The issue of my age came up shortly after I sent my agent an over-excited email with a faintly adolescent text message acronym she asked, How old are you? OMG, OMG, should I lie? No. I shot back, I’m sixty. Why? Is that a problem? Not that I was defensive.
It’s shocking, unbelievable really, that I’m over sixty. I don’t think about my age, and I feel like I’m thirty-five, only smarter. Because, you see, I didn’t spend forty years writing in a void. I was also living.
I’ve had jobs, big and little, marriages, good and bad, lovers and friends and children and grandchildren. I have survived divorce, single parenthood, life-threatening illness, and teenagers. I’ve had moments of ineffable joy as well as patches of despair as black as scorch, and I wrote pretty consistently through all of it, if only in a journal. But I remained unpublished.
One day, I looked in the mirror and accepted that my books would never be published. It was crushing, and the only way I could get out of bed was by rolling directly into my reading chair, a comfy old thing in a corner of my bedroom, and plunging into a fictional world. Itâ€™s appalling, but I wallowed in the tragedy of my own crucified ego.
About that time, I hit my 60th birthday. That was fun. I thought about Shakespeare who had finished his immortal work in his forties, Van Gogh dead at thirty-seven, Caravaggio who revolutionized painting in his twenties, Bernini sculpting masterworks at sixteen, Mozart composing at five. Even Jesus had wrapped it up and headed back to heaven in his early thirties. I sulked on the sofa in rumpled pajamas and ate cold pizza.
Then I got angry and decided to take things into my own hands. I turned away from traditional publishing and took the humble route of self-publishing. My friends and family were apprehensive. I could see the pity in their eyes. Isn’t it sad to see Elle grasping for the brass ring that has so clearly passed her by? But I forged ahead, bold as an old crow.
Long story short (you can read the long story on my website, www.ellenewmark.com) I got a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster. The Book of Unholy Mischief was published last December and my work is being translated into more than a dozen languages.
But here’s the thing: Now that I’m published I see more clearly than ever that the greatest satisfaction is in the writing itself. All writers hope to be published, but we begin writing because something inside of us yearns to make something beautiful or to shed light on what it is to be alive. Like any other passion, we did not start doing it for fame and fortune, but for those transcendental moments when we are swept up in the act of creation. We pursue those flashes of clarity when we are able to express the divinity within. I call it â€œbeing in the zone, and it is what gives my life meaning.
Real success is finding something you love and then doing the hell out of it. Being good at something makes us feel complete and valuable.
Our passions are our consolation for mortality, age is irrelevant, and none of us knows what waits around the next corner. When my work is passed over or my age seems like cause to quit, I think of Winston Churchill: With the sky over England littered by falling bombs and London besieged and people dying and the future looking hopeless, sixty-eight year old Churchill pushed out his pugnacious chin and growled, â€œNever, never, never, never give up.
It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist’s dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the long-buried secrets scrawled in its pages and where it could possibly be hidden within the labyrinthine city. But while those who seek the book will stop at nothing to get it, those who know will die to protect it. As a storm of intrigue and desire circles the republic that grew from the sea, Luciano, a penniless orphan with a quick wit and an even faster hand, is plucked up by an illustrious chef and hired, for reasons he cannot yet begin to understand, as an apprentice in the palace kitchen. There, in the lavish home of the most powerful man in Venice, he is initiated into the chef’s rich and aromatic world, with all its seductive ingredients and secrets. Luciano’s loyalty to his street friends and the passion he holds for a convent girl named Francesca remain, but it is not long before he, too, is caught up in the madness. After he witnesses a shocking murder in the Palace dining room, he realizes that nothing is as it seems and that no one, not even those he’s come to rely on most, can be trusted. Armed with a precocious mind and an insatiable curiosity, Luciano embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth. What he discovers will swing open the shutters of his mind, inflame his deepest desires, and leave an indelible mark on his soul.
Rich with the luxurious colors and textures of Venice, The Book of Unholy Mischief delights the senses and breathes fresh life into an age defined by intellectual revival and artistic vibrancy. A luminous and seductive novel, it is, at its heart, a high-spirited tribute to the fruits of knowledge and the extraordinary power of those who hold its key. In a world of violence and intrigue, who guards the truth?
To learn more about Elle Newmark’s new book, The Book of Unholy Mischief or to purchase, please visit Elle’s website.