How to write a book in the style of Beatrice Sparks

It’s been too long since I wrote a post ripping the late fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks a new one. So, let’s do that!

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care if someone wrote books I didn’t click with. One person’s lousy writing is another’s treasure. But in the case of “Dr.” Sparks, this isn’t just about bad writing or books that aren’t my style at all. Since more than a few people, esp. in her target audience, believe these are true stories, she was dangerous and unethical in addition to a fraud.

Some of her books are marginally better than others. They’re not all pure horse dung. But with the obvious exception of the 25 real entries from Alden Barrett in Jay’s Journal, they all read like the work of an over the hill, extremely conservative and religious person pretending to be a teen.

We now know Sparks lied about her training, education, credentials, experience, etc. People who know what’s what also understand she was the true authors of all those books, and what she did to the poor Barrett family.

I have NO problem with either a real-life or fictional teen being religious, frequently praying, having a close-knit relationship with her or his mother, trying to live a G-rated life, being conservative, etc.

What I DO have an issue with is how Sparks injected this into each and every one of her books, making her characters clones of herself. The way her characters express these things is so unrealistic, ridiculous, over the top, identical.

How to write in the style of “Dr.” Sparks:

1. Always give the time of day at the start of each entry, and every time you return to an entry later in the day.

2. Everyone loves RANDOM CAPS! In fact, readers have even more love for ENTIRE SENTENCES IN ALL CAPS, or, better, yet, COMPLETE PARAGRAPHS IN ALL CAPS!

3. We all love random italics too!

4. The best of both worlds is RANDOM CAPS IN ITALICS!

5. Who doesn’t love excessive exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6. PUT THEM ALL TOGETHER REGULARLY FOR EVEN BETTER, MORE INTENSE WRITING!!!!!!!!!!

7. Repeat words thrice for emphasis; e.g., “We’ve heard he’s loud loud loud” and “My mom is soooo very wonderful. I love love love her.”

8. Randomly use advanced, fancy-sounding words while pretending you have no idea where you heard them. Even better if you use distinctively Mormon concepts and terminology while feigning ignorance about their meanings.

9. At the same time, talk like a preschool kid, with beyond-babyish language. Who wouldn’t believe a 15-year-old ex-gangbanger would say “Goobly-goop-poop”?!

10. Make up baby words and sprinkle in lots of connected nonsense syllables even a doo-wop song would reject, like kit-kit-kit-kat-kat-doodle.

11. Oversimplify complex issues, and solve them in record time.

12. Use the stock line, “Ooh, I’m sooo glad my dear, sweet, precious Mom is MY dear, sweet, precious Mom!”

13. Engage in hardcore, fetishistic maternal worship, where all things Mommykins and mothers are pure, holy, angelic, never negative.

14. Make sure your character comes from a broken home, and depict divorced families as the worst moral crisis ever, bound to lead to all manner of social ills and sins.

15. Trawl through psychology textbooks and after school specials for “serious” lines to sprinkle in, like a mean girl quickly admitting she only acts like an aloof snob who doesn’t want friends because she’s insecure and afraid of rejection.

16. Pack in as many problems as possible, no matter how disconnected.

17. Make your characters mentally much younger; e.g., a 14-year-old who sounds like a 3-year-old.

18. Your characters are never drawn into drug use, premarital sex, pregnancy, gangs, cults, etc., through their own actions. It’s always the fault of bad friends tricking, abusing, exploiting them.

19. Everything is always Magickally alright again after your narrator tearfully confides in Mommykins, who’s amazingly loving, forgiving, accepting, an angel on Earth.

20. Use lines no teen ever would utter, like, “Wowee! Now I know what hormones are!”

21. Immediately apologize for cursing; thinking negative, unappreciative thoughts; or saying less than worshipful things about parents. E.g., “Ew, Mom! You are such a gross bitch!” (Five minutes later.) “ZOMG! How dare I curse at my dear, sweet, precious Mommykins in the pages of my own journal! I’m worse than Hitler! I might as well kill myself now!”

22. Jump into relationships at lightning-speed, and act like you’ve already got a serious, eternal pair-bond with a total stranger.

