Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nancy Drew Books: Scary Things Kids (& Adults) Do #85

Beware of Cyclops! His glowing eye will paralyze you for days until your 5 o'clock shadow returns! Just hope Ned Nickerson doesn't have to rescue you looking like that Nancy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Friday, December 09, 2016

Series Books: Scary Things Kids (& Adults) Do #3

"These are not the Kay Traceys you're looking for!" Where's the rest of the dust jackets? In the sunken garden perhaps?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Q' & A' with Devlin Quick Author Linda Fairstein & Book Giveaway

 UPDATE: Winners are Jessie & Eric, congrats!


I'm hosting a giveaway of two of the new Devlin Quick Mysteries book #1 - Into the Lion's Den - read through this Q' & A' with author Linda Fairstein and see below on how you can enter to win a copy!


Why did you write INTO THE LION’S DEN your new middle grade series?

I wrote my first mystery story when I was in elementary school inspired by my devotion to the Nancy Drew books that I devoured as a kid.  I actually credit those books for the two careers I settled on – first, as a prosecutor – because of Nancy’s keen sense of doing justice for others and the fact that her father was a district attorney – and second, as a crime writer, hoping to create characters that would appeal to readers the way Nancy and her friends appealed to me.  Years ago, I told my literary agent that in addition to writing the Alex Cooper series, I hoped to be able to create a lively young sleuth to fill out my cast of characters.  I finally got around to disciplining myself to add a second book to my annual output, and INTO THE LION’S DEN is the result.  I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was to sit down every day and tell a story involving middle-grade kids who saw an injustice and fought to make things right.

Tell us about your experience growing up reading Nancy Drew books?

I really don’t want to claim that Devlin Quick is in any way a copycat of Nancy Drew.  I have too much respect for Nancy – and Nancy has a legion of fans over so many generations – that my plan was to pay homage to Nancy, a tribute to the kind of character she is because she so engaged me in her world for years and years.  Whenever I picked up the latest book in the series, I wanted to crawl inside the pages and go wherever Nancy and her loyal friends were going – to find the hidden staircase or discover the secret at Shadow Ranch.   My hope is that young readers will enjoy running with Devlin Quick and Booker Dibble, and that their adventures will lure them into a new and exciting world, just as I was drawn in by Nancy as a kid.

Devlin is smart and brave, and determined to do justice when she believes a crime has been committed.  She is terrifically loyal to her friends – like Liza and Booker – and she is very fortunate that her mom is the first woman police commissioner of New York City.  That connection helps Dev find her way around headquarters and gain the assistance of some great NYPD detectives.   Devlin loves to read, too, and is on her school swim team – so I’m hoping that she has lots of traits that her readers can identify with.

Your books do more than just tell a story.  Why?

My books are, of course, meant to entertain.  But just as I use my adult thrillers to gently inform the reader about the issues I grappled with in the criminal justice system, I want these books to have an aspirational side.  Devlin Quick is a strong and spirited young woman – in the mold of both her mother and grandmother – and a kid with a great deal of curiosity, too.  When reading as a kid, I loved to attach myself to the fictional characters I admired and dreamed about growing with some of the traits they developed in their stories.  Dev has no father – very unlike my stable family life – which is a challenge she struggles with, and her mother Blaine has worked hard to surround Dev with a surrogate family and friends.  I hope the kids who enjoy her capers will also respect her loyalty, her love of books and reading, her sportsmanship – developed as a swim team member – and her keen sense of justice.  And I want to give this to readers cloaked in an adventure that is meant to be great fun.

How do you hope to get kids reading more?

I wish I had a great answer to how to engage kids in reading!  For me, it was a pleasure in my life for as far back as I can remember.  First, my mother reading me to sleep at night – I especially think of the sing-song poems of Robert Louis Stevenson that I found so enchanting.  I was always happy to have a good book to keep me company if my friends were busy or it was a rainy day at home.  My older brother, who is extremely smart and grew up in the same household, was far less interested in books.   What caused that difference between us?  I wish I knew.
I think of kids I knew who were not readers until Harry Potter burst onto the scene.  I credit the genius of JK Rowling and the power of her storytelling for converting so many young boys and girls to becoming devotees of literature.

