News

At 97, children's author publishes her first novel for adults

Known for her 'Katie' series, Martha Tolles switches gears with 'Love and Sabotage'

"I realize not everyone can enjoy good health, but it's still possible to do things when you're quite old," said 97-year-old Martha Tolles. "That's the good news."

Tolles, who gained success as a children's book author in her 40s — selling more than 2 million copies of her "Katie" series through Scholastic and other publishers — recently came out with her first novel for adults: "Love and Sabotage," set during World War II.

Though never a full-time writer, she has persisted through the years, adapting her formats to find new audiences for her work. She's stayed in the writing game, moving from children's short stories and children's books to memoir essays and now, a novel for adults. The part-time Palo Alto resident even enrolled in a writing class at Stanford Continuing Studies in 2008 when she was in her mid-80s.

"You hear of people who suddenly discover something they love, whether surfing, sewing, singing or whatever," she said in a recent interview. "And I found something I loved, which was writing for kids."

Tolles said she stumbled on writing inadvertently while in her 30s. She was raising six children in southern California with her lawyer husband when she experienced back trouble serious enough to require surgery.

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"I had to hire two different gals to come in and run the show for me," she recalled. "There I lay. There was one television but it was downstairs and I was upstairs and they needed it downstairs. I got very bored, even though I love to read. So one day I thought, 'Maybe I'll just try writing a story.'"

She wrote a few and was buoyed by early success, selling stories to the popular children's magazines "Jack and Jill" and "Highlights."

"As soon as my back got better, I went off to Pasadena City College and enrolled in night writing classes and just loved the whole thing," Tolles said. "I had these (magazine) sales and I think the teacher said to me something about, 'Have you thought about writing a book?' So then I did think of it."

Inspired by her own children — one daughter and five sons — Tolles's first title was "Too Many Boys," the story of Katie, who is vastly outnumbered by the boys in her neighborhood. First published in 1965, it was later republished by Scholastic under the title "Katie and Those Boys." It led to several other books in the Katie series — some of which are now being reissued as e-books — "Katie's Babysitting Job" and "Katie for President."

"When I wrote 'Too Many Boys' my daughter was about 11," Tolles recalled. "After I sold it, I was at the table one night looking terribly proud and pleased. She said, 'You know, mother, you're not really an author, you're just a mother who wrote a book.'"

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Eventually Tolles penned at least eight children's titles published by Scholastic, reaching sales of 2.3 million. Later she wrote stories for the children's page of the Los Angeles Times, three of which were published as paperbacks.

When editors lost interest in her children's books, Tolles adapted. "Styles change in books, just like in clothing and everything else." Eventually, "everybody wanted to read Harry Potter instead of everyday realistic fiction," she said.

Switching gears, she mined her memories to produce what she calls "looking back essays" and scoured the web to find publishers. Magazines with names like "Good Old Days," "Dame" and "Skirt" published the reminiscences — about being late to her own wedding on a Corpus Christi naval base in 1944 or about her early days as a housekeeper. Another essay, "While Lying Down on the Job," explained how she launched her writing career while in bed.

Tolles and her husband became part-time residents of Palo Alto about 15 years ago, when they arrived to help their daughter at the time of the illness and death of their son-in-law, physician Alex Tseng. Their daughter Cynthia Tolles Tseng passed away a few years later in 2010. Tolles has continued to spend time in Palo Alto, though her primary residence since 1948 has been southern California.

After her husband of 63 years died in 2008, she enrolled in the writing class at Stanford, where she developed the World War II novel. The story line echoed that of her own life in the 1940s — a recent graduate of Smith College working as a newspaper reporter with a fiance who's a Marine fighter pilot in the Pacific.

"I think writing it helped me because so much of it was about our life together," she said. "In real life, I was married; in the book, I was engaged. In both cases it was Edwin Roy Tolles who was the fighter pilot. (The war) was an interesting time because women were getting jobs they'd never had before." The novel, "Love and Sabotage," was published in 2018 by Speaking Volumes press.

