Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Late Life Fiction Never Gets Old

Today's post will be a bit different than usual, offering two bites of the same apple. You see, Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog was kind enough to offer me a 'guest post' on their blog. As you will see at once Marilyn and Scott have created a professional, highly acclaimed blog site. I am proud to be among their contributors.

You know what they say about "Making a silk purse out of.........." Well, that is what Marilyn Davis managed to do here. Her editing and layout made for a post that has me feeling like I've stuck my toe in the big leagues for a minute or two. 

Please take a moment to click on the link above and check it out, and while you are there show her that we October/November folks know how to leave a Comment or two.

Beyond that, what follows now is the article I sent to Marilyn, so she could work her magic on it. I want to include the original here so that my October Years files, which in time will be compiled into a single volume, are complete.

With that, here again is "Late Life Fiction Never Gets Old" redux.



Don’t tell me I am too old for that

I know how it feels, perhaps you do too……to be 60, 70, or even 80, reminding yourself that you can no longer do what you once could, wondering if you should even try.
It is instinctive, I suppose, the need to push back against those perceived limitations. Accepting that ‘age-based’ prognosis feels so much like giving up, as though my forty-year old mind is surrendering to my eighty-year old body. After all, I arrived at retirement years ago knowing there were still things to do, feelings to experience, mysteries to explore……along with the surprising  realization that there were stories I wanted to tell. 

How I scratched my writing itch

To be sure my literary adventures, the stories I wanted to tell, have taken me down roads less traveled, but that has been the beauty of it. In this day of high-tech, low-cost Print-on-Demand publishing my storytelling efforts have not been held hostage by agents, publishers, critics, or my modest bank account. I am writing to please myself……and thankful for the opportunity to do that, even when I am my harshest critic.
Yet those less-traveled highways offer their own storytelling choices. One fork in the road may have me creating a warm and fuzzy, happily-ever-after tale, while the next one leads to twists, turns, and dangerous intersections……where unseen troubles may lurk.  
Perhaps you can guess which path my late-life travels have taken. I call it Late-Life Fiction. It’s an obscure corner of the storytelling universe that feels like home to me. In the course of twelve Tanner Chronicles books my fictional friends have faced a litany of October and November challenges……good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. Still, like real life, a healthy dose of caring love can soften even the harshest trauma. Consider for instance, stories that include:

  • Returning to the scene of an earlier desertion
  • Wooing the stroke-stricken lady who was his high school crush
  • A Second Chance pursuit has men playing with guns
  • The down and out couple who are Going Poor together
  • An infatuated pair too timid to take a relational chance.
  • Life, love, and frustration with an Alzheimer’s spouse
  • Life partners lost and found
  • Second loves found, then lost

Even the longest journey may begin with a single stumble

I have spent the last couple weeks exploring the possibility of a new ‘November adventure’ story. In the process I have paused a time or two to ask myself if I am on to something real. Or is the story I have in mind more apt to be cataloged under ‘Adult Fantasy’? In that case I probably ought to turn up my oxygen, lay back, and chill out.
We all understand, of course, that ‘adventure’ is a relative term. I know beyond a doubt that the septuagenarian friends whose story I will be telling are more timid than bold, and more tentative than confident. But they have been around the block a time or two, and are the sort who keep trying, even in the face of long odds.
Still, the questions remain. Can I imagine, and then tell, a convincing story about a handful of seventy-five year olds who are inexplicably convinced that they still have things to do, to see, to learn, and become?

Am I the only one?

Before long the next round of questions had bubbled to the surface. Am I the only November remnant, male or female, who harbors childish notions of how much potential Becoming remains at my age? Am I whistling in the dark …… unwilling to face the reality of a worn-out, used-up life standing at the edge of a steep and slippery slope?
Of course it is an ego thing …… telling a tale about old folks who are unready to cash in their chips so soon, reluctant to discard the dreams they have nurtured for so long. From beginning to end my goal will be storytelling, not literature. My aim is to make it quality storytelling.
Any story that deals with what my creaky old friends can still do, and not do, will necessarily include age-appropriate depictions of the dynamic, idealistic young men and women they like to believe they once were. Will I be able to put into words the challenges my November Knights and their ladies face? Will their geriatric capabilities be enough to win the day?

How about telling your own story

But what if you are among the multitude of October wannabe writers, most of whom do not share my unorthodox interest in Geriatric Adolescent fiction? Let’s say that your sort of story takes you somewhere else. Well, my friend, you are in luck. For no matter what you write, today’s self-publishing universe has a place for you.
First, however, let’s begin with this bit of cold reality. The latest numbers I have found indicate that more than 700,000 different e-books were self-published in the US in 2016. That’s right……a couple thousand a day, every day of the year. That, my friend, is serious competition, which ought to temper anyone’s expectations of finding an audience. Of course, your book might be the one that rises above the crowd, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. 
In my aging mind the best approach to that reality has been to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, and take pride in my creations. At the end of the day, if they make a dollar or two, that’s great. If they don’t, I am still left with what I wanted.
I have charged ahead knowing that everyday people in every corner of the world are writing and self-publishing a growing tide of novels, family histories, family adventures, self-help manuals, even coloring books. Best of all in my tired old eyes, publishing an original novel in e-book and paperback formats, and scoring your own Amazon Author’s page can be done for next to nothing. I have done that twenty times, beginning at age sixty-nine. You can too.

