The Schenectady Writer’s Service was a mimeographed monthly newsletter from a retired school teacher named Harriet McCarthy. She sent three legal size pages of neatly typed market information and publishing gossip filling both sides of the paper almost to the edge. The newsletter had a hand drawn letterhead of a view of Schenectady. She proudly announced that the newsletter could be subscribed to on a monthly basis for $3 a year and that samples of back issues were available for 5 cents plus a self addressed stamped envelope.
No complete set of newsletters has been found to my knowledge. The earliest known example is a very faded issue from February 1957 that sold on eBay for nearly $300 (the high bidder did not respond to my request for a scan of the newsletter). It appears that the last issue was in April of 1963.
Little is know about Harriet except that she was the widow of a lawyer named Michael McCarthy who had a modest practice specializing in real estate in Schenectady. There is no reference to children in the 1920, 1930 or 1940 census where she is recorded as living in a house at 238 Hickory Avenue. According to his obituary, her husband died suddenly in 1955 leaving Harriet and three sisters who lived with her at the Hickory Avenue house. Harriet died in May of 1963 at the age of 94, no cause of death listed. Her obituary states that she taught at the Elmer Avenue School for 34 years before retiring.
Many famous authors have admitted to subscribing to Harriet’s Schenectady Writers Service. It is estimated that she may have had as many as 1,000 subscribers at the peak of her circulation. She advertised several times in Reader’s Digest, Amazing Stories and Popular Romance. The markets covered were True Confessions, Romance, Crime, Western, and Science Fiction.
On the last page, in order to fill space, each month Harriet included a list of story ideas on a single topic. Most if not all of these ideas seem to have made it into print in stories and novels by many famous authors. It can be shown that in all cases, Harriet’s idea predates the appearance of a similar story by as much as a year. It is thought that many writers subscribed for the market information, but renewed their subscriptions for the ideas at the end of the newsletter, which were a gold mine to whoever wrote the first story based on one of these ideas.
Although written in the late 1950s and early 1960s, these ideas are often timeless. Any number of different stories could be written from each simple suggestion. Harriet only suggested, but in such a way, that many author’s immediately were able to create money making stories from one of her ideas. These ideas are just as new and provocative now as they were half a century ago.
I discovered the Schenectady Writers Service a few years ago when I bought a box of magazines at a flea market. The magazines were from the time period of the newsletter, and in the bottom was a near complete run from August 1957 to September 1961. I treasure these newsletters for the inventive genius or their editor. I started typing up some of the ideas at the end of each issue. I started with the first six months. The first one does not have plot ideas, but is concerned with character names and story titles. The rest are good example of Harriet McCarthy’s nimble mind.
When I can find time, I will transcribe some more idea lists from the other newsletters.