A Writer’s Age

A writer’s life is full of surprises. Sometimes, when a reader meets a writer, the surprise is on the reader! I was in Barnes & Noble last week when my favorite sales person introduced me to a mystery reader, and as it turned out, a fan.

It goes without saying I was thrilled. The fan and I happily chatted about Hayden Kent, the Florida Keys, what was next. And then the surprise happened. The fan thought she was talking to Kait Carson’s mother. I paused. Thoughts pushed furiously through my brain, each shoving the other aside while I wondered if I was about to taste the sole of one or both of my retired running shoes. The salesperson saved the day. She said, “I didn’t know your daughter wrote, too.”

My fan, thank God, let loose a belly laugh. “You’re Kait Carson. The Kait Carson. But you’re not…” She blushed crimson, and she glanced at her shoes. Heels I noted and wondered if the three-inch spikes would be painful. “In your thirties,” she finally finished.

As her blush subsided, I assured her I took the comment as a compliment, and thanked her. I didn’t tell her I subscribe to and read Seventeen, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan Magazines from cover to cover to keep up. Nor did I share that the woman who lives in my head is in her thirties!

That got me to thinking how old are my favorite writers, and how old are their characters? It turns out most of my favorite writers are writing characters a good ten to twenty, or more, years younger than they are. I’m not naming names here—that’s not my place 😊—and you can do your own research. The key is, the characters are believable, and when I e-chat with these writers, or meet them on social media, it’s clear that the writer is comfortable in their character’s age group.

What does that observation mean? I’m not sure. But it seems as if as writers we become so immersed in the research and behavior of protagonists we absorb them. Their age and characteristics become second nature to us until the people who live in our heads might just surprise you, and us, with their dreams of the future.

Tomorrow is another day—being a writer is the only profession I’m aware of that lets you do it over AND retain the lessons of the past!

Readers and writers—how old is the person in your head? Your real age? Older? Younger? And is it a good year?

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Author: kaitcarson

I write mysteries set in South Florida. The Hayden Kent series is set in the Florida Keys. Hayden is a SCUBA diving paralegal who keeps finding bodies. Underwater, no one can hear you scream! Catherine Swope is a Miami Realtor with a penchant for finding bodies in the darndest places. I live in an airpark in Fort Denaud, FL with my husband, five cats, and a flock of conures. And oh yes, a Piper Cherokee 6 in the hangar!

29 thoughts on “A Writer’s Age”

  1. How funny. But yes, now that I think of it, most of my favorite writers are writing protagonists younger than themselves.

    The people in my head are 10-12 years younger than me. I seem to recall those were good years for me – but then, most of them are.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. When I conceived Natalie McMasters, I wanted to write a protagonist who is as different from me as possible. I am a 66 year old man who has been married to the same woman for 26 years and I worked as a scientist for most of my life. In the the first novel, Stripper!, Nattie is a 20-year old bisexual woman who’s studying pre-law and ends up working in a strip club. It’s been a challenge to make the character authentic and believable – I’ve done a lot of research and tried to run my work by others to validate it. The Natalie McMasters series also features diverse characters, so I had to write a convincing 60 year old Southern white guy, a 50 something black and a 20 something white ex-Marine (I was never in the military), a 20 year old undocumented lesbian Mexican immigrant and a black gangbanger in his 20s who has an MBA, among others. But I think this is just what a writer does.
    As for me, I don’t really think about age. Behind my face, I’m the same person I’ve been for many years. But the arthritis in my shoulder is killing me 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh, Tom! The research must have been fascinating and fun. Good beta readers are essential when writing out of your core experience group. I call mine my posse, and they keep me honest. Love it that you jumped right into the challenge with both feet. Stripper! is going on my TBR – those characters are too good to miss.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Hi Tom,
      I am a reader; (I just clicked over to Facebook and I “think” I sent you a friend request, if not, it was someone who likes coffee, so that is good as well. )
      I do not think that a writer only has to write about personal experiences (that’s an autobiography or memoir and probably very dull; that’s why I read very few of them.) I think people of all sorts share some basic authenticity no matter the situation, language, or state of mind. I want to read a story that builds on that foundation of reality, and takes me to places I never, ever, want to go in real life. I look for the “edge” of reality — close enough that I recognize every thing and every one, and chilling enough that I do not want the “bad guys” moving in next door.

