Nick Lowe, Old Age and the Looney Tunes Rule of Writing.

What happens when you get too old to be an Angry Young Man?

Nick Lowe, one of the people who drove a stake through the heart of corporate crap rock of the late 70's, has a new album, At My Age. I've only heard a few cuts from it and I like it, but what I like even more is this part of a review from The Week magazine:


"... the 58-year-old Lowe has delivered a set of excellent original songs and covers ... The pretension-free disc doesn’t try to be forward thinking—Lowe knows that’s for the kids, said Neil McCormick in the London Daily Telegraph. Other musical veterans should take a page from Lowe’s book: Instead of competing with their own pasts, they should “make music they actually like, with humility, passion, and all the skills they have acquired.”

Which leads me to writing novels. I'm a year younger than Mr. Lowe, and one of the problems I'm having with my WIP, the book I started sometime in the fucking Eisenhower administration, is that I know it doesn't have the edge it would if I was 25 years younger. And that bothers me. Because I'm reading books by Ray Banks, Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski and other young punks who are pushing the form.

And I'm not pushing anything, except old age. And I worry that I've lost a step or two. In fact, I know I have. And I see it in other writers I once admired. I'm reading a book right now by one of the revered names of the biz and while the story's OK and the pacing is what you'd want from an old hand, he's written one character that's strictly TV. I mean, sweet Jesus, some of the dialogue is so bad that I thought I was reading Gil Thorp.

So I worry. And I work. And I wonder if what I'm doing is worth a damn. Then I read what I've written and I like it and know that, in the end, that's what counts. That's the Looney Tunes Rule and it applies to everything.

The Looney Tunes Rule: Write What You Like And Others Will Like It Too.

Chuck Jones and Tex Avery said it in every interview - they didn't create those great cartoons to make kids laugh. They created them to make themselves laugh.

So, while I'm not pushing the genre the way some of my younger friends are, I'm writing what I like. No, I don't have the chops of Ken Bruen, but I'm going with the strengths of my age and in the words of that reviewer I'm going to make music I actually like, with humility, passion, and all the skills I have acquired.

It's the best I can do.

I'd like to open the floor to this question of age. Are there writers you think have lost something? Is it the young who push change? Age and writing. What do you think?

Talk to me.


Cross-posted to A Dark Planet

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Gee, David, you aren't much for fluff questions, are you? I must have taken a wrong turn on the way to the AMERICAN IDOL thread, but you've put a number of things in this post which I find irresistible (including "Looney Tunes" and Nick Lowe references), allow me to weigh in here.

I was speculating on this sort of thing the other day, because I'm currently teaching a summer school English course, and we're reading THE GREAT GATSBY as a class. At 42, I am fast approaching Fitsgerald's age when he dropped dead of a heart-attack, and that never ceases to give me pause.

After all, the guy was 26 when he wrote GATSBY, and he never attained anything resembling success after that. In fact, GATSBY was a posthumous success for him, because it received flat sales in its initial print run during the early 1920s, and didn't really catch on until after World War II, when American society seems to have "caught up" with Fitzgerald.

And then there's Hemingway, whose first success came at age 24, and who shot himself at age 61 after nearly two decades of declining book sales and spotty output (broken only by the prize-winning THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA in 1951), because he just didn't have "it" anymore.

So imagine what a piker I could make myself feel like when I completed my first "mistake" novel at age 38 in 2003, and, realizing that it was a learning experience rather than a piece of writing of which I could be proud, didn't really shop it that much. Instead I took the Judas gilt of a succession of non-fiction book gigs, and went to work.

Now firmly ensconced in middle age, there are days when I lament the youth I didn't spend hunched over a typewriter honing my craft, giving vent to the fire in my belly, and so on. I also admire the authors you mention above, and would add another young-un, Megan Abbott, to that list.

However, when I'm sanguine about it, I realize that for whatever reasons, be it a combination of experience, upbringing, genetics, etc., I was far too callow in my "youth" to write anything that wouldn't be more than "precious" or scathing. My characters would likely have been one-dimensional, my plotting laughable.

All the more reason to laud those young authors who "get it right" early on, and to wonder where their journey will take them. After all, the best thing Ernest Hemingway ever wrote was the short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," of which he boasted that he put in enough good stuff for four novels," and he was 34 when he wrote it.

On the other hand, there's Faulkner, who didn't hit his stride till later in his writing life. What to make of his uneven and at times brilliant work?

Lastly, I can't help but wonder whether it is the function of aging or the fuction of acheiving some measure of success that cages in some writers. After all, having acheived success early in one's career, where does one go from there, especially in light of the pressure from publishers to write the same book over and over in the (fallacious) belief that so doing will duplicate one's initial success?

And that's just off the top of my head.

Lastly, I'd say the most obvious choice for someone who peaked early and then experienced a long, slow decline would be Dashiell Hammett, who burned like a flame for about ten years, and then really pretty much stopped publishing with his last novel, THE THIN MAN in 1934. Like Hemingway, he died in 1961.

Your Mileage May Vary-

Brian
It's an interesting question, isn't it. On one hand is the unbridled enthusiasm of someone eager to break the form and on the other hand you have a lifetime of living and writing behind you.

Thanks to you and everyone else who've taken an honest swipe at this. In the end, as Ms. Parker and Tex Avery says, you have to do what you like and the hell with it.
I have a few years on you, David. I suppose I should really worry. But the fact is that good writing has little to do with age and a lot with individual talent. Also, not every new fad (regardless of how impressive at the time) will last. On the other hand, it is important to remain open to new influences and be very cautious about recreating over and over again the traditional mystery. Mystery writing has changed, and changed for the better. The new novels are much richer in character, theme, and atmosphere. They are also closer to life. On the whole, the really fine new mysteries approach literary fiction -- or at least refuse to be fenced in by the rules.
In the end you must write what you like, what meets your standards. Nothing else is going to work.
I don't think age is that important - I have just now been considering the ages of my favourite crime etc authors, and am struggling to remember the ages of any of them, and suspect I might not even guess the correct decade. Sex, violence and corruption are common themes from classic fiction BC onwards.
Perspective is a good thing. Every wunderkin will gain some if they're lucky. In today's vernacular: Go green, & stop wasting energy wondering "what if..."
Ha! I see Lee and her husband every now and then at my favorite bar. Next time, I'll tell her this story. It'll make her day.

News of the Spirit. I like that.
After reading my manuscript and deciding to sign me, one of the things my agent said was, "It's edgy, and that's what everyone is looking for."

I'm 46.

Whenever I get discouraged about my age and where I am in my writing career, I try to remember that Chandler was 50 when he published The Big sleep.

I think it's possible to make a mark at any age.
Thanks, Jon. I hope to be still at it when I'm 90. I might need some literary Viagra by then, though, LOL.
one thing i know -- age brings physical pain, and pain makes it harder to fall through the hole in the page. and once i do fall through, it's hard as hell to climb out.




card carrying member of the fossil club
My first novel (after 10 rejected ones) was published this year. I'm 61, making arrangements to start receiving my Social Security. I have no idea whether my stuff is edgy or not, but I know I can spend hours at night making myself laugh writing this stuff. I don't suppose I have that much time left to build a career, but as someone who has wanted to be an author for 40 years, I am honestly having the time of my life.

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