When Debut Novelists Aren’t Young

Back in November 2014, I posted a piece about authors who wrote their first published novels in their 20s. Now that I’ve aged more than two years, I’m going to turn that topic upside down and talk about authors who wrote their first published novels when much older — in their 40s, 50s, 60s, or even 70s.

Some of those older authors wrote earlier novels that didn’t get published. Others wrote nonfiction books, or perhaps short stories or poetry, in their younger years before turning to novels. Still others worked in non-literary professions before trying their hand at fiction.

Writing a debut novel later in life has its advantages — the book might be more mature than a younger author’s debut novel for the simple reason that the older writer is (usually) more mature, and has more life experience. But there are downsides, too — debut novels by older authors might lack a bit of youthful energy, and readers might lament about all the potentially great books not written by those novelists when they were in their 20s or 30s.

One of the oldest writers to have a debut novel was Harriet Doerr, who joined the ranks of published authors at the age of 74 with her absorbing Stones for Ibarra — a semi-autobiographical 1984 book about an American couple living in a remote section of Mexico.

Moving down to a somewhat younger older age, we have Laura Ingalls Wilder being 65 when the first of her eight renowned Little House books was published.

Billie Letts, who spent much of her life as a college educator, was 57 the year (1995) her debut novel Where the Heart Is came out. It did quite well with the help of being an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 1998 and getting turned into a movie starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, and Stockard Channing in 2000.

Alex Haley was 55 the year (1976) that saw publication of his blockbuster novel Roots, which inspired the 1977 TV miniseries that became even more of a blockbuster. Haley of course previously wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which was based on many interviews with its subject. Before becoming an author, Haley served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 20 years (even ghostwriting shipmates’ letters to their girlfriends) and then became a prominent magazine interviewer.

Detective-fiction author extraordinaire Raymond Chandler was 51 when The Big Sleep became his first novel in 1939. Chandler was actually an oil company executive when he lost that job during the Depression, after which he turned to writing — initially with short stories.

And James Michener was 40 when his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, was published in 1947 — and it won a Pulitzer Prize. Michener, who had penned one nonfiction book before that, subsequently made up for lost time by writing a whopping 25 more novels and 30-plus more nonfiction books — many very long and heavily researched — after Tales.

A few other older debut novelists and the ages their first books were published: Belva Plain (63), Charles Bukowski (51), Sir Walter Scott and Bram Stoker (each 43), and P.D. James and Elizabeth Strout (each 42). Scott was a renowned poet before turning to books, and Bukowski also had his verse published before becoming novelistic.

Then there was the 1896-born Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, whose extraordinary first (and only) novel The Leopard wasn’t published until 1958 — a year after he died.

And several people I know from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists wrote their first novels when well beyond 40. They include Kathy Eliscu, Robert Haught, and Susan Moore Jordan, among others.

In the nonfiction area, Frank McCourt was 66 the year (1996) his mega-best-selling memoir Angela’s Ashes came out. That book certainly contains literary flourishes.

Who are some of your favorite late-starting novelists (either ones I’ve named or not named)? What are the pros and cons of having a debut novel come out when the author is older?

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My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for Baristanet.com. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

114 thoughts on “When Debut Novelists Aren’t Young

  1. This brings me some hope because I’m 40 and not yet published, hoping to land an agent. I know you hear of many super young people accomplishing things at younger age, but “late bloomers” like myself often need a little extra time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Sonya, about many people needing some extra time — and the debut book is often better for it. 🙂

      Good luck landing an agent! And if that doesn’t work, one can always use a self-publishing company — which I’m doing for my second book after being with a small press for my first book. And, if it makes you feel any better, that first book came out when I was in my 50s.

      Thank you for your comment!


    • 40 is young, my friend. I just received my MFA in writing from Columbia University at the age of 65. It’s never too late. My novel is in the hands of an agent. She, however, seems to be around age 12 and is taking her time reading it. I may try a small press because well at my age you never know. Don’t lose faith. Keep writing.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are some of your favorite late-starting novelists (either ones I’ve named or not named)? —

    William S. Burroughs’ “Junkie” was injected into the literary marketplace in the same year its author turned 39, so he may not be eligible for mention in the context of your blog post this week. In any case, I appreciated his first novelistic foray even more than his most famous one, “Naked Lunch,” likely because of their divergent approaches to narrative, the former linear and the latter nonlinear.

    — What are the pros and cons of having a debut novel come out when the author is older? —

    In Burroughs’ case, one good thing was that the writer had copious amounts of time to conduct exhaustive research of his subject matter, and one bad thing was that this extended research increased the probability he would come across the one hot shot leading to the termination not only of his literary enterprises but also of all his other ones. (As we know now, he got lucky.)

    J.J. McGrath (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thirty-nine is close enough, J.J. 🙂 Glad William S. Burroughs survived long enough to write “Junkie” — and more. Some get lucky and some don’t. Heck, Dostoyevsky found himself in front of a firing squad long before he wrote his major works. (Obviously, he got a reprieve — some hard time in prison instead.) I still mean to read Burroughs one of these days — haven’t quite gotten to him yet.

      Thanks for the excellent comment!


