the Face of Convention
Mark Dow slides into a junior-high giggle as he gossips about the latest happenings at Sweet Valley High. First, there was the big earthquake, Todd was dumped like a bad habit, Liz is into Collin, and after 15 years, the gang finally made it to their senior year.
Why is Dow talking about the Sweet Valley characters like they are his best buddies? "I have to write a synopsis for every Sweet Valley book--I've become addicted," he sighs. His employer, 17th Street Productions, publishes several popular young adult series, including Roswell High and Love Stories.
Dow's growing responsibilities include writing for Love Stories, a series featuring various couples and their adolescent problems. Each book ends with an advice column called the "Jenny and Jake Letters" which answer questions such as "I have a crush on this guy in my biology class. What can I do to get him to notice me?"
"This is harder than writing a dissertation," Dow insists. "We have to put these ideas into kid's voices!"
After graduating last year, Dow thumbed through The New York Times help-wanted ads and discovered a "small book publisher looking for college grad." Entering the office for an interview, he was shocked by the walls lined with
Sweet Valley books. "That was the first test," Dow laughs. "If you get past that stage without backing out the door, they know you're OK.
"I'd been applying to jobs at places like the Free Press and Avon books--I wanted to be the next Franz Kafka; the next great American author," he says. "So I thought I'd work for a company that publishes challenging material. Then I walked into 17th Street Productions and saw Sweet Valley High on the walls and thought--Francine Pascal? She's no Franz Kafka!" Still, Dow has grown to adore the weekly gripe sessions, casual dress, and nonchalant rapport. In this office, the secretary reprimands the president.
"I find it so novel and humorous to be working with young adult books. They're books for books' sakes. It's fun. It's kitsch. We have about 100 different titles to our name coming out every year that ride on the success of Sweet Valley. Maybe I'll write one of them someday."