Beatrice Sparks, I hate you. May you continue to be exposed as the vile fraud you were. Teens learn best by honest examples delivered respectfully, not by being lied to, preached at, scared, and emotionally manipulated.

Her second fraud

I was so naïve once. I had no idea for many years that Jay’s Journal is like 75% the work of the late fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks, nor that she also was the sole or primary author of other frauds including Go Ask Alice and It Happened to Nancy. Who the hell was this old crank’s agent or editor? Who even gave her a publishing deal or writing contract?

This book is notable for being the only known, verified instance of having originally come from a real teen’s journal. The young man who wrote about 25 of the entries included in the published product was named Alden Barrett. He did keep a journal, he did suffer from depression and personal problems, and he did take his own life in 1971. After his suicide, his parents gave his journal to Sparks, in the sadly mistaken belief that she’d be able to help other troubled teens as she’d done with her first fraud, Go Ask Alice.

The result was a book that only contained about 25 entries written by Alden, identified as “Jay.” The Barrett family were horrified at how many liberties this crank had taken with his journal. She invented a bizarre Satanic theme and included material she’d culled from meeting with real teens who were involved in cults. Other stuff she just made up out of her own twisted mind.

While Satanism isn’t one of the world religions I’ve looked into in much depth, from what superficial basics I do know, it isn’t anything like what’s depicted here. Only cults that have nothing to do with real, official Satanism do things like ritually kill cats, drink cows’ blood, shred voodoo dolls, and drink mixtures of drugs and animal blood.

Apparently Sparks didn’t do such a stellar job of changing identifying information, and the community in American Fork, Utah quickly figured out just who this book was written by and where it was set. They were so disturbed by the alleged Satanism that the family had to leave town and the parents eventually divorced. Alden’s gravestone was desecrated several times, and once it was stolen and then returned facing the opposite direction. All because they trusted the wrong person, not realizing she’d use Alden’s journal as propaganda for her self-righteous agenda.

The entries from the real Alden naturally feel a lot more authentic than the fraudulent ones. They read like they were written by a real teen, since they were. In hindsight, after finding out the real, sad story, I realized that he does go from genius honors student and active community member to druggie, disturbed Satanist far too quickly. No one switches personalities that quickly, even if drugs are involved.

Sparks’s version of events:

Jay/Alden starts out as a brilliant honours student, a genius-level IQ, a devoted church-goer, active in the debate team, working well in his father’s store, and very tight with his two lifelong best friends. But he falls under the influence of an addicted girlfriend and is soon putting drugs in the prescriptions in his dad’s drugstore, as well as stealing to feed her habit. He knows it’s very dangerous and might hurt innocent people, but he likes her so much he doesn’t seem to care longterm.

After he’s caught, he’s shipped off to some kind of reform school, where he falls under the influence of a man who secretly teaches him about auras, projection, crystals, all sorts of occult and paranormal things. Jay/Alden has been brought up a devoted church-goer, and questions the veracity of some of these things, but starts thinking that maybe they’re not so bogus after all. (Later it comes out that this mentor raped a 10-year-old boy in a broom closet.)

After he comes home, he recruits his two best friends. Then he falls under the influence of people heavily into the occult. Soon they’re making voodoo dolls of their enemies and getting great results. Jay is freaked out, but gets even deeper and more excited when he and his friends start sacrificing animals and drinking their blood.

He and his new girlfriend are married in a Satanic ceremony involving slain cats, before things get really really freaky in an initiation ceremony. They all go up to a cabin and are made to drink a concoction of drugs and animal blood, and levitate outside their bodies, doing things they didn’t want to do but have no control over.

Soon after this, Jay and his friends get possessed by the Devil, evil scary things start happening, and a demonic spirit comes to Jay’s house and talks to him, later jumping into the family cat. Really freaky spooky stuff. My hair was standing on end while I was reading this.

Jay feels it’s all heading out of control. He decides to try to come clean and confess to his parents, and to talk to his pastor. But it’s too late. His next entry says he doesn’t want any part of the things living people have and enjoy, and he kills himself.

There’s a special place in Hell for people like Beatrice Sparks. What she did was just vile, using a real young man’s journal and twisting it into a story of a Satanic cult just to continue her holier than thou crusade.

