PIKE here. Finally I can explain the ideas behind a few of my books. Why I wrote certain stories; how I wrote them; what I like about them; what I don’t like about them. But before I start I just want to thank all of you for your extremely kind reviews of Witch World. Reading them each day has hastened my recovery, I’m not kidding. I love the book so much, I worked so hard on it but… You never know until it’s out there if other people are going to feel the same way. But once again, please post your reviews on Amazon — you can post there if you have bought something from them in the past — and Goodreads and any other place you can think of. Ryan has a list of review spots. Frankly, I’m a little behind the times in that area. But customer reviews do sell books so if it is not too much trouble…
Now, to business, to the fun stuff. I should get out one of my titles and check which order I wrote all my books in. I have a general idea, of course, but that’s all. However, I know WHERE I was when I wrote each book.
SLUMBER PARTY: The first book I sold, obviously. As I mentioned in my last post, at first I was trying to write story that could sell to a new YA supernatural series. So at first the story had a supernatural aspect. The burning of the two girls was originally caused by pyrokinesis — the ability to start fires with the mind. The original plot was actually more complex. The young girl — Alice? I can’t recall the names of most of my characters, there are so many — was the one with the ability and it would occasionally flare up when she got upset. But she didn’t know she had the power, not consciously, although her older sister did. Of course her older sister had long ago been a victim of the power, although it had been my hero’s fault the young girl had accidentally used it. As you can see, when Jean Fiewell moved to Scholastic and asked me to show her the whole book, minus the supernatural element, I had to do a ton of fresh plotting. Yet I think it turned out well. Slumber Party is short and simple but I think it works.
I wrote it in my parent’s house. In my old bedroom.
WEEKEND: Immediately after buying Slumber Party, Jean asked for another book and I sat down to try and top what I’d just written. Once again I tried to isolate my characters. That was playing it safe. I was not sure how to scare people who were not isolated. So I set up another weekend away from the parents. Jean believed strongly that adults should not play a major role in YA books. At the time she was probably right, but later I tried to move away from that rule. Anyway, I had a friend from high school named Candice who was on dialysis and who was also blind. I can’t recall what triggered her condition but we became better friends ten years after high school, and it was she who inspired me to use the idea of having a main character with failed kidneys. Like the character in Weekend, Candice was hoping for a transplant but sadly she died before she could get one.
I was excited when I came up with the idea of having a long lost brother show up to rescue the sick girl, but what I really liked best about the book was the characters. Sol, Shani, Park — I loved writing their dialogue scenes. It’s interesting that the characters in Weekend are more developed than in my next book, Chain Letter. But I was never happy with the snake scene at the end, and wanted to fix it. My agent and editor loved it, however, so I let it go. You tell me if you think it worked.
I wrote it in my parent’s house.
CHAIN LETTER: In this book I learned how to isolate people psychologically. The gang is surrounded by their family and friends but no one outside their small circle can help them because they can’t reveal their secret. Of course hitting someone and fleeing from the scene of the accident is an old idea. What made the book work is how the chain letter forced the characters to do things that embarrassed them. To be humiliated, as a teenager, can be the worst thing in the world. Yet the tasks the Caretaker demanded — at least in the first round — were not that difficult, not if you were an adult. But the kids understood the book, better than any adult, and it scared them. The only problem I had with Chain Letter was I could have developed the two main characters more. I editor told the editor, when we were going through the editing stage, that I needed to add a few scenes to give us a better idea of who these people were. The editor said no — don’t slow down the pace. She might have been right, the book is a page turner. Back in the days when the average YA sold 10K-20K, if you were lucky, Chain Letter quickly blew past a million copies.
Why did I write a sequel? I was offered a lot of money, and I wanted to keep my publisher happy. That’s the same reason I wrote two sequels to Remember Me. Obviously neither of those books were meant to have sequels. But I’m not ashamed of Chain Letter II. I knew when I started it I couldn’t repeat the first book. That’s why I added the supernatural element. I thought the book was pretty scary. “Once you are in the box you stay in the box.” But because of my situation at the time, I was forced to write the book in less than a month. I regret I didn’t spend more time on it. I would have made it longer — I had many more scenes with the demon girl and our two heroes in my head. Did the sequel feel rushed to you guys?
I wrote it in my parent’s house.
