I was recently flipping through old issues of writing magazines I've saved and came across an interview with Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones, from a few years ago. In the article, she makes a comment to "those people who think I'm quite old for a first novelist." Wait, what? Let's back the trolley up a minute. When are you too old to be a first-time novelist? Is there ever an age cap?
Sebold was 38 when she finished her novel. While I'm not yet 38, I'm getting pretty darn close (I'll just keep the exact number my little secret), and now would be a fabulous time to publish a first novel. Sure, I've been writing for several years, but I'd like to think I keep improving as I go along. And my life itself has developed from a sheltered upbringing with little real-world experience to a full-blown adult existence. Older writers (and I suppose I fall in that camp, much as I hate to admit it) can interject their own experiences to lend an authenticity to the tale that can't be faked.
But you never hear about the middle-aged writers. You hear about the young writers. Young writers tend to bring a fresh perspective to a topic, a vibe that makes a book feel current. And editors drool over the prospect of introducing the public to a new voice, a new angle.
I shake my head when publishers release debut novels from authors in their early twenties and reviewers comment on how mature the author sounds, wise beyond their years. So if they sound so darn mature, how is that better than reading a mature author? And can that work the other way? Has a reviewer ever said an older writer sounds na´ve for all their years?
And what's wrong with just sounding your age? The critical part of any book is the quality of the writing, not whether or not the author gets carded at a bar. For me, the age of an author is irrelevant. The writing is the only thing that matters.