When he began his career as a suspense/horror writer a few years back, the multi-talented Christopher Knight had a mission - to do things that were completely different for the genres and create works that were unlike anything else out in the market.
Fast forward to the present, where Knight is now a renowned contributor to the field, with a growing base of young fans for his Michigan and American Chillers series. He also has adult fans who can‘t wait to snatch up copies of tautly-crafted novels like “Ferocity“ and his latest, “Season of the Witch.“
A Pontiac native who lives with his wife in Topinabee, Knight has a broadcasting background and enough cachè in the industry that he could have continued to have been a success at it for years to come. He has always loved to write though, and ultimately, the call to concentrate on it full-time was too strong to ignore.
“By 1995, I‘d written and produced thousands of radio commercials,“ said Knight. “I‘ve always loved reading and writing, and I really wanted to write something that was longer than a :30 or :60 second radio commercial. My first book was actually “The Laurentian Channel,“ although it was the third to be released. I was picked up by a publisher, but after watching my work lanquish in the doldrums for a long time, I figured I might as well publish my own work. That‘s how “St. Helena“ came about.“
BUCKING THE TIDE
The story of a haunted lighthouse on the real island of St. Helena in the Mackinac Straits, Knight released the novel as an exclusive ‘audiobook only‘ in February 1998. A three-hour epic written, performed, engineered and mastered by Knight that featured dramatic music and sound effects, it quickly caught on with a regional audience, and sold out its first run in just under three months. It also made believers out of those who told Knight that getting his work out to the public in this way was a shaky proposition at best.
“I approached some publishers with the idea of the audiobook only, and was told that it would be too expensive, and that nobody in their right mind would release an audiobook without a hardover or paperback version,“ he recollects. “ I already had the digital studio and all of the necessary elements to make an audiobook, so I went ahead and did it myself.“
The same went for marketing and promotion. Knight says his approach was to do it simply, and by doing things that weren‘t being done. With his own marketing background, he knew some of the pitfalls and potentials that existed, and also correctly assumed that very few bookstores outside of Northern Michigan would be interested in “St. Helena,“ primarily because he was a brand new and little-known author. He didn‘t let that deter him, though, and got the book placed in some non-traditional venues, like restaurants, gas stations and hotels. The strategy worked, and within a few weeks, bookstores were calling him to place orders
POUNDING THE PAVEMENT
It wouldnt be the last time Knight followed his own instincts in regards to writing or marketing his creations. Because of the strong response to “St. Helena“ as an audiobook, he decided to rework it a bit and publish it as a trade paperback in the spring of 1999. While pounding the promotional pavement in support of the novel, he found time to write “Ferocity,“ the tale of a 12-foot killer fish in Mullett Lake. He drew on his longtime love of fishing and a stint as a commercial fly-tyer for that one, and officially established one of his signature traits as a writer - incorporating Michigan landscapes and trivia into his stories.
“I love Michigan,“ says Knight. “I don‘t consider myself a real widely traveled person, just enough to know that there are some beautiful places across the U.S. But Michigan is my home. I was born here, raised here, and I‘ve always found the countryside, the people, and the places breathtaking. I know that my sound a bit over the top, but it‘s true. Plus, I think people from Michigan like reading about their state.“
Like its predecessor, “Ferocity“ was a hit. With two well-received novels to his credit, Knight embarked on a project he‘d been daydreaming about for some time - the first of a series called “Michigan Chillers.“ Aimed at young readers and set in various cities in the state, the debut novel, “‘Mayhem on Mackinac Island,“ was released in March 2000, followed closely by “Terror Stalks Traverse City.“
NOM DE PLUME
Knight had no idea how well the books would do, but felt so strongly about the project‘s potential that he was compelled to give it his best shot and write them under the pseudonym of Johnathan Rand.
“We really had no clue how well the books would be received,“ he stated. “I had approached some publishers with the idea of the Chiller, but we were basically ignored. Nobody thought that the project would work. I kept saying that if it could work for Michigan, we could do it for the whole country, but there was no interest.
“So, again, my wife and I self-published the books and hit the road. I published the books under the pen name of ‘Johnathan Rand‘ because they were so different from the adult fiction that I was writing. I didn‘t want anyone to be confused by Christopher Knight and Johnathan Rand. My adult fiction can get pretty dark, and it‘s intended for an adult market only. A pen name would allow me to keep the two separate.“
With the Chillers series well underway with new books and additional printings in the collection, the Knights quit their day jobs in November 2000 to concentrate full-time on his writing career. After the 10th Michigan Chiller, Knight did what he had planned on and what his readers encouraged him to do, which was to publish the first in the “American Chillers“ series in late 2001. His goal was to pen at least 50, one for every state, and he continues to work on the effort. The two series combined have sold more than a million copies, which is a considerable accomplishment. The only downside was that it required so much time and effort that Knight had to put his adult fiction projects on the backburner for a while, something he put an end to when he published “Bestseller“ in the summer of 2002.
