FRANK GREGORSKY: What is the first book that ever caused you to take "books" seriously?
MYRNA OAKLEY: [Seven-second pause] Hmmm. Well, I've always been a voracious reader. I believe it started in the sixth grade -- when I discovered Nancy Drew. She was my mentor. I read all the books in the Nancy Drew series.
GREGORSKY: For our younger web-surfers, can you give a flavor of Nancy Drew?
OAKLEY: Nancy Drew is an amateur mystery sleuth. She has three cohorts -- friends -- that help her. And they're always embroiled in some very interesting mystery.
GREGORSKY: Is she a teenager?
OAKLEY: Yes, Nancy is probably around 18.
GREGORSKY: I've heard about "Nancy Drew" all my life. There was a wider sociological significance in all of this?
OAKLEY: Nancy Drew was one of the original strong heroines in fiction that so many young girls could identify with. She wasn't a namby-pamby kind of person who sits on the sidelines. Nancy Drew was assertive. She got out there. She solved problems. As a fiction protagonist, Nancy Drew was a wonderful role model.
The series was created in 1930 by Edward Stratemeyer (who also created The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and The Rover Boys). The Nancy Drew books were written by various writers, both women and men, but they all used the pen name "Carolyn Keene." You can see the history at www.mysterynet.com/nancy-drew/timeline. "I must have read every mystery in the series," Oakley e-mailed later. "I just loved that Nancy, the teenage amateur sleuth, could work so diligently to solve all those interesting mysteries. And she had such fun doing it, even when things got scary."
GREGORSKY: Sounds like she didn't have to rely much on adults -- it was her and her gang?
OAKLEY: Yes, Nancy and her gang -- her boyfriend Ned Nickerson, and a couple of girl friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne (Bess and George were cousins). Nancy's father was a lawyer. And the mother was absent -- the series had no mother character. But there's a motherly housekeeper character, Hannah Gruen. So that's kind of an interesting strategy for a fictional series for young girls that started in the early 1930s.
GREGORSKY: I'll say!
OAKLEY: I also liked Louisa May Alcott -- Little Women was an early and important book for me. Then there was the Betsy Tacey series. Ann Emery wrote horse stories, and I loved horses. I was a regular at the local library, from the sixth grade on.
GREGORSKY: When did you start to "write"?
OAKLEY: Actually, it was in sixth grade. As part of our English class, I wrote a story and illustrated it. I think this was when I discovered the idea of developing a story. From that time on I just got hooked on writing.
GREGORSKY: During high school and college?
OAKLEY: Yes, but especially during grade school and high school. My high-school A Choir teacher, Mr. Peery, was a wonderful, positive influence. My high-school English teacher, Mrs. Ferrin, and my senior literature teacher, Mrs. Casebeer -- same story. All through school, I had wonderful mentors -- I feel so blessed.
GREGORSKY: You are growing up where?
OAKLEY: We lived for a couple of years in southern Oregon -- in Grants Pass, where my grandparents lived. I remember two fourth- and fifth-grade friends, Linda and Ruthie -- we would ride our bicycles downtown to Macgregor's Drugstore for milkshakes and sodas. We had the run of the town. It was a small town, safe. Looking back, it seems such a wonderful, idyllic time for a young girl.
GREGORSKY: Brothers and sisters?
OAKLEY: Yes, I'm the oldest. My younger sister (by three years), Jeanette, died of breast cancer in 2003. My brother Dave is six years younger; he lives up at Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington -- he ranges back and forth between there and the Portland area. He and his partner Sandy, who works in Salem, are building their retirement home up at the Canal.
At Portland State University -- PSU (which was then Portland State College) -- Myrna majored in elementary education. She became a teacher because it beat the alternatives (nursing, clerical work) that were open to females pre-1965. She sees the readiness to teach as a "bent" that "comes out of reading and writing" -- the instructional purpose -- and had no serious problems managing schoolkids from the fifth to the eight grades. "My teacher friends have always been part of my personal tribe." In 1970 she returned to PSU and earned a Masters in Teaching, including additional hours for administrative certification at the elementary level. During her final couple of years with Portland Public Schools (District No. 1), Myrna exchanged the classroom for a position as Head Teacher at Sacajawea Elementary School. Her teaching duties included managing the school's small library...
OAKLEY: At Sacajawea Elementary we had about 185 students, kindergarten through fifth grade. I had nine teachers, a half-time secretary, a full-time custodian, a half-time handicapped classroom teacher and a Title I teacher/reading specialist. My leadership style is very collegial and "let's work on this together." Those were wonderful days. I remember lots of hugs from the kids, too, even during the sad times, when our Custodian passed away and when we lost a fourth-grader in an automobile accident.
GREGORSKY: Your whole website is very warm, inviting, sort of all-encompassing -- [conveying] kind of a calm and welcome feeling. That differs from a lot of us self-employed folks!
OAKLEY: Yeah -- and that's exactly what I want it to be. I've carried over that kind of welcoming and encouraging style into my travel-writing workshops and novel-writing classes. One fiction class started recently -- 11 students from age 20 on up -- and I just kind of pulled ‘em right in. Got them involved with the fiction-writing process -- you know, "let's roll up our sleeves and get going!"
GREGORSKY: All right, to wrap up this personal-background section, what can we put on the record about your marriage and grown children?
OAKLEY: I've been married twice. The second marriage lasted just about five years. I thought it was going to be forever -- but "forever" turned out to be just five years. And I have two children, from my first marriage. They now have their own families. My daughter Monica lives in Eugene, and my son Ken lives here in the Vancouver/Portland area. I really enjoy spending time with them.
GREGORSKY: Did either of them take after Mom, in terms of vocation or avocation?
OAKLEY: Ummm, not really -- although my daughter went toward hair styling and also gourmet cooking. She has over one thousand cookbooks. Her creative energy is expressed through the gourmet-cooking process, and also with decorating and sewing. I often call her "the Martha Stewart of the Willamette Valley." She does the cooking, and I take care of clean-up. On almost every visit, I take her a special serving bowl of some kind -- something wonderful often found at the Pier 1 import shop here in Gresham.
My son is a little bit more like me. He likes to read more in-depth things and he's kind of a philosopher, a thinker. He is divorced and his two children live with their mother on the East Coast. So, now, at this stage in life, I'm a single grandmother.
My daughter and her husband Peter have three children: Bradford is finishing his sophomore year at University of Portland; P.J. is finishing his freshman year at Oregon State University in Corvallis; and Marisa is graduating in June  from Marist High School in Eugene. They're great kids. Marisa also plans to attend University of Portland, the Nursing program.
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