The insidious influence of Beatrice Sparks

I was converting the third, fourth, and fifth of my Max’s House books out of MacWriteII the other day (since I decided to use a section of the opening chapter-like section of #5 for the upcoming Can You Leave Us Breathless? Blogfest Contest), and skimming through #3, Resolutions (which is broken up over six files and which I’m estimating is somewhere in the vicinity of 85,000 words pre-editing), it’s clear that that old fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks had some kind of influence on my writing style at the time. It’s very embarrassing to realize this, but it seems like that’s the case.

It’s a blessing in disguise in this instance that converting old MacWriteII files by dragging them down into the Word icon at the bottom of the screen (which is slightly less difficult and time-consuming than how I was doing it before, by opening the old files through TextEdit and then copying and pasting the text in between the gibberish blocks into a Word file) robs them of all the original formatting. MH #3 was one of the books whose first draft was handwritten, between 24 December 1994 and 6 April 1995. (I have the dates at the end of the sixth file, since I like to keep track of when I wrote things like that.) And I do remember a LOT of the words were unnecessarily underlined and double-underlined. (Remember, you obviously can’t use bold or italics when you’re handwriting, and this was still a time when I underlined and double-underlined when I was transcribing them. I’ve since switched over to using italics for emphasis, and in rare occasions bold italics for extra emphasis.) There were also a lot of words which were unnecessarily put in all caps, if I remember correctly. Many of my journal entries from this same time were also riddled with such overuse of underlining. MH #3 is also rather full of unnecessary adverbs and other purple prose. And guess whose trademark that is!

If you don’t already know, “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks was born in 1918 (I’m surprised she’s still living!) and is an extremely conservative, religious shrink who lives in Utah. She’s most famous for having written (NOT edited) the fraud Go Ask Alice and for having made up the majority of Jay’s Journal to include a Satanic theme that was never present in the journal of the real Jay, Alden Barrett. She only used about 25 of Alden’s actual journal entries when she was cobbling her second fraud together, and because of this, the Barrett family went through a lot of problems. “Dr.” Sparks didn’t do such a stellar job of disguising Alden’s identity, and the family suffered a lot of grief in their community because people believed Alden had really been a Satanist. The family was forced to move, the parents eventually divorced, and Alden’s headstone was defaced and stolen several times. And not that Satanism is one of the religions I’ve done much reading on, but from what little I know about it, authentic Satanism is nothing like how “Dr.” Sparks depicts it.

She also wrote a number of other books meant to scare teens out of normal teen behavior and to become unrealistic goody-goodies who never curse, think of the opposite sex, resent their parents, lie, skip church, or do anything the good “doctor” deems immoral. I felt sick when I found out It Happened to Nancy, about a young girl who dies of AIDS only two years after being date-raped by her older “boyfriend,” might have been largely faked like Jay’s Journal, or even made up entirely. I had gotten emotionally involved with this dear girl when I read the book twice in a row at fourteen, cried at the end both times, and been angry at the jerk who did this to her. It’s not cool to play with people’s emotions like that. When I reread the book a few years ago, I saw “Dr.” Sparks’s Molly Mormon fingerprints all over it (strange that the Catholic Nancy is saying and referring to so many things that are clearly drawn from Mormon theology and which would be highly unlikely to be known about by someone who hasn’t done a fair bit of reading on the religion). And yet some of the entries read like they were written by an actual young girl. Perhaps it was based on a real diary, but then Sparks just added a lot of her own entries to give it her own spin.

I’ve read three of her other books, Annie’s Baby (one of the worst books I’ve ever read), Treacherous Love (also extremely horrible), and Finding Katie. The lattermost book actually wasn’t too bad by her standards, even though much of it also reeked of unreality. I was a teen of the Nineties myself, and the depictions of how teens of that decade thought, talked, and acted rang completely false. These books all read like books written, in journal form, about a specific problem, with a beginning, middle, and end. They speak of almost nothing but the issue. Real journals contain a lot more than just talking about a problem in one’s life. I suppose none of these teens listened to music, went to the movies, had idle chit-chat with their friends, went to the mall, reacted to current events, nothing that normal people talk about in journals.

