The one where Enid Rollins gets out-doormated : SVH #87 “My Best Friend’s Boyfriend”

28 Jan

Check out this entry from Wikipedia’s Sweet Valley High page:


My Best Friend’s Boyfriend  Liz finds out that Her boyfriend, Todd, is also dating Jessica, who is also dating Bruce, who is also dating Cara, who is also dating John, who is also dating Lila, who is also dating Steven, who is also dating Betsy Martin, who is also dating Winston, who is also dating Liz


Clearly an ex-ghostie with a sense of humor.

Either way, it sounds better than the acual book. Especially the bit about Betsy Martin dating Winston.

Indeed, the real story is much suckier. It’s the story of two SVH juniors we’ve never heard of before or since – Denise Hadley and Ginny Belasca. Denise is a gorgeous redhead with a trusty boyfriend Jay, while Ginny is the plain looking, subordinate, doormat friend who idolises her.

[Liz/Enid haters: Sound familiar?]

Here’s how it plays out:

Scene 1

Sweet Valley Mall

Denise: My boyfriend Jay is so wonderful and awesome and he loves me. Does this hat make my head look big? Oh and did I mention my boyfriend Jay?

Ginny: You’re so wonderful Denise! I am so grateful to be fortunate enough to go to the mall and look for clothes for you. Did I mention I am ugly?

Denise: Don’t worry  – you have great inner beauty. [actual quote]

Scene 2

Project Youth Headquarters

Amy Sutton: Hello, this is project youth

Student: Hi there. Today my teacher cracked on to me.

Amy Sutton: Here, talk to someone else. [presses “Line 2”]

Amy Sutton: Oh, hey Jessica. Today a teacher cracked on to a student at our school!

Jess [shouting]: Hey Liz, I’ve got gossip.

Liz: This is so sad and horrible. I am enraged! [Balls fists].

Scene 3

Project Youth Headquarters

Ginny: Hmm, I think I will work at project youth. Maybe it will make popular people like Amy Sutton like me.

Ginny: Hello, this is Project Youth. [Never mind that I just walked in off the street and have no formal training.]

Mike: Oh, hey. I am so bummed. I have a stepdad. Which is pretty much the worst thing one can have in this town.

Ginny: OMG a child of divorce?

Stunned Silence.

 Ginny: Wanna talk?

Mike: blah de blah de blah….oh hey, wanna go out sometime?

Ginny: Well, I’m pretty sure that’s breaking rule number one…but when Amy Sutton sets the rules around here I don’t see why not!

Scene 4

Belasca Residence

Ginny: Denise, I am so ugly! I cannot go out with this Mike guy! He will hate me!

Denise: Oh okay. I will do you a massive favour and pretend to be you. That should work, I mean the Wakefields do it all the time.

Ginny: Oh Denise, you are the best friend ever!

Scene 5

Guidos Pizzeria

Denise-as-Ginny: You must be Mike! I think I am in love!

Mike, to himself: This is the most boring date of my life. Still, she’s a babe so I think I’ll ask her out again.

Scene 6

Project Youth Headquarters

Mike [on the phone]: Hey Ginny. You were acting weird last night, but I think we should go out again. Also, your voice keeps changing.

Ginny: OK. I had fun with you at Caseys yesterday.

Mike: But we went to Guidos.

Scene 7

Dairi Burger, the following day

Denise: Ginny, you have to come on our date. I am in love with Mike but we have nothing to talk about.

Mike: Hi Ginny. Hi Ginny’s friend.

Denise-as-Ginny: Oh Mike! I am in love with you. Jay who?

Ginny-as-Denise: Hi Mike, I am Denise.

Mike: Hi Denise. [they joke around for two minutes.]

Denise-as-Ginny: Wow, you two are hitting it off. Too bad I called dibs.

Mike: Can’t we just talk about all my problems Ginny? You are very selfish in real life.

Denise: Wanna hang out again tomorrow Mike?

Mike: Yeah but can you bring Denise?

Scene 8

Project Youth Headquarters

Mike [on the phone to the real Ginny]: I know what’s going on! Sorry it took me so long to work out – I am very slow because my parents are divorced. I completely understand why you sent your friend in your place as she is must better looking, however I think we should date because I like dumping all my divorce-child-angst on you.

Ginny: Oh Mike, how sweet! Wanna fall in love and travel into Sweet Valley Oblivion together!

Mike: Sure !

Meanwhile, back at school:

Liz: Mr Collins! I am going to write an independent review in the Oracle about this horrible teacher-student relationship situation! Do you know that a teacher in this town hit on a student?

Mr Collins: Oh, erm, uh, I dunno Liz. I don’t think you should write that article. Can’t you just stick to eyes and ears or the perils of divorce?