Tolles continues to participate in her writers' group, which grew out of her Pasadena City College writing classes in the 1970s. Members gather weekly to read and discuss one another's manuscripts.

She recently sent four boxes full of papers documenting her career — including drafts, correspondence with editors and fans and interviews — to the archives and manuscripts collection at Smith College, where graduated with the class of 1943.

Tolles said the problems with her back cleared up years ago. "I wouldn't play golf and I don't lift heavy things, but otherwise I'm just fine," she said.

She reflected on the mixed emotions of aging in an essay, "This Is What It's Like To Be 90," published by Dame magazine in 2015: "Funny how I've begun to feel boastful about my age after years of desperately trying to hide it," she wrote.

"And so here I am, missing my loved ones and dear friends, trying not to feel lonely, especially without my husband of 63 years — yet sheepishly proud I'm here. Because I am so old, people don't expect much of me either. When walking with a younger friend the other day, she said, 'Look at you. Aren't you amazing? You can still walk!' Well, yes, I can and I'm still enjoying it. Sort of."

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At 97, children's author publishes her first novel for adults

Known for her 'Katie' series, Martha Tolles switches gears with 'Love and Sabotage'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Apr 7, 2019, 7:09 am
Updated: Mon, Apr 8, 2019, 8:36 am

"I realize not everyone can enjoy good health, but it's still possible to do things when you're quite old," said 97-year-old Martha Tolles. "That's the good news."

Tolles, who gained success as a children's book author in her 40s — selling more than 2 million copies of her "Katie" series through Scholastic and other publishers — recently came out with her first novel for adults: "Love and Sabotage," set during World War II.

Though never a full-time writer, she has persisted through the years, adapting her formats to find new audiences for her work. She's stayed in the writing game, moving from children's short stories and children's books to memoir essays and now, a novel for adults. The part-time Palo Alto resident even enrolled in a writing class at Stanford Continuing Studies in 2008 when she was in her mid-80s.

"You hear of people who suddenly discover something they love, whether surfing, sewing, singing or whatever," she said in a recent interview. "And I found something I loved, which was writing for kids."

Tolles said she stumbled on writing inadvertently while in her 30s. She was raising six children in southern California with her lawyer husband when she experienced back trouble serious enough to require surgery.

"I had to hire two different gals to come in and run the show for me," she recalled. "There I lay. There was one television but it was downstairs and I was upstairs and they needed it downstairs. I got very bored, even though I love to read. So one day I thought, 'Maybe I'll just try writing a story.'"

She wrote a few and was buoyed by early success, selling stories to the popular children's magazines "Jack and Jill" and "Highlights."

"As soon as my back got better, I went off to Pasadena City College and enrolled in night writing classes and just loved the whole thing," Tolles said. "I had these (magazine) sales and I think the teacher said to me something about, 'Have you thought about writing a book?' So then I did think of it."

Inspired by her own children — one daughter and five sons — Tolles's first title was "Too Many Boys," the story of Katie, who is vastly outnumbered by the boys in her neighborhood. First published in 1965, it was later republished by Scholastic under the title "Katie and Those Boys." It led to several other books in the Katie series — some of which are now being reissued as e-books — "Katie's Babysitting Job" and "Katie for President."

"When I wrote 'Too Many Boys' my daughter was about 11," Tolles recalled. "After I sold it, I was at the table one night looking terribly proud and pleased. She said, 'You know, mother, you're not really an author, you're just a mother who wrote a book.'"

Eventually Tolles penned at least eight children's titles published by Scholastic, reaching sales of 2.3 million. Later she wrote stories for the children's page of the Los Angeles Times, three of which were published as paperbacks.

When editors lost interest in her children's books, Tolles adapted. "Styles change in books, just like in clothing and everything else." Eventually, "everybody wanted to read Harry Potter instead of everyday realistic fiction," she said.

