Author and Michigan native Johnathan Rand helped kick off “March is Reading Month” with an appearance in Constantine last week. His visit was organized by the Constantine Township Library.
Rand, whose real name is Christopher Tod Wright, kept the audience of nearly 120 children and adults entertained with stories and lessons about his life as an author.
Rand, who has written over 120 books, including such series as “Michigan Chillers”, “American Chillers”, “Freddy Fernortner, Fearless First Grader” and “Dollar $tore Danny”, almost saw his career go in a totally different direction.
In first grade, Rand became enamored with the Beverly Cleary series “Henry Huggins”, going as far as writing his own “knock-off” stories about Henry. While he loved writing, he never saw himself as an author, as he had his heart set on doing something in the world of conservation, which is what he enrolled in college to study.
“What a week that was,” Rand said with a laugh when talking about his time in college. “It didn’t work out so well.”
While he had his sights set on the “conservation thing”, Rand said that he was very immature and didn’t apply any skills toward that. Instead, he spent more time partying with his new friends and that kind of got out of hand.
“I think a lot of people go that route,” Rand said of his college experience, “but they kind of calm down when they realize, ‘Hey, I am losing money here’ .”
That wasn’t the scenario for Rand, who ended up dropping out of college and taking a job at a radio station. While he didn’t have any experience in radio, Rand said he got the job because he could read and write well.
“I had never been on the radio before, and I just loved it,” Rand said. “I was making the big money, $3.35 an hour,” he added with a smile.
While working at the radio station, Rand began writing commercials, which led him to eventually start writing books and giving up his radio gig.
Whether writing commercials or books, Rand leans upon a philosophy he learned early on when he would create fishing flies for a local sporting goods store: to use the resources you have around you.
Using whatever he could find, Rand was always looking for different things that he could use to create fishing flies without having to spend his own money. A few items that he found quite useful were dog fur and the tape from his father’s 8-track tapes.
When it came to writing, he applied those same principles.
“I think what appealed to me about writing is the same thing that probably appealed to other authors: you look at what resources you have, and it’s endless, it’s limitless. The resources that you have can be overwhelming because you can write about anything,” he said.
Rand started by writing three adult novels first; then he delved into the Michigan Chiller series, which was a whole different animal for him as all the mystery and magic from his childhood came back to him.
Mayhem on Mackinac Island was the first installment of the Michigan Chiller series. Rand wasn’t sure where it would lead, but he had ideas for others. Terror Stalks Traverse City came next and, before he knew it, he was five books into the series. The first book came out in March of 2000 and eight more followed within the year.
With titles such as Poltergeists of Petoskey and Kreepy Klowns of Kalamazoo from the Michigan Chillers series and Michigan Mega-Monsters from his American Chiller series, Rand acknowledges that, while his books are described as “thrillers” and, in some cases, “horror books”, they are not the typical horror/slasher type, especially since the books are for younger readers.
“If you read my books, there are some elements of suspense, some parts that are actually scary, and some parts that are actually funny,” Rand said, “but nobody dies, the solution is not to pull out a knife or a gun or blow somebody up.”
Rand said that, while violence will always be prevalent in society, he believes that kind of horror is often used as a crutch, and using violence to solve a problem isn’t always the best answer or way to resolve a situation.
When Rand sits down to write a book, he picks out a title and setting first. If it interests him, he will move forward with the book.
From there, Rand creates an outline, or map, of the book. He will begin to flesh out the characters, plot, theme and architecture of the story.
However, before he gets too deep into the story, Rand will get an idea of how he wants the story to conclude.
“It is important to have some fun brainstorming to come up with your characters, your main theme, start to grow a little bit of your plot,” Rand said, “but somewhere before you even begin writing your outline and certainly before you start writing your story, jump to the end and figure out how you want that story to end.”
Rand, who also teaches writing workshops, cautions readers to know where you want to end up before you start, much like taking a trip. “You may not know how you will get there,” Rand said, “but you usually have a good idea where you want to end up.”
When you have an end in mind, then you put the pieces into place.
“Once you start creating your outline, then all of your energies and all of your focus and your imagination start narrowing to that one destination,” Rand said.
Rand spends a few days on the outline of his story and another 7-10 days writing the book. Once that is complete, he will spend about three to four weeks editing and revising before he sends it off for further editing.
When parents started to ask Rand if he planned to create any stories for younger children, he pulled from an idea that he had years earlier. While having dinner with his wife at Logan’s Steakhouse in Sterling Heights, Freddie Fernornter, Fearless First Grader, was born.
“I wrote the outline on a napkin,” Rand said. “I unfolded the little bar napkin and wrote the whole outline on it. That was the basis, the beginning, of the flying bicycle.”
As for “Dollar $tore Danny”, Rand said that whenever he is in a Dollar Store or a department store, he is always looking at things and using his imagination.
“I see something, and I guess that is still that kid in me, where I will look at it and say “Oh, that looks like a rocket ship,” Rand said. “I guess I never lost that. I look at things and I think, what could that be?”
A good example of that can be found in Dollar $tore Danny and the Salt Shaker Spaceship.
“To me, every time I see a salt shaker, since I was a little kid, I have always thought of them as a little spaceship,” Rand said. “I don’t know if that is an Apollo holdover from the moon landing or what, but Danny is a kid with an overactive imagination in a dollar store. It is probably me, at some point, or all of me.”
Rand loves taking time to visit schools, host workshops and meet fans because he loves seeing kids reading and seeing the excitement on their faces.
“By the end of my program, I want the kids to know that if you can read well and you can write well, you can do anything,” Rand said. “It is the basis for anything. I am fully aware that some kids might not be interested in my books, but the point is that, if you walk into your school library, and you look at all those books, there is something on those shelves that will appeal to you, and if you haven’t found it yet, you will.”
Of course, there are those children who just aren’t into reading and writing, and that is fine, according to Rand. But he hopes that the seed might be planted by enjoying his presentation and hearing what he has to say.
“They might not like reading at all, but leave thinking, “Hey, that guy was pretty cool,” Rand said. “If I can do that, then I think I have changed their perception of what a book is and what an author is and maybe that is the first step for them to reach onto that shelf, and not necessarily pick up my book, but pick up a book and see where it takes them.”
Fans of Rand may visit his store, Chillermania, in Indian River, Michigan, or visit his website at www.americanchillers.com.
By: Mark C. McGlothlen