YA Pioneers: Carol Ellis

YA may have blown up over the past decade, but it used to be a small section of bookstores.  In the early nineties, it consisted mostly of "teen thrillers," which mostly featured dark mysteries and serial killers, although there was some supernatural fare as well.  The authors of those days were ahead of their time and built an audience in teenagers, and paved the way for the YA that is beloved by so many today. 

I devoured thousands of these books as a teenager, and I recall those early days fondly, when I fell in love with reading.  I wasn't the most popular kid growing up, and I turned to YA books and comic books for solace, to escape reality.  It has since shaped my life, as I have become a writer of YA and am still addicted to the medium.

YA Pioneers

Carol Ellis is a pretty prolific author.  Before delving into the world of teen thrillers, she was already established, with several books under her belt for the Scholastic series Cheerleaders, which is apparently where many writers that would go on to make their mark with thrillers got their start, including Christopher Pike, Diane Hoh and Caroline B. Cooney.  They were very much in the vein of Sweet Valley High, following a group of cheerleaders in high school and their daily drama.  Before Cheerleaders, she also wrote books for the romance series Two by Two, Heart To Heart and Caprice.  As far as I can tell, the first book that she published was Small Town Summer (Caprice #2) from Tempo Bookstore in January of 1982.

Carol Ellis Cheerleaders titles

Looking Good (Cheerleaders #18) (1986)
Going Strong (Cheerleaders Special Edition #24) (1986)
Showing Off (Cheerleaders #31) (1987)
Fighting Back (Cheerleaders #42) (1988)

Aside from Cheerleaders and various romance volumes, Carol Ellis also wrote books for young readers, such as A Cry In the Night (1990), There's a Troll In My Closet (1994) and its sequels, as well as Vampire Cats (1996) (the first of two books in her Fangs series). She would also go on to write volumes for various series such as Goosebump Presents, which were adaptations of episodes from the popular television series, Sweet 16, Turning Points, and various Full House-inspired books, including The New Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley, which were Nancy Drew-ish mysteries.

Carol Ellis really hit the teen scene as part of Scholastic's Point Horror series, a line specifically created to cater to young adult horror.  Point Horror contributed a great number of titles to the ever-growing teen category for over a decade, when teen thrillers were really booming.  Point Horror is notable for publishing one of R.L. Stine's first novels (Blind Date), launching quite a career for the celebrated YA author.  Scholastic was obviously very happy with Carol Ellis' track record for them, as My Secret Admirer would become the fourth book published under the imprint, and the first book to pave the way for her career as a household name for teen thrillers.

Ellis would continue to publish books through the Point Horror series for years to come, and apparently sales for Ellis' books were fairly significant, as the first two books released from her through Point Horror, My Secret Admirer and The Window, came to a combined total of 275,000 copies sold, a point made to raise interest in her third teen horror release for Scholastic, The Stepdaughter.  Ellis would continue to release books through Point Horror in the following years, as well as contributing a short story, The Doll, to the horror anthology Thirteen: 13 Tales of Horror, alongside many of her peers, such as Diane Hoh, Sinclair Smith and R.L. Stine.  She would publish seven books through Point Horror in all, including The Body, which I recall seeing advertisements for well in advance, as a highly-anticipated release.

In 1995, Carol Ellis would help Random House launch a new series of teen thrillers - Zodiac Chillers.  She wrote the first three books in the series, while other authors, such as Ellen Steiber and Vicki Kamida, continued it with other stories.  Each book in the series focused on a different sign of the zodiac, and I remember that there was some sort of a giveaway for an "astro-pendant" to help raise interest (I totally got one).  In Leo's Lair remains one of the most memorable books that I've read from Carol Ellis, particularly a certain deus ex machina moment at the climax.  Sadly, the series petered out after just six book releases, with subsequent announced titles never seeing the light of day.

