If you spend any time hanging around on Verla Kay’s Blueboards it’s likely that you already know I’m a supremely dedicated blueboarder. This morning I started a thread about writers who were first published after their 40th birthday, a thread which has drawn a fairly enthusiastic response. I did this mostly in response to other conversations I’ve seen here and there about authors who achieve publication during their teen years – Kody Keplinger is currently storming the walls of the castle with her hotly anticipated YA debut THE DUFF, but there are plenty of other frightfully young authors making their bones in the business, including Hannah Moskowitz (you should follow her on Twitter, she’s hilarious), Steph Bowe, and Riley Carney. I’ve had a few friendly exchanges with Riley on Twitter, and she appears to be genuinely nice, appreciative of her situation, and utterly composed, as well as motivated and accomplished. When I was her age I was sullen, disengaged and non-communicative, so good on you, Riley, for, uh, not being like me.
I do sometimes look at these young authors with sheer amazement, simply because I didn’t have anything close the level of self-awareness, focus and discipline needed to write a freaking book before I turned 20. I was more of a lost soul during my teen years – entirely unsure of myself, frantically trying (and failing) to secure a feeling of belonging in the world – and the difficulties I experienced only deepen my admiration for the Hannah Moskowitzes and Kody Keplingers of the world, because being a teenager is hard, yo. It is a time of great thundering avalanches of new information about the world and everything in it. Anyone who can figure it out and keep it together enough to write a book during those years has got a core of some unbreakable alloy, right? I also don’t buy the argument that a 16-year-old can’t have experienced enough of the world to write a quality book. Phooey on that idea – insight is not limited by chronology, and the meaning and potency of an experience isn’t defined by how many years have passed since it took place.
To be honest, though, I don’t entirely relate to the experience of being a teen author, just because…well, it wasn’t my experience. Egocentric of me, but there it is. I relate to the writers who got started later in life. Lisa Yee, for example – holy cow, what a great career she’s having! She won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award for her debut novel MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS! I still consider that book the gold standard for all-around high quality MG fiction, by the way. She had a picture of her drawn by Dan Santat! She’s edited by Arthur Levine and Cheryl Klein, two of the very best editorial minds in the business! How about Kathleen Duey? She wrote a slew of MG fantasy novels before scoring a nod as a National Book Award finalist for her stunning YA dark fantasy SKIN HUNGER. She’s a friend and a fan of Marvel Comics demigod Stan Lee, for crying out loud! How cool is that? She’s also the only author I know of who’s shared her story of being a “two-puke speaker” during her early career.
Lisa Yee and Kathleen Duey both launched their writing careers in their forties. This is awesome. They are awesome. And so are all my post-40 career-launching blueboarder buddies who chipped in on that thread I mentioned up above, stellar people like Marissa Doyle, Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, Lynne Kelly Hoenig, Blythe Woolston, and many more. They are awesome because they show me that the road does go around an entirely different set of bends and bridges for each one of us, but it’s still possible for us all to reach a destination that’s to our liking, no matter when it was we hopped in the car.
I feel like a children’s author on the verge! I can’t speak for what it might have felt like to be at this point in the road when I was 15, or 19, or 25, because…I just wasn’t at this point. But I can say that in some ways, being 41 lends a certain kind of sweetness to the pursuit. It’s sweet to realize that dreams deferred do not automatically equate to dreams surrendered. It’s sweet to know that others have blazed trails that I might be able to emulate, if only to some small degree. And it’s sweet beyond measure to feel that I still have a chance to walk through certain doors. I’m not a teenager. I’m 41, and I’m chasing a dream that radiates through every fiber of my being, and it’s okay that I started when I did. It’s not too late for me.