Beyond picture books, my next fondest memories of reading as a child were of the Trixie Belden mysteries. And I have my older sister, Terri, to thank for my love of books! She often read to me when we were kids, and she still tells me about great series she has heard about or read that I might want to try.
Although I enjoyed Nancy Drew’s antics, Trixie was always my favorite and seemed more like a “real kid.” I still have several treasured copies of Trixie Belden books from our childhood.
If you also loved those books or would like to learn more about them, here is a great article with background about the settings and authors!
December and January are common months in which to buy a new calendar or to receive one as a gift. I’ve saved several collectible calendars that were given to me over the years, including those bearing wonderful illustrations or photos from Norman Rockwell, Dick and Jane readers, and one of my favorite television shows of all time, Castle. While digging through the sale bin at a bookstore, in 1998, I found an excellent calendar marked 50% off, probably because we were already well into spring, even by Michigan standards. Why would I buy a calendar that late in the year? Besides the price being great, this calendar pictured a style of book that I’d already been collecting for years…the Dell map back!
Map backs (or mapbacks) were published by Dell, beginning around 1943. These paperbacks are often mysteries, are numbered (over 500), and feature a map on the back that depicts a setting from the book. The three above are several favorites from my own collection. I love the cover of The Circular Staircase and the fact that it carries the price of 25 cents! Death of a Tall Man appeals to me due to the cat and because I’ve enjoyed many episodes of those campy Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries on TV. The middle book shows the map on the back of Through a Glass, Darkly, by Helen McCloy. This is a good example of how the maps sometimes show a small area, like a neighborhood or building, while others picture a larger geographic area, like a city or even country.
I’ve been collecting map backs for decades. My sister first introduced me to these often smelly old mysteries that wear such fun art work, front and back, although it can be a bit lurid, at times. As mentioned in a previous post, I had to part with many of my books when I moved from Michigan to Texas a few years ago. I kept my collection of about 50 map backs, however, and still search for additions to it whenever I visit a used bookstore or antique/collectibles shop. They’re usually quite inexpensive, and their conditions vary, of course. Until the day that I came across this map back calendar, I had never known that such a thing existed. What excitement!
Each month features the cover of a different book with a smaller inset photo of the map from the back. The map grid page then carries some interesting phrases, such as, “Wouldn’t you like to know what the window cleaner really saw?” from this Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie.
Another favorite month shows this book, below, by C.W. Grafton. That writer was also a lawyer and father of the late Sue Grafton, author of the wonderful “alphabet mysteries” written about the fictional detective, Kinsey Millhone.
This last photo shows snapshots of all the months and is taken from the back of the calendar, which was published that year by Universe Publishing and distributed in the U.S. by St. Martins Press. I’ve never seen another one like it, have you? I’d love to read your comments, if you also own some of these books and enjoy “everything map back”! ~Becky
This is my “birthday week,” which is thought-provoking on so many different levels. More than anything, though, this occurrence evokes a multitude of childhood memories. I feel lucky to have grown up within a loving family in Tawas City, Michigan, with both sets of grandparents living nearby. Although it may not be a new concept, I thought it would be fun to tell you more with a different voice, through an interview with a younger version of myself:
What do you like about your hometown?
All the four seasons are really clear, here. We can have lots of fun outside during the winter, in the snow, like ice skating and building snow forts. In the summer, we go swimming at the beach, in Lake Huron. It’s a small town, but has most of what we need. People called tourists come to visit a lot, too, which makes things different all the time.
Tell me about your hobbies and what you like to do for fun.
I like to play with friends, ride my bike, play softball, roller skate, climb trees, collect rocks, play with dolls, and read.
What do you like to read?
At school, it’s mostly stories like “Dick and Jane,” but at home I read about “Trixie Belden” and “Nancy Drew.” They’re so brave! My favorite book so far, though, is “Mystery of the Golden Horn,” by Phyllis Whitney. My sister, Terri, is the one who got me interested in mysteries.
Who are the friends you enjoying spending time with?
Well, that changes a little over time, but my best friends, so far, have been Andrea, she’s my neighbor, and Marilyn and Jean, who go to school with me.
No boys. Are you only friends with girls?
