Gayle Lynds (writing as "G.H. Stone") wrote three of the books in The Three Investigators (3Is) Crimebuster series. Ms. Lynds currently writes for adult audiences; her most recent book was "Masquerade," which was a Doubleday lead fiction title in February, 1996. People magazine named it "page turner of the week".
Ms. Lynds lives in Santa Barbara, CA. with her husband Dennis Lynds, a mystery writer better known to his adult audience as Michael Collins - see the interview with Dennis Lynds in the December 1995 issue of Yellowback Library.
This interview took place on November 18, 1995 during a dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara. Attending the dinner/interview were Gayle and Dennis Lynds, and Janice and Michael Morley.
We are extremely indebted to Ms. Lynds for her time and assistance in helping us with compiling background and bibliographic information for our upcoming 3Is bibliography/reference/history.
Please look for Ms. Lynds' upcoming book, "Marionette," which she is completing right now.
Janice Morley (JM): How did you get involved in writing Three Investigators (3Is) books?
Gayle Lynds (GL): First of all, my son [Paul] started reading 3Is years before I knew Dennis. When Paul was about 7 or 8, he was buying them through the Scholastic Book Service and bringing them home from school.
When I met Dennis (we eventually got married and raised 4 children together), I discovered that he wrote them [N.B. Dennis Lynds wrote 13 titles in the original 3Is series, and one title in the Crimebusters Series under the pseudonym William Arden]. Dennis was still writing them at that point. I picked them up again and really started to study them, and I was absolutely impressed wth the quality of the books.
I grew up on the Bobbsey Twins, which is also a very fine series in many ways. One of the reasons I liked the BT was that you learned something new in every book. I remember learning how to make maple syrup from maple trees in New England. I've always thought that was one of the strengths of those books; I just loved learning how things happened, how things were made. When I read 3Is, they were so different from other action-adventure series in that they also had that same quality - when you read a 3Is book, your mind was challenged. There was always some kind of ethical problem to be solved. The 3Is couldn't get away with coincidence, they couldn't get away with just having a stroke of good luck, which unfortunately is the hallmark of some other action-adventure series.
When I had the opportunity - through Dennis - to have contact with the editor at Random House responsible for the 3Is, I started to pitch her ideas. That's the way the 3Is books worked: the writer took ideas to the editor. And, if the editor likes your idea, they'd say, "O.K., that sounds reasonable". What I did is I pitched her an idea about an orchid theft in Santa Barbara. Of course it's not Santa Barbara in the books . . . and she turned me down. Later on we learned that this was the period in which they had taken the original 3Is series off the market because they were revamping [it]. She came back to me a couple of years later and asked me to pitch her another idea because Random House was going to start a new series. She sent us what's called in our business a bible. A bible is basically a work-up of what the series is supposed to read like. There's a bible for all series; whether it's a Mack Bolan, or a Nick Carter, or a Hardy Boys, there's always a bible.
Dennis Lynds (DL): The bible told us in what ways the boys had changed [from the original 3Is series].
GL: Yes. The various tics of the boys. So I pitched her another idea which became "Rough Stuff" [N.B. "Rough Stuff" is Crimebuster #3]. In my previous marriage, we had spent a great deal of time backpacking in the mountains, so I knew quite a bit about it. I also liked the idea of what happens to a child - because it's so prevalent in our society - when a parent is suddenly missing. I proposed that - plus, I have a cousin who is married to an American Indian and that figured in as well. I was very interested in some of these Indian tribes; some of them have tribal lands that are only 30 acres big. The potential for story making based on those elements pleased me She [the Random House editor] liked the idea; she bought it. And that's how I began.
JM: We were not aware of the concept of the series bible; I wasn't, until you mentioned it. It certainly makes sense.
GL: Definitely. You have to have some sort of consistency from book to book. The only way [to enforce consistency] is there has to be one person, or a few people, who sit down and make a plan for the rest of us [the writers] to base our books upon.
JM: Was there a bible for the 13-year old series?
GL: Yes there was, though I never saw it.
DL: I remember there was a bible for the 13-year old series. Way, way back in the very beginning. Probably put together by Bob [N.B. "Bob" is Robert Arthur, who created the 3Is].
JM: Why did Random House make you write under "G.H. Stone"?
GL: Everything I was writing at that time was under the name Gayle Stone. Most of it was totally anonymous: Nick Carters are by Nick Carter, Mack Bolans are by Don Pendleton. But my contracts are Gayle Stone, and I wanted to write 3Is under Gayle Stone. However, Random House said boys will not read books written by girls. That is a direct quote. However, boys do buy books written by women authors.
DL: Not only that, there was a husband and wife combination who wrote for the Crimebuster series, the Stines. They let her [Megan Stine] keep her name [N.B. Megan Stine and H. William Stine wrote 3 titles in the 3Is Crimebuster series, and 2 titles in the Find your Fate series].
