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Interviews mit William Arden
+++ Summer 2002 +++

William Arden, also known as Dennis Lynds, the famous American author of crime and mystery fiction, was the first novelist asked to write a Three Investigators book when Robert Arthur was still alive, and he created thirteen Three Investigators books plus the debut of the Crimebusters series since then: The Moaning Cave, The Laughing Shadow, The Crooked Cat, The Shrinking House, Phantom Lake, The Dead Man's Riddle, The Dancing Devil, The Headless Horse, The Deadly Double, Shark Reef, The Purple Pirate, The Smashing Glass, Wrecker's Rock and Hot Wheels. Dennis answered our questions by email. This is the original version of the interview which has been already published in a German translation..

How did you get the chance writing 3I books?
I got the chance because Bob was getting tired and not feeling too well. Random wanted more books than he felt he could write in the time involved, so he wrote to the publisher of Renown Publications who suggested me. We already knew each other more or less, and so he wrote me and we worked out a deal.
Why did you choose William Arden as your name for the 3I author? Does this name have a special meaning?
No, it was a pen-name I was already using on an adult series of mine, and I took it from a milk truck that delivered milk on the street where we lived in Montecito---a rural suburb of Santa Barbara.
Did you know Robert Arthur or even Alfred Hitchcock personally?
Yes, I knew Bob Arthur fairly well, and no none of us met Hitchcock --- he really did nothing but sell his name to Random for a percentage of each book. The authors wrote his messages.
What exactly do you mean by saying "I knew him fairly well"? Have you ever seen him? Or just talked on the phone? Letters? I assume no photograph of you and Robert Arthur together does exist?
It means that I met Bob Arthur in New York a few times before he asked me to work on the 3Is. We did not meet to work on the books, but wrote and telephoned. There is no picture, alas.
Before Robert Arthur had written his last 3I book, you wrote Moaning Cave. Did he tell you what he felt about this book? Did you like your first book? Were you satisfied with it?
Bob liked Moaning Cave a lot. Said it sounded like him. I liked it, the first book you do in someone elses's series is always the one that most closely resembles the original writer.
Writing Crimebusters, you had to follow explicit orders summed up in a series bible. Were there any detailed instructions, how Alfred Hitchcock had to be depicted or was it just: "You know Alfie's image, just match it"? What do you think: how important was his role regarding the success of the series in the United States and abroad? Do you know, if he ever commented the series?
In Bob's series bible there were many specific details, but basically I was simply told to read a few and get the feel, including the Hitchcock intro. Mostly, the details were about who the boys were, what their families were like, all the stuff about the junkyard and the hidden Headquarters trailer, and the other running characters.
Hitchcock was immensely important overseas, obviously, and I think was here too at first at least, the change didn't seem to hurt for a time after they dropped his name, but the series did end over here. (Mostly, I think, because of incredibly bad decisions and management by Random House. I don't think they should ever have gone in trade paperback only. They copied a Hardy Boys series that did the same, and that series failed too.)
Since there is a couple of Alfred Hitchcock introductions that are almost equal (everything but one sentence is the same) I'd like to ask you if you - the authors - had written the introduction by yourselves? Or has Random House made that job for you?
I'm not sure what you mean. Each of the authors wrote each of the AH introductions, and later the Hector Sebastian ones, ourselves. Over here, each should be different, although similar. Later, of course, RH rewrote all the AH ones as Hector Sebastians here. So what may have happened is that someone at RH simply recycled ones we did for AH and subsituted them for the Sebastians we did here.
Were you and Mrs Carey friends? How did you meet the first time? She wrote her books about at the same time as you did. Did you have the incentive to write better books as she did? Did you like or dislike her books? What do you say about the story of Monster Mountain?
I never met Mary Carey, didn't know for years that she lived only 25 miles away. We all tried to write much better books than The Hardy Boys. I liked many of hers, not all. Don't ask about specific titles of the others at this late date! I have no indea what Monster Mountain was about without looking it up.
Were there any problems with Random House? For example a part of the story you had to drop or change or add?
All the time. I think I already mentioned, or it's in the interview, that after Crooked Cat I stopped trying to write 3I books because I couldn't get Jenny or Walter Retan to approve an outline for over a year and so gave up. About a year after that, maybe a little more, they had to come back to me because Carey and West were having trouble --- probably Nick West who was actually the adult writer Kin Platt --- and they needed a book FAST. Luckily, they liked my first outline (maybe they had to) and I wrote Shrinking House and we were back on track. The layoff probably did us all good.
Are there any titles of a book Random House didn't like and ordered you to change it? If yes, what was the original title?
I'm sure there were, Jennie Fanelli and I tended to hammer out each book with many discussions and disagreements before I even started writing --- it all happened in the outline. But I can't remember any specific title now. (I think we had a lot of trouble with Dead Man's Riddle, that doesn't sound like one of my titles.)