      • Actually, Dostoevsky had written his first novel, ‘Poor Folk’, (1846) along with a couple of novellas (‘The Double’ and ‘The Landlady’) a few years before the firing squad incident (1849). He received much acclaim for that novel and was hailed as a rising new literary star. However, his radical views and his association with revolutionaries led to the mock firing squad which only became known to be ‘mock’ at the very last minute, exacerbating his very nervous, volatile nature and the epilepsy that plagued him for the rest of his life. The subsequent prison sentence and forced military conscription delayed the rest of his literary career by ten years.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sorry, I misread your comment Dave. Somehow I read it as ‘before he wrote his first novel’. You are absolutely correct that he didn’t write ‘Notes from the Underground’, ‘Crime and Punishment’, ‘The Idiot’, Demons’, ‘Brothers Karamazov’ etc. until after the firing squad incident and, as I said, the prison sentence and military service. If all of that had not happened, however, who knows what he would have gone on to write (or not write). I don’t think he would have produced those masterpieces if it hadn’t.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, Brian! Very well said!

            Sounds like at least one of those pre-firing-squad works was kind of major, even if not as famous as Dostoyevsky’s later novels. And, yes, if that author hadn’t experienced the firing-squad trauma, the difficult imprisonment, etc., he might have gone on to write much different novels and been quite a different person. Maybe a happier person, but less intense literature would have resulted.


      • — I still mean to read Burroughs one of these days — haven’t quite gotten to him yet. —

        Old Bull Lee will be there when you are ready for a brand-new bag . . .

        Liked by 1 person

    • Had never considered Burroughs’ age as debut novelist, and can see that copious research lay behind him by then, as well as copious amounts of luck in junkie business and police matters, home and abroad.

      Re Naked Lunch:

      Linearity pretty much flies out the window when you take all your paper-clipped chapters in hand and throw them skyward, making a spontaneous new order by gathering them up at random and sending them to the publisher in the order gathered. Burroughs was determined to do new things, but I always felt that this sort of thing had been done in other places earlier– though to no more or less pleasing effect– as in Schoenberg compositions out of a hat.

      That impulse to random order and juxtaposition of the disparate found fuller expression in Nova Express, if only because its parts were broken down into much smaller bits and stitched together by the phrase.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy, jhNY!

        — Th[e] impulse to random order and juxtaposition of the disparate found fuller expression in Nova Express —

        I have not read either “Nova Express” or the other two components of the Nova Trilogy — “The Soft Machine” and “The Ticket That Exploded” — but the good M42 bus willing, I hope to get to them within the next decade or so.



        • Greetings, J.J. McGrath!
          It’s been decades since I read Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded, and I still have, if memory serves (and so often it doesn’t quite) The Soft Machine ahead of me, were I to aim at completism. Can’t imagine the mood I’d have to sustain to get through it, though if ongoing despair would qualify, I may just read The Soft Machine sometime over the next four years, if not eight.

          When getting around the city, I have found bus rides to be a great opportunity to think things over, and then think about thinking things over, eventually having only half the trip before me. I commend you for your patience!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Joseph Mitchell wrote what is likely to be remembered as his very best prose on the topic of Joe Gould,Professor Seagull, an old denizen of the olde Bohemia, the Greenwich Village of legend that real estate made mankind forget, except as exhibit. The putative author of An Oral History of Our Times, a huge and rambling transcription of conversations of the high and low, speculations of a sociological nature, lengthy lists, advertising slogans, shop displays, Gould proved to be, more than he ever was an author, a most able self-promoter, though in fairness, his goals were usually humble ones– the next drink, a bed, an audience, support for his writing project.

    He showed portions of his great work in progress to Mitchell, as well as to several others, over the years, and claimed to have dozens upon dozens of notebooks stashed in various locations, which if gathered together would form The Oral History. Unpublished, except in tiny scraps in poetry magazines in the 1920’s, Gould would have been an author of advanced age had he published The Oral History while he lived, and so, pertinent to our week’s topic.

    Any plans for publication formed after his death were thwarted by one fact: The Oral History of Our Time was never found, and may never have existed beyond the repetitive scribblings he allowed Mitchell to look over, years before he died.

    Mitchell wrote two pieces on Gould, one when they both were younger men, in which he seemed to take Gould at face value, more or less, and the last after Gould’s death, titled Joe Gould’s Secret. Not unrelatedly, Joe Gould’s Secret was the last thing Mitchell wrote. For anybody, or about anybody. But he did go in to work every day at the New Yorker offices till he retired– many years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The older gen. have a wealth to share in fiction and non-fiction, although they do not see the world through the eyes of the younger gen., that can be a jolly good thing for it provides a viewpoint with character. It used to be that elderly people were thought of as our Wisdom teachers, not old people with time on their hands. So let’s here more from the elderly who have a life time of adventures to share. thanks eve

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the comment, E.D. — and well said! It’s very true that older people have a lot of hard-earned wisdom and experience that can be filtered into a compelling debut book. In our ageist society, that wisdom and experience is unfortunately not always valued and appreciated. (Of course, I also love many novels by younger writers. 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • To me the younger gen. who cling to iphones as if there’s no world outside of them, lose a lot on offer by old fashioned searching on foot, on train, on trains, on planes. A touch of a button, or a click of key may bring instant gratification but it does not bring real life. I feel sad for the lost freedom of our cyber kids. I hope one day they break free and fly. I am so glad not have grown up with an “I “anything. thanks Eve.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the follow-up comment, Eve! It’s definitely true that some people are too tied to their devices. I guess I try for a “happy medium” of living life both digitally and non-digitally. (One advantage of the computer age is that neither of us would have blogs without it. 🙂 )


        • My impression: for many glued to their phones, real life is what happens THERE– everything else is a distraction from that ‘real’ life– including driving, walking around, conversations.