Penny Ayala: Don’t worry Liz, we are kick ass feminist writers. Let’s ignore our principal’s refusal to publish our story and run it anyway!

Mr Collins: Oops, sorry girls! Just walked into the wrong bathroom by mistake again! Principal Cooper wants to speak to you

Principal “Chrome Dome” Cooper: You girls have been very deceitful but because one of you is a Wakefield, I will overlook it.

But now let me leave you with a rather ominous quote from the book:

A quote from the Oracle meeting with Liz, Penny, Olivia Davidson and John Pfeifer [who in no less than three books turns into a rapist and a pyromaniac.]

‘It’s a subject that nobody talks about and I think that’s a dangerous thing. A lot of girls can get hurt by the silence,’ said Elizabeth.

John put down the photographs and nodded emphatically.

‘I totally agree, for another reason,’ he said. ‘There are lots of things that guys don’t realise are offensive to girls unless someone tells them. Men and women see things differently, and sometimes you might have to tell guys how a girl sees a situation that might be scary to her.’

It’s scary alright….

The One Where Nicholas Morrow proves he’s still got it: SVH #26 “HOSTAGE”

14 Jan

I recently spent an entire 22-hour plane ride engrossed in “Dancing on My Grave”, the tell-all autobiography of America’s prima ballerina Gelsey Kirkland. It’s a haunting read, depicting the mental torment of Kirkland, [who is in my opinion the greatest classical ballerina of the 20th century] and her well-publicised battle with cocaine.

So as I drifted off to sleep in that mid-afternoon, jet-lagged haze, where do you think my thoughts took me? To Baryshnikov? No! To the New York City Ballet? No!

Engrained in my conscious from a very young age is of course that ominous association between cocaine and…. Regina Morrow.

Oh,oh with white teeth

Oh, oh Regina…. [I googled this. I think it’s a Bjork song]

Now I’ve recapped Regina’s untimely end previously, so when I was wide awake at 4am the following day, I started reading this epic little piece of fiction: SVH #26 “Hostage”. It’s the story of Bruce and the twin’s secret mission to free Regina from a “mean little man” [their words, not mine] and his evil accomplice.

Continue reading

Return Of The Evil Twin: A Sweet Valley Drinking Game

1 Dec

Everyone knows the story. After all, it’s pretty much a rehash of SVH #100, on acid.

In short:

The previous Christmas, Crazy Margo from Long Island came to Sweet Valley to find the Wakefield twins, who happened to look EXACTLY like her, only blonde. After failing to knock off Elizabeth, she fell to her death in the Fowler’s pool house… or so we thought

Turns out she hid in the Wakefield’s basement and the local graveyard hatching murderous plots and rasping lots. [I bet she got MEGA skinny down there. Maybe a 4? Suck on that, Wakefields.]

This Christmas, Margo’s long-lost equally psycho twin has arrived from the Deep South and together they set out to take their rightful place in the Wakefield family [but they come to blows over who bags Jessica’s identity this time. Ha.]

Meanwhile, the real twins are fighting again, after Jessica saves Todd from a burning car wreck and Liz gets the shits. Also, it’s NYE so they’re off to a big carnival with a house of mirrors for Margo to play hell with.

After loads of twin/evil twin switching, Jessica ends up bound and gagged at school [nice work, Margs], while Nora stabs Margo to death in Jessica’s bed. Only everyone thinks Jessica is dead so they hold a fucking state funeral at Sweet Valley High.

Still with me?

Elizabeth is once again faced with two copies of her mirror image in front of her, and the dilemma of which one to kill. Nora is whisked away by police [BORING!] and everyone has a huge party and Todd and Liz pash and everyone is sixteen again for the fifth successive Christmas.

So if that wasn’t awesome enough [don’t know about you but I’m still in stitches], I now invite you to partake in the second part of this recap: The Return of The Evil Twin Drinking Game

You will need:

3-9 players

Warm wine in paper cups/ Magic Grain Flask Alcohol / any other intoxicating liquor you can get your hands on [I hear Betsy Martin has a stash]

A printed copy of the following character cards, which you can glue to a piece of sturdy cardboard and cut into equal sized rectangles

A copy of ROTET in reasonable condition, available at any decent ebay store

A paper cup labelled “Jungle Prom Juice” to be placed in the centre of the table


Place the character cards face down on your table

Each draw a card from the character pile. This is your character for the game.

Whoever drew Enid starts as the reader.

Read out the instructions from the list below and follow them when you get the appropriate cue from the book.

