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Eugenia Lovett West on Publishing at 96, Genre Hopping and Immersive Reading
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
April 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
April 2019

This guest post was provided by Eugenia Lovett West, author of Sarah's War. 

It’s never too late to start. At age 96, I’m still creating and publishing and I hope this will encourage others. As Winston Churchill once wrote: “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin, it is a toy, then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant, and the last phase is just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude you kill the monster and fling him back to the public.”

My Story

This is my story. I grew up in Boston and New Haven, studied for two years at Sarah Lawrence College, worked for a short time at Harper’s Bazaar, and left to marry a dashing fighter pilot in the Army’s 8th Air Force. We had four children—and stayed married for sixty years.

Writers are often asked when they first felt compelled to create.  Like many in my generation, I was the at-home caregiver as my husband worked his way up the corporate ladder. There were multiple volunteer jobs, but when my youngest child was in school all day, I became a reporter for several local papers. Rushed around with a Nikon camera covering everything from sewage disposal meetings to a national convention. Journalism is great training, one learns to weed out the adverbs and adjectives, but why not do more?

The first attempt was a dismal failure.

The second try, a historical/suspense novel set in Jamaica, WI, was picked up by Doubleday and Ballantine. Great joy.  I now could claim to be a real author.  

Publishing

By then I was in my fifties. In hindsight, it might have been better to stick to one genre—young writers have time to experiment—but I loved mysteries, especially those written by the British Golden Age writers like Dorothy Sayers. I lucked out when the first try, self-published, was brought to the attention of editor at St. Martin’s Press. The result was two cozies, Without Warning and Overkill. The third in the Emma Streat mystery series is coming out in November, thanks to SparkPress.

But another historical was simmering on the back burner, triggered by reading about the winter of 1777 during the American Revolution. Hopes of independence were fading fast. The thirteen colonies were acting like separate principalities.   Picture George Washington at Valley Forge, his militia sick and deserting, feet bleeding in the snow. Now picture British officers living it up in winter quarters in Philadelphia, turning the heads of little Loyalist girls like Peggy Shippen. The result was  Sarah’s War, published in April 2019 by SparkPress.  Looking back, it was a challenge to balance facts with imagination. In mysteries, we insert red herrings, judiciously scattered clues, a surprise ending, and justice must always triumph. Not so with historicals. Research and fact-finding is key.

The Writing Process

Every writer has a different process. Mine could be described as 10% ability and 90% applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. It takes a long time to find one’s voice and style. I tend to end up with strong women working their way through disasters with interesting settings. Travel with my husband took me to many countries. If there’s a log jam, I find it helpful to write “What If,” then conjure up several solutions. And I try never to forget the basics. Readers and writers are setting off on a journey together. Story is everything—I once read that there are only two master plots: “The hero makes a journey” and “A stranger comes to town.” 

Escape Reading

I deeply believe in the value of escape reading, to give readers total immersion into another world. For me it started when I had little children clinging to my ankles and nap time was a chance to read and regroup. These days the need to escape may be stronger than ever. If someone tells me they staying up too late with my books and lost sleep, that’s the reward.

We are all, I think, reaching for ways to live our daily lives with strength and courage—and that becomes even more of a challenge when you’re 96. Maintenance on the aging chassis takes too long, but the writing habit is a gift that keeps on giving. I’m blessed with a super family, and my goal is to wake up every morning with the will to create—and that can happen by just sitting down at the computer and letting the imagination soar. Good luck to everyone at She Writes—and, once again, thanks for all you do.

About Eugenia:

Eugenia Lovett West was born in Boston, MA, attended Sarah Lawrence College, then worked for Harper’s Bazaar and the American Red Cross. In 1944 came marriage to a dashing Army Air Force fighter pilot. They had four children, traveled extensively, and were together for sixty years. After doing volunteer work, West started writing as a freelance journalist for local weeklies in New Jersey, then made the leap to novels. The first, The Ancestors Cry Out, was published by Doubleday and Ballantine. Without Warning and Overkill came from St. Martin’s Press; a third in the Emma Streat series is in the pipeline. West spends summers at Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire, and winters in Essex, Connecticut. Her greatest joys are her children, grandchildren, and large, close, extended family. She values kindness and is doing her best to age with grace―and to keep writing.

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