LAST ACT: A dream inspired this book. I saw a girl on stage in a play shoot another girl and the girl who got shot was really dead. Last Act and Witch World are the only two books of mine that came from dreams. I worked long and hard on Last Act. It was the first book Simon & Schuster bought, and after that they became my publishing home. I’m proud of the book — I think it’s a technically perfect murder mystery. And I like how Melanie was a normal girl. There’s nothing I would change about it.
Except…While I was doing the final edits on the novel I woke up at night and realized I had a significant logic error in the story. I was not half asleep — I was fully awake and I knew what the mistake was. No problem, I thought. I’ll fix it in the morning. But in the morning I couldn’t recall what was wrong with the plot. To this day I don’t know what I did wrong. But if you spot it…
I wrote the book in a one bedroom apartment in La Habra, which is next to Whittier, where my parents lived and where I grew up. I wrote eight books in that tiny place. I was lucky, I could walk to my parent’s house every evening and eat my mom’s cooking. Now that I was published, my mom always wanted to know what I was working on. She became a fan. My father, of course, just wanted to know how much money I was making. But my dad was great, the best.
SPELLBOUND: This was the first book I wrote on a computer, the first book I typed. I was stunned when I was able to write it in six weeks, after Last Act had taken months. The magic of word processors — I was able to rewrite my paragraphs as I wrote them so when I finished the first draft I was basically done with the book. S&S bought it the same time as Last Act. It was just re-released and I just reread it, something I never do with my books. I was proud that young version of me wrote it. I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.
GIMME A KISS: I liked the start of this book but not the finish. I felt it was too rushed. Also, I was never sure if the main idea worked — that the villain could be so stupid as to think…Well, I won’t say it. But if you’ve read it you know what I’m talking about.
Fall Into Darkness was in many ways a rewrite of Gimme A Kiss. If you study the plots you can see how they overlap. Also, I had the lawyer in Fall Into Darkness mention Gimme A Kiss in court — indirectly. I think I was trying to send you guys a message.
FINAL FRIENDS: I was excited when I started this trilogy. I have always loved “locked door” murder mysteries. I’m a huge mystery reader and hope to write more straight mysteries in the future. But I was also nervous when I agreed to write the trilogy. I worried if I could keep the readers interested for so many pages. The solution, I decided, was that I had to improve the complexity of my characters. Thus were born Michael Olson and Jessica Hart.Jessica was my first character to get away from me. I wanted her to be a nice girl. I planned for her to be a sweetheart. But she kept acting like a bitch. I was stunned when she talked about Claire’s abortion in that crowded gym. I had no control over her. Then when Michael showed how much buried anger he carried around at the end of the first book — when he screamed at Jessica — I thought, who are these people? I don’t know them but they sure are alive.
That’s what pleased me most about the trilogy. And it has one of my favorite scenes I ever wrote in the third book. At the end when Michael goes to Jessica’s room to have her sign his yearbook. I absolutely love that scene. I love how tense he was, I love what she wrote. For me, the entire trilogy was worth writing just to be able to write that scene.
I often think of writing a, “Ten year high school reunion” sequel to Final Friends. I started it once, and it was going well. But the file was accidentally destroyed when I was out of the country. Oh well, maybe one day we can revisit Michael and Jessica. But I can tell you this much — they were already married and divorced when the sequel started. But still very much in love… It’s could make for an interesting story.
REMEMBER ME: For me, Remember Me was a gigantic leap. I knew when I was writing it that it was special and when I finished it — I was high as a kite for weeks. I knew I had finally written something beyond me — a book that would last forever. When Pat MacDonald, my editor at S&S read it, I remember her reaction. She was so moved she was crying. She had just lost her mother so it had a personal meaning to her. But over the years thousands, tens of thousands of people, have written to tell me how much it meant to them. Remember Me was the first book I TOTALLY did not feel I wrote. First, I had never written in first person before. I didn’t know how. Second, I had no idea what was going to happen next, when in all my other books I knew where I was headed. Finally, when I wrote the last line, when Shari says she wanted people to remember her, someone or something tapped me on my right shoulder. I swear this happened. It was like a person was done telling me their story and they were moving on. Like they were saying goodbye and thanks.
SCAVENGER HUNT: This book was inspired by two high school students coming into a record store and searching for a hidden object. They were on a scavenger hunt. This was the same record store where a girl named Becky worked — the same girl who inspired See You later. I had such a ridiculous crush on Becky, and damn if she didn’t have a boyfriend. I remember how pathetic I acted around her the moment I met her. I said, “Hi, my name’s Kevin, Christopher Pike. I’m a famous writer.” She never let me live down that remark.
