The dowager queen of suspense, prolific author Phyllis Whitney died earlier this month (February 8, 2008) from pneumonia. She was 104 years old. In 80 years she wrote more than 100 short stories and 70 novels in four genres — adult, children’s mystery, young adult and nonfiction guides to writing. She published her last book when she was 94. She also received many prestigious awards, served as president of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and in 1988 earned MWA’s Grand Master Award, a lifetime achievement award for mystery writers.
Whitney said she stayed young by writing fast-paced, cliff-hanger tales of suspense. Maybe in high school you read The Winter People, and swooned in terror with Dina, or maybe years later you discovered Amethyst Dreams, a riveting tale of Hallie’s frantic search for her closest friend Susan.
According to her Website, Whitney did exhaustive research for her novels, always writing from the viewpoint of an American visiting the country for the first time. She ascribed her success to persistence and an abiding faith in her abilities. “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.”
Let’s honor the mystery queen, climb her train and rediscover her voluminous work.