Thursday, May 7, 2009

Too Old For The Party?

“No one is going to publish a first novel by a 45-year-old.”

This little curse was spoken recently by one of the members of my writing group. Today it reverberates around my skull. So many of my cohorts seem to lately feel our age like an ankle shackle, while still recognizing that in the grand scheme of things these are the glory days we will lament in another twenty years.

Writing group ranges in age from 35-41; none of us (obviously) has been on Oprah and each of us wonder if we ever will. Two of us don’t seem to care. The other two pretend not to care but really do. One of the first category uttered the curse, perhaps as a way of shrugging off his own fear, perhaps as a way of taking the reins of his own destiny (announce that failure is already yours and you are probably right).

Another member said, yes, her agent asked her age when he took her on. “It matters,” he reportedly said. “Publishers want to know how long their investment might pay off.”

Is this true? I have been to a lot of writing conferences at which I’ve learned a litany of limiting factors that affect the publishing business, but never has anyone said, “Old people don’t get book contracts.”

And yet, we are nothing if not an ageist society. The biological clock ticks for much more than the ability to child bear. We love the young genius. We worship the freshness and vitality of youth; we desperately fear its fading.

So thank goodness (again) for Malcolm Gladwell’s “Late Bloomers” (see Late Bloomers), for pointing out the mature geniuses in cultural history. To believe him, success is still possible for us decidedly past the summer of our youth (Of course he's sitting comfy in the young genius group).

At the end of the day—call me a foolish optimist—I still believe that good writing matters more than the age of the person producing it. And I think it’s really dumb to quit at 38, so I won’t be, just in case you were wondering.

I’ll need a bigger advance, though, to pay for the airbrushing on my book jacket photo.

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