Treacherous Love, Treacherous Writing

Beatrice Sparks’s book about a teen girl who gets into an inappropriate relationship with her teacher is her horrible usual writing style, but I must admit it did somewhat pick up and get better towards the end. And the back matter did have some good resources for teens who might be in creepy relationships like Jennie’s. Everything else sucked as badly as usual.

At least in some of her other books, Sparks’s authorship isn’t so obvious right from the very start. This book was only marginally better than the horrific Annie’s Baby, and that’s only because it finally starting getting relatively interesting and dramatic towards the end (in spite of a too-perfect conclusion). Until the last 20 pages or so, it was pretty difficult to slog through.

It has the exact same writing style as all of her other books:

A protagonist who thinks, writes, talks, acts absolutely nothing like a modern American teen, with the maturity level of a five-year-old

Characters who are clichés and stereotypes from some over the top morality play or after school special

Ridiculous, childish language

Obnoxious moral preachiness

Apologizing for cursing, thinking negative or unappreciative thoughts, or criticising one’s parents in one’s own journal

And of course, Sparks’s specialty, frequently WRITING IN ALL CAPS, OFTEN FOR SEVERAL LINES IN A ROW, excessive italics, and excessive exclamation points!!!!! It’s so difficult to read something like that. Not only is it annoying and childish, but it also really distracts from the story.

Jennie’s parents have a weird relationship; one moment they’re fighting a lot, the next they’re trying to reconcile and work things out, and then her dad finally leaves. Her mom turns to pills to deal with the pain, and Jennie clings to her two best friends, Bridget and Marcie. Marcie started out as a snob she and Bridget hated, till the oh-so-unrealistic scene when Marcie asks to eat lunch with them and immediately admits she only acts snobby and like she doesn’t want or need friends because she’s afraid no one would want her as a friend otherwise.

Jennie is upset that Bridget gets a boyfriend, Brad, and starts hanging out with him instead of her. Brad eventually dumps Bridget, and the three girls, in a typically unbelievable and ridiculous storyline, start doing weed (wearing only underwear and shower caps, for fear they might smell of drugs) until they’re caught by Marcie’s father the general. Sparks really managed to pack a lot of her pet crusades into this book—drugs, religion, teen relationships, broken homes, alcoholism, the works! She even snuck in a ridiculous anti-feminist comment, when Jennie comments on a teacher who wants to go by Ms. instead of Miss, and how all of the kids “wonder if she’s a…you know.” Since when do modern American teens consider it suspicious or wrong for a woman to go by Ms.? This isn’t the Fifties!

Jennie feels close to her new sub in math, Mr. Johnstone, really quickly, and sees nothing creepy or inappropriate by how he singles her out for increasing amounts of attention. She almost immediately is declaring he’s perfect and that they have something special together (another Sparks trope). It’s never said exactly how old he is, but I’d assume he’s at least 10 years older than Jennie.

Jennie lets him get weirder and weirder, even to the point where he’s taking pedophilic pictures of her looking like a little girl and asking her to marry him on her 15th birthday. She only comes back to her senses when she discovers, by accident, what’s really been going on.

Seriously, I really don’t think any real teen girl would be that dumb, not even one from a dysfunctional family. Of course, everything starts to get back to normal when Jennie finally confides in her dear sweet Mommy, whom she’s so glad is her precious Mom (yet another stock line!), and they both start praying and going to church.

Sparks really let a clue of her authorship slip when she had Jennie say she feels like she’s been kicked out of the celestial circle, a term she’s heard but doesn’t know the meaning of. What are the odds she would’ve actually heard that term anywhere unless she’s supposed to be Mormon? I only recognize all this Mormon language in Sparks’s books because I’ve studied world religions!

Jennie is by far one of Sparks’s most annoying, childish, ridiculous, and loathsome creations. I really wanted to slap her for being so stupid, overly emotional, and juvenile. Sparks had no clue how modern teens really write, talk, act, and think. She also didn’t realize you can impart important lessons like don’t do drugs, be wary of excessive, increasingly intimate attention from a teacher, don’t have unprotected sex, etc., without lying to and preaching at young people to try to scare them straight.

