The issue of my age came up shortly after Simon and Schuster bought The Book of Unholy Mischief. After I sent my new agent an overly-excited email, she asked, "How old are you?'
OMG, should I lie? No.
I shot back, "I'm sixty. Is that a problem?"
My agent is younger than my children. I considered emergency plastic surgery. I panicked because, frankly, I'm shocked to be over sixty. I feel like I'm thirty-five, only smarter.
I'm smarter, because I've lived. I've had jobs, marriages, lovers, friends, children and grandchildren. I've visited every continent and lived in on two of them. I've survived divorce, single parenthood, life-threatening illness, and even teenagers. And through all those heaving life experiences, I kept writing without ever publishing a word.
By fifty-five I had an epic collection of rejection letters, but I needed to write. At fifty-six, I finished my third novel, and I remember the surge of elation when that book caught the attention of a reputable agent who said, "This is a gold mine." It was finally happening!
Then it didn't.
One black day, I accepted that my work would never be published. It was crushing, and I spent weeks wallowing in the tragedy of my crucified ego. On my 60th birthday, I sulked on the sofa in rumpled pajamas and ate cold pizza.
Then I got angry. I'd given away control of my destiny, and the world had shrugged and given it back.
Fine. I'd do it myself. I took the humble route of self-publishing, because I thought just holding my book in my hands would be enough. I risked money and went through endless edits, and then my literary baby made its debut to a shrieking silence and a riot of apathy.
The book languished on Amazon, and that's when I decided that it wasn't only about holding a book but knowing that people were reading it.
One night, slumped in front of the TV, watching a glitzy book launch party on Sex in the City, I got an idea.
I gambled on a do-it-yourself website, took on an Internet marketing course, and threw a virtual book launch party. It was designed to generate a surge of sales on Amazon and catapult me onto the bestseller list.
I brazenly asked droves of website owners to help me. I sent letters, homemade cookies, and signed books marked on the page where those cookies appear in the novel. The cookies are called Bones of the Dead and so, with an aching back, I spent long days in the kitchen, shaping bone cookies -fifteen hundred of them.
Two days before my virtual party, my son said, "Mom, why not invite agents to your party?" Well, that would be a ballsy move indeed, but I figured I had nothing to lose. The night before the launch, I wrote personal invitations with a link to the party site to 400 agents.
By noon the next day agents were clamoring to read my masterpiece, asking me to overnight books to New York. Within 24 hours, I had offers from several impressive agencies-including William Morris, with whom I made an agreement at whiplash speed.
I did hit the Amazon bestseller list. Not that it mattered anymore.
Two weeks after my virtual party, my book went to auction. Bidding was due to start at 11:00 a.m. EST, but at 8:00 a.m. the phone rang. My agent said, "Are you sitting down?" I said yes, though I wasn't. She said, "Two book deal, Simon and Schuster." Then I sat down.
In the following heady days, the foreign sales started. It was a global feeding frenzy. As of this writing The Book of Unholy Mischief will be published in a dozen languages.
In all the excitement, I remembered a famous quote from Winston Churchill-with the sky over London littered with falling bombs and the city in rubble, the sixty-eight year old Churchill growled, "Never, never, never, never give up."
I didn't give up. That's really all I did. I have spent my life pursuing what I love, and every word I wrote was necessary to find my voice as a writer. And success is better later than early. Can you think of anything more depressing than peaking at the age of 25? Then what? Also, I feel profound gratitude, which I probably wasn't capable of twenty or thirty years ago. Being older makes it sweeter.
But here's the ironic part: Now that I'm published, I finally understand that the deepest satisfaction is in the writing itself. The best part is not holding my book or having other people read it-the best part was writing it. Writing is my passion, and passion is our consolation for mortality. Real success is finding something you love, and then doing the hell out of it.
My new book, The Sandalwood Tree, will be out in April 2011, and then I get to write another. And I am old enough to appreciate the hell out of that.