Friday, September 11, 2009

'Holy crickets!' exploded Joe . . .

Typical adventure for brothers Frank and Joe Hardy: getting into fights with fearsome desperadoes! Here, the thugs even look the part of thugs, thanks to the artist doing the frontispiece for The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, one of the hundreds of Hardy Boys books published between 1929 and 2005." The thrilling caption: "I found out that these two kids are stool pigeons!"

By Shane Gericke

Fond childhood memories make my inaugural invitation to Shane's Cool Characters Dinner Party easy: I want to break bread with The Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe.

Since we have a huge table in the dining room (with both leaves in, I practically sit in the kitchen), I'd also invite Frank and Joe's father, world-famous private detective Fenton Hardy; their chums (for young'uns reading this, that's what American kids called their friends back in the 1930s, "chums") Chet Morton and Biff Hooper; the boys' innocent girlfriends Callie Shaw and Iola Morton (Chet's sister); the fiery Aunt Gertrude, and others in the Hardy clan.

In fitting with the nature of the mystery series aimed at red-blooded all-American boys of the 1930s--i.e., white bread--I'd serve pot roast, mashed potatoes with gravy, canned peas, Wonder Bread, margarine, and whole milk. Followed by mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers.

I loved the Hardy Boys. It was my first mystery series, and the books that made me think I could be a thriller writer someday. Frank and Joe were teenage brothers with this cool dad, Fenton, who allowed them all sorts of grand adventures and let them solve crimes right along with him. Their cranky old Aunt Gertrude kept an eye on them, as their mother, Laura, though present, was rarely mentioned in the books. The boys climbed into castles, swam across rivers, got into fistfights with bad guys, built iceboats that skimmed frozen lakes at 60 mph, sped powerboats toward mysterious light towers, found buried treasure, fended off hoods and no-good-niks, and said stuff like:

"Holy crickets!" exploded Joe as the chums were undressing. "Where's my wallet?"

A paragraph later, the series' author, "Franklin W. Dixon," explained where Joe's wallet had gone:

"On the highway a car was droning through the darkness. Two evil-faced young men, one of them at the wheel, were laughing scornfully." ...

The Hardy Boys Mystery Series had an amazing run, launching in 1927 and ending in 2005. It was the dream child of book packager and syndicator Edward Stratemeyer, who hired a number of ghostwriters to pump out what became a 190-book series. Each ghost was handed a detailed plot, character and story outline, told to write it fast and simple, and warned to keep their pride to themselves: the public should think that "Franklin W. Dixon," a fictional name created by Stratemeyer, was the sole writer. The series streaked into the book-buying stratosphere and stayed there, selling millions upon millions of books, springing movies, TV shows and video games, and inspiring all sorts of commercial claptrap, from action figures to lunch boxes. It was so successful that Stratemeyer conceived a mystery series for girls--Nancy Drew. In fact, there were a few Hardy/Drew combined adventures, though I never read them.

The publishing stuff is interesting to me as an adult. But back in the 1960s, when I first started reading the series, I couldn't have cared less about sales stats and ghostwriter pay (around a hundred bucks a book, with all royalties and copyrights going to the Stratemeyer Syndicate--ouch.) Back then, I just wanted to be the Hardy Boys. They were just so cool and tough.

But now, thanks to the power of the Seven, I can have them over for drinks.

Well, milk, anyway. These were World War Two-era YA mysteries. Drinks were white and creamy, curses weren't uttered, Dad wore suits to work, bad guys never hurt the boys even when they landed heavy blows, and the girlfriends were chaste and pure.

Later, I learned that mystery characters could indeed cuss, fight, drink, screw and murder with bloody abandon. And it was good. But like I'll never forget my first love, my first mystery series remains the fondest in my mind ...


--I wasn't able to keep up with my colleagues' dinner party comments this week, as my folks were at our house this week visiting us, and all of us scrambled around Chicagoland visiting relatives and catching up with friends, so I didn't get to the Internet much.(Try saying that sentence in one breath :-) Just read through the posts today, though, and there was some great stuff. (Sophie, I never pegged you for a Martha Stewart fan!) Anyway, if you haven't checked out their essays, please take a few minutes now and enjoy.

--I just finished Laura Lippman's BY A SPIDER'S THREAD, one of the books in the Tess Monaghan private-eye series. Long review short: magnificent. One of the best yet in Laura's wonderfully written series, which is set in Baltimore.

--Currently reading THE LONG FALL, the debut of Walter Mosley's new private-eye series. His hero is Leonid McGill, a nasty-piece-of-work private eye who's trying to redeem himself by getting out of the seemy end of PI work and into a position to do some good in the world. But his past keeps pulling him back. Nicely written, leisurely paced, and set in contemporary New York. Mosley's celebrated for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, but this moves him into new--though still familiar--territory.