Course not. I just didn’t want to mention them, so it wouldn’t sound like I was saying they’re my boyfriends!
What about school…what do you like best or least?
I like reading and spelling, I guess, ‘cause I’m good at them. I also like seeing my friends there and playing jump rope at recess. Arithmetic is my least favorite, since I’m not as good at that. I don’t like fire drills, either, because we have to go down the dark, scary back stairs to get out of the school.
Tell me about your family.
I have five people in my family, and I’m the middle one of three kids. My sister is five years older than me, and my brother, Mark, is five years younger. I guess you can see why my favorite number’s five! My dad travels for work a lot, so my mom does most things around the house. He still takes care of the big yard, though, and he’s really good at growing stuff.
Do you have any regrets, or things that you feel sorry about?
Well, I wish that I hadn’t gotten my pony tail cut off when I did, ‘cause now I’m stuck with short hair. My friend, Andrea, got hers cut, and I thought it looked like a good idea. I’m also sorry that my grandparents…my mom’s parents…just moved away to California. Course, I did get to go to Disneyland when we went to visit! One more thing. I’m sorry that I don’t practice the piano more, since my parents pay for me to take lessons. So, I’m not very good at it, but at least I learned how to read music.
What would you like to do when you’re a grown-up?
I want to be a good mother, like my mom is. I think I’d like to be a teacher, too, since I’ve had some teachers I really liked who made school fun. Also, my sister and I have started writing a book, and we’ll see how that goes. Maybe I could try being a writer someday!
Let’s face it…books about both characters have withstood the test of time. As a kid, I wanted not only to immerse myself in stories ABOUT Trixie, but I also desired to BE her. Why Trixie and not Nancy? I enjoyed books about them both and still have a wonderful memory of sitting in my classroom at Zion Lutheran Elementary, in Tawas City, Michigan, reading a version of The Hidden Staircase that was “vintage” even at that point in time, in the early 60’s.
I don’t really remember a specific place where I read about Trixie…it just seemed, once I digested the first episode of her life, that “she” was always there with me…at home, in school, riding my bike, walking over to a friend’s house, or worrying about something in bed at night.
Why, indeed, did Trixie grab my imagination and thoughts more than Nancy? I’ve given this some thought, recently, and here are several ideas and memories:
A bike was her common mode of transportation, which I could relate to, given my age. She sometimes rode horses, also, which I was always too apprehensive to try. Trixie sometimes envied her friends who owned those animals.
Her hair was cut short, which was how I wore my own (by default…it’s a long story), after early childhood. I always imagined that Trixie would have liked longer hair like her friends, Honey Wheeler and Di Lynch.
She had a best friend, Honey, who she could count on, through thick and thin. They did have a few misunderstandings, as I remember, but always worked things out. My “bestie” changed a few times over the years, and although I tended to be a loner, that relationship was always very important to me.
Completion of certain household chores was always expected of Trixie, which she often disliked. I hate to admit that I was sporadic in my organizational skills, and ranged from “pig-like” qualities in my bedroom to obsessive repeated vacuuming of our living room.
She had some trouble in math, to which I could relate after I hit long division!
Jim seemed like the model partner to me. He was dependable, nice looking, and gave Trixie plenty of space to be her own person. In several of the later books, Trixie seemed to struggle a bit with just how to deal with her feelings for Jim.
She was very brave and actually solved mysteries, which I could only imagine someone doing in real life. I admired that Trixie and Honey already knew what they wanted to be when they “grew up”, with their goals of co-owning a detective agency.
She dealt with some fears and worries, to which I could always relate (and still do!).
What does my list tell me? Why do I care, and how can this make me a better writer? It appears that I celebrated our similarities AND our differences. In the end, I think that believablecharacters are the answer. Some people might want to read about individuals likethemselves, while others may be attracted to the more fantasy appeal of characters who are very different or exotic. Either way, REAL is the key word, in my opinion.
I didn’t know just what it was at the time, but I realize after all these years that Nancy seemed more wooden and too perfect. I want to peek into the life of someone with positive qualities and faults, and I imagine that’s true for many readers. I’m planning to keep that in mind, from now on, when fashioning my own imperfect characters!
a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.
