed by my Indian dad). I visited a Bollywood movie set. I taught my rock 'n' roll-loving Indian brother some new guitar chords. I got my ears pierced. I learned how to wear a sari. I also saw overpopulation and poverty like I'd never imagined.
By the end of the summer, I'd come to realize that the United States isn't the center of the universe. There's a big world out there filled with fascinating people, amazing cultures, beautiful sites and scenery. I wanted to see more of it!
The first day of twelfth grade, I ate lunch with my old friends, the freaks. I tried to tell them about my experiences in India, but their only response was, "Man, you must have smoked some great dope over there!" I looked around the table and saw a bunch of burned-out losers who couldn't see beyond their next toke. It was time to move on.
My mother says I complained a lot during my senior year of high school, and that I was more than ready to go to college. Looking back, however, I remember it as a great year. Instead of belonging to a clique like so many high school students, I had friends from every group. I kept a few of my freaky friends, the ones who weren't major druggies. I was also friends with the brainiacs who were in my honors classes. Then the president of the student council appointed me to be head of the Human Relations Committee (a committee created to do community service projects) and suddenly I was hanging out with the popular crowd as well.
Meanwhile, I was still singing at church and at local coffeehouses. My songs were becoming more sophisticated, my guitar playing was improving, my voice was growing richer and stronger. I was listening to music by singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. More and more, I was thinking that music was my calling.
When it came time to apply to college, I really didn't know what I wanted. My mother was pushing for a traditional school that was close to home. I probably would have preferred a funky, alternative college in California. But my mother was paying, so I ended up at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts school in central Pennsylvania.
I knew I wanted to major in English or music, but I wasn't sure which. I still loved to write, and I'd learned a lot from my high school teachers. Miss Tindall, my eleventh grade teacher, had been strict and serious. She'd taught us how to write essays that were well-organized, logical, and grammatically correct. Mr. Corbett, my twelfth grade teacher, had been sensitive and creative. He'd read us poetry and given us lots of creative writing assignments.
But when I walked into my first Survey of English Literature class, I knew I wasn't an English major. The class was huge, the professor droned on endlessly (when he wasn't snorting a Vicks Nasal Inhaler), and the papers we were expected to churn out weekly were long and dull. The more quotes from the book you could cram into your paper, the better your grade. Whether or not you actually understood what you were reading—that seemed to be secondary.
Then I walked into History of Music 101. Talk about a mind-blowing experience! The professor was practically jumping up and down with excitement as he talked about Gregorian chant and Medieval madrigals. And when he played the music—oh my god! It sounded like nothing I had every heard before. Weird open harmonies, strange high-pitched voices, bizarre song structures—I loved it! I knew then and there I had to major in music.
During my four years at Dickinson I was introduced to hundreds of new, brain-expanding ideas, both in and out of class. I studied music, philosophy, art, and history. I learned to play the flute and the piano. I took creative writing courses, wrote poetry, and helped to edit the school literature review. I performed in a live theater show that was a combination talk show and comedy review. I attended dozens of blow-yoursocks-off rock concerts. I fell in love; I fell out of love. I had my heart broken; I broke a few hearts. I wrote dozens of new songs and played my guitar at the weekly school coffeehouse.
But there was something missing in my life. As an only child, I think I secretly yearned for an intense, sibling-style relationship. And losing my father at age fifteen made me long for a father figure. I solved both problems—or so I thought—by falling in love and getting married between my junior and senior years.
My new husband and I soon left Pennsylvania and moved to Boston, Massachusetts. After twenty years in small towns, Boston was a thrill. I loved the old brick houses, the cluttered bookstores, the movie theatres showing foreign films, the rock clubs and coffeehouses. Skateboarding, surfing, sledding at the seventeenth hole—all that seemed very long ago and far away. I was a city girl now.
I finished my last semester of college at Boston University, where I took music courses that weren't offered at Dickinson. My favorite was a composing seminar in which I wrote the first movement of a string quartet. Meanwhile, I dreamed of being discovered by a famous music producer who would turn me into the next Joni Mitchell or Janis Joplin. It didn't happen, but I did meet a talented guitar player named Jeff who liked my music enough to want to perform with me.
Soon we were performing at every coffeehouse, club, and art gallery that would have us. To make money, I was working at a succession of boring temp jobs, typing, filing, answering phones. More than ever, I felt I had to find a way to make a living by being creative. I was sure that if I had to work in an office full-time, I would die.
