New York Times  Bestselling Author

Thank You, Ellen Goodman

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend who is exactly my age and is a teacher. We talked about ageism in the workplace, and she said she is very careful not to reveal her age because she might then be perceived negatively by her coworkers, not to mention her students. I’m 57 1/2 and have never had an issue with my age until recently. While I feel more vibrant and excited about my career than ever, I’m well aware that I’m older (lots older in some cases) than many of my fellow writers. I’m also lots older than my editor and other people who can influence my career. It’s undeniable that this thought is out there in the publishing atmosphere: Why should we invest time building an older writer when there are  young writers whose careers could extend further into the future? This has led some writers–and teachers and many other professionals I know–to fudge about their age. I haven’t, although sometimes it makes me cringe when I’m speaking to a group and talk about how I got started writing in 1981, when much of my audience was still in diapers. Most of the time, though, I’m delighted with being 57 1/2. Especially after reading Ellen Goodman’s column in today’s News and Observer.
Sixty is not the new forty, she says. Sixty is the new sixty.
Goodman talks about “second acts,” mentioning Al Gore’s work on global warming, Hillary Clinton’s run for president, and the new president of Harvard, Drew Faust. She quotes Harvard’s Rosabeth Kanter, saying “we have a chance to invent another stage of life that doesn’t have a name yet.”
I know very well how I viewed sixty when I was younger. After all, I’m from the generation that once said no one over thirty was to be trusted. But as I edge up on thirty-times-two, I have more creative ideas begging for release than I’ve ever had before. They may not all be good ideas, but they’re multiplying by the day and I hope I’m lucky enough to have the time and the opportunity to bring them to fruition.
It’s true that, when I write about kids, teens and twenty-somethings these days, I have to do more research than before to understand the technology they’re into, the music, the video games, the text messaging, etc. But I understand the emotions, and thats what counts in the sort of fiction I write. The very cool thing about having some years behind me is that I’ve experienced the ages of so many of the characters I write about. I know what it feels like to be a child, a hormonal adolescent, a grad student, a young woman, a married woman, a divorced woman, a career woman, stepmom, a menopausal woman, a grandmother. Some day I hope to know what it feels like to be an old woman. I hope, too, that I’ll write about it when that times comes. 
I know from my blog and especially from my email, that I have readers of all ages. I’m most touched by younger readers willing to take a chance on an older writer, discovering stories they can relate to in the process. In return, I read younger writers, which usually serves to remind me that talent knows no age and that wisdom can start mighty early. Our prejudice about age runs both ways.
So to my readers of a certain age, I say let’s enjoy these years, whether we want to run for president, write a book, travel, or simply play with the grandkids. And to those younger folks, take a good look at your elders. Our clocks may be ticking, but we have a lot to offer before time runs out.

17 Comments

  1. Julie on October 21, 2007 at 2:08 am

    Seems like most of the writers I truly enjoy and look up to didn’t start getting serious about it and publishing until sometime between their mid-30s and early 40s. That puts me at the “perfect” age for being a new writer, you could say. And I’m not wary of “you people.” (Hehe!) Nope, I’m awed and inspired. I come to your blogs and read your interviews to be mentored. (And you do a fantastic job of sharing your wisdom, by the way.) I hope I can pay it forward one day.
    Gosh, that all sounds so sappy, but I mean every word of it. 🙂

  2. brenda on October 21, 2007 at 9:23 am

    My students and fellow-teachers know my age. I am proud to have reached 60. There is no problem at all. They are “surprised” that I am a recent college graduate (Master’s) and plan eventually to do another degree. The Baby Boomers have “changed” the way others look at those in our late 50’s and 60’s…Believe me when I turned 60, no one kept it a secret. When I read books, I do not think of the authors’ ages. Do I read anything I can about them? Yes…I google them. However, I must add here that it may be where one lives and works as to how others look at the “age thing.” When I lived in South Carolina, there were not as many “older teachers.”

