Author of Seventy Books for Girls a Newark Resident
Amanda M. Douglas When a Girl Was Told by a
That She Could Never Hope to
Write a Novel --
How One of Her Serials Appeared as "The Midnight Marriage"
-- [Newark] Sunday Call, 23 May 1915
[no author given; evidence suggests Josephine Lawrence]
Who wouldn't listen?
"Let me tell you a story," said Miss Amanda M. Douglas, best known as a writer of books for girls. She has some seventy volumes to her credit, and many of those run in series, in one instance carrying the reader through three generations of the heroine's family. "People so frequently ask me how I can write so many books about the same characters," continued Miss Douglas smilingly. "I think my case is very like that of the country boy who, with great pains and infinite care, made a violin. His fond mother was immeasurably proud of the result, and never failed to exhibit the instrument to whosoever called at the .house. One day she was showing it to a neighbor. The woman was flatteringly incredulous." 'Did Henry really make that?" she inquired admiringly. "He did," returned Henry's mother impressively. "He made every bit of it right out of his own head -- and there's plenty of wood left to make another.' I've always I had plenty of wood left after finishing a book to write another," concluded Miss Douglas, modestly.
No one can doubt that. From the '"Kathie" books, six in all, her first series, down to the "Little Red House" stories, the fifth of which has been published this spring, Miss Douglas's prolific pen has never faltered for lack of material She confesses that she [illegible] only once when her publishers demanded a fourteenth volume in the "Sherburne" series. "That book was never written," commented Miss Douglas. "I simply could not think of another title with 'Sherburne House' in it."
The children who so eagerly read her stories would delight to hear her tell of the little incidents and, often, brief sentences that have given her the idea for a book. She asserts that she has never kept a notebook, but occasionally "jots down"' something that is too good to .lose. She remembers one little girl who stopped her in the library to ask if she wouldn't write another "Helen Grant" book, and "please to marry Helen."
"All the girls want to see their favorite heroine married, before they leave her," confided the author:
A little woman, very fragile in appearance, who rocks gently and incessantly as she talks in a soft, curiously even monotone -- that is Miss Douglas.
"A friend told me the story that suggested the 'Red House Children' series," she said brightly. "He was out driving, and came to a house where seven children sat on the doorstep, crying. On the fence sat seven more children, also crying. That made fourteen weeping youngsters. My friend got out of the buggy and went to them. 'Whatever is the matter?' he demanded seriously. One of the boys answered for all. 'Our mother,' he sobbed, 'has gone away, and left us all alone!' So I began my book with eight children 'all alone' in the afternoon.
"And I myself was a 'Little Girl in Old New York,'" she continued quietly. "It is all so different now. Children played in the streets then without danger. Summer nights we were allowed to stay out until perhaps 9 o'clock, and I used to have a large audience of neighboring children on our steps listening to the stories I told them. When their mothers called them in they would say to me, "but you'll tell us more tomorrow night--promise?" And I'd think, 'What on earth can I tell them to-morrow'--yet somehow there was always more to tell. That was really my first attempt at a serial story."
Miss Douglas chuckled. "I worked over those historical books," she owned, a bit ruefully. "I knew Philadelphia fairly well, so that came all right enough, and I wrote to the librarians at St. Louis and New Orleans for reference books to consult for my stories about those cities. 'A Little Girl in Old Boston' went beautifully until I conceived the brilliant plan of having one chapter describe the battle between the 'Constitution' and the 'Guerriere.' I wanted it to take place off the Boston coast, near enough for the townfolk to hear the guns. I wrote it that way, and it was satisfactory until I undertook to verify the facts. I hunted through some half-dozen histories, and each carefully neglected to locate the ships with any degree of accuracy. At last I found an account--the 'Constitution' and the. 'Guerriere' met off the coast of Salem, and the sharpest pair of ears in Boston could not have heard an echo of the fight. So my fine chapter had to be thoroughly revised. The only dates, and events connected with them, that I. could ever remember, are 1776 and 1492," added Miss Douglas whimsically.
"She has never written a "Little Girl in Old Newark," though she admits she has collected a great deal of material, possibly with some such use in mind. She is a member of the Ray Palmer Club, and has lived in Newark nearly half a century, she declares that the city changes every year. That part of Summer avenue where she makes her home was once called "Strawberry Field," and parties used to go there to hunt for wild strawberries. The only wild thing left in the neighborhood now is the small boy, and he is being rapidly subdued.
It may not be generally be known that Miss Douglas did not begin her career with stories for young people. Her earlier stories and magazine articles were written for "grown-ups," and she even owns to a problem novel or two.