          But I am old, and have no such phone– I don’t think the problem is easy access to information per se, but rather, a cultural shift to phone life– for those with the devices. It’s where everything is supposed to happen now.

          Liked by 2 people

          • For me I do have an old BB , so I could call or check emails if Dave posted a new blog.
            I am old as well, when I walk with my Pomchi, I do not use a head set. I listen to birds, watch passer by or jogger or exchange pleasentaries wih a neighbor
            While traveling in airports , so many people are in their own world with iPhone. In town people crossing the streets checking their phones or texting. Then an 8 year old girl in my street had her phone pointing at me obviously snapping my pic.
            Now clueless Trump tweets obscenities.

            Liked by 1 person

            • bebe, you absolutely have the right idea when walking your dog. It bothers me when I see people walking their dogs who are totally absorbed with their smartphones and thus paying little or no attention to the dog.

              I also love to walk without a device. It’s relaxing, and sometimes great ideas for this blog and my local column pop into my head. Wouldn’t happen if I were having a phone conversation or checking messages.

              And, yes, Trump’s tweets can make a person wish Twitter was never “invented.”

              Liked by 1 person

            • bebe, I agree with you completely, although I do have an android smartphone and mainly use it for my one phone instead of a landline. If I take it on a walk, it’s only for emergency purposes — I’d rather talk to and see what my neighbors are doing to their property, and am especially enamored of the chickens one of my neighbors has in their yard. A smartphone also comes in handy when driving and using its GPS capabilities, as I’m notorious for not having any sense of direction whatsoever!

              Liked by 2 people

              • I know Kat Lib for my safety I need to have an iphone or similar one when I am out there. I feel sad when I see neighbors, shoppers are constantly checking they phones or chatting loudly in check out lines.
                Look at Trump constant tweeting at 3 am, he is a selfish jerk .
                I know I always bring DT in my conversation 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  5. Bram Stoker the much revered fiction writer of ” Dracula” was fifty when he published his first Novel . He is from Dublin, Ireland the Country takes so much pride to celebrate his life and writings.
    Until then he was better known for being an actor’s personal assistant and manager

    Kurt Vonnegut`s “We Are What We Pretend To Be”: The First and Last Works. “Basic Training”was kis first ever novella when he was in his twenties but was published by his daughter after his passing. And we have discussed so many times before Dave what a fantastic novella it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! Bram Stoker was definitely on the older side for a first-time novelist, but not quite as old as Dracula. 🙂 One of MANY great Irish writers.

      That early Vonnegut novella WAS excellent. Yes, written when he was very young but not published until after he died, so it’s a good example of a debut novel released many decades after an author’s birth.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bobess48! I saw that article — fascinating, including the description of parts of the novel in which Whitman “test-drove” a technique or two he would use in “Leaves of Grass” (as the NYT headline alludes to).


    • Saw that! Though I note some among its current readers find it less than wonderful… I’ll probably attempt more of his poetry– it’s been a while– before I read the novel, if ever.

      Perhaps this bit of Whitmania might interest you:

      A couple of years ago, on the Antique Roadshow, a descendant showed up with a letter from a Union military hospital in DC, sent by a dying (though evidently he did not know it) 19 year old soldier to his family back home, in the hand of Walt Whitman.

      Friday evening June 12th

      Dear friend,
      As I have a favorable opportunity, by means of a visitor to the hospital, who is now sitting by the side of my bed, I write you again, making the second time this week, to let you know that I am tolerably comfortable, have good care & medical attendance, & hope to be up before long—have been up & moving around the ward both this forenoon & afternoon though I move around pretty slow as I am weak yet—A member of the Massachusetts Relief society has called upon me & given me a few trifles——— Dear friend, I wish you would say to Mrs. Rice I send her my best love & respects—I send my love to Horace, also to Charles & Mrs Clare—I would like so much to see the face of a friend, —I wish you would write me a good long letter, some of you my dear friends, as a letter from home is very acceptable in hospital——— My diarrhea is still somewhat troublesome yet I feel in pretty good spirits—I send you an envelope with my address on— Keep a copy of it & this one you please put a stamp on & write to me—Please give my love to the friends in the village & tell them I should like to hear from them, & give them my direction here in hospital—Good bye for the present

      Albion F. Hubbard
      written by Walt Whitman, a friend.

      Liked by 1 person

        • It was literally a thrill to see it, as it was so entirely unexpected, though I did recall from my reading that Whitman offered his services as a scribe to soldiers during the war. I think it’s one of three such letters to have turned up. Ever.

