Monthly Archives: June 2015

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew Mysteries
One of my favorites.

A librarian first introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries back when I was in elementary school in the 1970s. Once I’d caught up to that series, I started in on the Hardy Boys. This was in the days when the books were released as hardcovers and the stories continued to be set in the 1950s and 1960s so they were full of women wearing awesome dresses and getting their hair done, the men sometimes wearing suits and ties, and them all driving around in what I imagined to be cool classic cars.

Nancy Drew, an eighteen-year-old from River Heights, lived with her father Carson and their housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Nancy’s mother died when she was a young child and she’d grown up with her lawyer father and the motherly Hannah. I loved the fact that Nancy was able to go out and solve mysteries with her best friends, tomboy George Fayne and the more ladylike Bess Marvin, as well as her long-time boyfriend Ned NIckerson. Though I always felt I resembled Bess in stature (she’s often described as being a bit overweight), I loved that my hair color seemed to be close to Nancy’s, which is called ‘Titian’ (or strawberry blonde) in the books. The Nancy Drew series gave me my first glimpse into a world where kids weren’t always hanging around with their parents; the characters were young adults able to go out into the world on their own to explore and experience exciting adventures, which I wanted to do in the worst way. As I entered my pre-teen and early teen years, I also enjoyed the romantic element of Nancy and Ned as a couple and dreamed of finding my own version of Ned someday. The books also introduced me to an expanded vocabulary, such as the word ‘stentorian’ (uncommonly loud) from The Phantom of Pine Hill. 

Another favorite of mine.
Another favorite of mine.

The Hardy Boys, who lived in Bayport with their father Fenton, their mother Laura (who I don’t remember), and their Aunt Gertrude also went out in the world and got into trouble without much in the way of adult supervision. Like Nancy Drew, they often got in over their heads while trying to solve mysteries, and were sometimes in life-threatening situations. I was less interested in the romantic exploits of the brothers than I’d been with Nancy and Ned and tended to be jealous of any female who showed an interest in younger brother, Joe, a fact which carried over when I started watching the television version in the 1970s and developed a huge crush on Shaun Cassidy.

Both series of books were well-written and I always looked forward to either checking out or buying the most recent release. The stories held my attention and I got into trouble on many an occasion for reading past my bedtime and being too tired at school the following day. I admired authors Keene and Dixon and had a secret desire to write both experience and write about exciting adventures the way they did.

I admired the authors until the day I learned they were nothing more than a couple pseudonyms assigned to ghostwriters hired by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (which is a post for another time). Upon first learning this news, I felt a strong disappointment in both the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Mysteries, but I got over that when I revisited the books as an adult. When I went back and re-read them again, I found my nostalgia for what those books had meant to me cancelled out the sense of betrayal I’d felt at learning the truth about the authors. From Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys I learned the importance of the cliffhanger chapter ending and how I couldn’t put the book down until I’d learned what happened next. I also learned not to be afraid to use words that might be unfamiliar to some readers because that can help expand someone’s language by making them curious enough to look up the term. Most of all, I learned to love reading the continued adventures of a beloved and familiar character. All these things are important to the creation of a story that will be so loved by fans that they will be re-read over and over and over again.


To Re-Publish or Not to Re-Publish

After all  the hard work of writing, editing, and proofreading your work you’ve finally reached a point where you upload the file to the various publishing sites and wait until you receive word that your e-book has gone live. You happily tell anyone and everyone who will listen about your achievement and hope a few of them might be interested enough to buy and read your story. If they’re really nice, they might even write you a review. Unfortunately, that review mentions a major flaw in your work; missing scenes, the jarring POV shift you thought you’d fixed, misspellings, incorrect words, punctuation problems…the list is endless.embarrassed

Finding out your work isn’t as perfect as you’d hoped can be humiliating. You may have done everything possible to create as clean a copy as possible to provide your readers an enjoyable experience: worked with critique partners, beta readers, editors, proofreaders, and maybe even someone who specializes in formatting your document for publication. Yet somewhere along the line those pesky errors still managed to slip through. These things happen to even the most diligent authors and publishers.

The good news is that self-publishing e-books allows authors to go back and fix those embarrassing issues. The trick is to determine whether or not a problem is bad enough to warrant the time and effort involved in making and uploading changes to the various publishing sites. Indie authors are often short on time in the best of circumstances so, in my mind, fixing a few missing words or punctuation marks wouldn’t be a great idea unless the author has a lot of free time on their hands. Major problems should, of course, be addressed as soon as possible after the author learns of the issue. The book can then be re-uploaded and made available to readers who’ve purchased the less-than-perfect version.

An author needs to be careful not to get too caught up in trying to achieve perfection in their writing because making revisions can be a never-ending process. if your story is good in a technical sense, but you feel it’s not quite what you’d hoped, the best thing might be to move on and create other works. Previous publications are a reflection of who you were at the time they were written and may not live up to your current standards, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable in their own right. The early works of famous authors aren’t always their best, but reading them helps show their evolution as artists, in the same way as the early works of famous painters, dancers, and actors.

