Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Aging Writer

Unknown man reading.


There's an interesting article in the AARP Magazine about writing. John Updike looks at the positive and negative aspects of being an elderly writer. You can find it right here if you're lucky enough not to be over fifty and don't receive receive the publication.

One of the negative issues of aging has just begun to hit me. The occasional inability to come up with a word I want to use. The other day, it took me several minutes to come up with the word alibi. Scary, huh? That's a pretty basic word that must have been in my vocabulary for almost my entire life.

Unlike Updike though, I don't have much desire to write stories about senility or death. If I remember correctly, Updike's first novel was about the elderly, THE POORHOUSE FAIR, so perhaps this has always been a particular concern of his. No, I don't want to write about the kind of death that comes with old age. I look at these issues on a daily basis with my parents and come to the PC to think about other things.

I know it's not easy to be a young writer today. But the hardest thing to be is old in years but young in experience or credentials. Do you shy away from reading books about older people? When was the last time you wrote about one?

14 comments:

David Cranmer said...

My wife says I write older characters better than the younger ones because I'm an old soul. I will zip over and read the Updike piece. The Widows of Eastwick is on my list to read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Mine, too although the reviews weren't great. I love his collection of stories about the Maples and the movie with Blythe Danner.

Lisa said...

I seem to especially like books with older characters. Philip Roth's EVERYMAN from a year or two ago wasn't very well received, but really struck a nerve with me and my recent discovery of Paul Auster via MAN IN THE DARK and Ward Just through FORGETFULNESS put me into the heads of aging men and their thoughts. I don't think I was aware of how much I enjoyed these points of view until this post made me see it.

Coincidentally, I've been listening to a collection of John Updike's short fiction on CD (which includes a couple of the stories of the Maples) and I think it's fantastic.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have you read Paul Auster's THe Music of Chance? Not about aging, but a great novel. My husband loves Ward Just, need to try him. Just saw Elegy based on Roth's The Dying Animal. Very much about aging and brilliant.

Lisa said...

I picked up THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES and I haven't read it yet but have a feeling I'll be reading lots of Paul Auster. I fell under his spell after reading just one book. Another older male author who got to me after just one book is J.M. Coetzee with DISGRACE and the last Saul Bellow I read was RAVELSTEIN, about aging male friends and I loved it too. As much as read from authors both sexes and a variety of ages, nationalities and ethnicities, I do seem to gravitate toward the older white men and I have no idea why because the stories are typically about characters with whom I have nothing in common. I'm sure there's an explanation for this, but I have no idea what it is.

pattinase (abbott) said...

DISGRACE is a masterpiece. Another book by Auster, I liked, was The Book of Illusion. Not about aging as far as I can remember, but well worth reading. Yes, Bellow's books always seemed to be about aging. Aging women were done well by Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress)Anita Brookner and several other Brits.

James Reasoner said...

I've had older characters in a lot of my books, but that's because it's hard to write Westerns without a few old codgers in them.

sandra seamans said...

It's funny, but I've almost always written older characters. Women and men in their forties or fifties seem more filled out character wise for me since they've lived their lives and have experiences that a character in their twenties can only dream about. And younger characters tend to jump into situations while an older one might think it out a bit more. One of the older generation themes I tend to write about is Alzheimers, maybe because I fear that more than dying. Interesting topic.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would imagine older male characters lend themselves easily to Westerns. Yes, I like to write about older people--just not their illnesses so much. I have one Alzheimer's story that was almost the first thing I ever wrote. Every editor practically said, we don't do dementia.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a lot of my recent stuff has featured older characters. I'm only 54 but I can empathise with them;and fortunately my memory is intact enough to scribble about the young un's with some degree of accuracy.

[However, one of the most disturbing things about my own aging are the times I'll see someone in a store or an old mans bar --Damn, there's Tony/Red/Mike/Dave, haven't seen him in a while, I should go over and say hello--but then I remember it couldn't be them--they've been gone for weeks, or months. Or longer.]
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

Or when they're not necessarily gone but you remember that it couldn't be them because the person is too young and looks like they did years ago.

ink and beans said...

I'm in my late twenties (so is my novel's main character), and my current work is very preoccupied with death and physical decline.

And just last Tuesday, I couldn't come up with the word "urgent" for ten minutes. My roommate had to help me.

I guess for some again is a state of mind, for better or worse.

In perhaps an unconscious attempt to regress, I'm reading Witches (not Widows) of Eastwick right now.

Dana King said...

The most disconcerting feeling in the world is not being able to remember the name of Alzheimer's Disease.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I & B-you make me feel better. Dana, you make me laugh.