One of the coolest perks to being a blogger is that it sometimes allows you the opportunity to chat with some of your childhood, pop culture idols. Recently I had the chance to do just that when I interviewed Francine Pascal, the prolific creator of the Sweet Valley series of novels, featuring Southern California's most soaptastic identical twins ever—Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.
Pascal, who along with her late husband John, got their start writing for the ABC Daytime soap opera The Young Marrieds, and initially pitched Sweet Valley High as a daytime sudser, talks about her upcoming adult novel Sweet Valley Confidential, which will revisit the saga of Jess, Liz, their friends, lovers and frenemies, 10 years after they graduated from high school. Is Pascal worried fans of her original YA series will have a hard time adjusting to Liz and Jess now talking about and having orgasms? Not even!
Speaking of YA readers, one of the most successful authors of all time weighs in on the current phenomenon of novels aimed at teens and tweens basically kepping the publishing industry stable. She also dishes about her role as a creative consultant for the 2012 big screen adaptation of Sweet Valley High, which is being written by Oscar-winner Diablo Cody. The next few years will be the back-to-back Years of Sweet Valley and this fanboy couldn't be happier.
Daytime Confidential: The Sweet Valley Universe is making quite the comeback! Diablo Cody is penning a big screen version of Sweet Valley High, and in March 2011, your long-anticipated novel Sweet Valley Confidential, which picks up with the lives of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield 10 years after they graduated from high school, will be released. How did these new projects come about?
Francine Pascal: I had the idea for Sweet Valley Confidential a long time ago. Of course, delving back into the world of Sweet Valley all these years later was a long and at times, challenging endeavor. But the process was quite magnificent and I’m hoping the fans will approve! As for Diablo Cody’s movie version, it all just fell into place naturally and I couldn’t be more thrilled!
DC: Fans of the original books received quite the shocking treat while reading the first chapter of Sweet Valley Confidential online, since a now twenty-something Liz spent quite a bit of time thinking about her orgasms! Are you nervous about fans of the original YA franchise adjusting to Liz and Jess talking about and having sex lives?
FP: Hey, they're 27. Don't you think they're entitled to orgasms? And let’s face it: the fans are older now, too. They get it!
DC: Ha! One thing that struck out to me as interesting in the sneak peek was that Liz now considers Bruce Patman, the rich boy jerk from the original novels, to be her best friend. How in the world did those two come to bond? Is she still cool with sweet, shy Enid?
FP: These are the answers waiting for you in Sweet Valley Confidential. All I will say is that a lot can happen to people in 10 years, these characters are no exceptions!
DC: Okay, now I really can't wait to read the entire book! Fans of all the Sweet Valley novels know that Elizabeth has had to forgive Jess many a sin, but in the sneak peek, the Wakefield sisters are no longer on speaking terms because of something unforgivable Jessica has done? Come on, what did Jess do that was so bad?
FP: Not telling. No way!
DC: Other than Jess and Liz, my favorite Sweet Valley character was scheming, loaded, bad girl Lila Fowler. Can you give any hints as to what Lila's been up to? Is she still holding court at her fabulous mansion, Fowler Crest? What about Liz's one-true love, Todd?
FP: Think March 29th. That's when all will be revealed. All the main characters are back and waiting to be rediscovered as adults.
DC: Okay, okay, I'll just have to wait. You initially pitched the Sweet Valley universe as a daytime soap opera, and alongside your late husband, John Pascal, once wrote for the ABC sudser, The Young Marrieds. Would you ever consider writing for soaps again?
FP: No. That's something you do when you are young and hungry. We were second writers. That's the start position. The hardest part was watching the show every day.
DC: Long-running teen soap opera Degrassi High is currently airing new episodes daily on TeenNick as part of a six-week telenovela-syle experiment. Could you ever see yourself doing something similar with characters from Sweet Valley?
FP: Sweet Valley should have been what Beverly Hills, 90210 became, but NBC thought it was too pink! For now, Sweet Valley Confidential and the upcoming movie are enough. Later on, maybe. You never know what the future will bring.
DC: Are you involved in the big screen version Diablo is writing in any capacity?
FP: Yes, I am signed on as the creator and a consultant.
DC: With so many headlines about the publishing industry struggling, YA novels have basically been what's kept the industry holding steady, from Harry Potter to those emo vampires and werewolves from Twilight. Why do you think young teens are still so interested in books, when they're the ones who supposedly have such short attention spans?
FP: There is something books offer teens that movie and television simply cannot, and that is imagination. With a book, the story and characters are there, but they’re on paper. It becomes the reader’s job to bring them to life. I’m not so sure about the short attention span thing, I think as long as teens are engaged and inspired, they’re able to stay connected. If a book is good, and you can ask anyone, you don’t put it down until you’ve finished it.
DC:. What are your thoughts on eBooks? Do you ever think we'll see a day when actual printed books go the way of the VCR tape?
FP: I hope not, but there's no stopping eBooks and I'm okay with that.
DC: While book-to-film and/or TV projects have been around forever, it seems in recent years Hollywood is heading to the bookshelves a lot more often. What makes literary works so appealing to producers, in your opinion?
FP: Well, the story is already there and so is the public. Producers can look at the success of a given book, and gauge whether or not that audience will take an interest in a movie or television version. Readers are always left to their own devices when it comes to bringing characters to life. Sometimes it’s nice when a movie does it for you.
DC: The first Sweet Valley novel debuted way back in 1983. Why do you think the characters have resonated with generations of readers for so long?
FP: Well, adolescence is eternal. And also pretty much the same all over the world. Sweet valley tapped into all of the major events of teenage life: love, heartbreak, tragedy, friendship, family… That's why Sweet Valley sold in twenty-five different languages, it relates to everyone.
Sweet Valley Confidential goes on sale March 29, 2011. Diablo Cody's big screen adaptation of Sweet Valley High is slated for a 2012 release.