Oh sure. I can see you rolling your eyes and laughing. How ironic... No. Which Way To The Beach? is high camp, a suspenseful read that crackles with its near-encyclopedic usage of early 90's L.A. beach slang. And in its embrace of this vapid dialect, Which Way To The Beach? reminds me of wonderful camp horror flicks like Drag Me To Hell, Scream and Dawn of The Dead.
Like those movies, the humor in Which Way To The Beach? revolves around the dialogue. Sometimes the expressions are funny because they're so perfectly of-their-time and out-of-date, like the greeting on Dylan's answering machine: "Hi. This is Dylan. You know the drill. Leave your message at the beeperoni." In others scenes, like this conversation between Kelly and Brenda, the dialogue is perfect because it works against the characters as they unknowingly offer biting critiques of themselves.
"So did the date happen or what?"
"It happened all right. But not the way I expected. We had a picnic on the beach. Sand got in everywhere."
"Almost everywhere. Anyway we huddled around the campfire, though to tell the truth, it wasn't very cold. Kyle was being very sweet and I went a little crazy."
"Sounds good to me. I bet it sounded good to Kyle too."
"That was the surprise. I ran toward the water throwing my clothes in all directions, you know, so we could skinny dip? Kyle couldn't get into it."
"Imagine that. A man without hormones."
"He wouldn't even kiss me. He started and we were going pretty good and then he backed away as if he was embarrassed or something."
"Kelly Taylor losing her touch?"
"My touch or worse. I was really upset, and I felt like a fool. I'd never been rejected like that, not even before I had my nose done."
Perhaps the best part of Which Way To The Beach?, though, is how the silly teen-drama will suck you in. Take, for instance, this fight between Dylan and Brandon over the shampoo:
In the bathroom, Brandon discovered that somebody had used all his shampoo. Brenda used different stuff, something with a flowery French smell, so the culprit had to be Dylan. Sometimes even best bros could go too far. Maybe Brenda was right when she said that life with Dylan in the Walsh house would be just too difficult.
As the story progresses, Dylan is suspected of stealing items from the Beverly Hills Beach Club where Brandon works. Uncertain of his friend's innocence, Brandon tries to convince his sister Brenda that Dylan might not be as trustworthy as she believes:
"The club gets ripped off, and suddenly Dylan has money, and he's spending it to blow town. If I were the suspicious type--"
"He's not blowing town, Brandon, he's just visiting his mother. I can't believe you're even thinking this! Dylan's not some sneak thief! He's our friend!"
"That must be why he uses all my shampoo."
"This isn't about shampoo is it, Brandon?"
When Dylan returns to the Walsh household and takes another shower, the tension escalates. Brandon loses his temper and things between them come to a head:
Brandon yelled through the door, "I hope you're not using all my shampoo! Oh wait! I forgot! You can't use all my shampoo now cause you already used all my shampoo!"
Dylan came out of the bathroom wearing a fluffy white robe...and fiercely rubbing his hair with a towel. He said, "What the hell is bugging you? And don't say shampoo."
The entire novel is one amazing scene after the next. I'm not going to spoil anymore of it. You should just go online and buy it. There are like 73 used copies on Amazon and starting retail price is $0.01. Trust me-- it's one of my favorite books. And it's perfect for the beach.
Part Two: A Word With The Author
I chased down author Mel Gilden and he was nice enough to field some questions. Along with the 90210 books, Mel has done a number of Star Trek and Nascar serializations. He's also penned Surfing Samurai Robots, Hawaiian UFO Aliens and Tubular Android Superheroes.
Vice: So, Mel, tell us-- How did Beverly Hills 90210: Which Way To The Beach? come about? Were you a big fan of the show? Did you have to like beg FOX for permission to write the novels?
Mel Gilden: I doubt whether my begging Fox for anything would have done any good. As usual, networks have their own ideas about things.
No, Harper Paperbacks, which represented Fox in this matter, called me -- or rather, my agent -- which was a surprise. To this point in my career I had written some middle-grade novels, a few mysteries, and a Star Trek novel or two -- nothing like 90210. Being more of a Trekkie, I had never even seen an episode. I think Harper called my agent because 1) she had a personal relationship with one of the editors and 2) I was living in what the real estate advertisements call "Beverly Hills adjacent." Meaning that I lived near BH, but not in BH. Anyway, Harper offered me money, and being a freelance writer, I took it.