          Liked by 1 person

            • This choice of profession in war by writers is intriguing. I wonder how many other writers served in a medical/nursing capacity on such times.

              Surfing the tubular net, I found a site, and this info:

              “A remarkable number of well known authors were ambulance drivers during World War I. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, and W. Somerset Maugham.” Maugham and cummings were news to me.

              Left off the list, but certainly a well-known author to me, is Robert Sidney Bowen, creator of the Dave Dawson series of wartime (WWII) adventure books. As I recall them, an enemy, (Japanese, German, Italian– it all depended on the theater of war– Dave and his British pal Freddie Farmer managed to kill all over the world) died at a rate of one per page– though there were some pages on which no one died. Then there were pages whereon several met their sorry end, so it all evened out.

              Bowen returned to the US after his ambulance driving stint, as he was a mere 17 when the volunteer corps to which he was attached came under regular US military command. But he returned, trained up as a pilot. Here’s an instance where, having seen war from very up-close, a fellow rejoins the hostilities by warring from a great height, and a great distance away.

              On the other hand, a great many authors served in the armed forces as regular troops or sailors. One who, I have just discovered, seemed to have endured more than most during the Second World War: J.D. Salinger, United States Army, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, active at Utah Beach on D-Day, in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Very interesting info, jhNY. I guess many writers have a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to be close to the action. Those and other needs can be met with a (potentially dangerous) war job.

                And, yes, many novelists served in the military — often before they became published authors. Also, other future authors who went through a lot during WWII included the imprisoned Kurt Vonnegut and James Clavell (the latter of “Shogun” fame).


                • I actually thought there’d be more WWII medic/ambulance drivers among aspiring young writers– by then the Hemingway legend was well-established in the public mind. I know personally at least one man who served as a medic then, in part because, as an aspiring writer, Hemingway’s example inspired.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • I think some authors, such as Walt Whitman, were actually conscientious objectors but were willing to provide some non-fighting service which definitely didn’t translate to non-combat as many of those mentioned were right in the middle of the crossfire and got wounded (such as the ambulance driver Hemingway) the same as if they were fighting. Bullets are pretty indiscriminate about where they land.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • jhNY, maybe a number of aspiring writers were drafted into combat positions during WWII and couldn’t volunteer for medic/ambulance positions even if they wanted to?

                    bobess48, great point about Whitman — and the dangers even conscientious objectors face. Geraldine Brooks’ “March” novel also gets into the perils experienced by non-combatants (in that novel’s case, the minister father from “Little Woman” by Louisa May Alcott, who, as mentioned, was a Civil War nurse in real life).


                    • The WWII medic I knew (in the interest of full disclosure, Mandy’s father, a novelist) saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded there.

                      As bobess48 puts it: “Bullets are pretty indiscriminate about where they land.”


                    • Dave, I don’t know about WWII, but in the Vietnam era, my late brother (as I’m sure I’ve related before) filed for CO status when he was drafted and was denied, even though he said he would serve in a non-combatant role, e.g., a medic. So instead of doing something useful in the military, he was instead used as an example and sent to prison, for 18 months. What a waste, and it ended up killing him just as much as a bullet in Vietnam would have.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Kat Lib, it was despicable and unjust what was done to your brother — during a despicable and unjust war. Ridiculous that he wasn’t allowed to be a medic, but was instead used as an example. So sorry.


                • I think Salinger saw more battle action than most soldiers, and certainly most authors with time in uniform. May have contributed to whatever feelings he had about being among us, or not.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I didn’t know much about that, jhNY. Thanks! I’ve never been a big fan of J.D.’s weird/off-putting personality, and thought “The Catcher in the Rye” was so-so, so I’ve never read a biography of Salinger. But, yes, his war experiences could very well have helped shape his personality.


                    • I read maybe all, at least most of what he’d put out by the mid- 1970’s– at the time, it felt almost like an obligation to one’s contemporaries, like reading Hesse or Vonnegut or Brautigan.

                      And I liked what I read at the time well enough. But I never thought he deserved idolatry, or even reverence. And I haven’t, in recent years, been tempted to reread him. Somewhere in the apartment I do have a translation of The Way of the Pilgrim, and that, one day, I intend to at least look over with care….

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I “obligation-ally” read some of his other stuff, too — “Franny and Zooey,” etc. Wasn’t a fan. And, yes, that reclusive-author thing made him almost a literary god, whether he consciously planned that or not. Meanwhile, his one-time lover Joyce Maynard (the writer) has had some interesting things to say about how Salinger could be quite the jerk.


  6. Given my prior replies on this site, it should come as no shock when I will present my candidate: Stendhal, who published his first novel Armance, anonymously, in 1827, at the age of 44.

    Three year later, he published The Red and the Black.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A most worthy addition, jhNY. Thank you!

