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1. Have Laptop — Will Travel

Writing Life Banner

by

E.C. Myers

EC MyersWhen I discovered that two of my favorite childhood authors, Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys) and Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew), didn’t actually exist, my world turned upside down.

If this is a shocking revelation for you, I’ll give you a moment to take it all in.

Okay, still breathing? Good. Granted, the news may not be all that surprising considering that Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books are still being published today, around ninety years after the series first appeared in print. Not impossible, perhaps, but highly improbable that “Dixon” and “Keene” are still with us and churning out these adolescent adventures, though Frank, Joe, and Nancy haven’t aged much.

TowerTreasureCoverArt1It turns out that the true creator of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and a host of other classic characters from Tom Swift to the Bobbsey Twins, were dreamed up by a man named Edward Stratemeyer. He pioneered the concept of “book packaging,” hiring freelance writers to pen books under pseudonyms, according to his plot outlines. The first to write books as Dixon and Keene was a man named Leslie McFarlane.

A writer “ghostwriting” as another author is one of many ways a novel can be written as a “work for hire.” Sweet Valley High fans, I have more bad news for you: Francine Pascal did not write all those books herself! If you’re skeptical whenever a celebrity “writes” a book, you have good reason to be.

But there are many other kinds of projects that are considered “work for hire,” some of which even allow the author to claim what glory they may, including your favorite media-tie-in novels. The authors behind those Star Trek novels are real people! In fact, some of them are friends of mine, and I vouch for their authenticity.

Et tu, Francine Pascal?

Et tu, Francine Pascal?

It gets a little trickier to know who the creator is when a publishing company develops a series in house and hires a freelance author to write the books, either under their own name or a new pseudonym. You might be surprised when you check the copyright page of a book you love: If the copyright is given to the publisher instead of the author, chances are it was a work-for-hire novel, and the author doesn’t own the rights to the plot or characters.

You might experience a moment of disillusion, but does it really matter? Probably not. The author did write the book after all, and hopefully well, and most writing is a collaborative process between authors and publishers, as well as with other writers, editors, and agents. The important thing is whether the book is any good — as with any book.

In some cases the freelance author might have been given a very detailed outline and set of characters and been tasked with connecting the dots; in other cases, she might get minimum direction and have to come up with a story and characters to fit the premise on her own. There are projects that fall somewhere in between. Moreover, most writers pay the bills by writing lots of things other than their own books — that’s simply called getting “work.” Blog posts, speeches, thank you letters, greeting cards, instruction manuals… Credit can’t always be given where it’s due, and sometimes the only place a writer needs his name to appear is on the “Pay to the Order of” line on a check.

If you’re a writer, you might be interested in getting a work for hire assignment of your own. So how does that happen? Typically a publisher will reach out to an author directly or through an agent, or you might get the opportunity through your network of contacts. If you are invited to audition for the project, you would need to submit a sample chapter or two, following guidelines from the publisher (which were developed internally by one or more people). This gives the publisher a sense of whether your approach and writing style are a good fit for their vision, and to compare what you can bring to the project versus other authors vying for the job. I’ve auditioned for a few of these, and I like to write a chapter from very early in the book and one from the middle, which is a chance to show some growth in the protagonist and introduce a variety of settings, characters, and relationships.

Not that kind of Ghostwriter!

Not that kind of Ghostwriter!

If you’re given some freedom regarding the plotting of the book, you may also have to draft an outline on your own — not unlike what you would submit in a book proposal when writing on spec. This outline might include a high-level Synopsis of the whole story, descriptions of the Style and Theme you imagine for the book, a list of Characters, and finally a Detailed Outline telling the story. Later, you may need to develop a chapter-by-chapter outline as well.

Work-for-hire books generally have a tight turnaround time from first draft to publication — we’re talking months instead of years — which can be very appealing in terms of getting your books on shelves and money in your bank account. But it also means you have to write both quickly and well, so it might not be for everyone. On the other hand, for some it could be a dream come true. Once I found out that Franklin W. Dixon was actually a bunch of different authors, I wanted to be one of them. And hey, I’m pretty sure I have at least one great Star Trek novel in me…

What are your favorite work-for-hire books or authors? Have you written a work for hire, or would you like to?

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN; his next YA novel, THE SILENCE OF SIX, will be published by Adaptive in November 2014. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blogTwitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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2. Turning Points–Then and Now

 

To all intents and purposes I never belonged where I began. Not as a full-time adult, I mean. I learned more than I can remember about too many things to count while growing up. I’ve used that learning numerous times as well. I enjoyed the wave-like movement of all that education and wish that I could recall it all clearly.

