There are many various and sundry reasons the first Atlantic City books I wrote are/were in need of such radical rewrites and restructurings:
They feel more like the early 1990s than the 1940s—slang, clothes, shoes, hairstyles, attitudes, the kinds of drugs being used, an overall lack of historical flavor beyond occasional shallow window-dressing, events and storylines drawn right from then-contemporary TV shows, movies, and books.
No real plots for the longest time. Even a deliberately slower-paced, character-based, episodic story where coming of age over a long period IS the plot needs to be hung on some kind of arc and trajectory. It can’t just consist of random events without significance.
Unrealistic, overnight reformations, with popular “bad kids” seeing the “error” of their ways and befriending unpopular “nice kids.” At fifteen, I was struck by how annoying Sam is, and how weird and overstepping her mother Urma is. I radically rewrote them as antagonists.
Corniness. I watched way too many TGIF shows and other saccharine sitcoms of the era!
Unsympathetic characters. I intended them as anti-goody-goodies (even after their reformation), but there’s a huge difference between realistic people who are more spice than sugar and being outright mean-spirited, hair-trigger, foul-mouthed, rude, and sociopathic!
Poor grasp of how cognitive development works at different ages. Even very early bloomers and advanced readers are still their actual age deep down, no matter how much they think they’re all grown-up already and so much more mature than other kids their age. E.g., the average kid going into fifth grade won’t be having sex, getting drunk, trying drugs, or attending unchaperoned parties.
Thinking I was being clever by forcing “the dawn of rock and roll” and foreshadowing of the British Invasion into books set in 1949 and 1950. Why did I never think to just create new books set in the Sixties if I wanted storylines focused on popular music of that era?
Writing in Frankie Valli as Kit’s ex Robert’s child prodigy cousin. Yeah, I totally would’ve gotten sued had I continued down that path! Even though he was depicted 100% positively, you can’t just put a real, still-living person in a fictional story and give him relatives he doesn’t have! Let alone showing him escaping a speeding car to avoid being killed in a planned fatal crash! I kept the Valli family, but Robert’s cousin became Freddie, and the singing prodigy angle was axed.
Inability to think beyond ticked boxes. I stuffed in everything but the kitchen sink, packing in as many social ills, after school special issues, and clichés of preteen and teen life as possible. Thus, these characters never truly came alive as more than names on pages and developed their own personalities till my second wind of writing the first drafts of the prequel series in 1997.
Going way too far in the other direction in my quest to make anti-goody-goodies. I became very annoyed at how unnaturally G-rated preteens and teens in series like The Babysitters’ Club and insipid shows like Full House were, without any peer pressure, wild parties, drugs, smoking, drinking, sex, serious dating, real fights with parents, acrimonious familial relationships, cursing, breaking curfew, reading dirty magazines, shoplifting, or wearing immodest clothes.
Planning and starting at least a dozen spin-off series. I’m so glad neverending wandering serials are no longer a hot trend in youth lit. There are 340 books in The Babysitters’ Club, 612 in Sweet Valley High, and way more Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books than I want to calculate!
Getting unrealistic ideas about my peers due to not having many friends and attending a rather bad public school system from K-10. My mother still regrets not trying harder to find a way to pay for me to attend a nearby private girls’ school after sixth grade. A lot of the kids I knew really were doing the kinds of things my characters did, and I naïvely assumed that was normal instead of indicative of poverty and/or broken homes.
I’ll never forget the day in seventh grade gym class when we had to stand on different sides to indicate support or opposition to certain things. I was the only one who thought it was fine for fellow 12-year-olds to have sex! A girl with cornrows in a ponytail asked me if I were having sex, and I said no, I just thought people should be allowed to do that if they wanted to.
I’ve always been annoyed by unnaturally good, sweet, G-rated child and teen characters, and I’ll never relate to women who have warm, close-knit, lovey-dovey relationships with their mothers. But I went way too far in depicting the other side. Real life consists of many shades of grey, not extremes.
The best characters behave like real people, not items on a checklist full of clichés. Let them become their own people instead of thinking they have to be a certain way and never letting any uniqueness develop.