      Seemed to be a good deal of anonymous novel publishing in the first few decades of the 19th-century — Stendhal, Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, etc. Though the identity of the author was an open secret to some…


  7. Had its putative author, Lucy Marsden, not been a figment of the fertile imagination of a younger author, Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All would have been written, I have no doubt, by the record holder for this category: a 99 year old woman!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Kafka, hands down. He died young at 40 — but as Yossarian reminds us: you’re old no matter how young you die because “you don’t get any older than that” — and his forever-enduring, life-changing novels were thankfully not burned and instead published posthumously…

    Fantastic article.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Another terrific topic. And great to see a link to that 2014 post which I remember you writing after reading the young Eleanor Catton’s debut novel. I’m not sure that the following fit perfectly into your topic this week, but they were the first things that I thought of.

    Harper Lee was 89 when “Go Set a Watchman” was published. Of course, this wasn’t her debut novel, but depending on which article you read, it was the first one written. Also, Lee was into her 30s when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published, which is a tad older than I thought she was.

    John Kennedy Toole would have been into his 40s when “A Confederacy of Dunces” was published had he not ended his life in 1969. It’s more than a little tragic to think that authors have so much talent, and yet suffer so much.

    On a more personal level, a lady from our book club is in her 50s and had her first novel published last year. I didn’t think it was very good, however I can’t help but respect such a massive achievement.

    A friend of mine is in his early 40s and has spent the last 7 years battling cancer. He’s also spent the last 5 years writing a memoir about his cancer journey. He’s just written a final draft and has asked me to be a beta reader for him. I’m feeling quite honoured to be trusted with something so huge, but also more than a little nervous. I’m sure I’ll love it – but what if I don’t?! He is a wonderful writer though and I’m sure there will be a successful publication in the near future.

    Dave, I’d never be impolite enough to ask someone their age, however I know that you worked at E&P for more than 20 years, so I’m guessing that you weren’t 17 when “Comic (and Column) Confessional” was published. Which might be a good thing, because as you mentioned, an author has to be a bit older to have that life experience which is worth writing about. And despite the fact that you weren’t 17, I didn’t think your memoir lacked for energy at all. I very much look forward to the follow up publication 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sue! And, once again, I appreciate you recommending “The Luminaries” back in 2014. What a novel!

      Yes, I think Harper Lee was 34 when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published. And she was a few years younger when writing “Go Set a Watchman,” which many consider an early draft of “TKAM.”

      Interesting perspective on what John Kennedy Toole’s age would have been if he were alive when “A Confederacy of Dunces” came out. Heck, Toole’s mother and Walker Percy — both so instrumental in getting that novel finally published — were also not youngsters by then.

      Congratulations to your middle-aged book club associate for her novel, even if it’s not great! And the very best of luck to your cancer-stricken friend and his memoir. Life is so unfair — getting sick at that relatively young age.

      Finally, thanks so much for your very kind words about my memoir! 🙂 I was in my 50s when it came out, so I guess I’m a late-first-book person, too!


      • Totally off topic Dave but I need to get it out of my chest..

        Donald Trump can`t call him my President has no compassion in his heart or mind.

        Yesterday my hair stylist was telling me she got hate mail in her mail box and was egged on her garage door which she needs to repaint now. I asked her did she have a Trump sign in her yard, the answer was affirmative.
        She omitted to tell me what she has done to aggravate those folks .
        Before that one day she had mentioned that Trump`s mockery of handicapped gentleman was fake news and Meryl Streep did not do her homework and should have talked about why she was up on the stage.

        Then she said she voted for Trump for his promise of health care reform.

        I told her good luck on that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for relating that, bebe, and for your wry closing line.

          No way should that woman have gotten nasty mail or her garage door egged, but if one is going to support a person (Trump) who traffics in nothing but hate, one is taking a risk. What the so-called President is doing to people’s lives (trying to take away their health care, trying to round up decent/hardworking undocumented immigrants, etc., etc.) is infinitely worse than what happened to your hair stylist.

          Liked by 1 person

          • My dealings with the young woman who’s my hair stylist.are very different. She’s from Mexico, as are her mother and brothers. I don’t know if they are here legally or not, but I’m worried about her, as well as some of the other Hispanics/Latinos I have met and who have done work for me. I also have several people on my block who are from Mexico and are exemplary neighbors. .I can’t say the same for the so-called “real Americans” who live across the street from me, and treat their yard as a junkyard and will let their five dogs run loose, usually under supervision but not always. I can’t complain about them because they have connections to the local fire department. I can applaud them for working as firefighters and EMTs, but I just wish their lawn didn’t look like a fire hazard.

            I also agree that people who support Trump shouldn’t be targeted for abuse of any kind, because I do believe in the signs many of us have in our yards or windows, “Hate Has No Home Here.”

            Liked by 1 person

          • Dave, I do not know what she has said to them to invite such nonsense since she lives in a Trump neighborhood. I don`t condone such nonsense but she must feel strongly to support Trump that is the reason she had the sign in the first place.
            I have seen around the corner a house with HC sign was broken into pieces, but that person did again had a Hillary sign back .

            On the other side, I am outspoken but never rude.
            During election in my grocery, Kroger in the fish department saw a woman wearing a DT T shirt. So I say..” oh, go for it”. She goes yaa..I like Him, he is bold and never afraid to say anything.
            I go ” even if He is lying all the time ? “.
            She goes loudly ” I see a Crap when I see one”, meaning me 😉

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for the follow-up comment, bebe! Yes, Clinton supporters, Sanders supporters, and others on the non-Trump part of the political spectrum have gotten plenty of harassment, verbal and otherwise, from Trump supporters who are in power and Trump supporters who are “average” citizens. Some of those supporters, like that woman you mentioned in Kroger’s, are pretty crude.

