Back in 1939, an unmarried woman of 24 was considered an “old maid.” A man was considered past his prime at 40. Life expectancy reached 62 and then it’s through the veil you go! Fortunately Raymond Chandler did not ascribe to such societal mendacity. His first book, “The Big Sleep,” was published in 1939 when he was 51 years old.
Ray was an oil company executive until the Great Depression came to visit and got him fired. It just shows where writing stands among the professions when it’s something people turn to as a last resort. In order to propel his writing to the top of the heap of submissions, he provided an edgy lack of sentimentality combined with material usually only whispered about in polite society. After enjoying success with his novels and stories, he went to Hollywood to write movies and maybe frolic with starlets. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
(Frank McCourt by David Shankbone)
Born in 1930 in Brooklyn, this fellow ended up going back to his parents Irish homeland and growing up stinkin’ poor in Limerick. He made it back to New York as a teenager. After a long career of teaching high school English and creative writing, he finally reversed the “if you can’t -do-, -teach-” shibboleth by writing “Angela’s Ashes”, published in 1996 when he was 66 years old. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a bestseller. He wrote two more books after this, “‘Tis” and “Teacher Man.” That’s a big literary bitch slap to any slacker students who fell asleep in his class!
Abraham Stoker was a sickly Irish boy in the mid 1800’s. He graduated college with a degree in mathematics and then became hooked on the theater. I’ve heard this connection in other stories – between math and theater. I wish brain researchers would look into this. Anyway, back to Bram. He became pals with British actor Henry Irving, and ended up managing the Lyceum Theater in England, where his math skills probably came in handy toting up ticket sales. He did not start writing “Dracula” until he was almost 50. I wonder if it was inspired by some juicy theater folk gossip. And I also wonder if Bram would have appreciated the glittered and flouncy progeny of his gothic classic – the Twilight series. Or if he would have said it “bites.”
It seems a not so isolated event – successful writing coming upon someone later in life. Perhaps words for our experiences are the ingredients that need to slow cook in the crock pot of our lives until they are tender and juicy. Or maybe we just don’t have time to sit and scribble in the helter skelter frenzy of feeding and raising a family while carving out a business career amongst the sharks, snakes and wolves of commerce. Or perhaps it’s a desperate act of survival. Beats me, hons. Whatever it is, it gives us some great Halloween costumes!!