I’m hoping that if kids find it fun to be with Dev and Booker and Liza – if they can dream big about aspects of the stories that appeal to them – it will broaden their horizons about other books as well.
For middle age readers, I love a recommending a mix of classics and new fiction.  There are books I could read over and over again – like THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and CHARLOTTE’S WEB – and there are new characters like Grisham’s THEO BOONE – KID LAWYER and David Adler’s CAM JANSEN MYSTERIES – which delight me, as they do their young fans.  One of the things I like best about my book tour is getting to spend time in bookshops and libraries that offer such a rich range of attractions to this age group.

What was it like writing a series for a new audience?

I really thought that writing one series a year – my Alexandra Cooper crime novels, of which there are now 18 (!) – was more than enough to keep me on my toes.  And I swore to myself never to delegate my writing to a ghost or a team, though that plan has worked well for others.  But envisioning Devlin Quick coupled with my desire to write something in the vein of the Nancy Drew books that I so loved to read got the better of me.  I just needed to sit down and see if I could channel the voice and vision of a twelve year old – a kid sleuth for all ages, really.  Once I decided that I couldn’t get the idea out of my system, I just hunkered down and got to work.  As usual, it means more discipline, and less time with my husband and my friends.  But writing INTO THE LION’S DEN was as much fun as I’ve ever had sitting in front of my desktop, so I guess that helped the flow of my creative juices.

What are you working on now?

I’m happy to report that just as Devlin Quick is introduced to readers, I’m about to turn in her second story, which will come out in 2017.  The title is DIGGING FOR TROUBLE – and starts in Big Timber, Montana, where Dev and her friend Katie are invited to be volunteers on a fossil dig in the ‘badlands.’  Things happen, as you might guess, and then the action comes back to NYC (Dev’s ‘jurisdiction’, if you will) and to the great American Museum of Natural History, where some of the clues are hidden.

Alex Cooper will also be back in 2017 in a novel called DEADFALL, which picks up right where KILLER LOOK left off, and which explores the deadly world of wildlife crimes abroad – and with some local drama at the Bronx Zoo.


To win a copy of Into the Lion's Den, leave a comment here by Sunday December 10, 2016 and include your name - I will do a drawing on Monday to reveal two winners and update this post at the top. Check back here then to see if you've won a copy of Into the Lion's Den. Shipping to US addresses only.

Linda Fairstein's Devlin Quick Mysteries - A Modern Nancy Drew

It's no surprise that Linda Fairstein is a Nancy Drew fan! After two decades as a successful adult mystery author (Alex Cooper series), she has written the first book in The Devlin Quick Mysteries - a series for the 8-12 set, just as the classic Nancy Drew books were written for.

In fact, very much like the popular Nancy Drew books, these mysteries are very family friendly and "safe and sane" in that they follow a similar mantra that the Stratemeyer Syndicate, who created Nancy Drew, followed for years - no murders, no violence, no vulgarity - safe and entertaining mysteries for kids. Bravo to Linda for continuing that tradition in her mystery series which features a very precocious 12-year-old Devlin Quick.

Linda noted her passion for Nancy Drew when she recently wrote, "I also had a deep affection for and fascination with Nancy Drew. An older cousin put the first one – The Secret of the Old Clock – in my hands, and I devoured each episode as if it was candy.  The teenage detective was my favorite companion on rainy days or whenever I stayed homesick.  The women who wrote under the name Carolyn Keene introduced me to the concept of series fiction, and how your favorite characters—like Nancy and her loyal pals—could entertain you over and over again through their stories.  I fantasized about solving capers with her crew, which probably led me to my job as a prosecutor in Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office.  Nancy instilled in me the desire to create a protagonist in my book Into the Lion’s Den whose intelligence and devotion to justice would serve her well."

In Into the Lion's Den, Devlin and her pals do quite a bit of sleuthing at the New York Public Library to figure out who stole a map from a rare book. I love visiting the NYPL and have made numerous visits there in recent years in and around Nancy Drew Conventions and appearances on shows like The Today Show to chat about Nancy Drew. My visits helped me gather research that I'm now using to write the biography of Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene who wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. 

So, it's an understatement to say how much I enjoyed reading this book that begins with the missing map caper at the NYPL and the sleuthing in and around the library. For how Linda came to be inspired to set her mystery in part at the NYPL, she recently wrote in The Strand, "Unlike my adult thrillers, these 8- to 12-year-olds are not the audience for murder and violent crimes. I wanted to be realistic about the kind of event that would trigger a search for justice among a group of adolescents. I recalled an actual case I had worked on decades ago involving a thief who traveled across the country, stealing rare books and atlases from research libraries, including the great New York Public Library, guarded by those iconic granite statues that face Fifth Avenue."

