Vintage Letters from the
Random House T3I Files

M.V. Carey
Sometime in October of 1969, Mary Virginia Carey was in New York and had an opportunity to visit or speak with Mr. Richard A. Krinsley of Random House.  Mr. Krinsley worked at Random House from 1961 - 1983 and served as a vice-president of the company before leaving for Scholastic books.  The following letters tell the rest of the story:


Letters #1 and #2, dated November 8, 1969.  Both letters typed by Ms. Carey and sent from her Los Angeles address, one to Mr. Krinsley, the other to Mr. Retan, at Random House in NYC.

Letter #1.
Dear Mr. Retan:

A couple of weeks ago, I had a talk with Mr. Krinsley and he suggested that I might try sample chapters and an outline for a Three Investigators adventure.

Enclosed are three chapters and an outline for THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS.  The title has been pre-tested.  It was selected by a committee of four nieces and nephews, all the right age.  As we know, committees make sound decisions.
Webmasters note: In the margin to the immediate left of the above sentence, Walter Retan (most probably) penned in an exclamation point and question mark.

I noticed a tendency of Jupe to talk as if reading from the annals of some learned society.  I assume you do not wish this changed, since you seem to have a good thing going.

The tragic royal family in the story is, of course, the Romanov family.  If you like the story and do not feel that it would make anyone nervous, it would be interesting to go into more detail on the Romanovs.  It is feasible that someone escaped from Russia with an ancient crown.  Several Romanovs did get away.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
(signed)
Mary Carey


Letter #2
Dear Mr. Krinsley:

Enclosed is a carbon of my letter to Mr. Retan, and a copy of the outline and of the first three chapters of a Three Investigators book.  Thank you for suggesting this.  The boys are fun.  So is that marvelous junkyard and that permissive chief of police.

I am sorry I have not been able to find the first of the books.  I assume this tells how the whole thing got started.  The Pickwick in Hollywood is reordering, they tell me, so perhaps I shall soon know.

New York was a delight, but I am so grateful for the cost-of-living situation here that I raised my own rent this month.  I want to keep my landlady happy.  She is happy -- she sent over the handy man to caulk the bathtub, which has only needed it for eight years.  Travel improves everyone, I think.

Again, thank you.

Sincerely,
(signed)
Mary Carey




Letter #3, dated January 8, 1970.  A three page letter from Walter Retan (now the Division Vice President of Random House Juvenile Books) in NYC to Mrs. Carey in Los Angeles.

Dear Mrs. Carey:

I am sorry to have been so long in writing you about THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS, but I have been in a rather awkward situation with regard to the series.  Before you talked to Mr. Krinsley I had already gotten involved with another author [Kin Platt] whom I had approached about continuing Bob Arthur's work.  I kept thinking, from day to day, that the situation would be shortly resolved; but rather complicated contractual negotiations delayed him in providing me with sample material.  The situation has finally been clarified, however, and his story lines and sample chapters have proved very satisfactory.  As a result, we are going to go ahead with him.

Despite this fact, we are extremely impressed with the way you have taken Bob Arthur's characters and brought them to life with even more characterization than Bob had.  You have also used good variations in the way you have introduced characters and set the background of your story.  We were very pleased, for instance, that you had taken real advantage of Aunt Mathilda and used her much more than she has been used in any previous story despite her enormous potential as a good character.  You have also caught the breezy kind of style that is needed.

The plot, however, strikes us as very thin.  We like the character of the Potter very much, and the idea of bringing a sister-in-law and nephew to visit him is good.  (We think you could build up the nephew, Tom, as an even more important character.)  The villains and their motivations and inter-connections seem the weakest part of the story.  I also think it is a mistake to have the Potter turn out to be a robber.  Partly it's a continuation of the stereotyped idea that eccentric people aren't to be trusted; even more, in children's books it isn't a good idea to have a sympathetic character be criminal, especially if he isn't going to have to pay for his crime.

There is presently a lack of suspense and dramatic incident in the book.  In some chapters almost nothing happens to advance the mystery; instead, almost every chapter should have some suspenseful incident or cliff-hanging situation.  We don't want it overdone as in the Hardy Boys books, where the writer puts in an exciting incident whether or not it has anything to do with the story; but there should be a great deal more intrigue and mystery and much richer plotting--that is, more interwoven themes.

I think you could do much more with the deposed royal family; in fact, I was expecting them to be some integral part of the conspiracy.  For instance, the Potter might be a distant relative though it would perhaps be difficult to accomplish that without his sister-in-law knowing about the family connection.  Perhaps he was a close friend of a member of the family and was entrusted with hiding the crown.  Another faction of the family might be trying to get it back, while another unscrupulous group could have gotten wind of the heirloom and be trying to find it for their own gain.

