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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Even Children Get Older

An editor recently rejected a project. He was apologetic because he really liked the book; he just couldn’t get in-house support. Then, he allowed that it might have been different had the author been younger. I pretended not to hear it because had I heard it, my head would have exploded. Look, I’m a realist. Everyone knows that the world loves an ingenue, a hayseed, a bright eyed and bushy-tailed, or PYT. But for fuck’s sake, this is writing. Experience used to be an asset. Oh, boo hoo. Great writing but the author wears Depends. Terrific prose, but her dentures were slipping in the meeting. La-de-da. My nursing home fantasy has always been the same: read all my diaries and letters and smoke cartons of Marlboros. Then I would turn to the Russians. Hopefully find a couple of gals to play Bananagrams with, watch the Oscars.

Is writing a young man’s game?

73 Responses

  1. Are you trying to make me kill myself?

    • It’s not a man’s game. It’s not a young game. It’s not a game.

      • Bull’s-eyes on every target. The trophy goes to Chrisjrice.

        Time to retire to the retirement room for brandies, cigars, billiards, and Metamucil. Last one in’s a forgotten egg.

  2. I’m older than dirt, so I no longer exist as a possibility. Fuck that shit.

    Oops, did I just say that out loud? Sorry, that was supposed to be my inside voice.

  3. This is just sad. Let me know when you check into the home. You bring the Marlboros and I’ll bring the scotch.

    • I’m horrified by this post, but I have a coupon for two free cartons of cigarettes and I just did a liquor store run so if we can just settle on a nursing home location somewhere in the south of France, I might be okay.

  4. One of my all time faves, Penelope Fitzgerald, wrote her first novel at 60. Went on to get National Book Critic and Booker prizes. Maybe we should submit hiding behind youngster noms de plume, ageism rather than sexism or other isms now the dream-crusher.

  5. Which only stands to make the very unfortunate point–it is NOT always just about the writing and the cream does not always get the chance to rise to the top if someone in marketing is busy eying the carton’s sell by date.

  6. Oh, who cares? Self-publish and have a blast. This is all ridiculous. I am such a better writer with 30 years under my belt.

  7. I’m hoping it’s the game of women of a certain age.

    A lot of first books were too late for their now-famous writers to make that goddamned 20 under 40 list: Paul Harding, Belva Plain, Stina Hergin (who was 90), Annie Proulx, Sue Monk Kidd, James Michener (who was 57), Richard Adams, Raymond Chandler . . .

    David Seidler won for original screenplay for “The King’s Speech” at the age of 73.

  8. So maybe we all submit pseudonymously. Instead of trying to cover up our gender, now we’re disguising our age.

    • So that would mean I’d call myself some millennial name like Kobie Putnam or something. To muddy both gender and age. ;0 Hmmmmm I kinda like it. I feel the collagen flowing into the crevices already.

  9. Define younger. I’m playing Red Rover at Susie’s house right now but I’ll be home by dark. Pinkie swear.

  10. I was going to apologize for the long post but I decided not to.

    Now THIS is something I know about.
    My biggest fear, yes fear, when I got back into writing was my age. Why I set aside, that which gives me breath, is not important because in the past four years I have written two novels, forty short stories and more essays then you can count on the age spots of octogenarian’s forehead. I was a hell of writer, way back when, and a better writer now.
    At first, I kept my mouth shut regarding my age because I knew its product they want, lots of product and I’m not an idiot, with limited time, there’s limited product. So about my age, I remained mute, until I realized the value of experience and wisdom.

    How the hell could I have written about what it was like to lose my mother and my father, if I had not experienced it? To lose a child, to be broke, to be rich, (for one day), how do you write about those things if you have not lived something resembling the depth and emotions those experiences deliver.
    Good writers can imagine and tell, they can make up and paint a picture drenched in tears or torn apart with rage but great writers, the ones who have lived it, show it, until the smell of sex fills the room and the sheets are soaked in blood.

    Betsy, babe, I ain’t as old as some, or as young as you, but I know one thing, age is only a fucking number, which eventually becomes the advantage. Any doubts? Ask Betty White.

