16 Facts About Christopher Pike's Books
In the ‘90s, it felt like every teenager had their nose buried in a Christopher Pike novel. That might not have been far from reality: In his three-decade career, the author has sold millions of books, with plots ranging from teens framing friends for their deaths to teens traveling through time to teens who were actually ... dinosaur people?! Read on to find out behind-the-scenes stories about, and the inspirations for, some of Pike’s most popular books. (The author doesn't do many interviews, so many of these revelations come directly from writings on his official Facebook page.)
1. PIKE GOT “TONS OF REJECTION LETTERS” BEFORE SELLING SLUMBER PARTY.
Before he was a YA horror author, Pike—who had wanted to be a writer since high school—was painting houses and doing computer programming. He tried his hand at sci-fi and mystery without much luck. Initially, he tried to sell a book called The Starlight Crystal (unrelated to his later novel) that he claimed “was a mess,” recalling that he’d sometimes glue pages of his manuscript together to see whether anyone actually looked at it and would have the book returned in the same state. Then he tried selling a book called Seasons of Passage with similar results.
“I got tons of rejection [letters] for six years before I got an offer on one of my books, Slumber Party,” the author wrote on his Facebook page. “That was an exciting day.” Slumber Party was published in 1985; Pike’s second book, Weekend, came out the next year.
2. THE BOOKS ARE WRITTEN UNDER A PSEUDONYM.
Pike’s real name is Kevin Christopher McFadden; he took his pseudonym from a Star Trek character. “When Slumber Party was about to be published, they asked if I wanted to use a pen name. I blurted out Christopher Pike on the spur of the moment,” the author recalled. “I liked having a short last name—easy to remember for future fans. I had no idea that Star Trek would still be around years later and that the character of Christopher Pike would be brought back” in J.J. Abrams's 2009 and 2013 films.
3. THE FIRST PERSON TO PUBLISH PIKE’S BOOKS WAS ALSO BEHIND THE BABY-SITTER’S CLUB.
Pike's road to publishing his first book was convoluted. On Facebook, he recalled going to a writer’s conference where he met an agent named Ashley Grayson. "He was just starting out as an agent; he was willing to read The Starlight Crystal," Pike wrote. "Ashley felt Starlight was a mess but he thought I had talent." Eventually, Grayson called Pike with an interesting opportunity: Write two chapters for a “line of teen books that dealt with the supernatural.” The chapters were ultimately rejected; "the editor in charge of the series thought my book was too good for his series," Pike wrote. Grayson then sold the chapters to Jean Feiwel at Avon, who soon left for Scholastic to head up the publisher's preteen and YA divisions. Avon lost interest in the book, but Grayson, undeterred, took it to Feiwel at her new job. She commissioned a whole novel, which she named Slumber Party.
4. SLUMBER PARTY ORIGINALLY HAD A SUPERNATURAL ELEMENT.
“At first I was trying to write [a] story that could sell to a new YA supernatural series. So at first the story had a supernatural aspect,” Pike wrote on his Facebook page. The plot was initially much more complex: “The burning of the two girls was originally caused by pyrokinesis—the ability to start fires with the mind,” he said. “The young girl ... 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.”
Feiwel asked to see the book without the supernatural elements, and Pike had to do “a ton of fresh plotting. Yet I think it turned out well.” In the published book, a group of teenagers on a ski weekend discover that one of them might be responsible for a fire that, years earlier, had disfigured one of the girls and killed her sister. “Slumber Party is short and simple but I think it works,” Pike said. “I wrote it in my parents’ house. In my old bedroom.”
5. ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IN WEEKEND WAS INSPIRED BY AN OLD FRIEND.
For his second book—which he originally called Sweet Hemlock and was also written in his parents’ house—Pike found inspiration in a high school friend named Candice who was blind and on dialysis. “I can’t recall what triggered her condition but we became better friends 10 years after high school, and it was she who inspired me to use the idea of having a main character with failed kidneys,” he wrote. “Like the character in Weekend, Candice was hoping for a transplant but sadly she died before she could get one.”
6. HE WROTE THE SEQUEL TO CHAIN LETTER IN LESS THAN A MONTH.
In Chain Letter, a group of teens who committed a crime begin receiving letters from a mysterious person called the Caretaker who is determined to make them pay for what they did. Pike wrote that “I learned how to isolate people psychologically” in the book. “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. ... 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.”
When it came time to pen the sequel—which Pike wrote because he was “offered a lot of money, and I wanted to keep my publisher happy”—the author knew he couldn’t do the same thing as the first book, so he added a supernatural element to the game. “But because of my situation at the time, I was forced to write the book in less than a month,” he said. “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.”
7. FALL INTO DARKNESS WAS BASICALLY A DO-OVER OF ONE OF HIS PREVIOUS BOOKS ...
There was a lot that Pike didn’t like about 1988’s Gimme A Kiss. The ending, in particular, he felt “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,” he wrote. “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.” Pike noted that “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.”
8. … AND IT WAS MADE INTO A MOVIE.
