Are You Aiming for Their Writing Success?

These five women authors are the top five of the Best Female Novelists of All Time (adapted from Ranker)  On your road to success, you may wish to follow the path of someone who has been there. In this series of blog posts, we’ll briefly review the writing lives of these authors. When you are aiming for writing success, understanding what others’ success looked like helps. 

Virginia Woolf

1882-1941

British author, Virginia Woolf, produced at least ten novels, many short stories, plays, essays, and reviews. Virginia started writing in 1900 at eight years old. Her first published piece appeared in 1915. This home schooled author wrote about artistic theory, literary history, women’s writing, and the politics of power. Her novels fall into the women’s literary fiction category. 

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.

Virginia Woolf

While working on her first novel, she asked friends and relatives for advice. Thereafter, she allowed no one to see her manuscripts. 

Image of the book Virginia Woolf, a writer's diary Details of her writing success and habits.

She wrote standing for a while because, like a painter, she wanted to step back from her canvas to get a better view. And she experimented with different pens, hoping to find the perfect one.  

Woolf put the price of writing at an annual £500 (about $41,000 today) and “a lock on the door.” She experienced writing success in her lifetime. She sold her work and made some money. But she was less successful than her friend Vita Sackville-West. Woolf was anxious and sensitive about reviews. Finishing a book usually left her depressed.

She suffered from depression and possibly bipolar disorder. Woolf committed suicide at 59. You can find a bibliography here.

Agatha Christie, DBE

1890-1976

English novelist, Agatha Christie created the world famous detective, Hercule Poirot, inspired by the Belgium refugees around her during World War I. She wrote over 60 Poirot novels plus the Miss Marple detective series and other books. Find her detective and thriller stories listed here.

At eleven, she fell ill with influenza. Her mother recommended she write stories to entertain herself. She published her first poem that year. And that launched her career. 

She usually had dozens of notebooks in which she jotted random notes. Plot ideas, poisons, and snippets of characters gathered in her notebooks. She spent most of her time plotting out the story. Then she wrote. She wrote by hand first and had someone type the manuscript. Later, she used a dictaphone. Her grandson said in the 1950s she’d write one or two chapters a day. She would take two or three months to write. Followed by a month to revise. Once it she sent it to her editor, she’d read a chapter or two to the family after dinner. At the height of her writing success in the 1950s, Christie churned out 2-3 novels per year. She slowed down later in life. 

Image of the book, Agatha Christie's Complete Secret Notebooks transcribed by her grandson they detail her writing success

Good advice is always certain to be ignored, but that’s no reason not to give it.

Agatha Christie

The best-selling female author of all time died of natural causes at 86.

Jane Austen

1775-1817

Austin published her six novels anonymously. We will never know the true reason she published her books by The Lady. Two facts may have influenced that decision. At the time, British society believed it unbecoming for a woman to have a career. And her father was in the clergy. 

At 8, they sent her to boarding school for her “formal education.” When she returned home, she made use of her father’s extensive library. She also began writing “First Impressions” which became Pride and Prejudice. She completed the first draft in 1799. 

Austin’s father attempted to get that first manuscript published. The editor didn’t even bother to open the package.

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.

Jane Austen

Her books are famous for her realistic characters and relationships. They’re about love. She set the stage for literary realism. Her writing style vastly differed from that of her peers. It was groundbreaking.

She died of an unknown illness (possibly Addison’s Disease) at 42. Her brother and sister published her completed works. And her brother “unveiled” her with his loving tribute, “Memoir of Miss Austen.”

She became an authoress entirely from taste and inclination. Neither the hope of fame nor profit mixed with her early motives.

Henry Austen

He said that she was surprised that her books made any money at all.

Her books were “discovered” in the 1940s because literary scholars and feminist critics brought her achievements to light. Read more about Jane Austen. https://www.janeausten.org/

George Eliot AKA Mary Ann Evans

1819-1880

George Eliot wrote novels, poems, essays, reviews, and translations. She published her first piece of fiction when she was thirty-seven.

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

George Eliot

Following the death of her father in 1851, Eliot used her inheritance to live independently from her family. She moved to London and pursued a career in journalism. In the 19th century, her life as a single working woman was unusual. 

