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.

Why I’m not wild about many current YA historicals

Warning: Potentially unpopular opinions to follow.

As I’ve discussed in a number of previous posts, it was a long, slow, challenging process to realize I write adult fiction that just happens to focus on young characters. The perception of the young adult category has changed so much from the time I was a young adult.

With some notable exceptions, I haven’t liked a lot of the YA historicals published in the U.S. within the last 10 years or so, since the YA explosion. The best recent YA historicals I’ve found tend to be published outside of the U.S., like Mal Peet’s Tamar, Paul Dowswell’s The Ausländer, and Anne C. Voorhoeve’s My Family for the War.

So many times one of my blogging buddies, or the reading public at large, raves about a certain YA historical, and I have the exact opposite reaction when I check it out. I often wonder if we read the same book! Probably a big reason I prefer YA historicals published outside of the U.S. is because those books focus more on the history instead of the teen experience. They also have a voice and style that speaks to people of all ages, instead of feeling intended only for teens.

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While I love MG historicals, and a select few YA historicals published in the U.S., I just feel like the current YA style doesn’t fit very well with traditional historical storytelling. I want to read about young people living through history, not young people who just happen to live in the past.

The extreme oversaturation of first-person in YA is also a roadblock for me. First-person absolutely can be done phenomenally well, but historical is a genre which traditionally works best with third-person omniscient for a reason. With so many YAs being first-person these days, the narrators start to run together after awhile. First-person voice also seems rather modern and too personal for historical.

As I’ve mentioned many times, there was no concept of adolescence until really the 20th century. There were children, and there were adults. Some adults were younger and less experienced, but they were still considered adults in the eyes of society. For example, many of the young wives in The Decameron are all of 13 or 14. It’s kind of hard to forcibly bend the story of a teenager 100+ years ago to have the same voice, experiences, and sensibilities as a teen of the modern era!

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Choosing a famous young adult as the protagonist also fails for me. Someone like Joan of Arc or Catherine Howard (one of Henry VIII’s wives) would’ve been seen as an adult by her society and era. (Side note: The cover of Katherine Longshore’s Gilt, the first in a series about the Tudor Court, uncannily resembles the cover of Madonna’s Erotica.)

Many historical writers do give characters somewhat more modern views and behavior than most people of that era had, to try to make them more relevant and relatable to modern audiences. However, I’ve seen a lot of recent YA historicals making characters way too modern (e.g., anachronistic slang, high-society débutantes having premarital sex with the stable boy, lecturing people about smoking, shacking up with a boyfriend of another race).

This leads to the Gossip Girl in period clothes style, like Jillian Larkin’s Flappers series and Anna Godbersen’s Luxe and Bright Young Things series. Any actual history is shallow window-dressing for stories that essentially read like contemporaries. These books also fail because they’re trying to play it both ways. Either you’re writing about teenagers having authentic teenage experiences, or you’re writing about younger adults having pretty normal experiences for their era.

Then we have laughably unrealistic nonsense like Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, where 15-year-old Evie sees nothing of risking her reputation by heavily making out with two legal adult men. She’s not scared of getting caught or things going too far and getting sent off to a Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers!

Bottom line: I’m sick and tired of historicals featuring typical YA contemporary characters who just happen to be plunked into the past. I’m also tired of books with very adult situations being passed off as YA just because the characters are teenagers.

Why I hated Annie’s Baby

I’m going to try to make this negative review as condensed as possible, by my standards. I’ve written several other negative posts/reviews of it before elsewhere.

Annie’s Baby is yet another toxic book written (NOT edited) by the late fraud Beatrice Sparks. As awful as her books are, I think they’d be good required reading for anyone who wants to write YA, esp. contemporary or edgy. Each and every book is like a lesson in how NOT to write YA!

Fourteen-year-old Annie is as one-dimensional and stereotypical as all of “Dr.” Sparks’s other creations. It’s like she wanted us to define these teens by their problems, like Jay the Satanist, Alice the druggie, Nancy dying of AIDS, Kim with the eating disorder, Sammy the ex-gangbanger. There’s no depth in any of her characters.

