Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Nancy Drew Sleuths - Past, Present, Future

Nancy Fans,

I've been wanting to sit down and discuss a few things about our group and what I do for some time, but have had such a whirlwind of a fall/Holiday season that the time to really sit and reflect has escaped me. Now that we welcome a new year, 2013, it's as good of a time as any to reflect on the past year and look toward the future.

I started this fan group nearly 13 years ago in April 2000 with a fellow collector, Gayle, with the creation of our online discussion group, Nancy Drew Sleuths at what is now Yahoo Groups. Previous to that we had been on an old AOL newsgroup. Due to issues that arose there, we created our own discussion group for fans and scholars of Nancy Drew to discuss the books, trade and sell books, and get to know each other. As a fan of the Nancy Drew series, having begun to read these books back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, I had no idea when I filled out a school survey in second grade and listed Nancy Drew as my favorite, that here today, some 32 years later, I'd be doing what I do! 

I was always the motivated and organized one--I knew in elementary school that I wanted to be a lawyer and I set out to achieve that goal. Graduation from high school led to a degree in Political Science from Texas Tech and then a law degree from Texas Tech as well. Both degrees, not used to this day by my choice :-) It was around 1997, that I got into what I'd call my "collecting" Nancy Drew phase. I'd never gotten rid of my childhood Nancy Drew books as I loved them too much. I'd parted with other series, but not Nancy. She stayed on a shelf at my Parent's house until around 1997 when I reclaimed them and my collecting phase began! Adding to childhood books of yellow spine picture covers, paperbacks, Nancy Drew Files books and ND/HB Super Mysteries, and an "odd" 2-in-1 book I was clueless about, I  had discovered antique versions at an antique store from the 1930s and the rest has been history...

While in law school, I found myself drawn to collecting and met collectors online and discovered eBay. Used book store visits and antique malls opened up my world to many versions of Nancy Drew since 1930 that I never new existed! I became fascinated with the history of the series and who created it and met scholars who were studying that online too. I picked up books about Nancy Drew including The Nancy Drew Scrapbook by the late Karen Plunkett-Powell. I loved it. I discovered series zines for collectors of these books and found this so much more fascinating than contracts and tax law. I had intended to become a prosecutor once I graduated, but I was led in a different direction as I gave up a law career in order to pursue a hobby and write a book--something many people don't normally dream of doing until retirement age though that has certainly been changing over the last few years...

After forming our discussion group online, we grew into what is now our Nancy Drew Sleuths organization complete with annual conventions, a bi-monthly publication The Sleuth, our online discussion group, and my Nancy Drew nostalgia line of merchandising in The Sleuth Shop and at Cafe Press. And it all started one mysterious day back in the spring of 2001 when 12 members of our discussion group met up in Toledo, OH to see the original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson. She had written the early Nancy Drew books starting with The Secret of the Old Clock, published in 1930 when she was just 24 and was still working 71 years later as a reporter for The Toledo Blade. She was now 95 years old. When you think about her age and everything she'd experienced and done throughout the years, this is simply amazing. After members met with her at The Blade and she signed books and answered questions, we began to plan our next meeting for 2002 and on it went until now all these years later, we'll be having our 13th annual convention in Boston this coming May/June. And in some ways it all started with Mildred who upon interviewing me for our column, didn't like the sound of me being called a "Moderator." I was the discussion group moderator and she wasn't that familiar with online discussion groups and decided to proclaim me The President of the Nancy Drew Sleuths. I was flattered but a bit modest about that. Really, I was just the discussion group moderator, I said, protesting meekly, as she wrote away on her legal pad with her signature black sharpie pen. No, you're the president she stated, saying, "It sounds better!"

