Jilly: Does Age Matter?

Would you choose a book because the main character is a certain age?

I’ve mentioned before that I read and enjoyed KF Breene’s Magical Midlife Madness, the first book in her Leveling Up series. I’ve since learned that the series is part of a new and fast-growing subgenre—paranormal fiction for women of 40 and over, or paranormal women’s fiction.

Apparently a group of savvy, successful romance and women’s fiction authors thought that there would be an eager readership for stories with female protagonists kicking ass and finding empowerment in their 40s, so they got together to make it happen. Their initiative has been a raging success. Good for them!

I have to confess, though, I’ve been trying to get my head around it. I think perhaps part of the appeal is the idea that it’s never too late. That a woman’s best years are not behind her at 30, or 40, or whatever.

I’m a woman of 40 and over. Ahem. I’m actually a woman of 60 and over. But when I look back over my life, I’m satisfied with how it’s gone so far. I’ve been married to the same man for more than 35 years and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. I had a rewarding professional career, and when I turned 50 I exchanged it for writing fiction, a vocation that I love.

So I already know that middle age can mark the beginning of a fulfilling second life.

I love reading, and while I’m lost in a fictional world I definitely put myself in the protagonist’s shoes. I like my heroines smart and scrappy. Interesting rather than beautiful. I want them to face and overcome a near-impossible challenge and to gain a happy, rewarding new life. But as long as they are old enough to know their own mind, confident enough to trust their instincts, and they never give up on their goal, I don’t think I want their challenges to be defined by their age.

In short. As long as I find the heroine and her challenge fascinating, I don’t much care who or what or how old she is. I’ll even identify with Murderbot, and it’s an artificial construct with an attitude problem 🙂

How about you?

8 thoughts on “Jilly: Does Age Matter?

  1. I once read a question about a book on Goodreads, where the person wanted to know if the main character had a child. Because there was NO WAY she would read a book where the heroine was a mother. It was, however, barely acceptable if she had a child and gave it up for adoption, apparently.

    All that told me was that the person was extremely narrowminded and not someone I ever, even slightly, wanted to meet.

    I’m happy to read almost anything, and I’m enjoying reading about women closer to my age, but to reject something because it doesn’t match your life stage? Definitely odd.

    • My first thought was that maybe the Goodreads person had wanted a child and couldn’t have one, or had suffered some other traumatic loss. In that case I could see they might want to avoid main characters who are parents. Then I read the kicker about adoption. Yeah, no. What you said.

      I don’t have children or pets, but my family and friends do. To my mind they’re an essential part of almost any credible story world. I just want them to be well-developed, not plot pawns used cynically as a vehicle to ramp up the emotion.

      I don’t think love or life challenges are exclusively the province of the young, so I agree there’s no reason why main characters can’t be more widely drawn. I think perhaps the growth of indie publishing will encourage this trend. If a story is good I’ll happily read it, whether the main character is 25, 45, 65, or immortal.

  2. All of that–I can identify with heroines of any age.

    I will say, though, that Kat, one of the original Eight Ladies, was once told by a very famous literary agent that readers “read down but not up.” That is to say, the average reader will read about a heroine who is younger than the she, but not one who is older.

    I ascribe this to a failure of imagination. We can all remember being a teenager or a twenty-something, but have no experience of being older than we are, so we can’t relate.

    I don’t get this. I started reading Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney and Georgette Heyer when I was 12 or 13, skipping completely over the pathetic YA genre that existed at that time. (It’s since gotten much stronger.)

    And one of my favorite characters of all time was the indomitable Mrs. Pollifax, the sixtyish widow who joins the CIA and has many adventures, created by Dorothy Gilman. Another was “The Battling Brolly”, Miss Seeton, from the books by Heron Carvic.

    I see that Amazon now lists Women’s Fantasy Fiction as a category.

    • I really don’t get the “read down but not up” thing, but I suppose if the major publishing houses held to that belief then, true or not, it would have affected the agent’s ability to sell Kat’s book. The nice thing about indie publishing is that self published authors who want to try something a little different can test out their ideas and find out for sure whether there is a readership.

      I’d forgotten about Mrs.Pollifax! And I’d read any book that had a Helen Mirren or Judi Dench-esque main character. They seem to get better and better.

      Oh–and what about Vera? She’s neither young nor glamorous, but she’s been a huge international hit.

  3. I’m another one who likes to read just about any age. Remembering how it was like when I was young (or better yet, discovering how it was like when someone else was young! Young people today seem to be much more familiar with electric boyfriends and masturbation of all sorts!), and also getting a hint of how things will be when I’m older.

    When I was a teen, I loved reading older women write about their lives. My mom had all the Erma Bombecks, and I loved the humor of every day life in those; I also read Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies when I was about that age. I couldn’t wait to be older.

    Today, I finished watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and was reminded that Old Mrs. Bennet was probably 45, tops, during the book. She’s been younger than me for quite a few years, and that’s so weird.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t say anything about Lois McMaster Bujold’s 40-ish heroine of Paladin of Souls. Ista had a terrible, traumatic marriage and spend much of her 30s recovering her mind and her soul. Finally, at 40, she decides it’s time for her to go on a quest . . . .

    Looks great, and I would love to hear about more of these developments! Maybe one day I’ll write about a 50-something who leaves home on her second career. It’s a perfect time of life — menopause, when you can reinvent everything.

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