Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I Write Senior Sleuth Novels

by Jean Henry Mead

I write senior sleuth novels because there’s a growing market for retirees who like to read in their own age group. I was intrigued years ago by Miss Marple and Hercule Periot, who were wise and perceptive, but never seemed to have any fun. That’s not true of today’s seniors who are less inclined to retire to their rocking chairs than previous generations.

A senior writer, Pat Browning, said: “A St. Martin's editor gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: ‘Be careful not to turn your characters into cartoons.’ I try to picture older characters as they are--the same people they always were, only older. This is especially true when it comes to romance and sex. For all the jokes about senior sex, it is a very real part of senior life, and it's no joke to those lucky enough to have a romantic partner late in life.”

I agree. Not unlike Janet Evanovich’s character, Grandma Mazur, who is eccentric enough for a cartoon character, most seniors have the same interests they’ve always had, with the possible exception of roller blading and downhill skiing. On second thought, I once interviewed Buffalo Bill’s grandson Bill Cody, who learned to donwhill ski at 65 to keep up with his much younger wife.

Mike Befeler writes what he calls “Geezer-lit.” His first novel features his octogenarian protagonist, “who is short on memory but has a sense of humor and love of life. He accepts his ‘geezerhood,’ solves a mystery and enjoys romance along the way "with a young chick of 72.” 

My first senior sleuth mystery, A Village Shattered, takes place in a California retirement village. The plot is generously sprinkled with humor but none of the seniors resemble cartoon characters, although a couple come close, a redneck Casanova and love starved widow. Diary of Murder followed and I portrayed the two 60-year-old protagonist widows as quite capable of traveling the country in their motorhome as well as chasing down killers who happened to be drug dealers. The third novel in the series, due out later this month, Murder on the Interstate, takes place along I-40 in northern Arizona, and involves homegrown terrorism.

Another senior writer, Beth Solheim, spent years working in a nursing home and says she loves the elderly and their “humorous, quirky insight to life, love and longevity.” Her protagonists are 64-year-old twins in her humorous, paranormal cozy series, The Fifi Witt Mysteries.

Chester Campbell, an octogenarian, writes the Greg McKenzie Mysteries. He said, “My friends in this [age] bracket are out going places and doing things. Some, like me, continue to work at jobs they enjoy. I chose to use a senior couple in my books who are long married, get along fine, and do a competent job as private investigators. Greg, who narrates the books, is aware of his limitations from age and makes up for physical shortcomings by outsmarting his adversaries. My hope is to dispel some of the absurdity of the stereotypes about seniors that are all too familiar. Like the old song says, "Anything you can do I can do better." Chester also has another series featuring 59-year-old private investigator Sid Chase.

Like so many other novelists, I write what I enjoy reading. My readers are mainly retirees and baby boomers who number over 78 million. Some 8,000 boomers are moving into the senior column every day, the fastest growing potential book buying market on record.

We’re experiencing the graying of America. What better subgenre to write for?

14 comments:

Linda Leszczuk said...

You make a good point. As part of "graying America", I could enjoy a story populated by seniors. I don't think I'd write one though. I get to be in my 60's all the time. I only get to be in my 30's again through my writing. (The same way I get to be tall and slender.)

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm also tall and slender, Linda, and feel that seniors get shuffled aside in real life. My goal is to show that they're capable of not only solving crimes but doing 99% of the things they've always done. And that includes solving crimes. :)

Earl Staggs said...

Enjoyed the viewpoint you presented, Jean. Good to know I'm not the only senior still capable of doing many things. As for the romantic part, I'm not saying anything.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Jean, the way I see it, the two strongest reading groups are seniors and women and your stories cover them both. I hope your new children's stories generate new readers.

Morgan Mandel said...

Amazing how life can catch up with a person. Now I'm at the age to read senior mysteries!

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Kevin R. Tipple said...

For a time, I considered writing toddler sleuth novels. Then, I realized all the action would be over my head and it would involve lots of cereal and drool and it did not seem like such a good idea.

Patricia Rockwell said...

I'm a senior mystery writer but my amateur sleuth is younger than me. I think it's because I've lived through that age period and know what's she's going through. If my sleuth were my age I wouldn't have the benefit of perspective.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Gentlemen never kiss and tell, Earl (at least that used to be true.)

Thanks, Mark. I doubt that many many 9-12 year-olds have Kindles, Mark. If my current children's publisher doesn't see fit to publish it in print soon, I'm planning to find another or go the selb pub route with the next one.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I know what you mean, Morgan. Life passes by so quickly and although I still feel young, my body sometimes won't cooperate. :)

Jean Henry Mead said...

LOL, Kevin. I don't think toddlers have Kindles either.

I agree, Patricia. I think it would be hard to have an older protagonist, although Mike Befeler is in his 60s and writes about a man in his 80s with a "young chick" of a girlfriend who's 72. :)

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I don't write about a senior sleuth, but certainly am a senior and outside of needing more sleep than I used to I function pretty much the same as I always did.

Great post, Jean.

Marilyn

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Not so sure...we have a neighbor who has a three ear old baby boy. He just got his first cell phone and the proud parents plan on buying him a Kindle for Christmas.

I had to ask why on both and was told they don't want him feeling behind. He goes to Daycare and supposedly it is common for kids in his age group to have cell phones and some of them have Kindles.

Makes one wonder....

Madison Johns said...

Gee sixty is not old at all considering most can do just about anything. I'm currently writing a senior sleuth, but the characters are a tad over sixty. I have worked with the elderly for four years and I'm always amazed how well some of them can do. Just because you get older don't make you less able, it just makes you funny as hell.

Madison Johns said...

Gee sixty is not old at all considering most can do just about anything. I'm currently writing a senior sleuth, but the characters are a tad over sixty. I have worked with the elderly for four years and I'm always amazed how well some of them can do. Just because you get older don't make you less able, it just makes you funny as hell.