Friday, March 30, 2012

A Nancy Drew Movie

When I was 11 years old, my sister and I decided that we would do something no one had ever done before (meaning that we simply weren't aware that several people had done it before). We began production on a Nancy Drew- wait for it- MOVIE!

We chose to base it off of book #152: The Key in the Satin Pocket. This was mostly because #122: The Message in the Haunted Mansion required a mansion, and also because we didn't have any snow (as necessitated by #158: The Curse of the Black Cat).

It was going to sell out like crazy in our garage-theater showings, and Hollywood people (just people from Hollywood) would be begging us for the rights to screen it nation-wide. It would be our big break, the project that would catapult us pre-teen filmmaking prodigies to fame and global recognition. Our best friend, who played Nancy, would be lauded for her powerful performance, while our classmate (in a relatively minor role) would steal the show, ensuring that she would instantly be asked to star in the next Sandra Bullock movie.

We had everything planned out perfectly. From my own wardrobe and an old costume basket, I picked out costumes for each character and folded them into boxes labeled with the actresses' names. I wrote out a screenplay with a full list of actresses to appear in the film (I didn't have any close male friends at this time, so all of the characters were just female). I even created a magazine that would be released just before the movie, with bios of everyone involved in the making of it, speculation on what the next Nancy Drew film would be, a detailed history of the series, and a sweepstakes to 'win a day with the stars!'.

Did we hit it big? Were we met with high acclaim and rampant success?

No. You could have guessed that, I'm sure, but I'm feeling nostalgic today and I want to recount every way in which our attempt at a Nancy Drew movie was pretty pathetic but also inadvertently one of my favorite childhood memories.

1) It was essentially a home video of us having fun with our friends. Although I had a detailed script that everyone was supposed to follow, my friends usually either forgot their lines or randomly threw in their own comments. Example:

Friend [as Nancy]: There's something in the pocket... hey, it's a key! And it has a number on it- 682.
Me [filming off to the side]: Shh, that's not important.
Friend: What?
Me: That's not in the script!
Friend: Well it DOES have a number on it though...
Me: But it's not- whatever, cut.

Mistakes aside, my sister made a huge deal out of creating a snack table and inviting a few friends that weren't actually in the movie...

Me: Why is so-and-so coming? She's not in the movie.
My sister: She's going to help though!
*Invitee eats snacks all day*

2) We hardly knew how to operate a video camera, let alone transfer it to a computer program in which we could edit it. First of all, we didn't understand that movies aren't filmed beginning to end- they're filmed around the availability of sets, weather, etc. (For instance, the first scene shot in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was actually the last scene in the movie.) So where did we begin filming our movie? That's right, at the beginning. If you watched the whole thing (and unfortunately this tape has gone missing somewhere) you could see some semblance of a story, with an in-movie blooper reel. My favorite part is the 3-second take of our friend's cat wearing a Santa Claus hat (it was her video camera, and she decided she needed to film her cat's first Christmas, even if it meant taping over it later). Because we had no idea how to edit this film, my sister and I decided that we would do something revolutionary: instead of having a blooper reel at the very end of the movie, we would keep all the mistakes in the film. Not only would the mystery keep the audience in suspense, but it would let them know how funny we were. (Even though we weren't.)

3) We spent more time talking about how awesome the movie would be and planning for the premiere that we usually forgot the whole matter of actually filming it. I think we stuck to this project for about six months before ditching it. This rang true for pretty much any story I tried to write during adolescence- my plans for a Mary-Kate and Ashley-esque mystery series (The Adventures of Kelly and Leslie: Cousin Detectives), my novel about the Rainbow Tree (based very, very loosely on my memories about a magical tree in the schoolyard and my best friend and I always played at), and any number of mystery/fantasy books. And unfortunately, this movie was no exception- while I got caught up in publicizing it and running my friends through mock interviews to prepare them for the upcoming flurry of press coverage they would be subjected to, we had filmed a total of five scenes and about three times as many bloopers (although if you called them 'bloopers', 12-year-old me would sniff and say that they're just as integral to the movie as the takes that actually went according to plan).