Back To the book. I like the first half, especially how it started, but I was never satisfied with the end. I know many people love it. The book sold like crazy. I think the title helped. But after the high of Remember Me, I felt like I had taken a step backward. If I wrote the book now it would be ten times better. Let me know your thoughts.
SEE YOU LATER: Yes, this book was inspired by Becky in the record store. Hell, I wrote it to impress her so she would go out with me. Eventually she did, years later, after she broke up with her boyfriend. But by then I had moved from LA to Santa Barbara and I didn’t see her much. It was a curious relationship. I adored her but somehow we drifted apart. Then, one night, my answering machine clicked on and it was her. But I didn’t pick up, I don’t know why. She left a shaky message saying that she was getting married. It was not cruel of her — I had not seen her in a while. But it was still a shock.
The reason I talk so much about Becky is because See You Later is obviously about soulmates. Whether we believe in them or not I think we’re all looking for that perfect person we’re supposed to be with. See You Later was my first effort at a cosmic love story. The Starlight Crystal was my second. Witch World is my third effort, especially when it comes to the sequel.
See You Later does not work as a tight well plotted book. The plot line is rather weak in places, just like The Starlight Crystal. But the book still has magic. It works because it creates a profound feeling. I felt for the main character. I wanted him to find love, I wanted him to be happy. Maybe I identified with him too much, I don’t know. The ending of the action is weak. But I feel the last few pages were beautiful. That’s mostly what I remember about the book, and the line, “It began with a smile…”
FALL INTO DARKNESS: As I said, it was a reworking of Gimme A Kiss. I was trying to write a murder mystery and I think it worked. It’s another title I’m proud of. But the Movie of the Week that was made out of it — I hated it. It was my first introduction to Hollywood. What a learning experience! The production company was independent but made many movies for the networks. They swore to me when I sold them the rights they would stick to the plot. When I saw an early draft, I flew into a rage. There were no court scenes! A third of the book takes place in court. That’s what made the story work — the switching back and forth from the night of the murder to the day of the trial. Foolish me, I immediately stormed down to LA with my lawyer to scream at them. They promised to rework the script and swore I’d get to go over it with them when they had another draft. Two months later I heard they were shooting the film. They never called until after the film was on TV and was a hit. They wanted to option Chain Letter. You can imagine what I told them.
I took time on Fall Into Darkness and crafted it carefully. Looking back, I would have made the court scenes more realistic but otherwise I’m happy with the book.
Oh, I did speak to Johnathan Brandis. He starred in the film with Tatyana Ali, his girlfriend. In the 90’s Johnathan was perhaps the biggest teen heartthrob in the world. He starred in Spielberg’s Seaquest and his picture was on every magazine. When we spoke, he was extremely kind. He told me how much he loved my book and how he wished the producers had stayed with the original story. He just seemed like such a nice guy. I found out later he was that way to everyone. He had a great soul. Unfortunately, if Hollywood is often unkind to writers it can be downright cruel to actors. He stopped getting roles and in a bad moment, in 2004, he hung himself. I remember reading about his death online and marveling how few people seemed to notice that he was gone. I found this site you might want to take a look at — http://popspiracy.blogspot.com/2009/08/short-life-and-tragic-death-of-jonathan.html
. It’s moving to hear what this young woman had to say about him. I wish I’d known him better. He talked about his writing. He was serious about it. He wanted to direct as well. He was a talented guy.
BURY ME DEEP: Atilla The Hun was supposed to have said, “Bury me deep,” when he was struck down. I thought it was a cool title for a ghost story. I think it’s obvious from reading the book that I have scuba dived off Maui. I love Maui, I love all the Hawaiian islands, and I wanted to see if it was possible to tell a ghost story in a sunny modern hotel rather than in a dark and stormy castle. Bury Me Deep was another big seller. It got on the New York Times list. But I was never happy with the book. Once again, I felt the ending was weak. To me the book had no mood, no deeper power. It’s a quick read, sure, but I don’t think it touched anyone.
Let me know your thoughts.
I’ll discuss some of my other books later. For now, once again, I want to thank everyone who has helped me through this rough patch. Your letters have made a bad time bearable. No, more — in a way I feel like I’ve found a family of friends I never knew existed. I shouldn’t have stayed hidden away all these years.