At present the only two really unusual or dramatic incidents are the flaming footprints and the scene where the boys are locked in the cellar.  The reader first hears about the footprints second hand instead of experiencing the drama himself.  Could one of the boys be present when they first appear?  You should think of some more gimmicks or intriguing mysterious happenings in addition to the footprints.  The events can be somewhat outlandish as long as they remain credible within the framework of the story.

I wouldn't identify the Romanov family specifically, but I think you could well build up that aspect of the plot.  The idea of a crown is good, too.  If you were to retain the chief villain, I think he should be more of a crook instead of someone who has gained respectable stature.  It isn't convincing that such a person would risk his reputation in the way he does.

In line with "thickening the plot," I think the reader knows more or less the solution of the mystery too early.

I'm attaching a copy of the outline on which we've written some specific queries and comments.  These aren't meant to be taken as a basis for the revision.  We just wanted to point out some things which bothered us in order to give you some idea of what to watch out for in a revised outline.

I hope that all these criticisms won't be too discouraging because we do feel you have done such a good job of rounding out characterizations of the regular series characters, and your writing syle is excellent.  We would very much like to encourage you to try a revised outline.  If you could develop one that seemed right, we would be glad to publish it even though we have committed ourselves to a regular schedule with the other writer.  It is always helpful to have an "extra" book to fall back on; and we have learned that it is difficult for one writer to keep coming up with ideas.

I do feel I should tell you that, alas, we cannot offer a very big royalty.  Unfortunately, we pay a rather large amount to Mr. Hitchcock for obvious reasons and we are also obligated to pay a percentage to Robert Arthur's estate for use of the characters and situations created by him.  We can offer you an advance against royalty of $1500.00 to be paid half upon the submission of a satisfactory outline and sample chapters, and half upon receipt of the finished, publishable manuscript.  This is against a royalty of 2 1/2% of net receipts.  I might add, though, that sales for the series have been excellent.

I think that part of the reason for the good sales has come from the fact that we have tried to keep the quality of the books superior to the standard syndicate-written mystery series that are on the market.  As a result, they are recommended by Library Journal and purchased by school libraries for use with kids who tend to be reluctant readers unless they get a really exciting story to lure them into reading.

I look forward to hearing from you and do want to encourage you to take another try.  We will keep for reference one copy of the original outline and sample chapters until we know your decision.  I'm returning the original herewith.

Sincerely,
(no signature)
Walter Retan





Letter #4, dated January 11, 1970.  A one page, typed letter sent from Ms. Carey in Los Angeles to Walter Retan at Random House in NYC.

Dear Mr. Retan:

I am not discouraged!  I am not discouraged!

I will have a new outline for FLAMING FOOTPRINTS in a week.  Or possibly ten days.

If we can't make the Potter a robber, we can turn him into an old family retainer.  They are always nice, and are becoming so rare these days.  In which case perhaps Tom Jr. can be the last survinving member of the doomed royal family.  His mother wouldn't have to know it.  Husbands don't tell their wives everything.  (Would I want to marry a grand duke?  Certainly not!  Far too risky!)

With best wishes,

Sincerely,
(signed) Mary Carey





Letter #5, dated January 19, 1970.  A one page, typed letter sent from Ms. Carey in Los Angeles to Walter Retan at Random House in NYC.

Dear Mr. Retan:

Enclosed is a revised outline for the THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS.  I am somewhat horrified that it runs to 33 pages; I hope that in my eagerness to plug up all the loopholes I have not gotten carried away.  But it is double spaced, which should make for easier reading and commenting.

One comment on the first outline was that we should learn what chemicals made the footprints at the end of the story.  I am against this, not because it would be difficult to mix up a batch of incendiary footprints, but because it would be horribly easy.  Plain old denatured alcohol, which you use to thin shellac, will burn in this way.  I know, because I once set my hand on fire with some of it.  It burns with a blue flame, and you can smother the fire without destroying your hand if you act quickly enough.  All you would have to do is thicken it with something like rubber cement (denatured alcohol is awfully runny) and there you are!  I think it would be far better to have the solution remain a mystery -- something not available to ordinary folk.  Otherwise we might inspire mischief which could be tragic.

If you like the outline, I would like to do as one of the sample chapters the one in which we review the assassination of the royal family.  I think it may be a challenge to dispose of an entire family without getting too much gore into the book -- or on the walls of the state dining room!

