SHAREN FORD ON: THE BOOMER WRITER
In keeping with the edict “write what you know”, I’ve begun a new novel in which the main character is a mature woman. And by that, I don’t necessarily mean emotionally mature. I mean she’s on the verge of senior citizenship. Although nothing is going to stop me from writing this story, I have to admit to wondering if I’m adding to the already enormous odds against publication by creating a protagonist who is, in the eyes of the world, past her prime.
The process of plotting and determining character arc has given me lots of opportunity to contemplate the insidious marginalization that comes with growing older—at the start of the book, the heroine has begun to feel invisible, a sensation that is hugely annoying for Baby Boomers like me. Whether or not anyone can see me, I still feel like the same “me” I always was. I’m fortunate to be in very good health, which comes with the blessed benefit of feeling nowhere near as old as I am. I’ve also managed to convince myself that I don’t look my age…but that might be counterproductive since it could be cited as evidence of senile dementia.
Even though possessed of a positive self-image, when I take note of the hordes of shiny young writers who are my competition in the world of publishing, I can’t help but be concerned. These days, literary agents and editors give serious consideration to an author’s ability to self-promote. Consequently, I’ve done everything I can to demonstrate I’m not an old fogey by taking advantage of all the technological marketing tools available. Go ahead, check me out here on Facebook, and here on Twitter. But I also have to keep in mind that image is an essential ingredient of promotion. If the happy day ever arrives when I need an author photo for my book jacket, there will be nothing I can do, short of giving the air brusher free rein, to disguise the passage of my years.
The world of publishing does not belong entirely to the fresh-faced, of course. I have an inspiring example in the wonderful Randy Susan Meyers, who completed her acclaimed debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, at the age of fifty-seven. Randy recently wrote a piece for The Huffington Post listing forty-one authors whose first books were published when they were over forty. Unfortunately, it didn’t give me much comfort: a forty-year-old now seems like a baby to me.
And so I’m left to wonder: is anyone going to want to read a book about an older woman, written by an older woman? I really have no idea, and I’m resigned to leaving that up to fate. I shall concentrate on the only part of the process that’s under my control: making my character—a woman who is the sum of all the experiences of a full life—as believable as possible, and the story of her magical transformation in the eyes of a younger man, as engaging as possible. And, I will do this by putting all the “knowing” I possess into what I write.
“My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief,
Are mine alone!”
~ Lord George Gordon Byron
from ON THIS DAY I COMPLETE MY THIRTY-SIXTH YEAR (!)*
* Exclamation point mine.