I have a cat who is eighteen years old and experiencing difficulties walking because of weakness in her back legs and spinal issues. The vet thought she was a candidate for euthanasia earlier in the fall, but she has fooled all of us by hanging in there through the winter. With the arrival of spring, she enjoys the smells that come through the open windows. She is what my mother would call “a good eater”, she loves sitting on my husband’s lap, and she braves the steps to the upstairs several times each day. She is a trooper. Watching her aging process and experiencing my own, I find her an inspiration. I, too, have been having my share of age-aggravated issues, and many impact my writing.
Because of a balance issue which went misdiagnosed for over five years and degenerative problems in my spine and neck, sitting at the computer to write has become more and more difficult. Those same problems have cut into attending conferences and in doing in-person author events. What my younger body was able to compensate for now presents challenges that need interventions of many sorts.
But healthy aging itself presents its own set of issues. Unless we write about protagonists our own age—and most of us write about characters considerably younger—we are creating characters and their worlds from what we learn from sources other than our own experiences. There are comic strips I find puzzling because I do not catch the references or recognize the names in them. Writer friends younger than I post on social media about television shows they enjoy, but I cannot connect with most of these programs. Recommendations for movies seem to be written by someone much younger than me. Yep. I’m getting old.
Sue Grafton seemed to find her way around some of the problems of a younger protagonist in contemporary society by freezing Kinsey in time, but her approach was unique, and one not followed by many contemporary writers. It’s interesting that many of the readers of cozy mysteries, the genre of my work, include younger readers, not necessarily young, but many years my junior. How can I continue to write a protagonist enveloped by life here-and-now? Perhaps the aging writer needs to approach the task of the younger protagonist by researching society the way those who write historical fiction research the past.
Here are a few suggestions all of us—because, let’s face it, we are all aging—can use now or in the future. There’s nothing new here, but a reminder never hurts.
Develop good habits while at the computer. My occupational therapist encouraged me to take a closer look at my desk and my desk chair to make certain they helped me maintain good posture. It’s also important to consider issues of lighting, not only the adequacy of the light but also the direction of the light source. In addition, monitoring posture while writing at a computer and taking frequent breaks are keys to avoiding neck, shoulder and back stress. See. You already knew this. Your challenge is to remember this ten years from now. Begin preparing by doing these things now. Don’t beat up your body. It finds ways of getting back at you.
Choose carefully the size, location and kind of writing conference you attend. Perhaps it’s time to limit the number of conferences where you are present each year. Conferences at which you reconnect with old writing friends may deliver more joy to you than ones where you appear on numerous panels. Don’t knock it. Joy in your work is an important consideration and is the bedrock of good writing. Some writing organizations hold monthly meetings where you can make in-person contact with other writers, a less intensive way of staying recent and getting yourself out there,
If in-person meeting and writer conferences are too difficult for you, on-line workshops, guest blogging, author social media sites, and promotion and publicity sites are excellent ways to make your presence known and get your work out to a wide audience. You may have to spend more money on promotion, but it can be the money you save by reducing the number of conferences you attend. Be certain that if you increase your on-line presence you attend to good computer skills. Part of this includes taking frequent breaks. I cannot stress this too much because it’s so easy to underestimate time at the keyboard and pay for it later with neck and back issues.
This may be the time in your writing life to re-evaluate what you are writing. Growing older means you have added to your reservoir of experience and wisdom. You may find this changes what you want to write. I’ve always written humorous cozy mysteries. A good laugh has always been part of my writing life and my personal life as well. Funny had gotten me through some bad times, and it always will, but I’m now beginning to consider writing more serious mysteries and perhaps stand-alones rather than series work. Getting older has a lot of benefits and one is being more and more honest about how to invest energies and creativity. Taking on new things may keep us younger longer. Doing the old ones in a smarter way can keep us at what we love longer also.
My elderly cat has much to teach me. She’s enjoying her life, now so different from what it once was. Perhaps it pays to sit back, sniff the spring smells and consider what I can do in this new chapter in my life. And, of course, she stretches often.
Bio: Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in Upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle. The author of several mystery series, mystery novels, and short stories, Lesley is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime – International and Guppies. To learn more about her work, go to www.lesleyadiehl.com.
Eve Appel Egret is adjusting to married life with Sammy and their three adopted sons in Sabal Bay, Florida. While still running her consignment stores, she is going pro with her sleuthing by becoming an apprentice to a private detective.
Until her marriage, Eve’s only “family” was her grandmother Grandy, who raised her after her parents died in a boating accident. Now, in addition to her husband and sons, she has a father-in-law who clearly dislikes her. Sammy’s father, a full-blooded Miccosukee Indian long presumed dead, has emerged from the swamps where he’s been living like a hermit, and he isn’t happy about Eve’s marriage to his half-Miccosukee, half-white son.
As for Eve’s family, are her parents really dead? A woman named Eleanor claims to be Eve’s half-sister, born after her mother faked a boating accident to escape her abusive husband, Eve’s father. Then Eleanor’s father turns up dead in the swamps, stabbed by a Bowie knife belonging to Sammy’s father, Lionel. Strange as Lionel Egret is, Eve knows he had no motive to kill this stranger. In order to clear him, Eve must investigate Eleanor’s claims, and she might not like what digging around in her family’s past uncovers.