The Newarker Whose Name Is Best Known
Edward Stratemeyer, Creator of "Dave Porter" and
the "Rover Boys," Admired by Boys Wherever
English Is Read -- Nearly Six Million Copies of
His Books Sold -- Story of the Author's
Early Trials and His Later Success.
It was the right place, of course, for "Edward Stratemeyer, Office," was
lettered on the glass panel of the door. But the twelfth floor of a typical New
York office building, a narrow skyscraper far down on Madison avenue,
is hardly where one would expect to find a writer's workshop. Perhaps the
higher the sanctum the fewer interruptions. The twentieth floor failed to
discourage the interviewer. The elevator was running.
The glass paneled door opened into a small outer office railed off conventionally
with a high railing and a little gate. The click of the typewriter keys and the pleasant-faced stenographer who came forward simultaneously with their cessation was all very businesslike, but where was the author? And then a bookcase caught the eye and "Dave Porter" and the "Rover Boys" flashed their familiar titles from the rows of jacketed books and it was instantly clear that no one could be in that inner office but Edward
He sat at his big rolltop desk, after a word of greeting, a tranquil-faced man, with kind, good-humored eyes behind gold-bowed spectacles, and sandy hair just beginning to gray at the temples. He has a curiously deliberate manner of speaking, and one doubts if he has ever been hurried into a decision or given an answer to a question without earnest consideration. A most perfect order and almost austere neatness reigned in this inner office, not even an ink spot marred the fresh blue blotter, not a stray paper
whisked its way across the desk. The proof sheets and cuts for illustrations were piled in orderly rows across the desk top, a bookcase of books stood in one corner, a typewriter table against the wall -- nothing else to indicate the large amount of work that is done there. On the walls hung half a dozen pictures, the original wash drawings of illustrations for the "Dave Porter," "Old Glory" and "Rover Boys" books. The average youngster would give his eyes for one of these, hung in his bedroom.
"What can I do for you?" asked Mr. Stratemeyer, and his manner was as delightfully unhurried as his speech.
A small boy in Newark had long ago settled what the first question should be. "Ask him," had run his simple and comprehensive command. "Ask him how he writes a book!"
So. "How do you write a book?" was submitted to Mr. Stratemeyer.
"For the last three years I've dictated all my work," his quiet, pleasant voice answered evenly. "I've an unusually competent stenographer. The average stenographer, you know, doesn't have much of an idea of punctuating, paragraphing or taking down dialect. I usually dictate two chapters a day. One chapter in the morning, and that is typed while I am at lunch; when I come in I go over it, catch up the thread and dictate the second chapter in the afternoon. This second chapter is typed for me after I've gone home in the afternoon and is ready for me in the morning. I revise as I read, and occasionally throw a chapter into the waste basket and do another. Although my publishers would like me to do more, I write only two books a year now, one for the 'Dave Porter' series and one for the 'Rover Boys.'
And is that all there is to writing a book? Far from it. Persuaded to give details, Mr. Stratemeyer revealed the painstaking foundation of the true book builder.
How Books Are Written
"The first thing I do," explained the author of the most popular series of juveniles ever published in England or America -- the famous 'Rover Boys' books, of which nearly three million copies have been sold to date and for which Mr. Stratemeyer has recently completed the twenty-second volume --"is to make a cast of characters, exactly as a playwright does. I study this cast, and think of it till I personally know my book people. Then, if there is to be a special background, say a geographical or an historical one, I set to work to get that accurate and true. It sometimes means a difficult task to collect the material I want, a tedious study of reference books, biographies, works of travel and histories. In one instance, when I wrote my Pan-American series, I wrote letters to the consuls of various South American countries to get the data I needed. The main characters in all my books are fictitious but the backgrounds, having a fabric of history or geography or science, are authentic.