              And I know you speak your mind without being rude! 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • Also the election was so bitter, I never had a sign in my yard or in my car. All I have there is a big peace sign and another one says NPR which should carry plenty of message. The hair lady having a 6 year old need not have a Trump sigh in her yard.
                Also interestingly four years ago our neighborhood was full of Romney signs. This year no one had a sign, perhaps they were embarrassed or secret DT supporters.
                8 years ago I teased come men in our area and they gave it back to me , but those wee not mean spirited, so there, I asked for it.
                And 27 houses we all know each other and I walk my Pomchi 3 times a day so they all know me somehow.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Sounds like you were trying to be non-confrontational with your signage, bebe. To me, a Trump sign is confrontational because TRUMP is so confrontational. And, yes, I think a lot of Trump supporters were embarrassed to support him publicly before pressing the button for him in the voting booth.

                  Liked by 1 person

  10. The English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald is one of my favorite late bloomers. Her publishing career began with a couple of nonfiction books while she was in her 50s, and her first novel came out when she was 60.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Liz! That author — who I hadn’t been familiar with until seeing your comment — definitely fits in with this theme. I also just read about her on Wikipedia, and would like to try her work; could you name your two or three favorite novels of hers? (In the hopes the library will have one of them. 🙂 )


      • I love them all. Yes, I know that’s not a helpful comment.

        But I’d especially recommend “Offshore,” about a woman and her family living a verrrry precarious boho existence on a houseboat anchored in the Thames, and “At Freddie’s,” about a London prep school whose target clientele is child actors.

        Her final book, “The Blue Flower,” is a historical novel about a German poet of the early 19th century — very haunting and lovely.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Liz, for naming those books and for the excellent brief descriptions of them! I imagine the library will have at least one of the three.

          And I know what you mean about how difficult it can be to choose favorite books by an author. Some authors have one or two novels that are clearly much better than the rest of their canon, while other authors (Margaret Atwood, Erich Maria Remarque, George Eliot, etc.) churn/churned out one great book after another.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Very happy to read this!!

      I lived till aged 6 in Chapel Hill NC, while my father was completing his dissertation at UNC. One of my father’s closest friends then was writer Manly Wade Wellman, and it was through Wellman that I met Mac MacKenna. The year we moved to Raleigh, Mac McKenna gave me a pencil for my sixth birthday on which there was a motto printed: ‘Save your Confederate money, boys. The South will rise again!’

      Kept it among my most prized possessions for years, but not decades…which I regret, not for the loss of the pencil or its motto, but because it was the only thing he gave me.

      In my late 20’s, I read The Sand Pebbles, and wished there had been time for more fiction from Mr. McKenna, although the book drew heavily on what was very likely to be the most significant period of his life, and The Sand Pebbles had taken him many more years longer than he had wished to complete. I especially enjoyed his descriptions of the San Pablo’s engine room and its attendants, which were lovingly wrought, well-observed and meticulous.

      Sadly, I also remember how thrilled for the McKennas his circle of friends in Chapel Hill had been when the film rights were sold– it looked like at last, after years of living close to the bone, that they were set to enjoy themselves and the fruits of the labors. Mac died six months later.

      I confess to being unaware of McKenna’s science fiction work, and though ordinarily it’s not a genre that holds much attraction for me, I will seek it out. Is there any particular SF story of his you like?

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Interesting and enjoyable column, Dave. Thanks for the nod; yes, I was WELL beyond 40 when my first book was released. About to release novel #5, “Memories of Jake” … two brothers, both serve in the Vietnam war. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    Pros of writing when older: I’m not trying to make a living at this. I am having a great time telling stories and working at learning more about the craft, and enjoying that as well. It’s nice that I have readers! I appreciate that my books have touched some people.

    Cons: I do feel time marching on, but I try not to rush what I’m doing. I’ve spent about a year on my latest project. The more I write, the more I understand why some (younger) authors have taken years to finish a project. And that’s honestly about the only “con” I can come up with!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, Susan, and you’re very welcome for the mention of your novel-writing! Congratulations on your fifth book being near release! Greatly enjoyed your fourth novel, “Jamie’s Children.”

      And that’s an excellent list of pros and cons of being an author who starts writing fiction later in life. Spending a year on a novel sounds just about right — unless someone moves into Proustian territory. 🙂


    • Susan, I’m interested in your soon-to-be-released novel. My best girlfriend is a clinical psychologist in Durham, and most of her clients are suffering from PTDS, many of whom are Vietnam vets. She was telling me the other night that she had just read Harlan Coben’s thriller “Fool Me Once,” about a former special ops pilot home from the war — she said it really helped her to better understand what some of her PTDS clients go through, even though she’s being doing this a long time. Can you please let us know when it’s released? Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much for your interest. Yes, my research included a great deal about PTSD since my novel deals directly with the same subject. Philip Caputo’s “Indian Country” is an excellent novel on exactly this subject. I highly recommend “A Rumor of War” (Caputo) if you haven’t read it … it took me right into the heart of the War as nothing else did. I’m hoping to release “Memories of Jake” by the end of March … hope Dave will excuse me using his column to mention my website where you’ll learn more: http://www.susanmoorejordan.com

        Liked by 1 person

      • Have you seen the movie In A Lonely Place? It’s directed by Nicholas Ray, and stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame– came out in 1951. It’s based on the 1947 novel by the same title by Dorothy B. Hughes.

