Ahwatukee author ready for the silver screen

As an author of popular young-adult novels, Erin Jade Lange of Ahwatukee now is on the threshold of seeing her first book become a movie. Her novel “Butter,” with the tagline “Popularity has an expiration date,” is a cautionary tale of how social media can amplify the angst of high school society. (Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Staff Photographer)

Erin Jade Lange fretted a bit about this week.

After all, there aren’t any guidebooks on what you should wear to a Hollywood movie screening – especially when the film is based on your own book.

But in the long run, excitement overcame the fretting as the Ahwatukee author anticipated seeing the movie of her first novel, “Butter,” which she published in 2012.

“I don’t really understand how all this works because it’s a screening, not a premiere, which means that just because we go see it doesn’t mean everybody else can suddenly see it,” she said.

Lange already spent a day on the set watching the filming of the movie, which stars Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino.

“I’m learning a lot about the business,” she said.

And over the next few months, she’s likely to learn a lot more as director Paul Kaufman shops the movie to studios at upcoming film festivals.

If Kaufman scores a big studio – or one of the streaming giants like Amazon or Netflix – Lange could be catapulted into a whole new level of stardom from the one she enjoys as writer of young adult fiction.

People who don’t know Lange might know her by her professional alter ego and married name – Erin Helm.

Helm is the communications director for Kyrene School District, the former spokeswoman for the Scottsdale School District at a time when then-Superintendent Denise Birdwell’s administration was the subject of a state Attorney General’s investigation, and a reporter for KTVK Channel 3 for 12 years.

But young people around the world know her by her maiden name.

“Butter” is probably Lange’s most commercially successful book of the three she has written so far.

It’s about a 423-pound lonely teen, nicknamed after an incident in which he was bullied into eating an entire stick of dirty butter.

Constantly belittled and sick of life, he goes online to announce that he will eat himself to death during a live webcast on New Year’s Eve and suddenly finds himself invited to hang out with the “it” crowd, which includes Anna, the girl of his dreams.

Their morbid curiosity, masked by fake friendship, urges them to egg him on in his suicidal plan, create deadly bucket lists for him and place bets on what he will eat for his last meal.

The page-turning plot – and Butter’s intentions – go through a series of roller-coaster twists and turns.

“This book seriously packed a punch,” wrote one reviewer.

Said Lange: “My books are aimed at teenagers, older teenagers, and have heavier topics.”

They also have resonated with teens around the world: They have been published in several different languages and have been popular in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, Thailand, Spain and Mexico.

But although she employs an agent in the States as well as one in London, Lange modestly cautioned:

“I’m not like some multimillionaire author, but my books are in stores. I’m just like your average mid-list authors.”

Lange wrote “Butter” in 2010 – and it was published two years later at a time when young-adult fiction was already becoming a major trend in the world of publishing

A journalism graduate from the University of Missouri, she had taken up fiction writing “on my own for fun.”

“I actually started trying to write a novel-length work in college,” she said, but that manuscript perished when a computer virus consumed “thousands and thousands of words” because she had never thought of backing up her work.

“I was just devastated and I had nothing to show for it. And so, I didn’t try again for a long time. And then I graduated college is, and I got a career. It was working as a journalist, so I was writing facts all day. …It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that this idea occurred to me to write another book.”

Her choice of genre reflected in a way her choice of fiction as a reader.

“I was a voracious reader at home, but I didn’t enjoy reading the books that we were assigned to read for school,” she confessed. “I knew that they were important, but I just didn’t love those. It made me feel like ‘well, maybe I’m not very smart or maybe I’m just not a good reader’ because all my other classmates read these books, but I was still reading things like ‘Babysitters Club’ and ‘Sweet Valley High’ and Christopher Pike, who used to write all these horror books, and ‘Goosebumps’ by RL Stine and all those authors. And I still loved those books.

“So, I thought, well, maybe that’s my style. I like fast-paced. I like coming-of-age stories.”

Besides, Lange believes, there’s no other time in a human’s life like the teenage years.

“I think that that brief time that you’re a teenager is the most interesting and formative time of your life,” she said. “So, I think those stories just continued to interest me even in adulthood.”

They also are of interest to many other people – including movie producers and directors.

“I think there’s been a trend lately for young adult books to be turned into movies,” she said, pointing to films made out of books such as “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Divergent” and “Hunger Games.”

“I think a lot of filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, went specifically looking for young adult books that they could connect with. And I kind of think that’s what happened for me,” she said.

“I think young adult books are just not for teenagers, but for everyone who has been a teenager, because we all remember what that was like. We all experiences the same things of separating from our parents and becoming independent and coming into our own and figuring out who we are.”

And whether the book is about fighting dragons or contemplating suicide, Lange said, “it’s really a coming-of-age story.”

As a movie, “Butter” is in the hands of someone who knows a bit more about Hollywood than Lange currently does.

He’s directed a number of Hallmark Channel movies as well as episodes on hit TV shows like “NCIS” and “Grimm.”

Kaufman had approached her several years ago.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry. It’s under option. And I have all these other books.’ And he’s like, ‘No thanks. I just want this one and then I thought, ‘Oh, well, he’ll forget all about me.’”

But the producer never went any further and Kaufman came back to her a year later.

“He really wanted to it,” Lange said. “He waited for it, which was cool.”

The daughter of a speech pathologist and a nursing professor, Lange is taking a break from writing so she can spend more time with husband Matthew Helm, a marketing professional, and her 3-year-old twin daughters.

She said she agreed when her husband reminded her “’there will always be time to write more books, but the girls are only going to be little for so long.’”

But “Butter” continues to reverberate with readers.

Lange said she gets letters from time to time from readers who identified with the feelings that motivate the novel’s namesake.

Even years after high school, some readers have told her, the scars of rejection still hurt.

“My high school experience was actually pretty great,” Lange said. “But I think when I write stories about bullying, I’m just trying to exorcize those demons a little bit. So, it’s therapeutic for me.

“I got something just a couple of months ago from someone saying that they’re in college now, they’re doing great but they had contemplated suicide in high school and that they read my book and they felt less alone and they got through it.

“And now that’s great. It’s amazing. I mean, it’s not like what I thought fan mail would be like. But it’s so much better.”

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