I thought about starting an actual band—drums, bass, electric guitars—and moving on to bigger venues. But it seemed like a daunting task. I'd never played electric guitar before, never jammed with a group of musicians. It seemed so much easier to just keep playing acoustic music with Jeff and waiting for my big break.
With Jeff producing, I eventually recorded a number of my songs with a full band. It was so much fun to sing with all that sound and intensity behind me! Eagerly, I mailed my demos off to record companies (yep, they still made vinyl records back then). Then I sat back and waited . . . and waited . . .
Well, as you probably guessed, I never became a famous rock star. Looking back, it's easy to see why. I loved to write songs and sing them, but everything else about the music business left me cold. I didn't like practicing every day, and I wasn't serious about improving my skills. I hated hanging out in dark, smoky clubs at night. I didn't understand the importance of networking with music industry types. Heck, I didn't even like most of the music people I met. They weren't bad people, just awfully one-dimensional. They ate, drank, and breathed rock 'n' roll. I was into everything—books, food, movies, art, squash (the game, not the vegetable), travel, and more.
Finally, just when I thought I couldn't stand another temp job, my mother announced that she would pay for me to go to graduate school. Great idea, I thought, but what should I study? Music? No, I didn't love classical music enough to devote my life to it. Teaching? No, I didn't feel committed enough to take on a classroom of unruly elementary school children.
Then I remembered a woman I'd known who'd gotten her master's in Library Science. Perfect! It only took a year, you didn't have to take a big exam to get in, and you didn't have to write a thesis. Plus, you got to hang out in libraries and read books all day. What could be bad?
I applied to Simmons College's School of Library Science and I got in. Piece of cake! But when I showed up for my first class, reality set in. Most of the students were middle-aged working librarians who wanted to further their careers by getting an M.L.S. They were quiet, reserved, serious—the total opposite of twenty-four-year-old, rock 'n' roll Fran. Plus, the classes (with titles like Reference Methods and Beginning Cataloging) were a big snooze.
Luckily, I found the few other students who were my age and we quickly formed the young, hip librarians clique. Then I took a Children's Literature course and realized that I liked children's books, and—come to think of it—I'd always liked children too. In fact, looking back over my life, it seemed I'd always been around kids. I babysat. I taught guitar lessons to ten-year-olds. I was a volunteer music teacher in the Boston schools.
Hey, maybe being a children's librarian wouldn't be half bad!
A year and a half later, I had my degree and a job as the children's librarian in Dedham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Boy, had my life changed! Instead of spending my nights in cramped, smoky rock clubs, I was spending my days in a spacious, sunny library. Instead of hanging out with moody musicians, I was surrounded by exuberant children. I was still playing my guitar, but now I was teaching folk songs to preschoolers.
I spent three years at the Dedham Public Library, and I loved it. I wasn't one of those shy, fingers-to-thelips librarians. I liked action! I gave book talks in the schools. I brought authors into the library to speak to the kids. I planned huge, circus-like summer reading programs. I ran a fourth through sixth grade after-school club in which we sang folk songs, went on scavenger hunts, made craft projects, and rode horses. And every Halloween, I put on a Graveyard Storyhour. We met at the library after dark and, with only a kerosene lantern to light our way, we trooped down to the local church graveyard. The children sat on the grass; I sat on a gravestone and told stories to scare their little pants off! It was a huge success!
Working at the library taught me a number of things. I found out I loved kids, but I hated the monotony and lack of autonomy that comes with a full-time, forty hour a week job. I also realized that being a librarian wasn't enough for me. I kept thinking about what I'd told Father Griswold all those years ago: "I want to find a way to make a living doing something creative when I grow up. If I don't—if I have to settle for a regular job—I don't think I'll be able to stand it."
Being a children's librarian was creative, in a way. I'd describe it as a cross between a teacher and an events planner. But I wanted to be an artist. The only problem was I still didn't know what kind of artist I wanted to be, or how I was going to make it happen. But, as it turns out, the answer was right in front of me.
At library school and at my job, I was constantly reading children's books. I especially enjoyed the wacky science fiction of Daniel Pinkwater, the spooky fantasies of John Bellairs, the funny contemporary stories of Judy Blume and Paula Danzinger, and the angst-filled teen fiction of Paul Zindel and M. E. Kerr. Gradually, it dawned on me: Once upon a time, I liked to write stories. Maybe I could write stories again. Hey, maybe I could be a children's book author!
