Wednesday, August 19, 2015

YA Pioneers: Nicole Davidson

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 think that what drew me personally to YA was my love for horror movies.  Growing up, I would stay up late watching Friday the 13th marathons and renting slasher films from the video stores.  I think that when I actually read some teen thrillers and realized that they were in the same vein as the movies that I loved so much, I became obsessed.  I'd always really enjoyed reading, but I become a voracious reader with YA books, and blew through the teen sections of bookstores quickly.

YA Pioneers

Nicole Davidson was one of my favorite YA authors growing up, and certainly my favorite in the slasher genre.  One of the first books I ever picked out myself, at a B. Dalton bookstore, was her book Demon's Beach.  I was expecting some demonic possession stuff, not a straight slasher, but I was pleasantly surprised nonetheless, and after reading subsequent books by Davidson, I would look forward to anticipating new books from her.

Before beginning her writing career in teen thrillers, Nicole Davidson released a children's book under the name Kathryn Jensen, along with Steve Smallwood, called The Revenge of the Ghostosaurs in 1987.  It was a tie-in to the popular Real Ghostbusters television/movie property.

As Kathryn Jensen, she would go on to write a few books in the Charisma, Inc series, which follows undercover teen spies, and then another teen novel called Pocket Change in 1989.  Pocket Change followed a teenager who was dealing with her veteran father as he was being tormented by flashbacks of the Vietnam War, while Charisma, Inc was more in line with the sort of thrillers that she would come to write as Nicole Davidson, heavy on mystery and thrills.  She also wrote a romance novel, Select Circles, which was the fourth book in the Fortunes series, and would return to that genre later in her career.

Crash Course was the first book to be published under the name Nicole Davidson, in July of 1990, through Avon Flare.  It launched her career in teen thrillers, and would go on to be a bestseller - later books would boast this proudly on their covers.  Its success would spawn the sequel, Crash Landing, years down the road.  Crash Course was early enough to really be alongside some of the very first teen thrillers.  It was a mystery involving a group of teenagers tormented by a killer in a remote location, a premise that Davidson would run with in subsequent books, to great effect.

Nicole Davidson's novels would all be published by Avon Flare, although HarperCollins UK would publish books Fan Mail, Night Terrors and Dying To Dance in 1996 under it Nightmares line, which was the publisher's attempt to compete with other popular teen horror lines, such as Point Horror.

Most of Davidson's releases were who-done-it murder mysteries.  After Winterkill, Demon's Beach and The Stalker, she would break out of the formula a bit with Fan Mail, featuring a teen actress receiving threats from an unknown assailant, and Night Terrors, which centers around a girl facing violent, disturbing nightmares.

In 1995, Nicole Davidson released her first series of books that would follow a single protagonist - the Final Cruise trilogy.  The story follows Carol Walters, a teenager who lands her dream job - on a cruise ship.  But, of course, bedlam ensues when a guest is pushed overboard.  I remember this series being a lot heavier on romance than her other titles, perhaps a hint of where her interests would soon head.

The final book that Nicole Davidson would publish for teens would be a sequel to her bestselling first book under the Davidson name (Crash Course).  The sequel, Crash Landing, would reunite readers with the original protagonist Kelly Peterson, and Deep Creek Lake, where the events of the first book took place, bringing Davidson's career in teen thrillers full circle.

Inevitably, teen thrillers would go out of style as the scene shifted, but Nicole Davidson continued her writing career, changing her focus from YA to romance.  Returning to the author name Kathryn Jensen, she would go on to write many romance novels over the next decade, including installments for Harlequin's Silhouette Desire and Silhouette Bombshell romance series lines, as well as Silhouette Books' Loop series.

