ICC professor pens first horror novel
As a youth, Joe Chianakas recalls reading R.L. Stein books and then writing his own stories on notecards. He also remembers watching horror movies with his mom, Teresa, also a fan of the genre.
Growing up, Chianakas’ passion for horror movies grew, as did his desire to write a novel.
Chianakas, 36, an assistant communications professor at Illinois Central College, recently finished his first novel, titled “Rabbit in Red.”
“It’s just one of those hobbies. It’s always been on the bucket list,” Chianakas said. “It’s like, ‘One day I’m going to write a book,’ and I kind of had that attitude since I was a kid.”
In college, Chianakas took creative writing and even joined some writing clubs. He tried writing novels in the past, but never saw them through.
Chianakas, a former teacher at Metamora Township High School, said he always tells his students to set goals for themselves. Now, he has pushed himself to achieve his goal to get his novel completed.
“Last summer, when I was writing this particular story, I had more fun doing that than I ever had before, and I thought, ‘If I’m having this much fun, I hope someone else would feel the same if they read it,’” he said.
The path to publishing was not easy. Chianakas said he began pitching his story in August 2014 to several agents and publishers.
“It went through several revisions, several edits,” he said, adding he had to cut the first four chapters.
Persistence paid off and Chianakas got a contract in February with an independent publishing company called Distinguished Press in Champaign.
Getting an agent is only half the process, Chianakas said.
“The challenge, of course, it’s like any job. The publishers like Random House, they want someone with experience who they are going to be able to sell,” he said.
Chianakas is gathering experience with the publishing company, which he said is helping him become a better writer by learning from other authors in the group.
“Rabbit in Red” is part of a series, of which Chianakas has completed two installments.
In the first book, the two characters are Bill Wise and Jamie Stein.
“They each have a dark past. I really wanted to take these young adults on the bridge of adolescence to adulthood,” Chianakas said. “They’re seniors in high school and ... something bad has happened in their past.”
Bill’s dad is murdered by a home intruder and Jamie’s uncle commits suicide.
“It has a little bit of what I call the heavy reality, but at the same time, the story itself started on this idea of pure fun for horror fans, for fans of the movies and the books,” he said. “They say write the book that you’d want to read or write the story you would want to be a part of.”
Bill and Jamie end up being in a fright fest contest at a studio called Rabbit in Red, with the grand prize of making their own movie. The duo has to solve riddles to progress in the game and ultimately end up facing their own fears.
“So, it’s like the ‘American Ninja Warrior’ of horror stories” Chianakas said.
“Rabbit in Red” pays homage to Chianakas’ favorite horror movie, “Halloween.” During that movie, he said, a nurse lights a cigarette with some matches and the matchbook says “Rabbit in Red” on it.
Chianakas also wove other famous horror movies he grew up watching inside his fictional studio.
“The entire studio is just one giant tribute decked out to all the popular stories to everything you can imagine by Stephen King or ‘Psycho,’” Chianakas said. “All the classics in there, so I really wanted to excite fans.”
The novel was released Tuesday. Chianakas said he is both excited and terrified. The book is available digitally for $1 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s website. A higher-priced print edition — Chianakas thinks $14.99 — will follow.
Chianakas will do a book signing at 4 p.m. Oct. 17 at I Know You Like a Book in Peoria Heights. There also will be a Halloween costume contest in conjunction with the book release.
The fact that “Rabbit in Red” is coming out right before Halloween is no accident.
“That was done on purpose,” Chianakas said.
Another planned compliment to the release of Chianakas’ book is a pop punk song called “Enter the Rabbit,” recorded by local band Terribly Happy. The band will perform the song at the book signing. A preview of the song is on a trailer for the book at http://www.joechianakas.com.
A trailer? Perhaps there is a movie in Chianakas’ future.
“You never know,” he said.