Showing posts with label Melanie Rehak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Melanie Rehak. Show all posts

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak

Rating: WORTHY!

I read some of the reviews for this and I think a lot of the negative reviewers got the wrong idea about what this book intended to do. The title clearly says it's about the women who created Nancy Drew and that's exactly what the author delivered. It's not a biography of a fictional character, because that would be just stupid!

I never read any Nancy Drew stories. I'd never heard of her until I moved to the USA, but my blog is primarily about writing, not about fancy book covers or how hot a particular author is in terms of 'moving units', so this book, about the people behind a successful novel series, appealed to me, particularly because it was about two powerful women who were cutting edge for their time. The book focuses largely on them, and in particular on Harriet Stratemeyer, a Wellesley-educated girl who found herself having to deal with her father's business when he died prematurely, although he was in his sixties.

Yes, it doesn't go into the writing process as much as I would have liked, but it does go into it, so I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the book. In fact, it gave me an idea for a novel of my own! I confess I would have liked to have read much more about Mildred Wirt, though. To me, as a writer, she's more interesting than Harriet. The latter did do some of the writing, but Mildred was the real writer of Nancy Drew for me, and she's become something of a hero and a figure of fascination. Her work ethic was astounding and she was a little dynamo.

I'd like to know how she did it, and it seemed the only way I might have a hope of finding out is to read some of the books myself. I got the audiobook for two of those early stories, numbers two and four, and listened to the first of those, and found it so bland and dated that I could not listen to it! It was sad, but it was a different world back then, and it's not one I feel a part of. Had I been a juvenile (or lived in the fifties!) I might have enjoyed it more. This of course takes nothing away from what I said about Mildred Wirt's work-ethic or ability to multi-task and turn in a novel on a deadline!

I already watched a couple of the movies, which is not the same thing by any means, especially not for my purposes, but they were fun and interesting. One was the Emma Roberts movie from 2007. I've been a fan of Roberts since her recent Scream Queens TV show, although I am by no means convinced I'd like her in person. The other movie was one of the originals dating from 1939: Nancy Drew reporter, starring Bonita Granville who was a bit of a fireball herself. I liked them both.

After their father's death, Edna and Harriet's plan was to sell his business, which was what would now be called a writing mill. He would send out orders to ghost writers for various book series and plot-lines, and they would send back the finished work written to his specifications, for which they would be paid a flat fee. They would also surrender all rights to the novel to the Stratemeyer syndicate, which would then arrange for publication, and reap the benefits. Those days are long gone (except in some sad, lingering cases), but Edward Stratemeyer made a good living from this scheme. When he died, attempts to sell the business floundered because this was right around the depression, and while many might have wanted to buy a business that was one of the most successful in its field, they simply couldn't afford it!

Stratemeyer's daughters, Harriet and her younger sister Edna, took over 'temporarily', and ended-up running the business for the rest of their lives. At first it was a collaborative effort, but before long, Edna dropped out of actively participating, and from that point on, the two sisters drew apart, and eventually found themselves reduced to fighting (such as it was in the restrained and private age of the thirties and forties) over the direction the business was going, despite the fact that Harriet was doing all the work and making a go of it, and Edna was sitting at home enjoying her cut and contributing nothing but carping - a situation which evidently drove her into preceding her older sister to an early grave.

Stratemeyer's last big instruction to his syndicate before he died, gave birth to Nancy Drew, and the writer who stepped-up and made a go of it was a powerhouse by the name of Mildred Wirt, who is the true mother of Nancy Drew to a far greater extent than ever Edward Stratemeyer was the father. She actually was, in some ways, Nancy Drew in her athleticism and her adventurous spirit, so perhaps she was the best writer of all at the time to take on this project.

She wrote dozens of Drew novels, and she wrote them rapidly and successfully, even as she went through her first husband's fatal illness, a second marriage, and the birth of a child, yet she got no credit for them until relatively recently, since they were all published under the syndicate ghost name of Carolyn Keene, no matter who wrote them.

Later in life, there was a falling out between Harriet and Mildred, who had a complex and interesting relationship and collaboration, and Harriet began writing the novels herself, becoming ever more protective and obsessive over what she saw as her character if not her daughter, to the point where she routinely talked as though she was the only writer of the Nancy Drew novels.

All in all, this was an excellent history of Nancy Drew's origins and development, and of the two women who were most responsible for it, and I recommend it as a very worthy read.