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Nancy Drew Vintage Image Ornaments in The Drewtique

Nancy Drew Ornaments in The Drewtique featuring vintage images from the 1930s from The Secret of the Old Clock, The Secret at Shadow Ranch, and The Haunted Bridge. Officially licensed and they are made with vintage tins and vintage clock faces and other finery. To order, click here


Nancy Drew Books: Scary Things Kids (& Adults) Do #82

"What's that rustling over there in those bushes?!"

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Drew-O-Ween!

My Nancy Drew Halloween Party party this year was a small dinner party with a couple close pals and family but oh so fun! I took the classic Nancy Drew mystery, Mystery of the Glowing Eye and combined it with Scooby Doo since the book has a lot of Scooby Doo style in part - this way the Scooby Doo will carry over well for the kids on Halloween. Scooby Drew anyone?!

The house had to be "haunted" with a monster/haunt theme in keeping with Scooby Doo and the book and of course eyes and eyeballs were the big theme and we ran with it - creating the monster teeth and the "glowing eye" in the window above and hung eyeballs from the trees. An "eyeball" doorbell and eyeball wreath with "flying bats" coming off of it greeted everyone who dared enter...


Inside I set up a table scape with an eye theme as well and a prop from the book of an eye on a chalkboard. Thanks to all the stores out there with eyeball decor this year--it was everywhere!


The creepy scientist-villain in the book with the wild red hair made an appearance - "Cyclops" as he called himself or Zapp Crosson. I even found a Cyclops skull at Spirit Halloween! Naturally everyone was up to their eyes in eyeball treats!


Sunday, October 02, 2016

Nancy Drew Anthology

The Nancy Drew Anthology, published by Silver Birch Press, features a compilation of many Nancy Drew theme submissions from poetry to art to essays.

It is dedicated to Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene, who I am writing a biography about! They are publishing a photo of Millie that is in my collection and also an essay I wrote about coming to write the biography and my search for all the clues to Millie and her amazing story!

You can learn more about Millie at my website and see how the bio is coming along.

Stay tuned, I'll be giving away a copy of the anthology mid-October!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mildred Wirt Benson - The Real Nancy Drew Biography

Nancy & Me

Like many Nancy Drew fans, there was just something about Nancy that kept me turning the pages! My zeal for mysteries and Nancy's smart capable adventuresome self were a match made in literary heaven. I devoured the books in the late 70's through the 1980s when Nancy Drew classic hardcovers spun off into paperbacks and also other series like the more modern Nancy Drew Files. There were plenty of Nancy Drew books to satisfy me. Between visits to the bookstore and my school library, I was beginning on a journey, that even then I had no clue I would be embarking on. Within a decade of leaving my childhood books safely ensconced at my parent's home and taking off for college and law school, I would never have predicted that I'd end up rediscovering Nancy Drew and beginning a massive collection of all things Drew. Soon after the collecting bug set in, I began heading up a group of wonderful Nancy Drew fans, Nancy Drew Sleuths. Soon after came consulting with licensee companies creating Nancy Drew products, working at times with the publishers of Nancy Drew on books and merchandise, consulting on the 2007 Nancy Drew Warner Brothers movie, writing a book, Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit & Wisdom of Nancy Drew for a licensee, and licensing Nancy Drew for our own line of merchandise. I've been interviewed on the Today Show and other media outlets. I plan our annual Nancy Drew Conventions and other gatherings. Really, it never ends and it's been a wonderful diversion from a planned legal career.

When I first got on the Internet around 1997, there was an old now-defunct message board by publisher Applewood Books for Nancy Drew fans. I met other collectors and fans and started to learn more about Nancy Drew. I'd found a vintage 1930s version of The Hidden Staircase at an antique mall and I had become very intrigued at the difference between it and my childhood early-80s version of Hidden Staircase which was a yellow hardcover and had a much shorter story inside. Then there was eBay and now nearly 20 years later I have added to my childhood books to amass around 4000 books, collectibles, art, and other paper ephemera.

The Legend of Carolyn Keene

For as much fun as I have had delving into all things Nancy Drew, something even more amazing happened. I got to meet Carolyn Keene. THE Carolyn Keene. The original, Mildred A. Wirt Benson, who wrote The Secret of the Old Clock at age 24 in 1929. It was published along with the next two books in the series on April 28, 1930.

