Aging Gracefully

While cleaning up my library the other day, I ran across a book published in the 1970s. I purchased The Stranger at Wildings by Madeleine Brent, on the recommendation of a dear friend, Dean James. “Her” books are those I will keep in my permanent collection. (Like Dean, who writes as “Miranda”, “Madeleine” was actually male.) The prose didn’t scan at all like a novel published today. But, once I adjusted to the pace and language of the story, I could not get it out of my mind.

Like so many of my octogenarian relatives, these books have aged gracefully. I think the relatives owe their vigor and indeed their current happy frame of mind to the fact that they have the ability to connect with the younger family members as easily as they did friends and family their own age. In other words, they kept themselves contemporary.

Evidently books can do this too. When I was young, my dad would go through a dozen or so pulp novels a week. Once finished, he would pitch them in the trash can in his study. There, enterprising young reader that I was would fish them out, shove them under my bed, and read them after the lights went out. (Ripping through Mickey Spillane at age ten probably wasn’t the formative experience my parents had in mind when they encouraged me to read before going to sleep.) Those seedy pulp novels now seem quaint in comparison to today’s fast-paced language-laden dystopian novels that are currently marketed for young adults. Has Spillane’s work aged gracefully? My opinion; not so much. Will these world-changing YA novels last? Harry Potter – yes. Twilight – no.

That brings me to a pretty scary question for a writer: will my work stand the test of time? The short answer, that I don’t know, isn’t helpful. I’d like to think that themes of friendship and what the bond requires of the people entwined within it is one that will stand the test of time.  That’s what I had in mind with the Three Dirty Women series. One of these days I may reread it and see how it stood up to the decade between publication and now. (And if I ever revise them, I’m putting the gardening stuff I had to pull out back in!)

The current Work in Progress’s underlying theme is the bond’s strength between a girl and her horse — and the ability of that bond to sustain this girl through a horrible period in her life. While I’d like to think that theme is eternal, the execution is key. I’m only on the third draft so it’s not timeless just yet.

So good luck to all you writers out there who are wishing for longevity in your work’s appeal, and good luck to me as I round the bend toward The End of the current WiP. Fingers crossed that it works.

Happy Writing!

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3 comments / Add your comment below

    1. Nancy,

      That is the question isn’t it? Both serve a true purpose. Heaven knows I’d far rather pick up a Rob Thurman or Georgette Heyer than Moby Dick! When I picked up the Brent book, I was sorting shelves trying to make room for the hundreds of books that I cannot fit in that room. (Having bookshelves in every room of the house is not a bad thing…but I got a wild hair to get them all together to see what I’ve got.) What criteria does one use to make the decision, Keep, or Relinquish? Mine wound up being, “Will I read this again, or want to loan it to a friend?” As for my own work, I write for myself first, readers second. I have always given the characters an issue I am facing, sort of self-help therapy. Don’t know how effective this is for the readers, but it works for me. If I dug a little deeper into my motivations for writing that piece, I’d have to admit that, like giving birth to our children, once a writer has crafted a book and released it into the world, we’d like to see it live a good long life.

      What do you reach for most? A book you’ve read before that stuck with you, or a book in which you can lose yourself and then move on once you close the cover?

  1. Nancy,

    That is the question isn’t it? Both serve a true purpose. Heaven knows I’d far rather pick up a Rob Thurman or Georgette Heyer than Moby Dick! When I picked up the Brent book, I was sorting shelves trying to make room for the hundreds of books that I cannot fit in that room. (Having bookshelves in every room of the house is not a bad thing…but I got a wild hair to get them all together to see what I’ve got.) What criteria does one use to make the decision, Keep, or Relinquish? Mine wound up being, “Will I read this again, or want to loan it to a friend?” As for my own work, I write for myself first, readers second. I have always given the characters an issue I am facing, sort of self-help therapy. Don’t know how effective this is for the readers, but it works for me. If I dug a little deeper into my motivations for writing that piece, I’d have to admit that, like giving birth to our children, once a writer has crafted a book and released it into the world, we’d like to see it live a good long life.

    What do you reach for most? A book you’ve read before that stuck with you, or a book in which you can lose yourself and then move on once you close the cover?

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