After each chapter [or earlier if you’re drunk enough], switch readers in a clockwise direction

Drinking Game Rules:

  1. Every time the word rasping is mentioned, all take a shot
  2. Every time Jessica and Todd have a “moment”: Elizabeth takes a shot
  3. During Todd and Ken’s erotic hot dog scene [ref: page 178] Todd and Ken take a shot
  4. Whenever Margo and Nora fight over Jessica, Jessica takes a shot
  5. When the words “bloodcurdling” “glittering knife” or “tears streaming down her face” are mentioned, all take a shot
  6. Every time Nora detects a scent, Nora takes a shot. If the scent is detected via telephone, Nora takes two shots.
  7. Every time there is a twin or evil twin switch [e.g. Margo impersonating Jessica], all four twins take a shot each.
  8. Every time Enid is being a deadpan kiss-ass drone [read: mentioned], each tip one shot into the “Jungle Juice” cup.
  9. When Margo wolfs down three hot dogs in a row, all take a shot [It’s been a tough year, OK!]
  10. Every time an outfit is described, Lila takes a shot
  11. Every time someone leaves the house wearing half a santa costume, take a shot
  12. Every time a dead boyfriend is mentioned, Jessica takes a shot
  13. Every time Nalice make an insensitive comment about “clones”, Margo takes a shot
  14. Every time a twin senses the other’s presence, tip a shot into the Jungle Juice Cup
  15. Every time one of the Black/Chappelle twins says “Patience” take a shot
  16. Whenever Margo and Nora come to blows, take two shots
  17. Every time the whole gang’s hanging out, take two shots
  18. Whenever Nora/Margo spy on the Wakefields, all the girls tip a shot in the bowl
  19. Whenever Bruce is mentioned, all the boy characters take a shot
  20. Whenever Margo and Nora have “Wakefield Trivia Time”, all take a shot
  21. Whenever Ken says something corny, all the girls take a shot
  22. Place all the character cards face down in the centre and re-draw. Whoever gets Margo finishes off the Jungle Juice.

 Character Card Sheet:

Click on the image to make the characters larger to print.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any Martin-like activity or any injuries incurred when you play this game. I also don’t encourage drunkenness so remember this is a guide only.

Think of it as my Christmas present to you. As I am off celebrating my graduation overseas I probably won’t have time to post till the New Year. But rest assured, a copy of “The Evil Twin” is waiting in my backpack for Christmas Eve.  Happy Horrordays – and wreck the halls with bloody bodies!


It’s Lila’s Turn For A Doppleganger: SVH Super Edition “Jessica Takes Manhattan.”

19 Nov

Finally! A Sweet Valley Super Edition that really delivers. I can’t believe it took me till now to find this gem.

Like all good Super Eds, it has all the essential ingredients – an unexpected vacation, a rock star, a gang of kidnappers and, of course, a doppelganger. Only this time, the plot centres on Lila. Can you tell already this book will be EPIC?

Continue reading

“I was laughing the whole time….” Part Two of our exclusive interview with former Sweet Valley Editor J.E. Bright

11 Nov

On the books you wrote…..

The increasing Lila-centricity was awesome in the later books. But what was with Lila and Todd? [I think she could do way better.]

Lila was my favorite character, so that’s why she’s becomes prominent in the books I edited and wrote.  I just think she’s hilarious and so much fun to write.

I believe Lila and Todd hooking up was Francine’s idea.  It was a non-starter, anyway, really — nothing really happened besides some basic kissing.  There was a lot more to the scenes in AFTERSHOCK when they’re dealing with the aftermath of being locked in the bathroom together, but much of it was cut by the editor.  I’m not sure why — it reads like the SV team decided Lila and Todd skeeved everyone out and so they dropped it.

Should Liz have ended up with Todd or Devon? Did her brooding piss you off?

I created Devon myself, but UGH, I hated him by the end.  I mean, really — he’s a douche.  Not that Todd is so great, really, either, but whatever . . . he’s Elizabeth’s hometown sweetheart and so we have to accept his prominent role.  Nah, Elizabeth’s brooding didn’t piss me off.  She always overthinks everything anyway.

First there was the failed prom-date catalogue, then there was the Alyssa incident and Ken Matthew’s rebuke. The earthquake seemed to be a defining moment in Jessica Wakefied’s maturity. How did you feel about changing 15+ years of Jessica’s carefree attitude and ability to get away with anything? Why did Sweet Valley High need to move on? How did you resolve the old series with the strikingly different and more realistic “Senior Year”? [which, by the by, was not nearly as awesome.]