My first attempts at children's fiction were the scary stories I created for the annual Graveyard Storyhour. That was easy—I just thought back to the gross, gore-filled stories of my youth and let my imagination run wild. Then I tried to write picture books. That was harder. The ideas didn't come as easily, the words didn't flow as freely. Still, I churned out a couple. Roger the Rock was about a boy so lazy he decided on a career as a boulder. Sweet Pea and the Road Rodents was a tall tale about a six-inch-tall girl who gets kidnapped by biker rats.
I typed up my scary stories and my picture books, and sent them off to a few well-respected publishing houses. Soon I was the proud owner of a large pile of rejection slips. But I also got a letter from an editor at Little, Brown and Company telling me she liked Sweet Pea and was showing it to her boss.
Oh my gosh! I was being considered by a major publisher! Undoubtedly, I would receive an acceptance phone call any minute.
But it never came. Instead, I received a polite rejection letter informing me that ultimately they'd decided to pass on my manuscript. I was disappointed, but not defeated. An editor had liked my story. Certainly, other editors would like it too. And if I wrote another story, and another, eventually one of them was bound to sell.
Next, I wrote a novel, a mystery set in a town like Yardley, starring a group of kids who hang out at the local golf course. Then I wrote a fantasy novel about a thirteen-year-old girl who learns her grandmother is a sorceress.
More submissions, more rejections. I had amassed over fifty by now. But some of the rejections praised my kid-friendly writing style and my believable dialogue. I knew I could sell something, I just knew it. If only I had more time to devote to my writing . . .
That problem was solved when my friends Morris and Elaine had a baby. They needed a nanny, and I begged them to hire me. Never mind that I had never fed, changed, or even held an infant in my life. I was great with kids, so I was sure I'd be great with babies too. Besides, I was dying to leave the library.
Luckily for me, Morris and Elaine said yes, and soon I was spending every afternoon caring for baby Benjamin. Turns out I was good with babies, and I loved my new role as Assistant Mommy. Plus, I had my mornings free to write.
But write what? More picture books? Another fantasy novel? No, it was time for something new.
I'm sure that at some point in my life I'd heard the phrase "write what you know." I'm sure you've heard it too. Well, take it from me—it's good advice, especially for beginners.
Many people think their real life is too dull, too ordinary to make a gripping novel. But if you base your book on places, people, situations, and/or emotions you've intimately experienced, it will make your writing flow. Suddenly, your stories will be more honest, more natural, more believable, more . . . well, real.
Notice I said base your novel on your real life. That doesn't mean write your autobiography. Fiction—especially children's fiction—is more intense, more structured, and more compact than real life. Think of it as starting with your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds. You've got the real life setting and situations (in your feet—feel them?); now use your imagination (your head) and ask yourself "what if?"
Anyway, that's what I did. I started with a character—a fifteen-year-old girl who wants to take guitar lessons. She dreams of someday joining a full-on rock band, but her parents will only spring for folk guitar lessons. Meanwhile, she's spending the summer babysitting a neighbor's toddler.
Sound familiar? It sure did to me. It was my life as a teen mixed with my current life as a nanny.
Next, I let my imagination fly. What if this girl decides to sneak behind her parents' back and take electric guitar lessons? What if she secretly joins a rock band led by a charismatic but self-centered lead guitarist (loosely based on a boyfriend I had in high school)? And what if this guy starts pressuring her to take a walk on the wild side because (as he puts it), "You have to be a rebel to play rock 'n' roll"?
I was inspired and started writing. Back then, there weren't personal computers. I wrote the novel in a loose-leaf binder and then typed the final draft on a typewriter. The end result was Good Rockin' Tonight, my first novel for young adults. I sent it out and received a couple of encouraging rejections, but no offers.
Then I learned another important lesson about writing—the business side, that is. It's good to network. At the time, I was writing book reviews for a library publication called Kliatt. I told the editors that I was trying to get published and they suggested I call their friend, an editor at Addison-Wesley. Soon I was sitting in the editor's office, showing her my manuscripts. A few weeks later, she bought Good Rockin' Tonight.
I was in ecstasy! At last I had found a way to make money by being creative. I was a professional writer! I called everyone I knew, starting with my mother and Father Griswold, and told them the good news.
The book was published in the fall of 1982. It was so thrilling to read my name on the cover! And there on the back flap was my photograph. It was just as good as seeing my photo on an album cover—maybe better, because I didn't have to hang out in any dark, smoky rock clubs to make it happen.
