• Kristiana Sfirlea

Bookstores: Chillermania


Anyone who’s spent any time in Michigan’s main tourist towns is familiar with three things: fudge, pasties, and Michigan Chillers. In fact, many a family vacation in Mackinac can be summed up in those three words. For me, this year’s getaway up north was no different.

Except it was. Dramatically different.

For starters, the fudge and pasties. This was my first vacation accommodating a medical condition, gastroparesis — something with which I’ve lived painfully my entire life but have only recently been diagnosed. Then came the massacre of my favorite foods. Fudge and pasties died noble deaths, bravely defending my taste buds’ rights as a Michigander to enjoy our scrumptious state delicacies…but to no avail. (I’m still determined to conjure a gastroparesis-friendly pasty recipe, though. You just watch me.)

But something else was different about my trip up north. Something good. Remember the third thing on the list? Michigan Chillers? For those who don’t know, Michigan Chillers is a middle grade horror series by Johnathan Rand, specializing in monsters (ghouls, dogmen, giant spiders, and ghosts, to name a few), alliteration (titles include Poltergeists of Petoskey, Gargoyles of Gaylord, and Mackinaw City Mummies), and giving six-year-old girls with highly active imaginations nightmares (I loved being scared, my parents loved sleep — a case of diametrical opposition if there ever was one). Michigan Chillers is also a series famous for, well, taking place in Michigan! As such, these books find their way onto the shelves of numerous shops and stops in my family’s favorite tourist towns of St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Cheboygan.

This year, for the very first time, I got to visit the Michigan Chillers headquarters, Chillermania, a bookstore owned by the author and dedicated solely to books by Johnathan Rand. And let me tell you, it was quite the experience.

When we first pulled up, Chillermania was closed. Which was disappointing but also not because…PHOTO SHOOT! There’s as much to see and take pictures with outside the store as there is inside!

(This is the main building of Chillermania. Cute, isn't it? Rustic. From the outside, you would never suspect the terrors within.)

(Here's one of the awesomely-decorated warehouses on the property.)

(How could I resist getting my picture taken with the Dogman, my favorite Michigan legend?!)

As a strong supporter of Gargoyles in Need of Physical Affection (GINOPA — that's "g" as in gargoyle, gih-NO-puh), I made it my goal to bestow as much affection as possible on the two stoic guardians of Chillermania. At GINOPA, our objective is to move past the stony stigma assigned to gargoyles everywhere, to see beyond that menacing grimace to the cuddlesome creature within. I won't lie: it was difficult at first. They're quite shy, gargoyles. Imagine a lifetime of people shuddering every time they look at you, and suddenly a crazy girl in pencil socks appears, broadcasting hugs and kisses with abandon.

It took time and patience, but eventually I got a smile!

When we returned to Chillermania several days later, we were in for a few surprises. One, as you enter the bookstore, get ready for a few haunted house-style greetings. And two, if you luck out like we did, you might just find Mr. Johnathan Rand himself behind the counter.

(Pointing to our location, Indian River, on our built-in Michigan maps! Apologies for totally covering up the Thumb. In my defense, I'm used to pointing much lower on the Mitten.)

(And if you’re super-duper lucky, he’ll have his adorable doggie Boo-Boo with him!)

There’s no other way to say it: Mr. Rand is just a really awesome dude. He’s friendly, chill, and humble — which is saying something for a guy who literally built his success from the ground up. That’s right: Johnathan Rand is self-published. Self-published. If you’re a writer who’s past the getting-feet-wet stage of the publishing industry and straight into the in-over-my-head stage, you’ll know all about the trials and triumphs of self-publishing. But here’s an author who has written four different series, sold millions, and has his own bookstore full of his own books. Not only that, but Johnathan Rand writes primarily for kids, which is arguably one of the hardest categories of self-published books to sell. So how did he do it?

Well, twenty years of hard work, for one thing. Mr. Rand was the perfect fit for self-publishing because, as he put, “I could never just do writing.” And there’s a lot of variety in the work that goes into making a book without the backing of a publisher. Talking with him was very useful to me as I try to decide the publishing route to take with my own books.

I also found out some pretty neat trivia:

  • Johnathan Rand grew up in my hometown. (SQUEE!)

  • He worked in radio for many years and records his own audio books.

  • He came up with the name Michigan Chillers when he was working on one of his adult books. The idea was for him to create a beverage that would encompass the essence of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the names he invented was the “Michigan Chiller.”

  • The first Michigan Chiller book came out in 2000.

  • Five years later, Chillermania opened its doors to its adoring fans.

  • He would travel to bookstores, restaurants, shops, and gas stations, asking if they would sell his books. His proposition was, “I’ll leave a stack here. If they sell, you get x amount and I get x amount. If they don’t sell, I’ll give you one for free and be on my way.” (Spoiler: they sold.)

  • The warehouses next to Chillermania are full of his books.

  • For eleven years, Johnathan Rand has hosted a summer camp called Author Quest with his wife, Mrs. Chillers. Its goal is to help kids 10-13 improve their writing skills. How cool is that?!

There are many factors that have influenced Mr. Rand's success, surely. But we had the opportunity to experience one of them firsthand: his interaction with kids. As we were browsing the store, a group strolled in, and we got to witness this awesome author's rapid-fire jokes and engaging conversation with his target audience. He's an old pro — and I was scribbling notes like crazy!

As Mr. Rand talked with his fans, we took our time documenting the store...and its terrifying inhabitants.

(Don't look up. Or do. You never know what might fall on you!)

(The Great Wall of Michigan Chillers!)

(Who hasn't shared this sentiment when reading a good book — though with a face like that, do you even need a sign?)

(Mr. Rand's wall of adult books. Oh, and keep an eye on that mummy. You can bet he's keeping an eye on you.)

(Mr. Rand's personal collection of books, guarded by an arachnophobic's nightmare.)

(Actually, come to think of it, this whole place is an arachnophobic's nightmare...)

(Do drop by Morticia, if you get the chance. Or maybe she'll drop by you. It's hard to tell sometimes.)

This is a mere sampling of the gruesome treasure trove that is Chillermania. If you're like me and enjoy good books, good spooks, and good conversation, this is the place for you! A word of warning, however. Those who enter this bookstore rarely come out the same. You may find yourself looking over your shoulder more than you should and distrusting the simple things of life, like fish tanks. And speaking of, as we were making our way out the door, a breathless woman rushed inside the store. She was there to deliver, no joke, a fish tank. And judging by Johnathan Rand's devilish grin, he has a special spot for that fish tank in his house of horrors. What will its purpose be? We haven't a clue. But one thing's for certain: it will be chilling.

Why don't you visit his bookstore and find out for yourself?

Chillermania:

1651 S Straits Hwy

Indian River, MI 49749

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#mittenbooks #madeinmichigan #smittenwiththemitten #chillermania #MichiganChillers #michiganbookstore

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© 2020 Kristiana Sfirlea