Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Never too late


Phyllis A. Whitney, the doyenne of romantic suspense writing, turned 104 this past Sunday. If you're a fan, and you'd like to leave her a birthday greeting, you may do so at this web page. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster who has written 76 books and published approximately 100 short stories. She was instrumental in starting the international organization devoted to women mystery writers, Sisters In Crime. The last I heard, she was working on her autobiography.

From what I read on the website devoted to her, she started writing fiction early, right out of high school. Most of us mystery writers come later to the field, though nobody really knows why. Most of us seem to enter the fold in our thirties, or forties. I was 37 when my first short story was published, 38 when my first book came out. Maybe it takes a little living to make a crime writer? That's my best and only guess. But a fair number of mystery authors start even later than that, and sometimes a lot later, and her birthday makes me think of them. . .

* Virginia Rich, creator of the culinary mystery sub-genre, started writing her first novel when she was 63. It was published when she was 67. She had three books in print at the time of her death when she was in her early 70's.

* Barbara Comfort published her first mystery when she was 80. She has 5 books out now.

* I have a good friend who started her first mystery series after she was 60. Now she's starting her second series. And, yes, she has a contract. With a major publisher. For three books.

In addition to all the ones who are just starting out, there are scores of writers who just keep going. . .

* A mystery-writing friend of mine just turned seventy-one. The first book in her new series will be out in 2008.

* Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters) turns 80 this month. Still writing bestsellers.

* A friend who is seventy just got onto the New York Times extended bestseller list for the first time in her long career.

And I can't even count all the writers I know in their fifties and up who are re-inventing themselves by writing kinds of fiction they have never written before.

I meet people at writers' conferences who fear their time has come and gone and that they missed it. Because of writers like the ones I mentioned above, I can honestly tell them, "It's not too late." And then I might say, "Look, you're going to be eighty (or forty, or seventy, or one hundred and four) in ten years. Do you want to have written your book ten years from now? Or do you want to be having this same conversation about how it's too late?" Tough love. :)

Best wishes to all you senior writers out there, the ones who are just starting and the ones who are still going strong. You bring the wisdom of age, the humor of experience, and the inspiration of your example.

Happy birthday, Ms. Whitney.



38 comments:

Nancy P said...

I talk about senior writers as if I'm not one of them, lol. Wish I could have put some men in the list, but I'm drawing a blank right now.

Writers never die, they just keep adding pages to their memoirs.

Past midnight. See you, er, today.

GreenMinute said...

So, Nancy, I have ten years to finish this thing? Cool.

Men's Room: Elmore Leonard is, I understand, officially, the Third Oldest Living Male Author (behind Ray Bradbury and Gore Vidal, both of whom are 212 years of age).

GreenMinute said...

Still going....

Tony Hillerman, 82.
Elmore Leonard, 82.
Gore Vidal, 82.
Ray Bradbury, 87.

GreenMinute said...

P.S.

John Sanford is 98 and apparently still producing.

Beth said...

Green surfaces (waving)! Funny man.

I once heard a quote (which of course I can't remember) about writers not having anything interesting to say until age 40. Obviously just one man's opinion, but still a curious observation.

Kimberly Frost said...

Good morning, all.

One of the nicest things about writing is the fact that one can do it when age and infirmity may make many other aspects of life out of reach.

A while back I bought a sturdy wood breakfast-in-bed tray that my laptop rests on perfectly. Sitting on my pillowtop mattress tucked among the covers, I could not be more comfortable. One night with the scented candles burning and music wafting about the room, I ignored the phone and everything and wrote all night. By morning I thought, "That settles it. I'm doing this until the day I die."

Happy writing today, everyone. :)

katiebird said...

Thanks Nancy, I left a comment. I loved her YA books especially.

Nancy P said...

Green, thank you for the guys!!

G'morning, Beth and Kimberly! Kimberly, that word picture you painted of writing in bed until dawn says it all. It also explains why so many of us are single, lol.

Hey, katiebird! I tend to forget she did YA, and she did a lot of them, right? I'm so glad you mentioned them.

Kelly McCullough said...

Good morning all. (waves). Greetings from the treadmill, both literally and figuratively. Gonna be one of those days I fear.

katiebird said...

Nancy, it's funny -- I remember loving her books. But, when I looked at a list of titles, I couldn't remember a single one.

So I couldn't say anything too specific in the note I posted at her website.

Now I know that I really am aging. I've always remembered titles in the past.

Nancy P said...

Waving back at Kelly.

GreenMinute said...

Now i'm looking up all these folks... dang.

Martha Grimes is 76. Now that's patriotic.

Lillian Jackson Braun is 94 years old! Of course, that's 470 in cat years.

Jen said...

I once heard a quote (which of course I can't remember) about writers not having anything interesting to say until age 40.

I'd agree with that, in a general sense. To me (at age 37), people under ~40 are sorta like TV -- shiny and colorful and vaguely entertaining for short periods of time, but usually also utterly predictable, and with few exceptions, we don't say or do anything truly interesting. People over ~40 are much more like books in the sense that there is a whole complicated backstory already present which almost always has a collection of cleverly unique elements to it, and there are all of these fascinating subtleties and symbols and subplots.

(Of course, some people manage to keep that TV metaphor going and when they turn 40 they just start with the reruns, and I don't really get that, but hey, I guess that's better than being canceled altogether. ;p)

GreenMinute said...

Hey, Baby Beth , I do so love your beach px at your blog. And, hmmmmm, I noticed the books in your new place are lined up from shortest to tallest. I tried that with my record collection.

It didn't work.

