A Mentor Never Meet: When Writers Provide Comfort

I got sick of reading the same old story, told by Jewish writers, of the same old stereotypes — the possessive mothers, the worn-out fathers, all the rest of the neurotic rebellious unhappy self-hating tribe,” she said. “I wanted to write a different novel about Jews — and a truer one.” Thus was Belva Plain quoted in her New York Times obituary, a year ago on October 12, 2010.

“In the beginning there was a warm room with a table, a black iron stove and red flowered wallpaper.”

That’s the first line of Belva Plain’s first book. In a prescient review, Library Journal wrote of Evergreen: “A magnificent story...this beautifully written book will be treasured and reread for many years to come.”

I read Evergreen as I did most books in 1978—for the luxury of escape, seeking solace in a world that wasn’t mine, my world being defined by a two-year-old, a five- year-old, and a marriage chosen at 19, when I was in love and desperate for perceived safety.

Belva Plain’s books comforted me then and her life story has comforted me ever since. Each birthday that another year passed without publishing a novel, each year that writing gave way to raising children and working, I’d think of Belva Plain publishing her first novel at 59. She’d sold short stories in her twenties, but broke from writing as she raised her family.

I’d co-authored a nonfiction book in my twenties, and then became lost in family and work, not realizing my dream until 2010, at 57, I published my novel The Murderer’s Daughters.

Belva Plain was a guiding light. As I counted down the years, in a world where youth is treated as an achievement—the passing of youth as a tragedy—the presence of Belva Plain calmed me. For every time there is a season, I reminded myself. Ms. Plain was my example against the world’s devaluation of middle-aged women.

Ms. Plain was a New York Times bestselling author. Her rich reads offered millions exactly what they wanted, stories thick with family, troubles, and a pastiche of the tough times face by many women. Called “an accomplished storyteller,” by the Washington Post and described by the San Francisco Chronicle as writing with “authority and integrity,” Belva Plain also built a wonderful life.

From within her happiness—a long loving marriage, beloved by and close to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—Ms. Plain was able to touch the ways women stay strong in the face of the disasters they faced in their homes, in their communities, and in the world.

Belva Plain provided succor and transport in her stories and a breath-taking role model with her life. She is missed; her mark is strong.

After publishing her first novels at the age of 59, in 1978, Belva Plain went on to publish 22 more, her final book coming out in 2004, when she was 84. She was a remarkable woman and the very best guide one could have to getting older.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I’m SO glad I read this post! As a middle aged woman still striving for publication of my first novel, I think I’ll make Belva Plain my new guiding light! Thank you for introducing me to this remarkable woman!

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