I Spy, with My Little Eye

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Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. Encyclopedia Brown. Boxcar Children. These are just a few of my childhood heroes (yes, I’m dating myself), characters with whom I spent endless hours, lost in worlds of the authors’ making. As an only child growing up in a rural area, reading was my first choice of entertainment and escape. By third grade, I’d read my way through the children’s room of our small, local library, and had moved on to more adult choices. Elizabeth Peters, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lillian Jackson Braun. (Agatha Christie is still a favorite.) Eventually, I ran out of adult books, too (it’s a small library, and the summer was looooong). What was it about these books that caught and held the attention of a young girl? The stories, the setting, the characters, yes, but I think what I loved best, if I’m being honest?

The spying.

Imagine young me, following along with Trixie and Honey and the gang. Those tantalizing, overheard conversations that set off grand adventures. Beginning, as a child, to realize the power of knowing something you shouldn’t, information gained by stealthily creeping along the edge of the house to settle under the open window of the room where adults were sharing the juiciest of gossip. Information discovered by picking up the phone extension (remember when people had wired phones?!?). Wondering what it would be like to spot the real thief snatching the candy bar without paying, because you were the one staring at the mirrors in the corners of the store while your mom or dad droned on and on with someone they ran into at the corner store. I spent as much time dreaming about being that stealthy sneaker, that saver of the day, as I did reading those books! And of course, the endings were always happy and tidy, the danger minimized in the end.

Today many new authors write amazing, wonderful mysteries to engage a young person’s attention, taking them on adventures while introducing them to the next generation of heroes, in series such: 39 Clues, Cam Jansen, Calendar Mysteries, and Sisters Grimm, to name but a few. Many classics also continue to transcend time, entertaining and introducing new generations of readers to the magic of mysteries.  My own tastes in reading have varied over the years, but my go-to books remain, to this day, mysteries. I’m still particularly drawn to series, where the characters become friends with whom I can grow, evolve, and journey.

And yes, I sometimes catch myself dreaming about being Kinsey Milhone, J.D. Robb, or Sherlock Holmes.

The beauty of being a writer, of course, is that all that day-dreaming can come in handy! My characters definitely have a little bit of me in them, and they can do all those scary/crazy/brave/brazen/amazing things that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do in real life (I’m truly opposed to being arrested. Or shot. Or kidnapped.). But how much fun it is to close my eyes and type like mad, spinning the twisty-turniest story I can imagine, with the most courageous female protagonist (one with a broad streak of “I love to spy” in her) having the grandest adventure I can come up with. Of course, as any writer will tell you, it’s not all fun and games being a writer. Sometimes these characters become willful, stubborn, downright frustrating. The lead character in the novel I’m working on has stopped speaking to me. And the one in my short thriller? Rolling her eyes with an “Are you really that dumb?” attitude, one worth of any pre-teen.

But that’s okay, too. Because I’ll spend a little time with my old friends Miss Marple, Kinsey, J.D., or Sherlock or I’ll reach out and explore the characters and stories created by wonderful new authors (I find many right here on this blog), I’ll head to the mall and watch the people (maybe catch a little of their conversations, by accident of course) or I’ll just grab a newspaper (one on actual paper!), and suddenly I just. have. to. write. The characters start speaking to me, I figure out who-done-it, and then all is right with this writer’s world.

What were some of your childhood favorites?

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

10 thoughts on “I Spy, with My Little Eye”

  1. Pamela,
    I so loved this post. It made me nostalgic for my childhood, as well.
    I read the same books and felt the same way.
    Have you ever read Sara Gran’s Claire deWitt series? I love how her PI has strong flashbacks to her youth when she first wanted to investigate everything!

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  2. Pam, I spent my summer days with all of the same characters you did. And I would have loved to overhear that one piece of information that blew everything wide open – but I lived in a pretty boring little town. So yeah, now I get to do it on paper. 😉

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  3. My favorite was Kay Tracy. 🙂 Anyone remember those books? Pamela, I loved your post! It reminded me of my youth spying on neighbors and dreaming up stories to explain their comings and goings!

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  4. Pam, Oh, childhood reading and the call of adults, “Get your nose out of that book and come help me.” I loved Nancy Drew. Borrowed the whole set from a friend, one by one. Then I discovered Tolkien and my split loyalties began–mystery or fantasy? I still read and write both.

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  5. I might not personally be the type to run into a scary situation, but I’m completely on board with the spying aspect of amateur sleuthing! I love how Trixie Belden would spy on anybody she thought was up to no good. And then there was Harriet the Spy, who inspired a love of composition books around the world.

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  6. I am possibly the only mystery writer ever who didn’t read Nancy Drew as a kid! I read a lot of Babysitter’s Club books and I vividly remember reading the Ramona books and anything by Judy Blume.

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  7. My mother handed me a Nancy Drew book when I was about 3 or 4 because I complained about the baby books I was reading. I loved it! I’ve also been collecting Trixie Belden books and read through the series every year or so. I also loved the Babysitters Club Mysteries and Lillian Jackson Braun became a big hit in high school.
    Thanks for the post! You’ve reminded me that the best thing to do is go back and let my imaginary friends yell when they’re ready to tell me more!
    http://alaynabellesmom@gmail.com

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  8. Thanks, Rebecca! I’m sure many of us avid mystery readers were quite certain that nefarious things were going on in neighbors’ homes. That was part of the fun. Theresa, oh, yes! “Put that book down and. . .” was heard quite often. Or, “turn off that flashlight and go to sleep!” CS Lewis, Tolkien, Piers Anthony. I think our personal libraries might look quite similar!

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  9. Oh yes, “put down that book and do {fill in the blank}” was a common theme in my house. And yes, I love that now my characters get to say and do all the things that I would never dare say or do. Didn’t Joss Whedon have something to day on that very topic? What fun!

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