The writer reflects on her old part-time job—ghostwriting the Sweet Valley High book series:
"Sweet Valley High set its fables of 'same and different' in a 1980s world of new wealth and upward mobility, latching on to an innovative publishing reality: create a mass-market paperback series for young female readers, keep the price point low enough that it could be absorbed by a middle-class allowance, and use the books themselves to advertise each other by 'seeding' the plots of each subsequent book in the final chapters. After almost a decade of new realism offered to teen readers by Judy Blume, whose heroines had scoliosis or weight problems or pimples and worried about getting their periods and struggled about whether or not to believe in God, Sweet Valley High offered a pastel, romantic antidote: a world of action instead of contemplation, a world in which bodies were seen soft-focus, free of the slightest blemish or appetite. Mysterious illnesses aside, this was a disembodied world, where corporeality was hinted at solely through actions: the twins 'sped' in their shiny red Fiat Spider convertible; 'dashed' to the mall; or 'raced' upstairs to phone a friend. Rhetoric mattered here as much as action—the books were filled with dialogue, and talk was everywhere—gossip, confidences, promises, avowals, protests, demurrals. I never knew, before I started writing for Sweet Valley, how many synonyms there were for the verb 'said.' The twins by and large didn’t 'say' things—instead, they chuckled and giggled and whispered and murmured and sighed. They 'gasped' over good news or bad. They lived in a fantasy world, these girls, and as long as I was writing about them, to some extent, so did I."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5173 words)
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This week's Longreads Member Exclusive comes from Margot Singer
, whose essay "Call It Rape" was published in the Fall 2012 issue of The Normal School
. Jeffery Gleaves, an editorial assistant for the magazine, writes:
"Located at California State University at Fresno, The Normal School
is a biannual magazine of literary intrigue that is distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada. Through etymological and personal history, Margot Singer's 'Call it Rape' examines the very complicated position of living in a world where gender power dynamics seem to pervade every part of our lives. The essay seems to tangle, more than untangle, sex and violence. It messes with your head and leaves you feeling something real, something complicated and messy. Good essays are fueled by the contradictions of everyday living; and essays like 'Call it Rape' threaten to stick with you and unsettle you, to keep you awake at night."
Singer is the author of The Pale of Settlement
(University of Georgia Press, 2007), winner of the Flannery O'Connor Prize for Short Fiction. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review
, Ninth Letter
, and elsewhere. She is an Associate Professor at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where she directs the Creative Writing program.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 13, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5711 words)
[Fiction] According to Chinese mythology, the goddess Nugua formed the first mortals from yellow mud. An artist, she carefully sculpted each limb, pressed closed each fingertip, contoured each nose, creating individuals. But at some point she became impatient with the demands of craftsmanship and dipped a vine in darker soil, flung it every which way. Lumps of mud fell from the skies, and became human.
And so the land was divided into two races: the hand-formed pale-skinned nobles, and the darker commoners who had never known the goddess’s touch.
Chinese people, Annabel’s mother said, shaking her head. Such snobs. But in the lamplight, her mother’s face shone paler than the moon.
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2011
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3119 words)