For today’s guest, we are very lucky to have young adult authors Diana Peterfreund (of Rampant fame) and Carrie Ryan (genius behind YA zombie novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth) over to guest blog. For their topic, they’ve decided to write about another young adult author: The Awesomeness That Is Christopher Pike.
Please give it up for the lovely Diana and Carrie!
Hi, we’re Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) and Diana Peterfreund (Rampant). Our first teen novels came out this year. They’re filled with supernatural horror and teenage girls who must fight for their lives – sort of like the novels we read and loved when we were younger… the novels of Christopher Pike. In honor of Halloween, we decided to have a Pike reminiscence and love-fest. This is the conversation that transpired.
Diana: My favorite Pikes were MONSTER, SEE YOU LATER, and MASTER OF MURDER.
Carrie: Your memory is so much better than mine.
Diana: Just because I’m LOOKING at them. I have a stack of them here on my desk.
Carrie: I wish I’d gotten my box of books. I’m sure just holding them would make me remember. I read these books on weekends, staying up until 3am usually because I HAD TO KNOW what happened.
Diana: Yeah, me too. I remember Monster kept me up all night, and I kept trying to convince myself it was just fiction, so I could go to sleep without thinking that vampires from outer space were going to come eat me.
Carrie: Oh, that’s right! His vampires were from outer space!
Diana: And India. He had those vampires too. That’s actually the one they’re reissuing and is on the bestseller lists right now: THE LAST VAMPIRE, with the sexy immortal blonde girl vampire from India. Not MONSTER, with the crazy bat-like alien vampires.
Carrie: Those books taught me to speed read. [Carrie goes online to look up old favorites.] It’s interesting to read this flap copy now.
Diana: Why is that?
Carrie: His plots – the descriptions – don’t seem as complex as I remember: “Kid goes on vacation, someone dies, haunting ensues.” But I remember the stories being so fantastically unique. They were SO beyond anything else I was reading or thought about.
Diana: I wonder how much of that was that they were going to tone down anything that seemed out of the ordinary, for marketing purposes. I love the covers. Neon candy colors with blood dripping from the fonts – but not girly, even with all the pink. All these gorgeous paintings of girls with long glossy hair in jeans and sweaters standing with boys in jean jackets pulling them to safety. (Even though the girls could take damn good care of themselves.)
Carrie: Oh yeah, the covers bring back TONS of memories.
Diana: Is there any Pike book you specifically want to talk about?
Carrie: What’s the one with the bad coke? [note: that’s the one where someone was forcing people to snort bad cocaine and killing them]
Diana: DIE SOFTLY.
Carrie: I wonder whether you could have a book like that now. I can’t remember at the time if I was appalled by the story line – I doubt it. I think today there might be issues with it being too dark or edgy (or, would it be considered a problem novel). And I also wonder if it would fly in terms of plausibility. The chick’s killing people by making them snort it (duct tape over their mouth).
Diana: Yes! That was freaky. “Say no to drugs, kids.”
Carrie: I remember that ending with him setting up a camera in his closet and AS HE’S DYING he hears the photo shutter. Of all the books, that’s what stands out in my mind because I never saw that coming and I thought it was so brilliant, because the chick would have gotten away otherwise. Now, I wonder if readers would think “Oh, they’d find the tape residue on his mouth,” because they watch so much CSI. I wonder if today you have to be hyper aware of forensics and stuff like that. I NEVER thought about those types of things when I first read the books but maybe today’s teens would.
Diana: That’s a good point. It was weird how sometimes he’d write thrillers with no paranormal elements, and sometimes they’d be supernatural. And sometimes they’d start out as thriller/mysteries and then BECOME supernatural in the sequels. Like, I loved CHAIN LETTER but then I thought the sequel kind of went off the rails.
Carrie: Oh, I forgot about that one! The best thing about CHAIN LETTER is that there were actual Chain Letters out there – I remember getting them. Not this email nonsense – real letters with stamps.
Diana: I still remember how scary that was, especially in the sequel, where the supernatural came in. How you moved your name up on the list, and then once you were at the top of the list, your name went into the box. “Once you are in the box, you stay in the box.” that line was so scary, I remember it more than a decade later.
Carrie: See what I mean about memory?
Diana: Because – spoiler warning — the box was hell.
Carrie: Maybe you didn’t like the sequels as much because it’s that initial figuring out the world that’s so interesting with him.
Diana: His worldbuilding was fascinating. It was always so Californian and had that New Age flare, too—biofeedback machines and reincarnations, etc. So different from what I was used to in Florida.
Carrie: And me in South Carolina. It sort of gave it an even more otherworldly aspect.
Diana: We two southern girls living vicariously through the liberal woo woo Californians in Pike novels!
Carrie: LOL. But I never felt like I couldn’t “get it.”
Diana: I didn’t even have cheerleaders at my high school, let alone sociopathic coke dealing ones.
Carrie: I was a cheerleader at my school – haha!!