I couldn't wait to start my next book. I wanted to write about a teenage boy with a fatal brain tumor who decides to commit suicide. This book wouldn't be based on my real life, but who cared? I was ready to sink my teeth into something deep, serious, and philosophical.
Naturally, I planned to discuss my proposal to my new editor. But then I received a letter informing me that Addison-Wesley had decided to stop publishing children's books. The fall list—the one Good Rockin' Tonight was on—would be their last.
I didn't know it then, but this was a harbinger of things to come. Almost every time I've found a publisher that likes my work, they either get bought by a larger conglomerate or change their business plan. Either way, I get left behind in the wreckage. Same with editors. I hook up with one who likes my work and after a book or two she leaves the company—or even worse, quits the business!
Well, at least something was going my way—I now had an agent. She pointed out that teen romance novels were selling and suggested I write one. It looked easy and fun, so I put my suicide novel on hold and wrote a romance—then another, and another, and another.
But writing teen romances wasn't exactly challenging. I wanted to work on a story that asked deeper questions than, "Does he think I'm cute?" I trotted out my suicide novel, but my agent thought it would be hard to sell with just a proposal. She suggested I write the entire novel and get back to her.
I'd sold my romance novels from only one chapter and an outline. It was so simple that I'd become spoiled. So I came up with Plan B. I wrote an outline for a series. It was called Birds of a Feather, and it was about four girls who audition to be in a New York rock band. They soon discover that the mastermind behind the band is a Svengali-like producer who wants to turn them into a teeny-bopper hit machine. Will the girls sell out—and possibly become mega-stars—or hang onto their ideals and make music that comes from the heart?
When a publisher decided to buy my proposal, I was over the moon. I was going to write something serious, something real, something meaningful, right? Wrong!
I was assigned an editor who, I'm sure, had never been to a rock concert in her life. The first thing she asked me to do was change one of the main characters. C.C. is a rich girl who hates her life. At the end of book one, she skips out of her debutante ball to perform with the band. But my editor wanted to tone down her rebellion. "What if she goes to her debutante ball and finds out it's actually kind of fun?" she suggested.
Soon, my editor and I were fighting about everything. I, seeing myself as the misunderstood artist, dug my heels in. My editor, who viewed this series as a commercial venture, not a great work of art, thought I was being a royal pain. The truth lay somewhere in between.
Two books in the series (retitled "Overnight Sensation") were published, but neither the publisher nor I were very happy with them. Well, at least I'd learned another valuable lesson about the publishing business: find out the company's plans for your book before you sign on the dotted line. This is especially true if you're selling a proposal. Who will be your editor? Does he have the same vision for the book that you do? Does he want changes, and are they changes you can live with?
When "Overnight Sensation" fizzled, I panicked. Would I ever sell another book? When I was asked to write a Sweet Valley Twins novel, I jumped at it. Soon, I was writing for other established series. I was a hired hand, working on a deadline. My name didn't even appear on the title page.
Series writing wasn't all bad, however. I learned how to craft a tight outline, how to write fast, and how to work with an editor. But I was starting to feel like the girls in "Overnight Sensation." I was writing for money, not love. It was time to produce something from my heart.
So I returned to the childhood pond and threw in my line. Soon I was reminiscing about my seventh grade adventures, spying on the popular kids to learn how to be cool. There had to be a book in there somewhere . . .
There was and it became my first novel for middle grade readers, The Truth about Making Out. It had a tight plot and lots of humor. Why, I wondered, hadn't I written humor before? I'd grown up reading Mad magazine, watching Laugh-In, and listening to Jonathan Winters and Bill Cosby albums. I loved to laugh, and I loved to make other people laugh. Now I could do both with my writing.
If you've written as many books as I have (thirty-five and counting), you eventually have to look beyond your real life for ideas. I keep my eyes and ears open, always on the lookout for characters and situations that can be developed into novels. Once, for example, I read an article in The Smithsonian Magazine about the popularity of pigs as pets. According to some scientists, pigs are smarter than dogs.
Suddenly, a character popped into my head—a wacky, eccentric father who wants to train seeing-eye pigs for blind people who are allergic to dogs. His two younger children love the idea, but his oldest son, thirteen-year-old Dwight, is so embarrassed by his weirdo family that he tells his friends a big, whopping lie. The idea turned into the novel Mom, There's A Pig in My Bed!
