Feb. 19, 2007

Nancy Drew

by Ron Koertge

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Poem: "Nancy Drew" by Ron Koertge, from Fever. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Nancy Drew

Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim.
And she got to say things like, "But, gosh,
what if these plans should fall into the wrong
hands?" and it was pretty clear she didn't mean
plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but
something involving espionage and a Nazi or two.

In fact, the handsome exchange student turns
out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches
Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he
has something more sinister in mind than kissing
her with his mouth open

Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything's
hunky dory.

Nancy accepts their thanks, but she's subdued.
It's not like her to fall for a cad. Even as she plans
a short vacation to sort our her emotions she knows
there will be a suspicious waiter, a woman in a green
off the shoulder dress, and her very jittery husband.

Very well. But no more handsome boys like the last one:
the part in his hair that was sheer propulsion, that way
he had of lifting his eyes to hers over the custard,
those feelings that made her not want to be brave
confident and daring, polite, sensitive and caring.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Kay Boyle, (books by this author) born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1902). She wrote more than 50 books, but she's best known for her short stories, which are collected in Life Being the Best (1988) and Fifty Stories (1980). Her novels include Death of a Man (1936) and My Next Bride (1934).

It's the birthday of novelist Jonathan Lethem, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1964). He originally wanted to be an artist, like his father, but when he went off to Bennington College in Vermont, he became friends with a group of aspiring writers, including Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt, both of whom would write best-selling novels by the time they graduated. But Lethem never graduated. He had never realized when he was growing up that his parents were poor, but at Bennington he just didn't fit in with the rich kids. So he moved to California, and spent 10 years working at used book stores, writing fiction in his spare time.

Unlike most young fiction writers, his early novels weren't autobiographical at all. Instead, he mixed together all kinds of genre fiction. His first novel, Gun, With Occasional Music (1994), is a science fiction detective novel that takes place in a future world where animals have learned to speak and act like humans. One of the main characters is a trench coat-wearing kangaroo. His novel Girl In Landscape (1998) is the story of a 13-year-old girl dealing with the death of her mother as her family moves to a new planet that is just being settled by humans.

He moved back to New York City for the first time in 10 years and the city inspired him to write his book Motherless Brooklyn (1999), about a private detective who suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Lethem eventually moved back to the same Brooklyn neighborhood he'd grown up in, which was now in the process of being gentrified. He wanted to recapture the neighborhood he remembered, so he began his first autobiographical novel, about a white kid named Dylan and a black kid named Mingus growing up in 1970s Brooklyn and struggling to remain friends through all the racial tension of the era. The result was The Fortress of Solitude (2003), which many critics called a masterpiece.

It's the birthday of novelist Amy Tan, (books by this author) born in Oakland, California (1952). Tan was running her own profitable freelance writing business when she began to realize that she was becoming addicted to work. She obsessively took every writing job she was offered, and she often worked 90 hours a week. She tried therapy, but that didn't work, so she decided to go back to reading fiction, which she'd loved so much in college. Back then she'd focused on the classics, but now she began reading more contemporary fiction by authors like Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro, and Louise Erdrich. And she began writing short stories.

Then, in 1987, Tan decided that as a gift, she would take her mother on a trip back to China to visit their relatives for the first time, and the trip wound up changing Tan's life. She said, "When my feet touched China, I became Chinese. ... It was a sense of completeness, like having a mother and a father. I had China and America, and everything was all coming together finally."

When she got home, she quit her freelance writing business and immediately began adding to the short stories she had been working on and arranging them into a book. And that was The Joy Luck Club (1988), which became a big best-seller.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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