Thursday, October 25, 2007

A challenge with a reward

So, my post on Baby Boomers Revolt didn't create the reaction I hoped for. Although I really appreciate all the great comments about how I look, that was not my intention. I wanted to spur some dialogue on stereotyping people 50 and older.

Comments on stereotyping by race, hair color, occupation, nationality, IQ, disability, etc. are everywhere, but agism doesn't have such a wide reach.

Consider this; baby boomers are those born between 1945 and 1957 and 'shadow' boomers from 1958 to 1964. We comprise nearly 28% of the adult US population and have way more than our share of the disposable income. Unlike the youth of today, we were brought up reading. TV was just coming onto the scene when we were born, so we didn't grow up with endless entertainment choices. We read!

I've read - or started to read - several articles, books and stories lately with baby boomers as minor or secondary characters. Nothing irritates me more or causes me to stop reading faster than the grinning sweet little granny or poor lonely Mr. or Ms. Whosit in their 50's, 60's and 70's whose only purpose is to serve as a source of fluff or pity. And why do they all have ample laps or walk with canes and have to wear glasses?

When I asked you to describe the person in the picture I didn't want you to think about me, I wanted you to think against the stereotype of a 59 year old woman and find a new way to describe the baby boomers. If you hope to sell books to us - and you should because we're a huge market and we read - you need to write to us.

So here's a challenge for you. Pick an age between 55 and 70 and in 250 words or less create a character for your novel or short story, and I want details about them - not just physical details either. Put your descriptions in the comments section of this post. Think carefully before you post. Stereotypes of any type should be avoided.

The person who develops the most realistic character will receive a $20 gift certificate to be awarded on November 6th when I return from Hawaii.

Good luck and feel free to tell your fellow bloggers.


Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Anti-wife,

I actually did get your point in the previous post, the stereotype exists in novels because it's only in the last twenty years or so that it didn't routinely apply... what I'm saying is sixty and seventy is a hell of a lot younger today than it was a generation ago for a plethora of reasons that are too numerous to get into.

I also understand what you're saying about stereotypes, show me one and I'll point out a million people who disprove it... the traditional stereotypes for sixty plus year olds no longer apply. You'd have a hard time finding someone to fit that description in reality, and more to your point, you're likely to offend the reader's sense.

I haven't prepared anything for this contest, but I thought I'd let you know that I do have a character in my current wip in her mid-sixties. She's my mc's grandma, and she does have glasses, sorry she has bad eyesight... she also makes a hell of a gravy, runs around in jeans, sneakers, and polos and refers to herself as sturdy (which really means she's got some junk in her trunk) with a substantial Italian nose. She's all heart and common sense and she holds the whole of her world together, without taking anything away from the people she's helping... the thing is, until I read your post here, it didn't even occur to me to create an 'old bitty' for this character... the stereotype didn't enter my head.

kathie said...

Great post, I agree with what you're saying, though I think until people stand en masse and demand Hollywood do a better job of creating well-rounded characters, it'll continue to cater to kids or immature adults like me (I like all sorts of movies, some embarrasing to mention) And though I haven't submitted an entry here, I do include a strong cluster of women of many ages in my WIP...great job with this topic.

Mary Witzl said...

I'll be submitting an entry -- just say the word 'challenge' or 'competition' to me and my palms start to itch.

Middle-aged women in Hollywood so often end up getting portrayed as life support providers for people who are more exciting and interesting, or they are typecast as neurotic bitches who are jealousy guarding their fading beauty. Only in literature do they get a fair shake.

The Anti-Wife said...

Not quite sure where you got the old biddy idea. Hopefully not from my post. Also, I think you have created a character that is rather stereotypical in many ways. I asking you to think outside the box and give me a character who stands on their own physically, emotionally, mentally and intellectually.

The Anti-Wife said...

Give me a character who stands on their own physically, emotionally, mentally and intellectually. I know I'm repeating myself, but I also know you can do it.

Hollywood generally does a poor job of depicting older people. I'll look forward to your entry.

Church Lady said...

Oh God, If I weren't already quite drunk, I might write something funny.
I agree with Merry. ANd you look so good, a stereotypical visual isn't popping in.
The only stereotype left is that you all suck at driving and drink all the liquor at parties.
I'll go more with that tomorrow.

The Muse said...

I'm not a writer; but I can tell you a real life story about a woman that I met 16 years ago that I adopted as my grandmother. Her name was Evelyn Brady and she was 93 years old when I met her on a church trip to Germany. She was a jewelry designer who went to the same college that I did, RISD. Despite being 93, she never complained about her health or physical ailments. (She did not walk with a cane.) She spoke of her dreams and aspirations. She loved life and art and people. She had an inner radiance and charisma that captivated people. One day we hiked the mountain behind our inn; and she accompanied my fiancé and I on our journey through the woods in the August heat. She had more spunk and energy than most young people. She was a free spirit who traveled alone because her husband had died years ago. When we were leaving the retreat she mentioned that in 2 weeks that she was going on a cruise to Alaska. Carpe Diem! That is what she taught me, to be adventurous and young at heart. She is my role model for aging. I hope to someday be 93 and still climbing mountains in the Black Forest!