Don’t be afraid to go back to make corrections and re-publish your works, when necessary. Your readers will thank you for taking the time and making the effort to ensure their enjoyment of your works. Just be sure not to get caught up in an endless loop that takes time away from creating your next masterpiece.

Writer Wednesday: Georgette Heyer

The cover of my most well-loved edition of the book.

When I first read the Georgette Heyer Regency romance, Arabella, back in high school, I fell in love with the author’s style and story-telling ability. Everything about the book appealed to me: the large, impoverished, Tallant family; the arrogant Robert Beaumaris; and the descriptions of the Regency era, from the difficulties of getting into Almacks to the use of postillions for a traveling chaise. I re-read the book so often I started to think in the language of the time with a modern British accent.

While Arabella is near the top of the list of all the Heyer books I’ve enjoyed, I have to say that my all-time favorite of her romances is Friday’s Child. From the opening of the book, when the Viscount Sheringham (Sherry) decides he’ll marry the first woman he sees, until the convoluted series of improbable events of the climax, I couldn’t put this one down until I finished. I adore the heroine, Hero Wantage (Kitten), and how her innocent naivete keeps getting her into ‘one scrape after another.’ The way Sherry’s friends Gil Ringwood, Ferdy Fakenham, and George Wrotham want to protect Kitten is incredibly sweet. Wrotham’s desire to duel everyone who shows the least bit of interest in the woman he wants to wed, Isabella Milborne, is an amusing thread throughout the story. And the development of the relationship between Kitten and Sherry is not only well-done, but takes on a heart-wrenching quality about 2/3 of the way through the story. I can almost quote verbatim the beginning of my favorite chapter of the book since I’ve re-read it so many times.

Reading the works of Heyer has influenced my writing style in subtle ways. I tend to use more formal words than are common to most contemporary romances. The relationships between my heroes and heroines develop slower than many modern readers might like and physical intimacy between them happens late in the story. What I haven’t mastered is Heyer’s skill at conveying her stories in such a way as to make readers fall in love with them so they want to go back and read them again and again. That skill is a very important one to authors in any genre and can be difficult to learn, though some seem to have a natural talent for it. Heyer seems to me to be one of the naturals.

Georgette Heyer is credited with having created the genre of Regency romance. She did extensive research into life in Regency times: the language, the clothing, and societal trends. She wove her research into her books in such a way as to make the reader feel as familiar with the times as the author. Many of her readers were so inspired by her style and skill that they started writing as well.

I knew nothing about Heyer’s background or influence on others when I first came across her books all those years ago. All I knew was that her stories took hold of my heart and refused to let go. That’s why I continue to search for any of her books I haven’t yet read, why I often re-read my favorites, and why I continue to work to make my own writing better. If someone someday says something I’ve written has made them as happy as Heyer’s works have made me, I’ll feel I’ve achieved success.

Isn’t that what every writer hopes deep down inside?

Intention vs. Interpretation

One of the greatest parts of being a writer is the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas to readers. The problem is the writer and reader have differing outlooks on life; they often don’t have shared experiences upon which to draw that will help the reader make the connection the writer hopes. Most times, the reader has never met the writer in person and only knows them through their online and/or professional persona. What the writer intends to convey isn’t always what the reader interprets since they have little to no shared background.

This never occurred to me when I started my writing journey oh-so-many years ago now. At that time, my focus was on getting my stories onto the page in such a way as to tempt a publisher to take a chance on me. The stories I found the most success with were ones based upon my favorite television show at the time because the characters, situations, and back-story were all well-established. Whoever read the stories already knew and loved the characters so they would be interested in picking up the tie-in novelizations in order to explore new adventures with their beloved friends.

I’m no longer writing what I now realize was a form of subsidized fan-fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I still enjoy reading fan fiction and tie-in novels, but now I’m trying to embark on my own path as a writer). Many people enjoy exploring all the ‘what ifs’ of the worlds they know and love and others enjoying reading the thought processes of people who share some background, but different overall life experiences. The differences in background become a means of exploring a shared love through new eyes.

In the case of original fiction, the well-known and well-loved characters don’t yet exist. There are no established backstories or situations for the reader to draw upon. Everything is new territory and potential readers look for stories in their favored genre that look as though they may be appealing. The writer then has to successfully draw characters and build a world for the reader to love. Creating the relationship between the reader and the characters can take time and patience and the reader has so many options from which to choose these days that they can and will give up if the story takes too long to catch their interest.

The writer must know and love their characters very well and be able to express that so the potential reader’s interest is captured right away. The writer must know the back-story in such detail that they can indicate what has happened while putting the current story into play. Choosing the right words, phrases, and overall tone is vital to catching reader interest. These facts are all either well-known or instinctive to the successful writer. Some writers, like myself, may need a little more time to wrap their mind around the concept of successful world- and character-building.

These are thoughts I’m keeping in mind as I work to create enjoyable characters and stories in the future. I’ve got to make sure my intention is clear enough for the reader to be able to interpret what I’m trying to say in such a way that they enjoy my stories and characters as much as I do.

And now…back to work!