Each year thereafter, we gathered around the country each year to celebrate some aspect of Nancy Drew's history like seeing Mildred's home in Iowa or going to New York and New Jersey to see Stratemeyer Syndicate sites and meet the Stratemeyer family to bringing classic Nancy Drew books alive that are set in real locations around the U.S. like New Orleans, Phoenix, Chicago, Amish Country/PA, and Las Vegas, Charlottesville among other places. Each year the organization grew and we formally organized with membership, then came the newsletter The Sleuth--first online then as a printed edition currently, then merchandising that we officially license from owner and publisher Simon & Schuster. We have brought fans and collectors together from all walks of life, genders, races, ethnic groups, and across the world in celebration of an independent and brave Sleuth who always dared to right wrongs and seek justice in a villainous world and who inspired us and countless other millions of fans since 1930 including lawyers, detectives, and even First Ladies and Supreme Court Justices. We don't worry about our politics or our religion when together, we focus on something we love which is collecting and reading Nancy Drew and that has been the key to our success in large part I think--though Facebook has certainly thrown a wrench into that now that everything's out on the table for all to see. In our discussion group and at our events and conventions though, we strive to focus just on Nancy Drew which is a very safe and sane environment :-) Divided the nation was when Nancy Drew creator Edward Stratemeyer was born during the Civil War, united many of us are when it comes to this collecting hobby which I think is quite fitting! Sometimes it's what unites us that is far more important and long lasting than what divides us.

It is upon that note, that I reflect upon what we have done in the past and look toward what we do in the future. This past year, 2012, we embarked upon something new--Sleuth Con, the all-series con--and combined it with our annual Nancy Drew convention. What this meant, was that we had our usual Nancy Drew convention and activities but also added in other girls' and boys' series. While there was plenty of Nancy Drew stuff to do each day, there were also other series represented for fans of those books. I discovered some years ago that many of our members also collect other series. So, why not celebrate them all!? Sleuth Con was a success and we will continue for the foreseeable future to have one of these sub-conventions every other year. Our next will be 2014 in San Diego, CA. These Sleuth Con locations will also allow us a chance from time to time to visit other parts of the country that may not be tied into those classic 56 Nancy Drew hardcovers and we can bring in paperbacks and spin-off Nancy Drews too.

We hosted our Nancy Drew Web Con 3 - an online convention/blog in which people present articles and info to fans and they comment with daily prizes given away. Then all the submissions are put into a commemorative booklet printed like The Sleuth. This took place right before Sleuth Con.

Six issues of The Sleuth #33-38 were published highlighting Burt & Dave, Nancy on Stage and Screen, Russell H. Tandy, Lakeside Sleuthing, Monsters, and Wintry Nancy Drew books as well as many other topics in addition to those themes. If you're not aware by now, The Sleuth is quite a labor of love and is put together by myself and features articles from Sleuth members on a variety of topics and other guest writers. We have regular columns too. We focus less on straight book reviews and more on original content that some of the zines out there, we highlight other collector's collections, and make note of news and sightings in the Nancy Drew & series book world. If you haven't considered subscribing before, try out a back issue or a 3-month subscription and help support the zine! At this point FYI, only about 1/5 of our membership actually subscribes and not all subscribers are members...

I have noticed a trend in the group too toward using our discussion group less and less and more interaction among members at Facebook, so I have tried to keep up with social media more as I have time. If you're missing posts at the discussion group, come on over to our Facebook page! Perhaps we can achieve more of a balance in 2013 between the two. But I'm only a "one-woman show" here :) I'll need more participation from members to do that. We've also got Pinterest and Twitter too.

For fans, we saw the end of the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series and look forward to seeing the new Nancy Drew Diaries series debut this February. A new graphic novel series, Nancy Drew & The Clue Crew debuted this year from Papercutz based on the currently published Clue Crew books with illustrations by the legendary Stan Goldberg! Nancy Drew debuted at the NY Comic Con and I moderated a panel of Papercutz staff, writers Sarah Kinney and Stefan Petrucha and artist Stan Goldberg along with Sleuth Todd Latoski who is not only a huge Nancy Drew fan but has even a bigger (much much bigger) comic book collection! A second set of Nancy Drew paper dolls came out, Nancy Drew & Friends featuring not only Nancy Drew but Bess, George, Ned, and Togo. And the much anticipated Nancy Drew Fabric in a plethora of styles from Moda rounded out the year with its December release that fans have been trying to snatch up--many styles not available in huge quantity due to only one print run. Get it while you can!

