Monday, January 27, 2014

Begging to Differ, Just a Little, With the Great Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon!
Fay Weldon, an author I admire for her contribution to the culture as much as for her writing, has an essay in the Times this week titled "Writer of a Certain Age." In it she welcomes the age of social media for the camouflage it provides an aging writer - on Twitter, we can all be a nubile 28 - or at least steer the discussion away from commentary on our looks. And, she posits, the ensuing yawns when it's discovered that we're old enough to be the bookstore clerk's mother.

It's not that Weldon doesn't have a point. There is enormous pressure on authors to be attractive and youthful as well as pen-worthy - more for women, of course, than men ("if two mature women were talking onstage, audience members would cough and shift in their seats, but if two men of any age were talking, the audience would pay some attention").

Where I beg to differ is when Weldon examines the reading public's supposed insistence on youthful, attractive female characters. Acknowledging that the largest share of readers is older and female, she says "they like to identify with themselves when young and beautiful, when sexual power and adventures were for the taking and life was fun — not as they are now, with bulging hips and crepey necks."


I forgive Weldon for being a little out of date on this one. This belief has been at the forefront of publishers' mindset for so long it has probably begun to feel carved in stone, but it's simply not true. Mature women want to read about young, pretty chicks - and also about young, ugly chicks and young, handsome men, and young, ugly men and old, handsome men and old, ugly men, and transgender people who are young and old and homely and beautiful - in short, they want to read about the human condition, so give them an interesting character and they're all in. (I'd give you proof, but what a dreary waste of my time…go look at the trade fiction bestseller list for the last year or two and prove it to yourself.)

And these readers *just might* have a soft spot for characters like themselves. Ahem. My character, Stella Hardesty, is fifty when the BAD DAY series starts, older on book five, when she finally gets some hot sheriff action. And she's overweight and plain as day through the whole series. Kinda like most of us. There are lots of other examples in books and TV and movies these days, but I like talking about myself (though, how about "The Heat"? Huh? How about that!)

The Heat - regular gals, just like us

"Fortunately," Weldon says, "if you just hang in there long enough and hit 80, you will emerge on the other side of the postmenopausal years into bright clear waters — so old as to seem ageless, sexless as a sage, remarkable if not for youth, why, then, for extreme age, and again a salable proposition for publishers."

Well, I guess that's okay for some, but I have no intention of wasting the next three decades pushed aside to the also-ran table. I want front and center, and I'm happy to share with you young and pretty sisters as well as you gals who've been around long enough to teach me a thing or two.

P.S. - Weldon truly *is* awesome. For more proof, read this. No, wait. Go buy one of her books, and then read it.

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