In Fall Into Darkness, Sharon is on trial for killing her friend Ann. But as it turns out, Ann faked her death and framed Sharon. Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel sums up the plot:
“[A]s we learn in whiplash-inducing flashbacks interspersed between courtroom scenes, Ann deliberately faked her own death on a mountaintop campout, to punish Sharon for supposedly driving her beloved younger brother Jerry to suicide. But! As Ann learns when her scheme goes horribly awry and she's left stumbling around a national park in the dark, it wasn't really her idea at all. In fact she's been manipulated by her gardener/classmate/childhood friend/total sociopath Chad into the plan. Chad killed Jerry, it turns out! Because Chad knows he and Ann are meant to be—if only she hadn't gotten engaged to Chad's brother, Paul. And then, when she tries to escape, Chad kills Ann! And THEN he tries to kill Sharon, after she escapes the murder charges, finds Ann's body and realizes what he's done.
“It's a glorious sh*t show and I cannot believe kids were reading these books.”
Fall Into Darkness was adapted into a TV movie starring Tatyana Ali and Jonathan Brandis in 1996, and Pike was not a fan. “I hated it,” he wrote. “It was my first introduction to Hollywood. What a learning experience! The production company ... 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.”
9. THE MIDNIGHT CLUB WAS INSPIRED BY A FAN.
“Midnight Club was written because a young woman who was dying in a hospital in the Midwest told me about a club they had at the hospital called The Midnight Club,” Pike explained. “They would meet at midnight to discuss my books. She asked me to write about them. I said I would but I couldn’t have them discussing my books. The idea grew from there. Unfortunately, none of them were alive when I finished the book.”
10. SOMETHING SPOOKY HAPPENED WHEN HE FINISHED REMEMBER ME.
“For me, Remember Me was a gigantic leap,” Pike wrote. “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.” The author said that it didn’t even feel like he wrote it; it was his first time writing in the first person, and he also had no idea what was going to happen next, “when in all my other books I knew where I was headed.”
Pike recalled that when he penned the book’s final words, “I want people to remember me,” things got spooky: “Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Goodbye, we’ll meet some day.’ This absolutely happened. I jumped so high I almost hit my head on the ceiling.” He felt that “it was like a person was done telling me their story and they were moving on. Like they were saying goodbye and thanks.”
The book resonated. Pike recalled that his editor at the time, who had just lost her mother, was so moved by the book that she cried. She wasn’t the only one: “Over the years thousands, tens of thousands, of people have written to tell me how much it meant to them.”
11. SEE YOU LATER WAS INSPIRED BY A CRUSH.
Scavenger Hunt (you know, the book where the kids are actually dinosaur people) was inspired by two high school students on a scavenger hunt who came into the record store where Becky, his crush, worked. “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,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Hi, my name’s Kevin, Christopher Pike. I’m a famous writer.’ She never let me live down that remark.” Becky inspired Pike’s next book, See You Later, which the author said he wrote “to impress her so she would go out with me.” (Eventually, after she’d broken up with her boyfriend, they did date, but their relationship didn’t last.) “See You Later is obviously about soulmates,” Pike wrote. “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 does not work as a tight well plotted book. The plot line is rather weak in places ... 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 …’”
12. THE TITLE OF ONE BOOK WAS INSPIRED BY A HISTORICAL FIGURE.
“[Attila] 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,” Pike wrote. “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.”
13. HE STARTED ON A FOURTH BOOK IN THE FINAL FRIENDS SERIES—BUT DISASTER STRUCK.
The sequel would have taken place at the characters’ 10 year high school reunion. “It was going well. But the file was accidentally destroyed when I was out of the country,” Pike wrote. “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] could make for an interesting story.”
14. MANY OF THE ICONIC COVERS WERE CREATED BY BRIAN KOTZKY.
He also drew the Apartment 3-G comic for a while—the strip was initially drawn by his father—and more than 100 covers of The Hardy Boys Casefiles.
15. YOU MIGHT NOTICE THE NAME ANN IN A LOT OF PIKE’S BOOKS.
It’s probably because his little sister is named Ann. “She is very dear to me,” he wrote on Facebook.
16. A COLUMNIST CALLED THE FINAL FRIEND TRILOGY “SORT OF A HOMICIDAL VERSION OF BEVERLY HILLS 90210.”
The piece, titled “Nameless Fear Stalks the Middle-Class Teen-Ager: Perhaps It Is the Fear of Boredom” and published in The New York Times in 1993, wasn’t kind. Writer Ken Tucker wrote that Fear Street series author R.L. Stine and Pike were “the Beavis and Butt-head of horror, reducing the fright fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to a succession of helpless girls, vulgar pranks and sniggering scares. ... Most of these books seem to be textbook examples of how not to tell a story.”
Tucker wasn’t enamored with the authors’ writing style, either: “Indeed, maybe the grisliest horror in these books is their prose,” he wrote. “As a stylist, Mr. Pike makes Stephen King read like Vladimir Nabokov. The Immortal features one character with ‘balding gray hair.’ Another ‘seemed to be scholarly in a way with alert green eyes and messy brown hair that the sun was swiftly turning the color of the sand.’”
Tucker’s thoughts didn’t seem to matter to readers, however: Pike’s books were frequently bestsellers. He continues to publish in a number of genres today. “I’m working on WAY too many books,” he wrote on his Facebook page in May. “I have so many stories half formed on my computer—I wish I had a few bodies to write with.”