Switching gears, she mined her memories to produce what she calls "looking back essays" and scoured the web to find publishers. Magazines with names like "Good Old Days," "Dame" and "Skirt" published the reminiscences — about being late to her own wedding on a Corpus Christi naval base in 1944 or about her early days as a housekeeper. Another essay, "While Lying Down on the Job," explained how she launched her writing career while in bed.

Tolles and her husband became part-time residents of Palo Alto about 15 years ago, when they arrived to help their daughter at the time of the illness and death of their son-in-law, physician Alex Tseng. Their daughter Cynthia Tolles Tseng passed away a few years later in 2010. Tolles has continued to spend time in Palo Alto, though her primary residence since 1948 has been southern California.

After her husband of 63 years died in 2008, she enrolled in the writing class at Stanford, where she developed the World War II novel. The story line echoed that of her own life in the 1940s — a recent graduate of Smith College working as a newspaper reporter with a fiance who's a Marine fighter pilot in the Pacific.

"I think writing it helped me because so much of it was about our life together," she said. "In real life, I was married; in the book, I was engaged. In both cases it was Edwin Roy Tolles who was the fighter pilot. (The war) was an interesting time because women were getting jobs they'd never had before." The novel, "Love and Sabotage," was published in 2018 by Speaking Volumes press.

Tolles continues to participate in her writers' group, which grew out of her Pasadena City College writing classes in the 1970s. Members gather weekly to read and discuss one another's manuscripts.

She recently sent four boxes full of papers documenting her career — including drafts, correspondence with editors and fans and interviews — to the archives and manuscripts collection at Smith College, where graduated with the class of 1943.

Tolles said the problems with her back cleared up years ago. "I wouldn't play golf and I don't lift heavy things, but otherwise I'm just fine," she said.

She reflected on the mixed emotions of aging in an essay, "This Is What It's Like To Be 90," published by Dame magazine in 2015: "Funny how I've begun to feel boastful about my age after years of desperately trying to hide it," she wrote.

"And so here I am, missing my loved ones and dear friends, trying not to feel lonely, especially without my husband of 63 years — yet sheepishly proud I'm here. Because I am so old, people don't expect much of me either. When walking with a younger friend the other day, she said, 'Look at you. Aren't you amazing? You can still walk!' Well, yes, I can and I'm still enjoying it. Sort of."

Comments

Webster Street
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2019 at 10:16 pm
Webster Street , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2019 at 10:16 pm

Martha: you are a gem. More power to you. Stanford's Continuing Education courses on writing are exceptionally good. Enjoy your "joie de vivre". You write childrens' books; I write journals about our adventures around the globe, a few published. My mother-in-law enjoyed 102 years of hard work, and her smile and spirit for living and love of familiy, never left her.

"....sheepishly proud." Sure. But, forget the word "sheepishly". Be VERY proud that you're here.

We are the seniors of Palo Alto; we have perspectives and depth of knowledge because of our ages. It's not clear just how much Palo Altans value their seniors. They're a busy bunch. Too busy to take a bouquet of flowers to the house-bound resident down the street, too busy to offer to write a lettter for them. Too busy to engage. But, we know our strengths and wisdom. Thank you, Martha for writing and sharing. s/ Gloria Pyszka, 80 YO, Palo Alto


musical
Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2019 at 11:02 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2019 at 11:02 pm

@Webster St, enjoyed going back to reread your 2015 Guest Opinion.


A Nice Story But...
Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2019 at 8:09 am
A Nice Story But..., Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2019 at 8:09 am

Outstanding story & wishing Ms. Tolles many more years of creative writing!

> ...we have perspectives and depth of knowledge because of our ages. It's not clear just how much Palo Altans value their seniors.

I cannot speak for Palo Altans, but in other areas elders are often disregarded & their wishes ignored.

My sister threw our mother into an assisted-care facility against her wishes & seized the trust assets by way of a conservatorship of person & estate despite my mother's objections.

To date, the various protective agencies & law enforcement have done nothing to help remedy the situation & my mother's court-appointed attorney rolled over & played dead by failing to be a zealous advocate on her behalf.

