As Old As You Feel

~ By Sandy James

Thanks so much for having me today!

My books have been reviewed by several different review sites, and I’m always grateful when a reviewer takes the time to read and comment on something I’ve written. Yet no matter how often I’ve had fantastic things said about my stories, like most writers, I focus on the less complimentary write-ups. I don’t mind good constructive criticism—in fact, I look at it as a learning experience that might make my next book stronger. But one particular comment that I’ve received more than once on my book, Turning Thirty-Twelve—and am likely to receive on my new book, Twist of Fate—baffles me. Some reviewers don’t like to read about older heroines.

When I write, I tell the story that is screaming in my head, regardless of the age of the characters. I had never considered that younger readers might not appreciate heroines in their thirties and forties or that young women might not be able to empathize with the lives of more mature women. (Funny, but reviewers never mention the hero’s age, and often say how much they are drawn to the “mature” heroes. Nice double standard…)

Perhaps I lost my own frame of reference when I crossed the boundary into middle age. Now that I’m thirty-eighteen <g>, I look at the world through different eyes, which also draws me to writing about heroines who are more seasoned. My critique partner, Nan Reinhardt, is also writing fantastic stories with older heroines. As the cliché goes, you write what you know. These heroines have lived through so much, and those experiences make them vibrant and interesting. At least they are to me—less so, evidently, for younger readers and reviewers.

My new book, Twist of Fate, has a thirty-nine year old heroine whose husband has fallen into a typical midlife crisis. Since I teach psychology, I’ve studied this a lot. (Imagine trying to explain what a forty-year-old is feeling to a classroom full of teenagers—a challenge in and of itself.) When men hit that magical age of forty, some suddenly feel assaulted by their own mortality, and they often realize that they only have so much time left. As a result, some men who are married consider their wives part of the problem since they’ve also aged, their signs of aging reminding the man of his own mortality. If the couple doesn’t weather that storm, the relationship could end. Where does that leave the wife? That’s where this story begins.

Susan and James Williams, my heroine and hero, face this life-changing time, and I chose to really crank up the internal conflict by showing it through an external conflict—I throw them back in time. To portray how a real couple handles a rocky relationship, I have Susan and James deal with the obstacles of trying to solve their problems in a new place in a new time. And just like real men facing a midlife crisis, James finds himself at a crossroads—one that leads him back to Susan and another that leads away from his twenty-year marriage.

I suppose the ultimate irony in this older heroine issue is that I enjoy reading about younger heroines, and I can appreciate their adventures, trials, and tribulations. So why can’t the opposite be true?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!

* Sandy has kindly offered to give away an ARC of “Twist of Fate” to one lucky commenter! * 

Sandy lives in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis with her husband of over twenty-five years and is a high school social studies teacher. She is represented by Maureen Walters of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Look for her two new books coming soon – Twist of Fate (Damaged Heroes 5) from BookStrand on Oct. 25, 2011 and Rules of the Game from Carina Press in April 2012.

Please visit her website at sandy-james.com for more information or find her on Twitter (sandyjamesbooks) or Facebook (facebook.com/pages/Sandy-James/280548586384)

11 thoughts on “As Old As You Feel”

  1. I’d be curious to know what type of reader doesn’t care for the older heroine? Is it the youthful reader? If so, I suspect that the societal emphasis on youth and physical beauty has an impact on this. When all forms of media tells us that a woman’s worth is the perkiness of her chest and rear and not the calm wisdom that comes with age, what can we expect? In that same vein, more seasoned readers (which I can now count myself), are not immune to societal forces. Perhaps some part of them longs for the day when they turned heads when entering a room based solely on physical appearance, instead of becoming comfortable in what can be the ‘wallpaper’ effect of the slightly older woman (when I say wallpaper, I mean the feeling that you may as well be part of the wallpaper for all the attention people pay to you….just another lady past her prime). I think your older heroines may challenge the older reader not to be part of the wallpaper, that they still have worth to society, maybe not for runway model looks, but for good sense, humanity, life experience and good old fashioned female sensuality – that which is part of character, not skin deep looks. So keep challenging your readers. To the young women – look at the older ladies in your life as something for which to aspire, not dread a wrinkle. To the older ladies – don’t be wallpaper. So you have a wrinkle or a couple greys. Maybe your 36Cs are 40 longs now. Screw it. Like a fine wine, we just get better with age. Keep challenging, Sandy, that’s where people learn about themselves.