Leonore Puschert was the woman, who translated all the books into German. Franckh-Kosmos allowed her to change many important things. Most of the books have a complete different title than the original ones. For instance, Dead Man's Riddle changed into Dangerous Heritage, or Crooked Cat became Black Cat; does this sound more like you?
Not especially, but its been so long I have no idea at all what I wanted to call it --- remember all our books were The Mystery or The Secret of something.
Did you like the character Skinny Norris? You didn't use him very often?
I actually liked Skinny, and did use him a few times early, but he was one-dimensional and I decided to phase him out --- he was getting too repetitious.
Is there an extraordinary incident that inspired you to write a certain 3I book? Or any inspiration for a certain title or story?
All writers have a thousand ideas they want to write about but will never get to. Each of us has our particular lines of interest, and I couldn't say at this late date what inspired each book. If you analyze my whole body of books you will see certain definite lines of interest that differ from those of Arthur or Carey --- for example, history, social conditions, etc.
Writing a 3I book did you ever tell your wife what it was about? Did you want to know her comment or listen to her advises? What about the opposite way? Did she ask you for some hints or something?
I was married to a different woman at the time I wrote most of the 3I books, and she had no interest in what I wrote until it was published if then. Gayle is a fellow writer, and sure we do.
Do you know anything about the Hitchcock problem in 1980? At the end of the Seventies Alfred Hitchcock had ceased to direct any movies - he hadn't vanished out of publicity's mind, but he made only little appearances in public. No doubt, you knew, he was old and ill, and sooner or later it had to end. Was Random House prepared for that? In 1980, no 3I book has been published, but surely they must have been planned - maybe one of them was already in print? Did you have to rewrite your next book, the Purple Pirate? Was there a moment, when everybody thought: 'This was it, we can't continue the series anymore?'
Those are questions you'd have to ask Jennie Fanelli, but as I recall it was sudden, and I did have to rewrite the intro on one, I don't really remember which, but I think Carey was caught shorter and had to do the first Hector Sebastian. You'd know more about that now than I would. As I recall, I had no input into Sebastian, but was asked what I thought. It seemed fine to me, no harder or easier than doing Hitchcock intros, and it meant more money for us especially from overseas. If anyone in NY was worried when Hitchcock died, they didn't mention it to me.
Were M.V. Carey and you involved in the discussion of what should happen after Hitchcock's death? Was it your idea, creating a fictitious character, the mystery writer Hector Sebastian? But speaking of it, you already HAD created a mystery writer, John Crowe, who met the Three Investigators in Shark Reef, the last book before Hitchcock died ... Did you bring in Crowe, in case Hichcock had to be replaced, or was it just a pun with your pen-name? What's your opinion of Hector Sebastian? Did he alter the mood and the atmosphere of the series? What do you think of the German way of dealing with the problem: reviving Hitchcock - no matter how long he's dead?
As I said, I had no real input, just asked to comment and approve. Remember, Carey and I never even met. No, I don't think Sebastian changed a thing, the early sense of being sort of close to Hollywood had already gone after the first few books. I think the Germans made the right decision for their readers and their market. Obviously, they did everything right. Unlike Random House here.
Why did Random House engage Marc Brandel?
I have no idea. As I said, I, at least, found it often hard to please Jenny, and get the outline approved. I think they just wanted more writers just in case. After all, I had quit once, before they begged me to come back when they had an emergency. I found Brendel's book about the beached whale poor, mainly because no such thing could have happened in California. We are incredibly protective of whales and seals.
Have you been asked to write one of those Find Your Fate stories?
In your bibliography we find a book called The Mystery of the Blue Condor. What's it about?
It's a short little book for much younger kids, I wrote it for a special educational series that I think was first published by Ginn & Co. It's a mystery, and is pretty simple.
Did you revise your books when Hitchcock was kicked out of the first thirty books? Some bits of the language have been modified and modernized too, haven't they? Did it bother you?
No, I never changed a line. Someone else, probably Jennie herself, rewrote them.
What is your favorite 3I book of yours, and which do you think do you like least?
I really have no favorite, each one had a unique pleasure for me, a unique set of inventions. My daughter's favorite was Purple Pirate because she loved the hapless amusement park. I have no least, but my old editor at Random was never pleased with Crooked Cat. I rather enjoyed that book a great deal, it was perhaps a little more "real" than most of the others.
Have you read all the other 3I stories? What do you think of your wife's 3I books?
Yes, I read the others, enjoyed most of them, although I was never fond of the late ones by Marc Brandel --- the plot of Kidnapped Whale could NEVER ever have happened in California. Gayle's books are excellent, if not as good as her own books. She quickly understood that Random didn't REALLY want to age the boys. They wanted their cake and eat it too --- the appearance of updating without actually doing it. Something I failed to grasp, as you can really tell from Hot Wheels. Jenny Fanelli never did like another of my ideas for the updated series --- too really young adult.
More than ten years have passed since your last 3I book was published. How many letters do you get from fans these days?
