Sunday, July 20, 2014

What if Trixie Beldon turned Fifty?

Welcome back to the series of guest blogs with authors who write older protagonists. (Like Trixie or Nancy all grown up) Today's guest is Calgary author, Susan Calder. 

Susan Calder was born in Montreal and moved to Calgary in 1996. She came to writing late, at age thirty-nine. Susan is the author of Deadly Fall (Touchwood Editions, 2011), a murder mystery novel set in Calgary. Her novel sequel, Ten Days in Summer, made the top three in this year’s Sandy Writing Contest for unpublished Thriller/Suspense/Mystery novels. 

She is currently working on a third novel, a non-mystery set in Calgary and California. Susan’s short stories, poems and non-fiction articles have appeared in journals, anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her short story “Pandemic” was a finalist in the December 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open Contest. Susan teaches novel and short story writing courses at the Alexandra Writers Centre Society. When she’s not writing, Susan loves travel to anywhere and hiking the beautiful Rocky Mountains near Calgary.     


Wandering into the boomer market...

Ten years ago—almost to the date—I decided to finally write my murder mystery novel. For years, I had contemplated scenarios. Would my protagonist be my age or younger? (Never older, but always female). Was she deeply troubled or reasonably solid? Did she live in my current city, the one I grew up in or my favorite holiday place? Whose murder cut her to the quick and propelled her to action? Now, it was time to settle on these basic details and go with them.

Rightly or wrongly, I figured it would be easiest to write a contemporary story set in Calgary, where I live, featuring a sleuth who is like me. I made Paula my age so I’d be intuitively aware of the cultural influences at every stage of her life. Paula moved to Calgary the same year I did. She grew up in my Montreal neighborhood and attended my schools. Unlike me, Paula is divorced, for more scope for romance. She has two grown up daughters, while I have sons. With these and other changes, Paula took on her own life, but she and I still share one vital trait – we are quintessential baby boomers.

I didn’t target the boomer market or even realize it existed. I simply wanted to write a book that I’d enjoy reading on the assumption that others must have similar interests. As much as I enjoy novels set in other countries or about people totally unlike me, the stories that have stayed with me are ones with protagonists who could be me under different circumstances. My childhood favorites were Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Trixie Belden. Come to think of it, Paula could be Trixie grown up (Nancy Drew was too perfect for us both).

Is the boomer market real, viable and growing? With boomers moving into retirement, we have more reading time. I’m convinced that, for once, we are technologically ahead of our children by leading the charge to e-readers that are so convenient for travel and offer large font settings for our aging eyes. I see Paula’s prime reader demographic as Canadian boomer women. Yet, from comments, it seems Calgary readers identify more with the setting than with Paula’s age and I’m always surprised and pleased when young people and men tell me they liked my novel.

I think if I were targeting the boomer market, I’d be less concerned about my protagonist’s age and more with location. Many boomers equate reading time with holidays – lying on the beach, hours spent in airports and on planes. While traveling, I always look for books about the locale I’m visiting for a greater understanding of the place. Others enjoy stories set in countries they long to see. For the boomers, I’d write books set in appealing, exotic destinations -- and write off my travel expenses on my income tax. Fiction writing and travel are my two passions, but I haven’t found a way to blend them – so far.