Writers I Love to Read
A few weeks ago we were discussing Mary Stewart and someone mentioned Phyllis Whitney. Whitney and Stewart were contemporaries, Phyllis 1903-2008 and Mary 1916. American and English.
Whitney was often called the Queen of the American gothic, though she insisted that she wrote romantic suspense.
I always like Phyllis Whitney, at first because she had once wanted to be a dancer and when I first started to write seriously, I felt a camaraderie with her, because I had been a dancer, too.
I hadn’t read her for awhile so I went back last week and read two of her books that I found on my bookshelf, Hunter’s Green (1968) and The Singing Stones (1990.) Her stories certainly have dark gothic overtones. A true women in jeopardy kind of story.
She was a master of creating that claustrophobic feeling of the heroine surrounded by people with dark motivations and machinations. Everyone is suspect. And she kept me guessing even though I had read them years before.
And though 22 years separated these two books, their themes were similar. A young immature woman marries who she thinks is her soul mate only to lose his love, or flee and has come back to try to understand herself. And him. To see if she has grown at all and if there might still be a future for them. Yet they are surrounded by people who are determined to stop them no matter what the risk or the price.
I confess this time around I did become a little annoyed at the timidity and naiveté of her heroines. But this is classic romantic suspense. And if I prefer the handier more outspoken heroines of Mary Stewart, I can certainly appreciate the feeling of hopelessness and the final development of the heroine.
“When I went into my bathroom to stare at myself in the mirror, I saw crusted blood along the scratch on my cheek, but that was superficial. My hair was a mess, and my coat was smeared with red dust. All of which could be easily repaired. I wasn’t so sure about the look in my eyes—a look of uncried tears. Not because I’d nearly lost my life, but because I’d been looking at a batch of old pictures that belonged to two people who had lived in another time. These were tears I didn’t dare to shed.”
“As I ran along the pavement’s edge I brushed past wet shrubbery that slapped at me, weighted by the rain, and I almost fell as I stumbled over something which lay across the roadway at my feet. Something which lay facedown and unmoving, clad in a green trench coat, with a plastic hood covering the head, a coat of hunter’s green streaked by scarlet threads that ran in the rivulets of rain.”
Much darker than Stewart’s stories, the menace is constant and unknown.
Whitney also wrote craft books.
From the Guide to Fiction Writing: Some of her advice to writers:
“Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too). Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.”
And one of my favorites.
“Good stories are not written, they are rewritten”
So what do you think? Can her stories appeal to today’s readers. Or do we have to step back to a less aggressive time to experience the true intensity and fear and hopelessness of those young women?