  2. Mellanie — I like the “drama” comment! Being as I spend al day with teenage drama, I want to explore more mature problems when I write. 🙂

    Bridgette — don’t you love how Meryl Streep is turning that Hollywood stereotype that all women over forty can play are moms and grandmas?? Love shows like Mama Mia that show mature women still being beautiful, sexy, and fun!!

    Noelle — I still do like reading and writing younger heroines as well. I hope that younger readers will learn to feel that way about older heroines.

    Hi, Deborah! Thanks for the encouragement!!

  3. I love older heroines too. Many of the Brit chick lit I read has older heroines. Not all of us are 20-somethings, after all. You go, woman!

  4. Noelle Alexander

    I enjoy reading about older heroines more my age. I’m in my 40’s and I find them more interesting, developed, and wiser in human experiences. They tend to keep my interest because I can relate to them. Not that I occasionally don’t like to read about a younger heroine which takes me back to those years when life was much easier, more carefree, with nothing to worry about except for what the boy next door is up to type of book. I really enjoy older heroines, Sandy, and I say keep on writing them with their realistic experiences and emotions that us ‘older’ readers can relate to and enjoy!

  5. Hi, Nan! I agree that readers who exclude older heroines are missing out on some fantastic stories!!

    Hi, Linda! I’d never thought about the digital connection. I have to admit beging resistant to getting a Kindle, but now I couldn’t imagine NOT having it!!

  6. Bridgette Murray

    American culture is youth obsessed. Hollywood virtually ignores actresses over 40 for significant roles. Many have responded by forming their own production companies and making relevant and entertaining movies starring people in their own age bracket. I think that all forms of marketing and entertainment will eventually catch on that as we live longer, healthier lives (and therefore continue to spend money) it is profitable to put on the page and screen mature, intelligent women.

  7. I have to agree with Nan and Linda–heroines in their 30s and 40s are more interesting than 20-something women with very little life experience. They have a realistic view of the world and come off as more intelligent, confident, and independent. I seldom write heroines under the age of twenty-five, because I prefer women who are mature enough to make decisions without all the drama of someone barely out of high school. In my mind, many relationships that lead to marriage in early 20s also lead to divorce. I don’t usually find these kinds of supposedly sustaining romances believable.

    My best guess is that most reviewers are younger than our heroines and, therefore, can’t relate. Let’s keep writing what we know. Since the vast majority of readers are over thirty, I think we’re safe 🙂

    Best wishes for lots of sales!

  8. I think part of it may be that if you’re publishing digitally, so many digital readers are younger women right now. I’m 54, and I still tend to like to hold paper books in my hand when I read, although I own a Kindle and love that, too. And most of my friends (a group of women ranging from their early 30s to my age) feel the same way.

    Honestly, I think as more and more women of certain ages go digital, you’ll find more and more readers appreciate your heroines. I know I do. And hey, when I was in my early 20s, I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading about what I thought of as “old women.” Now, of course, since I’m one of them, there IS no such thing as an old woman.

    And honestly (part deux)? I find I lose patience reading about young heroines in their 20s. I want to scream, “Grow up, chickie!” and often will get rid of a book without finishing it if the heroine comes across as shallow and stupid. So it’s all relative, I guess.

    For myself, the heroines I write are in their mid-to-late 30s and early 40s, and they’ve all got life experience and common sense behind them (although they still do stupid things sometimes; don’t we all?), and their problems are things I can identify with, like job losses and divorces and deaths. I think these issues can be handled with both humor and sensitivity, and to my mind it takes life experience to write these stories, and to appreciate them as a reader, too.

    So I say keep cranking ’em out, Sandy, and thank you!

  9. Pingback: Nan Reinhardt » Blog Archive » Come on Over…

  10. Sandy, I love your older heroines–Susan in TWIST OF FATE and Jackie in TURNING THIRTY_TWELVE are both fascinating characters with depth and imagination. I believe we are missing an entire group of readers when we abandon the over-40 heroine in favor of younger, seemingly hipper chicks. Women who’ve lived longer bring more life experience and a new dynamic to romance, and frankly to me, are just as interesting, if not more sometimes, than 20-somethings. I do write older characters, too because as you said, that’s what I know and that’s what interests me. I don’t believe we are alone in that. I, too, would love to hear from readers/writers–is romance only for the under-30 crowd? I don’t think so!

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