Hmm.  Because I was no longer part of the internal SV team when writing AFTERSHOCK, I don’t know all the thought processes that went behind making SVH Senior Year more sober and serious.  Maybe there was a backlash against the “frivolity” of SVH, or what was perceived as its “empty” entertainment value.  I don’t really know.  I do know that SVH’s popularity was winding down at that point — its fans had grown up, and young adult book series were going into a big dip.  I mean, the series lasted 16, 17 years, which is a massive achievement, but every book series has a lifespan and it was reaching it.  Senior Year was an attempt to reposition and kick-start the series back into life again, but I’m not sure how successful it turned out to be.  I can’t really say — I had nothing to do with Senior Year, and I haven’t read any of those books.

Honestly, I was kind of psyched to have Jessica deal with the trail of destruction she’d left in her wake over the course of a 17-year Junior year.  All the dead boyfriends, broken hearts, and irresponsible behavior kind of caught up with her at once, which was really fun to write.  One of my favorite lines in AFTERSHOCK is from Jessica, all depressed, thinking about how she was the Queen of Death all along.

I mean, I love Jessica dearly, and she’s a blast to write, but she’s dangerous, you know?

Were there any characters you actively despised?

I never loved Enid, really, but she was very useful in the Liz scenes to get Liz talking out loud.  I did get sick of Devon.  Aaron Dallas seemed like kind of a dick to me, too, and sometimes just a little Bruce Patman goes a long way.  I didn’t love the Heather Mallone books, either, because something about her made Jessica too shrill.  Those are some nasty cheerleader books, and the Death Valley books are quite unpleasant because of Heather, I think.

Did the books you wrote draw from your own experience? Was your prom anything like that? [hopefully you weren’t also the victim of a “kisses like a live jellyfish” accusation]

Well, everything I write draws from my own experience, even if it’s just the emotions of the stories.  Like I said, I had to cry while writing to get the funerals to feel accurate.  There are always details you steal from your own life and superimpose them into the stories.  My prom wasn’t so dramatic.  I went with my best friend and we danced with friends and had fun.  No fights, or screaming breakups, or cars driven off cliffs, or anything like that.

I don’t think anyone’s complained about my kissing . . . that I’ve heard about, anyway!

“I love Jessica dearly, and she’s a blast to write, but she’s dangerous”

Since multiple psycho killers had tried and failed to off a Wakefield for two decades, a natural disaster seemed an excellent choice to end the original series. Was the earthquake your idea?

Nope.  I had left the office already, so I wasn’t part of the decision to end the original SVH series.  I don’t know who came up with the earthquake idea.  But we joked that we always knew I’d be the person to destroy Sweet Valley.  J

Whose idea was it to squish Olivia Davidson with a fridge? [For the record I cried more in her “funeral” than I did the first day I saw a patient die.]

I don’t even remember who wrote the outline for EARTHQUAKE or AFTERSHOCK.  It probably came out of a SV team brainstorming discussion.  I can imagine they sat around the conference table, saying “let’s have an earthquake” and “let’s make it be a huge deal” and “so . . . who’s going to die?”

Thanks.  Like I’ve said a couple of times now, I was sobbing while writing the memorial service, too, so I’m very glad the emotions got across to you.

“Aftershock” got all nostalgic about Jessica’s dead boyfriends, and Miller’s Point and cult kidnappings. How did you recap all these memories? [Apologise if this is re-hashing a previous answer]

I sat there flipping through the SVH Bible while writing the book, pulling out my favorite details and memories from the whole series.  I wanted AFTERSHOCK to be a fitting end to the series, and so I looked back as far into the past as I could and tried to mention all the things I loved.

How far is SVU from Sweet Valley proper [i.e. Calico Drive?]. The books say anything from a “five minute drive” [SVH #17] to a two hour drive [SVU].

Uh . . . I have no idea.  I think we always figured it was “a few hours away”.  Basically, you have to remember that SVH and SVU (and the other SV series) exist in separate timelines, like alternate realities.  We always explained to ourselves the same way Superboy and Superman exist at the same time.  There are discrepancies between all the series — they’re not really connected directly.

On Sweet Valley…….

Which SV character most resembles you?

Oh, probably Winston.  I was a sweet geek with dark hair and glasses.  Or . . . um, Tom McKay.  Without the tennis.

What has made the Sweet Valley series enduringly popular? [Or why are professional 20- and 30-something year olds like myself still coming back for more?]

We had lots of discussions about the core reasons for SVH’s popularity.  Part of it was the ideal good twin/bad twin thing: readers would relate to Elizabeth, recognize their humanity in her, but want to be Jessica, dream about Jessica’s wild freedom.  A BIG part of the appeal of the series was the setting.  The sun-kissed world of Sweet Valley is a huge point of interest, that whole California easy-living dream.  But mostly I think SV endured because it was fun and dramatic and soapy, with interesting characters and involving (if often goofy) plots.  A lot of the series is about romance, but most of it is about friendship, and young girls read it for ideas on how to grow up, socialize, and survive as a teenager in an ever-more-complicated world.  The twins are aspirational — they represent idealistic models, like Barbie, that a reader could either strive to become or reject or compare against, I suppose.