  3. brenda on October 21, 2007 at 9:27 am

    Want to add something…I go “nuts” when I see on billboards, church outdoor posters, etc., words spelled incorrectly. (English teacher…) The other day, one of my students came to me and said, “Mrs. B-C (my name is hyphenated), guess what I saw? This church spelled you’re “your”.” He was astonished. It was on one of those billboards that churches use (lighted) to put out messages to drivers. I was pleased that he noticed because that seems to be the one word that I find misspelled more than any. (remember most of us don’t consider email Formal Language…and we are lax…I am talking about books, magazines, etc.)
    What do you guys think? Another: think for thank…

  4. Diane Chamberlain on October 21, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Julie, not sappy as much as touching. thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    brenda, you epitomize “sixty is the new sixty”!
    as for mispellings, the one that i see everywhere and that drives me crazy is the apostrophe on plural words. “watermelon’s” “jar’s” “cable’s.” I think that’s becoming part of our language, as is “me and joe went to the party.” ack! of course, then there’s always lack of capitalization. . .

  5. Kathy Holmes on October 21, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Well said, Diane. And I’m thinking that the idea of choosing younger writers over older writers to “build their career” will eventually disappear. Besides, many new writers today have difficulty lasting beyond the original two-book deal.
    The marketplace is ever changing and nobody has job stability anymore. We have to reinvent ourselves over and over again and maybe that’s a good thing. That’s certainly what I’ve been doing my entire career and it’s made it much more interesting, if not unsettling – having burst my bubble that I could ever be in control. 🙂
    I do think we need to stay aware of what’s going on in the world and that, in turn, will keep us connected with younger readers. Sometimes I think I connect more with younger people than those my own age. 🙂
    Great post!

  6. Margo on October 22, 2007 at 9:32 am

    As an avid reader, I’ve never considered age of authors when buying books. It’s just never occured to me. I have my fav authors and am always watching for new writers on the market or books that grab my interest. Even in my 20’s I was picking up books by James Michener and Arthur Hailey with the last thing on my mind being their age. I would hope that most readers would choose books for their literary content and applaud these efforts no matter age, race or gender.
    Speaking of Hillary for President, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her for the 2nd time in my life at a Polk County dinner. Other candidates were there and they all spoke this past weekend. It is an incredible experience to be surrounded by people who care about our country & are working hard for change…people were caught up in the moment & I’m certain age was not considered. (-:

  7. Diane Chamberlain on October 23, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Kathy, that’s so true about reinventing ourselves. When I was a social worker, I never would have guessed I’d one day be a novelist. I think about that when I talk to young people deciding on their college majors. I want to say (but don’t of course) “ah, don’t worry about it. it’s not what you’ll ultimately end up doing anyway.” lol.
    Margo, interesting comments on books and age. And even more interesting about the Polk County dinner. Definite advantages to living in Iowa!

  8. Margo on October 23, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Diane, the momentum in Iowa at these political gatherings, with all the candidates, is hard to describe. It makes you feel like your really part of history in the making. I enjoyed meeting and talking to all of them.

  9. Judy Gill on October 23, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Diane, when I first met you at a Novelists, Inc. Conference, don’t remember where or when, all I could think was “how young she is!” I’m 7 years your senior and have certainly given thought to ageism in the publishing industry as you said in a similar way–“why waste time and money developing an old writer when there are so many young ones out there?” There is another aspect to that, as well–money. At one time, I felt many of us who’d been in the business a long time had priced ourselves out of the market, which was one reason it was getting harder and harder to sell. Why fork out an advance of 20K for a romance novel when someone else will do it for 1K? Like many others, I have had to pull down my expectations when it comes to advances. Is this a result of the tightening market, or of having been in it since the halcyon days of the 80s? At any rate, though I am now officially a Senior Citizen, I still love writing, continue to do so with energy and enthusiasm I sometimes lacked while raising a family, working at another full-time job, and taking care of an aging mother. For me, this may not be the most lucrative period in my writing life, but it’s certainly the most productive and fun.
    I also thank Ellen Goodman for pointing out that other people can begin new careers as they reach their sixties. It’s made me realize there’s no reason for me not to continue until I choose to quit or fall dead on my keyboard.
    Look at Anne McCaffrey! Still going strong after all these years and how many hundred books? She’s my hero.

