Friday, September 14, 2018

So, how old are you?

How old is too old to start a writing career? (Or, to put it another way, just how ageist is the publishing world?)
But you don't need to tell anyone how old you are, or how old you're not.

The timing of this post is not random. It's in honor of my mum (today is her birthday), who had gray hair at a very young age. When she was old enough that gray hair was no longer an exception to the rule, she was often treated as a senior citizen even though she was not 65. Or even 60.

But Mum was a thrifty sort. When asked if she'd like a senior discount, her thriftiness fought with her innate honesty.  She lit upon the perfect response "why not?" which wasn't a lie, and got her the discount.

We laughed about it for years.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

You knew I'd chime in on this.

I gave up displaying myself as “how old do I look” years ago when I stopped dying my hair post-it yellow and embraced the salt and pepper my handsome dad was so famous for. My first column, years ago when I was less old, was exactly about that.
It hasn’t been easy, realizing the truths of life-stages.
Having said that, journeying down the other side of the hill, and making peace with the crap that comes with age, is kind of kick actually.
I can’t hide my age, I couldn’t have written the hundreds of columns and essays I have if I was a kid, (defined as anybody under forty-five).

Janet, you always say, “it’s all about the story”.
And now, “But you don't need to tell anyone how old you are.”

Do I hide my spider veins with long pants?
Do I not write about sitting in the front row of the Soupy Sails show?
Do I not reveal that my life is card-cataloged by decades?
Aw hell, I’m off to by “Nice ‘n Easy post-it yellow.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh sorry, I always make everything about me.
Happy Birthday to Queen-Mum.

Steve Forti said...

Queen-Mum. Nice. Happy happy to her.

Curious what the average age of a debut author is in your experience.

Ashes said...

Answering a question with a question is Evasion 101. Smart Momma.

Ann Bennett said...

I've a head of premature gray hair. I stopped coloring it in my mid forties. Floating black hair is not that cool. Senior discount always depended on the age of the cashier. The closer to my age the cashier was, the more likely I would get a look in the eye with the mild inflection of a question in the statement, "you're not a senior".

At my age, I doubt I write an explosive must read. But I have broke rules my entire life and if I ever finish a decent book, I will publish. lol But all of a sudden I feel I better get busy.

Jeannette Leopold said...

I love that story.

Donnaeve said...

Happy Birthday to your "mum!"

Which sounds so English!

You know the publishing world must be ageist when they celebrate things like the "Under Thirty Five." Meaning books published by writers under thirty-five. Can't we yell discrimination? Don't writers deserve an "Over Sixty Five" party?

I believe the only thing to do with age is how long will the writer be able to produce work - which really flies in the face of realities, and common sense. (sorry publishing world) There are those who die young of many things, from suicides to cancer. There are those who refuse to publish anything beyond a book, or only write one every ten years. Ala J.D. Salinger, and Donna Tartt respectively.

A fellow Kensington author, Anna Jean Mayhew is back with her second book, TOMORROW'S BREAD, after publishing THE DRY GRASS OF AUGUST back in 2011. She was in her early 70s at the time, if I'm not mistaken. That would make her in her late 70s - maybe 80 or so, depending on what early 70s really meant. I happened to notice in the sales catalog a comment that said something along the lines of, "the author worked tirelessly to promote her first book and intends to do the same with her newest release."

I thought it was sort of strange, but I guess it's only a reassurance to booksellers that the author, no matter her age, will do what's necessary to the best of her ability. Still find it odd this was stated in a Sales catalog.

Colin Smith said...

I'm glad no-one asks your age in publishing (as long as you're old enough to sign a contract). At this rate I'm going to be retired by the time I come up with a publishable novel! But that's one of the things I like about writing. Unlike performing, your art is done behind closed doors. No-one need ever see you. No-one need ever know whether your hair is black, brown, yellow, or white. And some writers seem to do a good job concealing their age. Until 2005, no-one ever knew how old Lilian Jackson Braun really was. She was 97 when she died, having published her last book not long before her death.