Diana: Did you deal coke?
Carrie: No, not so much.
Diana: Did you sell cookies? That was their cover.
Carrie: I made stupid plastic cups filled with candy for the football players.
Diana: Close enough! I guess I must have read a lot of these in middle school, because had I tried in high school, I might have gone, wow, why does everyone have boyfriends in this!
Carrie: The other thing I really like about Pike is the games he plays with the narratives. It’s a question of who is telling the story and when. There are a lot where it’s the cop interrogating people later on.
Diana: Oh yeah. I loved that. The first-person narratives in REMEMBER ME, where she’s dead, and in THE LAST VAMPIRE, were very powerful. Who is telling DIE SOFTLY? Herb, right? But he dies.
Carrie: Just because someone was narrating didn’t mean they’d make it at the end, which, from an author standpoint, is fascinating. It’s also something I love about writing YA because as an adult I wonder if I’d find something like that trite because I’d seen it before? But there’s always got to be that first time and that’s the BEST feeling – when you’re reading and for the first time to realize that your narrator can die.
Diana: Do you have something to tell us, Carrie?
Carrie: About my characters dying? LOL. That’s what I love about writing for teens. It’s always new for them.
Diana: All those little narrative tricks. Unreliability, killing off the protagonist, story-within-a-story (which he does in so, so many of the books, ROAD TO NOWHERE, THE MIDNIGHT CLUB, WHISPER OF DEATH)… Pike kills off a lot of people in his books. No one was safe.
Carrie: I love how he sort of took these ordinary things we all knew – chain letters, scavenger hunts – and then made them horrific.
Diana: That’s where I always thought horror is scariest. That’s what Stephen King does so well, Dogs, cars, trucks, sink drains, cornfields….
Carrie: I learned not to pick up hitchhikers from Christopher Pike.
Diana: Ha! That was ROAD TO NOWHERE. Awesome cover. Chick with a skeleton hitchhiker in her car.
Carrie: I think reading Pike then expanded my understanding of how far authors could go. It’s exactly what you said – no one’s safe, which I think added to the thriller aspect. I mean, there’s a comfort in reading a romance where you know things are going to work out, you just don’t know how. They’re still page turners because it’s the figuring out how that’s fascinating, but with Pike… all bets were off.
Diana: And so many of his books started out with death. Just reading the descriptions people are dealing with the death of someone in the group…their murder, their suicide.
Carrie: They always are. Do you think that was a choice he made cause he was writing thriller and death is an easy thriller choice? Or do you think he was trying to deal with something more?
Diana: He wrote one from the perspective of a serial killer—Dexter before Dexter. THE WICKED HEART. I think it’s a way of saying these teens are already in danger, they’ve already seen darkness. Usually the past death is connected to whatever is going on. It’s the inciting incident, from a storytelling perspective.
Carrie: I wonder if I would have read them differently if I’d dealt with something like death as a teen. Because as a reader, I got to hold those stories out at arm’s length.
Diana: That’s a really good question. I don’t know if you see books like this for teens anymore, where they aren’t called “problem novels.”
Carrie: Me neither. It’s more common to see books that deal with suicide be more in the vein of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.
Diana: So many of the Pike characters have best friends or exes that committed suicide too, but instead of sitting in a diner listening to tapes, they are fighting the killer vampires from outer space.
Carrie: Or being haunted… literally. Hmmm, I was about to say that that’s because the books aren’t about the suicide, but aren’t they? I mean, dealing with a literal ghost of the dead person… isn’t that just a stand in for how people deal with suicide and death? He just makes it literal?
Diana: True. You could probably write an excellent comparison paper between 13 REASONS and Pike’s WHISPER OF DEATH. They are both about a teen girl suicide whose last act on Earth is to arrange a post-mortem payback for the people she blames for her death. Hannah of 13 Reasons does it with tapes. Betty Sue in Whisper does it by magically creating a parallel dimension in which she horrifically kills the people who made her suffer in life.
Carrie: Huh, that’s really interesting to think about. Just looked on the Amazon website – for Whisper of Death they have the reading level at ages 4-8… er… no
Diana: Really? That book STARTS with an abortion. And then this one guy, Helter Skelter — I’ll never forget it – is walking on this wall that turns into a razorblade and splits him in two.
Carrie: Ugh – that’s very Saw.
Diana: That book actually IS very Saw, now that I think about it. It’s very horror porn — the horrific killings. Now, people might say some of the stuff in his books was way too old for middle schoolers, which is mostly when I read it. I never even thought of it. Rape and murder and abortions and coke dealers. I read them at 11, 12, and people are saying “oh, this is 14 or 15 and up” now.
Carrie: I never thought any of it was too mature for me.
Diana: Or maybe people were saying it then too and because I was a kid, I never heard it.
Carrie: It never freaked me out – except for late at night when I needed to know how it ended.
Diana: It freaked me out, but then again, I’m a wimp. As for horrific deaths, there are some in Suzanne Collins that are just as horrific…the wasps, the mutts, etc. The more things change….
