“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.

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

  1. Sara November 11, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    This interview was so amazing! How nice for a Sweet Valley editor (aka GOD) to take time out of his day for a Sweet Valley based interview. 🙂

    Also, choose your own romance teen books??! That sounds fucking incredible.

    • winstonegbert November 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      Yes, he was just delightful. AND he hates Enid.

  2. Danielle Kiracofe (@dorogaya26) November 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Totally enjoyed this interview. I’m so glad he was willing to share.

  3. Sam November 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Thanks to Mr. Bright and WWS for the great interview. It was really fun to get a “behind the scenes” look as SV and how it all came together.

    Winston your ability to uncover all things Sweet Valley never disappoints. 🙂

  4. Samantha November 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Great reading, both part one and two! How did you get to score such a cool opportunity? And thanks to J.E. Bright for giving us the dirt; I ate this up like a clam special at the Dairi Burg.

    And how cool that he got to be on not one, but TWO covers–he’s lived my dream! 137 percent jealous, right here.

    • Samantha November 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      oh and PS–you should ask him to join the Margo resurrection campaign. It bodes well that he’d shag her!

  5. Liesel November 18, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    What I love most about this interview, is how clearly invested in the characters and attached to the series he was/ is – is/was. ;- ) Even after all these years, the extent of how much he still remembers – whilst being involved in its core process and publication – is really quite impressive. Thanks again Mr. Bright! /hi5 Winnie! :- )

  6. sophie November 21, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    This made my day! I agree with Mr Bright’s views on why the series survived. After all, why am I, a thirty-something year old elementary school teacher, still setting up “Big For Christmas” in my Christmas reading table!?

    • Samantha November 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

      Ohhh, “Big for Christmas” is my fave SVT book! I read it far before I saw the movie “Big” and then I felt confused by their vast similarities. A holiday classic for sure!

  7. thatissophat December 11, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    This was amazing! I loved how he cried while writing Aftershock. I’m not jealous over his photo covers or meeting with Francine and the Daniel twins. But I’m jealous that I was not a part of the SV Team. That would be my dream job.

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