If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys mystery series, had reason to feel flush with praise. (As an adult I would learn that Franklin W. Dixon wasn’t, in fact, a real person but a pseudonym for a variety of writers, though most of the original titles were written by Leslie McFarlane.) In the reverse inspiration that would haunt me most of my life, I came to the Hardy Boys books by way of the television show starring Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. By the time I cracked the spine on the blue hardcover of The Tower Treasure, the first book in the series, Frank and Joe Hardy felt like real people to me. Too, I fancied myself a hobbyist detective, the lack of availability of The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook at the Rapid City public library the only deterrent to my becoming a fully-fledged, badge carrying investigator. I had the tools of an amateur sleuth as well, having purchased an ink pad on a trip to the grocery store with my mother in order to finger print certain “suspects” in my fifth grade class, including Ms. Heitkemper, our fetching assistant teacher. My teacher, Miss Kephart, overheard me bragging to Ms. Heitkemper that not only had I read all of the Hardy Boys mysteries, but that I could probably even write one if I wanted to. I might’ve even said I was considering writing a detective novel.
“Do you really think you could write one?” Miss Kephart asked. Most of my classmates, and the population at Knollwood Heights Elementary generally, were afraid of Miss Kephart, a schoolmarmish woman who often dressed in black. If she caught you looking back at the clock during class she’d make you read the stenciled sign she’d hung next to the clock out loud: TIME WILL PASS. WILL YOU?
“Sure,” I said boldly, still laying it on for Ms. Heitkemper.
Miss Kephart offered to help me, volunteering to type up my handwritten pages and to schedule weekly editorial meetings. I had no intention of writing the book, to be sure, but when Miss Kephart asked me about it again later in the week, I sensed her desire to participate in the project. And her desire fed my desire to impress her. If writing a book was something adults respected, then I would endeavor to write one. I agreed to the proposal, handing in my scribbled pages at our meetings Wednesdays after school, Miss Kephart going over the typed version of my offerings from the week before, pointing out redundancies, encouraging me to vary the tagline “he said” to more specific tags, ones like “he suggested” or “he asked” or “he whispered.” By the end of the school year, “The Mystery of Dead Man’s Grave” was complete, ready to go out to publishers. Its rejection from most of the publishing houses in New York was just a taste of what was to come, but the worthiness of the pursuit made an indelible impression on me, freeing me to consider a life spent wondering.