Interview with Peter Lerangis
(First published on Aug. 24, 2010)
BMUG: During the mid- to late 1980s, when Nintendo’s NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) was bringing back the videogame market to mainstream attention, a series of novels were written to tie into some of the most popular third-party NES game titles such as Bases Loaded and Ninja Gaiden. These novels were written under the “Worlds of Power” book series, for Scholastic publishing.
BMUG: Today it is our privilege and honor to host an interview with one of the most notable of the authors for the “Worlds of Power” series, PETER LERANGIS (aka “F.X. Nine”).
BMUG: Hello Peter! The first question we’d like to ask is, how did the Worlds of Power series come about. We’ve noted that you’ve been given a significant mention in 1UP.com’s article, “8-Bit Lit” (click to read - opens a new window). According to the article, you were approached for the writing job by your colleague Seth Godin. We’d really like to hear more about this event, and how did you become involved?
PETER LERANGIS: I was a young, up-and-coming writer renting a tiny office from a company in Greenwich Village when I received a call from Seth, who, at the time, was a book packager with a contract to create books out of video games for Scholastic. I’d been recommended to him by an editor there. I didn’t know Seth, but we quickly became friends. We worked well together and shared wicked senses of humor. I ended up writing four books for him. One day, as I was toiling away in my little office, one of the company employees raced in breathlessly with a fax for me — from Steven Spielberg! He was offering me a movie contract for one of the books. Everyone gathered around to congratulate me — after all, I was the struggling author who had made good in their presence. Well, I knew right off the bat that the fax was a friendly prank from Seth. I thought it was pretty hilarious, but what a letdown for all the others!
BMUG: Were you employed by Scholastic officially? What was the reason for using a pen name?
PL: Nope, I’ve had one rotten, demanding boss all my life — me. All my book contracts are free-lance. I started my career a little oddly — I was a musical theater actor who edited books between shows, and that led to some work-for-hire book contracts, mainly movie novelizations and series like the Hardy Boys. I knew I wanted to have a career writing books that were my own ideas. So I thought it’d be a good idea to use a pen name for the movie novelizations and any other adaptations of other people’s work. I didn’t want to become known as the “adaptation guy.” In retrospect, it may have been better to do this a bit differently.
BMUG: If you don’t mind us asking, how was the pay for the project overall?
PL: Here’s where the time factor comes into play! I wrote these books about twenty years ago. I’ve written maybe 150 books since then, and I’ve long since forgotten how much the Worlds of Power books paid. I will say, however, that Seth was unfailingly fair and scrupulous regarding participation. Even though the contract was between him and Scholastic, he shared the profits with the authors. I had a royalty and would regularly receive checks from Seth with a nice note.
BMUG: Also according to 1UP.com, each of the novels noted (“Blaster Master”, “Ninja Gaiden”, “Infiltrator” and “Bases Loads II: Second Season”) only took four weeks to complete? How did you accomplish this amazing feat, and was the writing schedule based on something outlined by the publisher or by Godin?
PL: Part of it was the contract with Scholastic, and part of it was my own schedule. I had deadlines for books stretching out months ahead. I had enormous energy and would work long hours back then. It’s amazing how much writing you can accomplish if you plant yourself in a seat for eight to twelve hours a day! I remember I was on a roll particularly with Bases Loaded II, which just spilled out in a matter of days — it was so much fun!
BMUG: Were you the only writer for these novels or did others contribute?
PL: There were two or three others, I believe.
BMUG: Did you play “Blaster Master” or any of the other games in order to write the novels? Have you ever played any of the games that you’ve written novels about?
PL: I had to play all the games, to get a feel for the atmosphere and, of course, the plot. Also by playing the games I knew where the highest urgency was in each story, and what was at stake for each character. For some games this was harder than others!
BMUG: Did the four weeks include any re-writes or was your submission accepted as is?
MH: I believe there may have been some rewrites for the first couple of projects, but I think they were pretty light.
BMUG: How did you come up with the details to fill in what was essentially a blank canvas storyline for Blaster Master? This could not have been an easy task at all and today people who read the novel, still comment on how much work you did to bring out a real story from the game.
