There they sit. On the bookshelf in full view every time I sit on the couch. They call out to me with their recognizable yellow spine and their alluring titles – The Secret of the Old Clock, The Mystery at Red Gate Farm and my favourite The Clue in the Diary, beckoning just as they did decades ago. I devoured these stories as a youngster and read most of them under the tree in the backyard on hot summer days. They still bring back memories when I see them now.
My father donated my collection to the Salvation Army when he sold his house, not realizing the connection I still had to them, even as an adult. Since then, I’ve spent many years scouring garage sales and flea markets replacing my Nancy Drew collection one at a time. Why did I love them so?
Every young girl in the 60s wanted to be Nancy Drew – and why not? She was smart, witty, and independent and had a brain for solving mysteries to boot. She had a father who supported everything she did and she never got in trouble, even when she got in an accident with her convertible car – how cool was that? What 19 year old young girl had her own convertible?
She was envied by girls my age. She had faithful friends, Bess and George, who tagged along on her adventures, and of course there was Ned, the good looking young man who had a crush on her. At 19, she had the world all wrapped up. So, who wouldn’t want to be Nancy Drew?
Me, that’s who.
I had bigger aspirations. I did not want to inhabit the world of Nancy with all her intelligence and charm or her ability to identify a clue that would solve a mystery from a dropped diary or a fleeting stranger.
I wanted to be Carolyn Keene: the one who put the words to paper; the one who brought the secrets and elusive conclusions to life. I longed to see my name on the front of a hardcover book – to be the envy of all my friends and prove something to all my teachers who continued to write on my report cards “talks too much in class.”
Well, perhaps that was because I had a story to tell.
I mentioned this to my mother one day and got “Mm-hmm, that’s nice.” Even though my mother was the one who took me faithfully on the bus to Woolworth’s to buy the newest Nancy Drew instalment, perhaps she had little knowledge of who wrote the books. Obviously, she didn’t understand just what those $1.50 purchases meant to me.
The more I read, the stronger my desire became. I was certain that I could do what Carolyn Keene had done. I had read some books and they seemed fairly straightforward; they had characters and a story. That should be easy enough. My confidence was growing.
I thought I would try to explain this again to my mother. Tenacity is in my nature. I stood in front of her with a Nancy Drew book in hand, perched under my chin with my finger on the authors name and asked; “Mom, do you think I could write a book like Carolyn Keene?”
She studied me for a moment, tilted her head to one side and said, “Really?” My head was bobbing up and down energetically – my neck was starting to hurt. Knowing how determined I could be she said, “All right, want to find out?”
Success! I was on my way to being a real author!
So off we went on the bus to Woolworth’s, this time on a different mission to buy supplies. Not just ordinary paper and pen, but those worthy of a promising 11 year old author. I could barely contain my excitement!
I held my purchase closely with eager anticipation on the way home; my sweaty little palms making marks on the brown paper bag. I nearly jumped out of my seat to ring the bell when we got near our stop.
After the short walk home, I headed straight for the tree, opened my brand new notebook and with my best printing, carefully placed my name on the inside cover. Then I wrote my name in cursive, practicing how I might do so once I got famous. Every author needed a cool autograph.
Now, down to work.
I waited for the words to come. Nothing. Hmmmm … maybe a grape popsicle would help get the creative juices flowing. Then perhaps a ride around the neighbourhood on my bicycle. I was feeling a little sluggish from the heat and the bus ride.
Yes, that was the trick. I started writing. I don’t recall exactly what I wrote but I remember the freedom and the excitement I felt. The words flowed like the water from the outside hose I used to drink from. My hand hurt and I shook it like I had seen my dad do when he was writing cheques to pay the bills. I glanced over my pages – I had written a lot!
Write, write, write. Days and days and days. I had to keep stalling my mother who was asking to read it. Good work takes time, don’t you know? Perhaps it was more than nosiness she was displaying. Perhaps she had faith in me. That helped to spur me on.
I stopped writing and read it back to myself. Something was missing – what was it? I had characters, dialogue and even a mystery to be solved. Then it came to me – the plot – that’s what was missing!
I had methodically painted myself into a corner and couldn’t get out. Now what? How to bring all the parts that I had written together? I wished I could dial up Carolyn Keene to ask her but I didn’t know her number. Besides, she probably didn’t live anywhere close by and long distance calls cost money. I had already spent my last few weeks allowance on writing supplies.
Maybe a few days away would help. I should take a rest from it – yes, that was what I decided to do.
As any child knows summer days pass too quickly, and as the light was leaving the sky earlier and earlier each day, I knew that September was fast approaching. How would I ever get my novel done before then? Daily, I stared at the pages and read it over and over until it was etched in my brain and yet could not find a conclusion to my dilemma. I was stuck!
I have since discovered that this is not unusual for authors. Could I have worked my way through it? I’ll never know.
I don’t know what happened to that notebook. It may have ended up in the garbage when my dad was cleaning out the house. I do know that it sat regally in my closet on the shelf for many years, and on occasion I looked at it wistfully, remembering those days under the maple tree and wishing I could finish my novel.
They say that things come full circle. I don’t know who they are, but maybe they are right because here I am, once again, hoping that I have a story to tell.
Dale Kern lives in Ancaster and is a college educator whose love of reading has always lured her to write. It took many decades for her to put pen to paper – or finger to key stroke. She may not be Carolyn Keene, but her lifelong reading experiences left her with appreciation for the work of authors. She hopes to be one someday. When she is not writing, she enjoys the outdoors, spending time with family and friends and being a passenger on her husband’s Harley.
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