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)
The writer lights up with Snoop Dogg, now known as Snoop Lion:
"I must pause here for a moment to point out that we are about to cross the threshold into Snoop's Narnia. And in Snoop's Narnia, ideas and concepts that many of us might find dubious, or unscrupulous, feel natural, even kind of innocent. By now, Snoop has joined the ranks of Keith Richards and Jack Nicholson—artists whom we have exempted from the standard rules of society because they're so widely beloved. So in Snoop's Narnia, it's perfectly normal to smoke weed everywhere, all the time, at any hour of the day. In Snoop's Narnia, it's perfectly acceptable to look forward to teaching your kids how to pick seeds out of your stash or how to roll a blunt. 'It's not that I would ever push weed on our kids,' says Snoop, who has three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, 'but if they wanted to, I would love to show them how, the right way, so that way they won't get nothing put in their shit or overdose or trying some shit that ain't clean.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3537 words)
The complicated business of helping Cuban baseball talent find their way to the U.S., and eventually the Major League:
"At some point — either before leaving Cuba or postdefection — every player needs a baseball agent. The seedier practitioners of this trade are often called buscónes, or searchers. Sometimes they bully clients into paying. 'I've heard of agents who hold players at gunpoint,' says Gus Dominguez, a Cuban-American from Los Angeles who has negotiated contracts for major-league Cuban exiles such as Rey Ordóñez and Yuniesky Betancourt. 'I've heard of agents who threaten to break their clients' legs or arms.'
"Dominguez should know about the dark seams of the business. In 2006, he was indicted for smuggling ballplayers through Key West. The feds built their case on the word of a convicted drug trafficker who claimed Dominguez had paid him $225,000 — borrowed from major-league catcher Henry Blanco — for the work."
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2012
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3485 words)
In her mind, she told me, there was one overwhelming thought: She wanted—she needed—Nik's sperm.
Outside the hospital, at the picnic table, she acknowledged how crazy the idea likely sounded. She said they could get an egg donor and a surrogate. No one said anything at first. They stared at her.
She went on. She told them how the last time she'd seen him, a little more than two weeks ago, he'd spoken again of his longing for children; she reminded them that they'd all had similar conversations with him. They'd decided to donate his organs anyway; why not take something from him that would otherwise go to waste? She spoke of making "Nikki's dream come true."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 24, 2011
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6428 words)
I want to hear about Be Here Now. "At the time, I was taking a lot of fucking drugs, so I didn't give a fuck," Gallagher says. "We were taking all the cocaine we could possibly find. But it wasn't like a seedy situation. We were at work. We weren't passed out on the floor with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. We were partying while we were working. And when that record was finished, I took it back to my house and listened to it when there wasn't a party happening and I wasn't out of my mind on cocaine. And my reaction was: 'This is fucking long.' I didn't realize how long it was. It's a long fucking record. And then I looked at the artwork, and it had all the song titles with all the times for each track, and none of them seemed to be under six minutes. So then I was like, 'Fucking hell. What's going on there?'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 6, 2011
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4052 words)
Bringing a World Series trophy to a title-starved city can do that for a guy, but Charlie Manuel—national hero in Japan, hitting savant, friend to the Amish, Ted Williams and pretty much everyone in between—was a worldly man long before you ever knew.
PUBLISHED: June 22, 2009
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5369 words)
Following news of the discovery of a new planet in Alpha Centauri
, a look at how scientists discover new planets:
"I’d come to meet Debra Fischer, a professor at San Francisco State University. As a co-discoverer of more than 150 planets, nearly half the known total outside our solar system, she is a prominent figure in astronomy. Her work on this lonely mountaintop could propel her past that, though, into realms of myth and legend. Fischer is using a modest, neglected telescope at CTIO to search for Earth-like planets in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own. If they exist, she should find them in three to five years.
"The implications would be timeless, echoing ancient questions of life’s purpose, outlining futures distant yet possible. Against the certainty of another Earth circling one of the closest stars in the sky, the entirety of recorded history would abruptly seem the briefest prelude to an eternal denouement, a fire kindled to be passed on without end. Alpha Centauri could become a beacon illuminating and bringing significance to the accumulated toils of generations. Driven by the spectral hope of another living world unexplored, our own could profoundly change. Or Fischer’s project could simply fail. Many astronomers assume it will."
PUBLISHED: May 19, 2009
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5602 words)