Let’s Talk with Diane A.S. Stuckart

Digging through the mental recycle bin

by Diane A.S. Stuckart

By the time this blog post is published, I will have celebrated yet another birthday (nope, not telling which!). Once one has lived a decent number of years on this earth, one’s brain tends to experience the occasional bout of data overload (a far preferable term to the patronizing phrase, senior moment). It’s at this point that—to continue the computer analogy—a person has to de-frag and re-sort her memories, deleting the superfluous in the process. But, while the delete function churns away, odd memories tend to pop up from the mental recycle bin. That’s how I recently came to recall the YA book that helped cement my interest in the mystery genre.

Of course, many of the books I read during grade school and junior high were mystery novels of some sort. (Though, I’m probably the only mystery author you know who has never read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.) I cut my teeth on Encyclopedia Brown’s practically unsolvable puzzles and eagerly awaited each new Bobbsey Twins book, the modern editions of which usually featured a mystery. Once I hit sixth grade or so, I graduated to Trixie Belden, followed by Phyllis A. Whitney’s young adult stories.

 

Most avid readers from my era will recall all these series. But, I bet I can stump you with the vintage title that’s been floating about in my recycles. Show of hands. How many of you who’ve been around for a while remember The Timber Trail Riders series…and, specifically, the book entitled, The Mystery of the Hollywood Horse?

Not too many of you, I see. I’m not surprised, since that book was randomly gifted to me at one of my few childhood birthday parties. But I remember it as a great tween mystery read. There were no dead bodies, but the storyline included the puzzling disappearance of a valuable equine, along with a fun look at the movie-making biz. Here’s the plot rundown:

Our teenaged protagonist, Peggy—a proficient young horsewoman who belongs to the Timber Trail Riders Club—is staying for the summer in California with her aunt and uncle. She helps coach a teenaged actress who is playing a young Alexander the Great in a film about that famous conqueror, and who needs help with the dangerous riding sequences. Not only does Peggy end up riding stunt double (guess back in the 60s, they didn’t worry much about child labor laws and insurance risk), she finds the missing horse, Cinder, who is one of the movie’s major stars. On top of that, she even manages a summertime romance. Sound like any cozy mysteries you’ve recently picked up?

I don’t recall if I ever read a second book in the Timber Trail Riders series, but I do know that The Mystery of the Hollywood Horse stayed on my personal library shelf until I went off to college. And it still remains in my memory banks as a fun read. The children’s classics are all well and good, but sometimes it’s the off-the-beaten-path books that have the greatest influence on we readers and writers.

So, is there a “non-classic” read from your childhood that you remember fondly?

Comments

  1. I was an avid reader as child, too. I started with the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, a few Hardy Boys (Nancy Drew never drew me in)and moved on to stand alone or limited series (Annette, Trail Blazers, etc.). Quickly my reading choices turned to more adult writers like Phyllis Whitney. All of these books intrigued me because of their characterization and plot structures (only I didn’t know that then).

  2. I read the Judy Bolton mystery series at the same time as Nancy Drew was popular. I liked Judy better because her character grew and changed, while Nancy stayed the same. This taught me the importance of character growth. Meanwhile, I read Cherry Ames books, and those inspired me to become a nurse. These early reads are important to our personal growth.

    • That’s a good point. An awful lot of those series (and even many “adult” series these days) forget the whole character growth issue. That’s important to me as a reader, too.

  3. I never read Nancy Drew either. Sounds like I really missed out. I was a big fan of the Bobbsey twins, the Boxcar children, and Beverly Cleary. I also read a lot of biographies of presidents and other famous people.

  4. authorlois says:

    Diane, count me in as another mystery author who never read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. I did read every Cherry Ames book I could get my hands on, though.

    • I loved Cherry Ames, both the mysteries and the nursing part. I went on to earn my R.N. and M.S.N., thanks to Cherry’s stories.