Nicole Davidson YA titles

Crash Course (1990)
Winterkill (1991)
Demon's Beach (1992)
The Stalker (1992)
Fan Mail (1993)
Surprise Party (1993)
Night Terrors (1994)
Final Kiss (Final Cruise #1) (1995)
Kiss of Death (Final Cruise #2) (1995)
Farewell Kiss (Final Cruise #3) (1995)
Dying To Dance (1996)
Crash Landing (1996)

Book Synopsis Samples:

Crash Course

As the water closed over his head, he imagined he felt a hand grasping his jacket - pushing him deeper...  He thrashed his arms and legs in the irrational hope he might break the surface, his chest tightening, burning...  Too soon, a paralyzing lightness overtook him and he gave up to the icy current as the spring below pulled him deeper...deeper.


The weekend had begun as a crash SAT prep course given by a strict teacher in a secluded cabin at Deep Creek Lake - four boys, four girls, cramming for college entrance.  It ended with a bone-chilling scream breaking the silence of the night.  For one of them, it was all over...forever.  for the rest...


Now, while their teacher goes for help, seven terrified teen wait, not knowing if a lunatic killer lurks in the darkness...or sits among them, ready to strike again.


This can't be happening.

But Karen saw it - she witnessed the moment her boyfriend Matt died.  She saw his eyes, dead and staring; saw his killer disappear into the night.

The crowd at Killington had been at a party - laughing, dancing, talking about a day on the slopes.  Now one of them is dead.  One is a killer.  And one is terrified...because she saw too much, knows too much, and cares too much to let them call it an accident.

Demon's Beach


The old lady's voice shakes with fear as she speaks, and the eyes of her car glow a savage green.  But the ominous warning goes unheeded.  The Archaeology Club from Fort Johnson High has come to the Florida Keys in search of sunken treasure and won't be scared off by the ravings of a crazy old woman.


Members of the group are behaving strangely.  Accidents are happening.  The Evil is closing in - reaching out to destroy by one.


"I'll get rid of them all," he snarls beneath his breath.  With a grim smile he lowers himself beneath the dark waves.


The Stalker


Someone put a wire around Jennifer's neck and pulled it tight.  Someone who had killed before - when the shopping mall was dark and deserted.  Someone who might kill again.  Because Jennifer didn't die.  And now she knows too much.

Jennifer is alone again in the empty mall, trying to believe she's safe now.  But a killer lurks in the shadows.  A killer who calls her by name...and waits for his chance to kill.

Surprise Party

The Stranger

He's new in town, keeps to himself.  But he has eyes that speak in a way a girl doesn't forget.  A way that draws her to him, and compels her to invite him to her party to find out who he is.

Too bad she doesn't ask questions first.  Before the party gets started.  and the deadly games begin...

Dying To Dance

Carrie loves to dance, and she has the perfect partner.  Together, they dazzle every dance contest.

Bu the competition is turning deadly...

Someone has stolen Carrie's partner.  And now she's being night, when she's alone.

There's been a mysterious break-in at the dance studio, and Carrie's costume has disappeared.  Threats have been made, vicious lies have been told...and someone lies dead.

The competition has become a dance of death....and the contest isn't over yet.

Crash Landing

She stood at the frozen edge of Deep Creek Lake, tears trickling down the hollows of her cheeks.  That night came back to her in too-vivid flashes - screams from the dark woods, the frenzied search...and the horrible realization of what had happened.  She hadn't wanted to come here ever again...

Despite the terrifying memories of a weekend of being stalked by a killer and the horror of losing a good friend to an icy death, Kelly has agreed to join the Ski Club for spring break at Deep Creek Lake.  After all, the psycho responsible for the horror of that weekend was locked up tight in a mental hospital...

But a quick glimpse of a familiar face on the slopes strikes a note of panic in Kelly's heart.  The unthinkable has become reality...and a crazed killer is plotting a sinister way to get away with murder.

The terror has returned...


I'm unsure why there are sources reporting that Crash Course was published in 1995, especially since books like Winterkill (1991) say that it's from the same author as Crash Course.  They clearly wouldn't have name-dropped that on a book cover if it wasn't already published.  There may have been a reprint that is confusing people, but I have the first edition.

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