A news article about an Ohio restaurant that served adults in one room and children in another led to Spinach with Chocolate Sauce. I dreamed up a couple who owns a hip Hollywood restaurant that caters to babies and toddlers. Puck, the family's twelve-year-old son, is forced to work there, feeding and entertaining the screaming brats.
Some books are inspired by reading other authors. I adored The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and Bruce Coville's My Teacher Is an Alien. So I decided to write my own funny alien story. I came up with two—Neighbors from Outer Space and Stepsister from the Planet Weird, which was made into a Disney Channel Original Movie.
Many authors have horror stories about selling their books to Hollywood, but I'm not one of them. Maybe because I'm a big movie fan (I've written screenplays, and I've reviewed movies for a weekly newspaper), I knew what to expect. A movie company options your book. Then they change it into something that only vaguely resembles your original story. Hey, folks, that's Hollywood.
So I wasn't alarmed when I saw the TV movie of Stepsister. In fact, I was ecstatic! Sure, they'd changed plenty of things—the surfing scenes in my novel had become windsurfing scenes, my explanation of why the aliens had come to Earth had been altered, and the climax of the story had been changed to add more conflict and zaniness. But the characters were just as I'd written them, and the actors played them perfectly. The humor was still there, and the theme was in tact. And it certainly was a thrill to see the words "Based on the novel by Francess Lantz" flashing across my TV screen!
Every once in awhile, the idea for a book appears out of nowhere. I was walking to a Starbucks in Palm Springs, California, when some words suddenly popped in my consciousness. I'm looking for love. Mind-bending, heart-thumping, soul-stirring love. Since I wasn't actively looking for love at the time, I didn't know what to make of such an unusual declaration. Then it hit me—this is one of my characters talking.
I stopped and listened. "The kind you read about in romance novels," she continued. "The kind you see on TV and in the movies. I'm talking sweep-you-off-your-feet, too-excited-to-eat Love with a capital L."
I ran to Starbucks, borrowed a pen, and wrote the words on a napkin. But when I returned home, my character didn't have anything more to say. So I put the napkin in a file folder and forgot about it. A few months later, an editor at American Girl asked me if I had any good ideas for a middle grade novel. I retrieved the napkin and asked myself why this girl was so desperate to find love. The answer—and the many plot twists that followed—became the novel Letters to Cupid.
Not all my books have been funny middle grade novels. I've written two nonfiction books too. The first, Rock, Rap, and Rad, tells everything you need to know to start your own rock band. The second, Be a Star!, explains how to make it as a child actor. My research strategy was simple; I just asked myself what I'd want to know if I was a twelve-year-old aspiring musician or actor. Then I sought out people who knew the answers, including producers, agents, professional rock and rap performers, and TV stars. My credentials as an author got me into some very cool places, including behind the scenes at a major rock concert, and onto the set of a hit TV show.
I finally returned to young adult fiction with my novel, Someone to Love. It's the story of Sara, a rebellious fifteen-year-old whose parents decide to adopt a baby. Sara befriends the eighteen-year-old birthmother, Iris—a move that threatens to sabotage the fragile adoption process. Like all my books except my first, I sold Someone to Love on the strength of a proposal. Then I panicked.
I was about to write a hardcover young adult novel. It needed to be longer than my previous books, more complex, with richer characters and top-notch writing. Furthermore, the issues I wanted to raise in this novel—about the challenges and ultimate benefits of open adoption—were of special importance to me. I'm the mother of an adopted child, my wonderful son, Preston. I wanted to write a book he could read someday, a book that would make him feel good about himself and his origins.
Could I pull it off? Could I write a novel that was better than anything I'd ever written before?
It wasn't easy, and much of the time, I had no idea if I would succeed—or I would even finish. In fact, I had to ask for more time, and the novel's publication date was postponed. Ultimately, however, I think Someone to Love is one of the best books I've written.
Interestingly, the novel didn't receive very good reviews. Many reviewers felt that Sara was unsympathetic, and that readers wouldn't identify with her self-centered world view. Teens, however, seemed to understand Sara completely, and I felt vindicated when the novel was selected as an ABA "Best Book for Young Adults" and an IRA "Young Adult Choice."
Remember that book I wanted to write about the teenage brain tumor patient who commits suicide? Almost fifteen years after I first had the idea, I finally returned to it. By the time I sat down to write Fade Far Away, however, I had made major changes in the storyline. The boy had become a man, a world-famous sculptor named Hugh Scully, and the main character had become his fifteen-year-old daughter, Sienna. Although suicide is still an essential element of the novel, the real story is the relationship between Sienna and her dad.