So Annie meets 16-year-old Danny on the soccer field and immediately thinks they’re soulmates with some special, epic, magical love story for all time and eternity. (Yes, Sparks was a Mormon, and because I’ve studied a lot of religions, I recognize distinctively Mormon terminology and concepts she uses in each and every one of these books. Even the supposedly Catholic Nancy’s diary is full of Mormon language!) Oh, and did I mention Annie doesn’t even know his name before she decides they’re forever-soulmates? After only a few dates, she already thinks they’ve got a serious relationship.

It’s obvious from the jump that Danny is an abusive scumbag and player, yet Annie makes excuses for it, even after he rapes her at a party. She stages some ridiculous scene to make it look to her mother like she were hit by a car while jogging at night. Later Annie and Danny get back together, and she continues lovingly putting up with his domestic violence and rape. She gets birth control pills from a friend, yet there’s no description of how this came to be. Wouldn’t a real, normal teen journaler record such an important event in detail? And there’s no details of just how Danny is hurting her during sex. Is he being rough during the actual act, pinching her, squeezing her arms, what?

Moron Annie thinks it’s so hard to remember to take the Pill every day, so of course she gets knocked up. Her mom is amazingly loving, forgiving, and accepting, just like all the other parents in Sparks’s books. Annie, in spite of living in the 1990s, goes to an unwed mothers’ home. WTF? How many of these still exist, esp. under that title? Of course, Annie is vehemently anti-abortion and anti-welfare. The stereotyping of teen moms as welfare queens was so offensive and over the top. My parents were on welfare when I was born, and they were in their twenties. Welfare is a Godsend when you don’t have any means. Most people on welfare really aren’t cheating the system.

Annie has her baby at only 7 months, and of course, there are almost no details about her labor experience. Yes, because that’s something all new moms neglect to record in their journals, having a damn baby! The details aren’t special or important at all! The description that is given sounds suspiciously like twilight sleep, since she talks about zonking out from some drug she was given. Well, that would fit with the whole “unwed mothers’ home” storyline. Both straight out of the 1950s.

After only about two weeks, Annie and her namesake go home from hospital. Um, what? Wouldn’t the typical baby born at only 7 months be kept in hospital for much longer these days? It’s not the 1930s! Annie is the most selfish, whiny, negligent mother ever, even trying to ditch “Li’l Annie” out in public because she just can’t handle mothering. Sparks really thought all young, single moms were crap parents.

After a visit with her bishop (again with the Mormon language!), Annie decides to give her baby to a couple the bishop knows. Because in Sparks’s world, no single mom deserves to keep her baby. Adoption is always the answer. She was probably pissed that Roe v. Wade effectively put an end to the adoption mills and the baby snatch era.

The “counseling sessions” Annie has with her distant relative “Dr.” Sparks were also pure BS. Real people don’t express themselves that way. And Sparks clearly didn’t know the difference between abusive sexual behavior and consensual BDSM. Who the hell uses the word “sadist” to describe someone who sexually abuses his partner anymore? Oh, wait, I’m sure Dr. Fraud was also against BDSM relationships too.

Annie’s mom confronted Danny about his paternity, and she immediately backed down when he said he’d get all his buddies to claim they’d slept with her too. Um, this isn’t the 1950s! They could’ve taken him to court and gotten a DNA test! They could’ve even appeared on Maury, one of my guilty pleasures since 1999!

I didn’t believe this were a real journal for one damn moment, let alone written by a teen. Besides the constant Mormon references, I knew it was written by Sparks because of her trademarks like excessive exclamation points!!!!!!!!, FREQUENT USE OF ALL CAPS, and way too many italics, INCLUDING ITALICS IN ALL CAPS!!!!!!! The writing style in the author’s note and Q&A in the back are exactly like “Annie’s” writing style, right down to the anti-welfare rants. Yeah, I wonder! Oh, and Annie frequently talks to her journal, Daisy, like it’s a real person, even having back and forth conversations with it. Nutty.

This book was absolutely terrible. I’d recommend it to no one, unless you’d like a great example of how NOT to write YA.