The probate courts are awarding too many conservatorships based on flimsy documentation & to contest such proceedings is a cash cow for avaricious attorneys.

Elder abuse also includes isolation, false imprisonment & mental cruelty but in most instances, law enforcement & state protective agencies look the other way preferring to define them as civil matters rather than criminal violations.

Unlike other cultures (i.e. Native American, Asian etc.) elders in modern western society are not valued for their wisdom but viewed as nuisances. As a result, many are discarded by unscrupulous offspring aided by their deceitful attorneys & a judicial system that opts to look the other way.



musical
Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2019 at 1:51 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2019 at 1:51 pm

^ Classic example of reaping what we have sown.


Access To Trust Assets Conservatorship = Bad News
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 2:59 pm
Access To Trust Assets Conservatorship = Bad News, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 2:59 pm

> My sister threw our mother into an assisted-care facility against her wishes & seized the trust assets by way of a conservatorship of person & estate despite my mother's objections.

This happens more frequently than most people are aware of.

It's called isolating the elder and raping the estate.

A lax probate court system + parasitic attorneys enable this ongoing practice.


> To date, the various protective agencies & law enforcement have done nothing to help remedy the situation...

That is because most state protective agencies and law enforcement only acknowledge physical abuse and/or health/safety violations as justifiable reasons for further investigation of elder abuse.

The latitude for court-appointed conservator, private/public guardian and independent fiduciary financial abuse is unlimited & oftentimes unchecked.


Shari Silverman
another community
on Apr 8, 2019 at 11:12 am
Shari Silverman, another community
on Apr 8, 2019 at 11:12 am

Martha,
I loved the Katie books, especially Katie for President. Our class would receive the Scholastic Publishers order form. I always looked forward to receiving it and seeing if there were any Katie books available.

Thank you for so many enjoyable childhood memories!


Papillon For Elders
another community
on Apr 8, 2019 at 1:30 pm
Papillon For Elders, another community
on Apr 8, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Hopefully all elders can enjoy good health & be free to pursue their interests but this is often not the case as cited by two earlier posts.

I am currently writing this entry alone in my room at Sunrise assisted-care. Two years ago I was diagnosed with mild dementia & my eldest daughter sought a full conservatorship by petitioning the court with minimal medical documentation.

Because of my dementia, I was not allowed to select my own attorney & one was chosen by the court. This attorney opted to side with my daughter's attorneys rather than fight for my rights and as a result, I have lost my house & any access to my personal finances. All I wanted to do was spend my remaining years in my own home but my daughter sold it & maintained possession of the proceeds from the sale.

My daughter now has sole access to my late husband's & my estate...much of which has been either real property sold or liquidated & I am now sequestered in a small room where my only outlets are three meals a day, a television in my room + a bed & shower. All of my personal possessions (i.e. clothing & jewelry) were either discarded or kept by my daughter.

Since the conservatorship is also one of estate + person, my business & legal mail is sent directly to my daughter who never informs me of pertinent matters. She has since changed my private telephone number three times so I am in essence isolated from any inbound calls & outside visitation is severely restricted as she does not want me to take any pro-active measures on my behalf.

During the past holidays, i have spent Thanksgiving & Christmas alone in my room except for eating meals in the dining hall as my daughter is apparently not comfortable having me over for a family holiday dinner. I suspect that she is feeling somewhat uncomfortable over what she has done to date.

Two caring acquaintances have tried to help me get out of this legal entanglement but my daughter caught word of their intentions & has now filed a restraining order against them to prevent their future visitations & phone calls.

While I am adamantly against such measures, my court-appointed attorney has not discussed the matter with me & will not voice my opposition to these proceedings citing that I should consider myself fortunate to be living in an assisted-care facility where all my needs are met.

Elder isolation is a serious violation but one often neglected by law enforcement as the police would rather be handing out traffic tickets or chasing down suspected criminals.

I suspect this will be my last entry as my daughter is planning to cancel my internet services because she does not want me communicating with others or discussing this issue any further.