But you know, in hindsight I can't really hide my face in shame. After all, we were just kids. And my parents' support and encouragement of this project was not so much about us showing the world our talents through a Nancy Drew movie- it was about letting us be kids. I'm sure they thought our movie was totally ridiculous. But that's not what mattered. And looking back, as painfully bad as our movie was, the memories it created were anything but.

(See? Nostalgia. It's one thing that brings me back to Nancy Drew when times are tough/busy.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I could go into all of the reasons why my sad little blog has been, once again, left quiet and untouched. But instead, I want to talk about something else- something that makes me angry. It isn't related to Nancy Drew, although knowing our heroine and her belief in the goodness of the police, I'm pretty sure she'd be pissed too. This is why:

Last Friday, I hopped on a train to go home and spend the weekend with my family. About an hour after I arrived home, I found this video posted all over Facebook. Unlike those that I had seen of police brutality in Berkeley, Oakland, and New York, this video showed a place that I recognize well and faces that I know. On the Quad that I walk through every day, police were arresting, beating, and pepper-spraying my friends, classmates, co-workers, and residents. Not because they were being violent, but because they were quietly linking arms in peaceful protest. They were being sprayed not from a distance of 15 feet (the legal minimum distance), but from about 3 feet away- and for some protesters, the substance was sprayed directly in their faces and down their throats. They were being sprayed and arrested not because they served any threat to police officers, as our Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza asserted, or because this group of cops was separated from their colleagues and consequently felt unsafe. Rather, police officers in riot gear who were armed with rubber pellet rifles and pepper spray felt, for god knows what reason, that dismantling the Occupy tents (which was the order given by Chancellor Katehi) was not enough. If you can step over the line of protesters and casually wave around your can of pepper spray, and if you can aim your weapons at students and have them back away, you are not threatened in any way.

These weren't just students at my school that I didn't know. Some of my family members are ardently opposed to the Occupy movement and have no idea that I have been protesting with them for just over a week. But these aunts and uncles will be shocked to learn that I actually know these crazy students who, according to some news reports, shouldn't be complaining because they didn't move when they were told to. They might be surprised to know that my friend from work was sent to the hospital with chemical burns. She was sprayed directly in the face, despite the 'ASTHMATIC!' warning written in Sharpie on her arm. A classmate of mine was also a part of the chain and was pepper-sprayed- there are videos of her on CNN wiping the face of another protester with her headscarf. Two other friends of mine- one a former co-worker, and another a former resident- were standing by and watching in horror, whilst the wind also blew some of the pepper spray in their direction. One of my History TAs was arrested, as was one of my residents who was not doing anything at all (he was cited for 'lodging without a permit' when he did not even have a tent at the encampment). These aren't crazy activists who don't go to class and spend their days lazily sitting around in tents- these are everyday students who attend UC Davis and work hard just to stay there, especially at a time when we face a potential 81% tuition increase. And they were met with violence because they sat peacefully in a circle and linked arms, or because they had the audacity to stand by and watch.

But here's the upside:

We're not going away.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Supermystery #1: Double Crossing

NANCY DREW is enjoying a luxury cruise aboard the ship where her friend George is the new social director. It seems like great fun until Nancy overhears a plan to sell CIA secrets to another country. Her vacation turns into a high-risk hunt for a deadly secret agent.


THE HARDY BOYS are working undercover on the same cruise ship – Joe in the kitchen, Frank as photographer – trying to track down a dangerous group of thieves who prey on rich passengers.

But when murder comes aboard, Nancy, Joe, and Frank find they're in the same boat – facing death on all sides in DOUBLE CROSSING.

That's right – it's not just Nancy Drew, and it's not just the Hardy Boys. It's a NANCY DREW & HARDY BOYS SUPERMYSTERY.
I read one or two of these as a kid and I distinctly recall being completely taken aback to see the word 'sexy' in a book for children. However, now that I've read Double Crossing (the very first in the crossover series), it doesn't surprise me at all. I will give the author some credit here in that the story itself was not bad – Nancy is on the cruise ship for vacation and happens to run into a mystery (so what else is new?) while the Hardy Boys are already on a case (they don't need luck like Nancy because people actually pay them to do these things- I'd like to see the tables turn some day!). They help each other out with the two cases, get conked on the head and left for dead a few times, and nab the culprits in the end. The action sequences are imaginative (in a good way), and the 'bad guys' they're facing aren't bumbling idiots throwing in halfhearted attempts to scare Nancy, Frank, and Joe off the case – they are actually dangerous people.