OT: Thanks for the note of concern yesterday, KD. Florence is doing her thing around us, but so far we're okay here in Greenville, NC. At least our part of the city. Some areas are closer to water and will no doubt experience flooding. We have a tree down in our back yard, but that's as much as I can tell damage-wise for now. The winds haven't yet been as strong as they could have been (thank the Lord the storm wasn't a Cat 4 when it made landfall!), so I'm hopeful that tree is the worst we get.

Anyway--power's still on, internet's still up, and we're still alive. I hope my other fellow North Carolinians are doing well. :)

Claire Bobrow said...

Should someone start a writing career at an older age? As Janet's mum said, "Why not?"

Happy Birthday to your very wise mum!

Thinking of all our North Carolinians today and hoping you're safe and well-stocked with flashlight batteries, etc.

nightsmusic said...

Happy Birthday to you mum!! :)

My mother's hair started to 'turn' at 17. She dyed it for years. I've been dying mine for years as well. I'm tired of it. If I could find a salon that really could get my base color right and then just silver streak it, I'd be in heaven because that would let it all grow out without looking like a patchwork quilt.

As far as the ageism goes, society as a whole is ageist. Publishing isn't any different. As I'm learning the grayer my hair gets...

nightsmusic said...

2N's I came back to say, I actually had lunch with Soupy Sales when I was a kid, sitting at the lunch counter at Cunningham's...

Beth Carpenter said...

Happy birthday to your mum. My son, age 30, already has a generous sprinkling of silver in his dark brown hair. You wouldn't think gray hair would pre-date getting a "real" job. (He's a PE teacher, working as a sub while he waits.)

Kregger said...

Happy birthday, Ms. Mum-for-Shark!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah ha nightmusic someone who remembers Soupy Sales.
Made my day.

Barbara Etlin said...

Happy birthday, Queen Mum!

Ageism exists in all industries and is especially covert. No one will ever tell you that you didn't get the job because of your age; there's no way to fight it.

Writing is something you can do as long as you want and no one needs to know what you look like.

Timothy Lowe said...

Grandma Moses. 'Nuff said.

John Davis Frain said...

Merry Birthday, Queen Mum.

In the same week, just a couple months ago, I was carded at a bar (maybe it was dark, who knows?) and given a senior discount at a movie theater by a kid who might have just graduated second grade.

Age is relative. Also, age is only important if you're a cheese.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Happy Birthday to your Mum...! I love the "why not" response.

I'm happy to hear from our NC friends in the path of the storm. We're just south west of you, in GA. I'm staying mindful of storm surge and the amount of rain headed our way as we are right on the Savannah River. We'll be calling the Proud Spirit herd to higher ground.

Timothy, Right on!

Theresa said...

Happy birthday to the Queen's mum, who knew how to handle the age thing so deftly.

One of the good things about retirement is that I have nothing to get in the way of my research and writing. Oh, wait, did a new season of Bojack just drop on Netflix.....

Lennon Faris said...

Happy Birthday to the Queen-Mum. "Why not" is a great answer.

Happy Friday, everyone! Here's to the young at heart!

*lifts mug of chocolate milk* (for real)

Julie Weathers said...

Happy birthday to the Queen Mum. What a great story.

I was going to come back and reply because someone had posted on Litforum the other day they were afraid agents would take them because they were forty. Dear Heavens. I guess I'm shot then because I have 40-year-old kids.

I finished The Rain Crow today 188,000 words and I'm not even going to start the slashing and hacking. I'm going to read a good book and let it stew.

Lynne Sears Williams died September 12. She fought a long hard battle with MS, but in the end it was cancer that took her. When she realized her brain wasn't functioning quite right, she'd joke about putting her tin foil hat on and typing faster. We were devastated when she finally found someone who diagnosed her correctly

I beta read for her, while she feverishly tried to finish The Comrades. The disease was taking a terrible toll on her. Her personal situation was a nightmare. We who loved her wanted to do murder upon one of the people who should have been standing behind her and didn't. She plowed through it all getting one word at a painful time.

I made suggestions, particularly about the horses. I'm always the person people go to for horse questions, which has landed me in the acknowledgments of four books, including The Comrades.

We would have liked to have done more, a little more fiddling, but the disease was taking its toll and those of us who knew her weren't sure she'd ever get to type The End.

