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.