So despite the ridiculous romance aspects to this book (and I'll get to that shortly), it wasn't entirely a waste of my time. I actually quite enjoyed it and, as my family can attest to, I spent much of our vacation curled up with this book in a fort I built in the closet (because just sitting in a chair or on the couch wasn't awesome enough).

However, I do need to point out some things, as always. On the subject of romance, if I can just share a passage here that caught my attention (note that this is only 4 pages into the book, and Nancy and Frank have barely been introduced):

Nancy unpacked quickly, pulling a card from Ned Nickerson out of her purse and putting it on top of her bureau, where she could look at it. She read it once again.
“My dear Ms. Detective,” it said. “While you're sailing off into the sunset, how am I supposed to solve a not-so-mysterious case of loneliness? Miss you, and see you when I get home. Love, Ned.”
What a guy. Ned Nickerson had to be the greatest boyfriend a girl ever had or ever could have. Nancy promised herself that no matter how good-looking the guys were on this cruise, she wasn't even going to think about romance.
And especially not with Frank Hardy. She'd crossed paths with Frank Hardy and his brother before, and every time she did, Frank had the same powerful effect on her. Nothing had ever happened between them, though, and it wasn't going to this time, either. She had a boyfriend, he had a girlfriend – and that was that. (4)

We've hardly met Nancy and Frank. As far as anyone is concerned, these could be the first impressions that a young girl or boy has of these two characters. And four pages in, Nancy is already having to remind herself of the reasons why she can't hit it off with Frank. Really now, the ghostwriter wasn't even trying to hint at the romantic tension here. In 1988, subtlety was apparently out the window for any contact between Nancy Drew and Frank Hardy. Later in the book, they even defy the pool rules to go for a midnight swim together. Said swim is naturally ruined when Nancy finds a dead body in the pool, but no big deal. Frank is there to hold her in his warm arms and tell her it's all going to be okay.

The interesting thing is that one character in particular, usually ignored in these types of story arcs, gets a guy of her own.

Nancy watched as George and David swept across the dance floor to a hot Latin beat. Their eyes were locked together, and it wasn't hard to tell that they were getting very interested in each other. (19)

For a little background, David is one guy in a group of five bratty CIA kids on board the cruise ship. Supposedly, David is the only somewhat-friendly one of the entire group, but Nancy questions his motives continuously throughout the book. And for once, George gets a taste of what Bess has to deal with all the time:

George's eyes widened. “Wait just a minute. You're not saying that you think David's involved in all this spy business, are you?” (55)

Oh sweetheart. Haven't you learned anything from Nancy's cases in all these years? Why do you think your cousin is perpetually single? Whenever a good-looking guy comes along, inevitably Nancy either takes him for herself, or he displays an interest in Bess and then turns out to be the culprit. The latter always ends with Nancy handing him over to law enforcement authorities after an action-packed finale revealing a huge twist in the identity of the burglar/saboteur/criminal mastermind – except it's not a twist because if you've read as many Nancy Drew books as I have, the predictability of such books is heightened considerably.

Although, to credit the author yet again, David turns out all right in the end and promises to keep in touch with George. I suppose it's just Bess who gets the shaft every time. And meanwhile, Nancy glows with pride at another job well done. *Snaps for Nancy!* /Legally Blonde

Stay tuned for another installment (cross your fingers for the long-overdue Mysterious Mannequin post)!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

I'm off to explore the sunny, humid banks of the Bosphorus. For the entirety of July, my life will consist of learning about Ottoman history, visiting many of the sites and mosques my professor talks about in class, and meeting new people on the other side of the world who will show me around the beautiful city of Istanbul (not Constantinople).