After the background is arranged for, comes
the plot, Mr. Stratemeyer said. He -usually dictates this at some length,
perhaps filling three or four sheets of manuscript-size paper. This plot-synopsis is marked off into chapters subsequently, "and then, " declared Mr. Stratemeyer "I could almost begin to write at the middle chapter of the book."'
Born in Elizabeth, Mr. Stratemeyer has lived nearly all his life in Newark
and is a New Jersey man through and through. Why, then, the New York
office? The publishers supply the answer. Mr. Stratemeyer, besides his own works, heads a literary bureau and his office is within seven or eight minutes' distance of every worth-while publishing house in the metropolis except the downtown house of Harper. But the creator of "Dave Porter" did not always have an up-to-date office nor dictate his books to a stenographer. There were years of hard work, the inevitable disappointments and discouragements to be lived through first.
The story of a successful writer's first accepted story possesses a certain fascination for his admirers that nothing else quite equals. Mr. Stratemeyer's first story was written on sheets of store wrapping paper and later copied neatly on white paper--and laid away.
The First Story Sold
"It ran about eighteen thousand words," said its author reminiscently,
"and my father told me I was wasting my time and might better be doing
something useful. I had to send that story out [illegible] and I finally [illegible]ed
the editors of Golden Days, a young people's weekly published in Philadelphia,
to judge it. When I received a letter telling me that they were reading it and asking what I would take for it I was elated. I wanted more than anything else to see it in print. The editors of Golden Days sent me a check for $75 for the story."
Mr. Stratemeyer smiled his one-sided smile that is at once odd and attractive.
"If I hadn't wanted to use the money I would have framed that check!" he confessed whimisically. "Well, I took it uptown, where my father was in business, and found him reading the newspaper.
"'Look at this!' I said.
"My father looked at the slip of paper and pushed up his glasses.
"'Why, it's a check made out to you.'
"'They paid me that for writing a story.' I explained proudly.
"'Paid you that for writing a story?' repeated my father.
'Well, you'd better write a lot more for them.'"
Not long after this first story was sold the young
Edward Stratemeyer adopted a pen name. Perhaps, like many youthful
writers, he preferred to hide his light under a bushel until such
time as he should be assured of a steady blaze. This pen name is the
name under which the "Rover Boys" series is written, "Arthur M. Winfield." Mr. Stratemeyer's mother suggested the Winfield and also selected the surname [sic] of Arthur as appropriate to her son's aspirations to become an author. Mr. Stratemeyer put in the M. as the name was builded.
"'M' is for millions," his mother said. "Perhaps some day you will sell a million of your books."
Over six million copies of Mr. Stratemeyer's books have been sold, it is estimated.
For many busy years "Arthur M. Winfield" and Edward Stratemeyer
drove a prolific pen. Stories and serials, six or seven novelettes for older readers are to his credit, but in the main stories for young people's publications, Golden Days and the old Frank Munsey Argosy, when it was a five-cent weekly for boys, and, later, the books for boys which were to be his big field. Younger readers always appealed to Mr. Stratemeyer and in those early days of his career the series of holiday stories he wrote for the Sunday Call were written with this interest in view. Mr. Stratemeyer also edited several publications for young people at various times, but gradually the boys' books crowded out the other work and he gave himself up wholly to the writing he had always loved best.
A Boyish Dream
It is not given to many men to have their boyish dream come true.
Edward Stratemeyer realized his when, at the death of "Oliver Optic,"
the latter's publishers put into Mr. Stratemeyer's hands the dead
author's unfinished manuscript and the boy who had read and reread
the "Oliver Optic" books and thought that to write such tales was the finest thing a man could ever do finished "Oliver Optic's" last book.
Horatio Alger, Jr., was another hero
of the boy Stratemeyer, and early in the younger writer's career he met Alger and they became warm friends. When Horatio Alger, Jr., died his sister gave his unfinished material to Mr. Stratemeyer, who completed and put into shape some of the last books Alger began.
