Many years ago, I went to a high school reunion and ran into a classmate and friend, Nilda Barrett, who at the time was working at one of the BIG New York Publishers, doing something important that I don’t even understand (she has a great brain) on the international side of the company. We chatted for a bit and when she told me where she worked my eyes probably lit up like a rabid bat’s and I pounced on her like said bat, being a pre-published writer at the time. She told me that she didn’t work on editorial concerns, but I did ask her for one favor and she said she would see what she could do. I asked her if she could find out who Christopher Pike’s literary agent was.
Do you all know Christopher Pike? He is the author of about a billion YA and juvenile books, supernatural in nature, and he was huge around the same time as R. L. Stine (who has also writen about a billion books). Between the two of them, an entire generation of kids was introduced to the sort of books I would have given up chocolate for back when I was a kid. Well, not really. And I'm not jealous of those kids who had so many supernatural books to choose from. Well, maybe just a little.
Christopher Pike was HUGE at the time I ran into my friend so of course I thought, well, might as well try for the top. Now, she hadn’t made a huge promise to find his agent’s name for me, and why would she? She had a life and an amazing job. But to my huge surprise and with boatloads of gratitude, I received a message from her a few days later with the agent’s name and phone number. Holy moly! I couldn’t believe my luck. I studied the number and thought, he’s probably in New York, so I’ll call when the office is closed and leave a message. Then he can call me back, or not. I was too nervous to even consider broaching him over the phone, me a no-name, would-be writer, and he a bright light in the agenting universe.
I made my plans and made the call. And son-of-a-gun, he fricking answered the phone himself. What??? How did that happen? Probably because the area code I thought was for New York was actually for California (doh!), and instead of getting him after hours, I got him when he was just getting started with his day. YIKES.
I managed to introduce myself, explained how I got his phone number (Nilda, if you’re reading this, he was just as excited as I was that you worked for that publishing company. He was only mildly disappointed to hear that you weren’t doing editorial work) and then I was off and running. We discussed paranormal stories and YA audiences and it ended with him agreeing to look at my manuscript. Oh, my God. I was in shock. I blessed Nilda about a hundred times or more. And then I submitted.
As you probably all know, the book didn’t go anywhere. But he was a true gentleman. Instead of simply shipping the manuscript back to me with a form rejection, he actually called me to tell my why he didn’t take it. He said, and I’ll never forget, “You write very well and I like your style. Do you have any edgier stories on hand?”
Here is the bottom line of that conversation. Being an agent, he was looking for what would sell. At that time, the huge paranormal stories concerned entities like Freddie Krueger, Michael Meyers, and Jason in the hockey mask. I had submitted a pure ghost story to him. And so he couldn’t take it. The trend in paranormal stories at the time were vengeful, murderous ghosts (or worse) who liked dispatching their victims with quite a bit of gore. I don’t write like that.
The trend stayed that way until M. Night Shyamalan released “The Sixth Sense,” a critically-acclaimed box office hit that was about ghosts. Just ghosts. And then things began to shift. The kinds of stories I wrote became more marketable. And a shift that favored just-ghost stories began. I needed another eight years or so, but in 2002, Saving Jake was accepted by a publisher and so my writing had its own shift.
Funny to think of it, but paranormal/supernatural stories do have trends. Vampire stories are like the tide: their waves rise and fall but they are always there. Sometimes they get so hot we’ll see both movies (Twilight) and TV series (True Blood) running concurrently. Even after those two ended, there were still offshoots like The Strain - just ended- or The Passage and What We Do In The Shadows, currently on TV.
Werewolves are a little different. I have a buddy who LOVES werewolves, but you don’t see as many of them around as you see vampires (who apparently really never do die.)
Zombies hit hard and hot in the recent past and are still roaming around today.
And my beloved ghosts? Well, they’re faring better than they were back when I tried to get Christopher Pike’s agent to take me on. A remake of The Haunting of Hill House was a huge hit for Netflix, and my boys in Supernatural are still going strong, even though they’ve chosen to end next season. And then there are all those paranormal reality shows.
I’m grateful for the current trend that has room for every kind of ghost, ghoul, monster, and creature that can be imagined. That's how it should be. There’s room for everybody in a well-stocked library of horror.