Have you written anything featuring an older main character? No? Why not?
Older women are very interesting. Before you understand that, you have to let go of your stereotypes and prejudices. Undoubtedly, you may think of older women as either mother figures or pathetic, embittered old women. More’s the pity for that.
Before you can write about older women, you must know a few and talk to a lot more. Certainly start with your mother, aunts, grandmothers and their friends. Interview them. Then spread your net wider. Go to a retirement community. Tell them you’re doing research on a book and are looking for an older main character. I think you’ll be surprised who you find and how interesting their lives have been even if they tell you their lives weren’t all that interesting.
A couple of years ago, on November 1, I started a novel for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I made my 50,000 word quota for the month, but then I kept writing. I ended up with a 90,000 word novel about five old friends, and I titled it, naturally, Old Friends.
Old Friends features five women who met as freshmen at college. Forty-some-odd years later, one of them is dying of cancer. The other four friends gather to support their dying friend and each other. As the days progress, they reminisce about their college days, lament how society treats them now, find out that they don’t know each other as well as they thought they did after forty years. They have celebrated each other’s triumphs, supported each other in times of trouble, and always loved one another as only best friends can.
Old Friends is a celebration of life, of being able to face the death of a dear friend, of loving your friends in spite of themselves, and being open to loving relationships regardless of your age.
Eighteen months after finishing the book, I started looking for an agent. Thus far, no agent has considered taking it on. Yes, I’m aware that it might be my writing. On the other hand, it may also have something to do with the subject matter - women in their sixties. If I had written the book about women in their thirties or forties, would I still be getting the same response? There is no way to determine that, of course.
Older Women Want Their Own Books
One of the complaints from women in their sixties and beyond is that they’re tired of reading books about women in 20s and 30s. They’ve been doing that for 40 years. Enough, they say. Give us books we can relate to. Another, more common, complaint is that they’ve become invisible. No one looks at them any more. Try saying, “good morning” to the next older woman you see and watch the surprise on her face and the smile that follows.
Agents and publishers should begin to accept at least the occasional manuscript written for this group of readers. Read the statistics about who the largest segment of purchasers of the iPad is - yep, old people. Not your 20-somethings, it’s your 60-somethings. Go into any bookstore, big box or Indie, and look around. You’ll see a lot of older people actually purchasing books. Many more go to libraries because they can’t afford the price of books any more. They’re reading. It would be nice, I’m sure, if they could read a book they could relate to. A book about people their own age, who have lived through a half dozen international wars, the birth of computers and cell phones, who have seen, and mourned, national leaders and heroes being assassinated. They saw the first man step onto the Moon. These people have lived through incredible times and seen incredible changes in our society and the world at large.
American society is aging. Isn’t it time that the publishing world acknowledge that and at least once in a while give them a book they can relate to? Who knows? We may have a new genre to write in.
A New Genre - Graypunk
Let’s call this new genre “Graypunk.”