Female Authors Who Have Influenced Me – Women in History Month Series

Carolyn Keene and The Nancy Drew Mysteries

MARCH 5, 2021—As you may know, Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym for over a dozen authors who have written for the Nancy Drew mystery series. Edward Stratemeyer, a publisher, and writer of children’s books had the original idea for Nancy Drew. Too busy to write the series himself, he hired ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson, and gave the series the penname, Carolyn Keene.

Benson grew up in Iowa. She enjoyed adventure, playing sports with the neighborhood boys, and was an avid reader. As a child she would write short stories and submit them to children’s magazines. Her first story was published at age 13. After high school, Benson went on to earn an English degree in college, and she was the first woman to graduate with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. It was during her graduate program Stratemeyer hired Benson to write the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock, published in 1930. Benson went on to write 23 more Nancy Drew mysteries for Stratemeyer.

Much like Benson, I was a tomboy. As a young child, my friend, Tommy, and I would tear up the neighborhood racing around on our Big Wheel bikes. I was also a dab hand at making mudpies with him in the garden. By the end of the day, I’d arrive home filthy and my poor mother would hose me off before allowing me to enter the house.

In addition, like Benson, I became an ardent reader, and Nancy Drew was the first series to hook me. I couldn’t get enough of Nancy’s adventures driving around River Heights in her snappy, blue roadster, with her best friends Bess and George solving crimes. I would challenge myself to figure out who the bad guy was before Nancy unfolded it for us at the end of the book. I own about twenty of the original, yellow-spined, hard back books, and borrowed many more from the library. Of the first 79 stories written, I would venture to guess, I have read 90% of them.

I, of course, wanted to grow up to become Nancy Drew, or any female crime fighting detective for that matter. The TV show, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was also popular at the time. During sleepovers at my girlfriends’, we would run around the house chasing invisible bad guys and karate kicking them into submission. I always played Sabrina Duncan, one of the smart, tough talking, original Angels. Clearly, by the age of 10, I knew solving crimes was in my blood.

In case you’re wondering, no, I did not go into crime fighting. Again, like Benson, I was a young writer. My first books were the gripping page turners, Micki Mouse Goes to Mexico, and Banana Bonkers, written during elementary school in third and fifth grades, respectively.

However, in high school and college, my writing turned away from fiction. I focused on windy public administration journal articles, grant proposals, and heavy duty political white papers on things like constitutional law. While I continued reading mystery fiction, my serious-minded degrees took me away from story writing. It wasn’t until I quit my job to stay home with my new babies, that I allowed myself to explore fiction writing. My early love of Nancy Drew is surely one of the reasons I’ve gone down the path of crime fiction writing.

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