Carrie: Good point.
Diana: Pike’s books were always thrillers, and sometimes they were supernatural thrillers, which at the time was called horror. It’s like how now they call books “dark fantasy” what might have been called horror. Like your book. I’ve also seen reviews of Rampant that call it horror.
Carrie: Really? I never saw it that way.
Diana: It’s kind of how when chick lit was popular, people would try to call any sort of women’s fiction chick lit. Sometimes, with these old Pikes, you had to read the book before you knew if it was supernatural or not. That’s another thing they don’t do now. That and let books with all that death slide without being a Book About Death. Though I guess your book starts with deaths.
Carrie: True, but I don’t think of it as a problem novel.
Diana: Well, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH isn’t even set in our world. Pike’s novels were always set in OUR WORLD.
Carrie: Which made it easier for them to at once seem real and accessible, but still didn’t feel like it was going to happen to ME, which kept that horror at a distance.
Diana: You don’t think it would be more at a distance if it was set in another world? That’s what scares me about the “normal” horror – I’ve been in a rest stop bathroom, I’ve been in the house with the lights off. This could happen to me. I’ve never lived in a religious compound in the zombie-infested forest after the apocalypse.
Diana: I remember making the conscious choice to start RAMPANT like a horror movie. Babysitter, boyfriend, monster in the woods.
Carrie: I’m not sure I even saw all that but it’s true. Wow, I’m shocked I missed that.
Diana: Me too. And grumpy. There was also a lot of meta in Pike novels. Like he would have his characters go to see a movie based on another of his books, or he would have them mention his other books. For instance, the characters in FALL INTO DARKNESS were inspired by reading GIMME A KISS, and the writer in MASTER OF MURDER seemed to have written FALL INTO DARKNESS. That was another favorite, actually. MASTER OF MURDER was about a teenage bestselling horror novelist and no one knew it was him, including his crush, who was a huge fan. Such fantasy wish fulfillment for me!
Carrie: I loved reading books about people in publishing.
Diana: I wonder how many aspiring teen writers reading that book got the totally wacked out idea that they could be a secret novelist and no one but their agent would ever know their true identity. I know I suspected Pike was really some 17 year old kid when I read that particular book.
Carrie: Oh, I’m totally sure of that. I even remember another book that was basically the same idea: popular genre writer with a pen name and the book they’re talking about in the book is the book you’re reading (wait… was that too convoluted of an explanation?) I totally felt like reading Pike is what got me to not only love books, but love the idea of writing.
Diana: I actually met Pike’s longtime agent this summer at a cocktail party and I totally monopolized her telling her what an inspiration Pike was to me.
Carrie: Yeah, I remember you calling me right after that happened. I felt the same way when I met RL Stine (which is who I read after Pike). I spent most of the time around him being stunned and wanting to tell him just how much of an influence he was on me. Do you think your writing now is influenced by Pike?
Diana: I do, especially when it comes to characters making plans. Pike wrote characters who thought things out and made these elaborate schemes. You’d have chapter after chapter of the character going “Okay, this is how I’m going to fake my death/kill the alien vampires infesting my town/whatever. I’m going here and I’m getting this harness and I’m building this kind of bomb that will throw me clear…” And it was always so interesting, watching the plans come together, watching them work or fail or backfire. Nothing came easy for the Pike characters. They really had to work for it, and there were dangers and consequences of messing up.
Carrie: That is totally so true and I think that’s what I’ve taken from him – how things can just get worse and worse and you never know what the consequences could be — nothing was taken off the table (death, dismemberment, happily ever after). That’s what really kept me reading: I just never knew what would happen.
You know it’s just sort of funny to find ourselves here as critique partners, having grown up in totally different places and yet both loving Christopher Pike and both being influenced by him/taking inspiration from him. Man, I really need to go get that box of Pike books out of my dad’s attic once I’m done with this deadline.
Diana: I was in the store the other day and his reissued vampire books (THIRST) are shelved next to RAMPANT because of our last names – Peterfreund and Pike. That seemed so incredible to me. I can’t imagine someone going up to 13 year old me in the Waldenbooks clutching a copy of REMEMBER ME and saying, “One day, you’re going to be right there on the shelf next to him.” And now I am.
Carrie: OMG that is just about the coolest thing ever! To be on a shelf next to Pike – heck being on any shelf in a store at all. You’re totally right, my 13 year old self would have died (and my significantly older self still does die when I see my book near his!). Thanks Mr. Pike!
Thank you, Diana and Carrie, for the fabulous post, and trip down memory lane! You’ve both inspired me to bust out my old Pikes for a Halloween re-read (luckily, I have them with me thanks to my sister):
Some of them are pretty tattered, but readable. And I’ve had them all these years, through multiple moves…so I’m proud of my Pike collection.
How about you? Any Christopher Pike books you love? Or any YA horror favorites you care to share?