--Today is September 11. Please take a minute to remember all the brave people who died in the World Trade Center, because if we forget our tragedies, we're doomed to repeat them.

Unlike Fenton Hardy, Shane Gericke's dad wasn't a world-famous detective. But Lee Gericke was a patrol sergeant, and a pretty cool guy in his own right, so Shane had adventures even better than Frank's and Joe's. (Though he's saddened to this day he never built an iceboat.) National bestselling author Shane's next cop thriller, MOVING TARGET, launches nationwide in July, 2010, from Kensington Pinnacle Books.


Jen Forbus said...

Well since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys shared the same creator, maybe you can Kelli can share the same caterer, Shane! :) Your dinners sounded very similar! I'm going to add the Hardy Boys to my arsenal for my nephew. He's only 4 now but he loves his stories. And I want to find lots and lots for him to read on his own once he starts learning to read. I don't want him turned off like so many little boys are. Luckily he has many role models around him - his dad and his grandpa are both avid readers. Yea!!

$100 a book. Those poor saps. Did anyone get their start writing Hardy Boys and then go on to do great things? That might be a bit of a consolation...that it at least lead to something bigger?

I also have Walter Mosley's THE LONG FALL on my bookshelf. I'd like to get to it soon because the follow-up is due out fairly soon...maybe March??

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hey Everyone! (I'm stalking Jen - have you noticed).

This is my first chance to peek in on all you criminals this week, and Shane's right - these are wonderful essays!!!

Having had my stint as a Mary Stewart wannabe I can relate to Sophie's experiences, and having grown up wanting to be Nancy Drew, I, of course, loved Kelli's piece.

I cannot tell you how crushed I was to learn there was no Carolyn Keene, and that "she" was really a consortium. This is probably what started my total disenchantment with corporate "anything."

Shane, are you totally hooked on Laura Lippman's Tess?! I love her.

Hope you had a terrific visit with your folks!

Bobby Mangahas said...

I too was influenced by them to really enjoy the whole mystery/thriller thing (of course the realization to that fact came later). I started reading those small blue hardcovers that my brothers originally read.

I also remember that sometime in the 80's, there were the MM paperbacks of "The Hardy Boys Case Files," with a more modern (for the 80's) looking covers, and a bit more danger. Here, though Frank and Joe still won fist fights, they got scraped up a bit more.

Shane Gericke said...

Stratemeyer also created the Bobbsey Twins, Jen, so there you had the triple-play of childhood readers. One thought about the series for your 4-year-old nephew: try the 1950s-1960s version of the series. The original series, written in the '30s and '40s, was pretty racist, as was that era in America. True, Frank and Joe had one Jewish chum and one Italian chum, but they weren't in the series much and never participated in the cool stuff. Stratemeyer had the series rewritten in the (I think) late 1950s to ease up on the racial stuff. The language is still wonderfully stilted, though--that and the great frontispiece drawings are what I still remember most about the books. And RJ's blue covers--those really were distinctive.

Shane Gericke said...

Boy, Kaye, me too, crushed when learning Franklin W. Dixon was a figment of a marketer's imagination. That's why I don't like made-up writers for any kind of books. Readers have a strong emotional bond with writers, and that should not be toyed with.

Ironically, the aforementioned '30s and '40s version was pretty anti-corporate, anti-rich people, and anti-authority. Probably all those writers, and Stratemeyer, coming out of the Dust Bowl and the Depression and the farm foreclosures.

Yep, I love Laura Lippman's books. Laura's a sly, smooth writer, and it shows. Tess is totally cool--she seems like a real person, not a superhero that leaps tall buildings, etc. And her recent standalone, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, is one of the best books I've ever read, period.

Had a great time with mom and dad. They came in last week and stayed till yesterday. They're in their eighties but still drive around the country doing things and seeing people. We spent considerable time introducing them to our friends, and hanging out with relatives. Plus, dad and I put in a pole lamp in the back yard. Many trips to the hardware store! But it turned out a thing of beauty, and gets the insects away from my back door during the summer, which is why I wanted to install it.

Donald and Harley are well, I hope. And you? You'll be at Bouchercon, right?

Shane Gericke said...

Yeah, RJ, they did the Case Files and some other modern interpretations. I think there were even manga-style graphic novels at some point. They are currently published in some form--the new version started in 2005, when the original series ended--but I don't recall the name or anything.

There's a personal reason I liked the blue books so much. My grandmother lived in Chicago, and we lived in a farm town about 40 miles south of the city. Once a month, she took the electric train to our house to spend the weekend. Every visit, she brought me a new Hardy Boys book, and my sisters a Nancy Drew or Bobbsey Twins. I still have the collection she gave in my writing office, next to her canister of ashes from when she died. She would like that, hanging out with the books, as she loved to read so much.

