Friday, December 26, 2014


Do you remember which author turned you on to reading with a passion? From the time I learned to sound out words, I’ve loved reading. When I became mesmerized, though, was in fourth grade when I discovered Nancy Drew mysteries. How could I not love an author who drew me to follow in her footsteps?

The person I’m featuring today is not western, but she influenced a great many writers who have become western authors, including me. Under the name Carolyn Keene, Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew mysteries. I had no idea, however, that she wrote many more young adult series. In addition to being a journalist, she was a prolific fiction author.

Mildred Wirt Benson, Journalist and YA Author

Benson was born Mildred Augustine on 10 July 1905 in Ladora, Iowa to Lillian and Dr. J. L. Augustine. She earned her degree in English from the University of Iowa in 1925, returned and earned her master's degree in journalism in 1927, the first student to do so there. She worked for 58 years as a journalist. She married Asa Wirt, who worked for Associated Press, and, after Wirt's death in 1947, married George A. Benson, editor of the Toledo Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio three years later; he died in 1959.

The character of Nancy Drew was dreamed up by Edward Stratemeyer, who provided an index card plot outline to Ms Benson. She took the plots supplied by the Stratemeyer and created an imaginative world of suspense that has thrilled young readers for many years. Wirt was the first ghostwriter to expand Edward's roughly-drafted Nancy Drew plots, writing the first five books. Texts were then edited and rewritten as required, and the Syndicate approved and had all final books published under the Syndicate's name. Subsequent Nancy Drew stories (with some exceptions), for which Wirt provided text, were all re-written by Edna Stratemeyer Squier and, primarily, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, after their father's death in 1930.

Published book rights for the Nancy Drew series were owned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and are currently owned by Simon & Schuster. As with all syndicate ghostwriters, Benson was paid a flat fee of $125 at first and later up to $500 for each text, plus a Christmas bonus. At Edward Stratemeyer's death, under the terms of his will, all Syndicate ghostwriters, including Benson, were sent one fifth of the equivalent of the royalties the Syndicate had received for each book series to which they had contributed.

Ms. Benson was only 24 years old when she wrote the first book, THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK. She did not churn out a mystery every six weeks as has been rumored. According to her website, the time varied from just a couple of weeks to up to a month or 6 weeks depending on scheduling and how quickly the publisher needed the book. Also according to her website, her favorite of her Nancy Drew books was THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE. How I longed to find a hidden staircase or an attic filled with forgotten treasures. Never happened, but you probably guessed as much, right?

The Nancy Drew books originally had 25 chapters and about 200 pages. In addition to 30 of that series, Mildred Wirt Benson authored 14 Kay Tracey books as Frances Judd, 18 Penny Parker books (which she told a reporter was her favorite) as Mildred A. Wirt, 16 Dana Girls books as Carolyn Keene, 4 Penny Nichols books as Joan Clark, 3 Connie Carl books as Joan Clark, and 3 Madge Sterling as Ann Wirt. In all, she wrote 135 books under a dozen or so names while working full time as a journalist.

Ms Benston was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in 1993 and into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2001, Benson received a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her contributions to the Nancy Drew series. After retiring, in December 2001, she scaled back to a monthly column. She died at the age of 96 from lung cancer 28 May 2002. Mildred Benson was at work doing what she loved until the very last, they way she would have wanted it. 

I'm grateful to Ms Benson for the part she played in encouraging me toward creating and writing my stories. 

Caroline Clemmons is an award winning and Amazon bestselling author, One of her 2014 releases is MAIL ORDER TANGLE, a two book duet written with Jacquie Rogers. Hers is the first in the duet, MAIL ORDER PROMISE and Ms Rogers wrote MAIL ORDER RUCKUS. The Amazon buy link is

Another box set in which she has recently participated is WILD WESTERN WOMEN. This set of five western historical novellas contains stories by Kirsten Osbourne, Callie Hutton, Sylvia McDaniel, Merry Farmer, and Caroline Clemmons. Right now the set is only 99 cents, but the price will increase very soon. The Amazon link is:

1 comment:

  1. Caroline, I just now realized this post was here. What an inspiring life Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson lived! As a journalist who writes fiction whenever she can squeeze in a few minutes, I'm sincerely awed by her productivity.

    Thank you for sharing her story. Mildred's creative life gives me hope for my own. :-)

    BTW: You're no slouch in the productivity department, either -- and you produce wonderful, transportive tales. HUGS!!!!


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