It is a fact that unless you die young you will continue to age. This is 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 eleven years experience 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 all 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.
- Brian Stroker 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 committed to start writing in 2005 at the age of 59. At the time I lived in the Central Valley of California and met Marilyn Meredith at the San Joaquin Valley Sisters in Crime group. 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 83 years old and can claim fame to having published thirty-seven or thirty-eight books. I’m starting to lose count. I’ve read a number of her books and truly enjoyed every one.
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. He currently has eleven books out. I read his most recent, Hellbound, and swear its bestseller material. Chester will turn 91 this year, still writing and going strong.
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?
Like her lead character, Thorne is a career human resources manager. She has worked in her profession in Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi, California, and now Tennessee. Thorne has lived in a suburb of Nashville since early 2008 with her husband, Dave, and two border collies (fur people), Abby and Mo.