In 1854 she accompanied her lover, George Henry Lewes, on his travels while researching his biography of Goethe. Lewes encouraged her to try writing fiction. 

She published her first three short stories in 1857. Her first full-length novel, Adam Bede (1859), instantly became a best-seller. Later that year, the public learned her identity. That knowledge did not affect her writing success. Her bibliography is here.

She proposed using a pseudonym to her publisher. It served two purposes. It concealed her gender, disguised her irregular social position (living with a married man), and distanced herself from “silly novels by lady novelists.”

George Eliot caught a throat infection in December 1880. The illness triggered her existing kidney disease and caused her death.

Mary Shelley

1797-1816

The fifth Best Female Novelists of All Time, Mary Shelley, was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer. She published her first poem in 1801.

As a child, I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to ‘write stories.’

Mary Shelley

Homeschooled, her only formal schooling was six months at Miss Pettman’s Ladies’ School in Ramsgate. Because of her father’s employment, she had access to an estate’s extensive library. She made use of it.

She began an affair with her father’s married acquaintance, Percy Bysshe Shelley, when she was seventeen. Her father tried to break it off, but the two met in secret. They

Shelley was eighteen years old when she wrote Frankenstein. It took two years of painstaking wordsmithing before she finished the novel. She published it the following year. The public shocked by the “atrocious” story was further shocked that such a story was written by a woman. 

She revised and republished it twice. The original with notations from her and Percy is at the Smithsonian Institute. The British publisher SP Books  published a facsimile of that manuscript last year. A limited edition, it honored the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication.

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.

Mary Shelley

The archives are full of her attempts to get published. Editors rejected her over and over because of her gender. Some surmise there were rejections because of her relationship with Percy. Some people felt she distracted him from his literary endeavors, others disapproved of their unmarried relationship. Even after Percy’s wife died and she and he married, they faced societal and family disapproval.

Still, Shelley wrote seven novels and many short stories. Her bibliography is here.


1775-1976. Five independent women over a 200 year span of time. They empowered themselves and were authors despite the social expectations around them. Did any of these women inspire you? Are you aiming for their writing success? Or is your idea of success something different?

Story Time Reviews “Operation Haystack”

Story Time Reviews “Operation Haystack” by Frank Herbert. If you enjoy science fiction spy mysteries, you’ll enjoy this short story. It first appeared in Astounding in May 1959.  This review is of the public domain LibriVox recording. It is a little more than. 48 minutes in duration.

Image of an Alien city scape

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.

— Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

The Story

The story is about Field Agent Lewis Orne, injured during an assignment on a planet ruled by women. The doctors have no hope of saving him. A “womblike creche pod” had taken over most of his badly mangled body’s vital functions. Umbo Stetson, Orne’s section chief, writes Orne’s mother about her son’s condition. She is too ill to travel. In her stead, a friend and local, Mrs. Ipscott Bullone of Marak, wife of the High Commissioner, takes over for the family. 

Miraculously Orne survives. Mrs. Bullone invites Orne to recuperate at her home after his discharge from the hospital.  This is an opportunity Stetson can’t pass up. He suspects Ipscott Bullone of being the head of a conspiracy to take over the government. Stetson assigns Orne to spy on the family during his stay. 

Orne falls for the Bullone daughter and discovers long kept secrets and conspiracies. Will he stay loyal to the service and possibly lose the love he’s found? Or will he expose the secrets and conspiracies? And will that be enough to save the government of Maresk?

If you prefer print it’s available on Amazon at 99¢

The Author

An avid reader, Franklin (Frank) Patrick Herbert Jr. (1920-1986) didn’t graduate from college. He refused to take mandatory classes. He wanted to study what he wanted to study. And he wrote what he wanted to write. 

On his eighth birthday, Herbert declared he wanted to be an author. As an adult, he had a difficult time making a living at first. He bounced from “job to job and town to town.”

He is best know for his novel, Dune (1965), and its sequels. 

Many of his works are complex with themes involving genetic manipulation through selective mating, human evolution, the corruptibility of government, and the intersection of religion, politics, economics, and power. 

