rosemaryIt’s never too late to reach for your dreams. That’s what Susan Wittig Albert told women who gathered today for a luncheon sponsored by a local women’s club.

“You can start late,” Albert said. “I was 52 when the first China Bayles came out.” Albert went on to write 17 mystery novels about Bayles. She followed these with dozens of other mysteries for both adults and teenagers.

In childhood Albert knew she wanted to be a writer. When someone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, “Nancy Drew, but if I can’t be Nancy Drew, I’ll be Carolyn Keene. And then she headed off to university and a career in medieval studies with quite a few years of academic administration on top of it. She made it way up near the top of the academic profession.

And then she walked away from it all to write for a living.

First, she wrote mysteries for hire to hone her craft. In fact, she wrote NANCY DREW mysteries.

“I grew up to be the person I wanted to be when I was 12 years old,” Albert said. Although she was living out her dream to “be” Carolyn Keene, Albert did outgrow writing to a synopsis created by an editor. That’s when she created China Bayles. This was in the early ‘80s when the mystery genre opened up to women writers like Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky. The protagonists of the novels were women who worked as private detectives in big American cities on the coasts, and of course, V I Warshawski in Chicago.

“We had one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, and I thought we needed on in Texas,” Albert said. She also said that a female private eye wouldn’t fit in Texas, so China Bayles brought a career in law to her detective work.

I have read and liked some of the China Bayles mysteries and had seen some of her memoirs, but I had no idea just how productive Albert has been in a mystery-writing career that started, for all intents and purposes, when she was in her 50s. She’s written for numerous series of young adult mysteries, several series for adults, memoirs, and literary fiction. Most of the work revolves around strong female characters and is based on extensive research.

The culmination of Albert’s talk was a bit of a preview of her latest literary project, a novel based on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It turns out that Wilder started to write about her life because her family needed money during the Great Depression. Her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, formerly the most highly paid female fiction writer in the United States, had lost everything in the Crash of 1929 and had come Missouri to scratch out a living with her parents on their farm. They had livestock and land, but no cash.

That’s when Laura Ingalls Wilder set pen to yellow pad and began, at the age of 62, to write her life story. Her daughter shaped the stories into the Little House novels many, many American girls read as they are growing up.

Albert is fascinated by the story of the Wilder family for three main reasons  First, the two women wrote to make money.  The mother-daughter collaboration also fascinates her because Albert has written many novels in collaboration with her husband. Finally, the 1930s, when the Wilder women sold the Little House stories, was a tough market for writers in the 1930s and the current market is similar.

With her current contracts for mysteries in series and the Laura Ingalls Wilder literary novel, Albert expects to be busy until she’s 75. Albert hopes to keep busy at her computer, doing what she loves as long as she is alive.

I can’t wait to dig into her book on women who transformed their successful careers into meaningful lives that do not include high-powered positions. I’ll be reading Work of Her Own: Success off the Career Track in bed tonight.

Special thanks to GadgetGrl, who graciously invited me and my six students of journalism to attend the luncheon and lecture with the Seguin Study Club at the Weinert House Bed and Breakfast. I am about to buy some books in the photo illustrating the Seguin Gazette story about the event.

Photo by ccharmon on Published here under a Creative Commons License.