        Somehow I had missed this one over the years, but saw it about 4 months ago and was surprised to find: what must be one of the earliest movies trying to grapple– insightfully– with some of the more frightening aspects of exposure to and participation in war’s brutality, as well as one of Bogie’s strongest performances ever.

        Very much worth a look!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sounds like a great film, jhNY! Thanks for mentioning it and describing it so well. Any movie that rightly and accurately notes that war is hell can be worth watching. And Humphrey Bogart was an extraordinary actor.


          • When the hell comes home with the conqueror is the subject of this film– in a glamorous, well, semi-glamorous Hollywood context, no less…

            Unsurprising that a woman might be the author of the novel on which it is based…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well, as you know, a number of women have written excellent war novels — with one of them being Elsa Morante and the magnificent “History.” And, yes, when the post-traumatic stress syndrome and other problems kick in on the home front, women bear a LOT of the brunt.


        • Thanks, jhNY. I’ll ask my friend if she’s seen this one. She’s been having some doubts lately if she’s been doing any good for those she’s trying to help. I suppose most of us go through that at some point or another, but when you’re dealing directly with other people’s minds and lives, it’s much more important. She’s also discouraged by having to deal with the VA and its paperwork, among other things.

          Liked by 1 person

          • One of my wife’s relatives works for the US Navy, though she’s a civilian now, and her job is to connect wounded veterans to relevant services and benefits and programs. It is, from what I’ve gathered, hard and occasionally frustrating work– but there are men and women and their children for whom she’s made a real difference, whose gratitude and courage have made her feel her work is overall very rewarding. A lot of what she does may seem like ‘little things’, but they add up– and she’s managed to do some pretty big things too, like get wounded vets into college, PTSD counseling and effective physical therapy programs.

            I hope your friend sticks with her work.

            Of course, more than that, I hope my wife’s relative and your friend runs out of clients altogether, and we have made an end to war. Till then…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Amen to that! Although I think between Iraq, Afghanistan and whatever conflict that our new leader involves us in, it will be decades before there aren’t vets still in need. At which point my friend will be retired or have died. We’re both 67 (born two days apart) and became best friends in first grade. We used to celebrate a double birthday party in early September throughout grade school, including a Hawaiian-themed, one with a cowboys & Indians theme, and my personal favorite, a sock hop with boys! At that one we even wore the exact same gray plaid dress, only mine had blue stripes and hers was red, and we danced to the likes of Frankie Avalon and other teen idols from the 50’s. Sorry for the trip down memory lane, but we both had idyllic childhoods and know we are grateful for that!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Wonderful you have such a treasure, by which I mean a friend of such long standing.

                I turn 66 this year in June, and remember sock hops, and 50’s teen idols– I still think Avalon’s Venus sounds magic! And of course, I followed his post-beach party career, when, much like a high wire artist, he was working without Annette!

                Liked by 1 person

                • Oh my, Annette! She was my first girl-crush, and whenever we’d enact our version of a Mousketeers story, all of us wanted to be Annette, so we’d have to take turns. I had at some point a comic book style story of Annette’s life, and I always remembered that when she had strep throat, her mother gave her tomato rice soup and a piece of rice got caught in her throat and she almost died! Now, I’m not certain that ever happened or if I made it up like so many things, but to this day I always think about her when I have tomato rice soup, one of my favorites. The mind is truly a very strange thing…

                  Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele!

      There are definitely authors who write some of their best work when older, even as they wrote various books (some great) when they were younger. Another example would be Herman Melville — whose last, posthumously published novel “Billy Budd” was one of his best.


    • Loved this book that I’ve read a couple of times. It’s also well worth reading her book about the death of her and Dunne’s adult daughter, only two years after he died. It’s entitled “Blue Nights” and is as heartbreaking as it sounds.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Dave, Anna Sewell was 57 when her beloved children’s book “Black Beauty” was published. It was one of my favorites when I was young, as well as many of my friends’ favorite. When I was growing up, most young girls loved horses and books about them. I’m not sure if that’s still the case. This novel is the only one she published, and she did this more as a means of expressing her affection for horses, and to bring attention to their welfare.

