Tangents

I have a new friend whose mind works a lot like mine. In other words, we are both easily distracted and often guilty of slipping into “squirrel mode” at any given time. She is a professional writer, so I am a little bit in awe of her, but all of our conversations end up in a jumbled mess of tangents and non sequiturs that make absolutely no sense to anyone else in the vicinity.

I’m not sure if we have ever followed any discussion all the way through to its logical conclusion. We tend to reach a point at which one of us hollers “derailed!” while the other makes train whistle noises, after which we simply start all over again as though nothing has happened.

For the record, my children think we are idiots.

But as I sat here this morning trying to come up with an idea for a new blog post, it dawned on me that our conversations are a lot like my writing process. I start with a lot of vaguely connected ideas and then start veering off into weird tangents that usually lead me to ideas and thoughts that I never even knew I had.  The fun part of all of this is deciding whether to try to tie it all together or just run with it in a whole new direction.

So I thought I’d throw out some random tangents today and pull them all together to answer some questions that several people have been asking me lately about my pen name.

Tangent #1. I hate my given name. It doesn’t fit. Amy is a name for someone refined and delicate; Amy is quiet and sophisticated. I am none of those things. Growing up, I hated the fact that my entire name—first, middle and last—had less letters than some first names. I craved something more elaborate, more unique. I wanted a name that could be shortened into a nickname that wasn’t a verb.

To this day, I refuse to acknowledge anyone who addresses me as “Aim.”

Tangent #2. My mother had a huge crush on Gerald McRaney, which meant that we watched a lot of Simon & Simon when I was in high school. That was fine with me because I happened to have a pretty huge crush on Jameson Parker.

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She also had a thing for Yul Brynner, but Westworld scared the crap out of me and sort of ruined me for watching him in anything, even The King and I.

Tangent #3. I grew up addicted to the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators books, a series of Young Adult mysteries about three boy detectives. The series started in 1964 and I became hooked about ten years later. I have read every single book, short story, magazine article and blog post I could find about the books, the characters, and the authors.  I even have a not-so-secret past as a Three Investigators fanfiction writer.

My favorite Three Investigators author was M.V. Carey, who had a profound effect on me as a young girl. I assumed that she used her initials instead of her full name to disguise the fact that she was a woman writing for a series that was aimed at boys.  At the time, my greatest dream was to write my own series of Young Adult mysteries that would appeal to readers of both genders, so I decided that I would someday use my initials in a pen name, just like my hero M.V. Carey.

Just as sort of a sub-tangent here, I should mention that Carey created one of the greatest female characters to ever grace the pages of a Young Adult series, even though she only appeared in two books.  Allie Jamison was smart, brash and spunky, and I always hoped she would be spun off into her own series.  For a while, I even fantasized about writing that series myself!

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Tangent #4.  When I created a pen name, I wasn’t trying to hide anything; it’s never been about hiding my identity from anyone. It was an opportunity to step away from a name I have always despised. Besides, there were at least four other Amy Goodwins out there when I started Googling my name. One is a journalist and three others have books published on Amazon.

I was married at the time, and I didn’t want to hurt my husband’s feelings by going back to my maiden name.

A.L. Goodwin wouldn’t work because there is a comedian named Al Goodwin.

I tried the trick of combining the name of my first pet with the name of the street I grew up on to create a pen name, but I didn’t think anyone would buy a romance novel by Smudge Schuring.  We also had a parrot named Fonzie and an exceedingly whiny Seal Point Siamese named Alley J. Cat, but none of those really rang any bells for me.

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Meanwhile, I was trying to come up with a name for my blog. I wanted it to be cute but not too cute, clever without trying too hard, memorable but for the right reasons. I thought about the way my Aunt Marian used to nudge me and wink every time someone said my last name. “Good one, Goodwin,” she’d say.

Amy Goodwin. A Goodwin. A Goode One. Derp. There was the name for my blog. I added the “e” because I thought it made it seem more like a name than a self-promoting description. In retrospect, I think it seems a bit pretentious, like Petunia in Keeping up Appearances, who insists that her last name be pronounced “Boo-kay” instead of “Bucket.”

Okay, so how about A-something-Goode? And that’s when it fell into place. My favorite character created by M.V. Carey was Allie Jamison.  A.J. My favorite character on Simon and Simon was A.J. Simon, played by Jameson Parker (who is now an author and blogger, by the way). I had a cat named Alley J. Cat.

So I became A.J. Goode.  Pretty simple, in a convoluted sort of way. For a very brief time in the late 80’s, I used my middle name to publish a couple of articles as A.J. Lee, but that was long before a much younger, hotter, and prettier young lady became far more famous with that name than I will ever be under any pen name.