Growing up and reading these books, you picture Nancy Drew in various ways--often based on the book illustrations. You don't conjure up a picture of Carolyn Keene as easily. It's really easy to ponder the question of who Carolyn Keene is and what motivates her. Is she a magnet for mysteries, where does she get all her story ideas and is she some sort of detective when she's not hammering out new mystery stories? Just a few of the questions I routinely get asked by fans young and old alike. If these books were first written in the 1930s, then who is still writing them today, over 85 years later? The secret has been out for some time, but Carolyn Keene was a pen name for ghostwriters who have written these books and various spinoffs and continue to do so on the currently published series. The classic series of which most people are familiar - books 1-56 - had eight ghostwriters.

When I joined that online message board, I began hearing things about the woman living in Toledo, OH still working at the Toledo Blade, who wrote the first Nancy Drew books and was in her 90s! Millie was still working in her 90s with no plans for retirement anytime soon. I was amazed. And intrigued. Who dreams they'll get to meet a real Carolyn Keene - especially the first one?

Meeting "Carolyn Keene"

It was a spectacularly promising night one April 10, 2000, when another collector and I formed a discussion group online for Nancy Drew fans and we called it "Nancy Drew Sleuths" (NDS). We discussed books and collected and traded books back and forth. One of our members lived in Toledo and he had met Millie several times and had books signed by her. He encouraged me to come visit Millie. I suggested a trip to my Mom and explained the somewhat urgent matter--after all, Millie was 95 and as much as she never wanted to exit this world, time was of the essence, more than I realized. Later that year, our NDS group put together a scrapbook for Millie and expressed our appreciation of her writing and our love of Nancy Drew and we presented it to her through our local member during the holidays. She later wrote of it in Basement Work One for the Books. She wrote about finding an old ledger in which she'd recorded every story and book she'd written which she gave it to another collector for safekeeping to "be preserved as valuable memorabilia." In its place was our scrapbook and she noted, "Replacing the space vacated in my collection is artwork presented to me as an honorary member of the Sleuths, an organization of Nancy Drew fans. This material, though only recently created is more interesting than any old record book, but it will undoubtedly become more valuable with each passing year." I would go on to bid on this same scrapbook over a decade later in December 2013 when Millie's daughter Peggy's estate was auctioned off. I was able to get back the scrapbook and the Honorary Sleuth Award we gave Millie summer of 2001 after our Toledo gathering.

Plans were made for a fun road trip from Texas to Ohio for spring 2001 and so my mom and I book hunted and antiqued our way to Ohio where 11 other members of the group met as part of our first unofficial at the time, convention. I met Millie at the Toledo Blade where she was working one day and she interviewed me for her article about our group's visit, Nancy Drew Sleuths Follow Trail to Author of Books. I also interviewed her for an article I was writing for a series zine and she signed some of my books including my first printing of Old Clock from 1930. It was such a surreal experience to sit down and chat with her. She was very intelligent and seemed genuinely interested in learning more about the group and what we did. By this point in her life, after being revealed as Carolyn Keene in a big way at the 1993 Nancy Drew Conference, there was a lot of traffic that came her way--which often interrupted her work days--from fans and revelers. She'd take it in stride most of the time even if she didn't understand sometimes what all the fuss was about. She was great about meeting with our group and signing our books the next day.

While interviewing me for her article, she was rather intrigued about our discussion group and expressed consternation over my title of being the discussion group "moderator" - she didn't like it for her article, so she decided to appoint me president of the group, and the rest was history...

Millie & Me

After our first meeting, I spoke with her occasionally on the phone to check in with her. I was writing a couple of articles about her and Nancy Drew and also something on her favorite Penny Parker Mystery Stories. I sometimes just wanted to check on her and usually had a few questions. Sometimes she'd ask for story ideas for her column. There were some things she didn't want to talk about--like her involvement with the 1980 trial between the Nancy Drew publishers. There was also advice for me. I'd gone to law school to be a lawyer, but I had always loved writing and dabbled in that throughout my life. After graduating law school, I went in another direction with the NDS group and the consulting. One day she said to me, "Maybe you'll become a writer instead of being a lawyer," and she seemed to encourage it. That was inspiring and it has led to numerous articles, op-eds, and where I am today, writing her biography.