She said she just couldn't take the stress of querying, I don't blame her. So, another friend stepped in with her indie publishing company and put it together. Diana Gabaldon wrote a blurb for it, and The Comrades was born.

So, for those of you who say you're too old, too tired, too busy, too sick, too whatever, I don't want to hear it. If you really want to write, you will. You will write and you will finish it.

If you don't, there are a million excuses, but at least one author never looked for an excuse. She looked for a way to make it happen.

Craig F said...

Age is also important to Scotch. Since I am half Scotch(more on weekends) I would say it adds to the repertoire of a writer. Of course, as with all things, it eventually wins the game.

All writers have done it in some form or other since we were children. For some of us the world got in the way, for a while. Age in publishing is sometimes more about confidence than age. I'll be writing until I forget all of the words... where was I?

Oh, yeah, Happy Birthday to the mum of my Queen.

All of you sitting under that nasty bitch named Florence. Be patient. You have dodged the first bullet but she is going to be an all week sucker. There are too many possibilities of other life threatening scenarios down the pipe. Be patient and wait those out, please.

Sherry Howard said...

Happy birthday to your precious momma!

As a prematurely white-headed lady, I am always happy to hear someone acknowledge this. I’ve been “crippled” almost my entire life, a woman in typically a man’s position (school principal in huge district), and I’ve encountered discrimination about those parts of my being. I experience just as much about age. It saddens me!

I’ll add, not from QOTKU. She’s been the soul of kindness!

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Lovely mum, lovely story. That sounds like something my mom would do. She is far more frugal than she is vain.

This post is very apropos because just yesterday I Googled Ursula Le Guin. So many pictures came up, from her as a dark-haired young girl to her covered in a multitude of soft wrinkles. She looked great in every one, her character shining through. In her later pictures, she was more likely to be looking directly at the camera. And smiling.

She was a wise writer and was writing wise novels before I was born. I, in my 40s, know I couldn't have written my current WIP 20 years ago.

KDJames said...

Queen's Mum, love that! Many happy memories of the day to you, Janet.

I'll echo what Julie W said. Don't let this be an excuse for not writing. There will always be something: too old, too tired, too busy, too young, too distracted, too poor, rich, fat, thin, too many cats . . . well, maybe not that last one if Jeff Somers is any indication. Tell yourself something enough times and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don't do that. There are enough legitimate obstacles in this business without creating more for yourself. Instead, tell yourself you're the perfect age and have just the right experiences and wisdom to write the stories that only you can write. And then write them. To hell with other people's biases.

All is well here, so far, storm wise. A couple good-sized branches down and little green leaves carpeting everything like a Dorian Gray version of autumn. We're finally getting some of the heavier rain bands and accompanying wind gusts, which will continue for a couple more days. Epic flooding is ongoing.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Happy birthday Queen mother.

I havs been the same age my entire life. It’s true.

Old enough to know better. Too young to give a damn.

Panda in Chief said...

My grandmother lived to be 105, so by that measure, I have at least 25-30 years to make a career of this.
I'm good.

MA Hudson said...

Julie - Congratulations on finishing Rain Crow! I know you probably want to do a lot more work on it, but I hope you stop and celebrate this milestone. 188,000 words is an impressive feat and I'm sure it'll make a really satisfying read. I love something I can really get my teeth into.

AJ Blythe said...

Julie, that is wonderful news. Congratulations on reaching The End.

Kitty said...

Are older female writers discriminated against more than older male writers in the publishing world?

Constantine Singer said...

I know I'm late to this thread, but I'm late getting to pretty much everything when it comes to writing.

I didn't even start writing until I was in my late 30's.

I didn't land an agent until my mid-40's.

And my debut novel will be released 2 months after my 47th birthday.

I'm certainly among the oldest YA writers to debutthis year so far as I can tell, but that doesn't mean anything at all. While publishing may be ageist -- and who am I to argue with the Shark -- that puts it in line with every other industry in the nation -- just ask anybody who's tried a middle-aged mid-career switch.

In the end, I believe, who we are demographically matters, but matters significantly less than whether the manuscript we've written is compelling, well-written, and marketable.