Friday, January 29, 2016

Writing for Seniors

I write senior sleuth novels because there’s a growing market for retirees who enjoy  reading about characters in their own age group. I was intrigued years ago by Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, who were wise and introspective, 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.

The late Pat Browning, who wrote Absinthe of Malice, 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's 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 downhill ski at 65 to keep up with his much younger wife.

Mike Befeler writes what he calls “Geezer-lit.” His novels feature 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.”

My second 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 with 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. 

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.”

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."

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 age group to write about and for?

~Jean Henry Mead


Morgan Mandel said...

Reminds me of all the old photos, even TV shows, where women over 65 dressed kind of dumpy, and didn't seem to be all together. Many senior women dress like others, even are unafraid to wear shorts in the summer. However, I don't see many seniors wearing mini skirts. Years ago, I did. lol

Linda Thorne said...

I enjoyed reading this. Your book cover is outstanding and the book sounds interesting, but I also realized how small of a world it is. I live in the Nashville area of Tennessee, but I knew Pat Browning from a critique group I used to go to when I lived in Hanford, California. Years after I left California, her name would pop up in a bestselling self-help book someone else had written or I'd read about her somewhere else. I read her first book, Full Circle, and remember her character (I think named Maxi or something like that) being in her fifties. I enjoyed reading a book with an older character, which I had not found in other cozies. I also know Chester Campbell from the authors groups here in Nashville. I've read a couple of his books and I have his newest one waiting to read when I get time. I'm a baby-boomer myself and we are all getting up there. I agree with the things you say here. Thank you for this post.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Morgan, I think it's great that senior women have abandoned their rocking chairs to enjoy life to the fullest. Thanks for your comment.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Linda. I lived in Hanford for over a dozen years and worked as a reporter for the Hanford Sentinel. Pat Browning also worked for the Sentinel and unfortunately didn't live long enough to finish her second book. However, her Full Circle was reissued as Absinthe of Malice, a good read.