Thea Devine here, wondering: DID YOU DO NANCY DREW?
The Secret of Nancy Drew
When did you discover Nancy Drew? I think I was eight, and an aunt had given me The Quest of the Missing Map. The original edition, with the orange Nancy and her magnifying glass on the cover. And it just rocked my world. Almost immediately, I wanted to write one.
But in my day, Nancy Drew was locked out of the school library. Nancy wasn’t something you read for a book report. Nancy wasn’t literature; Nancy was — what? — trash reading.. A waste of time.
I recently reread the first six or seven books in the series: I’d bought the Applewood reprints of the so-called orange/blue Nancys, the Nancy of the frocks and roadsters and mysterious coincidences, and found them great fun and very much of their time. But did you know that there were earlier editions of Nancy Drew that did not have the orange Nancy and her magnifying glass on the cover?
The Clue of the Missing Nancy
I happened on one in a flea market in Maine — and bought it for ten dollars. I subsequently discovered that the first seven books were originally published with no orange Nancy, blank endpapers and four glossy illustrations inside. I decided to start collecting the orange/blue editions because I’d given my growing-up collection to a cousin, who, of course, passed them on. That was what you did. We weren’t thinking seminal influence back then.
Rereading Nancy Drew as an adult was a blast back to the innocence of childhood, and to the wonder of her adventures and the urgent desire to write a mystery just like Nancy’s. So every week the eight year me bought a pristine tablet with thin blue lines and a brand new pen, and huddled in my dad’s car which was always parked in front of our apartment building in Brooklyn, and started yet another story.
How many of you were influenced to be writers by reading Nancy Drew? Raise your hands. Did the Hidden Staircase scare you half to death? Did you look for clues in your mother’s jewelry box? Did you pretend to be Nancy when you played with your friends?
The Message of Nancy Drew
The impact of a free-spirited self-assured independent mystery-solving teenager with no mother, no constraints, a car of her own, a proud father who gives her free rein, and important mystery solving work to do cannot be underestimated culturally either. My generation saw that any girl — me — could be Nancy Drew, one way or another. Because of her, we became confident. knowledgeable, trustworthy, free to do what we needed to do, and adept at finding solutions. We wanted to be like her. As writers, we became her.
The Whispered Secret
I actually had a mystery in my family — an uncle who disappeared when he was very young, ran away, and never came back. And then, one day when my mom said, your father had an older brother who ran away. They never talk about him, my writer’s ears pricked up.
Talk about ominous and mysterious. Was that not a statement to send Nancy Drew off on a hunt for clues? Those words simmered until, many years later, Dad was reminiscing during a phone conversation, and I heard Mom in the background saying, tell her about your brother.
So Dad told me: This time, the Nancy in me reared up her head; how, I wondered (Nancy would wonder) did you obliterate a family member from its history? I devised a gothic scenario. A brother no one talks about. A jealous homicidal maniac of a brother. An overprotective mother. A conspiracy of secrets. A new bride who’s just a little too curious. Nancy would have been so proud.
The Quest of the Missing Uncle
It took many more years to get that story down. My aunts and uncles were very young when that brother left. The uncle I thought was my dad’s oldest brother was really his stepbrother: my grandfather had been a widower with two children when he married my grandmother..The family never talked about the runaway son. Secrets. Nancy would have reveled in them. Would she have dug deeper and found more truths even after there was no one left who remembered?
The gothic idea is still in play — but as with most ideas, things changed, I eventually reconfigured the whole thing into a wholly different story, and my long-missing unknown uncle morphed into a vampire in “The Darkest Heart” , which I wrote at my desk across from my bookcase which is stuffed once again with old beloved inspiring Nancy Drews.
Did you know people have written about the cultural impact of Nancy Drew? Did you read Nancy Drew? Did the mysteries make you to want to write? Or solve mysteries? Or uncover family secrets?
Thea Devine’s latest release is “The Darkest Heart.” She’s currently working on the sequel.