Tag Archives: over 40

Never too Young to Write or too Old to Debut

I recently started working as the Interim Program Manager at the New York Writers Coalition (NYWC), a non-profit that teaches creative writing to underserved populations in New York City. We partner with local NGOs, libraries, hospitals, and other organizations to run weekly volunteer-led creative writing workshops, believing that everyone has a voice and a story to tell.

NYWC has a video series called, Writing is Good for Everyone, and the first video features a 14-year old young woman who took our Novel Writing for Kids workshop at the Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Watch Bridin McCann talk about her world and what she got from the workshop. I love the idea of teens writing novels–no one is ever too young to start writing.

And as I have written before, no one is never too old to debut as a novelist. I took heart in the article, “Six novelists who didn’t publish until they were 40,” that ran earlier this month in the The Telegraph. Did you know that Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder are among others who didn’t publish a book until they were in their 40s? Even Toni Morrison didn’t publish her debut until she was 39.

We are never too young to write or too old to debut. Any writers you admire who you know started after 40?

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3 thoughts on the debut novel in 2013

ONE — You don’t have to be young to debut. The biggest surprise of this year of reading has been the age of the authors. While plenty of debut and emerging writers are in their twenties and thirties (enter Eleanor Catton), a quarter of the books I reviewed in 2012/2013 were published by authors over the age of 40 and there are many who debut after the age of forty or even fifty. Charlotte Rogan signed a contract on The Lifeboat right after her 57th birthday. Ben Fountain was a National Book Award finalist for Billy Lynn’s Long Hafltime Walk, also published in his fifties. And later this year I am going to review Lies You Wanted to Hear, by James Whitfield Thomson, who is 67. We live in a time when it is OK, even exciting, to celebrate authors who publish their first books after 40. There is even a blog, Bloom, which writes about emerging authors in this age band.

TWO — There is no formula. Some debut novels are written in first person, others in third. Some are sprawling and written in many voices, others are smaller and written from one POV. Some authors show more than tell and others tell more than show. I give Kevin Wilson a shout out for the debut novelist best able to show – I don’t think there is a single page in The Family Fang, which summarizes or recounts, but each of the books I read had a unique voice, a flair which made me feel like anyone who cites a rule for what kind of novel can make it is not reading what is being published today. And while the two most experimental books I read this year, Thrill-Bent by Jan Richman and Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner, were published by small presses, Tupelo and Coffee House Press, respectively, mainstream publishers do take risks. When I read The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, and published by Reagan Arthur/Little Brown, I was drawn in to the story and the prose, but never would I have predicted this book could be a finalist for the Pulitzer. And Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil, published by Penguin, is a free spirited book that reminded me of the books published by small presses.

THREE — The novel is not dead. After reading such a range of debut novels in the past year, I feel strongly that the novel is alive and well in American culture; there actually isn’t enough time in a year for any one person to read and review all of the stand out debut books published. As a culture we might not read as many novels as we did 10 or 20 years ago, but there is an appetite for writing fiction, and it is exciting to read new authors and books.

What do you think? What have you noticed about debut novels in 2013?

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Bloom and Roth

The Atlantic published a story this week about novelists who published their first books after they turned 40. Charles Bukowski, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Raymond Chandler are among the few “late bloomer” novelists they profile.

The Atlantic article links to a website, Bloom, which is dedicated tohighlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older.” What a great concept for a blog. Being a bit of a late bloomer myself, I appreciate a blog that looks at those who need some time for their accomplishments. And in a culture where we worship the young, it is nice to find places where age can is not considered a deficit. The first book I reviewed in this blog, The Lifeboat, was written by Charlotte Rogan, a woman in her 50s.

Although the premise of this blog is to write about first novels, I keep thinking about Philip Roth’s decision to stop writing novels. As in a way making a decision to stop writing, after penning 31 books over 52 years, is as brave as a decision to start writing at any age, let alone over 40. In the New York Times article about his decision he says that he stopped writing in 2010, but waited two years to make the announcement public, just in case he wasn’t able to stick to it. I know many novelists who toil away at their first book for a year, two or three, before sharing with the world that they have embarked on a novel for fear that they too might not stick to it.

“Mr. Roth stopped because he feels he has said what he has to say.” This is marvelous and soundly sane. Most writers start writing because they “have something to say.” And yet we live in a culture where success is not always measured by the depth or importance of what we say, but how much we make for saying something or how popular our ideas may become. While making his decision, Roth reread all of his books in reverse chronological order, but he lost interest in his own work and did not reread the first four, (meaning he did not read his first book). Roth’s decision is a nice illustration of how a writer can be more than his art. Although Roth is currently working with a biographer to tell his life story and collaborating with an 8-year old on a novella, he is also spending his time reading, entertaining and enjoying a slower pace of life.

I respect Roth his decision. 31 books is a fantastic accomplishment. Would he be remembered more if he wrote 33 or even 34? I’m not sure. I will remember him for being brave enough to say he has written enough and that life can be about more than one pursuit.

I will also applaud an author for publishing a first book at any age. A novel at 41 is no less a feat than at 62 or 29.

 

 

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