Thursday, August 14, 2008

Isn't 50 the New 30?

Okay, I have really, really depressing news from my literary agent. According to her (and she is definitely a woman in the know), it is now virtually impossible to sell a novel with a protagonist over the age of 40 because all the publishing house editors are under 30 and cannot even begin to relate to--or care about--characters of such an advanced age. Hello? We've been hearing "Fifty is the new Thirty" for quite a while now; did Publishers Weekly not get the memo?

Alarmed--and outraged!--I fired up my trusty search engine, determined to prove my agent wrong. To my utter astonishment and consternation, all the mentions of "hen lit" and "matron lit" (gee, why not "fiction about intelligent, interesting women of a certain age"?) that were there just a few months ago, are indeed now missing. And imprints created expressly for the purpose of publishing novels with more mature heroines have closed up shop. It's like someone flipped a switch and said, "Old girls ba-a-a-a-a-d; young girls goo-oo-oo-d!" (If you've read Animal Farm, that comment will be a lot funnier. And if you haven't, you must. Find it/order it/buy it today!)

Not that it'll do any good, but I must protest! Since when did Youth corner the market on compelling fiction? Who decided tramp stamps and college loans trump carpools and midlife crises? We should have seen this coming when Disney announced their plans to publish Miley Cyrus' memoir. Am I the only one who thinks a 15-year-old writing about her life experience is high comedy? The child's barely been on the planet long enough to make a carbon footprint, much less acquire sufficient material for a memoir! Why don't we just go ahead and lower the age requirement for president while we're at it? Maybe young Chelsea could do what old Hillary couldn't!

We've come to expect short-sightedness from television (witness the current glut of reality shows--a phenomenon that started long before the writers' strike), but to think the literary world would succumb to a lack of vision--not to mention abject discrimination--is truly disturbing. I liked Bridget Jones Diary as much as the next person, but please don't make that the watermark for all my reading yet to come! What loss to have never known Clyde Edgerton's Mattie Rigsbee, Louisa May Alcott's Marmee, Virginia Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway, Muriel Sparks' Jean Brodie, or Janet Evanovich's Grandma Mazur! What deprivation to think that, from this point forward, our fictional viewpoints might be restricted to that of people whose formative years never knew Herman's Hermits, Chatty Kathy, Whip 'n' Chill, cheap gas, or life without cell phones!

Hopefully, my agent is wrong. Hopefully, this post will pull comments from editors claiming "Au contraire! We'd love to see novels featuring 'seasoned' women!" Hopefully, I'll hear from book-buying readers clamoring, "Give us your tried, your true! Your middle-aged mamas living life to the fullest!" Because, frankly, the fifty-year-olds I know are a lot more interesting than the thirty-year-olds I know, the eighty-year-olds are downright darling, and how many times do you really want to read another account of Gen X angst?

Please, somebody send me proof that the stars of my novel-in-progress don't have to give up their senior discount to stay in the literary game!

P.S. Diane Lawrence has a funny blog here that explores this same subject from a slightly different perspective, and Mary Hirsch's assertion that Size 18 is the new Size 6 deserves a whole blog entry to itself!


Stephanie said...

What about Dorthea Benton Frank? I recently read The Land of Mango Sunsets and the protag was most certainly over 40... and hasn't a few of Mary Kay Andrews' main ladies been "of age"?? As a woman approaching 40, who the heck will be my literary role models if all the seasoned authors are being shut down??

Amy said...

Perhaps the simple solution would be to create a protagonist who is over 40 (50 even?) that ACTS like she's 30 (or younger) thereby appealing to both age groups and reaffirming that 50 is indeed the new 30.

Anonymous said...

What about the musical, Momma Mia? Although the wedding of the daughter is the primary story line the underlying free wheeling lifestyle of her 50 something mother is the real focus. The 'old' gals really showed the younger set how much fun life is and will continue to be if you take yourself so seriously.

Margaret said...

And MMe Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie (Alexander McCall Smith)??

Do you remember when John reviewed recipes for the paper? He lost the job when he "aged out". They only want young reviewers for recipes, movies, and restaurants. (Because, I guess, old people don't cook, go to movies, eat out, or READ THE PAPER????)

Dorothy K. Fletcher said...

I am hurt to hear that your agent feels we "old gals" have lost our voices. Still, my book club just finished THE RED TENT, and the protagonist is telling her entire life story. That's one way to get both demographic groups involved in a book.

As a retired teacher, my biggest fear is we are encountering a generation that is not reading at all, unless the material is on computer or TV. I have had numerous students brag that they had never read a book, and they weren't going to start with me. How tragic is that?!

If this is indeed the general mindset, we writers are indeed doomed, but maybe there's hope. Would it not stand to reason that "old people" would be the only ones buying and reading books? Hard to say.

Margaret said...

And Mme Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie??

Do you remember that John used to review recipes for the Greenville News? He was disqualified when he "aged out". They only want young people for recipe, movie, and restaurant reviews. That's because people over 40 don't cook, go to movies, eat out, or READ THE PAPER?????

sheila said...

I'm a real believer in blazing trails rather than accepting current rantings about ANYTHING, but certainly about the limitations of age.
What says we must define the age at all? We are all "ageless"! I've seen 20 yr olds who I would swear have lived a hundred years and I've seen 50 yr olds who act like 2! Age does not make you wise and youth has no corner on vision!
Let's beat our drum until the rest of the world realizes this! Youthful enthusiasm and ageless wisdom is ours for the claiming. Maybe you need to talk to another publisher????

Margaret Nava said...

How about 60 being the new 40??? Bell Bridge just published my "lady-lit" novel, Egret Cove about a 60-something woman who reluctantly moves to an over-55 trailer park in south Florida. The book just came out last month but based on my promotions and booksignings, it's being well received. Thank goodness there are still publishers out there who can think for themselves!!!!

linda said...

What a great post. You are a woman after my own heart. I am a writer wanna be with numerous books in my head that have yet to make it to paper. I think there is a market for chick lit for seasoned women who while not young in numbers are young at heart.