  10. Diane Chamberlain on October 23, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Good to “see” you Judy! Yeah, seven years ago I did look pretty young. LOL! Amazing how a little menopause’ll can change that. But thanks for the compliment.
    Interesting point about pricing ourselves out of the market. Like you–and like many other novelists from our era–I am not seeing the advance increases that we did in the good ol’ days. Of course, print runs in general are down since then, which accounts for part of it. And yes, newer (not necessarily younger, though) writers are generally less costly to acquire. I’ve scaled back my financial expectations for my career, which is one reason I moved from the pricey DC area to NC. I want to enjoy writing without losing sleep over money. It’s hard to balance the two, to be sure.
    I hope we both enjoy writing for many years to come!

  11. Anonymous on October 24, 2007 at 11:37 am

    I quess I’m a poor judge of age. Diane, from your pics I thought you were late 40’s early 50’s. Your definitely a very YOUNG 57+!

  12. Margo on October 24, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Diane, I sent comment #11…anonymous printed for some reason.

  13. Diane Chamberlain on October 24, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks, Margo. That’s one benefit of having a partner who’s a photographer and is great at touching up photos!

  14. brenda on October 25, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    I am having a time with some of my “old” favorite authors. I don’t know what happens-Diane and Barbara D…are the exceptions. Just read another one by someone I have “loved” forever…P. Cornwell. I love the SC area as I lived there…I am just not sure where the characters are going this time. Have any of you read the latest???
    I have felt this way about 6 or 7 authors…they write the same things-I was buying the books no matter what-now am getting them at the library…
    It makes me sad, but I think that it seems to happen when the author has reused the same characters in many books (not two or three) but many.
    Exception: Joanne Dobson and Jan Karon

  15. brenda on October 25, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Julie-I had to comment on one of your BLOGS…I agree with you about being around others. By the time I teach high school 5 days a week and college 2 nights…I am almost an introvert. I only talk on the phone to my two children and my three grandchildren-that is TERRIBLE…but I can’t help it. I know how you feel. I am on the phone with parents…on email with students and parents. THIS BLOG is my relaxation.
    For you others-Margo, et al-I enjoy Julie’s website…check it out.

  16. Diane Chamberlain on October 25, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    Brenda, I have to admit, I’ve never read Cornwell, but John’s been working his way through her books for the past few months. Last night he said he thinks she has a “boiler plate” for some things. For example, he read a description of a person and swears he’s read the same description in several other of her books. He joked that she probably types in “leather boots” and this description comes up for her to pop into the manuscript.
    I told him I doubted his theory. I KNOW I’ve used similar descriptions from time to time as well as similar turns of phrase, etc. It’s what’s in the author’s mind. I’ll picture a character (always peripheral, never a major character because they stand out too much for me to see them in cookie-cutter form) and describe him the way I’m seeing him, which turns out to be the same way I saw a similar character in the last book I wrote. Same with phrases I think I’m so brilliant for coming up with, only to realize I “came up” with them several books ago.
    I’m blathering. We “talked” about this a while back on the blog. Can it be that the books have not changed all that much over the years, but that you have? That what used to appeal to you doesn’t any longer?
    On aother note, Delinsky’s next (not sure it’s out yet) received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. I’m looking forward to it.

  17. brenda on October 27, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Received an email from Barbara-her book will be out soon. I wondered why she changed her BLOG and left out family pictures, etc. She emailed me privately as I was so concerned-I had guessed that it was “too much info” for public-that is one reason I quit writing for the large newspaper in our area (large compared to this area) because when they put my picture on the page, I received too much correspondence-gifts, etc…
    If I were to choose the two best authors of this time…you and Delinsky without a doubt. Many others I love-but you two never disappoint. (Big shoes to fill…sorry…)
    By the way, I AGREE WITH JOHN…

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