by Sarah Sullivan
Two years ago when I attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference, I sat with an agent and dazzled her with my novel idea. She liked it (or so she said) but cautioned me against having a heroine who was “older” by which she meant, brace yourself dear readers, over the age of 35! Needless to say, this was a shock and affront to my 44 year old ears. Politely ignoring the fact that I was picking my chin up off the floor she continued, explaining that young adult fiction is where it’s at today because people age 10 to 100 will read it, which translates into big bucks for the publishing houses. I, myself, blame J.K. Rowling for introducing this trend because, as far as I know, my mother was not borrowing my Nancy Drew Mysteries or Madeleine L’Engle books when I was a teen, but I digress.
Now, my heroine is actually pretty far over 35 (more like 55) which in my (obviously erroneous) opinion makes her so much more interesting. After all, a lot can happen to a person in a half a century. Over the years, life’s steady tides wash over us again and again contouring our minds and hearts and souls molding them into shapes very different from their original cast. Life’s roiling waters give some of us far more interesting aspects while other’s are ground to dust. Life has made my main character wise, compassionate, perceptive and just a little sad.
Fortunately for me, said heroine has a grown son who has experienced his fair share of hardship as well. The subplot explores his struggle to deal with his own misfortunes and his journey to become either an exotic stone or an inconsequential ocean pebble. Still, he was never meant to be the main character and, yet, I find myself flushing out his part including the addition of a girlfriend just so I can appeal to the twenty something crowd.
So, herein lies my dilemma. Do I write the story I want to write knowing that perhaps no one, other than me, wants to read about my graying age-spotted heroine or do I acquiesce to the tenor of the time and write young?
What's your opinion about the age of characters in fiction?