His bibliography is impressive. He wrote over forty short stories, six Dune novels, a four book series called WorShip, two ConSentiency novels, plus at least fifteen more novels, six short story collections, and six nonfiction books. Find a more complete bibliography on wikipedia.

He died of a massive pulmonary embolism, a complication of surgery for pancreatic cancer. 

The Voice Talent

Gregg Margarite (1957-2012) was a voice artist, a musician, and a big dog owner. He recorded 205 hours, 58 minutes, and 30 seconds of audiobooks. Most of that was for LibriVox.

His understated vocal style was clear and unobtrusive. He didn’t do “voices.” He simply told the story. 

His body of work reflects his love of short science fiction.  You can find his audio catalog here.

My Opinion

Overall, I enjoyed the story. 

The story holds Herbert’s usual themes: politics, power, and corruption. There are also hints of the Bene Gesserit from Dune

It’s pacing and suspense is excellent. And I enjoyed some of Herbert’s very nice descriptions.

On reflection, I don’t think the story begins in the right place. The injury and recovery feel a bit “added on.” Some aspects of the story reflect writing styles in the late 1950s. Thus, Orne’s is not an intimate viewpoint.

The understated narration of the story bothered me at first. Usually, I like a more dramatic reading. But I found myself drawn into the story. 

Conclusion

I admire and am enamored of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune.  He researched and developed Dune over a six-year period. While the Dune website does not acknowledge “Operation Haystack” as one of the Dune stories, I believe it involves an early version of the Bene Gesserit. 

I recommend reading or listening to this story. You will see the strengths and weaknesses of Herbert’s early writings. And his theme about politics and power will make you think. I  give this story four of five stars. 

If you enjoyed this episode, Story Time Reviews “Operation Haystack by Frank Herbert, you may wish to look at previous episodes. You can read reviews of stories by Ray Bradbury, H. Beam Piper, and Isaac Asimov

In the Year 2525, Will These Treatments Keep You Alive?

Modern technological innovations have made dramatic differences in the work and daily lives of people. And these innovations are influencing medicine. In the year 2525, will these treatments keep you alive? Maybe. The genetic studies may take longer. Some, like 3-D printing, may save lives a lot sooner.

Pharmacogenomics

Drawing of a lab bottle containing a double helix--someday medical treatments based on pharmacogenomics may save your life.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. Scientists will study the genetic makeup of a patient. With this genetic information, doctors will personalize medications. They will know which medicines an individual will respond to. They’ll be able to avoid medication related illness like Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Side effects may become a thing of the past.

The field of study is still in its infancy. But pharmacogenomics has a lot of potential. One hope is that we can avoid addiction. And personalized medications will provide a better quality of life for many people.

3-D Printing

Photo of a 3-D Prosthetic hand. You don't have to wait for the year 2525 for this medical treatment.

One day organ transplants will be obsolete. If you need an organ, your doctor will print one on a 3-D printer. It will be made with your own tissue. Your body will recognize and accept it.

“The most significant developments in 3-D printing have come in external prosthetics, cranial or orthopedic implants, and custom airway stents. But it has also proven helpful in surgical planning” of complex surgeries. (Find more information here. ) Medical devices 3-D printed will match the patient’s own anatomy exactly. Thus the device is much more comfortable for the patient. It often provides better performance outcomes as well. 

Those organ transplants of the future? Printing human tissue is under study now. A tiny human heart was 3-D printed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel

Someday, perhaps by the year 2525, no one will die while waiting for a suitable organ transplant!

RNA Therapies

Personalize treatments using RNA therapy will “‘interfere’ with genetic data at the RNA level and intercept a genetic abnormality before it gets translated into functioning (or non-functioning) proteins.” Hopefully, these therapies prevent or reverse rare genetic diseases. Read more here.


Treatments of the Future

There are many more things to learn to make these technologies effective. We also must establish guidelines for these treatments. And like with conservation genetics, there are ethical questions to consider.

But the future of medical technology is right out of science fiction. One day, these treatments may be the norm. Perhaps in 2525 we, like Dr. Bones from Star Trek, consider today’s medical treatments barbaric.