Aside from enjoying my experience there, I have two other things planned:
1) EPIC Harry Potter marathon leading up to the release of Pt. II of the seventh (and last) film. The last resounding note of my childhood will slowly die out as Harry takes his final walk into the Forbidden Forest. And although I will be saying goodbye to Harry Potter in a very different way than I had imagined, it will not go without tears and very fond memories.
2) And of course, Nancy Drew. Just so you all know, Nancy has actually traveled to Istanbul before- which is why #47: The Mysterious Mannequin is tucked away in my carry-on bag. It shall serve me well when I can't sleep on the plane or when I'd like to give my 700-page reader a rest (not that it's had much wear... at all).

So this was all 100% exciting and everything, until I happened to read this (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Beginning 2 March 2011 access to Blogspot was blocked, following a request by satellite television provider Digiturk; Digiturk alleged Blogger was being used to distribute material it holds the broadcast rights to.

In other words, I can't actually access my blog because the Turkish government has really tight restrictions on... well, a lot of things when it comes to the Internet, apparently. YouTube was banned in Turkey because someone posted a video that offended Ataturk, the founder of the modern state of Turkey. This is pretty sad considering Turkey is a relatively liberal country (and anyhow, everyone knows that half the people on YouTube are crazies who start verbal to-the-death battles all because someone misspelled a word).

I'm going to be writing throughout July, and see if I can get my sister or someone nice to post everything for me. Nice, wonderful siblings/friends/parents/relatives who would just love to help my cause... right?

Have a peachy July :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#7: The Clue in the Diary

Back to some good old (actually old) Nancy Drew, circa 1932... well, kind of- we'll just say 1962 since that's when it was revised. But this was one of the very first in the original Nancy Drew series, back when it was still developing. And on that note, I consider this book to be especially important because a major character is brought into the picture for the first time- Mr. Ned Nickerson!

Since I started reading these books, I never questioned that Ned had just always been a character- until I was reading the Nancy Drew Wiki page (since that's what I do when I'm bored) and discovered that Ned didn't exist at all in the first several books. Because this is also one of the most popular in the entire series, I figured it would be the next installment for me to tackle.

To sum things up, Nancy is driving home from a carnival with Bess and George, admiring the mansions in the hills beside the road, when the one they praise the most explodes before their very eyes (my guess is that Nancy can secretly blow things up using only the power of her mind... why? Because she's Nancy-freaking-Drew and she's a boss). They drive over quickly to help, and as Nancy is running around the house to make sure no one is hurt, she sees a man fleeing from the scene, leaving behind a diary- written in Swedish- in the grass. The man runs away and Nancy ponders for a while about who he is, whilst learning from neighbors that the mansion was owned by a Mr. Raybolt and his wife, two unpleasant people that everyone hated- mainly because Mr. Raybolt swindled people out of their money. However, the couple can't be found anywhere and it's very suspicious. As Nancy seeks out answers about the diary, the man running from the house, and the ill deeds/whereabouts of the Raybolts, she also helps a young woman named Mrs. Swenson and her 5-year-old daughter Honey, who are living in poverty since Mr. Swenson (an inventor) left to earn money for the family and never returned. Long story short (too late), Nancy discovers that the man fleeing the mansion was Mr. Swenson, who was angry with Mr. Raybolt for essentially stealing his invention- as was the case with many other inventors- and when the police arrest him, Nancy sets out to clear his name and catch Raybolt.

Now before I start talking about Ned, there is one little nitpicky thing I have to mention, because it totally drove me nuts- this entire book is basically just Nancy, Bess, and George (and sometimes Ned) driving around everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I don't know if she just has a bottomless tank of gas or what, but she woke up every day, picked up her besties in her sweet ride, and drove all over the countryside until she finally decided to go home at night (at which point she also decided at least once to get right back in her car and drive somewhere else). How your precious little convertible lasted through this book (let alone so many after it) is beyond me. But hey, if you derive pleasure from driving for hours to go ask someone you've never met a single question that they don't know the answer to, more power to you. Your dad's pretty wealthy, he'll buy you a new car when this one dies after a year- lucky you, Nancy!

Okay, now I'll turn back to the real purpose of this post- Ned Nickerson! Because, being the nerd that I am, I hold in high respect the introduction of a character- particularly one as important as Ned. How a character is first brought into a book or series can say a lot about them. What I find particularly funny about Ned's first appearance is that, at first, Nancy thinks he's trying to steal her car. I would insert an actual quote here because I dogeared the page specifically for that reason, but I seem to have misplaced my copy of The Clue in the Diary. Bah.

