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?