Archive | November, 2011

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?

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“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 http://www.jebright.com.  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?

Winston.

Todd or Devon?

Todd.

Favorite character?

Lila.

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 http://jebright.com

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 Alloy.com 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…

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