    • I have to add something.
      Please, please…do not believe I am denigrating younger writers as if their wet noses have no stories to tell. The one thing about writing is how level the playing field. Intellect, aspiration, application and follow through are what this craft is about. Weaving words is wonderful. Just because I’m older does not make me better than a younger writer, it makes me better then ME as a younger writer.

    • I agree. I published with a major house when I was much younger. Now, at 64 I am getting back in the game. I chose self-pub for several reasons: I don’t want to wait therr years to see my book in print. I have a good platform, marketing experience, editing expertise(although I have a good editor and a critique group to rely on. I am an artist and graphic designer. So, I’m not sure what I need a publisher for.

      Age isan advantage in many ways, especially if you areyoungat heart.

  11. I daydream about finding a young, attractive wannabe actor to play the role of author of my books. She or he gets exposure. I get sales. By ‘daydream,’ I mean I ran it past my agent and he said, ‘a D-list actor wouldn’t help you, and a C-list actor wouldn’t touch you.’

  12. Looks like my first viable WIP will be about making it through middle age, so I hope the fuck not.

  13. My first book was published when I was sixty. My fourth one will come out next year when I’m seventy-one. I’m working on a fifth. Have an idea for a sixth…

    • Maybe it is a young man’s game, but that remark was from Law Suit city. Age discrimination. He can probably get more than he ever would from the book. The editor shouldn’t have known his age.

    • Now, I can breathe again. Thank you, Bonnie.

    • Bonnie,
      You are lovely. We could worry about how the publishing machine will thwart us one way or another or we could sit quietly turning out book after book. It’s all about the focus, no? Do we write or decide beforehand where it will go wrong, where it has go Bonnie?
      Thank you, Bonnie.

    • Bonnie, thank you for this. Hope for writers is essential. We can’t keep tearing it down.

    • Hey Bonnie – I just scrolled up and read this – see my post somewhere below. You and Anna Jean Mayhew – 71!! You gals rock.

  14. I know the question asked about young men, but I’m wondering if the editor was really reacting to the person’s age or the way they looked in a photo or in an interview. I recently met a woman-of-a-certain-age who claimed she was writing erotic romances. Her hair was stringy and unstyled, she wore no make-up and dressed like a maw-maw. Her manuscripts may have been The Next Great Read but her dowdy look challenged my willingness to believe she really knew the subject matter. If the decision was solely based on a number, then shame on that company. If the writer wasn’t marketing him/herself properly, then it was an expensive learning experience. Yes, the PYT has clout, but so do the “Horatio Alger” stories – don’t they?

    As for the retirement home scenerio: if we all buy into the right seaside resort, we can establish our own elite press, have book signings with adult beverages and award medals and prizes at our leisure. The RH would, of course, have a wooded area known as The Forest for the Trees and our Oscar parties would rival anything in Hollywood. (Oh, and I’ll be baking white chocolate tortes weekly). Anyone in?

  15. “Is writing a young man’s game?” Only to assholes, and I believe they are outnumbered by non-assholes.

  16. “Is writing a young man’s game?”

    It better not be, because I left “young man” behind a couple decades ago. Left “young woman” back there, too.

  17. Your post arrived in my inbox just ahead of an ad for the Age Guess! app.

    “Upload your photo and have thousands of people guess your age.”

    Aaughh…

  18. The beauty of coming into your own when you are older is that you realize you are not accountable to anyone but yourself. There is a freedom there that younger artists cannot know and with this comes a creative energy that goes beyond what you have learned in decades past. It’s a place beyond virtuosity, where self inspection becomes the name of the game.

  19. Young men are poor and they don’t buy books. So I write for old-school babes with disposable income who can’t break their habit of reading from hard copy.

  20. Why is the author’s age even part of the discussion? Never in my life have I bought (or not bought) a book because of the author’s age. In fact, for the vast majority of books I read, I couldn’t pick their author out of a line-up.

    I don’t get it.

