by Julia Buckley
I never met Phyllis A. Whitney; I never imagined that I would. She was a star to me. I grew up with her books lying around my house, and it was her books that I got in three-packs at Christmastime (oh, happy winter holidays!) and which I took on vacations and which I grabbed on rainy afternoons. She wrote adventures, and I read them.
I’m sure she was underestimated by some because of her genre, romantic suspense, but Whitney was a queen of fiction, keeping steely control over her diction even as her creative mind wove wonderful webs of intrigue. Two of my personal favorites were Black Amber and The Turquoise Mask; Lost Island made me attempt, at about twelve years old, to try to write my own romantic suspense novel (which was, naturally, dreadful). Whitney’s writing inspired reading, but it inspired writing, as well. She made the difficult look easy and exciting.
In her 1982 book Guide to Fiction Writing, Whitney not only shared the fact that she received many rejection slips at the beginning of her career, but that one shouldn’t let writing be an intimidating thing: “It’s easy. We need only to write one page at a time. For all the months of writing that lie ahead, that’s all that’s required of us—one page, and then another. It’s astonishing how they pile up.”
Her tone is that of a comforting guide, a Yoda of fiction who calms her younger charges by telling them that nothing is worth getting all upset over, and that a good book is worth the time one invests. Certainly Whitney’s books were worth it, time and again.
Sadly, all of that experience and good advice is rated very low in the scheme of things. You can find Whitney’s old books starting at about a penny a piece on Amazon.com, but to me her words are invaluable, as is her legacy.
Phyllis A. Whitney lived to be 104 years old; she was quoted as saying that writing kept her perpetually young. In her life she was an inspiration, and in her peaceful death she has joined many other greats of fiction who shall remain alive in the hearts of their readers.