The fact that V. C. Andrews didn’t have any success as a novelist until her late fifties (a benchmark that has already slipped for me), gives me hope. Another thing I didn’t realize about Cleo Virginia Andrews is that she was confined to a wheelchair. She didn’t want that fact advertised and she didn’t want peoples’ pity. She wanted to write. Many of the books published under her name were ideas she had but that were only brought to fruition by others after her death. She became a legacy. Writers are fascinating people. I only recently learned that Anne Rice was transgender. I had assumed from her public persona something that I had taken for granted. Gender is a complex thing, no matter how loudly religions shout. The sheer number of people born intersex should make that obvious.
Writers express the human experience. Some perspectives aren’t really considered worth pursuing, as I know from personal experience. But learning about writers’ lives always gives me hope. There are those whose lives will always contain mystery—was Washington Irving homosexual or just inept with women? What really happened to Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore? Who was Homer, really? No matter how much those of us inclined to write do so, there are still huge swaths of life that are left off the page. (Much of it boring, spent at work, or mowing the lawn. I try to imagine Herman Melville on a riding mower, but I just can’t do it.) Writing successfully involves a publisher or agent willing to take a chance on you. But if you’re old enough to be a one-hit wonder (sorry John Kennedy Toole), they don’t see dollar signs down the road, so move on down to the next door, please.
I had a novel under contract a decade and a half ago. It never materialized, so don’t look for it. My nepenthe consists of learning about writers, whether one-hit wonders or not. I can still look to the Frank McCourts, Laura Ingalls Wilders, and Harriet Doerrs of the literary world. For most writers it’s the story of what happened before success that is the most compelling part. Especially those who were older and just kept on trying. Some had to die, ironically, before the world realized they had something important to say. You can’t blame the world. The world’s busy. But the fact is nobody would remember what it was like if somebody hadn’t bothered to write it down. So we continue to chronicle the human experience.