      Age– well it is the age of the character that matters, not the age of the writer or even the reader.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree entirely that a writer does not only have to write about personal experiences. No matter what kind of character I am writing, good or evil, gay or straight, any ethnicity, I realize first and foremost that I’m describing a person, and people are, well… complicated. Personality is determined by genetics, culture and life experience, and that is what I try to reflect in my characters. I want them well-rounded, not tropes, but one must also remember that a particular culture has particular characteristics that will be present in most (but not all) of it’s members. Ideally, I like to have an actual person who represents a given character look at my work, but the beauty of the Internet is that I don’t always have to do that because I can always find examples on line.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The internet does provide a wealth of knowledge. Don’t tell anyone (HA HA), but I very often use Google maps when I am reading a story set in a place I have not visited, either here in the U.S. and especially an “over seas” setting. It is certainly not the same as actually being there, but I just love to open Google Earth and look at the buildings, landscapes, rivers, all of that “stuff.” There are some books that are so geographically accurate that I can follow car chases over the river and through the woods (so to speak).

          The downside of the internet is that we are held captive by the “consensus” of those who click, click, click online. I try to remember to not generalize too quickly and to not take everything at face value. After all, people do make things up!!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting thoughts to consider! The characters in my head are way younger than me, but I don’t think about it, either, because in a way they’re all earlier versions of me. I’ve lived through the same general issues they’re dealing with, although not the particulars. They’re all part of my makeup, regardless of age. My next book (I think it’s next?) will be about a character much closer to my actual age, and that should be an interesting twist!

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Another interesting question, Kait! Not sure I can rightly answer, except that the aging sleuth has a different set of life issues to deal with, and I guess I just want to explore them. But it will be a challenge to make it interesting, both for me as writer and also for the reader, because if you’re living it at the moment, how can it be interesting?

        Liked by 2 people

      1. We’re seeing a lot more “oldies” in print. The Grande Dame started it, but then age-appropriate fell by the wayside for cute young things. Maybe because the boomers all grew up on Nancy and Trixie and the Hardy Boys. Oh, the Dana girls just took me to task, and the Dana girls. But now, we’re having a rebirth if you will. There are Emily Brightwell’s characters, Mrs. Polifax of course, Susan Santangelo’s series, a zillion more who are escaping my mind at the moment. Ah, we are coming into our own!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My protagonist, Maggie, is about 25 years younger, but writing her life, her experiences and her diction doesn’t feel like a stretch. I think it’s partly because I have a good number of people her age in my life, and because part of me feels as though I’m in my early twenties–if not younger! I’m still waiting to become a grownup. 🙂

    Thanks for a lovely post, Kait. And how wonderful to meet a fan in that way!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. That is a great story, Kait! I’ll confess to writing characters 25 years younger than me and more, when I was writing for kids. Much more. Partly it’s a marketing thing for me, but now that you’ve made me think about it, maybe it’s also because when I was 30 I felt very powerful and “together.” I wasn’t, of course, in retrospect, but it still feels like a strong, optimistic time. I was married, had kids, everything felt stable to me in real life, so as a writer, isn’t that the best time to throw a wrench at your characters? See if they float?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, that’s true, Keenan, so that gets us back to write what you know. One of my favorite quotes is “Age and treachery oft wins over youth and enthusiasm.” A cautionary tale for those of us with a few laps around the block 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh, Kait, that’s a riot!
    I, too, am a lot younger in my head (17 or so!) I write a character who is just shy of thirty but also one who is a bit older than I am. I think your encounter with your fan just shows how successfully you crafted a character that she related to.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. How interesting! I come at it from a slightly different POV since I’m much closer in age to my protagonists (I’m a darned millennial, btw). When I’m reading, I only ever think about the author’s age when it’s obvious there’s a huge age gap. More than once, I’ve read a cozy featuring a 20 or early 30-something year old protagonist and go, “What 20-year-old talks this way?” and then I’ll flip to the back of the book to look at the author photo and go, “Ah. OK, now it makes sense.”

    Of course, it works in reverse too. I’m a mentor for a writing program, and to apply as a mentee, people had to submit a query, synopsis, and the first 10 pages. As I read one entry, I thought, “This dialogue makes no sense. It’s like someone writing what they think an adult sounds like.” I went to check the application and yup, the entrant was under 18 (the ages aren’t usually included on the application, but if they’re under 18, we require parental approval to apply for the program).

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I was on an airplane one time and the woman next to me begged to me write and older protagonist, but not a “Miss Marple.” I hadn’t thought about that much, until this post!

    My characters are all younger than me (not hard to do), but I sort of think my age gives me more insight. As long as I massage it well, it can add depth to characters who might otherwise be constantly making bad decisions and irking readers.

    Thanks for the reminder, Kait. I’ll see what I can come up with.

    Like

  9. I’m not sure it has anything to do with my writing, but I’ve always heard that each of us has an age where we feel we are–permanently. At eighty, I still think I’m thirty. Those were some of the best years of my life, except for today. Maybe that’s why my heroines are always in their thirties. But when I say I feel thirty it sends my grown kids into hysterics.

    Liked by 1 person

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