The only things she was really good at were creating victims and preaching.

Finding Katie review

Maybe I’m being too soft on this book, but I thought it was marginally better than Beatrice Sparks’s horrible usual. There’s actually a bit more substance than usual, and I must hand it to her for getting through an entire book without constantly breaking out into excessive italics, exclamation points, and sentences written in all caps. It even starts out seeming like it could’ve been taken from (or at least based on) an actual teenager’s diary instead of entirely made up.

However, there are still a number of suspicious problems. It just reads too much like a book written, in journal form, deliberately and premeditatively about a specific problem, and not drawn from the pages of a real-life teen’s journal. How many teen journals has Dr. Sparks really read if she thinks that they all focus so exclusively on a certain issue in their lives? None of her characters have much of any character development. They’re all defined by their issues.

In spite of being a bit better-developed than usual, the characters still seemed like one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Most teen journals are also composed of a lot of mundane he said-she said-type chatter, you know, writing about things besides problems in their lives. The frequent gaps in the narrative, like having several weeks between some entries, also add to the problems. And like Sparks’s other characters, Katie also seems a lot younger than she’s supposed to be.

Katie is a student at a Catholic girls’ school (rather embodying the stereotype of the sheltered innocent Catholic schoolgirl) and living with her parents in a huge mansion, surrounded by wealth and luxury. Her mother is badly abused by her Jeckyll and Hyde father, and because of her father’s controlling personality, Katie herself has never really been allowed to have friends, associate with boys, or do normal teens things. She gets excited about future possibilities when she and her new friend Jennifer meet two boys, Mark and David, at a museum, and secretly begin dating.

Katie’s father starts paying her unwarranted amounts of attention as soon as he notices that she’s becoming a young woman. Feeling starved for love, she accepts his sudden lavish attention, not realising till it’s too late that he’s behaving extremely inappropriately. Things come to a head when he finds out she’s been dating and dumps her in a very run-down area of L.A. While Katie is praying before her planned suicide, she’s found by Salvation Army man. He takes her to a shelter, and from there she gets put into foster care.

Sadly, the depictions of foster care seem to be pretty accurate instead of, as is Dr. Sparks’s usual forte, made up or wildly exaggerated to scare her target audience. As realistic as this aspect appears to be, however, this scenario just doesn’t fit together at all.

Why doesn’t anyone ever attempt to contact the police or search for her? We’re supposed to believe her horrid father just throws her onto the streets and no one ever is suspicious about why she just suddenly disappeared? And why doesn’t Katie herself want to go home? At one point she calls her dad’s secretary, who’s happy to hear from her, but Katie can’t even tell her where she is, nor does this secretary ever contact authorities. And though she’s frustrated, depressed, and angry, Katie adapts a little too quickly to foster care and a crummy school two grades behind her actual grade. (She lied about her age when she was found).

Wouldn’t most teens, particularly if they came from education, manners, and money, like Katie is always talking about, be fighting tooth and nail to go home? Instead she focuses on helping the other foster kids to become as mannered, educated, ambitious, and socially skilled as she is (with many mentions of prayer, religion, and repentance, of course).

Now I could see this had Katie been a child, but for a 16-year-old to just adapt that readily, without a fight? Coupled with her juvenile attitude and writing style, it just defies plausibility! And again, why would anyone be expected to believe a teenager from a rich, privileged family can just disappear with no one ever investigating and starting a search?

The ending is also a bit hard to swallow, given the grim reality foster teens face. It’s hard to believe how many of these younger kids so easily come under her wing and quickly adopt her way of thinking and living, but again, Sparks had a poor grasp of just how modern teens think, act, write, talk, and behave.

There’s a bit of supplementary material in the back on child abuse, crisis hotlines, abductions, and throwaway children. The back matter is skimpier than usual, not as extensive as the appendices in her books on subjects like AIDS and teen pregnancy.

Did it really happen to Nancy?

You know, I really don’t begrudge the late fraud Beatrice Sparks for having been very religious and conservative. That was her prerogative. I don’t even have so much of a problem with her sharing her views in a non-pushy way. And I think most people can agree that teens need to be taught to avoid things like drugs, unprotected sex, unhealthy relationships, eating disorders, gangs, and cults (which real Satanism is not, btw).