GL: They [Random House] did not allow M.V. Carey [N.B. Mary Carey wrote 14 titles in the original 3Is series as "M.V. Carey"] to keep hers [full name as author]. She was in the same position that I was. Basically, Random House told me that I couldn't have a contract if I were going to write under Gayle Stone. I did try to point out to her that there are people around like Gayle Sayers [the football star], and a number of other men who did spell "Gayle" the same way I spell it. It was not an argument that was convincing to them. I wanted to write the series so much that I agreed to their conditions. I felt that the viewpoint that I would bring would be a healthy one, and I wanted the opportunity because I respected the series so much. I've never regretted doing it. When I would receive fan letters from children - from both boys and girls - I always enclosed a photograph of myself in the response so it was very evident that I was female. I always signed the response "Gayle Stone", because the fan letter would always be addressed to "Dear Mr. Stone", I often wonder what they thought when they opened these letters. I always think this is a lovely thing - their preconceptions being shaken a bit. I like that.
MM: How did Crimebusters come about? Why was the existing 3Is philosophy and format changed (from the 13-year old detectives to the 17-year old detectives). Do you think the changes were successful?
GL: It came about because the publishers were trying to compete with the Hardy Boys. Hardy Boys are also in two different series: a younger series and an older series. "Crimebusters" was in competition with the older series. During the late 70s and the early 80s, the younger series of 3Is were in hot and heavy competition with Hardy Boys, almost catching up. They were doing quite well. The idea was, "well, if we can do that with the younger audience, why don't we go for the older audience as well?" I think that is what triggered it at Random House.
Was it successful? I think these books were darn good books, I'm really proud of the ones that I wrote. From what I saw, I thought all of the Crimebusters authors did a great job. I've always felt very badly that the Crimebusters books didn't get the marketing and sales support that would have made them the best-sellers I think they really should have been.
JM: We note the format changes between the original series to the Crimebusters series: the page count for Crimebusters seems to have gone down, and the format of the books is very consistent no matter who the author is.
GL: It was very consistent. As you will see in the bible, we were given the size of the page that we had to put on our computer, the number of chapters, and so forth.
The format changes were a marketing decision. Random House analyzed the "Hardy Boys" older series. They figured out the elements that went into that, and they tried to duplicate it while adding a 3Is spin.
It is very normal in terms of series writing for the publisher to say: we want it to be 18 chapters, we want it to be between X and X number of pages, the margins will be this size, 1 inch and 1 inch, or 1.5 inch and 1.5 inch, that sort of thing. One of the skills in this business is "writing to size". Format constraints are not unusual. We were told what our length was going to be. We figured out how the action was going to break down: what needs to happen, and when.
The action in a 3Is book is the classic rise and fall of action in a three act or five act play. Essentially, that's what these books are: they're classic three-act plays, or classic five-act plays. It wasn't a big deal to us at all. We're used to having a bible and used to being given certain specifications. It's like a painter who is given a certain size canvas. You can do anything in that canvas that you want, but you may not go outside those outlines.
JM: Why were there so many Crimebusters authors and books? [N.B. There were seven books issued in 1989 and 4 in 1990]. How were the Crimebusters marketed? Was it successful?
GL: Ths is a traditional way to launch a series: you put out a lot of books in the beginning to build interest. You can build [sales] on word of mouth, or on publicity. One of the publicity techniques is to put those big cardboard display cases - what they call dump boxes - in stores, which was how the Crimebusters books were to be marketed.
The original Crimebusters dump boxes would show two titles in six slots at first, then they were to show three titles. Dennis was the first title, Stines were second, and I was the third. As books came out - once every two months in the beginning - that dump box would eventually be filled. However, in all the stores that Dennis and I checked for the 3Is books, we never once saw a dump box. The idea was good, but the follow-through did not work for some reason.
JM: We also notice content changes: the business card is different in Crimebusters as opposed to the original series. More significantly, Jupiter's central role has changed. Part of his stage time is spent as a figure of fun (always on a diet, shy of girls, and so on).
I felt sorry for the way Jupiter was portrayed in "Crimebusters"; and I think many 3Is fans feel the same way I do. Jupiter was front and center in the original series and his characterization in "Crimebusters" seems sort of a fall from grace. Why were these changes made?
GL: All of the 3Is character changes were part of the bible. When you read the bible, you're going to see that we were expected, I believe - now again, my memory could be at fault on this - we were expected in every book to have a scene where Jupiter was shy around girls. [N.B. In the "Crimebuster's Bible", Jupiter's less-dominant role and shyness with girls is explicitly detailed].
Invariably, when Dennis and I were writing the books, the shyness scenes ended up to be telephone scenes because to us - what we call in the business, "bits of business" - it's the stuff around what was really going on that will fill the story out and characterize it. I do feel that Jupiter became an object of ridicule unnecessarily. I really do. I tried to compensate for this. For instance, in "Fatal Error", you'll see, I give him a very glamorous girlfriend.
MM: Yes, we liked that.
GL: Jupiter is a character to whom I relate. You see, I was a nerd as a child.
JM & MM: So were we!
GL: I was always out of step with my contemporaries when I was a child; I did not become who I am really until I was an adult. I was slow to form. Those of us who are like that, we understand Jupiter. If I had created the Crimebusters bible, I doubt I would have characterized Jupiter the same way.
