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.

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!

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.