But, I never really fit that mold. I was the one who loved classical music and opera. Somehow, I was the one who introduced me to it. I was the one who taught myself about ballet and other dance forms and watched it whenever I could. I also read Shakespeare and Tennyson in upper elementary and middle school when others my age were devouring Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I never heard of those books until I was an adult.

I didn’t see anything by C.S. Lewis until in my late 30’s. All I had was adult reading material, and I learned to suck it in like a vacuum.

My family listened to early Country music much of the time that I didn’t tolerate very well. None of them could tolerate my preferences either. We accommodated the differences.

We attended great auctions back then. They were better and cheaper than going to the Drive-In theatre. Dad didn’t have to spend more than a few bucks for a hot dog and drink for each of us, and we could spend an entire evening watching people go frantic with bidding paddles and someone else’s junk. Learning how the operation worked was an education in itself. I especially learned to watch the auctioneers.

We all loved going to them.

Yet, when I was in eighth grade, my dad went to an auction without the rest of us. He returned with many things, plus a box specifically for me.

Inside it were books. The box was filled with books. The pièce de résistance nearly floored me. Nestled among the novels by Faulkner and Updike and English books, to the side of those volumes on history, was a complete set of Shakespeare bound in moss green fabric and gilt lettering (pub. England, 1863), including his sonnets and other poetry.

I knew I’d died and ascended to Heaven without realizing it. That’s when I saw the tiny tomes. Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Thoreau, etc. (pub. NY 1909 approx.,) each bound in exquisite jacquard fabric, small enough to fit inside a pocket, huddled behind Shakespeare like so many children behind their mother’s apron.

That one act of consideration on Dad’s part sealed my fate. I was a classicist and would never truly fit into my birth family completely. I would always love them and honor them, but never be one of them. I’d been set free with that box of books and the knowledge that my father had unwittingly given me the ticket on the train to a literary career somewhere in my future.

Looking back on that moment, I can relax now. I understand that the family that I love don’t have to understand why I do what I do, or even how I do it. It’s enough to know that they acknowledge that that’s who I am and that they accept the fact that I can’t be

0 Comments on Turning Points–Then and Now as of 2/12/2012 4:08:00 PM
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3. Fusenews: Love to eat them mousies. Mousies what I love to eat.

I feel like the White Rabbit here.  No time, no time!  We’ll have to do this round-up of Fusenews in a quick quick fashion then.  Forgive the brevity!  It may be the soul of wit but it is really not my preferred strength.  In brief, then!

Dean Trippe, its creator, calls it YA.  I call it middle grade.  I also call it a great idea that we desperately need.  COME ON, DC!  Thanks to Hark, a Vagrant for the link.

  • The Scop is back!  This is good news.  It means that not only can author Jonathan Auxier show off a glimpse of his upcoming middle grade novel Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes but he also created a piece of true art: HoloShark with Easter Bunny.
  • If you know your Crockett Johnson (or your comics) you’ll know that long before Harold and that purple crayon of his the author/illustrator had a regular comic strip called Barnaby.  What you may not have known?  That it was turned into a stage play.
  • J.K. Rowling wants to create a Hagrid hut in her backyard?   She should get some tips from Laurie Halse Anderson.
  • Why do we never get sick of Shaun Tan?  Because the man is without ego.  So if you’ve a mind to, you can learn more about him through these 5 Questions with Shaun Tan over at On Our Minds @ Scholastic.
  • Thanks to the good people of Lerner, I got to hang out a bit with Klaus Flugge at a dinner in Bologna recently.  Not long after he showed The Guardian some of his favorite illustrated envelopes.  Hmm.  Wouldn’t be bad fodder for a post of my own someday.  Not that I have anything to compare to this:

10 Comments on Fusenews: Love to eat them mousies. Mousies what I love to eat., last added: 4/26/2011

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4. Fusenews: “The Hardy boys were tense with a realization of their peril.”

So I’m reading through my weekly edition of AL Direct and I notice that no matter what worldwide occurrence takes place, librarians are always there. Whether it’s damage to two libraries in Egypt, stories from the librarians in Christchurch, New Zealand, or how the Wisconsin Library Association delayed Library Legislative Day due to the protests, the profession is there.  That last story was of particular interest to me, since I had wondered whether any school librarians were amongst the protesters in Wisconsin lately.  According to the article, they most certainly are.  You go, guys!!  Seriously, I want to hear more about it.  If any of you know any school librarians marching in WI, send them my way.  I’d love to do a full post on them.

