Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coasting on Nancy Drew's Past Success

I was less than thrilled with the most recent Nancy Drew Diaries book, The Magician's Secret.  Other children's books published by Simon and Schuster are wonderful, incredibly engaging books that tend to be quite detailed.  Simon and Schuster is publishing many outstanding children's series books, yet the current and recent Nancy Drew books are usually quite lacking by comparison.  I have enjoyed most of them, but the stories are nothing special and are also rather short.

I recently read The Multiplying Menace, the first book in the Magic Repair Shop series.  The book was published in 2010 by Simon and Schuster.  I couldn't help comparing The Multiplying Menace to the Nancy Drew Diaries book, The Magician's Secret.  Both books are for ages 8 through 12.  The Multiplying Menace has 25 lines of text per page, while the Nancy Drew book has just 21.  The Multiplying Menace is 272 pages long, while the Nancy Drew book is just 155 pages long.  This is shameful.  The Nancy Drew book is much shorter than The Multiplying Menace and is much less interesting.

The problem is that Nancy Drew is set in the contemporary world, and for that reason, Nancy Drew is unable to perform magic.  She'll never interact with demons or become a witch or wizard.  She'll never meet zombies.

As I think these thoughts I wonder, "What if she did?"  Naturally, Nancy Drew would become a better wizard than Harry Potter.  She'd be great at destroying zombies before they even had a chance at her.  It would be interesting to see Nancy Drew with the capabilities she has in the original Nancy Drew #1-56 tackle a challenge in a fantasy world.

However, I wouldn't like it, because that's not what I want in a Nancy Drew book.

So what do I want?

I don't want to read about organic vegetables.  I don't want to read about Nancy Drew forgetting to fill up with gas, forgetting to charge her cell phone, forgetting to brush her hair, or walking out of the house with mismatched shoes.  I don't want to read her stupid text messages like "C U L8R."  I don't want to read about George eating large quantities of food.  And I most certainly don't want to read about fictitious reality stars.  Why would anyone want to read about fake reality stars?

I have been thinking about how they could make Nancy Drew better.  Before I get to that, let's consider what makes these other books special, aside from the magic and fantasy, which are a big part of why they are so interesting.

The Multiplying Menace tells the story of Maggie, who is eleven years old.  She has to avoid making wishes, because her wishes come true, usually with disastrous results.  After Maggie accidentally makes cockroaches appear in another girl's hair, she has to cover by saying that she dumped cockroaches in the girl's hair.  Maggie gets expelled and sent away to her grandmother's house, where she learns of her family's history with magic.

None of that would work with Nancy Drew, but let's consider what else makes these books special.  The majority of books that deal with magic and fantasy simply ignore the existence of cell phones.  The books seem to be set in contemporary society, but the kids don't use cell phones.

In the Beyonders trilogy, Jason has a cell phone, but he immediately lands in a parallel universe where the phone doesn't work.  That's bad for him since he can't let his parents know what happened, but it is great for the reader.  The absence of modern technology increases the suspense.  It is important to note that the Beyonders trilogy is also published by Simon and Schuster and is much better than most all new Nancy Drew books.

Katniss has a great struggle but is never mocked.
The characters in fantasy books always have a great struggle, but the struggle never makes them look inept.  The characters always need to learn how to do something and have trouble mastering it, but the author does not make jokes about their lack of expertise.  After all, who wants to read a story where the protagonist is mocked by the author?  Nancy Drew is mocked in the Girl Detective series.

Early in The Multiplying Menace, Maggie finds some drawings in her father's childhood bedroom.  She finds a clipping that shows her grandfather's magic repair shop.  These discoveries really pique the reader's interest.  The magic is a mystery to the reader, and the reader wants to know more.

I have been reading the Valerie Drew stories.  The stories are very short, most of them only four to eight pages of 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch text.  Nevertheless, the stories are very interesting.  The best ones start with a spooky hook, like a strange blue light appearing above a bog that is too dangerous to walk through.  That's the sort of stuff I want in a Nancy Drew book.

The spooky stuff can be done in a modern world, too, as can the suspense.  One of the most memorable Nancy Drew Girl Detective trilogies is "The Identity Mystery Trilogy."  Near the end of my blog review I wrote, "What really makes the difference in books two and three in the trilogy is that Nancy is threatened by the villain and is in great danger.  I could hardly read the second and third books fast enough because I so very much wanted to know how it would all work out."  That's what I want in a Nancy Drew book.  I want that feeling of great suspense where I simply must keep reading in order to find out what happens.

