Sunday, March 03, 2013
What Was It Like to Be a Sweet Valley High Ghostwriter?
Ask Amy Boesky.
From her piece in the Kenyon Review...
Imagine, superimposed on the gray-and-grainy screen of a floundering, slightly depressed twenty-something, the shimmery outlines of an idealized adolescent world. All drawn—I just had to color it in. I could pick any colors, as long as they were pastel! The characters were already invented. They had “histories,” personalities, but I could add nuances. The plots were already there. Who could have dreamed of such adventures? A plane crash in a Cessna. Hysterical paralysis following a bad break-up. The rich posing as poor and the poor as rich. The tennis star that longed to be ordinary, the ordinary girl that longed to be a starlet. Differences smoothed away by the sameness-machine of narrative. The teachers with secrets, the students with secrets, the secrets revealed, the revelations turned into new secrets. The core secret—the one I knew, and harbored myself, and saw in those around me—the bland central core of “sameness,” of normalcy. How different were any of us, despite our attenuated lives as graduate students, from anybody else? The darkest of dark secrets: how much I hadn’t read, and didn’t know. How little I felt I had to say that was different, or new, or mattered.
Your task, my thesis advisor in Oxford told my tutorial partner and me, is to be original. Your thesis won’t pass otherwise.
I haunted the bookshops, certain my argument had already been written. Afraid to ask him: is original the same thing as different? As important, or relevant, or even good?
Writing for Sweet Valley High, I wasn’t supposed to be original. Or different. My job was to pick up somebody else’s thread and follow it: just write the story. Spice it up with dialogue, add a toss of a blond curl here, a sparkle of a blue-green eye there. Create a subplot and weave it through the narrative.