Tuesday March 19, 2013
Timeless tales from Peter Lerangis
By CHESTER CHIN
Peter Lerangis wants to write stories that will interest young adults today — and 50 years down the road.
WHEN the Greek sculptor Chares of Lindos built the Colossus of Rhodes (between 292BCE and 280BCE) to celebrate the city’s victory over Antigonus I Monophthalmus, he was oblivious to two things: that the statue of the sun god Helios will only stand for 56 years before being destroyed by an earthquake, and that it would “force” a curious author to write a series of books about the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Peter Lerangis had been staring out over the island of Rhodes’ harbour one sunny afternoon where the enormous bronze sculpture once existed when he was hit by a sudden epiphany.
“I nearly choked on my calamari. How could the ancients have constructed something so gargantuan? I became obsessed with the seven wonders. Why were they so wondrous? Why only seven? There had to be a story behind it. Why not try to uncover the greatest mystery of all time?” the zany 58-year-old author offers in an e-mail interview (yes, he sounds zany even via e-mail!).
In his new aptly-titled Seven Wonders series for young adults, Lerangis delved into the myths of the ancient world to bring forth an exhilarating tale of adventure that takes place around the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The story in the seven-part series begins in the first book, The Colossus Rises, with 13-year-old Jack McKinley being told that he has only six months to live. Our young hero awakens the next day on a mystical island that’s run by an eccentric professor named Bhegad and discovers that he has inherited a deadly gene from the prince of a long-lost civilisation.
To find the cure, Jack and three other kids must embark on a mission to retrieve seven magic Loculi. However, locating the Loculi is no easy feat, as they have been missing for over 1,000 years and hidden around the world. With a good dose of high-octane thrills and absorbing ancient secrets thrown in, The Colossus Rises makes for a riveting read. Part of this could probably be attributed to the New York-born author’s innate thirst for adventure.
“I always loved adventure novels, mainly because my own life was so ordinary. It was fun to escape into exciting books and still be able to sleep in a comfy bed at night,” says Lerangis whose closest experience to an adventure came when an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale hit while he was rock-climbing in Yosemite National Park.
“The park was being evacuated beneath us while we were foolishly grappling with our hands and feet. On the positive side, we all escaped unharmed, and I was able to use the experience for the rock-climbing scene in The Colossus Rises,” he shares.
While epic adventure fuels the momentum in the book, it’s the humanising depiction of regular characters performing extraordinary tasks that really enlivens the story.
“I want the readers to always know that no matter how ordinary they may think they are, inside each and every one of them is real magic – extraordinary qualities owned by no one else on earth. And that’s not fiction. It’s fact,” says the father of two.
Lerangis knows well the insecurities that dog adolescence – after all, the man has written extensively for children and teenagers throughout his career.
“I believe the doctors call it ‘arrested development’! There is a part of me that never grew older. And I don’t mind that at all,” says the author who lists the likes of M.T. Anderson, Marcus Zusak, Anne Patchett and J.K. Rowling as some of his literary inspirations.
To date, Lerangis has published over 160 titles for young readers and has established himself as a prominent figure in the American young adult literary scene. Some of his notable works include the edgy WTF, the award-winning Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am and the intense Smiler’s Bone, which was selected as one of the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens in 2006.
“It’s fun to make a living from the fruits of your own imagination, to see the evidence of your hard work as a beautiful book, to be able to meet your readers in schools and bookstores, and to know that your job opens minds, makes people think and gives the world something valuable without harming a soul,” he offers.
That said, Lerangis has no problem infiltrating the current youth culture that has been complicated by social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube these days.
“We are all surrounded by youth culture, and keeping up with it is part of enjoying life. Besides, I have two sons, so staying rooted to youth culture prevents them from cackling at me,” he reveals.
However, the way Lerangis sees it, he is not too bothered with crafting stories that suit the defining mood of a certain period’s pop culture.
“I truly believe a story is a story. Tell it well and people will enjoy it. Jamming perfect cultural memes and references into a book can be the kiss of death – by the time the book is published, those references may already be stale.
“The best stories, I believe, should be timeless. I hope a reader will be able to enjoy The Colossus Rises in 2013 and 2063. And maybe even in 1963 in case time-travel is invented in the future.”