With best wishes,

Sincerely,
(signed) Mary Carey





Letter #6, dated April 6, 1970.  One page, typed, sent from Mary Carey in Los Angeles to Walter Retan at Random House in NYC.

Dear Mr. Retan:

I suppose it is remotely possible that you did not see "Peanuts" yesterday.  Enclosed is the strip from the L.A. Times.

Has there been any reaction yet to the revised outline on THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS?  I thought we took care of the king rather neatly in that; we killed him off before the story began.

With best wishes,

Sincerely,
(signed) Mary Carey





Letter #7, dated April 13, 1970.  One page, typed, sent from Eugenia Frisse at Random House in NYC to Mary Carey in Los Angeles.

Dear Mrs. Carey:

Yes, and what about the king?  I'm afraid that he and his story are resting in my in-box.  Walter Retan asked me several weeks ago if I would write to you about THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS (I work on the Three Investigators Series, too).  But work on books in progress has been so hectic that I haven't had a chance to collect our thoughts.

Briefly, I can say now that your revised proposal is an improvement on the first one, but that things are still not right.  The plot needs more development, and too much information is filled in at the very end.  Walter and I are both unhappy about having Tom turn out to be the royal heir.

As soon as I can, I'll get back to you with more detailed comments and some suggestions.  In the meantime, please bear with us.  We do think, as before, that your proposal shows much promise, and we hope we can work out a mutually satisfactory plot.

Thank you for your patience.

Sincerely yours,
(not signed)
Eugenia Frisse
Managing Editor
Books for Boys and Girls





Letter #8, dated May 4, 1970.  One page, typed, sent from Mary Carey in Los Angeles to Eugenia Frisse at
Random House in NYC.

Dear Miss Frisse:

About the king --

Would it be rather fun to have Tom turn out to be adopted?  In which case, he would not be the royal heir at all, but just a nice child whom the Dobsons got from an agency.  We would have the delightful spectacle of those dumb-dumb Lapathians scrambling about, trying to get rid of an heir who isn't an heir at all.  Tom would not have to make any decisions about accepting a throne.  Everyone would be safe and the Potter could relax and get back to his potting.  The Potter, of course, would not know.  People who are adopting babies do not always say they are adopting babies.  They say things like, "We'll have our baby by June, and we are hoping for a boy," and "We brought the baby home today and here's his snapshot and isn't he cute?"

Tom would know.  You tell adopted children, because they are something special.  They are "selected."  We have several small friends who were "selected" and they are most proud of it.

With best wishes,

Sincerely,
(signed) Mary Carey




Letter #9, dated August 10, 1970.  Three pages, typed, sent from Eugenia Frisse at Random House in NYC to Mary Carey in Los Angeles.

Dear Mrs. Carey:

Please excuse the long delay in getting back to you about THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS.  A move to a new floor and unforeseen administrative details have put me sadly behind with current editorial projects.  But here at last are the more extensive comments I promised you on your outline. 

I wrote earlier, your new outline seems much improved, but all is not right yet.  Our criticisms fall into three broad categories:

Basic situation:  As you know, Walter Retan and I were not happy with Tom being the royal heir--but we don't think making Tom an adopted child solves the problem.  The trouble goes deeper than that.  What seems unlikely to us is that the Lapathians would care about living heirs when the original refugees took such pains to go underground and hide the past.  Usurping governments generally don't seem to worry about royal heirs living in other countries if they're quiet; it's the refugees who continue to be political and rally royalists around them who become the threat.  (For that matter, why did Peter and Alexis go underground?  They could have gone to Paris, announced themselves, and lived in shabby gentility, if not political intrigue, like so many others!)

At any rate, we think there needs to be a better reason--a more natural reason--for the Lapathians to be interested in tracking down the Dobsons.  Somehow the Dobsons need to be a threat to the Lapathian government to justify all this activity.  Or perhaps the two Lapathians could be jewel "thieves" themselves, commissioned by their government to return a national heirloom to the rightful owners--the people of Lapathia!  This could be a dandy crime and one that would avoid the more sophisticated, complex nature of political intrigue.

As for Tom being the direct royal heir--that just seems too much.  The outline has a number of unlikely incidents, and perhaps finding out Tom's status was just the last straw for us!  But we'd be happier if Tom were a distant cousin--or not even of royal blood.  Making him adopted just complicates matters, though.  It seems unlikely that the small town of Belleville wouldn't be aware of his adoptin.  More on "reasons and explanation" later.

Plot:  Your outline makes tremendous reading because of your wonderful sense of humor and the great details you think up--but the details can't make up for the fact that there isn't yet very much plot to the story.  Most of the action takes place in the past.  The Three Investigators don't do that much sleuthing and never do really solve anything.  Too much information comes from Chief Reynolds, and Hitchcock at the end.  Not enough happens as a result of the boys initiating action and then having to take the consequences.

