Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Are You Ever Too Old to Spin a Good Yarn?

by Linda Thorne

I wrote this post a couple of years ago and a fellow author published it on her blog, but somehow posted a picture of someone else holding a dog I'd never seen. I was looking for ideas for my Novel Spaces' February post and decided to resurrect this one using a picture of me this time.

The other woman looked younger than me and her dog was truly cute, but I thought I'd post my real two pooches here (taken January 2018). 

Here's the post with a minimal amount of updated information on older authors I personally know:

If you’ve chosen a life of writing fiction late in life, just go with it. Ignore the naysayers. This post is as much of a reminder to me as to anyone else in the same or similar boat.

It is a fact that unless you die young you will continue to age - a no-brainer. Another fact is that almost universally we do not know exactly when we will go to that great library in the sky. For those of us getting up in years there are the dreaded actuarial charts telling us the clock is ticking. Tick tock, tick tock. But, is time really running out?

I know, I know. You’ve probably heard comments like: Publishers consider “older” as a negative, fans prefer younger writers, and attractive sells better than the unattractive toll that age takes on our appearance. In response to this, I say:

I don’t know if publishers have concerns about taking on older authors. In my experience of starting out and mucking around in the writing world, I haven’t heard or seen a thing to make me think they care about much more than taking on work they can sell.

Fans seem to be there for older writers too. Google the statistics.

And does anyone care about that picture of a wrinkled old man or woman on the back cover of a book? I don’t think so unless it’s the author in the picture wishing he or she could look younger.

So, having said this, let’s take a look at reality:

George Elliot’s first book was published when she was 52 years old and Raymond Chandler’s Big Sleep when he was 51. Well, they beat me by a few years, but there’s more:

Laura Ingalls Wilder, famed for her series of the Little House on the Prairie may’ve started writing in her forties, but she didn’t become successful until her mid 60s.

Anna Sewell first published Black Beauty, at the age of 57.

Charles Bukowski started writing at age 50 and published Post Office when he was 51.

Bram Stoker wrote Dracula when he was 50.

Harriet Doerr did not begin writing until she was in her 60s and was not published until she was 74.

Let’s not forget P.D. James. She may’ve started earlier than some of us (late 30s I think), but she continued to publish into her 90s, still showing up at literary festivals and other events. Her many books are world famous. But the oldest of this group I’ve found so far is Millard Kaufman who published his first book when he was 90 years old.

I met Marilyn Meredith at the San Joaquin Valley Sisters in Crime group when I lived in that area from 2002 to 2007. I’ve heard her speak about her writing on numerous occasions and she often tells the audience about being first published when she was a grandmother in her early fifties. Currently Marilyn is in her eighties and can claim to fame having published forty some books. I’m starting to lose count.

When I moved to Nashville and joined the Middle Tennessee Sisters in Crime organization, our group’s president, Chester Campbell, was in his 80s and had published some novels. He didn’t begin writing fiction until after he retired in 1989. He did not publish his first book until 2002 at the age of 77. When I first wrote this post, Chester had eleven books out and was turning 91. I understand he has more books out now and is pushing 93.

So does age really matter if you want to take on a writing career? All I can say is why should it if it’s what you want to do. Don’t sweat the real or perceived obstacles. Or those hideous insurance industry actuarial charts. If we ignore them, maybe they will go away and we won’t.

Okay, now let’s see, what was Dorian Gray’s secret potion?


Susan Oleksiw said...

Excellent topic for a post, Linda. Although I began writing and publishing in my teens, as I get older (now long retired) I worry about the age factor. Your post is comfort for all of us who write and worry about being "aged" out of our beloved world of books and writing.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I enjoyed your blog post, Linda. It's true what you said about naysayers, and there are so many out there. I'm glad you include info on Marilyn Meredith. I met her too at a conference and was amazed at her ability to churn out the mysteries. Cute pooches!

Liane Spicer said...

I've never considered the age of an author when deciding to read or buy a book, and I've been a voracious reader from early childhood. I think the publishers got that age thing wrong. Wouldn't be the first thing about the business they got wrong, either. Remember when they said those pesky e-books were just an annoying flash in the pan? Well, ha.

Another author who began late in life was Frank McCourt who won the Pulitzer in 1997 for Angela's Ashes, his first book which was published when he was--drumroll--66 years old.

Linda Thorne said...

Thanks for your interesting comments. I had a long day at work and no time to peek in to see this post until now. I got approval from Marilyn to discuss her age when I first posted this.

Mollie Blake said...

Thanks for this Linda. Love your dogs btw. I have never worried about my age as a writer - I'm 55 now - but I hated being the oldest mum on the playground when my son was in primary school (age range 4 to 11) as I was late coming to motherhood at 42. I aim my books at the older, more experienced woman anyway. But I am worried a little at the fast changing world of social media. I find it hard to keep up and am wary when writing scenes with younger characters. I have to make sure I do my research. x

Zari Reede said...

Great Post Linda! Inspiring for writers of any age. Even after having a couple of books published, we writers sometimes doubt our success and meander around, wondering if we will ever be a hit. Marketing is so competitive and truly difficult the older we get--for me anyway, and I am only 47! Thanks for reminding me that there is still time and no need to rush. I just want people to read my books. As long as I keep writing them, there is a world of time for them to find my stories. Love the pic of your writing muses. I have many.

Laura Droege said...

I do look at the author's photo but I'm not put off by an older person's appearance. I tend to be encouraged by it. It's the younger ones who look like they're nineteen or so who intimidate me and make me sad that I haven't published a novel yet. (I'm forty.)

But older people have a lifetime of experiences that can make them better writers. Maturity, insight into human nature, things like that are appealing both to readers and (I imagine) to publishing folks.

Beth Fine said...

Linda, I loved this post! Thank you for the encouragement. I never thought of the tick-tock-tick-tock signal referring to anything other than the 30 to 40 year-old single gal wondering about her chances to get married and have a baby. Your words gave me a different perspective about success when getting older. Although writing seems instinctive to me, I've wondered if another book actually resides within my soul. In fact, lately, I have thought a lot about the people of the so-called Greatest Generation and am curious (as the clock ticks and the world turns) if their outstanding qualities remained latent and only surfaced at the required time or condition. If so, something yet to be expressed may still wait in our ageless DNA.

Neil Waring said...

Great post, and one that fits me. I published my first at age 66 and have added nine more. Just putting the finishing touches on a book about turning 70. It is still all about the story.

Linda Thorne said...

My goodness, these are all inspiring and interesting comments. Mollie, my daughter had her first child at the age of 42 also. I think age gives us all more experience and we never know how long we'll live until we find out (or are surprised), so it's a fun game to make the most of the time we have. Thank you all for stopping by.