At 85, I thought there would be more to life but apparently I was mistaken. It is disturbing how one's children can turn on you because of the money involved. I imagine my daughter wanted her entire inheritance sooner...as in before I passed on


2nd Year Law Student
Stanford
on Apr 8, 2019 at 3:47 pm
2nd Year Law Student, Stanford
on Apr 8, 2019 at 3:47 pm

^^^ clearly an example of conservator-imposed elder abuse (isolation, false imprisonment & mental cruelty).

CA Penal Code 368 spells it out but law enforcement often looks the other way if the violations are not physical abuse or health/safety code related.

California Penal Code, Section 368

(c) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult, with knowledge that he or she is an elder or a dependent adult, to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering...is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(f) Any person who commits the false imprisonment of an elder or dependent adult by the use of violence, menace, fraud, or deceit is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.

(i) As used in this section, "caretaker" means any person who has the care, custody, or control of, or who stands in a position of trust with, an elder or a dependent adult.


musical
Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2019 at 5:45 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2019 at 5:45 pm

^ "resident of another community" apparently not Palo Alto Sunrise assisted-care.


Protect Our Elders From Emotional & Financial Abuse
Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2019 at 6:06 pm
Protect Our Elders From Emotional & Financial Abuse, Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2019 at 6:06 pm

> ^ "resident of another community" apparently not Palo Alto Sunrise assisted-care.

Sunrise is a major nation-wide chain of assisted-care facilities.

I suspect that 2nd Year Law Student/Stanford is a bit too young for conservator-imposed incarceration at an assisted-care facility.


Webster Street
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2019 at 11:49 am
Webster Street , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2019 at 11:49 am

Re the comment from Papillon for Elders. I do not use the word, but curiosty overcame me so I looked it up online.

Which definition do you think that the above writer meant? All of the following are online.
1) disorder of kertinisation
2) breed of toy spaniels
3) Symbolizes freedom of a free man/woman. Represents breaking free from all societal mores and restricions. There are no chains on them as they go wherever they want and do whatever they choose................

Thank you for prompting me to learn a new word. / Gloria Pyszka


Seriously?
Stanford
on Apr 9, 2019 at 12:44 pm
Seriously? , Stanford
on Apr 9, 2019 at 12:44 pm

> Re the comment from Papillon for Elders. I do not use the word, but curiosty overcame me so I looked it up online.

> Which definition do you think that the above writer meant? All of the following are online.

Seriously?

Answer: None of the above.

Papillon by Henri Charrière, was a novel based on the notorious French prison (aka 'Devil's Island') situated in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana.

Now do you see the connection?


Probate Court Is Hell On Earth
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 9, 2019 at 1:37 pm
Probate Court Is Hell On Earth, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 9, 2019 at 1:37 pm

"3) Symbolizes freedom of a free man/woman. Represents breaking free from all societal mores and restricions. There are no chains on them as they go wherever they want and do whatever they choose................"

I believe it is #3 from the standpoint the poster alludes to breaking free from the constraints of a ruthless conservator.


webster Street
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2019 at 7:48 pm
webster Street , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2019 at 7:48 pm

Seriously: thanks so much for your education. Now I really feel enlightened. Next time, try to get your message across w/o the put-down. GO HIGH.

With regards.......


Protect Our Elders From Emotional & Financial Abuse
Downtown North
on Apr 10, 2019 at 7:43 am
Protect Our Elders From Emotional & Financial Abuse, Downtown North
on Apr 10, 2019 at 7:43 am

This local advocacy group in Saratoga is striving to promote CA legislation to curtail elder abuse of person & estate.

The 'Libertas Media' accounts are quite compelling but also very disturbing.

Web Link

Many of these victims once led active lives but were crushed beneath the wheel by those actively seeking immediate access to their personal finances & real property.

In Sunday School, I recall the commandment 'Honor thy Father and thy Mother'. Unfortunately this venerable tenet often gets disregarded later down the road when a family estate is involved...regardless of ts overall monetary value.


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