Why does everyone want to be a Wakefield?

DOES everyone?  I guess so.  I mean, they have ridiculously perfect lives, which we tried to make as difficult for them as possible.  If Elizabeth and Jessica, who are idealized teenagers, have problems and can handle them, then so could the readers deal with their own problems.  I suppose that’s the basis for wanting to be a Wakefield — they are archetypal ideals of what teenage girls could be.  That’s scary to say, because of the feminist repercussions of that ideal, but we tried to be as empowering as we could.  One of the ghostwriters was even a doctoral student studying Feminist Theory at an Ivy League school!

Did you read Sweet Valley Confidential [published March 2011]? Thoughts?

Nope, haven’t read it.  I may, at some point, but I’m feeling pretty far away from Sweet Valley these days.

Rumor has it that you appeared on the cover of SVU’s “Love Me Always”.  Any other modelling gigs? What were the Daniel twins like in real life?

Yes, I’m the SV police officer on SVU #44, LOVE ME ALWAYS.  Nobody else could fit into the too-small cop uniform at the photo shoot.

I appear on the far left in the painting on the cover of SVH #122, A KISS BEFORE DYING, too, with a few other SV teammates.  At the photo-reference shoot for the painting, the painter needed stand-ins for the crowd.  And that blue-and-white plaid hoodie that Ken is wearing I took home with me, and wore for YEARS.

The Daniel twins were nice and professional and hard-working and quite talented.  I met them out in LA when we flew out there for two separate photo shoots for covers, setting up like 15 covers at a time.  They’re nothing like Jessica and Elizabeth, though!

Can you tell us about your work since Sweet Valley?

I’ve remained a writer and editor since then, editing hundreds of children’s books, and writing more than 65.  You can see them all at  Mostly I’ve been writing movie novelizations and novels for DC Comics lately.  Most interesting to SV readers is probably my original select-your-own preteen romance series, FOLLOW YOUR HEART, in which the readers choose what happens next in the story.  I used a lot of what I learned in Sweet Valley to write those books.

” One of the ghostwriters was even a doctoral student studying Feminist Theory at an Ivy League school!”

Quick Q and A……

Jessica or Elizabeth?

Jessica.  (I surprised myself with this answer.)

Bruce or Winston?


Todd or Devon?


Favorite character?


Favorite SVH book?

Um . . . besides A PICTURE PERFECT PROM? and AFTERSHOCK, you mean?  J  WHO’S WHO? still makes me laugh, and I have a fondness for AMY’S TRUE LOVE.  TALL, DARK, AND DEADLY is probably my favorite of the books I edited.

Shoot, shag or marry? 

Lila (marry)

Enid-the-Drip (shoot)

Margo (shag)

From William White to Ken’s plaid hoodie – so concludes our two part interview with one very awesome writer. If you would like to get hold of some “Choose Your Own Ending” books for your children [or future children, or self] head on over to his website. Peace out.

Meet the Man Who Wrote the Sweet Valley Bible: Introducing former Sweet Valley Ghostie and Editor J.E. Bright

4 Nov

J.E. Bright began his stellar writing career at Dan Weiss Associates Inc, going on to ghost two epic pieces of Sweet Valley High History in “A Picture Perfect Prom” and “Aftershock.” He came up with several of the earlier SVU storylines, as well as overseeing myriad Sweet Valley publications in his two years as SVH editor. He is now recognised as a successful children’s and young adult author, with over sixty-five novels and non fiction works to his name [you can check these out here]. He was very obliging with my 137 questions, and offered a hilarious, witty and insightful look at the Sweet Valley franchise. You’ll be shocked at what he reveals about our favourite series….

Photo courtesy of

Had you read any of the Sweet Valley books prior to your job as ghostwriter?

