Eugenia Lovett West: “Be prepared to give up peripheral interests”

I believe, deeply in the value of escape reading, especially in uncertain times. My aim is to plunge readers into interesting backgrounds with intriguing people. It’s worth all the effort when people say they were able to forget pain and be in another place. As part of my interview series on the five things you need […]

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I believe, deeply in the value of escape reading, especially in uncertain times. My aim is to plunge readers into interesting backgrounds with intriguing people. It’s worth all the effort when people say they were able to forget pain and be in another place.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eugenia Lovett West. At age 96, Eugenia believes that it’s never too late to create and publish. Born in Boston, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and worked for Harper’s Bazaar and the American Red Cross before marrying a dashing fighter pilot in the 8th Air Force. She has published both historical novels and mysteries with Doubleday, St. Martin’s Press and SparkPress. Her latest book Firewall: A Novel is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound. It is the third book in the Emma Streat Mystery series.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

Writing demands a life-changing commitment about how one wants to spend one’s time and energy. I think you have to feel the burn, the compulsion to tell a story. I come from a long line of preachers and teachers who may have passed along a love of playing with words. Winston Churchill once wrote that “writing a book is an adventure. To begin, it is a toy, then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant; and the last phase is just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude you kill the monster and fling him back to the public.”

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Many years ago, I had the impulse to self-publish a mystery as a Christmas present to family and friends. They liked it, so I entered St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest for first unpublished mysteries. Months passed, but one fine morning I opened my computer and nearly levitated out of my chair. The renowned Ruth Cavin, the grande dame of mystery editors, was offering me a contract that led to Without Warning and Overkill. Believe me, it doesn’t get better than that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When my first novel, The Ancestors Cry Out was published, I was naïve enough to think there might be publicity, maybe even a party. When asked, my wonderful editor paused, cleared her throat and said, “Well, I can give you a few hundred dollars for stamps.” The lesson learned was that most publishers will spend money on advances, editing and production, but stint on marketing and publicity.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Publishing two books in one year in two different genres has been challenging, to say the least. Sarah’s War takes place in the pivotal year of 1777 during the war for independence. Researching history was rewarding, but so was creating the third Emma Streat mystery — Firewall — pub date November 5, 2019. By now I know Emma better than my own daughters. I want to keep her moving forward with her life and to survive new and dangerous threats

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

The habit that has helped me most is discipline. I have a theory that writing is 10% talent and 90% applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

There are so many twists and turns that it would be difficult for me to pick just one interesting story from Firewall. Plus it’s a deep mystery and I don’t want to give away any plot lines.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

The prevalence of cybercrime and the reality that we are all vulnerable. Emma, like most of us, never expected to be a victim and did little to protect herself until threatened.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Learning that historical novels and mysteries requires different mind sets. For history, known facts must be combined with imagination. For mysteries, there’s a set of rules — clues planted, red herrings inserted, villains caught, and justice must always triumph.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

Looking back, I wish I had spent more time studying the great classics like Shakespeare, Dante, Greek tragedies. The result might have led me to raise the bar higher with my own work and given it more insights and depth. Galsworthy showed me the merit of following the stories of various families. I learned from PD James and the Golden Age mystery writers, and I greatly admire the style and dialogue of Dick Francis. Much is owed to non-fiction historians like David McCullough, Joseph Ellis, Nathaniel Philbrick.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

I believe, deeply in the value of escape reading, especially in uncertain times. My aim is to plunge readers into interesting backgrounds with intriguing people. It’s worth all the effort when people say they were able to forget pain and be in another place.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Accept the fact that writing often has to be fitted into a busy life. Some writers have full-time jobs. I had a CEO husband, four children, and volunteer work. Persistence is key, and it helps to have a supportive family.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Surprise that it took so long to find my “voice”. Starting as a journalist taught me to cut adverbs and adjectives and meet deadlines, but my first novel was sheer trash, fit only for the wastebasket.
  2. I wish I had foreseen the importance of using social media and developing my abysmal technical skills.
  3. The balancing act of living in two worlds, one where you eat and talk, the other with your imaginary people as you guide them to their destinations.
  4. By switching back and forth between genres, it may be harder to build up a large following.
  5. A writing commitment necessitates many choices. Be prepared to give up peripheral interests.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I became a political junkie when covering politics as a journalist. Writing a historical novel set in this country’s war for independence has made me see stark similarities between that precarious time and the present. At age 96, I don’t see myself as starting a movement, but I believe it’s profoundly important to do whatever I can to preserve what our Founding Fathers laid out — a blueprint for the rule of law and for freedom.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website is

You can also find me on Facebook:

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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