What I and her many other critics do have a problem with is how she chose to present those views.

Young people learn most and best through honesty and meaningful examples. They don’t learn anything or suddenly change destructive behavior by being preached at, lied to, emotionally manipulated, and scared. Who are these people who really believe this old hag was merely the “editor” of all these “real, troubled teen diaries”? That is not how real teens write, act, think, or behave! And each and every book has a suspiciously similar writing style.

At 14, I read It Happened to Nancy (which I grudgingly admit is one of her marginally better books) twice in a row and cried at the end both times. As an adult, finding out it may have been entirely or predominantly a fraud, I felt tricked, emotionally manipulated. This dear young girl may never have lived at all? How dare you pretend this was a 100% real diary of a girl who died of AIDS!

This book actually starts out sounding like it could’ve come from a real teen’s journal. Maybe I’m being too soft on it, but perhaps it was another Jay’s Journal—it was originally a real teen’s journal, but heavily censored, padded-out, and rewritten to push Sparks’s POV.

Even at 14, I knew not to sneak around to “date” a supposedly 18-year-old college freshman, and not to invite guys over when I was home alone overnight. How the hell naïve are we supposed to believe Nancy is? And by the time you’re 14, you should be able to tell the difference between an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old. Like all of Sparks’s other characters, Nancy too is convinced she and Collin have some special, magical, timeless, epic love story when she barely knows him. They’ve been acquainted for exactly 10 days when she invites him over and he rapes her on her mother’s bed.

We’ve got the usual ENTIRE SENTENCES OR EVEN WHOLE PARAGRAPHS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, excessive italics, overuse of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!, divorced parents, vehement (and very medically-inaccurate) anti-abortion rhetoric, ridiculous phrases and sentiments that no normal teenager uses, giving the time of day for every entry, a young girl falling in love with someone she barely knows and feeling they have a special forever bond immediately, a lot of God talk, and pushing abstinence until marriage as the only option.

I love the scene where Lew, Nancy’s fanatically pro-abstinence boyfriend, stops a heavy makeout session dead in its tracks, when they were almost at home base, and starts dragging her down the streets and into a church, where he makes her kneel with him and promise to God that they’ll wait for marriage. Yeah, oh-so-realistic.

Again, Sparks’s Molly Mormon fingerprints are all over this one. Just be honest and make your characters Mormon. Don’t pretend they’re Catholics or some unspecified type of Christian, yet frequently using very Mormon language! Nancy often says she wants to be the “forever wife” of the sexist, controlling Lew (whom I HATED on the reread!), how they’re going to be together through the infinity of eternities in their own world, and that she and Lew were together in a world before they were born and will be together in their own world after death.

Nancy also uses the phrase “celestial-planet,” which corresponds somewhat to the Mormon view that the highest of the three levels of the afterlife is the “celestial kingdom.” Oh, and her Aunt Thelma out in Idaho has a black rooster named Samuel the Lamanite. Seriously, this is like writing a mystery and making the clues of whodunnit so obvious it’s not even a surprise when the sleuth solves the mystery!

Lew was a complete tool. One of my least-favorite fictional boyfriends, right up there with Michael in Forever (the weirdo who names his male member Ralph). So sexist, controlling, and putting all the onus of blame and responsibility for sexuality onto Nancy. Nancy continues kissing up to him and bending over backwards to keep him happy, even neglecting to mention her new guy friend Adam out in Arizona for fear he’ll get mad.

Nancy’s friend Dorie gets pregnant by a slightly older guy, who unsurprisingly dumps her and denies paternity. Just like the noxious Annie, she too gives it up for adoption. They even call the baby “Little Dorie,” just like Annie calls her kid “Li’l Annie.” In Sparks’s world, no single mom is capable of being a loving, responsible parent, and it’s so commonplace for girls to be named after their mothers.

Oh, and please explain how Nancy’s doctor was able to give her an HIV test without her knowledge or permission, and how she goes from HIV to full-blown AIDS in two years. Please explain why there are people like Magic Johnson who’ve never progressed to AIDS, even after over 20 years. This book isn’t set in the Eighties!