Okay, to answer that I have to give the full history of my Sweet Valley experience, which may answer some questions below, too.  As a Freshman studying English/Creative Writing at New York University in 1988, I got an internship at a company called Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc., who were the packagers of Sweet Valley and other book series.  A “packager” is a company that creates a book, sometimes including the cover and illustrations and layout as well as the text, and then sells it to a book publisher, who then prints it and distributes it and does all the sales and marketing, etc.  So DWAI was a book packager, and what they focused on was teen and middle-grade book series, including the whole Sweet Valley world, as well as many other series, like The Vampire Diaries.  So I became an editorial intern two or three days a week, at 17 years old, reading submissions from people who wanted to write SV books, writing rejection letters, writing back cover copy, and doing little office jobs like filing and getting breakfast.  (The first back cover I wrote was #62, WHO’S WHO?)  I also read all the SVH books and maintained “The SVH Bible”, which was a giant binder with all the SVH plots, characters, places, relationships, etc., charted out.  I was an intern at DWAI for four years, and it was a really fun place to work.  The company was pretty small when I started (maybe 10 people), but it grew over the years and moved to bigger offices.  Then I went to graduate school, studying Creative Writing, and when I came back in 1994, DWAI offered me a full-time job as an Assistant Editor.  I stayed with them for another three years, getting promoted up to Editor.  In that time, I was the sole editor of Sweet Valley High for two years (along with a bunch of other book series), and read all the SVH books, including those that hadn’t been published yet.  I put together at least one SVH title every month.  By the end, I said that I’d read more SVH books than anyone else in the world, because I’d read the ones in manuscript form, too, waiting to get published.  My stint as editor covers the SVH books #115 to #137, approximately (there’s some overlap with other editors), including the Super and Magna editions that came out during that time, as well as some of the Diaries and Sagas. When I left DWAI (which had then changed its name to 17th Street Productions) to become a freelance writer, the editor who replaced me hired me to write two of the books, SVH #141, A PICTURE PERFECT PROM?, and later, the final SVH book, AFTERSHOCK.  So I kind of grew up as a writer in the Sweet Valley world.

BTW, 17th Street Productions eventually merged with and became Alloy Media, which made the Gossip Girl book series, and now produces the TV shows Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, and The Secret Circle.  Elizabeth Craft, my co-editor of SVH when I started, is the executive producer of the TV show The Secret Circle, and was a consulting producer on Vampire Diaries. The editor who replaced me was Kieran Scott, who is also known as the popular writer Kate Brian, author of the Private series.  Our editor-in-chief was Ann Brashares, best known for the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series.  Many other excellent writers have come out of the DWAI/17th St./Alloy family, too.  I’m probably the least-famous one.

” I also read all the SVH books and maintained “The SVH Bible”, which was a giant binder with all the SVH plots, characters, places, relationships, etc., charted out.”

I was surprised to hear that you came up with several of the SVU plots, having always thought that was Francine Pascal’s job. How did you create those storylines?

Each Sweet Valley book series (SVH, SVU, Twins, Kids, Unicorn Club) had a separate editor, and we would meet with the Editor-in-Chief weekly as the Sweet Valley team to discuss upcoming plotlines and brainstorm where the series were going.  Then, every few months, we would meet with Francine Pascal at her amazing apartment over tea and donuts and croissants and discuss our ideas with her.  Francine was lovely and cool and very aware of everything happening in Sweet Valley, and she would either accept or reject our ideas — or make up her own.  She read every plot and outline, and they had to be approved by her.  But I don’t think she wrote any of the outlines herself (maybe some of the very early ones).  During almost the entire run of the Sweet Valley books, the plots were developed by the SV team and Francine, then written by an outliner, then given to the ghostwriter to flesh out into a book.  The editorial team at Bantam Books was very involved, too, approving all the stages as well.  So when I was a freelance writer, after my SVH editorial days, I wrote a bunch of the SVU outlines which were then turned into books by other ghostwriters.

Which SVU books did you outline? 

Um . . . it’s pretty far back now and hard to remember.  I have these SVU outlines in my files, which seems to indicate that I wrote them.

#25 Busted!
#26. The Trial of Jessica Wakefield
#27. Elizabeth and Todd Forever
#28. Elizabeth’s Heartbreak
#29. One Last Kiss

#31. The Truth about Ryan

#33. Out of the Picture

#42. Sneaking In
#43. The Price Of Love
#44. Love Me Always

Super Edition #12. Don’t Answer The Phone
Super Edition #13. Cyberstalker: The Return Of William White, Part 1
Super Edition #14. Cyberstalker: The Return Of William White, Part 2

I think that’s all of them.  There may have been more.  I’m not 100% sure of some of the above, too — it’s really kind of a blur now.

 “Every few months, we would meet with Francine Pascal at her amazing apartment over tea and donuts and croissants and discuss our ideas with her”

What was involved in your role as SVH editor?

It was an unusual editorial role, in that the editors came up with the plots and heavily rewrote the books.  Because there were so many SVH books (at least one a month, sometimes more for Super, Magna, Thriller, etc. editions) and so many ghostwriters, it was our main job to make sure the writing style sounded similar for all the books.  Usually, I would develop the plot, get it approved by Francine and Bantam Books, write cover copy, hire someone to write the outline, get the outline approved, and hire a ghostwriter to write the manuscript.  When the manuscript came in, I’d go through it very carefully, marking it up with corrections and suggestions, and I’d write a letter to the ghostwriter and send the manuscript back to them to make revisions.  Then when the revised manuscript would come back, I’d go through it line by line and rewrite it to make it read smoothly and make sure it fit the SVH style and didn’t have any glaring content errors (that I noticed!).  The books were copyedited for grammar and spelling by an outside copyeditor. Usually I had three other books series to edit along with SVH.  I’d also write up descriptions of the covers, and “direct” the photo shoots, or choose images for the earlier paintings, and think up the titles.

