Check it out: Romance keeps you young!
New York Times By DULCIE LEIMBACH
Published: February 9, 2008
Phyllis A. Whitney, a prolific best-selling author of romantic mysteries, young-adult novels and children’s mysteries for more than a half-century, died on Friday in Faber, Va. She was 104 and lived in Faber. Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Georgia Pearson, who said the cause was pneumonia.
Ms. Whitney, who once said she stayed young by writing, continued to publish books until she was 94. Her last was “Amethyst Dreams” (1997), about a young woman who stands to inherit a fortune but who has disappeared from a family seaside villa. Only her best friend can help find her.
Her first book, in 1941, was “A Place for Ann,” a young-adult novel about girls who create a personal service organization doing jobs like dog walking.
In all, Ms. Whitney produced 39 adult suspense novels, some with a Gothic twist (with titles like “Woman Without a Past” and “The Glass Flame”); 14 novels for young adults (“A Window for Julie,” “Nobody Likes Trina”); 20 children’s mysteries (“Mystery of the Scowling Boy,” “Secret of the Missing Footprint”); several books about writing; and many short stories for magazines.
Her novels, considered fast-paced with lots of cliffhangers, have been translated into 30 languages and sold in the millions. Though many have gone out of print, some have continued to be re-released in paperback.
In 1988 Ms. Whitney received the prestigious Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement from the Mystery Writers of America. “I always told myself that when I get old I’ll reread all my books, but I never seem to get old,” Ms. Whitney said in an interview with The Times when she was 79.
She said that one of her writing tricks was to set her books in places she had visited. She called her vacations book-hunting expeditions. Her earliest novels took place in Chicago, but as her appeal grew the settings became more glamorous and romantic: Palm Springs, Calif.; Sedona, Ariz.; and Maui, Hawaii, as well as Turkey, Norway, Greece and Japan. “Amethyst Dreams” was set on Topsail Island in North Carolina.
“I choose a place to visit, and I take photos and start collecting information about it,” she said of her technique. “I stay there until I get the emotional tug of the place.”
Ms. Whitney’s travels began early. She was born Phyllis Ayame Whitney on Sept. 9, 1903, to Charles J. Whitney and the former Mary Lillian Mandeville in Yokohama, Japan. (Ayame means “iris” in Japanese.) Her father was in the shipping and hotel business.
Her parents had met in the United States and become sweethearts but initially broke up. Afterward, Ms. Whitney’s mother married another man, Gus Heege, an actor, and they had a son, Philip. After Mr. Heege died, Ms. Whitney’s parents reunited in Japan and married there. Phyllis was their only child. Her parents’ story was the inspiration for one of Ms. Whitney’s plots, about a love affair gone awry.
The family moved to the Philippines when Ms. Whitney was 6 and later lived for a time in China. When Ms. Whitney was 15, after her father died, she and her mother left for Berkeley, Calif. They later moved to San Antonio, where her mother died of cancer.
At 17, Ms. Whitney moved to Chicago to live with an aunt. She graduated from McKinley High School there in 1924, at 20. (She had gone to missionary schools overseas, causing her to lag behind academically.) The next year she married George A. Garner. They had one child, Georgia, in 1934.
Besides their daughter, also of Faber, Ms. Whitney (who always kept her maiden name) is survived by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In the first years of her marriage, Ms. Whitney worked in bookstores and at the Chicago Public Library while writing on the side. It took her four years to publish her first short story, which appeared in The Chicago Daily News. Besides publishing “A Place for Ann” in the 1940s, she became a book reviewer for The Chicago Sun and then The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Her first book in the adult suspense genre was “Red Is for Murder,” published in 1943 by Ziff-Davis with a picture of a blood splatter on the cover. It tells the story of Linell Wynn, who writes sign copy for a department store and whose life has been uneventful “until the day that murder walks the floors at dusk,” according to the book jacket.
Ms. Whitney and her husband divorced in 1945, partly because he was not supportive of her writing. Five years later she married Lovell F. Jahnke. The couple moved to Staten Island, where they lived for decades and traveled widely together as she gathered fodder for her tales, in one instance taking a hot-air balloon trip. Mr. Jahnke died in 1973, when they lived in Hope, N.J.
Ms. Whitney ascribed her success as a writer 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.”
"It's hard to come up with a 'quote' about myself. Perhaps I could say that most of my writing has been concerned with understanding between people. Whether of different races, or religions, or even in the same family I tried in my books... to deal with the subject of understanding the other fellow."
-- Phyllis A. Whitney