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Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Pascal’s ‘Sweet Valley’ characters


Features Editor

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Candice Rodgers and Ria Miller never attended Sweet Valley High, but they, like millions of other young girls, received an education there.

Sweet Valley High’s twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who are two of the best-known characters in juvenile literature, experience every situation the average teen faces. As they learn to cope with these situations, so do the millions of young girls who cling to their every word – or rather author Francine Pascal’s every word.

Pascal’s "Sweet Valley High" series has been translated into

25 languages and there are now more than 150 million books in print. That’s a lot of words and a lot of influence.

"We both grew up with Jessica and Elizabeth," Rodgers said. "We started reading the ‘Sweet Valley’ books in fourth grade as ‘Sweet Valley’ kids, then we went on to ‘Sweet Valley High’ and ‘Sweet Valley University.’ They did influence our lives in a positive way."

The Troy State University coeds said they learned to cope with home, school and social situations through the experiences of the Sweet Valley twins.

"I could identify with both twins," Miller said. "They were very different. One was usually good and the other was usually in trouble of some kind. The way they handled situations served as a guide for us – boy situations, jealousy, parents, anything that happens in a teenager’s life, happens in theirs."

On Friday, Rodgers and Miller were honored to stand face-to-face with the real "influence" in their lives. They now know it was Pascal who influenced them, not the Sweet Valley twins.

Both were thrilled to meet someone who had unknowingly influenced their lives in such a positive way.

Pascal knows that her "Sweet Valley" series has had a profound influence on a generation of young girls, but she enjoys the personal contact with them. Numbers are nice, but faces are better.

The author was at Troy State at the invitation of a special friend, Nall, who is the artist-in-residence at the university, and also to attend a performance of "Hello, Dolly!"for which her brother, Michael Steward wrote the book.

In speaking to a group of TSU students at Hawkins, Adams, Long Hall Pascal called what happened with the "Sweet Valley" series "phenomenal."

Pascal has always enjoyed writing and decided that girls would like to read about real life situations. The idea of writing about the "real" lives of twins, one good and one not-so-good, appealed to her.

She created the twins, their family, friends, a town and a history. She outlined the first six books and made a pitch to three publishers "with no conception of what would happen."

She expected rejection notices, but instead all three wanted "Sweet Valley."

When the first book was published, it leap-frogged onto the best seller list.

"I was shocked," Pascal said. "It just happened overnight. I had no idea it would happen like that.

The "Sweet Valley" series is such a success that, at one time, Pascal had 17 of the top 20 books on the juvenile best seller list.

Pascal’s "Sweet Valley" series is now "an industry."

To keep up with demand, she outlines the plots of the books and then turns them over to a very talented team of writers who produce a volume a month.

Pascal is busy with a new series for young adults which was born through her "what if?" process.

"I like to think, ‘What would happen if?’ she said. "I asked myself, ‘What if a young woman went back in time and became her mother’s best friend?’"

Another of Pascal’s "What ifs?" could end in a law suit, she said.

"What if a girl was born without the fear gene?" was the thought behind her "Fearless" series, which had been in publication two years before fearless"Dark Angel" appeared on television this season.

"They stole from me," Pascal said, "Even down to the girl’s sidekick in a wheelchair. It was blatant stealing and, yes, I might sue."

Pascal has many "things on my plate" right now, including a musical about "Sweet Valley," but what she takes most seriously, and the thing of which she is most proud, is the influence she has been able to have on the political, philosophical and moral thoughts of young people.