As for my continued business venture and investment into Nancy Drew merchandising--trying to create nostalgia products that fans want featuring a lot of vintage art--I debuted a few new items and more styles. Including our watches, coin purse/camera sized bags, and new metal cases that hold cards/money and small items. I debuted a new 2013 calendar focusing on the highly collectible Cameo book club editions and still offer previous versions. Last but not least, I got our new crafty Drewtique up and running in The Sleuth Shop which features hand-crafted items from Sleuth members on consignment as part of our licensing arrangement with Simon & Schuster. All officially licensed mind you! We have jewelry, bags, jackets, bookends and candle holders with more to come now that the new fabric is out! Stay tuned and support your fellow Sleuths!

For myself personally, as I try to continue to focus on this hobby not as a collector but also as a small business (read 1 employee) person trying to make a living, this past year has been full of its ups and downs but mostly positive things. I normally try not to throw my personal life out there into things too much because I know you all come here for Nancy Drew mostly, but this past year was one of my harder years in staying on top of all things Nancy Drew for mostly good but also more difficult times too. Personally, I was able to collect some things for my collection that I hadn't found before--some first printing Nancy Drews at very reasonable prices like the first printing of The Secret of Shadow Ranch in original dust jacket to simpler books like paperbacks I needed firsts of or other art to picture cover formats I was interested in. I've added some 1970s TV show memorabilia and odds and ends of paper ephemera and advertising items I like to find that are unusual. I also purchased a scrapbook on eBay from a longtime Nancy Drew collector that has many articles and correspondence with other collectors over the years that's quite fascinating and which I'll share more with you in the future. I even tackled new ways to organize my collection more effectively and get things out of storage containers--party because the convention was local for me and people would be visiting the collection and I wanted to get it more visually appealing and accessible.I hope to share more of that soon. I've also been trying to document and take photos of everything in the collection to put up online but that's a tedious process.

Getting ready for Sleuth Con/Nancy Drew Con was tough, I don't think people realize sometimes just how time consuming it is to put on a convention and the amount of planning that goes into it. Don't get me wrong, I love doing it clearly :-) We're not talking weeks of planning or days, we're talking months and months of sometimes 8 to 10+ hour days, seven days a week. It truly is a labor of love for the amount of turnout we get. With a terrible sinus infection setting in right as Sleuth Con was to commence in March, which I'm prone to when run-down, I have to thank my Sleuth Chums helpers like Sleuth Gina, Kelly, Meredith, Christine, and Mary who really stepped in and helped me get through it this year! Especially Gina who came in early and got all those little busy work items and decorations and mystery stuff done that can be so time consuming even as I was writing and re-scripting our mystery weekend skits down to the wire! It's a group effort and I must thank everyone who helps out at these events. The Keelines were a great help as well in my planning of Sleuth Con this year and I appreciated all they did prior to and during the event! Taking on the Web Con 3 right before Sleuth Con was either a brilliant strategy or insanity but I made it through that as well ;-)

Following Sleuth Con, I spent the next few months wrapping up convention duties--yes a lot to do even afterwards, winding down on projects and tackling new ones--I seem to prefer multi-tasking which can be good and bad! I met up with some of the chums in Toledo, OH in September for some fun and research. I'm finally getting back to writing the books I've been working on for so long. It has been hard over the last few years to do that with everything else I do with this group, so I've made it my goal for the next year to get those things accomplished once and for all! That also led to research in NYC while I was there for the NY Comic Con Nancy Drew Panel and I was able to get most of the research if not all I will need from the library there for the books, so that was a great relief and provided a sense of accomplishment.