  • Speaking of folks in the news, I have to give full credit to author/illustrator Katie Davis for consistently locating the hotspots in children’s literature and convincing folks to talk to her about them on her fabulous podcast.  In the past she’s managed to finagle everyone from the editor who wanted to replace the n-word in Huckleberry Finn to James Kennedy on the 90-Second Newbery.  Now she’s managed to get Bruce Coville to talk about what went down when he and fellow children’s author Liz Levy got stuck in Egypt during the protest period.  That Katie.  She’s got a nose for news.
  • I’m having a lot of fun reading How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely these days, and I can’t help but see echoes of the plot in this story about the man behind the Hardy Boys novels.  We hear about the various Carolyn Keenes all the time, but why not the Dixons?  After reading this old piece in the Washington Post from 1998 (The Hardy Boys The Final Chapter) I feel vindicated.  I reread some of my old Three Investigators novels not too long ago and they STILL held up!  I always knew they were better than The Hardy Boys.  Now I have proof.  I was going to save the link to this essay until the end of the Fusenews today, but it’s so amusing and so delightfully written that I just have to encourage you, first thing, to give it a look.  Thanks to The Infomancer for the link.
  • Fun Fact About Newbery Winning Author Robin McKinley: She’s learning to knit.  Related Sidenote: She also has a blog.  Did you know this?  I did not know this.  And look at the meticulous use of footnotes.  McKinley should write the next Pale Fire.  I would

    10 Comments on Fusenews: “The Hardy boys were tense with a realization of their peril.”, last added: 2/25/2011
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5. Books at the movies

mitali's fire escape links to an interview with Katherine Paterson about her work and the upcoming movie of her classic, Bridge to Terabithia.


One of the first things I heard about the Terabithia movie was that it was going to be a "sprawling fantasy adventure," and they had hired a big special effects team for it, and my initial reaction was to sort of recoil at this—

Paterson: Your initial reaction? (laughs) What do you think mine was?

I don't know, you tell me!

Paterson: Well, that was the thing I was most afraid of. And if you've seen the trailer, my word. I'm just telling everybody I know, "Don't see the trailer, don't see the trailer." Because it's exactly what the trailer ends up making you think, is that it's this glorified fantasy adventure with nothing but special effects, and that's not what we ended up with in this movie.
The story is ultimately about friendship ... and loss

We've ended up with a movie about a friendship between a boy and a girl who develop an imaginary kingdom, and the girl dies, and the boy has to deal with his loss, which is the story of the book. Now of course, because it is currently 2007 and not 1977, when you make a certain type of movie, people expect special effects—and so they've got some special effects. But I don't think they've ruined the movie. (laughs)

The one good thing that they managed to convey to me—and I can't guarantee that this will be conveyed to everyone who sees it—was that Terabithia is not another land, that Terabithia is absolutely coming out of the children's imaginations. It leads into the Terabithian scenes in such a way that I was convinced that they were creating this other land, which to me was masterful.

From the Sublime to the mundane now:

A Fuse #8 points me towards Lady, That's My Skull who comments on the new Nancy Drew movie and the horrific news that Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller are really going to team up for Hardy Men, an updated Hardy Boys adventure. Hijinks ensue, no doubt.

Both these guys stepped into the empty elevator shaft of my attention span a long time ago. Nothing to see here, move along please.

1 Comments on Books at the movies, last added: 2/16/2007
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6. Imagine If They Combined the Two

Crazy kooky blog Lady, That's My Skull (winner of the Title I Wish I Had Thought To Give MY Blog Award of 2007) doesn't just offer commentary on comic book news, like the truly stupid decision Marvel recently made to kill off Mary Jane in Spiderman via (and this is true) his radioactive sperm. No, this blog even goes so far as to pinpoint what it is about the upcoming Nancy Drew movie that may be cause for concern. Good thoughts all around.

Oh. And remember that Hardy Boys movie with Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller that we thought might be a rumor?

No such luck.

So on the one hand is a serious Nancy Drew and on the other hand a farcical Hardy Boys. If I hear that the Olsen twins are planning something around the Bobbsey Twins, heads will roll. Ditto Lindsey Lohan as Trixie Belden. We're having none of it. NONE!

5 Comments on Imagine If They Combined the Two, last added: 2/15/2007
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7. Tounge-Tied

Um...

Wha?

Erp..

Gah?

Oh. I see. It's the magical triumverate of the damned. Stiller! Cruise! Levy! Put them all together and what do you have? An Instant Hardy Boys Wrought Apocalypse Special.

Then again, TMZ reported this, so it could all be bupkiss.

1 Comments on Tounge-Tied, last added: 2/7/2007
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