Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Too old to be published?

I read an article in the latest Writer's Digest called "Publish your first book after 50" by Scott Hoffman (Writer's Digest. April, 2008). It states, "As difficult as it is to publish a first novel at any age, does it become more difficult as you get older? The honest answer is yes..." What the...? The article then focuses on how to beat the bias against older authors, which is great, but the whole topic made me stomp around the house with that magazine crumpled up into a violent looking tube, shouting, "Are you telling me I only have about 9 years to get my novels published before my writing is considered expired? Before I become too old to market? I just figured out how to write, for #$&^$* sake!"

Turning 40 was bad enough. I'm no longer considered sexy or attractive by popular culture's standards. My boobs droop and my tummy won't stay tight, no matter how much I suck in my gut. Getting gray hair was another annoying fact of life I've had to live with. I am no longer in the demographic for "Bust" magazine and am supposed to read "More," which focuses on career women over 40. I'm no longer a "Hip Mama." But I lived with it. I embraced my 40's with excitement and vision, ready to let go of my own youth obsession and claim my full fledged womanly power, along with my growing womanly figure. I started a publishing company and am going back to school to learn a new, better paying career. But this? Too old to be a writer? This is too much!

Why is an older writer considered a bad risk in the book industry? Part of it has to do with the idea that people over 50 don't know how to use the internet, are afraid of email, and run screaming from MySpace. In this technological age, being internet savvy and willing to self promote via social networking is mandatory. So right there, younger writers with their blackberries and interactive blogs have the edge over older people who are just now figuring out how to use a cell phone. When books are being written in Japan on cell phones in text messages and published to acclaim, you know technophobes are in trouble.

Fine, I'll accept that, but don't lump all us so called older people into the technophobe category. I for one am learning everything I can about the internet, even going so far as to learn XHTML. Yes, I know the difference between HTML and XHTML. See, I know my internet.

I finished the article, noting every myth about older writers and how to overcome them. Remain energetic. Don't mention the "R" word (retirement). Keep your ideas new and fresh. Yeah, yeah... good advice. Advice for every writer, so why is this pointed at ME? I know I'm not 50 yet, but the idea that my writing-clock is ticking like my biological clock did in my 30's is extremely disturbing. Tick-tick-tick... you'd better get published soon or you never will. Hurry, hurry. Find a good idea. Finish that last novel. Go out there and hunt down a good partner/agent to get knocked up/published before it's too late. Eeeeeeekkkkkkk

I'm calm now. Got a little dizzy there for a minute. These mid-life panic attacks are overwhelming sometimes. I wonder if it's like menopause? Instead of hot flashes, I get heart palpitations thinking about how fast my life is going. I was supposed to be a famous writer by now. Instead I'm a 41 year old publisher with a drawer full of stories no one will read. Then I remember Tillie Olson. For one brief Spring when I was living in San Francisco and going to college, I worked for Tillie Olson, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. She raised a family while writing stories and wasn't published until she was in her 60's. She was one of those beautiful, intelligent, fiery women I idolized and I decided to be like her someday. Maybe I am? I'm not as well spoken or intelligent as she, but I'm still young and I'm learning. I have at least 20 more years to achieve the goal of being like Tillie Olson.

Aging sucks. It really does. When my knees hurt and I have to squint more to focus when trying to read a street sign, I really hate getting old. And yes, I know, it beats the alternative. I know how lucky I am to still be here on planet Earth, living a creative and fulfilling life, watching my daughter grow up, while sharing this journey with wonderful friends and a man who loves me. So I will try very hard not to take that article to heart. I will try not to let the idea that my creative time clock is about to strike midnight and my chance to go to the ball will be over.

Because when you examine the pros and cons, being 41 is a lot better than being 16.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Surviving the Bad Review

I would like to update an old axiom today. It will now go: Into every writer's life, a bad review must fall.

Naturally this is not something we writers want to hear. As we construct our opuses out of fairy-wings and vodka shots, we all secretly hope to be catapulted not only to fame and vast wealth--but to be canonized. I don't care if you write trashy romances with badly stitched plots--I'll bet you want it too: to be loved, idolized, held up as the standard to which all other books in your genre should aspire. You're only human after all--which means, ruled by your ego,that sleazy little car salesmen in all of our souls.

