By Joanne Greco Rochman
With a quick mind, independent spirit and a girlish figure, detective Nancy Drew not only doesn’t show her age, but at 82 years old, this thoroughly modern miss looks great in bikinis and miniskirts. How does she do it? She has a strong team of writers behind her.
Keeping the ever-popular fictional girl sleuth, Nancy Drew, on her toes and on the move from generation to generation is the work of many gifted ghostwriters, all using the umbrella pseudonym of “Carolyn Keene.” One of those writers is Louise Ladd of Fairfield, CT.
“It was a thrill to write Nancy Drew books after growing up with her,” said Ladd, adding that she read every single Nancy Drew book as a kid and was a Nancy Drew addict. What this author is most proud of is that she was the first writer to describe in detail Hannah, the housekeeper who took care of Nancy and her father. “For the first time ever, I was able to bring her to life,” recalled the author. Following the dictum of “write what you know,” Hannah is much like Ladd, caring, sensitive, and wise. Along with being a good cook, she is inventive and gutsy as well.
“I learned a lot writing these mysteries,” Ladd said stressing that the strict and precise guidelines are often challenging to a writer. “The guidelines have to be strong and adhered to in order for the heroine to have continuity. The books all have to sound as though they were written by the same writer. I poured all my creativity into the books I wrote.”
Describing the writing process as beginning with a plot proposal that had to be approved and then getting approvals for each step along the way, writing these mysteries is definitely challenging. “I have always avoided using adverbs that end in ‘ly.’ They just don’t talk,” she said remembering how one editor added “ly” to all of her adverbs. “The editors are very nice, but when you pour heart and soul into it and editors add or subtract characters as well as change words, it’s hard to accept at first. “
Repeatedly pointing out that one must write what one knows, Ladd has set her Nancy Drew in surroundings most familiar to the author. For instance in the Nancy Drew Files series, “Island of Secrets,” which is Case #98, the mystery is set on Block Island at a nature preserve. Ladd’s son happens to work for the Audubon Society. Married to playwright Doug Taylor, Louise Ladd also knows quite a bit about theater. That’s why she enjoyed writing Case #90, “Stage Fright,” which was set in the Red Barn Theatre somewhere in CT. In addition to knowing quite a bit about theater, Ladd also lives near the now defunct White Barn Theatre and the Red Barn Restaurant, both in Westport. She practices what she preaches.
“Nancy is always the heroine and always takes the lead in solving each mystery. While someone is murdered, it is not a person that is significant. Finding a dead body is routine for Nancy,” noted Ladd. While the girl detective solves one mystery after another, and has always been somewhere between 16 and 18 years of age, she has steadily evolved from her original character created by Edward Stratmeyer in 1930. Mildred A. Wirt wrote the first Nancy Drew mystery, “The Secret of the Old Clock.” Ladd said that in 1959, the series was completely revised in order to delete racist stereotypes presented in some of the stories. She also pointed out that the well-dressed, intelligent Nancy has become more sensual through the years, and now flaunts bikinis and short shorts. She also now uses a cell phone and is quite savvy when it comes to male friends. She no longer is tied to her old beau Ned.
Louise Ladd is a talented writer and because of her efforts, as well as the efforts of many other writers who have penned Nancy Drew mysteries, generation after generation of readers will continue to enjoy the clever stories told by many with one voice. At 82 years old, Nancy Drew is still going strong.
Joanne Greco Rochman is the arts editor of “The Fairfield County Review,” a columnist, critic, feature story writer and English professor. Her work has appeared in “The New York Times,” “The Republican-American” and Hersam-Acorn Publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org