  21. Maybe in some circles, publishing and selling are seen as best served by linking bean counting with demographics. I dunno, but there are lots of biases around, and age related stuff is pretty common. But I suspect that any industry which excludes talent is strolling toward the cliff, however relaxed the pace. That seems particularly true today, when there are new alternatives to older ways of getting things done.

    All of us have read nightmare stories about the difficulties in getting an agent, getting published, all of it, whether because of age or youth or looks or not knowing the ever changing rules or how to read the damned chicken entrails. Some of us self publish, blog, hang on with bitter souls and brittle nails, eat and drink way too much or too little, or just give up. Surprise, surprise.

    Writing and getting published are anyone’s game, and no one’s. Talent and work help, but the extraneous and intervening variables are always there, and always changing. It doesn’t seem fair, or for the faint of heart, no matter how fair and pure of heart that writer may be. Many things are like that, so we suck it up and march on, or we don’t.

    It is very cool, though, that no one group of any sort owns creativity of any sort. But I tip my cap to the insightful, be they young or long in the tooth.

  22. My eyes widened when I read this. I threw my cereal bowl across the room. As I stared at the bran flakes sliding down the wall, I remembered: I don’t include my age when I query. First, I have to get my work to that point. Then if the publisher says that, I’ll strangle his ass.

  23. A young man’s game? Huh??? Not the young men I know, even in serious literary circles. No one’s getting “in house” looks from editors these days. It’s not an age thing, it’s a book/kindle/indie publishing/agent-editor demise/transition thing.

    Girls rock. (Guys do, too.) Write on.

  24. I’m kind of proud to have made it to 56 and I’m hoping to hang a bunch more years from the rafters. I wish I had the energy I had when I was younger, but I’m certainly glad I’m slightly less foolhardy. I like to think there’s a market out there for tales from the late in the afternoon phase of life, but maybe all people want to read about are the young and beautiful. Just glad nobody told Norman Maclean that.

    • We’ve already been young and beautiful and with our insight we can write about being not only youthful and attractive but wise as well. Like one of those, if I knew then what I know now, well now I know…wait…hell I forgot.

  25. Only to corporate marketing weenies who want the next Twilight/Hunger Games/Amanda Hocking sensation and think the only way to sell it is by fluffing up the author’s backstory bullshit. It’s psuedo-databased and so much easier than trying to actually recognize and merchandise talent. I know this because my dayjob is corporate marketing weenie.

  26. Holy Shit, I am sunk. I am forty-eight. And I’m not a man. Jeezus.

    But I do love Bananagrams.

    And all the comments, especially today. Goddammit. I won’t quit. But I will consider Botox before I meet my agent for lunch. If I ever get an agent.

  27. Aren’t we talking only about America here? Granted, if that’s where you live and work, it’s the place that matters first, but Canada and England and Australia are conceivably different, less corrupted by worship of the young. And there are many more publishers in the biz than the one that rejected Betsy’s project. To put it simply: adults still exist!

  28. So yesterday I had a basal cell lesion grated off my back. An old person’s conundrum, but related to a young person’s stupidity (baby oil in the San Diego sun). The whole Pearls before Swine thing just whips me in the kisser when I hear shit like the ramblings of the editor above.

    Spent a half-century making mistakes, and now, at age 50, I’m convinced that the next half-century will be the journey of undoing those mistakes. The by-product of that, hopefully, will include smarter, more authentic writing. For which there is a diminishing, yet discriminating, audience. And for the rest of the fuckers, I’ll plaster pretty pictures on the Pinterest.

  29. And one more thing. A Gertrude Stein quote: “If things do not take long it makes life too short.”

  30. Would any of us want to be published by such a publisher? Here’s a window to hope – how about Anna Jean Mayhew? (age 71) who wrote “THE DRY GRASS OF AUGUST”. Publisher, Kensington)

    And I thought I only had to worry about my writing. How shallow. So what is it? Are they’re worried the old geezer (geezeress?) will croak before they make their money? Is that it?