Did you have much input into the storylines as ghostie or as editor?

Almost none as a ghostwriter.  As I explained above, as an editor I was basically coming up with the storylines.

Were you responsible for any of Sweet Valley’s infamous psycho killers? [If you say Margo Black or William White, hats off.]

Sadly, I missed the creation of Margo — it happened while I was in grad school.  Although I did take over the editorial for RETURN OF THE EVIL TWIN.  As you can see from my SVU outline list, I was also involved in William White’s RETURN (I wrote the outlines), but not his creation (which the SVU editor came up with, I think).  That psycho killer era came about in the early-’90s because we had done a focus group with a bunch of pre-teens, and they kept saying they wanted “more stalkers!”  So we gave ’em more stalkers.

With a series that spanned over 600 books [including Sweet Valley Twins, Kids, University….] how did you maintain continuity? Was there some kind of Sweet Valley bible that everyone sat around the table and checked their facts from? Or did you just become a massive Sweet Valley trivia buff?

[There are references in your books to people like Jeffery French and Sam Woodruff who hadn’t been heard of for 100 odd books..]

I do remember book, movie, and TV trivia really well, for some reason, but as I mentioned above, there was a “Bible” for every series, a binder in which plot summaries, characters, places, shops, maps, and relationships were all detailed.  It was all on PAPER — you couldn’t really search a computer database or anything.  We sent a copy of the Bible to every ghostwriter and outliner, and I lived with mine on my desk for the whole time I was an SVH editor.  It would have been so very useful to have all these internet SV blogs in existence at the time, but our office AOL dial-up connection to the beginning of the Web wasn’t all that useful then.  J

Because I knew so much SVH trivia, I wanted to put a lot of the old characters and places in my books when I wrote them . . . like little “Easter Eggs” for the most faithful readers.  Sweet Valley has one of the most comprehensively detailed fictional worlds in all of media.  Sometimes I think only Springfield in The Simpsons compares!

The various Sweet Valley series didn’t really overlap much — they were kept pretty separate, and had different continuities.

Did you come up with any of those awesome outfits? [Elizabeth’s backless lavender sparkly number comes to mind]

I came up with most of the outfits in books I edited (on the covers; the ghostwriters described the outfits inside) or wrote.  They were fun to invent.  For the photographic covers, we shot with the cast and staff of the TV show, so the official show costume designer helped pick those clothes.

Did you ever laugh mercilessly at the series or was your writing ever tongue-in-cheek? [I recall something about Lisette’s Boutique being described as “SO early-eighties”]

Oh, I was laughing the whole time.  But not in a mocking way, really.  Just because it was fun and joyful to write those books.  Well, AFTERSHOCK wasn’t as much fun.  It was incredibly sad, and I had to sit there and weep and type to get the emotions of all those funerals to come across.  But I enjoy writing humor, and I hope that comes across.  Especially in A PICTURE PERFECT PROM?  That book cracks me up.

Did you have anything to do with the angsty “Senior Year” spin-off?

Not a thing.  It was developed after I had left the company.

Was there an official PG13 rule? I remember a scene where Todd perves on Elizabeth’s white sneakers, but that’s probably as scandalous as it got.

We self-censored a lot — our target audience was about 12 years old — so, yes, PG-13 is accurate.  There were a lot of discussions around the audience about how far we could go and what was appropriate.  I had a screaming fight with another editor once about whether Jessica was really a slut or not!  The funny thing now is that I don’t even remember what side I took in that argument.  The SVH books really reflect their eras:  the early-’80s ones are a little sexier, before AIDS caused the sexual backlash.  The late-’80s get really message-heavy.  The early ’90s are all stalkers and sexual terror as the world got scarier.  I tried to bring more fun back in with my mid-’90s era, and add some glamour.

I love that scene when Todd obsesses over Elizabeth’s sneakers and is lusting after her ankle.  Poor Todd — he was SO hard up.

My favorite SVH-sex-story is about one of the Vampire books, maybe TALL, DARK, AND DEADLY, when Enid gets her blood sucked by the maybe-vampire Jonathan Cain.  The ghostwriter originally made that scene just about downright pornographic.  Basically, Enid has a massive orgasm in it.  But we had to tone it down significantly.  It’s still pretty sexy and funny, though.