Funny how all these teens have the same exact writing style and moral preachiness. They also never get drawn into these issues of their own free will. They’re raped, drugged, taken advantage of. God forbid a teen willingly have premarital sex, experiment with drugs, run away from home, drink alcohol, etc. There are far better ways to impart moral warnings and encourage healthy lifestyle choices than by lying to, preaching at, and scaring your intended audience.

She even has some stock lines she uses in all her books, like “I’m so glad my dear sweet mommy is MY mom.” I never knew any teens who were all lovey-dovey with their parents and rushed to apologize if they said anything negative about their parents. A journal is a place for honesty, not apologizing for thinking bad thoughts about your parents or using a curse word. It’s extremely unrealistic for a teen to be all cuddly with her parents.

All her teens have the exact same writing style, esp. WRITING ENTIRE PASSAGES IN ALL CAPS, USING EXCESSIVE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!, randomly italicizing, and sometimes RANDOMLY ITALICIZING PASSAGES IN CAPS!!!!!! It’s extremely difficult to read all caps, and annoying. It’s the equivalent of screaming. A lot of her teens also use silly made-up words I’m sure even a first grader would be embarrassed to use. I don’t think even teens from her own teenage era, the Thirties, acted like such goody-goodies or used such lame words! And all her narrators give the time at the start of journal entries. Why is it that all these teens have the exact same moral preachiness, over the top writing style, and even little linguistic quirks? Oh, yeah, because Sparks is the one who wrote all these books.

She also portrays teens as very stupid and naïve. I refuse to believe Jenny from the hideous Treacherous Love, were she real, would’ve remained in the dark about her teacher’s sick intentions till she heard a voice message from a friend talking about what a pervert he is. This guy is so clearly doing and saying gross, pedophilic things to her, and she thinks they’re just a normal couple with a big age difference? And why is Nancy letting some dude she barely knows spend the night at her house and thinking they’ve got a full-blown, serious relationship after less than a week? And by the time you’re fourteen, you should know the difference between an 18-year-old college boy and a 32-year-old grown man. (But then again, I only liked guys my own age when I was in high school, and then only liked younger guys till I found my beshert, who to my great surprise ended up being three years my senior. The thought of an older guy being with a teen girl always gave me the creeps, since even a few years of difference is a huge deal when the younger party is all of 14 or 15 years old. I never was one of those girls who was like, “Ooh, he’s OLDER and he likes ME, I must be SOOO mature!” Barf.)

For whatever reason, I kept in the original unnecessary underlinings and other purple prose when I was transcribing MH #3 in the summer of ’99. Back then, even though my writing had matured by leaps and bounds over the last few years, I was still in a rather immature place that said editing or rewriting your original work was sacrilegious. Now I know that it’s not necessarily kowtowing or betraying your art to edit some things out or to rewrite things. It’s done to make your work better, esp. if the earlier, more immature pieces no longer fit with the plot you later developed. It’s for this reason that the first MH book needs the most editing. The new stuff I wrote in ’99, when I was transcribing it and making the second draft, are like night and day compared to the original material from December ’91 to April ’93. I look at the steady stream of MH books I wrote between 1999 and 2002, and when compared to the rough drafts of #1, #2 (which is on a long hiatus, for reasons I’ll explain later), and #7, it’s almost like they were written by two different people. I also handwrote the original drafts of #3 (obviously) and #8, in 1994 and 1995, and while there are still some issues with them, they’re still a fair bit better than the first drafts of the earlier MH books I wrote.

In other news, I’m looking forward to reformatting and editing all the MH books I’ve got completed to date, and then going back onto my old desktop to finish #12. (I was doing so well on #12, after some years of hiatus, but then I got so caught up in writing the stories of my Shoah characters from 1944 on, both during and after the War, to be inserted into various MH books at the proper time, that I sorta lost interest in #12. I believe I was up to 12 chapters, possibly up to April or May of 1944, and probably have perhaps 10 or so chapters left to go, maybe less.) The files on that computer are in AppleWorks, which at least isn’t quite so obsolete as MacWriteII or ClarisWorks. I love the sound my disks make when they’re loading in my external disk drive, and when I see the last date modified as being 1999, 2000, 2001. It’s like going back in time, even if I can’t see those files in their original MacWriteII formats on the old ’96 Mac.

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