Musings on Nancy Drew
Along with millions of other American women, I grew up devouring Nancy Drew mysteries. The Nancy Drew books sparked my own interest in lifelong learning since Nancy was always learning something new and interesting that helped her solve the current mystery. And, of course, she drove her own car.
So when I began writing my own cozy mystery series for adults about the 90s Club, I decided to loosely imitate the Nancy Drew stories, but my protagonist, Nancy Dickenson, is 90 and leader of the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village. Just for fun, I adapt the Nancy Drew titles and bury references to her stories in the plots of my own series.
Growing up, I wondered about the author, Carolyn Keene, not knowing that the name was a cover for a group of writers, none of them named Carolyn Keene. So here are a few interesting facts, thanks to Wikipedia, about the Nancy Drew and many of the other children’s series (Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Bobbsey Twins, etc.)..
The books were written to specific formulas designed to promote sales and readership. The guidelines included stipulations that the books look like contemporary adult books with similar bindings and typefaces, that they be of a predictable length, chapters and pages should end mid-situation to increase the reader’s desire to keep reading, the books should begin with a recap of all previous books in that series, end with a preview of the next volume in the series, and the characters should not age or marry.
Nancy Drew lived in River Heights, but where is River Heights?. Somewhere in the Midwest, it seemed to me. I remembered coming across dialogue in which “eh” was used. I didn’t know then that “eh” was part of a Canadian and Minnesota speech pattern. In rereading the 1934 edition of The Clue of the Broken Locket and the 1947 edition of The Clue in the Old Album, I find that River Heights is on the Muskoka River, which is in Ontario, Canada. Hmmm.
Could publisher Grosset & Dunlap have been a Canadian company? I checked online and according to Wikipedia, the company was founded in 1898 in the United States by Alexander Grosset and George T. Dunlap. It was originally primarily a hardcover reprint house. In 1907, Grosset & Dunlap acquired Chatterton & Peck, which had a large children's list including the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate, now owned by Simon and Schuster, published mystery series for children including Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the various Tom Swift series, the Bobbsey Twins, and the Rover Boys.. They contracted with the many pseudonymous authors doing the writing of the series from 1899 through 1987, when the syndicate partners sold the company to Mega-Books.
Created by Edward Stratemeyer, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was the first book packager to target children rather than adults. The Syndicate was wildly successful; at one time it was believed that the overwhelming majority of books children read in the United States were Stratemeyer Syndicate books, based on a 1922 study of over 36,000 children country-wide.
Stratemeyer' realized there was a huge, untapped market for children's books. At a time when most children's books were aimed at moral instruction, the Stratemeyer Syndicate produced books meant to entertain. In Stratemeyer's view, children read for the thrill of feeling grown-up and for their interest in a series of stories. His syndicate was designed to produce books in an efficient, assembly-line fashion and to write them in such a way as to maximize their popularity.
The first series that Stratemeyer created was The Rover Boys, published under the pseudonym Arthur M. Winfield. The Rover Boys books were a roaring success: The thirty volumes published between 1899 and 1926 sold over five million copies. The Bobbsey Twins first appeared in 1904 under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope, and Tom Swift in 1910 under the pseudonym Victor Appleton.[
Stratemeyer found that books published under his own name didn’t sell as well as books published under pseudonyms. He also realized that "he could offer more books each year if he dealt with several publishers and had the books published under a number of pseudonyms which he controlled. Since he found juggling multiple volumes of multiple series too difficult, he began hiring ghostwriters, such as Josephine Lawrence, Howard R. Garis and Leslie McFarlane] Stratemeyer continued to write some books, while writing plot outlines for others.
Beginning in 1911, the Syndicate began specializing in children's mystery series. The first series was called The Mansion of Mystery series and aimed at a somewhat older audience than his previous series. After that, the Syndicate focused on mystery series aimed at its younger base: The Hardy Boys, which first appeared in 1927, ghostwritten by Leslie McFarlane and others; and Nancy Drew, which first appeared in 1930, ghostwritten by Mildred Wirt Benson, Walter Karig, and others. Both series were immediate financial successes.
In 1930, Stratemeyer died, and the Syndicate was inherited by his two daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier. Stratemeyer Squier sold her share to her sister Harriet within a few years. Harriet Stratemeyer introduced such series as The Dana Girls (1934), Tom Swift Jr., The Happy Hollisters, and many others.
In the 1950s, Harriet substantially revised old volumes in The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, removing references to outdated cultural elements, such as "roadster," and.racial slurs and stereotypes, and in some cases replacing entire plots (such as The Secret at Shadow Ranch and The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion). Grosset & Dunlap had received an increasing number of letters from parents who were offended by the stereotypes present in the books, particularly in The Hardy Boys publications. In the late 1970s, Harriet Adams decided to publish Nancy and the Hardy Boys as paperbacks, as the hardcover market was no longer what it had been. Grosset & Dunlap sued, citing "breach of contract, copyright infringement, and unfair competition."] This case let the world know, for the first time, that the Syndicate existed;since
the Syndicate had always hidden its existence from the public, and ghostwriters were contractually obliged never to reveal their authorship.
Grosset & Dunlap was awarded the rights to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew volumes that they had published, but the Syndicate was judged free to take subsequent volumes elsewhere. Subsequent volumes were published by Simon & Schuster.
Adams died in 1982. In 1987, Simon & Schuster purchased the syndicate and turned to Mega-Books, a book packager, to handle the writing process for new volumes.