How a Hardy Boys Mystery Changed My Life
By Ronnie Blair
Authority Magazine recently interviewed me about the book that changed my life and other topics. Below is an excerpt from that interview in which I discuss that book and the impact it had on me. Read the full interview here.
For many people, the book that changed their life could be a literary classic like Moby-Dick or a bestselling self-help book like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Mine is a little different; OK, quite a bit different. It is The Secret of the Caves, part of the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon.
An aunt gave me that book for Christmas when I was about 7, and although it took a while for me to finally read it, when I did, I was captivated and couldn’t wait to read every Hardy Boys book listed on the back cover.
I imagined Franklin W. Dixon as a literary genius, but it turned out he didn’t even exist. That was a pen name for a stable of ghostwriters for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which churned out all kinds of series books for children. And in truth, they weren’t particularly great books. But The Secret of the Caves, even if it was poor literature, and author Franklin W. Dixon, even though he wasn’t a real person, launched my interest in writing.
As a child I tried to duplicate what I read in the Hardy Boys. Over time, my writing interest led to my career in journalism and later in public relations, all because of a rather pedestrian but somehow inspiring book like The Secret of the Caves.
When I was in sixth-grade, my interest in writing went into overdrive. Instead of just writing stories in a notebook, I began to create my own “books.”
I put the word “book” in quotation marks for a reason. Here’s how I did it: I would take several sheets of paper and fold them. Then I would staple the fold (much the way comic books are stapled) and voila! I had a small book with blank pages. Within those pages, using a handy No. 2 pencil, I crafted stories that were modeled after The Secret of the Caves and the other Stratemeyer Syndicate series books that I read, such as Tom Swift Jr. and Nancy Drew.
I even copied the syndicate’s gimmick of mentioning previous books in the series early in the tale, and promoting the next title in the series at the end. For the syndicate this was clearly a marketing ploy, but to me it was just part of the story, so in it went. My books had titles such as The Mystery of the Whistling Coffin and Scott Jacobs and the Ghost of Long Ridge Mountain. They were heavy on dialogue, occasionally punctuated with action, such as: “Neil grabbed a crowbar and handed it to Dan. Dan soon had the coffin opened. The boys looked in but there was no one inside.”
As the school year wore on and I yearned to write more and more, a friend and I approached our teacher about creating a weekly newspaper using the school’s ditto machine down the hall. She agreed and throughout the rest of the year the two of us, with help from a few other students, produced a newspaper we called The Weekly Star, which we sold for five cents to other sixth-graders.
My journalism career was launched right there in my sixth-grade classroom.
Ronnie Blair is author of the memoir Eisenhower Babies: Growing Up On Moonshots, Comic Books, and Black-and-White TV.