    Here I go again with taking your column and turning it into something slightly different. I’ve already mentioned many times my affection for the very prolific author, Alexander McCall Smith. He was born in 1948, and he did publish books in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly children’s books and academic texts (he was a Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh). However, he only became well-known around the world for his “debut” novel, “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” which was published when he was 50. I probably have more of his novels than any other author, though I’ve been lagging behind due to my reading drought last year. I suppose they are reminiscent of the “cozy mysteries” I devoured in my younger days, although his novels are much more literate than any of those, as well as being so evocative of their setting (Botswana, Edinburgh and London). Per Wiki, “He writes at a prodigious rate: ‘Even when travelling, he never loses a day, turning out between 2,000 and 3,000 words [a day] – but more like 5,000 words when at home in Edinburgh. His usual rate is 1,000 words an hour’.” Some of his series, such as “44 Scotland Street” and “Corduroy Mansions,” were begun as serialized novels in a newspaper. I like them especially after reading books with non-stop violence and bad language, and make me feel I’m living in a more “civilized” world. Sounds like a good reprieve from the Trumpian era we’re now living through!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Kat Lib! Thanks for that excellent addition to the older-debut-authors realm. Especially impressive for Anna Sewell to have written a first novel aimed at younger readers when she was in her 50s.

      I didn’t know all those things about Alexander McCall Smith! That is one hardworking author who became prominent in middle age. He’s definitely on my to-read list, but my local library always has just the sequels rather than the first “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” book.

      Novels of a civilized sort are indeed a reprieve from the uncivilized Trump!


      • Dave, I’ve been going down to my basement library today to find all of the books I haven’t read to bring them up to my bedroom bookshelf — just a reminder that I’ve so much to read without buying any new ones. I did find a few of McCall Smith’s books I hadn’t yet read, so they’ll go on the top of the list, as soon as I finish Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids.” I’ve been enjoying it so far, though my girlfriend said she couldn’t read it because of her negative feelings about Robert Mapplethorpe. I don’t know too much about him yet, so I’m reserving judgement.

        I also wanted to report on the “Indivisible” group my sister and I are joining, and a group of about 35 people showed up at the kickoff meeting. They decided that the main focus of our group should be immigration. This is an extremely important issue for our community, what with the migrant labor force in this area working in the mushroom farms, and people have already reported there was an increased effort by our police or the ICE during the recent “immigrants’ strike.”. I hope that’s not true, but we’ll see what happens when the new Immigration Act is signed within the next few days.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nice that your books are emerging from your basement, Kat Lib! In a way, that probably makes you feel that your move is almost complete. 🙂

          And fantastic that you joined that local “Indivisible” group, and that the initial meeting had a great turnout. MANY people are energized to fight the ogre in the White House and his minions and policies. Immigration is an ultra-important issue to address, and one wonders why numerous rich right-wingers are against it when many of them have immigrants as (often underpaid) workers.


    • Truly it is. And to imagine ones work being recognized, in later years of life, must be a nerve racking year or two, waiting to see it published and to see how well it is received. When people are very young, there is a sense of “everything will work out”, and it has nothing to do with the reality of a known world, but rather with a naive joy and belief in an unknown world. Aged ones are far less convinced, so it must take extra courage to go forward with finishing a book. I would think.

      Good article! Nice to see us all pondering the older folks of our world, rather than just the young and full of hope crowd.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. Okay, here goes another attempt. I’m going to save this comment to my desktop in case it disappears again.

    One of the most noteworthy ‘late bloomers’ that I can recall is Walker Percy. He was born in 1916 and his first novel, ‘The Moviegoer’, was published in 1961, when he was right around 45. He had been a practicing medical doctor for several years when he contracted tuberculosis and spent a few years in a sanitarium. This presumably cut short his medical career. He had written articles and essays previously and he had been a literature lover. In fact, when he was much younger, he and his best friend, fellow writer Shelby Foote, went on a pilgrimage to Oxford, Mississippi to visit William Faulkner. Walker was too shy to get out of the car but Shelby boldly knocked on the door and Faulkner let him in, even offering him whisky. So Walker missed out on the opportunity to meet one of his literary idols as well as the opportunity to get drunk with one of his idols.

    The years of not writing fiction were not in vain, however. While he was in the sanitarium he spent a lot of time reading Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard and, presumably, practicing his craft. What we have in ‘The Moviegoer’ is one of the great American novels, period. I have sung its praises every chance I get for the last 30 years since I first read it. It is one of the most assured, beautifully written novels I’ve ever read, especially impressive considering it is a debut novel. In my opinion, his literary career went downhill from there. Not that his followup novels are lacking in value (I’ve read ‘The Last Gentleman’ and ‘Love in the Ruins’). However, they just don’t have the classic status for me as ‘The Moviegoer’.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This one took, bobess48. Thanks for trying again! Your mention of saving the comment reminded me of the old Huffington Post days, when so many comments were spiked for no reason or remained in moderation for hours or days that I started saving, in a Word file, every reply I tried to post.

      Walker Percy is a great addition! I should have remembered him and his intriguing/accomplished novel “The Moviegoer,” which I read and liked a lot after you recommended it.

      A real shame that Percy missed out on meeting William Faulkner, but that’s quite a story!


  14. I was 56 when my first book was published — nonfiction. I’ve now published a total of six books and they’re all nonfiction, unless you ask some of my more cantankerous readers. But what do they know? Nice to know, Dave, that the Grandma Moses Syndrome lives in literature, too.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Bill! Greatly enjoyed your comment — including that “cantankerous” quip and the phrase “Grandma Moses Syndrome.” I also enjoyed your book about growing up in Woodstock, Ill. Writing six books starting at age 56 is a VERY impressive achievement.

      Liked by 1 person

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