Jon is one of the many unsung heroes of us bloggers. Jon and the multitude of people who work in similar positions at publishing houses across the land are the people who provide us bloggers with many of the books we review. They are also the people who spend weeks of their lives accompanying authors on tours and book festival visits, sitting quietly in the background whilst their authors get all the attention, and then travel on to the next town, staying in yet another hotel. Invariably they return home a week/fortnight/longer later and collapse into an exhausted heap.
Some time ago Jon mentioned on Twitter about his love of the Christopher Pike books and how they were a huge part of his teenage life, and I asked him if he would be interested in writing a piece for The Book Zone. Much of the horror genre passed me by when I was in my teens and buried in reading mystery stories and crime thrillers, but I was keen to know more now as even with the glut of teen horror stories available today those of Christopher Pike are still relatively popular in the school library. Jon very kindly wrote this fantastic piece for us, and also provided us with a Christopher Pike must-read list. Over to you Jon:
I used to live in my local library when I was a kid. I had a few friends but I think the librarians knew me better than any of them. I’d spend hours scanning the shelves for new reads, usually horror, almost always in the adult sections (being, as we all were at that age, a fan of Stephen King), but occasionally I had a quick gander at the ‘teenage’ section. (YA didn’t seem to be have been invented as a publishing trend back then.) I avoided the imprints or books that had ‘teenage’ actually as part of the name or design; they would inevitably be a bit bleak, moralistic or just dull books I didn’t want to read. And one day, I discovered, quite by chance, a book called ‘Witch’. The author was the intriguingly named Christopher Pike.
The cover was dark, the image of a girl hiding her face behind her hands was little bit menacing, the title font unmistakably horror orientated and the plot description hooked me enough to add it to my pile. I had other books I was itching to read first but back home, something compelled me to pick this one up first. And that’s where my Pike addiction began. ‘Witch’ was, pardon the pun, spellbinding. I finished the book almost in tears, both because of the story and because I realised I’d found someone who wrote the sort of stuff I wanted to read, who knew instinctively what ticked every literary box for my 15 year old self.. In the same way that ‘The Goonies’ was the adventure every kid wished they could have, Pike knew that what teenagers really wanted was to be free of adult constraints and making their own way, even if their best friend did turn out to be a deranged psychopath.
Pike’s early stuff was relatively straight forward; often more mystery than horror and firmly rooted in the suburbs of white picket America, he wove tales of the secrets and lies that bubble underneath blooming teenage romances and friendships, erupting in jealousy, rage and always, of course, murder. He gradually moved towards less formulaic and more sophisticated stories that encompassed witchcraft, reincarnation, magic and aliens and later books feature, often a little heavily, elements of ancient Indian folklore and mysticism, something Pike may have had a clear love for but was often over-egged in too many stories.
But I hold his books in particular regard because he loved a misfit – growing up as a gay kid, with little in the way of inspiring characters, Pike’s love of those teens that live outside the norms was a breath of fresh air. Not just token stereotypes to be picked off, he put them centre stage confronting the evil or leading the charge while your typical jock and cheerleader cut outs, the staple fare of many teen horror books at that time, were usually the cannon fodder. It was a call to arms I’d rarely seen in a teen book. He took teenagers and their world seriously, and while many argued he over indulged on violence, bad language and sex, I’d argue he simply didn’t talk down to teenagers and pretend those issues didn’t exist or cause harm.
I had a near brush with meeting the man himself when Books for Keeps, one of the teenage book magazines I used to write for when I was still at school and university, arranged for me to go to his publisher’s offices on a rare trip to the UK. Sadly, a rail strike scuppered that encounter and I went to Alton Towers instead. Fate, in her fickle way, shone on me again a few years later when Young Book Trust magazine, another of my regular gigs, arranged for me to interview him. The man called me from Santa Barbara and after about an hour, I put the phone down, a nervous, gibbering, awestruck fanboy. The subsequent interview, in hindsight, is pretty terrible but I can’t deny it was a pretty amazing feeling to know I’d talked to him. I am glad I lost the tape of it years ago though so no one will ever hear the sound of me fawning!
Most of his stuff appears to be if not out of print, then available haphazardly or bundled together in omnibus additions aimed squarely at a female readership. But his books feature wonderful interplay between boys and girls, and they have never been exclusively for girls, even in slightly soppier stuff like the spiritual 'Sati', featuring a young girl who claims she is God. I hope that his books receive a well deserved re-release so this generation of readers, girls AND boys, can experience the joys and horrors of adolescence, Christopher Pike style. Growing up was never so dangerous or so much fun.
Christopher Pike recommended reading list:
1) Master of Murder – a twisty, complex mystery that shows Pike is as good, if not better, when not dwelling in the supernatural.
2) Witch – the first Pike book I ever read and it broke my heart. It’ll break yours too.
3) Monster – the best opening of any Pike novel ever and an utterly brilliant horror novel.
4) The Season of Passage – a genre blending adult novel of SF and horror, terrifying and beautiful in equal measure.
5) Final Friends - strictly, a trilogy, but Pike is at his best when tackling fractured friendships that result in bloodshed.
6) Remember Me – a since well worn plot device of a story told through the eyes of a dead person that still felt fresh when Pike used it, Remember Me is about realising when it’s time to move on and to be happy for those left behind. It’s a wonderful story, sadly done little justice by a couple of unnecessary sequels.
Huge thanks to Jon for taking the time to share this with. I promise to try to spend more time on 'My Life That Books Built' in the future. If any other publicity people or bloggers fancy writing a guest post in a similar vein then it would be very gratefully received.