Ned is someone rarely seen in a bad light throughout the series- save for an early edition of #21: The Secret in the Attic (see my 'Old Favourites' post) and those few books in which Nancy runs off with other guys (see #77: The Bluebeard Room and #78: The Phantom of Venice). For a character who becomes sort of the Lois Lane to Nancy's Superman, it's pretty fantastic that he was initially painted to look the bad guy. I give major props to Millie Benson (the ghostwriter of this book and the original Carolyn Keene) for making the story of Nancy's and Ned's first meeting somewhat interesting, rather than some tired old chance meeting at a school dance. Which reminds me, since when does Nancy even go to school? Because I have plenty to say on that matter...

To sum this up, it really matters (in my mind) how characters are treated by the author who writes them. Before the tail-end of my freshman year of college (when I took a creative writing class that got me back into writing stories), I didn't seem to realize that the characters in every novel and short story are people. And so, they need to behave and speak as any normal person would do. They can have their quirks and their strange motives, but they're there because somehow, they hold a role in the story that cannot be left out. They are, by the author's definition, important. And so, knowing the role that Ned would come to have in almost every Nancy Drew book since 1932, I held my breath- and then relaxed a little, because Millie Benson (unlike so many ghostwriters after her) understood the importance of this character and she didn't drag him around.

That's it for this installment! Up next, stay tuned for #47: The Mysterious Mannequin. It's so mysterious that I don't even know what it's about yet.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Anddddddddd We're Back!

It's been a long, long (unannounced) hiatus. You can all (three of you) rest assured that my nine months away were productive and contributed to a great deal of growth.
My excuse, this time around, is simple enough: I was an RA (resident advisor) in the residence halls at my university. I won't say a whole lot about the things I dealt with (most of it stays confidential), but I will just say this: if you did not/do not appreciate your RA during your time in the dorms, take a moment to think about everything they did as part of their job. If they were any good, they spent nine months putting most of their energy into making your college experience enjoyable and safe, whilst also trying to help you learn and grow- creating bulletin boards, planning and implementing events, team-building, diversity discussions, enforcing policies, sitting in meetings, eating meals and spending time with residents, and teaching others about themselves and the world around them. All that while maintaining good grades, in some cases internships and other jobs, and (believe it or not) a social life.

To put it plainly, I've been pretty busy. If the next school year is at all easier than this past year, you'll be happy to know that after being an RA, I can surely find the time to read Nancy Drew books (like that's what I should be doing with my free time anyhow).

And now, let's get back to where we left off...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

#99: The Secret at Seven Rocks

In a world of wild animals, Nancy faces the most dangerous beast of all- man.
(I just thought that was funny.)
Here we go again- Nancy, Bess, and George are on vacation, and a mystery comes along to ruin it all (but who would have expected anything different?). This time, they’re in Colorado for some hiking and fresh mountain air. While on a hike, they find a baby mountain lion which has been shot in the leg, and decide to take it to a shelter named Paws. Turns out, the shelter has been facing some mishaps of its own...

Nancy headed toward a large pen on the other end of the clearing. It contained a dish of water and an empty feeding bowl. The door to the pen was open, and the pen was empty.
“Dana,” Nancy called. “What kind of animal is staying in here?”
“That’s our-” Dana’s face turned pale and her eyes opened wide. “Oh no!” she cried. “Our black bear is loose!” (21)

Don’t you just hate it when your black bear escapes? Puts such a damper on everyone’s day. But no worries- Nancy is here to save the day!

Actually, what I quite liked about this installment is that our heroine isn’t quite the superhuman mega-sleuth that we see in almost every other book. She usually manages to keep her head completely clear, coming to a solution in the most desperate of situations, and she is physically fit and capable of chasing down any culprit. Nancy always has the right words to say (be it to comfort a friend or get herself out of a sticky situation), and she always has the right idea about how to escape danger in the split-second she’s given to figure it out.