I began to watch the show and soon I was hooked. After a while I would have watched it whether somebody was paying me or not.
Which Way To The Beach? was not the first 90210 novel I wrote. It was second or third in a series of, I think, eight. When the first book came out my name was alone on the cover, which led to my being mentioned in Vanity Fair. VF did a long interview with Darren Star, who created the show. At one point in the interview he was quoted as saying, "Who is this Mel Gilden? And why is his name on the cover of my book?" That question, plus the fact that the Writer's Guild demanded that if MY name was on the cover, the writers of the episodes from which I adapted the novel ALSO had to be on the cover, led to NOBODY being mentioned on the cover. The art director said that all those words would have made the cover look too crowded.
OK, so you were writing the serials for like the biggest teen show of the decade. This was a huge deal. Would you describe yourself as someone who was in tune with teen culture? How'd you dress? Did you feel some pressure to start wearing lycra dresses and friendship bracelets?
Hm. Obviously you think I am a girl. I am now and have always been a guy.
I was in tune with teen culture in that I watched 90210, and hung out at the mall to observe the genuine teenage article. But by the time the show was on, I was well out of my own actual teens.
I have always been a casual dresser. No ties if I can help it. Fortunately, being a writer means that I work at home. Some days I schlep around in underwear and a bathrobe. And even when I go out, I feel no pressure to dress in a certain cool way. That's one of the advantages of being a writer -- very few people recognize you.
Who'd you identify with more: Brenda, Kelly or Donna?
Actually, I always identified with the guys. Brandon was the nicest -- no problem there. I always thought of myself as pretty nice. Dylan and Steve were the ones I wanted to be like because I was so different from them. Dylan with his cool and Steve with his industrial strength chutzpah.
Admit it, how intoxicating was it to know that your every word would be studied religiously by 12-year-old girls across the country?
It was fun, and charming, and kind of an honor, but I really didn't think about it much. Despite the fact that I knew that pretty much anything in English and reasonably grammatical would be okay with the editors, I always did the best writing job I could because you never knew who would actually read one of these things, and a writer could get into bad habits if he let down his guard. But the truth is, I always thought of what I did as the packing material around the photo insert, which I always assumed was the real draw of those books. However, you've said some nice things about my writing, so maybe I was wrong about that.
As I said earlier, being a writer is generally a fine and private job. My photo was never published with the books, so I was relatively safe from being mobbed by 12-year-old girls or anybody else.
Were there any scenes or situations you wanted to explore but that might have been deemed inappropriate for the tween market?
The plots and characters in these books were all adapted directly from the TV show. Harper would send me scripts, and I would work my magic adapting them. What amazed me was that some incidents that were okay on TV were banned from the books. In one book Steve is discussing a great date he had the night before. In the script (and I believe on the broadcast show) he tells Brandon that his girlfriend gave great tongue. I innocently included this in the manuscript of the book and the editor made me take it out. I'm still not sure why. I don't remember them taking out anything that I invented.
Did you get any crazy fan mail?
I wish I could tell you I did, but the little fan mail I received was fairly polite and sane. Of course, the fan mail was filtered through Harper. They may have gotten letters they didn't let me see.
One thing I absolutely love about these books is your use of early 90's slang. What were your sources? Did you go through Bop and Tiger Beat with a yellow marker?
Well, the show itself was a major source, of course. And at family parties I listened to the nephews of my sweetie, who were exactly members of the target market. I don't know which magazines I went through. All this is 20 years ago for me. Sorry.
OK. Out with the goss. What are some secrets we should know about the show?
I wish I could help you on this. When Harper first hired me they made all kinds of rash promises. They said I would meet the cast, and perhaps play a teacher or some other small part on the show. None of that ever happened. I even had trouble getting photos that I needed for reference. I just watched the show on the tube like everybody else.
Thank you for your wonderful work, Mel. I've read Which Way To The Beach? at least ten to fifteen times. It's so amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thank you. If you like this, you might try some of my other work, though none of it is much like my 90210 books. See www.melgilden.com