Ah, Kimberly, you're just learning. I put a masonite board across my deep claw-foot bathtub and stayed all winter. I had a cooler next to the tub with soda pops in it. And a thermos of cocoa. No kidding.

One caveat, though, paperbacks really swell up when you drop what you're doing.

Beth said...

Jen, I like your perspective. And the reruns! :-) Great description of some people.

Green, can't help it. I'm better than I used to be - at least they're not alphabetical! (Okay, not books, but CDs...)

Good luck today, Kelly, on and off the treadmill.

Nancy P said...

Jen, those of us over 40, ahem, are sooo preening. :)

"cat years," green, lol. (For the non-mystery people, the author he referred to writes cat mysteries. One must NEVER kill a cat in a mystery. You can kill any number of humans, or even dogs, but noooo cats, or you will Hear From Fans.)

Nancy P said...

I don't actually aspire to those great ages, do you guys? My mom is 91 and her mind is buff, but her body is a pain in the ass and everywhere else. Most of the characters in her story are dead. The plot is running out of "good" twists.

I think I'd rather run full speed ahead and drop dead earlier than that. But talk to me when I'm 70 and see if I still feel like that. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Jen-Lovely. Just lovely...said the 40 year old. Feeling less treadmilly now. Getting actual stuff done again. Hopefully a half chapter this afternoon will completely dispell the feeling--though I suspect that means some jiggling of the plot outline first since I'm getting to the point where I have to know not just what happens, but when in the text it does so.

TTFN, I'll write if I find work.

Rick Bylina said...

But I don't want to be 84 when my first book is published. There I am sitting at my first reading and I can't remember why I'm there.

Beth said...

LOL, Rick! Good point...and I want to live til I'm 100, assuming that I can still sit up and take nourishment. And read. But, like Nancy, ask me again when I'm 70...

Glad your day is going well, Kelly -

Kimberly Frost said...

Green, a thermos of cocoa next to a claw-footed tub full of hot water on a cold day? Book in hand? That may just be the new definition of heaven.

Rick - LOL. You'll have to take along a whipper snapper neice or nephew to remind you why you're sitting at a table getting ready to sign. I like the thought of book signings at 84. But maybe you can picture that you're on book # 20 by that time so it can turn into a positive visualization. :)

boran2 said...

I do everything long after most others. I went back to law school at age 28 and became a first time father at age 41. It's never too late for anything, except when you're, umm, (whispering) dead.

Nancy P said...

lol, Rick. But I'll tell you, there is one good thing about publishing later in life. You don't have your "young" book jacket photos to haunt you. There's always the fan who holds up the old book, looks over at me appraisingly, and says, "When was this picture taken?"

Beth said...

Do they really do that, Nancy? Appalled!

My friend Jano (Jack) Getze recently blogged about something similar - well, his character Austin Carr did (http://austincarrscrimediary.blogspot.com). Jano posted a picture of himself with white hair and goatee, unlike the brown-haired one on his website. Austin made a comment about how publicizing a book can make you old in six short months... :-)

(Sorry, I don't know how to make links live in postings...)

Nancy P said...

It happens, Beth. The funniest time (good thing I have a sense of humor) was when my publisher's sales rep held up a copy of one of my early books, looked at me, then pointed at the early photo, and said, "But I wanted to meet her!"

I had to laugh. Less prison time than killing him.

olivia said...

b2 -- you rock!

FARfetched said...

Compared to Ms. Whitney and the others, that makes you one of the young'uns!

I'm going to do this, dangit. Before I'm 50. And seeing as I'll be 49 in a couple of months, I gotta get crackin'.

Nancy P said...

You ARE going to do it, far.
So there.

katiebird said...

FAR, you will. I know you will -- hell, you're halfway there now.

Nancy, "my publisher's sales rep held up a copy of one of my early books, looked at me, then pointed at the early photo, and said, "But I wanted to meet her!""

That's like the time someone who knew me from telephone calls told me, "You're Catharine? I thought you'd be taller. Thinner. More sophisticated!"

I had to laugh too. I still think it's funny.

Nancy P said...

OMG, and LOL, katiebird. Yes, a sense of humor is a wonderful thing when in the presence of clods. :)

Tomorrow's post will strike a chord with you.

katiebird said...

I can't wait to see it -- any chance you'll post it before I have to go to work? (I don't mean to be piggy)

Wow. I was so tempted to spend the day blogging today. I can't wait till my time is my own!

Nancy P said...

I'll post it before I go to bed tonight, whenever that is.

Only a few more months until your time is your own!

katiebird said...

{{Nancy}} I know! (jumping up and down)

Beth said...

Kb, are you retiring? Quitting? Defecting? Did you and mister win the lottery? :-)

katiebird said...

Beth, I've got dreams -- BIG dreams!

FARfetched said...

Thanks, Nancy & KB, for the confidence. I'll do my best to not let y'all down.

Hey Nancy, this stuck out for me at the time, but I forgot to bring it up: I can't even count all the writers I know in their fifties and up who are re-inventing themselves by writing kinds of fiction they have never written before. I know most writers get pegged into a particular genre, how difficult is it to change gears? I suppose "re-inventing" carries an implied answer to that, but I'd be interested in hearing your take.

katiebird said...

"I know most writers get pegged into a particular genre, how difficult is it to change gears? I suppose "re-inventing" "

This is a good question, FAR.

And Nancy, you were still pretty young when you made the big change. But, wasn't ending the Jenny Cain series a pretty dramatic shift -- and the sort of thing he's asking about -- for you?

Nancy P said...

Far and kb, that's a really interesting question. I don't have the energy to get into it right now, but I'll address it somewhere down the line. Thanks for the idea.