The way things go these days, I figure by 2015, the Hardys will be fighting serial killers and terrorists alongside the "new" GI Joe :-)

Shane Gericke said...

Oh, Jen, that $100 a book? Only the best ghosts got that. The others made less. Mr. Stratemeyer could put Wal-Mart to shame taking advantage of employees :-) On the other hand, a hundred bucks in the 1930s was what a newspaper reporter made in two months, so it wasn't as bad as it sounds. Pretty bad, though, because reporters were vastly underpaid, too.

THE LONG FALL was an interesting experience. I started off not liking the hero much. But by the end, I thought he was a pretty all-right guy after all. Enough so that I'd try the second. And the writing style is pure Mosley, so if you like the Rawlins style, you'll like this.

Are you coming to Bouchercon?

Jen Forbus said...

YES! I most certainly am coming!! I won't arrive until Friday morning, but I'll be there for the very first time! :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, I am SO glad you did the Hardy Boys right!! :) I was thinking about them yesterday, of course ... not the TV incarnations (remember Shaun and Parker?), but the lovely hardcovers of HB and Nancy I used to find at flea markets and garage sales when I was a kid. At one time I had the complete collection of Nancy.

And Jen and Kaye--I read an excellent book last year about the syndicate that will make you feel a bit better, as it delves into the two major personalities behind Nancy. It's called Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak. There are some terrific stories behind the stories!

One more thing: the original politicization of pop culture figures--and then a subsequent watering down--wasn't just part of Nancy/HB history. Superman was originally the poor man's superhero--on the side of Depression-era miners versus corporations, for example. Once he hit the radio ... he lost his activism.


Shane Gericke said...

Kel, are there publishers who currently do series written by ghosts under one master byline? Some authors have secret ghosts who write their books for them, but I can't think of any publishers who did it that way. Seemed much more common way back when.

Also, I love Jen's idea of sharing a caterer for our dinner party :-)

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Cool on the lamp thing! It sounds wonderful and what a fun thing for you and your dad to do together.

B'Con?! You kidding?! You better believe I'll be there! I'm addicted! (and I promised to hold Jen's hand - as IF she'll need it!) And Shane - you and I can dance on the bar like we did last year in Baltimore! (snicker - nah - we didn't do that. But who knows - maybe this year!)

Kelli - I'm going to look for this book - thanks! It sounds most definitely like my cuppa tea.

Kelli Stanley said...

I can't think of anyone, sweetie ... seems like ghost writers have at least come into their own as far as billing--albeit small--is concerned. :)

And yes, I think we should definitely share a caterer--and I can get us a deal on organic whole milk!! ;)


Leslie said...

You might get the "Chet Gecko, Private Eye" books for your nephew now... you'll enjoy reading them to him... with titles like "Farewell My Lunch bag" you can tell the puns fly thick for the adults! Both my nephews are great readers, in no small part due to their favorite aunt! ;-)

I grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators... a newer take on the series theme. Lots of great memories.

I had no idea the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew collaborated! I will have to find one of those! BTW, Don't despair, it is not too late to build an iceboat! ;-)

I've read a bunch of Laura Lippman's Tess series and also WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, which was excellent too!

L.J. Diva said...

Man, I still read The Hardy Boys books. Every one that comes out, although the Undercover Brothers are good in their own way, there was something that was better about the original series, and even the pbs that followed until the actual series ended.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Shane, I loved those old Hardy Boys illustrations! There's something about those pencil sketches that's just ideally suited to fedoras and rock-solid jawlines, brogues? is that the word?

Shane Gericke said...

I hear you, Sophie--those illustrations are the best. Especially the ones with crooks ... they're hilarious with their palooka mugs and busted beezers. (That's "broken noses" for those not hep on 1930s lingo.) I thought about having a few blown up for my office.

A few years ago, a Chicago theater did a production of the Hardy Boys ... as gay characters. Dad slept with Aunt Gertrude, the crooks minced, the whole schmere. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. It actually was very sweet, and didn't make fun of gays in the least. One of the better shows I've seen anywhere. And yes, they blew some of those illustrations up to wall size.

Shane Gericke said...

Jewels, I know the Undercover Brothers are Hardy-related, but don't know how. Enlighten me, please! And is the language modern, or still pretty stilted?

Whitewing said...

Jen, the syndicate that wrote the Nancy Drew books resulted in one of my favorite writers, Susan Wittig Albert, who writes the wonderful tales of Beatrix Potter, amateur sleuth. I don't know how many Nancy books she wrote, but at least a couple.