Like a lot of mystery writers, I tend to read and view tons of other mysteries, just to see what’s happening and to learn a thing or two. Call it the tools of the trade. Recently, I stumbled across yet another new television series based on the world famous Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene. And there the resemblance ends. I don’t mean to be rude…well, yes, I do… but this is soooooo not Nancy Drew. At least, not the Nancy Drew I grew up with.
As everyone knows, the Nancy Drew of the past is a spirited young woman who lives with her widowed father, Carson Drew, a lawyer, and their trusted housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. These three, despite the generation gap, have a warm and loving relationship. Nancy’s two best friends, George and Bess, as well as her quasi-boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, solve crimes warm and fuzzy. Nancy is a young lady who is strong and self-reliant, with a feel-good crew to back her up. That’s the gal detective I know.
Enter Nancy Drew 2020-21, where these kids look around 26 and act a bad 40. The opening scene of the new television series has her sitting astride her convicted felon boyfriend, Nick, whose real name is Ned Nickerson. They are having sex. Excuse me? After the shock of that, we move onto George. She is supposedly Nancy’s best friend. This George is a belligerent young woman who has just ended the affair she started at 17 years old with a 30-something married man. By the way, she does not like Nancy. They never got along.
Then Bess Marvin shows up. She ‘s in love with a woman posing as a chauffeur who is actually a policewoman. Bess is also a rich family’s poor cousin, literally, but is dying to be a part of this obviously questionable clan. Marvin skeletons are in every closet but they take Bess into the family on the proviso she rat on her new girlfriend. She does.
And these are the lighthearted parts.
Let’s get heavier. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father-knows-best dad, is a dysfunctional man involved in the town’s evil doings and has been for decades. If there’s a murder or dead body, odds are Carson Drew had something to do with it. Just when you hope you might be able to root for him it turns out he’s not Nancy’s real father, but has lied to her about her parentage every step of the way. Add in the paranormal, seances, and some supernatural thing called the Aglaeca, and this storyline gets darker with every episode.
As a writer, I can see how the scriptwriters sought out any idea the protagonist, Nancy Drew, would find challenging. Then they threw it into the story and doubled-down on it. She is betrayed by her father, her lovers, and her friends continually. Even her roadster does her dirty. But to be fair, Nancy may be tortured every step of the way but so is everyone else. They only pause long enough to find a new lover, change partners, or have a séance. Then its off on the next soul-ripping escapade. There is no joy in River Heights, which by the way, has been relocated to Horseshoe Bay… because.
But here’s the kicker. Even though this new series is NOTHING like any Nancy Drew book I’ve ever read, the producers put into the credits the phrase “Based on the Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene.” That started me thinking. What would I do if the producers take the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, currently under option, and make them into a television series nothing like the books? They have already told me if the projects goes, the movies will be a little different. But what is a “little?” And will I care? Can I do anything about it if I did care? The answer to that question is a resounding no. I signed certain rights away to see my stories come alive in another media. And I would probably do it again.
But this may be why Sue Grafton said she would never sell the television or movie rights to her books, I’m thinking. It comes down to the written word versus other media forms. The iconic Nancy Drew series is decades old and has been loved for generations. But that makes it vulnerable. Or is it so endeared by all of us, we don’t give a hoot what anyone tries to do to it? We know the truth. And the truth will set us free.
There’s another truth. Once you put your work out there, out there it is. An offshoot of Jane Austen’s Emma turned into the movie Clueless came off charming. But it might not have. The movie based on Janet Evanovich’s book, One for the Money, was a real dud. And nothing like the book. But the end result is rarely up to the author, alive or dead. You are completely at the mercy of a whole other entity. Maybe the Aglaeca. It’s no wonder so many of us writers have a reputation for drinking. I get it now. Pass the vodka.