After having such a wonderful time in Toledo, members of the group decided we should do this yearly. So, we planned a second convention for spring 2002 in Iowa City, IA where the 1993 Nancy Drew Conference took place, and a visit to Millie's childhood home in Ladora, IA. Millie was interested in our planned visit to her childhood home and wrote about it in her column, Nancy Drew Fans Search for the Details. Early 2002 had brought her retirement - a retirement she'd fought for years off and on - but it was a working retirement, for she was still coming in to write a monthly column. The media was parading through the newsroom rather regularly during the first few months of the year filming segments on Millie - NBC, CNN and so forth. One day, I called her and she was so professional and kept right on asking me questions for the article on our visit to IA - never letting on they were filming her at the time. Later when watching the news segment, they showed her on the phone and on her large monitor were parts of the article that would be published soon after.

By the time of my visit to Iowa and following in Millie's footsteps around her childhood and college day locations around the University of Iowa and Ladora, I was inspired to write a biography about Millie. However, I knew that it would involve a lot of research to get the story right. There's a lot of surface level research out there and basic facts that have been published for years with some exceptions like Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. For someone as hard-nosed as Millie, who also appreciated the honesty and integrity in journalism and writing, I knew I needed to really dig deep on this to truly do her justice. She wasn't a very open person when it came to her personal life, so discovering just who Millie was and unraveling her journey over the years has been a challenge, but one I've met with determination!

And then there's the whole "angle" issue. "You've got to have an angle on this horsey thing," she'd probably say, something she often said to interviewers. She never knew though, that I was going to embark on her journey, for she passed away shortly after our IA convention, May 28, 2002. News blanketed the country, sometimes inaccurate things have been printed, as there is misinformation out there about Nancy Drew's history, but Millie's legacy will truly always be Nancy Drew and she knew that before she passed. Truly though, her legacy is so much more than just Nancy Drew and I resolved then and there to tell that story too.

I was invited to Toledo in July 2002 when the Toledo Blade gave Millie a private memorial at the Toledo Club and our NDS group put on a Millie Benson day at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library that fall celebrating her life and all her books and series she wrote. Our local member had collected each of the 135 books Millie wrote and he set up a display at the library. Today, his collection now resides in The Blade Rare Book Room at the library.

Over the years since Millie passed away, I've written about her and Nancy Drew among other topics of interest, given presentations about her including our most recent set of three historic Nancy Drew mini cons that took place during all the anniversaries this year in 2015. That year it was Nancy Drew's 85th anniversary and the 110th anniversary of Millie's birth and the Stratemeyer Syndicate's forming. At our second mini con in Toledo in May 2015, NDS was a sponsor along with The Blade and The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library of a Literary Landmark that was unveiled at the library to honor Millie along with a town council resolution and Mayor's proclamation.

The Millie Bio

Since 2002, I have been able to play sleuth a little bit like Nancy Drew which I relish. Unraveling the adventuresome tales of Millie Benson has been a most fascinating experience. I have made numerous research trips to Iowa City, IA, Toledo, OH and NYC where the massive Stratemeyer Syndicate files reside at the NYPL. I've combined research trips with conventions and other events and fit in research when I could between projects and NDS events--the group has kept me quite busy as has the consulting and licensing. There have been numerous interviews with family, friends and co-workers. And, most importantly of all, I have been granted sole access to her personal archive of papers, to which no one else has ever been granted previously, so that I can write a truthful, honest but spirited and most importantly, the definitive biography on Millie.

Now, in 2016, I'm finally categorizing over 10 years of research material. There are volumes of files including some original documents once owned by Millie which will eventually be donated to her archive at the University of Iowa. It wouldn't be a story about Millie if it wasn't a very intriguing tale--a very amazing life she lived and there are so many things I've unearthed that no one has a clue about - yet! For instance, in the biography you'll learn the true story about her kidnapping in Guatemala and how she used her wits to escape not unlike infamous sleuth Nancy Drew, how she really felt about Nancy Drew and all the fuss, and we'll dig into mysteries going back as far as her college days and her beginnings with the Stratemeyer Syndicate that have yet to be revealed. Her adventures to Central America and her flying escapades around the country will get special focus as will her favorite series, Penny Parker. We'll also delve into the mystery surrounding her missing autobiography and the map someone drew me to find it. It was never found, or was it? Stay tuned...

My autobiography, Millie Benson - The Real Nancy Drew, is in the process of being written. I will be highlighting interesting things about Millie and my research as I write the book here at this blog but also in upcoming issues of The Sleuth.