I found this amusing definition for “holiday” on the Internet, giving me a bit of a chuckle. Many of us are observing holidays, but I’m guessing that a great deal of work is still being done! In fact, I’m under the impression that many writers feel even more inspired at this time of year, due to the changing seasons, observance of religious traditions linked to childhood memories, and emotions carefully hidden that struggle to resurface.
Holidays can also highlight certain literature-related behaviors. Many of us purchase books as gifts to please others (maybe those are volumes we’d actually rather read ourselves?), seek out other cutesy presents for the bibliophiles on our lists (often significantly over-priced), or finally resort to life-saving gift certificates when all else fails (whew!).
Books set during the holidays are widely popular. To meet her readers’ desires, Janet Rudolph yearly presents an extensive list of mystery books set during the holidays on her blog, Mystery Fanfare. I’ve happily tried new titles discovered there, and been pleasantly reminded of vintage offerings I’d enjoyed in the past.
Whatever “holidays” meant for you, I hope that yours were pleasant, safe, and productive!
As a small New Year’s gift, I’m offering my short story, “Romantivores”, free for Kindle through Amazon, from January 8-12. This is a perfect way for readers to meet Jonathan and Solveig, the main characters of my still-to-be-published book by the same title!
With the fifth book in her Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery series now available on Amazon, Karen Musser Nortman kindly agreed to reach out from Iowa to readers of Platform Number Four, with the real-life tale of her road to publication. Welcome, Karen!
Karen Musser Nortman: Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing
I have always wanted to write, but you know how it is—life intervened. When I was in my twenties, had young children, taught full time, and kept a very large old house, I read an article about how to make time for writing. The male author wrote that he had a dedicated office in his home and when the door was shut, no one was to bother him. His wife was directed to leave his lunch outside the door at a certain time. I remember thinking, “Yeah, right. Like that would work for me.”
So I spent twenty-two years as a secondary social studies teacher and another eighteen years in test development for a large testing company. However, I don’t feel those years were wasted as far as writing is concerned. My teaching taught me to do research and I have applied what I learned writing and editing test items to my mysteries. You need a defensible solution but also a number of what we called attractive distractors—other solutions that are feasible in order to keep the reader guessing.
When I retired four years ago, I was 68 years old. We love to camp, and one weekend in preparation for a trip, I was looking for something light to download to my Kindle. I thought it would be fun to read a mystery about camping. There weren’t any. But a campground is a perfect setting for a cozy mystery—a small limited area, eccentric characters, silly mishaps, and intervention from Mother Nature. So I began to write.
When I finished my first book, I began to hunt for an agent with the help of an online database. I sent out about 60 queries and had interest from several. When the agent for several well-known cozy series asked for the full manuscript, I was thrilled and sent it off. Meanwhile I read that a writer needs to allow six months for an agent to get back on a manuscript, another six months to a year for the agent to find a publisher, and another year to get the book published. At my age, that was too dang long. I looked into self-publishing through Amazon, just at that time making a big splash on the publishing scene. I withdrew my book from the agent’s consideration and dove in.
It’s a lot of work, but not impossible. I do all of my own formatting and contract for book covers. I have more control and the royalties are much better. The biggest problems are finding acceptance as a self-published writer and marketing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad self-published books out there. Book contests and sites like IndieBRAG Medallion help self-published books gain viability.
Marketing is my least favorite thing. But I have heard that even the traditional publishers, unless you are Michael Connelly or Stephen King, expect authors to do a great deal of their own marketing. Since my books all center on camping, I have a target audience. I use RV Facebook pages to post notices when I am doing a giveaway. (I don’t bombard those places with ads otherwise.) I also hand out a few books free each place we camp because word-of-mouth is still the best advertising. I got a message from a man once who said he heard about my books in an Australian campground! I have worked a great deal on my ‘platform’—my website, author pages, email list, a blog about our camping trips, and branding. I try to put out at least two new books a year.
Finally, I keep in contact with a few other indie authors. They are an excellent resource and we support each other’s books. I only do that for writers whose books I would recommend to friends. It’s a slow building process, but it is building. My sales have gotten to the point where it’s a nice little supplemental income. Am I sorry I self-published? Not for a moment!