Christine Keleny likes working with her hands. She crochets, sews, tiles, paints, cross stitches, frames pictures, stains furniture, and cuts and splits firewood, but her main loves are writing and helping others publish the book of their dreams. Learn mor about her at CK Book Publishing and her blog.
I was thrilled when I found Anastasia’s site about mystery novels and the people that write them. What a good idea, I thought, to write on a mystery writers site about the writers of one of the most famous girl sleuths to date: Nancy Drew. I’m glad Anastasia agreed!
Oddly enough, I didn’t read Nancy when I was growing up. I read mostly Agatha Christie and a few other obscure mystery writers, but my daughter (now 18) is an avid reader, and she read all of the Nancy Drew books our library owned, some 56 of them or so. I am a student of history, so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated to historical fiction. I’m not sure what made me think of doing a story about Nancy Drew, but I’m glad I did. It’s really quite an interesting story.
Did you know there is an ongoing dispute about who the real creator of Nancy is? I’m sure all you seasoned mystery writers know that Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym. So is Laura Lee Hope of the Bobbsey Twins and Franklin Dixon of the very popular Hardy Boys. All these stories are the brainchild of one of the most prolific children’s writers of the twentieth century: Edward Stratemeyer. The problem with Nancy, however, is that Edward died soon after he had sent the first three Nancy stories off to his publisher.
Edward’s first ghostwriter to work on Nancy (he just called them “writers”) was Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson. And as with all of Edward’s stories, she worked off outlines Edward had given her.
As I was writing my stories, I was lucky enough to correspond with two people who had some firsthand information about the people who wrote the Nancy Drew stories. One of those people is Geoffrey S. Lapin. Geoffrey developed a relationship with Mildred “Millie” Wirt Benson when he found out that she had written many of the first stories.
You see, all writers for the Syndicate signed agreements that gave up any rights they might have to the stories they wrote, and the Syndicate required these writers not to tell anyone what stories they had written. Mr. Lapin didn’t quite agree. He even purchased one of the original three outlines that Edward had sent to Millie (an item I was not able to get my hands on before communicating with Mr. Lapin.) He had talked with one of the three young women who ended up being a partner in the Syndicate (Edward’s, then his daughter’s, book company) in the 1980s.
Geoffrey said that the first outline for The Secret of the Old Clock was three pages long and included much detail about what and how Edward wanted his story written – including the dialect of the “colored” character in the story. The second outline for The Hidden Staircase was only two pages and supposedly the outline for The Bungalow Mystery was even shorter. Apparently Mildred was getting the idea of what Edward was looking for. This was all well and good until May of 1930 when Edward died of pneumonia.
What was to become of the Syndicate and all its stories – Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Ruth Fielding just to name a few?
Harriet’s two daughters, Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer, ended up deciding to run the company when they couldn’t find anyone (post-depression) to buy it, and that’s when the trouble began. Harriet – who primarily ran the company – didn’t like the way Mildred wrote the Nancy stories, so she started giving Mildred lengthy outlines again and edited out what she didn’t like once she received Mildred’s completed manuscripts. These women politely battled each other until 1953, when Mildred wrote her last Nancy story: The Clue of the Velvet Mask (Nancy book #26.)
After this Harriet and a few other ghostwriters took over Nancy, but Harriet always did the final edits on her Nancy stories. Harriet was the one who oversaw the refreshing of all the original Nancy stories in the 1950s at the behest of the publishers, when the original blue roadster changed to the beloved blue convertible and Nancy matured from 16 years of age to 18, so she could legally drive in all 50 states!
The other person I had helping me with my book was Edward’s great-granddaughter, Cynthia Lum. Cynthia is adamant that Harriet is the real creator of Nancy, and she has a good argument toward that point, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. In my story, I lay out the lives of the three primary creators of Nancy and let the reader decide who her real creator is.
Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up? tells of the lives of the three primary creators of the Nancy Drew mystery series and how the plucky, intelligent, resourceful, and famous girl sleuth came to life, along with the controversy that still rages on about who really created the Nancy Drew that millions of readers across the globe have come to know and love.