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Francess Lantz, 52; Author of the 'Luna Bay' Series for Girls

December 09, 2004|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Francess Lantz, an author of fiction popular with teen and preteen girls, including the "Luna Bay" surfer girl series, died Nov. 22 at her home in Santa Barbara after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 52.

Over the last two decades, Lantz wrote more than 30 books, including several juvenile bestsellers. She won the American Library Assn.'s "Best Book for Young Adults" award for her 1997 romance, "Someone to Love." Her novel, "Stepsister From Planet Weird," was made into a Disney Channel movie in 2000.

Last year, the first of seven books she wrote for the Luna Bay paperback series began to appear. Aimed at 8- to 13-year-old girls, the books focus on five teenage girls who live in the fictional seaside town Luna Bay. The books are produced in an unusual partnership between a clothing company, Roxy Girl, whose logo appears on the cover, and HarperEntertainment, a division of HarperCollins.

Although some critics lumped the series in the same category as books and toys that promote cartoon characters, Lantz said she was not pressured to promote the clothing in the stories and was pleased with the results.

"The main thing is for kids to be reading," she told The Times last year. "If it's entertaining, fairly well-written, an interesting story where the characters change and grow and learn something, then I'm definitely all right with that."

Born in New Jersey, Lantz aspired to become a rock musician and composer after she graduated in 1974 from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

She worked odd jobs while playing guitar in coffeehouses and churches, but the big break she hoped for never came.

She returned to school, received a degree in library science from Simmons College in Boston in 1975 and became a children's librarian in Massachusetts.

She organized an annual library event called "Graveyard Story Hour," when she took children to a nearby cemetery and huddled with them around a kerosene lamp to read scary stories.

After a few years, she found she was running out of stories that were short, easy to read aloud and suitably spooky, so she began to write them herself.

The children loved her stories, "and that was when I first thought, 'Hey, maybe I could write children's books,' " Lantz told "Contemporary Authors" several years ago.

She published her first book in 1982, a young adult novel loosely based on her own life called "Good Rockin' Tonight," about a 15-year-old girl who aspires to rock stardom. After selling the book to Addison-Wesley, Lantz left the library and began writing for young readers full time.

She often blended humor with insights into adolescent turmoil, such as in "Stepsister From Planet Weird," which is written from the points of view of two teenage girls, one from Earth and the other from a planet called Zircalon-6. Other books were more serious, such as "Fade Far Away" (1998), which was inspired by her father's death from cancer when Lantz was 15.

Lantz became steeped in beach culture after moving to Santa Barbara in 1986. She became an agile body boarder and at 47 learned to surf.

"She was so perfect for writing Roxy Girl stories," said Susan Jordan, a friend and neighbor for 11 years. "She was an older person living the kind of fantasy girls live. Instead of thinking, 'I wish I could surf,' she went out and surfed. That was one of her attributes -- she didn't say no to anything."

A gourmand, Lantz reviewed local restaurants for the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper in the 1990s and with two friends wrote a restaurant guide under the pseudonym The Three Little Pigs.

In the late 1980s she also wrote a movie column for the Independent with her husband, Dr. John Landsberg.

Besides her husband, she is survived by an 11-year-old son, Preston.

Memorial donations may be sent to Hospice Care and Santa Barbara Visiting Nurses of Santa Barbara, 222 E. Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, or to Hospice of Santa Barbara, 520 W. Junipero St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105.

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