The bad review, I have come to believe, is the universe's way of trying to reel us in. And no matter how plainspoken or thoughtful said review is, ultimately, to the one who is on the receiving end, it is inevitably the meanest thing ever written by a clearly inferior person.

Still, it makes you feel like crap.

And yes, I've just gotten one this week. Fortunately it wasn't from Kirkus or Booklist (as if they would ever review trade books on the craft of writing anyway), but from some anonymous member of the masses at With democratic forms of marketing come democratic forums for voicing opinions--it is par for the course, in other words. Like Bob Marley sang so righteously: "You can't please all the people, all the time."

Aside from the fact thatthe reviewer got my gender wrong (even though the bio clearly states that I am a SHE) I ask you to look at the contradictions contained in said review. How can he say THIS:

"Make a Scene is packed with helpful concrete suggestions and information..."

and at the same time, say THIS:

"His passion for state-of-being verbs and qualifying adverbs turns the the book into a 270-page drone in which nothing is more important than anything else."

If the book is indeed "packed" with "helpful concrete suggestions" in what reality can it also be a "drone" in which "nothing is more important than anything else?"

My only answer is that the reviewer is a quantum physicist and comes from the point of view that a particle exists both somewhere and nowhere at once. Therefore, my book is both helpful, and not helpful at all to him. This is the only way I can understand it.

Either that, or my conspiracy mind thinks that maybe one of my "competitors" in the field of scene writing (who shall remain nameless) hired someone to write a nasty review of my book to make it seem less palatable. Therefore, perhaps he never even READ it! Yes, maybe this is it!

What you are seeing are the stages of reconstruction that the sleazy-little car salesmen of my ego must go to in order not to feel like a total hack. Who cares that a publisher felt my book was worthy of being published, or that many others have had very nice things to say about it. I am a writer--therefore I hear the worst first.

The only thing that saves me from looking for a full-time gig in some soul-sucking retail mall is humor. And the knowledge that for every bad review, the good ones still balance out the scales.

(That, and imagining force-feeding my entire book to the reader while he is tied to a chair.)

I remain open to suggestions.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Forever Young by Jody Gehrman

One of the many things I love about writing young adult fiction is it gives me the power to be sixteen again. If you're one of those people going, "God! Sixteen? Why would you want to go through that again?" I totally understand. The putrid smells of high school hallways, the rigid social caste system, the longing, the angst, the gym teachers. Who would relive those horrors voluntarily?

The operative word here is fiction. I don't revisit my teen years the way they actually were. I mean sure, flecks of memory get lodged in there, tiny autobiographical moments, but the thing that keeps me coming back is the chance to be sixteen again the way I should have done it the first time.

It's one of the more seductive aspects of writing fiction in general--the power to revise history, fast forward through the boring bits. When I write my character's journal, I don't dither in the circular, self-obsessed, overly-philosophical masturbation my real high school journals are filled with. At least, I hope I don't. No, my heroine, Geena, is way too smart for that. She tells stories, she spouts pithy observations. Most of all, she keeps her sense of humor, which is something I'm afraid I frequently lost sight of when I was sixteen.

In real life I'm thirty-six, so there's twenty years between me and my sixteen-year-old self. It's an interesting stage in life to be holding a magnifying glass up to youth. Mid-thirties is the first time many of us pause to really absorb the idea that Forever Young isn't exactly an option. I mean sure, we all know in theory that aging happens, but somehow, in the dewiness of youth, it always seemed like it happened to someone else. As my thirties wear on, the idea of aging is slowly becoming much more palpable: crow's feet, weird little facial hairs, being looked through instead of at by twenty-something hotties.

Like most writers (and, come to think of it, superheroes) I live a double life. I spend my early mornings as a funny, precocious sixteen-year-old, full of fresh vitality and verve. I spend my afternoons as a thirty-something English professor trying to make writing interesting for the flesh and blood youth culture who wander into my classes. It's a strange life, I guess--inhabiting two very different people all in the same day--but it works for me. Maybe it's a little like commuting by plane. You wake up in L.A.; it's springtime every day. Then you get in your little jet and fly to New York, where the buildings are colored with age and the gothic spires reach for the gloomy, clouded sky. You can moan about the jet lag, worry about how different these cities are, or you can sit back and enjoy the ride.