In my late forties, I realized that I no longer enjoyed reading novels with twenty-something and thirty-something protagonists. It felt like poking into the heads and hearts of young women who could easily be former students. While searching for novels featuring an older crowd, I discovered several late-blooming authors (Maeve Binchy, Frank McCourt, Louise Penny) who had launched successful second acts. Inspired, I decided to populate my essays, stories, and novels with Boomer women and their older sisters.
At first, I wrote primarily for the non-fiction market but later gravitated toward cozy mysteries and paranormal romances. The protagonists in both series were fifty-something women facing transitions into unexpected second acts.
Gilda Greco, the protagonist of A Season for Killing Blondes, won $19 million in Lotto 649.
She returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in the murders of four blondes.
Isabella of the Mediterranean Kingdom aka Barbara Davis, the protagonist of Between Land and Sea, faces an uncertain future after she is aged thirty years and given twenty extra pounds to carry. Middle-aged ex-mermaids have very few role models!
I spent two years editing and polishing both manuscripts. Excited about the publication process, I anxiously awaited input from a visiting male author. Our conversation is etched in memory.
He started by saying, “You’ve got an interesting storyline. And I like how you’ve developed the characters. But…”
“Spill it. I taught adolescents for 31 years. I’ve got rhino skin.”
“Most of the characters are old…uh…older. You need to incorporate more young’uns into the storyline.”
“What do you mean by young’uns?” I couldn’t resist using my teacher voice.
“Characters in their twenties and early thirties. That’s what selling now.”
I smiled and thanked him for his advice, determined not to follow it.
I encountered more ageism at some of the writing workshops and seminars I attended between 2011 and 2012. Several instructors urged me to downplay the “boomer” elements in my query letters and books.
“Don’t mention anything about age in your query letter. They don’t have to know that you’re over fifty.”
“It’s okay to have an older woman as a sleuth. She’ll be invisible, and that works well for sleuths. But make sure you surround her with younger and more vibrant characters.”
“Stay away from senior homes, retirement homes, and nursing homes. Don’t dwell on all that negative stuff.”
Thankfully, the writers and producers of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, The Intouchables, Still Alice, and Downton Abbey didn’t even consider such misguided advice. I can’t even imagine finding younger characters to replace Maggie Smith, Julianne Moore, Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, or François Cluzet in any of their outstanding roles.
Encouraged by this Renaissance of boomer movies, I continued to submit query letters to agents and publishers across Canada and the United States. I was thrilled when both novels found homes at The Wild Rose Press and Soul Mate Publishing.
Seven years have passed since meeting with the visiting author. Much has changed in the literary and film landscapes.
Increasing numbers of bestsellers, among them Every Note Played by Lisa Genova, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, feature boomer and older protagonists. These books address the transition issues inherent in the lives of boomers, among them widowhood, divorce, aging parents, degenerative diseases, and retirement.
At this year’s Oscars, the recipients of the Best Actor and Best Actress awards—Gary Oldman and France McDormand—were both aged sixty. And Dame Helen Mirren rode around on a jet ski during the ceremonies!
A Different Kind of Reunion
While not usually a big deal, one overlooked email would haunt teacher Gilda Greco. Had she read it, former student Sarah McHenry might still be alive.
Suspecting foul play, Constable Leo Mulligan plays on Gilda’s guilt and persuades her to participate in a séance facilitated by one of Canada’s best-known psychics. Six former students also agree to participate. At first cooperative and willing, their camaraderie is short-lived as old grudges and rivalries emerge. The séance is a bust.
Determined to solve Sarah’s murder, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers shocking revelations that could put several lives—including her own—in danger. Can Gilda and the psychic solve this case before the killer strikes again?
Amazon (Canada): https://is.gd/vR5Sxn
Amazon (United States): https://is.gd/lU0qw7
The Wild Rose Press: https://is.gd/nQ2ZjT
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A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.
11 thoughts on “In Praise of Older Protagonists: Guest Post by Canadian Mystery Author Joanne Guidoccio”
Thanks for hosting me, Anna 🙂
Hi, Joanne! I’m so glad you addressed this topic. I may not be 20 and never want to be again. I like being a little more seasoned, although most people are surprised when I say how old I am. I want to know about variety of characters because that’s what is in this world. To say most books should address a certain age group, sigh. The largest population is the baby boomers and they read!
HI Vicki, Like you, I would not want to be 20 again…all that angst and unnecessary worry. When chatting with younger women, I have to refrain from commenting, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Thanks for dropping by. 🙂
I usually read stories that interest me. I don’t care how old the main characters. As for writing, I’ve done from early twenties to late forties. Best on your book!
Good to see you here, Ilona. I marvel at your flexibility. While I include younger women in my novels, I don’t think I could write from their POV. 🙂
Great post. Older protagonists in any book show that life doesn’t end at 40. Best of luck with your book!
Hi Cat, I’m happy to see more books and movies featuring the boomer crowd. We are a force!! 🙂
Excellent points, Joanne. I don’t want to write about a much younger character. After reading my manuscript, an agent asked if I was trying to make my characters sound old. Ouch. I had made my character in her 40s, but my cultural references were based on my own experiences and were a bit dated (comparing someone’s hair to Veronica Lake probably was dated). So I updated some of them and it helped.
OUCH!! I cringe whenever I hear that 40, 50, 60 are old. Thankfully, there are enough powerful role models out there to defy these ridiculous statements. Thanks or dropping by, Grace 🙂
I love Gilda Greco! Great post.
Thanks for all your support, Judy. Much appreciated. 🙂