"But then it was easier to get a start than it is now," averred Miss Douglas. "Nowadays there are so [ma?]ny trying.
"Why, anyone who can hold a pen seems to write a book. Some of 'em are poor stuff, too " Struggling young authors will be thrilled with awe to learn that her very first story, like her very first book, was immediately accepted.
"I was once working on three books all at once," she mused reminiscently. "They were to run in serial form in three different magazines, one a monthly. I'd write an installment of one, get that off, and then work on another till that was ahead, and then turn my attention to the third. I did not get my three plots mixed, either.
"One of the stories was rather er -- melodramatic. I wrote it for the New York weekly, a popular publication in those days. To tell the truth, I said, once or twice, that I thought I was 'too nice,' to write a certain kind of a story. But a friend urged me to do it, the magazine gave me my price, and I wrote 'The Midnight Marriage.' That wasn't my title though -- they changed it. It was thrilling and romantic enough to satisfy the most exacting [line illegible ] never been a sensational writer -- not as a rule. Modern fiction has to be all thrills."
Miss Douglas has the name of being an extremely rapid writer. She writes her manuscript in long-hand, using pen and ink, and her pages are models of neatness. Indeed, she says she very seldom makes more than one copy, her first draft being mailed directly to the publisher with almost no corrections.
"I think out very fully what I want to say, and plan each story first," she explained. "It is perfectly clear in my mind before I sit down to write, and knowing what I want to say I say it with little, if any, indecision. I did try to learn to use the typewriter, but the clicking noise distracted me -- I never could compose on the thing. Very soon I went back to my pen. Oliver Optic, whom I knew very well, once told me that he had to write his stories in long-hand, and then copy them on the typewriter. He often wondered at me because I did so little revising. He, from his own accounts, had to almost rewrite a story the second time he went over it."
Speaking of the famous writer for boys, Miss Douglas was reminded of the answer she gave Oliver Optic when he asked her to write stories for his new magazine.
"I told him I couldn't write one-inch stories for his magazine," said Miss t Douglas, "but that my sister, who liked to write inches, might. Later she did write for him.
"I often think," went on Miss Douglas,
of the phrenology 'reading' I received when a young girl. Phrenology
was immensely popular in those days,
and, everyone had their bumps felt
much as they have their fortunes told
now. I had a quantity of very long
light hair, and I was proud of it, as a
girl will be. I used to do it up in little
tight pigtails over night so that it
waved beautifully the next day. Well,
I went to a phrenologist, accompanied
by some friends, and learned that I
possessed a number of excellent characteristics —- phrenologists never told
you anything very uncomplimentary,"
Miss Douglas, interposed, depreciatingly.
"Usually they told only pleasant
things. The funny point is that all
these good qualities were revealed to
the professor of phrenology by my fair
skin and light, wavy hair —- my lovely
wavy hair that I braided over night to
induce it to kink! Then he proceeded
feel my bumps. He advised me that I
was versatile —- I could write short
stories, verse, perhaps magazine ar-
[t]icles, but never could I hope to
[w]rite a novel. I could not command
[c]ontinuity of plot! Every time I finish
[a] series of books, I find myself wonder-
[i]ng if I have attained 'continuity' of
Miss Douglas used to be very deeply
[i]nterested in the question of equal suf-
[fr]age—when Miss Susan B. Anthony
[w]as an active and ardent worker for
[th]e cause. Now when she mentions
[th]e subject, Miss Douglas is apt to use
[th]e past tense.
"I don't think I am a suffragist," she
[d]eliberated. "And I'm not an Anti. I
[ha]ve always thought, and Miss Anthony
[di]d not, that all voters should measure
[up?] to an educational standard. In other
[wo]rds, I believe in a restricted vote. I
[do not? t]hink women should be given the
[fra]nchise indiscriminatingly, and I cer-
[tai]nly think many men have the ballot
[wh]o do not deserve it. I know women
[wh]o want to vote without knowing why.
[An]d the worst of it is," she moaned,
[th?]ey will get mad at one another."
Which may have more bearing on
[the?] question than either side suspects.
[Mi]ss Douglas did say, though, that in-
[---]nant ladies usually "make up."
Asked for a word of advice for the
[you]ng writer, Miss Douglas asserted
[that?] if she were beginning her career
[all?] over again, she would try to work
[for?] a newspaper. "Newspaper folk
[----] to be very nice in my day," she
[----]ntly, with a note of regret in
[her vo?]ice for the present generation.
Don't waste time and strength on
[shor?]t stories," said this writer earnest-
[ly.] "If you can write books, do it."
Article courtesy of George M. Douglas
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