Note: This article was originally published in June, 2003, in The Whispered Watchword.
Solving the Mystery of the Missing Detective: Trixie Belden Returns to Print
It's an experience quite a few Trixie Belden fans have had in one way or another: unaware that more than 34 Trixie Belden volumes had ever been published, a young woman was browsing in a used bookstore when a small yellow paperback caught her eye. Not quite believing was she was seeing, she read the title: The Mystery of the Memorial Day Fire, volume 35 of the Trixie Belden series. At first it seemed like a mirage.
"It was this Twilight Zone moment to come across a Trixie Belden book that I'd never even heard of," Jennifer Dussling recalls now. "I thought I knew everything about Trixie Belden!"
A Trixie Belden fan since childhood, Dussling was thrilled with her new find. "I started dreaming about these other Trixie Belden books that I'd never read. I had the most vivid dream that I'd found a lost treasure trove of Trixie Beldens!"
Dreams Come True
In a way, Dussling's dream is coming true. Because she went on to become an editor, first at Golden Books, Trixie Belden's original home, and now at Random House. And this June, Dussling and Random House are making the dreams of many Trixie Belden fans come true: Trixie Belden, out of print for 17 years, is being reissued. No longer will fans have to rely solely on their luck at used book stores or on eBay. Plus, a new generation of readers will have an opportunity to discover the original "Schoolgirl Shamus."
The path to republication for Trixie Belden hasn't been straight or easy. Ironically, for a series that revolves around the cozy, secure home life of Crabapple Farm, Trixie Belden has not had an especially stable publishing home.
Dussling, who joined Golden Books after the series had gone out of print, isn't sure why the company ceased publication of Trixie Belden. No one else at Golden Books was able to say why either. It doesn't seem to have been a matter of poor sales, but rather a poor fit between series and publisher. The Trixie Belden series wasn't typical of Golden's list, which was known for books aimed at a much younger audience.
Additionally, Golden Books was struggling in general. "Golden went through a rocky time from the 1980's on," Dussling says. "Management kept changing and it made it hard to do anything consistently. After several years, Golden lost the foothold in the market for series fiction for older children."
Whatever the company's decision, Dussling reports that Trixie was well known and well-loved by many on the Golden Books editorial staff. "There were four diehard Trixie fans at Golden," she laughs. "We'd get into these long editorial meetings where we were talking about when Jim gave Trixie the bracelet and arguing over who's better, Jim or Dan!"
Trixie's New Home
In 2001, Trixie got a break. Random House acquired Golden Books, including the rights to Trixie Belden. Dussling also moved to Random House, carrying the Trixie torch with her. So far, Random House is turning out to be a "Trixie-friendly" environment. "I have a list on the edge of my computer of Trixie Belden fans at Random House. They're in sales, marketing, publicity," Dussling says. She's even become something of a celebrity among many of the Random House staff, some of whom have approached her to say with a mixture of envy and awe: "You're the Trixie Belden editor!'"
In addition to editorial support, Random House has good reason to believe that reissuing the Trixie Belden series is a sound business decision. "When Random House was assessing the assets of Golden, Trixie Belden came up as an asset that had not been exploited," Dussling observes.
The publishing success of Nancy Drew is an instructive comparison. "The Nancy Drew books sell and sell and here Random House has this terrific girls series languishing on the backlist," Dussling explains. "If they do even half the business of Nancy Drew, it would be a great thing."
As of this writing, the official Random House publication schedule is: The Secret of the Mansion, and The Red Trailer Mystery, June, 2003; The Gatehouse Mystery, July, 2003; The Mysterious Visitor, August, 2003; The Mystery Off Glen Road, and The Mystery in Arizona, May, 2004.
Dussling hopes that Random House will reissue many Trixie Belden volumes, but that will depend on public reception. "Random House is committed to reissuing the first six books," she says cautiously. "There is a possibility that we will do more after that, based on the sales of the first six."
The cover art for the reissued volumes will be by Michael Koelsch, who has been the cover artist for many children's and young adults books. The illustrations, however, will be those of Mary Stevens, which first appeared in the Whitman Dust Jacket (1948 - 1951) and Cellophane (1954 - 1962) editions. Dussling considered attempting to use some of the original cover art, but decided against that for several reasons. For one thing, she found that the cover art was not as consistently strong as she would have liked. Additionally, Trixie's inconsistent publishing history was a hurdle. No single cover art style was used for all 39 volumes. In the end, Dussling decided that new cover art designed to appeal to both collectors and a new generation of readers, would be the best choice.