      • Nancy, that’s cool that you were so influenced by the Cherry Ames books. I’m not at all familiar with them but between you and Lois talking her up, I’m thinking I should try to find a copy somewhere. 🙂

  5. Maggie Toussaint says:

    Hi Diane, Like you I devoured books as a child. We lived miles from anywhere and when we had to go grocery shopping for our family of 7, it was a Big Ordeal. Fortunately, I was bribe-able with books. I read all of The Little Golden Books, then the Dr. Seuss books (Green Eggs and Ham is my fav), and then onto the traditional children/YA reads most of you have mentioned. I especially loved the Walter Farley black stallion books and the Misty of Chincoteague books. We were all horse-mad as kids and rode ponies every chance we got, so books about horses and faraway places were a match made in heaven for this introvert. Though I also graduated to the Phyllis Whitney and cohorts Gothic Suspense novels, the thing that sticks in my mind from my teen years were the Archie comics. We didn’t get to see many movies and TV was black and white in the early years, so seeing a story in color seemed amazing. So, yeah, comic books. Go figure!

    • I read Archie comics, as well as Superman. So you’re not the only comic fan out there.

      • Ha! I think we all at least sneaked a peek at Archie. I read either Marvel comics (Spiderman, Fantastic Four, etc) or else the Classics Illustrated comics. I definitely remember reading the Frankenstein one and being scared of the panel where the monster strangles Victor’s new bride!

  6. I started with the Bobbsey Twins, moved to Nancy Drew, and then Trixie Belden. I’ve never heard of the one you mentioned. Great post!

    • Thanks, Vicki. After I wrote the post I went on Amazon and bought a copy (very used!) of Hollywood Horse. It’s now in my TBR stack (harking back to my last blog post here, hee hee).

  7. Vickie Fee says:

    In addition to Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins, I loved mysteries by Mary C. Jane. (I believe Ghost Rock Mystery that Karla mentioned was one of hers.) I read Mystery on the Nine Mile Marsh so many times that my elementary school librarian told me I couldn’t check them out again! (I was forced to get classmates to check them out for me.) 🙂

    • Vickie, that must have been one great book! I can remember in grade school crying because the librarian didn’t want to let me check out a Bobbsey Twins book. She acted like it was trash reading or something. 🙁 But I think she eventually relented.

  8. “Star-spangled Summer” by Janet Lambert. 🙂 This was the first in a wonderful series about Army brats (which I wasn’t) and their adventures on bases around the world. I also loved horsey books, including one called “Golden Sovereign”. Great memories of having hours at my disposal to flop on my bed and read!

  9. cherylhollon says:

    Sorry, but you’re not the only mystery writer who didn’t read Nancy Drew. I started out devouring westerns like there was no tomorrow. I flew through every Zane Grey that my library owned. It wasn’t until my high school years that I discovered Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Edward Rice Burroughs, and everything Science Fiction beginning with isaac asimov through Roger Zelazny. In addition, I read biographies, Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare. What a bookworm, but what adventures. I still loving reading.

    • Actually, most of my reading adventures were along the lines of “witchy” or magical books. I’m sure the librarian rolled her eyes every time I came in looking for something new in that category. 🙂

  10. Oh, how could I forget Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books! Mea Culpa!

  11. I had, maybe still have in the attic, Trixie Belden, a Timbertrail or two, the Lennon Sisters, Annette books. These were my favorite Christmas gifts. Perhaps that is why mystery is still my favorite genre.

    • For some reason, only my Grandma and my Aunt Tess thought to give me books for birthdays and Christmas. I had to do most of my reading at the library, so any book that actually belonged to me was a treasure. I still have a copy of Heidi and the Wizard of Oz that Grandma gave me. 🙂

  12. Can’t think of a Non-classic, but I was a big fan of Nancy Drew and I read Trixie Belden and Phyllis Whitney’s Gothics. I picked up a lot of books at the Scholastic book fairs, and I will always remember The Ghost Rock Mystery. Not sure why that one resonated so much, but I can even still recall the plot lo, these many years later.

  13. I read the original Bobbsey Twins, my brother’s Hardy Boys, his Tom Swift, Junior books, and anything involving horses. (Actually, I read just about anything at all.) One favorite back then was about a circus performer–bareback rider–who ran away and ended up on a farm, keeping his identity a secret from the family that took him in. Wish I could remember the title now. I read it over and over. It was probably a library book. Points to anyone old enough to remember and tell me the title and/or author.