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The Genius of My Queen, Francine Pascal

How I aim to craft my own formula for success.


Podcast Episode #38


My name is Naomi Shibles and I’m here to tell you Why I Need This Author Gig.


With each episode, I’ll share a little bit about my writing journey, sprinkled with some anecdotes so that we can share a laugh.


In this episode, I cover:

  • 80s high school goals

  • A fab businessperson

  • Why it’s okay to ‘sell out’


books 1, 2, and 3 of Sweet Valley High

Hello Superstars!


Do you remember the first book series that captivated you? Fifth and sixth grades were a mixed bag for me: I adored The Chronicles of Narnia at the same time that I was sneaking Anne Rice books off of my mother’s bookshelf.


That’s also when I discovered Sweet Valley High (SVH). It was everything that an 80s tween dreamed of for high school: popularity, beauty, hot boyfriends, Fiat convertibles, beach parties, and the idea of a naughty twin with just enough sweetness versus a nice twin with just enough danger. I always wanted to be a Jessica, but suspected that I was more of an Elizabeth. Either way, I deeply wanted to be a Wakefield.


Even at 12, I knew that SVH creator Francine Pascal didn’t write all of the myriad paperbacks that I devoured at the library. I mean, the book covers always said, ‘created by Francine Pascal’—not ‘written by’ her. I thought it was genius that this woman had a team of writers who stuck to her exact SVH formula—because it was perfect—and she got to reap the rewards.


My dreams of being a bestselling author might have originated with admiration for this very slick operation. This is how I pictured it: a glamorous woman named Francine Pascal draped in a cream silk pantsuit with massive shoulder pads stared at the Pacific horizon from her Malibu dream house as she conceived of the story details and character profiles for the next installment of SVH, which she murmured into a mini voice recorder.


She sealed that tiny cassette tape with her genius ideas in a padded envelope and handed it to her flamboyant assistant to deliver to her trusted writers before she hopped in her Porsche convertible and zoomed into the sunset on her way to a fabulous pool party.

*chef’s kiss*


I equally loved becoming lost in a book and the fantasy of a glamorous bestselling author’s life. Truman Capote’s life without all of the decadence. Jackie Collins’s life without all of the smut (remember, I was only 12, so maybe Rick Castle’s life without all of the police work).


I came across an Entertainment Weekly interview that Pascal did in 2019, when she was 81 years fabulous. She basically laid out her SVH formula:


  1. Create a detailed story / character bible

  2. Outline each book

  3. Have ghostwriters do the work of writing strictly sticking to the outlines and story / character bible

  4. Sell rights for spin-offs

  5. Sell rights for adaptations

  6. Sell high-end merch


This has been a successful business for Pascal for 40 years!


I’ve always loved writing, but back then I didn’t understand the hard work and diligence that novel writing requires. And Pascal wrote many novels and stories outside of the SVH universe. However, as a businessperson, this formula is pretty genius—note the final three steps are sell, sell, sell.


The selling part can be difficult for us, can’t it? Being able to quickly and seemingly callously flip from nurturing a project to throwing it up for sale seems counterintuitive to the creative process. But to become a bestsellingnovelist, there must be a commercial facet to our personalities into which we can tap to emotionally distance ourselves enough from what we’ve created so that we can let it go.


How do you feel about that? Please let me know in the comments.


I know that for Counterblow Clemency, I told myself that it’s better for the story to be discoverable out in the world than to sit on my iPad, without even me reading it anymore. That, to me, is a sadder thought than the idea of profiting from my creativity.


But maybe I’m drawn to Francine Pascal because I’ve never set out to write The Great American Novel, or to dazzle the world with my prose and brilliance. I like reading pulp fiction. I like being entertained with adventure and humor. And that’s all I want to do for my readers. So why not make a living at it?


I hope your week is full of belly laughs!


TTY!

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