When Alexa Met Nancy

Sitting across from me at the dining room table where I usually work (as opposed to the nice office that awaits me upstairs, which is decorated with all the inspirational things that are supposed to help me write but instead end up making me feel nervous and thus drive me downstairs to the much-less intimidating dining room table most days) is a pile of darkly yellow books with scruffy edges, blocky block font, and the telltale profile on the spine of a "strawberry blonde" haired woman. With titles like The Clue In The Diary, The Clue of the Broken Locket, and The Clue In The Old Album (people are just leaving clues EVERYWHERE, you guys), they hold stories of mysterious twists and turns discovered by a trio of amateur sleuths called Nancy, Bess, and George (yes, a woman named George- they were so risque in the 30s). If you haven't yet picked it up (you heathen) - I'm talking about the ubiquitous Nancy Drew novels, all somehow written by Carolyn Keene who apparently never ate or slept but churned out 175 books in her pseudonominous (I just made that word up) lifetime.

I was first introduced to good ol' Nan at the age of 7 just as my family underwent a traumatic move from far-northern Edmonton to the worldly grip of Calgary (I tried to surreptitiously move my belongings to my best friend Andrea Burritt's house as I'd decided to remain in Edmonton and live under her bed instead, but her parents called mine and outed me). Nan thus became my new best friend since she was always on amazing adventures very similar to my cross-provincial move, and also because she had that previously-mentioned "strawberry blonde" hair, which I had never heard of but made me think of summer and dessert and everything nice that I had left behind in my forever-home of Edmonton (I got over it, okay, you guys, I just really liked that we lived near West Edmonton Mall and that my backyard had this tree with little buds on it that looked like mini corn-on-the-cobs).

What I ALSO liked about Nancy and her pals was that they were the stars of the story- sure they had the occasional lawyer/doctor boyfriend (Ned- I'm looking at you) who flitted around in the background saying things like "be careful, Nan" or "has anyone seen my hair gel" (I'm assuming this last one), but it was straight up the badass gals that took down the badass gangsters in the books- people doing such dastardly things as making clanging noises in old mansions, stealing heirloom jewels, and dressing up in ghostly white sheets to celebrate, I assume, being badass gangsters. Nancy was smart, level-headed, charming but not coy, resourceful, and, most of all, brave. Like, that woman never met a dark staircase or a black dungeon she didn't immediately explore with a purse-sized flashlight.  At a time when my world had been rocked by grave transformation (new house had no tree with cobs and the nearest mall was SOUTHCENTER- gag) I genuinely felt solace in knowing that a future awaited me in which I could grow up to be like Nancy- solving crimes with my girlfriends, having a casual boyfriend when it suited me, and doing it all in a well-fitted pencil skirt.

Nowadays, though I do occasionally solve fictional crimes with the fellow writers I workshop with, I have a fairly non-casual husband and generally prefer a working uniform of all-grey sweatsuit (see this article) to pencil skirts. However, what Nancy modelled for me was surprisingly progressive considering that the books most young women are directed towards now usually include the words "Gossip" and "Girl" in their titles; I can't help but wonder if young women (or even 7 year olds!) now have fictional hero options like the strong and no-nonsense leadership of characters like Nancy and Bess and George to look up to? Maybe this is completely naive and judgemental of me, as I don't have access to a 7 year old or a 17 year old whose reading habits I can clarify, but I look back now at how captivated and inspired I was by detectives-in-skirts who weren't distracted from their case or their friendships by dark and handsome men with bad (or even good) intentions, and I wish and hope there are heroes like that for the young nerdy bookworm women of today to feel inspired and empowered by.

Mind you, my obsession with Nancy might have gotten a tad out of control by the time I moved into my new school, where I was given a desk at the very end of the last row in the back of the classroom, which meant I could make my way through my Nancy mysteries unimpeded by things like lessons or worksheets because my elderly teacher never ventured that far back in the room. The one time she did, she found me nose deep in The Secret At Shadow Ranch (the 1965 version- a real mind bender) with a pile of empty worksheets in front of me from two days worth of class time. To be honest, I don't remember what my punishment was, but I do remember that Nancy solved the mystery of the curse of Dirk Valentine after she got out (on her own! using nothing but a hair pin and spit, probably!) from being trapped in a ghost-town rockslide.

The fact remains- Nancy gave me proof that there were strong women doing strong things in the world, and that even if I was a bit on the nervous side, like Bess, or on the independently boyish side, like George, there was a precedent for me to be strong, and brave, and smart in a world that is sometimes full of dastardly people who want you to feel otherwise. Thinking about her makes me want to write more stories about badass women doing awesome things like overthrowing corrupt governments, risking their lives for their kids, or negotiating with aliens. My heroines might not always have strawberry blonde hair (my best friend in university did, though, and I finally got to see that a. it is real, and b. strawberry-blondes really do have more fun) but they often work collaboratively with other rad women, occasionally have great male sidekicks, and sometimes wear really fabulous pencil skirts.

As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"
Alexa