The question of age, or yes, Virginia, I really am 41 years old

Riley Carney wrote this book. I'm, um, a little older than her.

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.

Mike's all-time winner in the category of "Awesome Debut Novels by Writers in Their Forties."

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 theyย  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.

m.

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33 thoughts on “The question of age, or yes, Virginia, I really am 41 years old

    1. Much obliged for the award, Kristopher, and anyone who names their blog after a creature from THE PRINCESS BRIDE is okay by me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. I started writing MG/YA fiction just before I turned 40 and it has been an amazing journey thus far. But writing a book in my teens–whoa! I’m really looking forward to reading Hannah’s and Kody’s books. S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders in her teens so whoever says it can’t be done–just look to her. At least four of her books have been made into movies!

    1. S.E. Hinton is a great example! And it really is a fantastic journey, isn’t it? Regardless of what age it starts at. Always a pleasure to get a comment from you, Paul. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I often tell the story of how, after living most of life until then doing what everyone else wanted me to do, I made a secret promise that my 40th birthday present to myself was going to be a book contract, because all I’d ever wanted to do since I was a teenager was be a writer. I got “the call” about my first contract almost two months to the day after my 40th bday.

    These young whippersnappers do make me wonder what I would have, could have, should have accomplished if I’d started earlier. But then, I tell myself, I wouldn’t have all this MATERIAL.

    1. Yeah, I have to fight off those woulda-coulda-shoulda thoughts too. Funny thing is, most of my material so far is still from those middle-grade years. And it just slays me that you pretty much kept your secret promise to yourself, Sarah! Amazing.

  3. I’ve come to realize that writing is like all of life – everyone’s journey is different, and it doesn’t matter how you got here, just what you bring to the table.

    I’m taking side bets on how old Mike will be when he sells. My money’s on 41 and a half. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Yep, that’s it in a nutshell, Trinity. And I appreciate your faith in me! And I have to say, I feel good about things right now. I have hope that this will turn out to be my breakthrough year…

  4. Oh, Mike, Mike, Mike. You silly boy. Complaining about being 41 and not yet published.

    I am WAAAAAYY older than that.

    Go ahead. Laugh. Be as smug as you like. I have a 23-year-old son who is also a writer and we have a bet going about who will be published first.

    My money’s on him.

    1. I will NOT be smug, Joanne. Because it’s not too late for you either! I’m 41, but that number could really be swapped out for any other. We ALL still have a chance.

    1. Why thank you Stephanie! At the risk of sounding like an arrogant donkeybutt, I share your optimism. We will see, MWAHAHAHAHAHA…

  5. Oh, Mike, I needed to hear this. Thanks! I’m looking at the calendar and hoping I’ll be able to start one of those threads myself in a couple of years–although it’ll be about doing this in my 50s. (Those digits just look so OLD!) I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I was just listening to some Teen Radio clips on NPR this morning and was blown away by the confidence and poise and DEPTH those kids were hitting. So not me at that age, or in my twenties, frankly. The bottom line is that “ready” comes for all of us at different ages. I guess–no matter how long or how not-awesome it is till then, we should just celebrate when it does happen.

    Here’s to an incredible year for you!

    1. You’re very welcome, Becky! I work at a tiny liberal arts college and I’m gobsmacked on a regular basis by how articulate and poised and driven some of these 18 year olds are. That just wasn’t my time, you know? But it’s okay, some of us have our moment later on. Here’s to a great year for both of us!

  6. Wonderful post! I just wrote my first MG draft this year at age 58. I hope to shock people with my age when it is published. ๐Ÿ™‚ Still far off, but I’m an optimist.

  7. Great topic, Mike. I think the fact that I got started when I was in my forties makes me all the more appreciative of what I have. I don’t take a single thing for granted.

    1. Thanks Lisa! I feel that way too – every milestone I’ve hit so far has been really meaningful, more so because I know what the other side of the coin is. There’s plenty of things right with working hard and making a living in a skilled and honorable way, but it’s entirely different to pursue a dream like this.

  8. It’s a great thread and a great post! I like the idea that everything can still be in front of me, waiting for me ๐Ÿ™‚ I also wasn’t ready to write in my 20s — I was too busy running a school, for one thing. And for me, I was too close to the angst of teen and right-after-teen years to write about it with any objectivity…I think all my characters would have sounded really whiny. And since I can’t use them to whine about being 42, that doesn’t happen as much now (ha).

    1. Yep. Health and circumstance might interfere, of course, but health and circumstance can interfere no matter what age we are. There are still opportunities for us in the future.

    1. Thanks Medeia! Yeah, I sometimes think of myself as a late bloomer, but hey, the point is to BLOOM, right? Whenever it happens. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Mike–

    Very inspiring, very well timed blog post for me…thank you for the gentle reminder that the unfolds as it should for everyone… in its own time…in their own time. Dang, there are days when I feel old! But today wasn’t one of them. Thanks again!

  10. Soooo appreciated this post! I’ve wanted to write since I was 7, but didn’t have the time or discipline to give it my full attention until I hit 30. I think age doesn’t matter — if you have the talent and drive you will succeed at any age.

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