At age 70, I found myself with three unpublished manuscripts in a desk drawer. I have had a good career in academia, teaching at one of the California state universities and, for a time, in the Caribbean. I also raised four kids, much of the time (after first a divorce and then early widowhood) on my own. I’ve written newspaper columns, essays, and editorials, and carefully edited other people’s words. But my passion, unswerving and constant, has been fiction.
Living close to Stanford University, I found wonderful teachers at the Stanford Continuing Studies program in creative writing. I formed and joined six or seven writers’ groups. I submitted many short stories for publication; some won contests. And I received several writing residencies from prestigious places such as the Hedgebrook Writer’s Program. I mention the above not as shameless self-promotion, but as a way to proclaim that I did not want to dabble, to write for my own therapy or amusement. I did not look at writing fiction as a hobby; it was a vocation about which I was dead serious.
When I completed my first, then second, and then third novels, I submitted to agents and even publishers who considered unagented work. I got some excellent rejections. Lots of them. As the quote that has been attributed to several famous writers says, I could have papered the wall of my writing room with these rejections, but I refused to get discouraged or bitter.
My mantra was that when I got good enough, I would get published. I just had to keep working. And I did, spending every spare moment at my desk in front of my computer. After some 20 years of writing, I had three completed novels, each one quite different from the others: a historical novel about the island of Barbados, a tale of a troubled boy from the perspectives of his biological and adoptive mothers, and an account of the power shifts in a 60-year love relationship.
Reaching age 70, I faced some hard questions. Did I want these novels to remain in my drawer until I either died or became non compos mentis?
Reaching age 70, I faced some hard questions. Did I want these novels to remain in my drawer until I either died or became non compos mentis? I no longer could kid myself: I was old (I originally wrote older, but then at 72, I am old, so why pretty it up?) and death or senility are far too imminent a possibility. I am not trying for cheap sentimentality. Far from it. I am trying to be realistic. I write fiction with a passion to tell stories to readers. Who, besides my friends and family, was reading?
One day, a cousin told me she was going to a book launch party for a friend, a very smart woman who was also approaching 70. She said that the friend was publishing her first book, a memoir about an abusive relationship in her youth, and that it looked well edited and well put together, with a gorgeous cover. She put me in touch with this friend, and long story short, my novel, Love Is a Rebellious Bird, will be released by She Writes Press in November. It also has a gorgeous cover and has received rigorous and impressive editing. Sometimes I wish it were being published by a more recognizable name, but then She Writes was awarded Independent Publisher of the Year for 2019 — and that’s not bad.
And so, at 72, I am awaiting the publishing/birth of my first novel. It is old to be giving birth. It is old to be doing a lot of things for the first time, but I am ready. I think about the stories I still want to tell and know that I do not have forever to get to them. There is no time to waste.
A debut author at 72 years old, Dr. Elayne Klasson’s upcoming title, Love Is a Rebellious Bird, will be released on November 12.