What’s in your closet?

Forty-five years ago our family moved to England so I could write the novel I knew was in me. We spent most of a year there, living out my foolish notion that serious writing required an exotic locale. Turned out that Winchester filled the ‘exotic’ bill much better than my original typed manuscript, which lay on a closet shelf for more than forty years before I resurrected it, whipped it into shape, and self-published it three years ago. As literature it may have left something to be desired. As a memento of a special time in a special place it means a great deal to me.
By the time I was through with that project Roma was suggesting that we create a new story, recounting our family’s English adventure……the life we lived there, the sights we saw, the mistakes we made, and the life-long friends we met. The two of us spent a few months creating the story, before ordering five copies of the handsome paperback edition for Christmas gifts. Our total investment, from beginning to end was $37.00.

What is your life calendar telling you?

I cannot in good faith recommend late-life writing and self-publishing as the means to strike it rich. Yet, as an affordable and satisfying creative experience it hits all the right notes for me. Storytelling has allowed my June/July mind to engage with my October/November body, as I depict the forces of late-life playing out in the lives I am creating. That has worked for me. Hopefully others will find my results worth reading.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Of Course I Can

“You betchum, Red Ryder. I can get it done.”

So where did that woman get her silly ideas? What had my own wife doubting that I could do it? After all, I’ve been around the block a time or two. I know about these things.

You see, the old wood-frame deck on the back of the house was already in pretty rough shape when we bought the place. Now the time had come to deal with that, to perform the necessary surgery. 

The deck was a large two-tier affair……..more deck than we would ever use. Over the years the lower, uncovered area had born the brunt of a dozen or more Oregon winters. It sagged where it wasn’t suppose to sag and the wooden railings were rotten enough to be dangerous.

This summer’s sunny and dry months would be the logical time to act. After all, I knew what had to be done and how to do it. It was simply a matter of getting off the couch and going to work.

At first the only thing holding me back was her unsurprising questions. “Can you do that?” Roma asked, as she often does when I set off on some new project, especially since my crash and burn ladder experience. Still, what had I done to earn that lack of faith? (I will leave that answer for another time.)

“Of course I can,” I replied. And in that moment I was speaking what I believed to be the truth…….at least in my octogenarian mind. Though it was too early to have exact “how-to” answers in hand, I was sure I would able to sort those out when the time came.

You see, like many renovation projects, eliminating half of the deck would be a two part process. First the outer, lower portion would have to be torn down. With that accomplished new steps and railings would be constructed for the remaining upper deck. 

That meant I would be beginning with my strong suit, what I do best. Even my doubting wife would agree that I am at my best when taking things apart. I have always been good at that……all the way back to the foxy Model-A coupe I bought her fifty years ago. It needed some work, as you might expect. And I went right to work……purging the offending parts in preparation for a major renovation.

Long story short—-the gutted carcass of Roma’s Model-A, along with dozens of assorted parts and pieces, filled our garage for months before a mechanically-adept friend bought it for a pittance and let us have our garage back. 

By then the truth was there for all to see. Gil does pretty well taking things apart. As for putting them back together again ……. well, that's another matter.

Except…….demolishing a 20 x 12 deck, with its bulky wood infrastructure and half-rotten railing, would be a really big job. If I was looking to hire someone to do that work would I choose an 81 year-old fellow, who had never done that before? Probably not.

It took a day or two for my bruised ego to accept that logic, and move on to a better answer. You see, we have three sons and a son-in-law. They’re a strong-backed, hard-working bunch who could do the entire demolition job in a single weekend. That was what we needed. Obviously, it was time to call for a family work party.

Except……..the four of them, my potential wrecking crew, were dealing with their own busy summertime schedules. It might take weeks to find a day or two when everyone was available. If we waited too long to tear things down, there might not be time to finish the construction part of the job before the rains came? Man alive, I was still in the planning stage and already I was out of answers.

Except…….Terry, our youngest son, lives with us. In one sense he was already on the job. You might say he had a horse in this race. And more to the point he had a definite idea of what the demolition process would require. “Forget the work party,” he announced one evening at dinner. “The outer deck is already falling apart. I can tear the whole darn thing down in one day.” 
Really? My octogenarian logic was having a hard time buying that. But did I have a better idea? No, I didn’t.

Except…….Terry didn’t get the job done in one day. True, it took no more than eight or nine hours, but that was spread over three or four days, most of it in the evening after work. And you can bet he didn’t do it alone. As fast as he and his trusty saw carved the lower deck into bite-sized pieces, Roma and I were there to carry the remains to the refuse pile.

By the end of the week the lower-deck area was bare and the upper-deck railings were gone. And in the process Mom and Dad had managed to save Terry perhaps half an hour of lumber removal. 

And that, my friends, is how I was able to manage that job. It took some doing, but the deed is done…….and I am ready to turn my attention to installing new railings and steps on the upper deck. As the designated ‘idea man,’ I have some thoughts of how I'll do that.  

Except…….I’m pretty sure that too will be a team effort. I’ll be on hand to point out what needs to be done, and Terry will see that it happens. After all, that's one of the lessons we October and November folks have learned along the way. Two or three heads (and strong backs) are a lot better than one, especially if the ‘one’ is me.