Other than that, the only pen name I ever used was something so flowery and with so many syllables that it made “anti-disestablishmentarianism” seem like an abbreviation. I used it to publish a bit of erotica about a year ago – an embarrassing little tidbit about a middle-aged woman and a studly Latino gardener. It sold well for about two weeks and then tanked, as it should have. It was a slap in the face to every author out there who actually writes good erotica, and I hit “unpublish” as soon as my 90 days in Kindle Select were done. It was so bad that I feel like I owe an apology to erotica writers everywhere for making a mockery of their genre.

And there you have it. The ridiculously tangential answer to the questions “What does A.J. stand for?” and “Why do you use a pen name?”

The answer to “Have you ever written under any other pen names?” is just a bonus.

You’re welcome.

So what about the rest of you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pen name, and if so, how did you come up with it? If you’re not a writer, what pen name would you use if you ever needed one?

BBA or Not BBA?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite authors was a woman named M.V. Carey.    She was the only female writer on the list of professionals writing for the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series that I loved so much, and she inspired me more than any other writer at that point in my life.  In fact, the pen name I have chosen for myself is sort of an homage to her.

I wrote her a letter once, asking her a lot of silly questions and giving her all kinds of suggestions for storylines that involved abusing my favorite character, Pete.   And she actually answered my letter!  I don’t remember the specifics of her response, but I remember that it was kind and gracious and oh-so-encouraging.

Fast forward nearly forty years.  I am an author now.  Not a hugely successful one by any means, but an author all the same.  Over the years, I’ve contacted other writers via email, and I still get that same fangirly rush when I hear back from them.  I can hardly believe it when writers like Jasinda Wilder and Nancy Gideon take the time out of their busy schedules to answer questions and offer encouragement to a nobody like me!

Let me confess right here:  I actually cried for a minute or two when Nancy Gideon started following me on Twitter.

Yes, I get emotional like that sometimes.

Basically, I’ve been spoiled.  Up until recently, my interactions with other writers have been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve been proud to call myself a writer.  It was a huge step for me to go from “I want to be a writer” or “I’m trying to be a writer” to “I am a writer.”

Right now, I’m not so proud of the writing community.

Maybe it’s because of the immediacy of the internet; maybe it’s because of the politically-correct positive-reinforcement brainwashing that has tried to convince us that we are all wonderful.  Perhaps it’s because not all of us have examples like Carey, Wilder, and Gideon.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of authors out there who need a visit from the Reality Fairy.  They’re referred to as BBA’s, or Badly Behaving Authors, and they are an embarrassment to the rest of us.  Upon getting a bad review, they whine, complain and cry about cyber bullying or harassment or the unfairness of life in general.   They rage against reviewers and book bloggers with accusations and threats that are sometimes laughably over the top.

Like me, some authors are also bloggers.  And in recent weeks, they’ve been coming out in droves to throw in their two cents’ worth in certain high-profile situations involving authors and reviewers, most notably the Kathleen Hale/Blythe Harris kerfuffle.  Everyone’s got an opinion, no matter how ill-informed; everyone’s got to jump right up on that bandwagon.

Several book bloggers have joined forces this week in a blogging blackout.  In other words, they are taking the week off from reviewing new books in their blogs.  Bloggers all over the place are standing up to join forces or to criticize the effort.

My first impulse?  Move over; make room for me on that bandwagon!  Sure, I’ll take a week off to show solidarity.

But . . .

I’m not a book blogger.  My joining them would be meaningless because I don’t use my blog to review books, and because I often go weeks without a new post anyway.  Going a week without reviewing a new book in my blog is sort of the status quo.

The world isn’t exactly going to tremble in response to my saying that I want to be part of a blogging blackout.  My joining in at this point would, in a sense, minimize the efforts of those who really do have a stake in this.

I don’t know what’s true and what’s been exaggerated out of proportion about BBA’s like Kathleen Hale or Maggie Spence..  But I do know that the authors I admire, the authors I respect, the authors who have inspired and encouraged me . . . well, they don’t answer their reviewers on Amazon.  They don’t argue with book bloggers who don’t like their work.  They don’t write tell-all articles for The Guardian about the time they stalked a reviewer.  They don’t complain about being cyber-bullied or harassed.

They don’t show up in articles about Badly Behaving Authors.

They write.  They write books, and they act with dignity in the face of the occasional bad review or criticism.  They treat fans and detractors alike with equal grace and courtesy.

They act like grown-ups.

