Was it Jerry Ford or Jimmy Carter who sat in the Oval Office when I finished the original draft of The Solomon Scandals, my Washington newspaper novel?
I do remember what I was writing on—an old electric typewriter: first a veritable antique from the early 60s, then a somewhat newer model with a metal golf ball: a red Selectric that I later gave away to the cleaning lady.
After NPR ran a segment the other day about age, time and the brain, I inevitably wondered, “What does this mean for novelists?” I was in my late 20s or early 30s back when I was seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting and otherwise undergoing the experiences that I fictionalized for Scandals. The world was fresher to me and my generation—D.C. scandals included, even with Watergate having already happened.
In that sense Scandals is a 30ish writer’s novel, and maybe this gets me off the hook when NPR tells how the young remember in more detail. At the same time, perhaps Scandals also reflects what I learned in the three decades that sped by. Talk about Billy Pilgrim-style time warps. You might say I didn’t just write my historical fiction—I lived it.
Making the book all the more time-warpy, the foreword and afterword reflect on the Solomon Scandals after the passage of a mere century or so. Oh, to think that James Joyce could structure Ulysses around less than a day in the lives of the main characters!
Question of the moment: What’s the ideal age for a novelist? With such an emphasis on youth, especially on good looks for TV and jacket covers, are publishers ageist? Or are they just recognizing neurobiological reality? I myself vote for the former explanation, given all the memories and insights that can enrich an older novelist’s work. But then maybe I’m being ageist in my own way. Could it be that 38—about Charles Dickens’ age when he wrote David Copperfield—offers the best mix of observational powers and experience?
Image of the gray Selectric: Via Wikpedia.