What was Francine really like?

She’s lovely.  Very cool, smart, and nice.  I have to give big props to her for creating the series and maintaining its integrity and popularity for so long.  She also gave each of us on the SV team a nice gift every holiday season.  One of them, which I still have, was a silver star-shaped bookmark from Tiffany’s engraved with the letters SVH.

Tune in next week as J.E. dishes the dirt on the Sweet Valley characters everyone loves and loves to hate…

Which Sweet Valley Villain Are You? Take the Quiz!

31 Oct

 Happy Halloween!

Circle the answer which suits you best to find out which baddie you are.

What is your weapon of choice?

A] My bare hands, or at the right time of month, claws.

B] Anaesthetic gases

C] A glittering butcher’s knife

D] A sleek dagger

E] My charm

F] An axe

Which Wakefield twin would you rather kill?

A] Jessica

B] Neither, I would rather undo Elizabeth’s braid and molest her hair

C] Elizabeth [in a rasping voice]

D] Jessica [in a Southern drawl]

E] After I’ve had my way with both of them, I’ll drown them together.

F] Jessica “Blondie” Wakefield

Who is your dream Sweet Valley lover?

A] Elizabeth

B] Elizabeth [in between heavy breathing]

C] Bruce Patman

D] Whatever Margo said

E] Both Wakefields, simultaneously

F] Lover? What’s wrong with being a misunderstood hermit?

Where would we find you at midnight on a Friday?

A] The Slaughtered Lamb, if the moon is full

B] Lurking around the gynaecology ward at Joshua Fowler Memorial Hospital

C] Kelly’s Roadhouse Bar, or the Shady Lady if that’s where the night takes me

D] The graveyard

E] Aboard my 16ft yacht, The Emily Dickenson

F] The woods

What is your lasting memory of Sweet Valley?

A] I’ve never been, but I hung out one Summer with a pair of very fetching but very annoying intern journalists.

B] Lurking around the hospital car park at night.

C] Fooling an entire town into believing I was Liz Wakefield. Including Lila Fowler.

D] Murdering my twin at the Wakefield’s house.

E] Spending 10 years in prison only to wreak havoc on that bastard, Ned Wakefield

F] I haven’t left Camp Echo Mountain for thirty five years! Mwah ha ha ha

If you answered mostly:

A] Luke Shepherd

Befriended by Elizabeth Wakefield during her summer internship at the London Journal, you are a sensitive poetic type with a hard edge – and a set of hairy claws to match. You are a particularly stupid villain, as you put the idea into her head that a werewolf might be responsible for the London murders. That werewolf turned out to be you. Dumbass.

Villain rating: 2 knives.

B] Carl-the-Orderly.

Renowned as Sweet Valley’s biggest creep, you managed to anaesthetise and kidnap Elizabeth while she was volunteering as a candy striper at Joshua Fowler memorial hospital. She was so pure, and so sensitive, and so kind, and yet when you had her tied to your couch, all you managed to do was untie her braid and feed her blueberry pancakes.

Villain rating: 3 knives

  C] Margo Black.

The greatest psycho killer Sweet Valley, nay, the world has ever seen, you almost managed to off Elizabeth, and then Jessica, on successive New Years Eves. Your rasping was unrivalled, your collection of glittering knives incredible and your ability to impersonate both twins was admirable. Sweet Valley hungrily awaits your second return from the dead.

Villain rating: 5 knives.

D] Nora Chappelle [Black]

Best known as Margo’s identical twin, you surfaced from the deep south in Return of the Evil Twin to pick up where your wicked sister left off. Although slightly tamer than knife-wielding Margo, your bizarrely acute sense of smell worked to your advantage. It was you who managed to murder Margo in the end….Or did you?

Villain rating: 4 knives

E] John Marin

Perhaps Sweet Valley’s most eloquent baddie, you manipulated both twins into thinking you were The One. Disguised as a sensitive writer for Elizabeth, and a hot TV producer for Jessica, you lured both twins onto your boat where you almost delivered the fatal blow. Your motive? Revenge on Ned Wakefield, the multi-skilled lawyer who put you behind bars a decade ago. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and you served it on a silver platter, my man. Kudos.

Villain rating: 4.5 knives

F] Crazy Freddy

The laughingstock of villains in this series, you were clearly created at a time when Fran-Pasc was out of ideas for ways to kill the Wakefields. Campfire legends at Echo Mountain exaggerated stories of your wicked deeds, and you never quite lived up to the hype. Although you briefly managed to wave an axe over Jessica’s head, you never quite had us fooled. Crazy Freddy turned out to be nothing more than a misunderstood hermit.

Villain rating: 1 knives

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