I just got around to checking this week’s topic and nearly fell off my chair when I realized what it is: Debuting As a Writer When You’re An Ancient, Shriveled Fossil.
So many things wrong here. First, I am not old. I mean, I don’t feel old, but possibly that is because I am immature for my age.* Second, I was thinking of passing myself off as a twenty-something author—possibly a twenty-something male author—so being outed as an elderly woman isn’t gonna help.
Before you start yelling at me about cultural appropriation or ageism, here’s how I got the idea of portraying myself as age- and gender-mysterious. My friend Sameena, who is a voracious reader, recently finished Hanya Yanagihara’s 720-page literary masterpiece A Little Life. “It’s rare that I read a book and can’t extrapolate anything about the writer,” she said. “I couldn’t guess much here—not gender, not age, not nationality. This author is a total cipher. I actually went and looked her up.”
“Hey,” I said, excited. “That’s just like MY book. People will wonder: was this written by a seventy year-old Chinese man? A gay accountant from Suriname? A warlord from Turkmenistan? Who?”
And then we laughed, because my book typifies a lot of the semi-autobiographical tendencies of debut novelists. You know: “write what you know.” The Queen of Hearts is obviously written by a female doctor with a passel of kids** and therefore you already know I’m not a young’un, as we say in the South … the South … where I’m from, and where my book is set. Geez. Now that I think about it, I didn’t wander too far afield in my first literary effort.
Okay, fine. Let’s just stipulate: I’m not in my twenties. Unlike the occasional genius who sprouts out of college with a fully written sociocultural magnum opus, I didn’t write anything when I was that age. Thank God. If I had written anything, it would probably have been an angsty poem about my putrid but dramatic love life. Nobody wants to read that.
I’m in the best time of life. Also the busiest time of life. There’s a lot going on. But I’m poised perfectly at the peak of the creative mountain, where I’ve accrued enough history and insight and clarity to write, but I haven’t yet become fully demented. It’s kind of like having kids: if you have them when you’re young, you’ll be a fun mom, but more likely to be confused and broke. If you have them when you’re older, you’ll be richer and wiser but too creaky to crawl around with them. Actually, that is a terrible analogy: did I just say that older writers are wealthy but decrepit? Only the decrepit part is true.
No, no, no. I’m not twenty, but I look good. I feel good. And my advanced years have molded me into someone oozing life experience and gravitas and a kind of wise, solemn perspective, obviously.**** The advanced years have also molded me into someone capable of penning a bitter revenge piece for The Huffington Post if you piss me off enough. (I’m looking at you, person from AT&T who kept me on the phone for 700 hours while I was trying to get my promised refund.) So….mess with an old writer at your peril, jackasses. You just might find yourself in a blog post. Or a novel.*****
*For literary purposes, let’s just say that I am thirty-two, like Cass.
**Note that I said semi-autobiographical. The Queen of Hearts is NOT autobiographical, especially chapters, 9,14, and 18. Also that one scene in the call room is not autobiographical. Or the OR or ER scenes, or any of the social event scenes, or the scene where the mom loses her mind making breakfast.*** Or any of the scenes, really. Thank you.
***I lied. The scene where the mom loses her mind making breakfast is totally autobiographical.
****Ha. Not really.
*****Anne Lamott once offered this advice on avoiding a libel lawsuit if you are going to put real people in your books: “If you disguise this person carefully so that he cannot be recognized by the physical or professional facts of his life, you can use him in your work. And the best advice I can give you is to give him a teenie little penis so he will be less likely to come forth.” Amen, Anne!