The books in the Nancy Drew Diaries series are published twice per year, instead of the previous six times per year that occurred with the Nancy Drew Digest and Nancy Drew Girl Detective books.  This is presumably so that the Nancy Drew Diaries books can be fleshed out better and have more creative stories.  While I overall feel that the books have been an improvement over the Girl Detective series, the eighth book falls rather short, which concerns me about what will happen with the future books.

I wonder if it would be better for Simon and Schuster to go back to how Grosset and Dunlap published the Nancy Drew books, which was once per year.  That way they could put extra effort into the series.  All of the fantasy books that I read are published no more than once per year.  Sometimes the authors need even more time to write a book.  Quality series books are not published more than once per year.

I thought about the plots of all of the recent Nancy Drew books.  Nearly every single Nancy Drew book is about sabotage.  The fantasy series books are not about sabotage.  What's wrong with this picture?

I suggest that Simon and Schuster take a look at the original 56 Nancy Drew books and use some plot ideas from them.  I am not suggesting that they literally copy any of the plots, but rather, they should use those plots for inspiration and build the plots of the new books around some of the overall themes and ideas from the older books.  I never mind when books take ideas from other good books.  As long as the new story is good, I don't mind similarities to older books.  In fact, those similarities often delight me greatly.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books is The Password to Larkspur Lane.  Simon and Schuster could create a very suspenseful new book based loosely on the plot of that book.  Nancy Drew could be traveling in a fictitious third world country, perhaps in South America or Africa.  She could learn that some children are being held hostage by revolutionaries in a hidden location.  She and her friends could work to rescue them.  It would be thrilling and could be written so as to fit in perfectly with our modern world.

The possibilities are endless.  The key is for the story to center around danger to Nancy Drew or to at least one person important to her.  The reader has to care, and once the reader cares, then the book is compelling.  I find that I often don't care while reading the modern Nancy Drew books.

Simon and Schuster appears to be coasting on Nancy Drew's success in the same way that Grosset and Dunlap did in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Nancy Drew name sells itself, so why bother putting forth more effort?  Grosset and Dunlap lost the rights to publish new Nancy Drew books in 1980 because of a lack of effort.  The stakes are now higher:  Simon and Schuster could cause the eventual demise of Nancy Drew.  This concerns me.

I will continue to purchase and read the Nancy Drew Diaries books, and I hope I will like the next volume better than I did the most recent one.  I want Nancy Drew to continue far into the future, and Nancy Drew's caretaker, Simon and Schuster, is responsible for the viability of the series.

It is of utmost importance that the very few classic series that remain in print continue to be viable.  Each series that remains in print provides a gateway to all of the ones that are out of print.  If Nancy Drew is allowed to go out of print, then an important link to the past could be lost forever.

But all is not bleak.  Her Interactive's line of Nancy Drew games is keeping Nancy Drew in front of young people.  Her Interactive has managed to capture the essence of Nancy Drew in its games.  The games are so compelling that many Nancy Drew game fans have begun collecting and reading Nancy Drew books solely because of their exposure to the games.  Her Interactive has done more for Nancy Drew in the last two decades than anyone else.

Penguin, under its Grosset and Dunlap imprint, has begun reissuing the Nancy Drew books with new cover art.  Books one through four have already been reissued while books five through eight will be reissued later this year.  I understand that the new cover art books have been popular. 

The new cover art for the Grosset and Dunlap books and especially the ever-popular Nancy Drew games are beacons of hope for Nancy Drew.  If Simon and Schuster would consistently issue quality Nancy Drew books that are worthy of the name Nancy Drew, then the series would be guaranteed to last far into the future.


CvilleTed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennifer White said...

I have deleted the previous comment and am reposting the main body of it here with the Simon and Schuster contact information removed. The purpose of this post was not to incite people to contact S&S. Yes, they can do better, but harassing them won't help. I'd rather let Jennifer Fisher and others handle it.

CvilleTed said...

Wonderful and well-written observation. Articulated very well what is wrong with the current Simon and Schuster Nancy Drew series (and hardy Boys, for that matter). Hope this gets to Simon and Schuster, especially the current editors of the range[redacted]. They can obviously publish better books, shame on them!