The plot of Fade Far Away has nothing to do with my real life. However, the emotions Sienna feels when her father is diagnosed with cancer are based on the confused emotions I experienced when my father grew ill. Like me, she's on the outside looking in, unable to find a way to help.
Writing the novel was an intense experience. In the past, I had viewed fiction writing as a godlike profession. I created a world and populated it with characters who thought what I told them to think and did what I wanted them to do. But writing Fade Far Away was a bit like acting. Each day when I sat down at my computer, I became Sienna. Then I took a walk through her world, feeling her pain, fear, and isolation.
For the first time I understood what authors mean when they say, "The characters don't always do what I expect." Although I was working from an outline, I found the story changing as Sienna reacted to each new situation. In fact, the process felt more like transcribing than writing. The characters were that real to me.
Unlike my father and me, Sienna and Hugh have a very troubled relationship. Still, in some ways, Sienna's story is the one I wish I'd lived. Unlike me, she ultimately finds a way to connect with her father in his last days, to help him and learn from him. In Fade Far Away, I've given Sienna a feeling of resolution and acceptance that took me decades to achieve in my real life.
Speaking of real life, mine changed dramatically when I remarried and left Boston for California. The natural beauty of Santa Barbara rekindled my childhood passions. I gave up my urban lifestyle and began hiking through the foothills above the city and the bluffs overlooking the beach. I took up bodyboarding, learned how to kayak and scuba dive, and finally got back into surfing.
I also found a way to satisfy my performing bones. I put together a slide show about my life and began visiting schools to talk about my writing career. It's a kick to meet kids who have read my books, and I love getting reluctant readers excited about books and writing. I've also begun singing again with my friend Bruce Hale, author of the "Chet Gecko" books. Performing as our alter egos, the Savage Bunnies, we sing funny, rocking songs for kids.
The year 2003 has been a busy one for me. When the popular clothing company Roxy decided to partner with HarperCollins to publish a series of novels for girls, they hired me to write them. Once again, I was able to use my real life adventures in my fiction. The series, "Luna Bay," is about five best friends who live and surf in the fictional California town of Crescent Cove. When I wasn't writing the novels, I was doing research—surfing, that is.
Before the "Luna Bay" books were published, some people wondered if they could possibly be worthwhile. After all, Roxy is a clothing company, not a publisher. Maybe the books would be nothing but one long ad for surfer chick clothes.
But I knew differently. I wouldn't have taken the job if I'd had to compromise my writing to please the Roxy Girl execs. And I didn't. From the start, the books were intended to be engrossing stories about real girls with well-rounded lives and believable problems. Fortunately, the reviewers and (most importantly) my readers feel I've succeeded, and the series has inspired surfers and eager wannabes from coast to coast.
Twenty years after my first book was published, there's still more childhood gold to mine. In 2003, two stories I wrote about tomboys were published in short story anthologies. "Standing on the Roof Naked" is about a teenage girl who's confused about her sexuality. She finds solace and direction when she hooks up with a male DJ and performs a cathartic rap at the school dance. "The Day Joanie Frankenhauser Became a Boy" follows a basketball-loving girl who masquerades as a boy for twenty-four hours.
After the stories were published, my agent suggested that Joanie deserved her own book, and I agreed. I set to work on a novel version that sold to Dutton and will be published in 2005.
When Letters to Cupid was published, my editor at American Girl told me the company was planning to produce a bookmark to promote the novel. One side would feature a photo of me as a thirteen-year-old and the other side would show a photo of me now. My editor asked me to answer some questions—first as my thirteen-year-old self and then as my current self—to accompany the photos.
Thirteen-year-old Fran was asked, "What is your greatest wish?"
That's easy. "To someday live by the beach and make a living doing something creative," I replied.
Then adult Fran was asked, "What is your biggest accomplishment?"
That's when it hit me. I'm living in California, just a few blocks from the beach. I'm surfing. I'm a professional writer. My childhood dreams have come true!
Okay, maybe I'm not as special as my doting parents once led me to believe. But when I look at those bookmarks, I hear trumpets blare, I feel the red carpet between my toes, and the stars in the sky arrange themselves into something that looks a whole lot like FRANCESS.
- Francess L(in) Lantz (1952-2004) Biography - OBITUARY NOTICE—
- Francess L(in) Lantz Biography (1952-) - Sidelights
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