But not in this book. At last we see a Nancy that isn’t quite as perfect as her writers so often make her out to be. For one thing, she is kidnapped on ‘Gaslight Night’- the night when everyone in town wears Victorian-era clothing and acts all old-school. Nancy finally wakes up on the side of a mountain, cold and disheveled. The beautiful ivory gown of silk and lace that she had rented to wear for the festivities isn’t so pretty anymore- it’s muddy and torn, and Nancy has a lot of explaining to do to the woman who owns the rental shop. And even if perfect Nancy had been able to keep it in pristine condition in her unconscious state, she is stranded on a mountainside in biting cold air and silk antique high heels- not quite as useful as hiking boots would be. And just because things have to be far worse for her, Nancy’s hands and feet are bound.

Since she's Nancy Drew, it's only natural that she'll get those ropes off in a matter of minutes, and then think of some ingenious plan so she doesn’t have to walk up or down a mountain in a dirty dress and pain-inducing footwear.

Apparently not. It takes our girl detective an enormous amount of time and energy just to lift herself into a sitting position. After doing so, she spots some semi-sharp rocks that MIGHT tear through the ropes, and they’re 50 feet up the hill; inch by inch, she scoots herself uphill (occasionally slipping, tumbling downhill, and having to start the process over again) and when she reaches the rocks it takes her hours to free her hands and feet. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like someone who is- dare I say it?- actually normal. Aside from the fact that someone felt threatened enough to kidnap her and dump her on a mountain, of course.

Then commences an effort to make it to some safer place- which isn't allowed to be easy, so the author throws a bear in there just to give her another obstacle. Does she know exactly what to do? Will she make it out alive thanks to her vast knowledge of the behavioral patterns of black bears? Well...

Frantically, she tried to recall the advice in Maggie's guidebook. What was it you were supposed to do when confronted by a bear?.... She couldn't remember. She couldn't move. Suddenly, Nancy realized that she might never make it off the mountain. (103)

Whoa whoa whoa- Nancy Drew, accepting the possibility that she might die? I know the reader is supposed to always cheer her on, but to see a moment of weakness in this seemingly-invincible protagonist brings a new dimension to her character that we never get to see. When she's always got the right idea in mind and just what she needs to save herself in a matter of seconds, her character is just flat. There is nothing there to suggest that our heroine might actually have fears and feelings.

As for the bear, one of Nancy's suspects happens to be nearby and shoots the creature with a tranquilizer gun. And then he and Nancy start arguing.

She looked at him in amazement. "Honestly, the bear was easier to talk to than you are!"
"Yeah, I saw you talking to the bear," Jesse said. "That was real impressive.... Don't you know the only way to scare off a bear is to make a lot of noise? You're supposed to bang on pots and pans or something."
"Silly me!" Nancy said. "I left all my pots and pans [at] home!" (109)

Whew, this girl's got some sass. There's something the polite debutante Nancy never would have dared said to anyone. (On that note, I think that this part of her character is a nice little reference to the Nancy of the original books as they were written in the 1930s-50s, prior to the 1959 revisions.)

And just to top things off, Nancy struggles to keep up with Dana and another character during the high-speed chase in the climax. They all reach an old wooden cabin, and while her friends sprint ahead, Nancy is kneeling down and catching her breath. In most other books, she would sprint like a gazelle and either catch the culprit or barely miss him.

My point here is that the Nancy we’ve become so accustomed to- the model Girl Scout-type who is always prepared and always has a plan, even with seconds to spare- maybe isn’t the one who girls should be looking up to. I truly enjoyed this book because it portrays Nancy in a different light. For once she’s human, and she can’t always keep up with the people around her, or know exactly what to say and do when confronted by an angry bear. She is just an average girl caught up in circumstances that she can’t control and doesn’t know how to handle.

Maybe we'd like to see this 'amateur' detective tackle every situation like the pro that she isn't. But perhaps it’s better that young girls can look up to someone who is not so extraordinary. Nancy is, in the eyes of many, a symbol of female empowerment. But girls have trouble feeling that empowerment for themselves if they can’t match up to a heroine who is physically strong and always has her wits about her. If Nancy Drew is a little less perfect, a little more ordinary, then young girls can look at her and see their own potential mirrored back at them through a girl that isn’t all that different from themselves but can still crack the case in the end. And if there's any meaning to be found in Nancy's escapades, it's that any girl, no matter how ordinary, is capable of anything.