The Anti-Wife said...

Take to aspirin and go to bed.

This woman doesn't just go against the stereotype, she defies it. There are lots of us out there who do. So why is this exercise so difficult? Why aren't there 20 entries so far? Have writers become so formulaic they can't think outside stereotypes?

Ello said...

Sixty-five year old June Park is the mother of two grown women and a grandmother of three. Her shoulder length hair dyed black to match the color of he youth and still wearing the same makeup style that she had been using for twenty years. Her daughters always complained she wore too much foundation, but they didn't have a blotchy complexion. Their clear skinned complexions were the product of good healthy living in the states, June envied her daughters their beautiful skin. She slipped into her size four Ann Taylot suit and smiled at the thought that she was thinner than both her daughters. Sometimes she would tease her oldest girl about how much thinner she was. Once she had to borrow a pair of her pants and she had mocked her by pulling out the size ten waistband and commenting that she could fit another person in there with her. Boy did her daughter hate that! But she did it for her own good, it was her way of trying to convince her to lose weight. Stepping out into the living room, she saw her husband sitting on the couch. His hair had gone all white and he refused to dye it. Their girls thought it looked great, very distinguished, but it bothered June, wondering if it made her look older just by being with him. No, of course not. She still looked young. She took great care of her body. She walked fifty city blocks every single day. Her life as a NY city realtor meant alot of canvassing of the city. It kept her fit, and thin. She loved her grandkids, but thanked her stars that they lived four states away from her. Whenever she missed them, she'd go visit, but it was more like once every other month or so. She loved them, but she couldn't fathom a life of being just a grandma. No she was too busy. Life had gotten more interesting now that she had become successful later in life. Life was good, better than it had ever been before and she would enjoy every moment of it.

Merry Jelinek said...

"Nothing irritates me more or causes me to stop reading faster than the grinning sweet little granny or poor lonely Mr. or Ms. Whosit in their 50's, 60's and 70's whose only purpose is to serve as a source of fluff or pity. And why do they all have ample laps or walk with canes and have to wear glasses?"

That was where I got the 'old bitty' reference.

"I asking you to think outside the box and give me a character who stands on their own physically, emotionally, mentally and intellectually."

Here's the thing, you're not asking me to think outside the box, you're asking me to come up with a character in that age bracket that you feel goes against the stereotype... What I gave you was a rough sketch of a character which already exists who is a grandma (perhaps stereotypical, but then I wasn't writing about a mid sixty year old woman with no proginy, I was writing about an 11 year old boy), who does wear glasses (again, you might see it as stereotypical, but it is what it is, my character needs the glasses)..

as far as standing on her own, she does in the sense that she is her own person, but in another very real way her interaction with the people in her life make the biggest impact in defining her... I like character driven fiction, and for that to work in this setting, I have to allow that the relationships between the characters are more important to the progress of the novel than endowing a character with 'outside the box' dimensions that the character doesn't actually exibit. In other words, I'm not developing a new character for the sole purpose of defying ageist stereotypes... that would be an excellent novel, but a very different one than what I'm working on.

The Anti-Wife said...

For the purposes of this challenge, I'm asking people to come up with a new character that defies stereotypes. Your character is existing and written to fit your story. I don't know your story, but it may need a stereotypical grandma type to make it work. You don't need to defend yourself to me.

The Anti-Wife said...

Good job!

Church Lady said...

Haha! Thanks for the aspirin advice! Here's a quickie draft, about 62 year-old Joyce:

"Who do you want? Raynar or Shamu?" the stable boy asked.

"Shamu. But I'll get him. He's still out in the ring." Joyce buckled her riding helmet and jogged over to the ring.

"Tch, tch, tch," Joyce called, and Shamu trotted toward her. She held a carrot and watched horse slobber gather around the bit.

"Miss Joyce?" A twelve-year old girl stretched her arm to pet Shamu.

"Is it about the dressage competition?"


"If you can get your diagonals done today, you can sign up."

"Thanks! I've been practicing in my head all night. I know I can do it."

"I know you can too." Joyce climbed through a gap in the fence and checked Shamu's tack. "Are you ready?"

"Am I riding Shamu today?" The girl felt shy around such a forward horse.

Joyce nodded and motioned toward the saddle.

"You're the best riding instructor, ever!" The girl climbed into the saddle and began her stretches.

The Anti-Wife said...

Good job.