PL: Thanks, that’s very flattering! Well, I do remember playing the game and laughing aloud — what plot was I going to use? There really was none! But that’s what made the project fun. I didn’t have to follow anyone else’s idea of a story. I just came up with one of my own and tried to have as much fun with it as I could. (Btw, same situation with Bases Loaded II — but fortunately I am a baseball fan, so a plot was easy to hatch!)
BMUG: Is there a reason the Worlds of Power series only focused on third-party titles? We have noticed that none of the Nintendo-made titles (what you might call “core” in today’s marketing terms) ever became a novel under the “Worlds of Power” header.
PL: Good question, but probably a better one for Seth to answer! That was his domain; I just said okay and wrote the stories!
BMUG: How were the copyright issues handled, since you were essentially writing for licenses that were not owned by Scholastic?
PL: Again, another accomplishment by the clever and fecund Mr. Godin.
BMUG: Do you recall approximately how many copies were sold for the “Worlds of Power: Blaster Master” novel? How about the other novels? According to 1UP.com, the Worlds of Power series sold 1 million copies overall, which is really incredible.
PL: Don’t faint, but I actually found the royalty statements from way back then, the ink still legible on the parchment scroll, as well as the monk’s handprint. I only received statements if the book “earned out,” i.e., generated a profit to the author, and the only two books that reached that level for me were Blaster Master (just under 246,000 copies) and Ninja Gaiden (just over 216,000). It took a lot of copies to earn out, so it stands to reason the others sold well, too, just not well enough to generate a statement to me.
BMUG: Do you currently own any of the novels from the “Worlds of Power” series?
PL: “Own” as in “own the copyright,” no. As in “own physical copies of the books,” yes.
BMUG: After the “Worlds of Power” project, what did you work on after that? Do you have any recent projects that you’d like to highlight?
PL: I still write for children and teens. I have a YA novel out now called wtf, about six teens, each with something to hide, over one horrendous night where everything imaginable goes wrong. I’ve also written two books in the New York Times–bestselling children’s books series, The 39 Clues.
PL: After Worlds of Power, I continued ghostwriting novelizations and many different series, then moved on to my own books -- which have explored many genres. Most recently, The 39 Clues has been my most consuming project. It's a series written by multiple authors (I've written two books, #3: The Sword Thief and #7: The Viper's Nest) that involves online gaming. I've toured all over the U.S. promoting the series and it's been a really wild ride! The 39 Clues is a worldwide treasure hunt involving Clues left by a secret family that includes people such as Mozart, Ben Franklin, Amelia Earhart, Shaka Zulu, etc. I love delving into unsolved historical mysteries. One of the books closest to my own heart is Smiler’s Bones, my historical novel based on a true story about a Polar Eskimo boy who was orphaned in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. I've also written a series about a high-school musical theater group (Drama Club), action/adventure (the Spy X series), speculative sci-fi (the Watchers series), younger chapter books the Abracadabra series), horror (The Yearbook, Driver’s Dead), middle-grade humor (It Came from the Cafeteria, Attack of the Killer Potatoes), and a ton of movie novelizations (The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow, Batman Begins, and many others). I have plenty of other projects in the pipeline, and I keep everything updated (along with lots of biographical info!) on my website, www.peterlerangis.com.
BMUG: There are a lot of novelizations being published today which are game-related. While game-based novels are nothing new, we feel that the “Worlds of Power” series was the first really serious foray into the market. What do you see for the future of game-based novels?
PL: I hope it’s robust. The 39 Clues series is a real groundbreaking project in terms of multimedia participation — it goes the other way, books into games: the books come with cards that become digitized in a web game, where kids actually participate in the mystery. I’m all for multiplatform reading!
BMUG: If we may ask, do you have children? Do they know of your contribution and what’s their comments on the work you’ve done?
MH: I have two sons. They’re 22 and 19 now, but when they were younger they would read my books — and I wrote a lot of material with them in mind! They’re very supportive, and they’re good readers!
BMUG:Do you have any closing comments for the “Blaster Master” and “Worlds of Power” fans who are reading this interview?
PL: Thank you for remembering and reaching out. I am blown away that after all this time, the books are still alive in people’s hearts and minds.
BMUG: We thank Mr. Lerangis very much for his time during this interview, and his efforts during the “Worlds of Power” project. Although the series was published years ago, you might still be able to find copies of the “Worlds of Power” books on eBay, Amazon or other shopping sites and brick-and-mortar bookstores.