In the early 2000's, following 1999's indie hit horror film The Blair Witch Project, Bantam launched a YA series based around the movie.  Eight books would be released by various authors, beginning with The Witch's Daughter, written by Carol Ellis.  The series followed the cousin of the female protagonist from The Blair Witch Project film (Heather Donahue) - a girl named Cade Merill, who investigates supernatural occurrences possibly relating to the Blair Witch, in an effort to uncover what happened to her cousin.  Carol Ellis would go on to write one more book for the series, the seventh installment, The Night Shifters.

The teen market would evolve over the next decade, with teen thrillers falling out of favor for a more diverse offering of titles for young adults, and Carol Ellis would continue to pen books for young readers during this period, but her reign as a heavy-hitter in YA had come to an end.  She left quite a legacy in her wake, however, and helped to gain momentum for books aimed at teenagers, and its inevitable explosion in popularity.

Carol Ellis YA titles

My Secret Admirer (1989)
The Window (1992)
The Stepdaughter (1993)
Silent Witness (1994)
Camp Fear (1994)
The Body (1995)
Rage of Aquarius (Zodiac Chillers #1) (1995)
The Scorpio Society (Zodiac Chillers #2) (1995)
In Leo's Lair (Zodiac Chillers #3) (1995)
The Stalker (1996)
The Witch's Daughter (The Blair Witch Files #1) (2000)
The Night Shifters (The Blair Witch Files #7) (2001)

Book synopsis samples:

The Body

No one knows what really happened the night Lisa Randolph fell off the cliff. And it seems that no one ever will - for the accident has left her paralyzed and mute.

Then Melanie is hired to read to Lisa. And soon she realizes Lisa is desperately trying to tell her something, something too deadly for words...

If Melanie doesn't piece the clues together before it's too late, Lisa's gruesome secret could stay buried...
for ever...

Camp Fear

Almost everyone at Camp Silverlake is afraid of something: creepy crawlies, snakes, swimming in the lake. But there is a much deeper, darker fear shared by some of the counselors… the fear that one terrible secret they share will be discovered.

For seven years they’ve kept it hidden – ever since the summer when they were campers themselves.

The summer one camper didn’t make it home alive…

Now someone is using their secret – and their fears – to play a terrifying game of vengeance.

A game that could turn deadly.

In Leo's Lair (Zodiac Chillers #3)

No One Can Hear Their Screams... Nina and Jess... Sworn blood sisters - separated by a psycho. One girl is his prisoner. But one isn't enough, so he lures the other to his lair. Nina and Jess...Gemini twins - in the clutches of a Leo. Now he's got them trapped together, and Leo's roaring mad...

My Secret Admirer

Jenny is new in town. Her parents go away, leaving her all alone in an isolated house. The mountains surrounding the town loom ominously, guarding the secret of what really happened the day of Diana Benson's accident. Then the phone calls start...

Jenny has a secret admirer, who courts her with sweet messages and flowers. But she also has an enemy, who chases her on a lonely road. Does she know too much about the 'accident' on the cliffs? and is there anyone she can trust?

Jenny has no one to turn to.

Except her secret admirer...

But who is he?

The Night Shifters (The Blair Witch Files #7)

Cade Merrill’s search for the truth about the Blair Witch often leaves him with as many questions as answers. But when he receives an e-mail from a psychic who can communicate with the spirit of the Blair Witch, he wonders if it’s too good to be true.

Will this faceless stranger help Cade finally unlock the secrets of the Blair legend? Or is he being led into a deadly trap?

Silent Witness

After her friend Allen dies, his mother gives Lucy Monroe some of his belongings, including a videotape that contains evidence of a crime--evidence someone will do anything to destroy.

The Window

It should have been the skiing holiday of a lifetime. But Jody sprains her ankle and finds herself alone with nothing to do but gaze out of her cabin window.

Gazing into the cabin of a beautiful neighbor she witnesses the fight, the murder and the killer...or does she?

And if the murder is real, has the killer been watching Jody?


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