November 19, 2009

Behind the Book: WTF

"Peter Lerangis is the author of over 150 books, for early readers through teens, which have sold nearly 3 million copies" ( including the Spy X series, Smiler's Bones and Book 3 of The 39 Clues, The Sword Thief. In this case, he talks about his new YA fresh/funny novel WTF. See my review here.

How did you come up with the story?

The process started in 2004 — as a totally different idea! At the time, I’d just finished a serious, research-filled novel and I was ready to write a fun, escapist, edgy thriller. My editor at Simon Pulse found a news item about a party in Westchester that ended in a standoff with police. So I went with that, blowing it into a really high-stakes, dangerous event. I used “wtf” as a working title, never thinking it would fly as a real title. Before we nailed the outline, though, my editor moved on. “Wtf” was picked up by another editor ... who moved on, and then another editor, who moved on.... Soon the whole thing was back-shelved and I started working on other stuff. Honestly I forgot about the book entirely — until 2008, when a couple of new editors dragged me to lunch. One of them, Mike delRosario, suggested we start from scratch. He said he loved heart-pounding adventures that begin with a disastrous event and just get worse. Totally up my alley. We starting riffing on ideas, talked about a multi-perspective structure, etc., but I lacked the One Big Incident. The next weekend while I was driving in Westchester County, a deer jumped into the road. Luckily it (and I) survived — and the rest is history.

Does it have to do with your life?

Bad drug deals, smashing into deer, wrecking cars, impersonating a limo driver, and being beat up by the Mafia? That was last Tuesday. Now I’m into trashing clubs. And when I’m not daydreaming ... Okay, my life’s pinnacles of excitement usually run the gamut from completing crossword puzzles to finding episodes of Lost online. That’s why I write, I guess. To dream up stupid things that other people do, while I sit home eating enchiladas and tweeting in relative comfort. Some of the book’s details actually do come from real life: The locations are places I know well in NYC. I once had a car that people used to mistake as a taxi, which was totally annoying and figures into Byron’s story. My son went to a school that was a lot like Olmsted in the book. Summers during college I worked with guys who spoke exactly like the two undercover cops. And anyone who’s lived in NYC has had one or two catastrophic experiences in clubs. All other resemblances to my real life are accidental, coincidental, and strictly demented.

How long did the book take to write?

About two months to hammer out the outline, a month to shiver in anticipation, and about five or six months to write the book.

What other books influenced?

Everything written by Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen (for the economy of words, tension, and dark humor), It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (for the great use of voice and the setting), Catcher in the Rye (because it influences everybody whether they admit it or not), and slew of Simon Pulse books. I also wanted a fluid, visual, cinematic feel, so I watched movies by Tarantino and a cool multi-perspective film called Go.

Can you read other books during the writing process?

Great question. I know a lot of writers hate doing this. I’m the opposite. I find it necessary. At some point in most of my books I get completely stuck, and it’s usually a crisis of confidence. Even after all these years, I become convinced I’ll never finish the project, it’ll never be coherent, and I should go crawl under a rock and eat worms. Reading other people’s books, seeing their stories flow and how they work through difficult passages — that gives me courage.

How has the book changed your life so far?

I have a box of copies and they’re causing everyone in the house to trip. This results great anger and resentment, but I’m dealing with it. I’m hoping I can report some better things after people begin reading and enjoying WTF.

Why do you write YA?

Who wouldn’t want to? The characters are always more fun. Everyone’s still unfiltered, everyone’s still negotiating the twists and turns of life that older people have already settled into. Life is still thrilling and fun and not yet hammered into shape by society’s demands. The potential for stories is amazing. Besides, I basically grew out of adolescence just in time to have kids who turned into adolescents. So it feels like I never left.

What are your favorite books?

In no particular order: A Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the stories of J. D. Salinger, anything by M. T. Anderson, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Portrait of the Artist a a Young Man by James Joyce, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick, Time and Again by Jack Finney, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Waterworks by E. L. Doctorow, The Rise Of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, Mr. Ives's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, Island At The Center of The World by Russell Shorto, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, A Passage To India by E. M. Forster, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key.

Name 3 YA book that you would call a must-read.

(1) The OCTAVIAN NOTHING story (which is really two books, so OK, I’m cheating) by M. T. Anderson, (2) THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie, and (3) THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak. But there are, oh, a few dozen other books that are right up there. This really is the golden age of YA literature.

~ I totally agree!! Thank you so much Peter! -- You are hilarious!


  1. I just went to a site trying to sell a book on 2012 and the book talks about a collision with a planet or large asteroid that is hidden behind the sun. lol, WTF people, really? People need to grow up and stop wasting bandwidth.

  2. Probably killed him the police because that is really weird. I can see why are freaked and probably the people insulting you are the ones defending the parents who left their baby in a hotel room alone so just ignore the idiots.

  3. Thanks so much for the interview - I'm really looking forward to reading wtf. I also loved the answer on "why YA."

  4. Great interview! I really like this feature. WTF sounds great and is on my wishlist. I loved his answers, especially the one for "Why YA"

  5. I read the book and loved it. I woudl recommend it to anybody that dont mind foul language.


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