Monday, February 18, 2008

Goodbye, Ms. Whitney

I was deeply saddened to learn that in early February of this year, an icon in romance and mystery writing passed away. Phyllis A. Whitney died of pneumonia at the age of 104.

Among the few authors my parents would let me read as a teenager (until I began checking out more books than they could keep up with from the library!), my sister and I were allowed to read Ms. Whitney. Her books were a fascinating glimpse into the adult world of male-female relationships, imperfections, issues with parents, and women's self-image. There was always a mystery and usually an exotic or mysterious setting, taken from the author's own travels.


My favorite was Lost Island. I bet I've read this book 50 or 60 times! I'd read it again if I could get my hands on a copy. This story involves a love triangle, an isolated island, an old mansion, and one woman's struggle to fight for what she deserves. Looking back, I remember most of Whitney's heroines starting out as self-doubters, but growing in confidence, trusting in their own intelligence, and eventually fighting for their right to love. What a wonderful message for teenage and adult women!

Her books were actually racy, compared to the inspirational romance I cut my teeth on. I vividly remember several sexual scenes or contemplations in a heroine's mind of the impact of sexual incidents on relationships. Though by no means erotic, they were stimulating to my teenage mind and allowed me a glimpse of how interactions between men and women are never just about the sex act, but its impact on the players.

My sister gave me a copy of her Guide to Fiction Writing, where I found wonderful hints about compiling research. I even began, and still do, compile all my plotting and characterization notes into a notebook with dividers to keep track of everything as she suggested.

I've often read writing books by authors, but never before or since by an author I was so thoroughly enchanted by. It is a fascinating glimpse into an author's own process, both inspiring and daunting to the reader.

This quote has been in several articles about Ms. Whitney's death, and I believe it captures the overall tone of her advice to upcoming authors in this book:

“Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too),” she wrote in “Guide to Fiction Writing.” “Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.”

It reminds me of a quote I once read from Harrison Ford where he said success comes to those who stay on the bus after all the others have gotten off, or something to that effect.

Persistence. Some days, okay most days, I wonder if I have what it takes. Then I remember authors like Phyllis A. Whitney, who meant so much to me during difficult times in my life. And I want to continue so I can touch just one person the way she touched me. Phyllis Whitney published her last book when she was 94 years old.

Thank you, Ms. Whitney, for your hard work and dedication. You are well-deserving of the title AUTHOR.

What author has most impacted your reading and/or writing life?



Playground Monitor said...

I remember my mother reading Ms. Whitney's books and passing them along to me. I can't remember any specific titles, but I remember enjoying the books.

I'm not sure I could single out any one author who's impacted my reading or writing. It's really been an aggregate effect over the last six to seven years with a lot of authors playing a part.

Check the used book stores and I'll bet you could find a copy of The Lost Island.


Problem Child said...

I can't say for certian if I've read any of Ms. Whitney's books. Of course, there's so many, there's a good chance I have!

She is an inspiration, though.

Smarty Pants said...

Ahh...the gloriousness and wonder that is Ebay...

70s Hardback

80s Hardback

80s Paperback

Angel said...

You guys are funny! I'll have to check this out!


Kathy said...

Kathleen Woodiwiss! My mother passed her books off to me. :-)

Hope you're feeling better and your foot is on the mend, PM!!

I don't believe I've read Ms. Whitney's books. But I'd sure like to get a copy of her Guide to Writing Fiction.

Instigator said...

I don't think I've ever read Ms. Whitney's books. But I know her name. I've heard about her for a long time and respect her very much.


catslady said...

She was one of the first that I read along with Victoria Holt and Taylor Caldwell. The Rosemary Rogers and Harold Robins but my love of romance started with Kathleen Woodiwiss.