One positive aspect of the Crimebusters characterization was the greater role played by Bob [N.B. "Bob" is Bob Andrews, on of the 3Is]. I really enjoyed writing about Bob. Bob to me was a lost character in the early series. I really picked up his gauntlet and fought for him. [N.B. In the "Crimebuster's Bible", Bob's new role is explicitly defined to be more glamorous].
MM: I've wondered about the origin of Bob Andrews' characterization in the early series. After re-reading "Terror Castle" - if you notice in reading "Terror Castle" [N.B. "The Secret of Terror Castle is the very first 3Is book], the first chapter opens with Bob Andrews all by himself - he is the first character in the series that we meet. I felt that Robert Arthur had identified most closely with Bob Andrews [N.B. Note that the initials "Robert Arthur" and Robert Andrews" are the same; Arthur enjoyed giving his juvenile readers such clues as this]. I know Dennis feels differently about this.
GL: It's entirely possible. However, my opinion of the early series characterizations is that all three boys put together were Bob Arthur.
GL: They were all different facets of Robert Arthur's personality. Jupiter was number one, Pete was number two (because of his physical acumen), and Bob was part of the woodwork, part of the upholstery. Since Bob was Records, he was sent out to do this and that, but he never really had a starring role in the 13-year old series that I recall. I liked the concept of the pretty boy with brains. In the Crimebusters series, Bob was the guy who had this natural magnetic quality, but really was not terribly conscious of it. And was a really great guy underneath. He was not a shallow person, which is the stereotype for the guy who gets all the girls. That's why I focused on him in both "Rough Stuff" and "Reel Trouble", because of my feeling for him.
JM: Your Crimebusters books show evidence that you spent considerable time researching various story elements: Cessna flight information in "Rough Stuff"; recording industry technical information in "Reel Trouble"; and computer virus behavior in "Fatal Error". Of the time you spent writing these books, how much of it was spent on research, and how and where do you do this?
GL: I'd say I spend as much, if not more, time on the research as I do on the writing. I always do. 'Masquerade' [N.B. "Masquerade" is a recently published adult thriller by Ms. Lynds] is loaded with research. I probably use two percent of what I learn. But I have to do all of the research because by doing the research - and really understanding it - I'm able to convey a sense of reality and authenticity. Do you remember in "Fatal Error" where the monitors catch fire? I found that piece of information in "Scientific American". I found the part about the anti-electrical fire extinguishers in my science encyclopedia. The part where the rocket ship falls down around the boys - that came out of a couple of magazines I found in the library dealing with a film made about a couple who built a dream house.
I take three daily newspapers a day, eight weekly news magazines; and four monthly magazines. That is how much research I have coming into the house. OK? Then I hit the library, and then I make telephone calls. By the time I get done [researching a book], it would make anybody else crazy. <laughs> I view my book research as an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity; I enjoy it.
JM: What is the future of juvenile series literature?
GL: Well, I think it will always be alive, I do think that reading is not going to go away, despite our greatest fears. In terms of what the future is, I hope that the future will reflect the past. To address as closely as possible reality-based issues, and address them in such a way that ethical issues are faced squarely and honestly. Children of all ages are the most honest creatures on the face of the earth. You cannot fool a child. If you lie to a child, the child knows. If you write something that is false, a child will know, and will not want to read your next book. The way to engage children is to talk about things that matter to them. It doesn't matter whether it's their creativity and they need imaginative, fairy-tale kinds of stories, or if they need something that is reality-based: the story has to relate to them. As times change, fiction has to reflect these changes.
JM: What writers have influenced you?
GL: Everybody influenced me. When I was a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. I took toilet paper rolls apart. That's how I learned that Crown-Zellerbach was the largest paper producer in the United States: when the toilet paper got down to the cardboard roll, I saw some words inside; I had to know what those words were. I literally disassembled the inner core so I could see "Crown-Zellerbach" inside. I read Campbell soup cans. I read Gypsy Rose Lee's "G-String Murders". When I was 10 years old, I read "Gone With the Wind" because I was told it was too sophisticated for me. I started out when I was younger with the "Bobbsey Twins". I literally read everything, and everything had an impact on me. All I can say is I wish I had read more.
JM: Who do you read at night before you turn off the light?
GL: I don't. I knew I had really crossed a major hurdle as a writer when I would rather write than read.
You know that marvelous experience you get as a reader where you are transported into another world, where, if the house were burning down around you, you would not notice because you are so deeply into that book. That is what writing has become for me. Writing has totally replaced reading. It doesn't mean that I don't enjoy reading. I love to read. It's that I prefer to create my own books now.
DL: That's what we do when we go to sleep at night.
GL: We're thinking about our stories. I've got plot problems, my character isn't behaving the way I want . . .
DL: I've written many of my books [while] going to sleep at night.
GL: That's when I do my best work, [when] going to sleep at night.
JM: Some of the Yellowback Library readers might like to contact you with questions about the 3Is or your other work. Would this be an intrusion?
GL: Not at all. I can be reached by mail at: XXXXX
JM: That is the last of our questions for you; thank you so much for your time!
GL: You're welcome!