At the height of the series it varied with the release of the book, and most noticebly with the time of year --- the kids often wrote because they had been given a class assignment to write about their favorite book and that was one of the 3I books. On the average maybe ten a month at the peak. Now, of course, I rarely get a letter at all. Random hadn't put out a new edition in ten years or more until the recent reissue of the first 11. As I believe I told you, I doubt they will issue any more. Their only interest is keeping the rights in Bob Arthur's books from reverting to his son and daughter.
Are you sad that you can't write any 3I books any more?
I wouldn't say I felt sad, I have plenty of my own work to keep me happy, but I do think the german publishers are missing a bet in not having Gayle and I do books for them. Mostly me as the second to write one, and possibly the only surviving early author, and Gayle is very busy on her own books.
Are you having any contacts with the son and daughter of Robert Arthur?
Elizabeth contacted me a few times about TV and movies, but my legal position is nothing like hera. She owns the rights to the characters, which is why Franckh-Kosmos has to pay her for every book. I own nothing. All the other authors beside Bob worked for Random House, and they own those books. They have to pay me if they reissue my books, but I have no stake in any subsidiary rights except overseas publication of MY books.
Talking of TV and movies: rumours are regularly spreading, that a T3I series is planned and going to be aired over the next years. The more we think about it, the clearer it seems, that Random House could have had this in mind and designed both the structure and the plots of the Crimebusters series in a certain way, that it would be a lot easier to adopt it to the TV format ...
Various TV and movie projects have been coming and going for many, many years. They are real enough, but none of them ever got the stage of being joined by someone here who could actually get them done --- which means get someone to put up genuine money and a professional producer. A man with a movie and/or TV project came to talk to me last year. He was gracious, enthusiastic, dedicated, eager, and bought me lunch and told me his ideas. I advised him, and told him I'd be glad to work with him anytime --- for some money. That was the last I heard from him. It may actually happen some day, but it will take an established producer with money or the clout to get money. As for me knowing what is happening, alas, I am probably the LAST who would hear. You see, I OWN no rights in the books, except for reissues of the same novels. The only ones who own anything are Elizabeth Arthur and her brother, and Random House.
What's your opinion of the Hardy Boys and other popular series books created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate?
Gayle read them, especially Nancy Drew, when she was a child, but, oddly, I never did. I was more into Tom Swift, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and outgrew them pretty fast. As adults we find the Hardy Boys simplistic, not very imaginative, and not very well written.
I have one question to Shrinking House you wrote. The missing picture painted by François Fortunard has much similarities to the picture The Tower of Blue Horses painted by Franz Marc. Did you relate your painting in Shrinking House to the one by Marc? The descriptions are the same. And it is indeed missing since 1945. Some people think it was burnt in the fires in Berlin in WW2. Some people think it was just stolen in this time.
As for The Tower Of Blue Horses, absolutely I had that painting in mind. Franz Marc was and is one of my favorite painters, and I had a print of the painting on my wall for years. In fact, I loved all the Blue Rider work, Marc and Kandinsky, but while Kandinsky was well known even then, and Marc less so because, I expect, he died so young, so Marc was my favorite. I'd forgotten I used The Tower of Blue Horses.
The 3I are very popular here. You probably don't know, but Dead Man's Riddle was elected on the internet by German fans as the most popular book of the 3I. They call it "the holy 17" (17 is the number of Dead Man's Riddle in the German radio play series). In my opinion Phantom Lake for example is way better.
They probably like the cockney rhyming slang. I learned it from my father, who was a Londoner. I like Phantom Lake very much too with its aura of the Scottish Highlands.
What do you say about the US Covers in general? Favorite one?
The American covers tend to be more pedestrian, and even misleading in being so realistic --- that is, the Headless Horse really without a head, where it would have been better if it were shrouded in fog. Oddly, I think my favorite is the last -- Wrecker's Rock. I also liked Laughing Shadow and Dancing Devil. Purple pirate is also good.
What do you say about the German cover paintings by Aiga Rasch? Do you like them? Which one do you like most?
All the German covers are very good, probably better than the American, and I especially like Dancing Devil --- They are more "modern", sort of Bauhaus influenced.
We know very little of the sales figures of the series. You received royalties from every country, so what was your impression: In which nation did the biggest fans of the series live?
That's easy --- Germany! Judging only by our royalties. England was probably next, then France.
Have you ever been in Germany?
Alas, the only time I set foot in Germany was not a pleasant experience --- December-January 1944-45, as an eighteen year old rifleman in the American 12th Armored Division. For a long time I had no particular desire to return, even though my supposed second language is German, of which I now know sehr klein. In recent years I have been to France and England a few times because I was invited and someone paid for it, but my German publishers, mostly Ullstein for my adult books as Michael Collins, never invited me. I'll get there someday.
Questions by the team.
Links of special interest:
Michael Morley: Dennis Lynds. An Interview with a Juvenile Series Author (1995)
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