The boys need to be more involved with the main plot, interacting more with the Lapathian villains--meeting them, being caught by them, warned by them, threatened by them, etc.  At the same time, more needs to be made of the subplot of Faris and Smith, which is rudimentary at this point.  If possible, the boys shouldn't sort out the two sets of villains quite so quickly; the confusion caused by the variety of strangers in town is a good element of mystery in the story.

The present ending is a letdown.  Findiing the crown after the crooks have been caught is anticlimactic.  You'd get much more mileage out of the story if the boys found the crown first, if the villains suspected or discovered that, and then went after them.  That would also give you another chance to put the boys in danger again, an exciting state we don't see enough of yet.

Also, much too much information comes out at the end of the story.  Partly this is because the story behind the story is too complicated now; partly because not enough information is brought out before the grand climax  The Hitchcock chapter should be used to tie up a few loose ends and clarify a few points, not to tell a major story.  And Hitchcock shouldn't get involved in the detective work, particularly when it doesn't have anything to do with the movie business.  He's a commentator on the action and occasionally a contact man for the boys.  The boys should be able to ferret out more of the background information themselves, using their usual methods--shadowing, eavesdropping, talking to people, researching, deducing, etc.

The flaming footprints are an amusing but far-fetched device; they seem an awfully esoteric way to scare someone off.  But since they're essential to the story, how about finding some madly logical reason for them?  Also, how is Smith getting in and out of the house all the time without being spotted by the Lapathians or the Dobsons?  I'm not sure what the physical setup of the Potter's house and land is.

Reasons, explanation, motivations:  Something to watch out for is that explanations don't become so complex that the story bogs down in them.  The natural tendency, it seems, is to set up situations and eliminate loopholes by offering increasingly complicated reasons.  Unfortunately, these usually end up destroying credibility.  The old saying "The best liar is the one who gives the least explanations" has some bearing here.  Events should arise from the natural behavior and movements of your characters, and explanations should be as simple as possible; otherwise, the story is too obviously manipulated.  Any situation that requires a complicated reason should preferably be eliminated.

The most obvious example of this is the whole Lapathian story, which gets more complex with every turn.  But here's a lesser example:  On page 9, Jupiter rides down to the inn with the Dobsons.  Why?  So far, only because the plot demands that he find out some information down at the inn.  But the most natural thing for Jupe to do at this point is to stay at the junkyard and run for the phone; he's just been shot at, after all.  Some reason for going to the inn could be given, but the simplest, most credible thing would be to postpone the inn trip.  After talking to Chief Reynolds, Jupe could ride down to the inn for any number of good reasons--to share information with Tom, see how the Dobsons are doing, etc.

If these comments make sense to you, we think that the next step is to rethink the plot and prepare a very simple outline, in which each chapter is described in only two or three sentences.  Set aside all the details and explanations for now, and concentrate on the bare bones of the plot.  That way it will be easy for you and us to see what we have to work with--without being distracted by the amusing details that you do so well.

I'm returning the top copy of your outline herewith.  The marginal notes just show our reactions to the present plot and don't necessarily need to be answered.  For now, we'd like you to complicate the action but to simplify the explanations.

Thank you again for your patience--and your interest in the Three Investigators.

Sincerely yours,
(not signed)
Eugenia Frisse
Managing Editor
Books for Boys and Girls





Letter #10, dated February 20, 1971.  One page, typed, sent from Mary Carey in L.A. to Eugenia Frisse at Random House in NYC.

Dear Jenny:

Oh cheers indeed!  Lovely check.  Thank you!

Enclosed is a first go-around on THE MYSTERY OF THE EBONY ANGEL.  I tried to keep it short.  Though we do admit Allie as far as Green Gate Two, I think we should not permit her into Headquarters.  Meetings can take place on the beach, or on that fire road where she can ride her horse.  We have had to use Worthington quite a bit, since there is some ground to cover, but Worthington is a thoroughly good egg.  I like him.

We had had an outbreak of juvenile crime in our neighborhood, which has all my elderly neighbors wondering what kids are coming to.  A roofer, planning to repair the apartment house down at the corner, moved in his little oven and numbers of sacks of tar, stowed everything in an orderly fashion in the back yard of the house and then went home to sleep the sleep of the just.  During his absence, the kids who live behind us discoverd the tar and set to work.  When you have numbers of sacks of tar each weighing 100 pounds, and when you diligently break the tar into medium-small chunks, you can cover quite an area with chunks.  They covered quite an area.  Panic broke out when folks -- including me -- drove into their back yards and found tar all over.  Naturally everyone is nervous since the aftershocks of the quake continue to rattle through, and we all thought things were falling off the building.  TRUTH broke out in an overwhelming fashion when the roofer came to work in the morning and saw what had happened to his tar.  He tracked the kids to their lairs and the daddies will have to pay for the tar.  Also, the kids have to clean it all up.

