EUGENIA LOVETT WEST on Literary Success, Late Blooming Careers & the Craft of Writing

15 Jan

I’m very pleased to welcome guest blogger Eugenia Lovett West. Eugenia has written two enthralling mysteries. The latest, Overkill, came out in December ’09. I don’t know many people of any age who have accomplished what Eugenia has––so let’s hear what she has to say.

Eugenia Lovett West

Eugenia Lovett West

Hi, Sandy. Thanks so much for asking me to blog about starting a career late in life. I hope my story will encourage writers of any age.

After a publishing gap of nearly thirty years, I decided to have a go at the mystery genre. When the rejection slips made too big a pile, I switched gears and self-published the manuscript as a Christmas present for family and friends. The praise was so heartwarming that I entered it in the St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic contest for first mysteries. Months went by. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then one beautiful morning in June 2006, I sat down at my desk and turned on the computer. There, leaping from the monitor, was an email from the renowned St. Martin’s editor, Ruth Cavin. The book was too international for the contest, but she liked it and offered me a contract for two books.

Believe me, I levitated. For a wannabe published writer with nose pressed against the glass, it doesn’t get better than that. Without Warning was published by St. Martin Press Minotaur in 2007, but I wasn’t about to advertise my age for fear of losing younger readers.

Overkill, the second in the Emma Streat series, came out in December 2009. At this point it felt comfortable to come out of the age closet and admit to being 86. (Note: my editor Ruth Cavin is even older.)

When did I start to write? There was always a fascination with words, no doubt inherited from a long line of preachers and teachers. I had two undistinguished years of study at Sarah Lawrence College, and then a short career at Harper’s Bazaar and the American Red Cross. In 1944 I married a dashing fighter pilot flying out of England with the 8th Air Force. (We had been married 60 years the day he died.) Then came four children and volunteer work.

At last the youngest child was at school all day and there was time to try putting words to paper. Feeling important, I rushed around being a roving reporter for local papers in New Jersey. Journalism was great training and great fun, but suddenly churning out three hundred words wasn’t enough. Why not three hundred pages?

The first book was a disaster. Trash. I tried again, using a sugar plantation in Jamaica WI as a setting. The Ancestors Cry out, an historical suspense, was published by Doubleday and Ballantine.

Why did I start over with mysteries? Partly because they are my favorite escape reads. We know that good will always trump evil. We feel the power of the great absolutes––death, retribution, and punishment. Often there is a nice balance of plot, background, and characters, all moving along at a fast pace, teasing the mind. But, I soon learned that there’s a vast difference between reading and writing mysteries. This is a genre with strict rules: There must be red herrings, clues dropped at strategic points, and a surprising villain.

Sandy, you ask how my characters evolve. The answer is: with a lot of angst. It was hard to create, out of thin air, the main character in a series––the one who is going to investigate the hair-raising disasters. In multiple revisions, my protagonist was named Molly, Maggie, Tory, and finally Emma. She was age 60, then dropped to a median 47. I’m an opera fan, so Emma was once a rising young diva who lost her voice. Luckily, my life (so far) has not included murders, but I knew about being a hands-on mother. And, as the wife of a CEO, I could draw on travel experience––first class or private jet to places like London and Paris.

By now I have come to love my elegant, gutsy Emma. I feel I know her as well as, even better, than my own daughters and I want readers to care about her. This woman has had to dig deep to find strengths to survive, bring criminals to justice, and work thought complicated love interests. Like Emma, we are all, I think, reaching for ways to live out daily lives with strength and courage.

What are the trade-offs of being an older writer? There are pluses to high mileage. We have been around, observed people, gained insight. After endless hours of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, a style evolves. It’s easier to sense what is wrong about a phrase or a character. He/she would never have done that. Eyes never fall to the floor. Like cooking a stew, we throw in all these experiences, stir well, and  hope it’s a winner.

The downside? Even with good health, maintenance of the aging chassis cuts down on valuable writing time. There’s a sense that every day must count. I wish I had experimented with different genres in my twenties. And––I have to keep reminding myself that Emma is of a different generation. To keep current with trends, I rely on daughters and nieces.

As for future plans, children, grandchildren, and extended family take priority, but there are two ongoing projects. One is to put the final touches on an historical suspense novel. This is set in the American Revolution, and focuses on intelligence operations, spies, and threats on George Washington’s life.

The second project is, of course, the third Emma Streat mystery. Right now, new pictures are running through my head like a film, but my goal remains the same: Story is key and it must move fast. I want to catapult readers into a world of strong people working out their problems, a global thread, and high-end settings. Escape is important. I love hearing that my books helped someone through a bad time.

It’s true, I think, that age and creativity can exist happily together, but for the older writer, creativity is a real blessing. It’s great to wake up in the morning with work to do––and it can be accomplished just sitting at a computer.

OVERKILL by Eugenia Lovett West

OVERKILL by Eugenia Lovett West

Eugenia Lovett West’s website.

You can buy OVERKILL, An Emma Streat Mystery, and WITHOUT WARNING on Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

No Responses to “EUGENIA LOVETT WEST on Literary Success, Late Blooming Careers & the Craft of Writing”

  1. Susan Schwartzman January 15, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    This is a great blog. Very inspirational. I can’t wait to read your next Emma Streat mystery. And novels set during the Revolution are my favorites. I actually read James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy during the summer preceding 8th grade. It was rough going through the first hundred pages, but it was worth the read. I’ve always wanted to return to the revolution and read about Washington, and spies, so I am looking forward to your book.

  2. cliff urseth September 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    as a retired newspaper publisher and sitting at 79, I find it very enjoyable reading about your success. I’m a recent cancer survivor and am ready to head in the fiction direction. First J school locale was at the birthplace of Louis Lamour in my home state. No time through the years, but ready to survive the test of fiction.