What Story Is Your Life Telling? by Sherrie Hansen Decker

What story is your life telling? A new friend on Twitter asked this question in a tweet this morning. Who says a few word can’t be powerful?

This is a question that seems to be of more importance to me as I get older, as it becomes apparent that my most productive years are probably more than half gone, and that if I want to make a name for myself or accomplish something that I have yet to do, it’s time to get with it and get it done. One of the main characters in my book, Tommy Love, is in his mid/late forties, and in the middle of a stellar mid-life crisis. He’s had a successful career as a musician, gotten the star treatment from millions of adorning fans… most of whom are baby boomers and dying off faster than fruit flies. What Tommy wants – or thinks he wants, is one more big hit – hip hop – to appeal to a new generation of fans. Can you blame him for not wanting to fade into oblivion, for not wanting to be pegged as an oldie-but-goodie? As perhaps all of us would like, Tommy wants to go out in a blaze of glory, to see his legacy live on for at least another 20 to 30 years.

Some of us accomplish this with our children, but in Love Notes, neither Hope or Tommy has children. Neither do I. It’s been suggested before that my books are my way of passing on the secrets of my heart, and I think that’s probably very true. The story my life has been told, continues to be told, and hopefully, will be passed along one day, through my creation of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and tea House (my baby in a very real sense), and in my writing.

I was recently approached about answering some questions for an article because I was an author who was over 50, a writer whose career as an author didn’t begin until I was past 50 years old.  The question’s implication resulted in a lot of things floating through my evidently half-addled, 55 year old brain: What does she think I am, older than dirt? That it’s a miracle I can still write, old as I am? Once I got over my indignation, however, I started to think about what it is really like being 55, and how life is different now than when I was 25, 35 or even 45.

Here are my answers to her questions:

What prompted you to take up writing as a career at this time in your life?

When I was 35 years old, I opened a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn. During those early days I worked until 10 p.m. every night, serving or cleaning up after dinner and trying to keep up the laundry and bookkeeping. When I got off work and went home (a basement apartment in the same big Victorian inn) I was keyed up and too wide awake to go to sleep. I needed someone to talk to so I could unwind. Being single, and living in a largely rural area where the rest of the world was early to bed and early to rise, I had no one to talk to and no where to go. So I wrote. I made up characters and conversations and situations and poured my pent up emotions and needs for personal interactions into my books.

For over a decade, I was so busy that I never found time to query or submit. Soon after I turned 50, I was approached by a publisher who had read the first chapter of Night and Day in an online contest I’d entered at Gather.com. He loved my voice and related to my characters and wanted to publish my book.

Do you think your age in any way hindered your writing success?

I suspect it has, for a couple of different reasons. I attended an American Christian Writer’s Conference once, and felt decidedly old, fat, and gray (comparatively speaking), even though I cheated a bit and added some color to my hair just for the occasion. Why, I wondered, would an editor or agent take a chance on me, when there were so many youthful, energetic people waiting in line on either side of me? The editors I spoke to were all in their 20’s or 30’s, looking for books that would engage a new, younger generation of readers. What did I have to offer them, with my stories of 30 and 40 year old characters – still a decade or two younger than me, but so ancient to them, that, as one editor put it, they would work as secondary characters, but not hero and heroine? Another said that they felt their readers would not be able to relate to stories about older characters, with the implication that they would be turned off, that the “ick factor” of a bunch of old fogies finding love would be too great for them to get get past.

Sigh…

The second reason I feel my writing has been impacted by my age is much scarier – and more personal, and that is that everything people say about menopause is true. Your brain turns to mush. It’s harder to focus, multitask and concentrate. My most productive time of the day – formerly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., now finds me falling asleep at my computer. Now, I’m awake at 5 a.m. but I’m not productive, I’m crabby. It takes me longer to get the same amount of work done, so there is less time for writing. Worst of all, your interest in romance diminishes. So does your passion for life and people. It’s sad. It’s a reality. Some people tell me it will pass. Others just shake their heads and wish me the best.

Do you believe you could have written the same type of books at a different point in your life?

No. My books are about second chances, people who have learned by their mistakes, men and women who have failed and been forgiven, and thanks to God’s grace and love, have found a sweet love that they would most likely not have appreciated when they were younger. They see beauty in places they would have rushed right by when they were younger.

When I was young, before I fell flat on my face and learned a lot of life’s bittersweet lessons, I never could written the books I have. An author can imagine plots lines and character profiles, but you can’t conjure up the richness and fullness of life you find in your 50’s!

What have been the biggest advantages to pursuing a writing career at your age?

See above! I’m older, wiser, more accepting, more forgiving, more understanding, more savvy. I have more to offer, greater insights into what makes characters tick. I’ve been there, done that. Add my experience to my still active imagination, and you get richer, deeper characters, conflicts that are heart-wrenching, and scenarios that are intensely real.

And, I have the zillions of baby boomers who are tired of reading books about naive, 18 year old Amish girls, as potential readers. :-)

What have been the greatest obstacles?

Finding a publisher who agrees with me. :-) Three years ago, at the moderately “old” age of 52, I opted to sign on with a medium sized, independent publishing firm who are more interested in finding a good story that they are the age of the hero and heroine – or the author.  Second Wind Publishing has been a great place for me to grow as an author and a wonderful venue for getting my books in print. I’ve had to modify my dreams and expectations, a bit, but then, isn’t that what aging gracefully is all about?

Whatever story your life is telling… and whatever age you are, I would urge you to keep sharing yourself – through your children, with your friends and family, in your careers or second careers – or third, or fourth – and if you like to write, through the stories you put on paper.

Here’s to the stories of our lives.

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7 Comments

Filed under life, Sherrie Hansen, writing

7 responses to “What Story Is Your Life Telling? by Sherrie Hansen Decker

  1. I promise you there are a lot of people out there who want to read about older characters because people are living longer lives. Second chance is a great focus for a story. I think generations can connect. I read Nicholas Sparks’ query letter for “The Notebook.” He wanted to focus on the love relationship of an older couple, even though the film chooses to focus more on the couple in their younger years. (I have never read the book.)

    I have also been on the opposite end as 26-year-old writer. I’ve been considered too young to be taken seriously when I know I’ve wanted it all my life. The person closest to my age at my current writers group is in her late thirties. I take a lot from those writers’ wisdom and what they have to teach me. They respect my critiques for them as well.

    Sorry for such a long response. I did enjoy this post. I know you will be an excellent, successful author!

  2. Lovely interview. I love your comment about naive 17-year-old protagonists! And now I’m wondering, should I color those gray hairs?

    • Sherrie Hansen

      Thanks for dropping by, Sheila. Your hair is pretty just the way it is. I dyed mine for awhile, and am back to my natural gray. It’s me, and it’s perfectly lovely.

  3. Pingback: Introducing the Best Multi-Author Blog in the Blogosphere « Bertram's Blog

  4. I love your hair color, Sherrie! You have once again written a poinant post, sharing both the joys and the challenges of the over 50 crowd. Love and romance comes at all ages. My 70 something widowed neighbor has a broader smile and a lighter step when his girl–woman–friend is around.

    As I move closer to 60, there are more physical limitations I’m not so happy about, and like you mentioned, there is a great sense of urgency to get things done, but over-all, the positives outweight the negatives.

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