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WORD FOR WORD
June 15, 2007
Okay. I admit it. I don’t take my own advice.
In my online classes and also in my second book, A Few, Choice Words, I urge people to read at least two different genres a year...ones they normally would never choose. One of my admonitions is “if you only read fiction, pick non-fiction.” Like many of you, though, I have so much non-fiction going on in my own life that the last thing I want is to pick it up in my reading.
Several months ago, however, I passed a display of recently-released books in the library and one in particular caught my eye. Actually the old-fashioned cover was what pulled me in more than the title. Or to be more apt, “drew” me in, since it was: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak.
Now, like many of you, I’d read my share of Nancy Drew books as a girl (although, as some of you know, Trixie Belden was really my favorite female sleuth) and somewhere, vaguely remembered that there was no such person as Carolyn Keene or for that matter, Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys). They were one of many pseudonyms of some syndicate that turned these books out something like today’s romance writers...formula write, formula read. More than likely had this non-fiction tome been about any other subject except writing and writers, I wouldn’t have even picked it up. And, as it turned out, not only did I pick it up and thumb through it, I found myself reading it while standing in the aisle. Since people were inching around me, I decided to bite the bullet and just check it out.
This true story begins in September 1929 with Edward Stratemeyer, who even by that time, was known as a children’s book mogul. Mr. Stratemeyer had come up with the seed of an idea for a new series for girls “verging on novels.” He envisioned these novels as 224 pages, retailing at 50 cents each. The names he suggested for the main character? Stella Strong. Diana Drew. Diana Dare. Nan Nelson. Nan Drew. Helen Hale. With the overwhelming success of another recent duo of detectives—Frank and Joe Hardy—he felt it was time to give young girls a crime-solving role model they, too, could admire and even emulate.
Unfortunately, though, just twelve days after launching Nancy Drew, on May 10, 1930, Ed Stratemeyer died of pneumonia. His two daughters, Harriet and Edna, ran an ad to sell the syndicate, but there were no takers. Needing to pay bills and having no other options, they decided to run it. Harriet was at the forefront and took up the reins of writing, along with another woman, Mildred Wirt, who had previously worked for the Stratemeyer franchise.
This basically sets the scene for drama...and not just in the Nancy Drew books. Jealousies, egos, sibling rivalry and a reluctance to often not give proper writing credit where credit was due punctuates this tale that has as much intrigue as the Nancy Drew series itself. I don’t know about most of you, but I remember when I found out there was no specific Carolyn Keene, I was acutely disappointed and felt as if I’d been lied to. The book addresses this unique phenomenon—how the Carolyn Keene mystique was carefully crafted and equally rabidly guarded. Writers for the Stratemeyer Syndicate could neither divulge they wrote for it nor give interviews about their role in the various novels.
Truth, it is said, is stranger than fiction. I’m here to say it’s also more dramatic. When matters finally come to a head in a packed courtroom on May 27, 1980 over who rightfully “creatively owned” the Nancy Drew character, Harriet Stratemeyer finally encounters Mildred Wirt after not seeing her for almost 30 years. Harriet didn’t recognize Mildred without an introduction and her single utterance, “I thought you were dead,” is the stuff Hollywood thrives on.
Writers should read about other writers. Their struggles and tribulations are something we can relate to in our own writing lives. The fact that Nancy Drew is still being read today tells me that even though these were formula writes, there was a spark in Nancy that touched something deep inside many girls—“girls” who later became famous, accomplished women, such as Mary Tyler Moore, Beverly Sills, Bette Davis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—and ignited a flame to be better, to do more, to strive and continue to achieve.
If Nancy Drew was a cherished friend as you grew up, consider reading Girl Sleuth. In fact, I think I just made a pretty good case for it.
And that’s my Word For Word.
So, in my last Word For Word, I left you with the upcoming Mercer County Writer’s Conference in Stoneboro PA. It was, once again, a fantastic experience, even though the morning of the conference, I came down with a whopping case of laryngitis. Now, the last time I had laryngitis was probably twenty years ago so this took me totally by surprised. I “spoke” on writing quizzes...well, let’s just say I “whispered” and “gestured” more than spoke, but everyone in the audience was gracious and understanding. I also attended some workshops: “You Are What You Read,” “Writing for the Confessions” and “Exploring Writing Through Picture Books.” The insights were wonderful and renewed my enthusiasm for two of my life’s greatest passions...writing and reading.
I’ve had a surge of interview requests lately, always a welcome, fun break that gives me a chance to get to know magazines and newspapers I might not otherwise recognize. I was contacted by Elizabeth Whyman of Mslexia: For Women Who Write (Cute name, isn’t it?), published in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Elizabeth asked targeted, in-depth questions about writing cards, how to break in, if a writer needs to hire an agent to have her work noticed, etc. Elizabeth rightly pointed out that while there’s a lot of information about greeting card design out there, the writing aspect is often overlooked. Mslexia is a wonderful magazine with many writing contests available and plenty of spots for new writing. If you’re into freelance-friendly publications, this could be the magazine for you. I’ve been receiving emails from UK readers wanting more information about my book after reading the interview.
Drew Hinshaw from the international magazine Metro contacted me a few weeks later for his regular column “concerning people at the top of interesting and inspirational careers”—his words, not mine. Of course I was flattered to be categorized as such and anytime I can spread the word about writing for today’s greeting cards is a great day indeed. Then I found out the demographics for Metro and was stunned: they publish 71 editions for over 100 major cities in 21 countries in 19 languages across Europe, North and South America and Asia. They have 18.5 million daily readers and more than 27 million weekly readers. I’m still trying to digest those staggering numbers and wonder if that’s why my recent emails have had an international flavor to them, including France and Jakarta, Indonesia.
A little closer to home, if you’re in the Spartanburg, South Carolina area, a staff writer from The Herald-Journal phoned to get my take on Mother’s Day vs. Father’s Day cards for a piece on Father’s Day. It was an interesting interview because we explored their differences as well as their similarities and the reasons for both.
Finally, besides Myslexia, check out the May 2007 edition of ByLine, another extremely freelance-friendly magazine. A new feature, In Addition, is part of the magazine and carries one of my personal reflections about the writing life—or more to the point, the library life.
I’m very excited to be coming out with an updated version of my Book Reviewing booklet, available on the Order My Books page. Reviewing new books and teaching a course on book reviewing online has given me some fresh, new insights into this overlooked genre since my debut booklet came out in 2002. The newest version will be coming out in July; I’m putting the finishing touches on it, having a trusted proofreader go through it (that second set of fresh eyes is a must!) and off to the printers it goes.
Thanks to all of you who email. If I haven’t yet answered you, please be patient. I get a lot of email and other than my webmaster and proofreader, there is only one of me. I keep “threatening” to get a secretary, but still enjoy the one-on-one contact with all of you who write. I know you enjoy the website and draw inspiration from it—and that makes me very happy. Please continue to share your personal stories with me.
Also, once again remember to click on my affiliates whenever possible and order from them. I use many of their products and plan to add a new feature showcasing my favorites.
June is bustin’ out all over—and has been for some time. I have my canopied swing on the front porch, Sally on a leash and take frequent time outs reading, swinging and watching the world go by on Route 219. Have a great June and enjoy the green!
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