As I’ve told a number of friends, a while back I began a long overdue task of cleaning out my office. It was a chore I should have undertaken before I moved into this townhome. Instead, I simply boxed up everything in my desk, bookcases, and in two two-drawer lateral file cabinets in which I’ve saved interesting articles from newspapers and magazines for the last twenty or so years. I also saved notes from the many workshops I attended. The upshot is that it became a monumental chore taking weeks, not days to complete. I’d hoped to find some treasures suitable to spark my creative mind to write a heartwarming story. What I found was a lot of outdated material good for tossing. But in the mess I came across an article I’d cut out from a Bellevue, Washington newspaper in February 2002. The article was titled: “Romance is alive and well for author published at 80.”
Since I recently had my 79th birthday and have more than once wondered if at this age I’m reaching my twilight years of writing, the old, yellowed article stopped my cleaning and grabbed my attention. And after reading it I found I wanted to follow up on the author, and share what I ran to ground. The original article included a photo of Ludima Gus Burton working on a manuscript at her dining table. She’s quoted as saying: “For nine years I was rejected by everyone. My rejection file is four inches thick.” It also said it’d been a decade since she’d read her first romance novel, “Partners in Crime” by Anne Stuart (whom I’m sure many of you remember). Ludima said she picked up the book, thinking it was a mystery, as prior to the Stuart book she’d never read a romance. The story spoke to something in her that made her want to read more and write. She had retired from a 24-year teaching career, but was determined to not lead a sedentary life as so many people did after retiring. What the first romance did was make her fall in love with reading romance books. She began taking them out of the library 10 at a time. Her own story ideas started to percolate during her morning walk to and from her grandson’s school bus stop. But she also began to sit with pad and pencil and write. In the way most writers start, she said she didn’t know anything about the craft of writing. She didn’t know anything about a beginning, a hook, or character development. She just wrote ideas that formed in her head. Later she bought a $150.00 word processor (anyone remember those days?) followed by a laptop computer to transcribe her longhand into typed pages. And she began sending her typed work to publishers where she accumulated rejection after rejection.
Then she joined RWA and found a newly formed local chapter which I’ve only, in looking her up online, learned was the New Jersey Romance Writers chapter. In my aged article she told the reporter it was the point she began to learn the art of writing. Having been left a widow at 59, she got so involved in writing that for the first time in many years, she set about traveling away from home to hear romance writers speak, and in the process figured out she wanted to write only sweet romances. She set her sights on learning all she could, then wrote all she could and targeted Avalon Books, an imprint of Thomas Bouregy & Company in New York. They mainly published hardcover books for the library market. Having rewritten her first story idea three times, the book she almost despaired of and tossed out, got accepted. By then she’d written two additional books, and Avalon ended up publishing all three in a year and a half.
I have to admit I shed a happy tear just reading about her success. Assessing the courage it must have taken her to launch into a new chapter in life at age 80, sent me to my computer to see what more I could learn about this amazing woman. I found that she passed away in 2018 in New York in the company of her 2 daughters. The New Jersey chapter’s memoriam states that she published two books in 1999, one in 2000, another in 2001, again in 2005, and 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and her last in 2014. In 2000 she received The Eddy (Edward H. “Eddie” Pattison Award) for creativity, energy and leadership and was also inducted in the Farrell High School Hall of Fame in 2005.
All I can say is: What A Woman!
Reading about her life circled me back to my original question in this blog—is there a right time to write? Because I was laboring under the concept that “all things have a season” and wrestling with wondering if my last birthday maybe suggested I ought to think about ending my writing season—Ludima’s courage to dive into a totally new career at age 80 is certainly making me reevaluate.
Since I don’t know where everyone lives who may stop to read this blog, it’s possible some of you have had the privilege of knowing the remarkable Ludima Burton. If so, and you have more uplifting stories to tell about her, please do.