Milton scholar Amy Boesky wrote a fascinating essay
in the Kenyon Review
in which she comes out as one of the most prolific authors of the bestselling teen series, Sweet Valley High
. The series was created by author Francine Pascal, who couldn't keep up with the demand for more stories about blonde twin sisters Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, who lived in Southern California and experienced endless drama and adventures during high school.
Amy had returned from Oxford and was considering her next step in academia when she met Francine Pascal at a dinner party. Amy hated her job as a lower level flunky in a publishing house and when Francine suggested she audition to be one of the ghostwriters, she jumped at the chance. She wrote one novel, paid some bills and got on with her life. But she began to love spending time at Sweet Valley High. Soon she was writing every other novel in the series -- up to eight novels a year. She wrote on weekends and at night to get it done.
So what did she love about being a Sweet Valley High ghostwriter? Amy explains, "I wanted, as long as I thought I could risk it, to stay in the pastel, exclamatory world of the light and the popular, the world of fast cars and faster verbs, the world where difference was traded for sameness and the blondes triumphed and the eyes sparkled and the parents stayed married and the brother stayed away 'at college' and the paralysis was curable and anything and everything could be resolved by the final chapter."
So why did she finally quit after writing more than 50 of the books? Amy explains, "It wasn't invisibility that ended my gig as a ghostwriter. In fact, in some ways it was the opposite. I was afraid of exposure. My twenties came to an end. I got my PhD. I was lucky: the year I was on the market, there was a spike in assistant professor jobs in English literature, and I ended up with some choices." She says she was scared her students wouldn't listen to her lectures about Milton if they found out about her secret habit. But she's out of the closet now. And somehow, we don't think her students at Boston College will mind.
Amy's most recent book under her own name is What We Have
Photo: Random House