He promptly went into on to his most ambitious effort to date, a collection of intertwining horror stories called “Season of the Witch“ that was named after a novellas that was the centerpiece of the book. Each story was set in Michigan and connected in some way with the next, and most all of them were the fruition of ideas Knight had been germinating for some time.
“When I get ideas for stories, I jot them down and save them,“ he said. “Often, I have the makings of what I believe would be a good story, but not enough ‘meat‘ to be an actual novel. The stories in “Season“ were the fruits of those story ideas. One of them, “Missed Appointment,“ was an idea that I had in 1999. I just didn‘t get around to writing it until the summer before last. I liked the idea of creating stories that wove together throughout a book, yet each would be able to stand alone. They‘re meant to be read in the order in which they‘re placed, but that‘s the choice of the reader.“
Knight says that the response to his latest book has been stronger than he expected, particularly since compilations of short stories or novellas don‘t sell as well as novels. However, that hasn‘t been the case with “Season of the Witch,“ which is going into its second printing about six months earlier than planned. The book also has a free CD included with it that is a short audio story Knight wrote and produced that is called “Serpent.“
“I really wanted to do something different, something that I didn‘t see on the shelves,“ explained Knight. “I mean, I‘ve got to compete with thousands and thousands of other authors and books. What can I do to make the book really unique? With my radio and voiceover background, I thought that a short audiobook, included free of charge, would help it stand out, and give the purchaser a little more for their money. We also went with an imitation leather cover. The result is a book that is quite different than most on the shelves. It‘s certainly different than any other regionally-published book.“
For the most part, fan mail for “Season of the Witch“ has confirmed that Knight has delivered a book that has struck a chord with readers, though he says that some people have seen the book‘s cover with its inverted pentagram and mistakenly assumed that hes “some kind of devil-worshipper“ He says that he deliberately put that occult symbol there because the stories in the book are dark horror, a move that has created some controversy for him.
“If you don‘t like the cover, you certainly aren‘t going to like the book,“ he offers. “There was some group in southern Michigan somewhere that I heard actually burned it along with a few other books, and they seemed quite proud of this noble deed. All in all, however, the response I‘ve received about it has been overwhelmingly positive. I‘m very gratified with the feedback I hear from readers, and glad it has been so well-received, at least regionally. I‘d like to see the book take off on a more national scale, but we haven‘t directed our marketing in that direction yet.
‘THE DEAD ONES“
Knight has several new projects in the works, including a book tentatively called “The Dead Ones,“ about a retired cop with telekinetic powers who‘s unable to control them. He has used alcohol and prescription pills to eliminate his telekinesis, but finds that he‘s going to have to use his powers to try and stop a serial killer. The problem is that he‘s deadened his senses so much, he unsure if he‘ll be able to use his powers again. Knight also has a new audio series for kids called “Creepy Campfire Chillers“‘ which is doing well, another series named “The Adventure Club,“ and more “American Chillers“ to write.
The author plans to continue work in the occult and thriller genres, working on the adult fiction he enjoys writing. He says he can‘t see himself not writing, but has to balance it with being out on the road, promoting his books and motivating young students to read and write. He says that this is the “most satisfying work“ he‘s ever done, and makes it a point to have his hand in every aspect of the creative and publishing process.
“A lot of writers dream of being picked up by a big publisher and hitting the New York Times bestseller list, but I couldn‘t care less,“ he says. “I just want our business to continue to grow. AudioCraft Publishing is 100% family-owned and operated, and to think that I could do this without my wife and relatives is laughable. We‘re a mom-and-pop shop all the way, based in northern Michigan, and we‘re going to stay that way.
“If there‘s one thing I‘ve learned, it‘s to do it yourself, and pay no attention to the giant book publishing machine. Most book publishers today are aging dinosaurs, wallowing in the tar pits of mediocrity. They haven‘t kept with the times, and, as a result, those of us with dreams and inertia are taking the matters into our own hands. If you dream of having your book published, don‘t wish for it: work for it. Roll up your sleeves and make it happen.“
Those are words spoken by a man who did exactly that, and now that he has reached some of the initial goals he‘s set for himself as an author, he says he never wants to lose sight of the one that is at the heart of his work ethic.
“I want readers to enjoy my books,“ he concluded. “We‘ve always had a standard policy that if you read one of my books and didn‘t feel you got your money‘s worth, send it back to me and I‘ll refund all of your money. It‘s that simple. I don‘t need anyone‘s money that bad. Thankfully, that‘s never happened yet. I want readers to pass along my books to others, or recommend them to friends, and I want them to look forward to the next book. A billion copies sold can‘t replace a single person who stops me and says ‘Man, I really love your books.‘“