We agreed on a deadline, a generous, non-Stratemeyer one of three months.
It turned out to be good fun of the adolescent kind, not wage-slavery but freely chosen, vengeful labor.
Aram Ardekian and Joe Ricci drew the Bobbsey Twins but expanded on it and produced The Bobbsey Twins and the Rover Boys in the Blitz. The four plucky kids, moved by Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts, stow away on a freighter. Their plan is to make their way to London where they’ll help all the Mr. and Mrs. Minnivers. They take the train ride from Liverpool to Euston Station where they see lines of brave little children lined up to leave the city, stoic fathers and crying mums beside them. The air smells of burning and night is falling. Undaunted, the four go looking for lodgings. They happen to be in Aldemanbury Square when Brewers’ Hall takes a direct hit and collapses on them.
Hugo Gerstner and Billy Mulligan wrote Tom Swift Builds A Jet Plane. It was pretty predictable. Tom constructs the plane with the help of a crusty but kind old engineer who, for some reason, can’t stop touching him. When the plane’s finished, Tom takes it up for a solo test flight. The engine flames out and the plane crashes right into his father’s business, the biggest one in Shopton, the Swift Construction Company. The crusty engineer survives but not Tom’s father. Shopton becomes a derelict town full of unemployed men, drunks and drug addicts. All the high school cheerleaders become streetwalkers.
“Swift Deconstruction,” somebody cracked after we’d shared our work.
Stash Wojciechowski and Alex Cendenjas pushed things pretty far with Nancy Drew and the Creep Next Door, a tale in which the busybody heroine, investigating her new neighbor, is molested by him. Traumatized to the point of aphasia and catatonia, she’s committed to an asylum for the rest of her life.
I still have the typescript of the book I wrote with Harvey Finkelstein. We called it The Hardy Boys and the Mass Murderer because the term serial killer hadn’t yet been coined. Bayport is terrorized by a series of brutal killings characterized by inventive mutilations. Frank and Joe spring into action. Their suspicions fall on the town’s only Jew, Mordechai Mendelssohn, proprietor of a shop locally known as “the Jew store,” always open on Sundays. The boys notice that the murders all happen on Saturday nights. They spy on Mendelssohn and track him. One Saturday night, the boys follow him to the edge of town and see him slip into the abandoned barn on the old Cabot place. Cautiously, they open the creaking door and are immediately felled by two blows delivered with a maul. They are then expertly castrated, dismembered, and buried in the pleasant little wood behind Bayport High.
Harvey and I soon left Stratemeyer for other jobs. I turned into an academic; Harvey went on to a lucrative career writing B-movie scripts in Hollywood. We kept in touch for a few years. In one of his last letters, Harvey credited his success to his apprenticeship with the Syndicate. “Stratemeyer taught me how to collaborate with cynics, follow idiotic rules, and crank out crap against a deadline. I owe him everything.”
I can still remember the flourish with which Harvey extracted his fountain pen from his jacket, unscrewed the top, and ceremoniously signed the title page of our puerile parody and protest. It’s right here on my yellowed copy in Harvey’s big Hancock-like letters: Franklin W. Dixon.
Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published seven fiction collections; two books of essays; two short novels; two books of poems; stories, essays, and poems in a variety of journals, and a novelawardedthe Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction.