Best-selling authors: ‘Nobody could be this lucky’

By Dana Delgado

BERTRAM — Books unlocked the world of a young Susan Wittig growing up in mid-eastern Illinois among the mines and many factories of Danville.

Her father, who was a great detective reader, especially enjoying Agatha Christie, pointed her to mysteries which have been an enduring love. Equally inspiring were her readings of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.

Writing, however, was her passion.  Susan Wittig knew early on that she wanted to be a writer.

Little did she know, although she always dreamed big, that she along with her husband Bill Albert would become national bestselling authors living a charmed and rural life on 32 acres outside the quaint town of Bertram.

Susan has 50-plus books to her credit including the best-selling China Bayles mysteries, The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, The Darling Dahlias, and the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries written with her husband. Together, the Alberts have also co-written over 60 young adult novels.

Her earlier non-fiction work includes Work of Her Own, a study of women who left their careers, and Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story. She has revised two anthologies for the Story Circle Network: With Courage and Common Sense (2004) and What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest (2007).

She is also the author of two memoirs: Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place (2009) and An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days (2010), both published by the University of Texas Press. Other works include a collection of essays entitled Unfinished Places.

One of latest releases is a self-published book, A Wilder Rose, available online and in print. It is the true, untold story of the writing of the Little House books.

“Nobody could be this lucky!” exclaimed Susan Wittig Albert also known by the pen names Robin Paige and Carolyn Keene.

But despite all the long hours and hard work, the couple agrees that a lot of credit to their success was “sheer luck.”

“My first big break came when I submitted some sample chapters for a kids’ book without an agent,” recalls Mrs. Albert. “Within a week, I got a call.”

To her good fortune, her submission landed on the “top of the pile” from which her sample chapters were plucked for review.  Along the way, there have been “good luck stories as well as hard luck stories” like when a submission was lost when the publisher went belly-up.  Bill said that during lean years, he even took up woodworking and sold wood crafts to make ends meet.

“My hope was to make a living at writing, but it was hard to predict what was going to happen,” said Mrs. Albert who had previously done magazine writing.

The national bestselling author attended the small-town high school of Danville, Illinois, which has a long list of notable alumni.  Among its prominent students were Academy Award winning actor Gene Hackman, actors Jerry and Dick Van Dyke, NASA astronaut Joseph R. Tanner, and film producer Irving Azoff (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) among many others.

Mrs. Albert was the first from her family to attend college. She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Berkeley followed by 15 years of teaching and administrative work with the University of Texas at Austin, Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans, and Southwest Texas State University before writing fulltime.

In 1986, she and New York native Bill Albert married and moved to a home in the Bertram area that had been under preparation since 1974.   Bill, who spent 15 years as a programmer and systems analyst, said he did everything possible to ready the homestead but found the going rough. The land was primitive and getting amenities were difficult at best.

“We had trouble getting a telephone landline,” he said. “They wanted to charge us $600 to put it in. Finally, we were able to get neighbors to go in together.”

These days, writing remains a full-time job, morning to dusk in their book-filled home.

“We have so many bookcases that they cover every wall in our home,” Mrs. Albert said. “There are so many books I don’t think anything could blow the house away.”

On the other hand, the Alberts are appreciating other joys in life at their Bertram home or their getaway cottage in New Mexico near Taos.  Living amidst nature is one of those little joys.

“It’s amazing living in the country,” said Mrs. Albert, who has become a serious gardener over the last five years and relishes her time with her collection of barnyard animals. “I get to watch the Sand hill cranes, turkeys, mountain lions, geese and ducks and wild pigs.”

The couple professes their bucket-list is filled and just look forward to the joy of getting up each day.