I have been keeping reasonably quiet about all this, since I remember some things I did when I was nine or ten which were pretty racy.  I think my mother remembers, too.  She keeps laughing.

Peace!
(signed) Mary





Letter #11, dated September 22, 1971.  One page, typed, sent from Mary Carey in L.A. to Eugenia Frisse at
Random House in NYC.

Dear Jenny:

Thanks for your good note, and also for the copies of FLAMING FOOTPRINTS which arrived in a sturdy carton yesterday.

I forgot to mention it in my last letter, but the newer titles in the Three Investigators series haven't arrived yet.  In this connection, I am making a map of the salvage yard.  I keep adding to it as I discover new goodies.  I am also making a map of Rocky Beach.  If I ever get this finished I will Xerox a copy and send it to you.

Your grandmother is a bopper?  How great!  Of course, my mother is a swinger.  She is not really frightened of the operation, but only of the fact that it will be done with a local anesthetic.  Mother has no taste at all for surgical chit-chat and would prefer to be unconscious during the entire affair.  Her doctor is a dear soul, however, and so calm that I almost doubt that he breathes in and out, and he has assured her that she will have a pill and be very, very happy before she even sees him.

Do you suppose they have managed to put martinis into pills?

Peace!
(signed) Mary Carey





Letter #12, dated October 5, 1971.  One page, typed, sent from Eugenia Frisse at Random House in NYC to
Mary Carey in L.A.

Dear Mary:

We're sending you under separate cover THE MYSTERY OF THE NERVOUS LION, which I think is the only Three Investigators book you're missing.

Yes, please do show me your maps of Rocky Beach and the salvage yard!  At various times I've tried to construct them myself, with only limited success.  I'd pay the most attention to the first two books in the series, when everything was very fresh in Bob Arthur's mind.  His later books tend to be a bit vague on geography, and so are the West and Arden titles.  Not that geography needs to be thoroughly spelled out in these books, but we should know where things are if we want to elaborate on it.  If a new shed gets plunked down where the office cabin is, some bright-eyed reader is sure to notice!

You'll be interested to know that translation rights for FLAMING FOOTPRINTS have already been sold to Italy and Denmark, with more countries to come.  I've always been curious to know what European readers get out of these books -- a rather strange picture of America, I'll bet!

Best,
(not signed)
Eugenia Frisse
Managing Editor
Books for Boys and Girls





Letter #13, dated April 28, 1976.  One page, typed.  Sent from the German publisher, Kosmos, in Stuttgart, Germany to Random House, Inc. in NYC.


We gave a long consideration to the question if we shall take

Hitchcock, THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS

into our program at all, we were irritated by the invented state in Europe which is the central point of this book, and which political references are very unlikely.  Regarded from Europe - a little closer to the scenery - it just looks too curious!

Yet with the following small alterations the story would read quite smoothly, exciting, and compelling:  the "Pottery" is of Rumanian origin and descendant of an artist, and instead of the crown-treasure it is dealt with a valuable icon.

We may take your resp. Mr. M.V. Carey's approval for granted, and kindly ask you to send us the agreement for

Hitchcock, THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS.

Please kindly be aware that we need a publication date of 27 months!





Letter #14, dated May 7, 1976.  A one page, typed, inter-office memo sent to Jenny Frisse from Deborah Cohen for Milly Marmur.

Subject:  THE MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS by Alfred Hitchcock

The enclosed letter from the German publisher of the juvenile Alfred Hitchcock titles is, I think, self-explanatory.  Is there any problem with the slight alteration in the story that they would like to make?

Please let me know, so that I may proceed with the contract.

Thanks.





Letter #15, dated May 10, 1976.  A one page, typed, inter-office memo sent to Debby Cohen from Jenny Frisse.

Subject:  Hitchcock: MYSTERY OF THE FLAMING FOOTPRINTS

I can't see any objection to the German publisher's proposed changes.  The changes are likely to be more extensive than they've indicated, since the book includes a whole bogus history of a fictional state.  But if they're so worried about versimilitude, I expect they'll find a way to incorporate our story in the known history of Rumania.  Poor Rumania -- it certainly gets a lot of knocks in stories of intrigue!

(signed) EF