The market for a fantasy or horror novel is very broad. It can extend from the younger readers, still in their teens, to the proverbial old grannies in their cardigans sitting by the fire. However, in this day and age, a teenager is just as likely, if not more so, to be reading comics or sitting glued to the television set than enjoying a novel. How then, do you turn this potential market back to the written word?
This is something that author, Christopher Pike, has been doing in America since 1984. Pike's books are defined as 'young adult' which conjures up visions of the mass of teen-fiction in this country. Pike, however, is not quite like that. His stories, although aimed at the teen market, are often tales which stem from one basic fantastic assumption. 'I don't see myself as writing books for young adults' he explains, 'I just write books which happen to be about them. The standard young fiction market in this country, doesn't treat the readers as if they are intelligent. Most of the books are consequentially just dull.'
Pike has no illusions about his writing. He writes for himself as much as anyone else, and his only concession to the market that he has made his own is that you won't find buckets of blood or graphic sex in his novels. As with most teen-aimed fiction, the staples of young love and adolescent problems are touched upon, but Pike has the knack of knowing where to stop and the books are the better for it. 'You obviously have to include things that relate to the kids, like first love or problems at school and the like. And I deal with that, but you have to remember that the reader is intelligent and not to try too hard to write for a teenage market.'
The first two titles to be published in the UK, Spellbound and Chain Letter met with good critical acclaim, and, aided by an effective advertising campaign, got the books into the adult sections of most bookstores. In Chain Letter, Pike takes the premise of a gang of kids who accidentally knock down an anonymous man one night while they are driving. They bury him, but later a chain letter is sent to one of the gang with an instruction of a task to be performed. Slowly the demands of the letter become more and more bizarre, centering on the individual fears and phobias of the kids. To break the chain means that something bad will happen to you, but how does the mysterious 'caretaker' of the letter know so much about the kids? Indeed, who is the caretaker? Pike builds this scenario up well, and the final denouement is well handled. Spellbound is not quite as good, dealing with the fairly unlikely premise that a human can exchange bodies with an animal though projection of mental power.
Before turning to writing Pike (whose real name is Kevin McFadden - 'My middle name is Christopher and Pike was a nice short last name and the combination was just a spur of the moment thing.') was a computer programmer who also dabbled in painting. He turned to writing simply to try and satisfy a desire to tell a good story.
Soon to see publication are Last Act in November while Gimme a Kiss is scheduled for January 1990. With further books to come, as well as a large horror novel for the adult market, Christopher Pike is definitely going places, and with luck he will bring his young audience with him.