At the same time, I also run another party business, Vintage Halloween, which is my other collecting interest though it's not something I collect near as much as Nancy Drew and while I collect anything Nancy Drew, I only collect certain vintage Halloween items. This greatly helps me pay back my law school student loan drudgery and other bills, so I find myself having to keep up with this each year even as other things push me in other directions. Each year this business which is mostly selling vintage and reproduction and vintage style Halloween has grown and it picks up each May and runs through October--one reason our conventions have gone back to a spring schedule the last several years as I got to where I couldn't do both in the fall. Between the Halloween business of which I'm also the sole employee, the ongoing Nancy Drew Sleuths stuff and the merchandising, the planning of my annual Nancy Drew Halloween party, our AZ Sleuths book discussion group's 6+ meetings a year and other parties, trips to Toledo and then the trip to NYC, by November, I don't think I had a bedtime earlier than 3 am to 4am the last few months. Since November, when I thought I might catch up and wind down a bit, my father was in the hospital for 39 days with a head injury and other issues, so things didn't get easier, they got worse. I am an only child, so I don't have brothers and sisters I can rely on to take care of things unfortunately when I'm busy, so it's all on me which can be good and bad. I also had to take over the finances of my parents while my Dad was in the hospital which was more complicated than I anticipated as I'm not savvy about stocks and IRAs and what not. So it's been a very busy, trying, and complicated 6 months which brings me to my final thoughts on where we all stand as a group in the future and the business.

The Future of Nancy Drew Sleuths:

It's a lot for one person to manage a group, plan conventions (with needed help from members thankfully), edit and publish The Sleuth, keep up with merchandising--creating, investing/buying, listing, selling, packaging, shipping, social media (Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/Blogs), it's really more than a full time job and unfortunately it's not been a very high paying job for all the work involved. But, it's been my choice alone to do this and it's my labor of love and what I love doing, so I've continued to do that over the last few years but it does get harder as one has aging parents and aging pets. We lost our 16 year-old lab Dixie this year after a year of very difficult management and intensive home care mostly done by myself which added to things--so when things are difficult in my life it can carry over to the group since I'm in charge of everything. This resulted this year in several delayed issues of The Sleuth, later planning and organization on the 2013 convention and so forth. It might be well and good to find a Jenn 2.0 who can help alleviate some of this when needed, but who can take on a labor of love on a daily/weekly basis as I do and be able to put aside life in general from time to time as needed. I'm not sure how easy that might be to do though...

But as much time as I have spent on regular projects to special projects like our Web Con, there has also been a factor of small turnout and support from this membership (over 600 members and over150 Jr. Detective Squad members) which after several years, can weigh more heavily on a person. There have been some really fun and great ideas and projects (some inspired by and suggested by you) and Blog parties and so forth that have resulted after much hard work and planning into not much interest from fans--and I'm sure the reasons for that are varied, but I'd rather expend that much energy and time on less things than too many things, if that makes any sense. I feel I'm just getting spread way too thin (wish that was literally so!) on things with not enough time in the day to get all that I want done. Sometimes things have to give a little. I could be practicing law far more comfortably and be more economically sound, but I want to continue on this path a little longer to see how successful this group and the business can become. We are a niche market but it's very nostalgia driven. There may be things I can no longer continue to do without more help and some things--like our Web Cons--which I won't do any more of at least not this year, unfortunately. We won't be having a Web Con 4 this year, it really wasn't ever very well supported and was too immense an amount of work.

For me, trying to parcel time and projects in order to get some things accomplished in 2013, may mean a reduction in projects and some reorganization to get things done. I hope I'll have your support in that and we'll just take it day by day and month to month. Now that my father is home from the hospital and improving greatly, I am back to tackling our convention plans for 2013 with great zeal, trying to organize a schedule for writing on my books, and working to tie up loose ends and projects as well as focus on my own health which needs a reboot! The merchandising continues as that's how I try to make my living so that's not something that can give a little, but I hope to come up with items that continue to inspire and spark nostalgia for fans. I might be open to a new editor for The Sleuth and certainly for more volunteers to take on projects, update our Social Media more frequently and re-energize the discussion group, and add new ideas to the mix! I'm not scaling back a lot at this time, but something really has to give as the pace I've been at for the last 6 months can't realistically continue on indefinitely. I am a very positive person and very motivated so, never fear, we will forge on and see what comes of everything :-)

A very Happy & Healthy New Year to you all for 2013 or as we say, Happy Drew Year!