I’ve written two books, with a third one almost finished.  They aren’t perfect; I still have a lot to learn.  Of course, I want to “make it big” and be remembered as a great author!  But if people are talking about me twenty years from now, or even fifty years from now, I want them to talk about my books, not my behavior.  I want to be remembered because I made people laugh or cry with my words, not because I acted like an ass in response to criticism.

And since I just got my first 1-star review, I guess it’s time to find some Toblerone and go practice what I preach.

Greetings, Mystery Lovers!

There has been at least one in every generation of my family:  a Reader.  Not someone who merely enjoys reading, but one who lives for those moments of every day that are spent with a book.  One who is at a loss without something to read.  One who often has a hard time stepping out of a book and back into the real world that needs us.  One who might have a hard time choosing between a new book and oxygen if ever forced to choose.

My grandmother and mother were like that.  In my generation, it is my cousin Beckie and me; two of our other cousins married women who read as much as we do, so I am surprised the next generation of our family didn’t emerge from the womb with ISBN numbers stamped on their foreheads.

Mom used to forbid certain books as a sure-fire way of getting me to read them, so I often read things that were probably a bit too mature for me.  However, my favorite books were always those that were part of a series, because I found comfort in slipping back into the familiar worlds created by my favorite authors.

The Hardy Boys.  The Bobbsey Twins.  The Happy Hollisters. Trixie Belden.  I also loved mysteries and puzzles, so these books grabbed me like no others.  I devoured the books, snapping up every one I could find at libraries and garage sales.  When other little girls my age were asking Santa for Barbie Dolls, I begged him to bring me the newest adventure of the fictional characters I had begun to think of as my friends.

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I was seven or eight years old when I discovered Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators and was introduced to a new set of fictional friends.  Unlike the other “kid detectives” I read about, these guys weren’t siblings.  There was no sibling rivalry, no parents stepping in to help solve the case, no repulsively cute younger brothers or sisters in constant need of a rescue.  No romance, no melodrama.  Just three friends solving mysteries with a touch of the supernatural, and of course, Hitch himself was there to give me the tiniest glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, these guys were real.

The series was created by Robert Arthur, beginning with The Secret of Terror Castle in 1964.  William Arden (Dennis Lynds) joined the fun in 1968 with The Mystery of the Moaning Cave.  After Arthur’s death in 1969, Arden was joined by Nick West (Kin Platt) and M.V. (Mary Virginia) Carey, with Marc Brandel jumping in near the series’ end.

Hitchcock made an appearance in each book, introducing the boys and giving hints of the tale we were about to read.   In some books, he became part of the story by introducing them to clients or giving them information to help solve the case, but he usually disappeared until the final scene, when the boys would sit in his office and wrap up any loose ends.

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Hitchcock’s death in 1980 was devastating to the series, but the character of Hector Sebastian was introduced in The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, and Sebastian took over the introductions and closing scene of every book after that.  Many fans felt that this marked the beginning of the downhill slide in quality of the books.  Later “updated” issues of the early books replaced Hitchcock with a fictional Hollywood director named Reginald Clarke.

The First Investigator was Jupiter Jones, described as being very smart and very logical.  He was stubborn and level-headed, and often used long words that confused his friends.  He was a former child actor who sometimes “played dumb” as a way of getting suspects to talk.  But he was also a realistic and somewhat sympathetic character who sometimes made mistakes and even admitted to being stumped from time to time.  He was stocky and unathletic, but never portrayed as a stereotypical fat kid or arrogant genius.

Pete Crenshaw was the Second Investigator, and my favorite character.   He was the athletic one, the one who struggled most to understand the complexities of a case, but once again the various authors avoided stereotyping him.  He was never a dumb jock.  And while he had most of the series’ funny lines, he was never portrayed as a cowardly comic relief character. Pete may have complained about facing danger, but he was almost always the one to take the biggest risks and the first to place himself between his friends and danger.

Bob Andrews, the Records and Research member of the team, was Everyman.  He was the most down-to-earth, relatable character of the three.  While Jupe and Pete both followed their instincts and hunches, Bob was usually the one who showed the most common sense, often voicing the questions that we readers were asking.  Many of the most memorable scenes of the series were told from Bob’s point of view, which makes sense as his character was given the task of recording all of their cases to hand over to Hitchcock (later Sebastian and Clarke).

Bob wore a leg brace for the first few books in the series, having broken his leg in a fall during some pre-series adventure.  He was described as being small and slight, but he never quite crossed that line into being frail or needing protection.   There were a few references to his leg injury for a while, but the character was allowed to recover enough to keep up with his friends as the series moved on.  From the start, his handicap established him as the quiet observer, although he could always be counted on for a snappy comeback or a bit of sarcasm.