That Mr. Stratemeyer is fond of boys goes without saying. He has no sons of his own, a wife and two daughters making up his family. But a host of boys all over the country are his firm friends. They write him letters and read his books, and the popularity of his volumes proves that he has solved the secret of what boys like to read.
"They look for a certain something in my books, something I can't
describe," Mr. Stratemeyer said, discussing his youthful readers
[illegible] I must see that it is there or they will be disappointed. Horatio Alger once told me that the critics accused him of a sameness of writing -- that all his books were pretty much alike. 'I've found out what the boys who read my books like,' Alger declared to me, 'and I'm going to put it there. I'm not going to risk disappointing my books and having them feel that I've fooled them for the sake of winning a reputation for versatility.'
"I think we are all like the boys," Mr. Stratemeyer concluded with
finality. "We read a book of William Dean Howells because we hope to
find it Howellesque. The young girl wants George Barr McCutcheon's
every book to be like 'Graustark.' We feel cheated if we pick up a
favorite author's new book and find it like nothing he ever wrote
Which point of view might be pondered seriously by the
What do the boys write to the man who wrote "Dave Porter" and the "Rover Boys?"
Well, for one thing, they're very apt to ask for Dave Porter's address! Then, they've been known
to ask for the location of "Oak Hall" and "Putnam Hall" the two famous schools of
the two famous series. And the week after a new book is published they
write to say that they've read the last book and please when will there be
another one? And when Mr. Stratemeyer was 3,500 miles from home one summer in
Vancouver, British Columbia he met a San Francisco lad who saw his name
on the hotel register and instantly identified him as the man who wrote
the "Dave Porter" books and the "Old Glory" and "Colonial" series.
The author has
a fund of these stories of boys who tell him with all their eager young hearts in their
eyes that they've read all his books and they're fine and won't he hurry and write
more. This involuntary boyish homage -- sincere, enthusiastic,
not easily won -- is
evidently very sweet to Mr. Stratemeyer and valued above the material success his 120
volumes have brought him.
As a Business Man
But the success is there, you say. True, and the boys did not entirely monopolize the
conversation. The quiet atmosphere of leisure which Mr. Stratemeyer still courteously
maintained tempted a few general questions. There was the efficient stenographer and
modern office, and his self-confessed office hours of ten to twelve and
two to four. A writer with an office and office hours!
"Must the successful writer be a good business man?" Surely that was a fair query to put to the man who is both.
Mr. Stratemeyer smiled.
"What do you call a successful writer?" he countered.
This was difficult to answer, and he came to the rescue.
"If by success you mean a writer who 'arrives' and makes money," he said, "I should certainly say he
must be a good business man. Many writers do wonderful work but lack the talent to place it properly.
An author can help the publisher, if he only knows it, by suggesting new and practical ways to help
market his book. An author who is also a good business man is not afraid to offer suggestions, and
he will find publishers are interested in new ideas for marketing books. Fully 25 per cent of the books
published today are published at a loss, or next door to it."
Mr. Stratemeyer draws up his own publishing contracts. For nearly thirty years he has made a living by writing. His publishers characterize him as eminently successful. That he knows the market thoroughly and has studied it from every angle was evidenced by his shrewd comment on the limited field offered
the writer of girls' books.
"The little girl begins at perhaps 7 years of age to read the 'girls' books' written for her," he said. "By the time she is 12 she is ready for the 'best seller' and will have nothing else. A boy will cling to the boys' books till he is 15 or 16, often older."
One more question waited.
"Do you think one can learn to write or must there be an inborn talent?"
Mr. Stratemeyer considered.
"I believe authors are born, not made, " he answered. "Of course there must be some attention paid to style, and it is absolutely essential to learn the rudiments of writing, but aside from that I think one must have the instinct."
And then the instinct of common politeness suggested that that was enough to ask of any one author in one day.
Newark Sunday Call, December 9, 1917