During her checkered publishing history, Trixie Belden went through a number of editions, with occasional variations in the text. For the republication, Dussling has compared the various editions of the first six books. In most cases, she reports, she has used the text from the "Cello" editions (published from 1954 - 1962).
"I went with the Cello versions because it seemed that mistakes had been corrected by the time they came out. I tried to figure out what the original intention was. Sometimes in the first edition of a work something gets dropped accidentally. Usually, if there's a text correction, it comes from the author. In most cases, if text was added in a later edition when Julie Campbell was still associated with the series, I went with it."
In addition to adjudicating between early editions, Dussling must occasionally make decisions about how to handle the original text when the wording or usage current at the time has become outdated or even, potentially, offensive. Dussling reports that she is navigating these waters with great care.
"As an editor, I'm reluctant to change an author's words when the author is no longer around to approve these changes," she explains. "I just can't know what the author's original intention was. That said, I have made a few changes to the text when something made me and other readers uncomfortable. I have also left things that someone else might have changed if the words did not seem to come across or be intended in a mean-spirited or offensive way. For example, at one point in The Gatehouse Mystery, Mart says to Trixie, 'You look so gay.' I changed this because it could be read as derogatory, though it was surely not intended that way. Later in the book, however, there is a passage that reads: 'Honey informed her with a gay smile,' and I left it alone."
Dussling admits to some trepidation about how Trixie Belden fans, some of whom are notoriously devoted, not to say fanatic, will respond to her decisions. But she takes her obligations to the author very seriously. "Some will think I've done too much and some will think I've done too little. But I have tried to balance my responsibilities to new readers with my responsibilities to longtime fans and, most of all with the obligation I have to an author who can't defend or protect her writing today."
An 'Ideal Series'
Sensitive editorial decisions notwithstanding, Dussing is happy to have a hand in bringing the books back in print. While Dussing used to re-read her 34 Trixie Beldens every two or three years for pleasure, she says that reading the books as an editor has added to her appreciation of the series. "It's the ideal mass market series. The first six books are just brilliant," Dussling declares. "Julie Campbell nurtures the series along in a very brilliant way."
In particular, Dussling points to Campbell's careful introduction of the six characters which become the Bob-Whites of the Glen. "In the first book, there are only three main characters, Jim, Honey and Trixie. She wants Trixie to have brothers, but it would be overwhelming to be introduced to all of those characters in the first book. Mart and Brian have been seeded into the series, but the reader doesn't have to deal with them yet. Diana is introduced in volume #4 (The Mysterious Visitor), but the seeds were there in book #2, The Red Trailer Mystery. She plants these seeds so that when they come in, the reader feels that it's natural and makes sense. As an editor, I appreciate how amazingly well constructed these books are. You can tell the author knew what she was doing when she wrote these books."
Dussling also praises Campbell's skills in characterization. "All of her characters are extremely well-developed and don't fall into clichés and stereotypes. Honey is timid in the beginning, but Campbell throws some other characteristics into the mix: she's an amazing swimmer and equestrian. Those unexpected touches make her more interesting and complex."
Trixie Belden herself is a vivid and unforgettable character with her own mix of qualities: courageous, impulsive, generous, and impatient, she's a far cry from the idealized Nancy Drew. For many, this is a major part of the appeal of the series. Dussling recalls identifying with Trixie Belden as a child. "I could understand Trixie: she got in fights with her best friends and was always trying to get out of her chores and said mean things without thinking and she got scolded in every single book!"
While Trixie's strong personality made her a breakthrough character in the 1950's, nowadays, if you shake a stick near a publishing house, dozens of spunky, imperfect heroines will jump out of the bushes. And, Dussling acknowledges, a new generation of readers will bring different experiences to the books. Crabapple Farm's picture of an idyllic, rural home life, for example, may not be something everyone can relate to.
"Some of today's readers will come to it and adore it and others will put it aside as not contemporary enough," she predicts.
But, she believes that the "period" feel of the series may also be an attraction. "I loved the series as a child in the 1970's, which was already 25 years after it was first published. They already felt slightly dated at that point but I still loved them and I know many others who did. To me, at this point, Little Women is a period piece and Trixie Belden is a period piece. It's the 1950's rather than the 1850's, but it can be read for that period feel in the same way."
In the end, the enduring values, vivid characters, and evocative settings are likely to prove powerful draws for a new generation of readers, who can turn to the books for an experience of shared adventures. "These would be great friends to have," Dussling exclaims. "Not everything is about moving the plot along - sometimes they're just hanging out and toasting marshmallows. I think that circle of friends is really attractive to readers. Trixie is a world you want to be in."
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