Even the secondary characters were memorable, but none ever quite stole the spotlight from the boys. There was Worthington, the British chauffer who drove them around in the gold-plated Rolls-Royce (believe it or not, it really makes sense in the context of the books).  Hans and Konrad, the Bavarian brothers who worked for Jupe’s Uncle Titus while spouting some rally embarrassing Pidgin English that would never be allowed in a book published today.  And Uncle Titus himself, the former circus performer who owned the Jones Salvage Yard that Jupe called home.  Titus’ wife, Aunt Mathilda, who spent her days putting the boys to work, is still a fan favorite, although Allie Jamison will always be my personal favorite of all secondary characters.  She appeared in The Mystery of the Singing Serpent and The Mystery of Death Trap Mine and very nearly took over each time; I was always disappointed that M.V. Carey never spun her off into her own series.

The books were deliberately vague about the boys’ exact age.  The older I got as I read the books, the older I imagined them to be.  We were told that Jupiter took advanced classes and was therefore ahead of the other two in school, and we knew that their rival, Skinny Norris, was able to get his Driver’s License in another state, so it was a pretty safe guess that they were supposed to be around fourteen or fifteen years old.

I read and re-read those books, right up until the series ended in 1987 with book #43, The Mystery of the Cranky Collector.  Random House tried to revive the series with the dreadful Three Investigators Crimebusters reboot and a few equally terrible Find Your Fate books, and then my old friends limped off into obscurity.

I found out later that they actually limped off to Germany, where the series blossomed in ways that it never did here in America.  There were new books, radio broadcasts, and even two really odd movies that bore very little resemblance to the books.

2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Three Investigators, and we fans are still a pretty loyal group.  We have a Facebook page and several websites, most notably The Three Investigators U.S. Editions Collector Site.   There are fanfiction writers creating new adventures of our favorite trio, and of course there are constant discussions about the possibility of reviving the series.   It probably won’t happen, thanks to the tangled mess of rights and ownership between the publisher, authors, and Robert Arthur’s family. But we can still dream.

My nieces and nephews grew up on R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, and my older children have enjoyed everything from The Magic Tree House to Percy Jackson.  I’ve tried to get my youngest nephew interested in The Enigma Club, although he still prefers Encyclopedia Brown or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I wish there was a modern-day Three Investigators series for all of them, but I’m sure they will all look back on their own favorites with the same fondness that my friends and I feel for Jupe, Pete and Bob.

What about you?  What were some of your favorite young adult series books when you were a kid, and which ones would you like to see revived?

Daily Prompt: Dreams and Maple Trees

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a writer.  I was in the early stages of my addiction to the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators series, but I already knew that I wanted to someday join the ranks of M.V Carey, William Arden, and the fabulous Robert Arthur. Oh, I read The Hardy boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and others as well, but it was the Three Investigators that really grabbed me.

My plan was to write the further adventures of Jupiter, Bob and Pete for a few years before creating my own series of juvenile detective novels.  My series was going to include girls and boys, to appeal to readers of both genders.

Over the years, the dream never really died; it just sort of went on the back burner.  There was college, when I decided to major in Education because I wanted something to “fall back on” if a writing career never took off.  Then there was business school when I couldn’t finish college after Mom died, followed by Cosmetology school when I realized that I was the world’s worst secretary.

I kept writing when I had the time or when a story idea hit me, but I just never seemed to finish anything.  I got married, had kids, saw my beloved Three Investigators series come to a close.  I thought that maybe, someday, when the kids were grown and life slowed down, I might actually write my book.

Apparently I needed something to remind me to pay more attention to my dream, and that reminder came in the form of a maple tree falling on my car on a stormy June night two years ago.  When I came home from the hospital, unsure of just how much mobility I was going to get back, my big sister gave me a Netbook.

“Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling you to sit down and finally write that book,” she told me.

And that’s where I am today.  My focus is more on writing Romance than on mysteries, but I am writing every day.  My novel, “Her House Divided” is nearly finished, and I have an opportunity to send it to an agent when it’s done.

It took forty years, a random maple tree, and a broken neck, but I am finally what I wanted to be:  a Writer.

And the Three Investigators?  Well, the series is long gone, but we fans still have each other, and I get to post my Three Investigators fanfiction on the Three Investigtors U.S. Editions Collectors Site.

That’s closer than some people get to realizing their dreams.

I just wish the universe didn’t have to drop a tree on my head  to get me here.

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