  31. There are things I can write now that I could not have written when I was a young man, in terms of craft and practice and of the insight time and experience can bring. It is just that simple. It is one of the great gifts of being an artist. We don’t peak in our late twenties the way pop musicians, mathematicians, and athletes most often do. We don’t all of us who write grow stronger and more capable as we age–but we can, and many of us do.

  32. Writing fiction is, in my humble opinion, should be age agnostic.Young or old it’s a story well written, that engages the reader that is most important. An age-centric focus favoring the young caters to the hubris of the crassly clueless. If fiction is headed in this direction novels might become nothing more than the tweet leading the tweet.

  33. This might make a bit of sense if it’s a non-fiction book with a young target audience who will take the writer’s platform into account. (New shredding techniques from a snowboarding virtuoso, or some such.)

    Part of me wants to bring up the subject of karma for those who subscribed to the not-funny-ha-ha: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Part of me wants to point out which age demographic has most of the money. The remaining part of me wants to get back to sullying perfectly good pages while I still can.

  34. Okay, I just had to comment one more time.

    Well Betsy…after digesting these posts, along with my daily super-fortified bran flakes and banana, (potassium you know), I am astounded by how many of us are beyond mature. Ageism stinks, bran does that, but I must admit every time I see someone older than me do something stupid I blame it on how ancient they are and if they are younger, they’re inexperienced asses.

    So what does that say about me? I’m perfectly happy in my little corner of the home…oops, I mean my home, as long as the TV volume control works and there’s a rolling table for my lunch plate and hearing aid and a glass for my choppers.

    Actually, I leave for work in ten minutes where I will walk briskly, four and a half to five miles, lift, stretch and bend for the next six hours straight. Sounds like I’m a hooker. See, experience does pay.

  35. I just feel, as example in fiction, pieces about young characters written by aged writers offer more profound sense of life. Bonnie’s lines are encouraging.

  36. Oh, Betsy, say it ain’t so! I’m 51 years old and just successfully defended my thesis in an M.A. in Writing program. After decades of not-so-fulfilling careers involving getting paid well to write for other people, I’m finally becoming the person (aka writer) I always wanted to be when I grew up. During the first week of April I successfully defended my thesis, performed stand-up at the Hard Rock Improv for the first time (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doU94Nehr_Y), became a Mensa member (no shit!) and signed a lease for my first solo apartment after almost 25 years of marriage (yes, a divorce is involved). Think I have some stories to tell? I’m just getting started!

    Meg Wolitzer wrote an incredible piece that appeared in the New York Times Book Review on April 1st. Called The Second Shelf, it discusses whether or not there are different rules for men then there are are for women in the world of literary fiction. She posits whether or not Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot” would have received the same type of serious literary attention had it been written by a woman and sported the same title and wedding ring on its cover. Will we soon be discussing the age of an author as well (I guess we already are) and does the age-or sex-of the writer really matter, as long as the story is good, the action moves us forward, and the pages keep getting turned?

    I say age is a badge we earn, and I wear mine every day…even if it is a bit wrinkled.

    • Great article.

    • You sure don’t look 51. You are funny, smart, a natural blond…now I have another bitch to hate.

      • Hey, remember the whole book and cover thing…the name of my thesis (which I hope to turn into a book, of course) is “The Learning Curve: How What’s Wrong With Me Made Me Write.”

        As for the video, I’m just glad I sprang for the same filter Streisand uses.

    • Yeah, Carol, stop worrying. You have a great body and no wrinkles. Just wait, and THEN YOU CAN WORRY.

      • Remember, perspective. It was shot from a distance, in a darkened room. But on stage, with those lights, it felt like I was trying on bathing suits in public for 10 minutes with “nowhere to run to, baby…”

  37. I’m an over the hill author. Maybe Indie publishing is the answer? I don’t know. I know some pretty wrinkly publishers and editors. What gives?

  38. I KNEW IT!

    That’s why I’m turning 14 as of now.

  39. So was the author of the rejected work a man? Sadly, very sadly, I think that would make a difference. To wit, a 46 year old male British writer who was recently referred to as a “young” writer. Highly doubt a 46 year old female writer would be touted that way.

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