Recently a reader asked me why I chose to write about a group of characters who are more than twenty years older than myself in my novel, Oldsters?
“What convinced you to write the story of these elderly characters, and how did you get into the mindset of Eddie, Nick, Lila, Bette and Ray?”
At 92, my dad suffered a fall and had to be placed into an assisted living facility. When I visited him for the last time before he passed away, I thought as I often had before how he had lived through almost every decade of the twentieth century. He was a quiet man, but I knew there were hundreds of stories of those decades I would never hear – something many children realize too late of their parents.
I looked around at the other residents of the facility and saw the same thing; beautiful, smart people who society too often wrote off as immaterial. Of course, life demands that the aged die, but the world doesn’t belong solely to the young.
I had started writing another book but had become bored with my protagonist, and it wasn’t long after when I decided to write about a group of people in an assisted living facility. That desire to stay relevant in our ever-changing world became the book’s theme. A coming of age story if you will. I immediately decided on the title Oldsters, and for the next three years I researched, wrote and edited with a determination I never had before.
Even though the characters all lived at the facility, I wanted a span between their ages, so we have Nick and Lila in their 60s, Eddie in his early 70s and then Bette and Ray in their 80s. This was intended to illustrate how emotions such as self-doubt, friendship, passion and betrayal affects people at any age.
Getting into each character’s mind wasn’t as hard as you might think. As usual, I started by finding photos that represented each character to me and then began building very distinct character sketches. While they may be quite a bit older than me, I certainly have feelings about getting older, and I am of the belief that we don’t change that much. I still hold the same likes and beliefs I did when I was in my twenties – whether that’s political, social, etc. I still must have music and art in my life daily. I am still, and will always be the same person at my core.
*The novel I’m currently writing, The Year of Gwendolyn Presley Flowers, is about two Millennials on their own self-discovery. Maybe I am only fearful of writing about people my own age?!
Initially I wrote Eddie and Lila as co-protagonists. I planned on writing each of their stories from separate POV’s by chapter. After further consideration, I chose to stick with one, and while Eddie is the protagonist, I knew that each character deserved a history and a fair amount of time on stage. I also thought it would be interesting to write a contemporary story from a male’s POV – especially in exploring the friendship between Eddie and Nick. While there are many surprising relationships, this is the one that is really at the heart of the book.
Eddie is an intelligent man who sometimes uses that trait for good and other times for not so good! He loves his friend Nick, but at times talks down to him. He loved his wife dearly, but he made mistakes in that marriage. He wants his friends to be happy, but he’s afraid to be left behind by that happiness.
Nick is like so many people I know. A smart, funny man who’s trying to play catch-up from an early loss and some subsequent poor choices. He’s not sure if he’s worthy of success or love.
Lila is an artist and the epitome of what I hope to be at her age! She’s frustrated that her children don’t recognize her for who she is. Lila is proof that beauty and brains can co-exist and that a woman can be sexual and desirable at any age.
Ray and Bette are the oldest of the group. It’s interesting, because even without meaning to, I seemed to give them the roles of being the wisest of the group. Their stories are (at least in my opinion) two of the most interesting – again, because they have lived through more, so I had more history to work with.
I hope this sheds a little light on how this group of friends came to life, and if you’re interested to see what other readers thought, I’ve posted a few excerpts from their reviews here.