“Each Novel Can Be a Lifetime” – Seniors Reign at The Permanent Press

Martin & Judith Shepard—both 77-year-olds and co-publishers of The Permanent Press (founded in 1978 and considered by many to be America’s  premier independent literary press), are happy to announce that, among the nine novels being released between October 2012 and June, 2013 five are by fellow septuagenarians and two by octogenarians.

“Who would have expected this?” asked Martin Shepard. “Quality fiction often makes for unusual company. Last year eight of our 16 books were mysteries, one of which, Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos, was a finalist for the Edgar Award, Chautauqua Book Prize, Anthony Award, Macavity Award, and for ForeWord’s Literary Fiction Prize. But none were written by seniors. And now, more than half our recent fiction comes from much older writers. These seven seniors can still write the pants off most younger novelists. All have had distinguished careers and still have plenty of gas left in the tank. Judy and I are so pleased that they entrusted their newest writing to us.”

2012

  • October:     K.C. Frederick, 76, Looking for Przybylski
  • November: Anne Bernays, 81, The Man on the Third Floor
  • December:  Suzanne McNear, 77, Knock, Knock

2013

  • February:    William Eisner, 78, The Stone Lion
  • April:          Daniel Klein, 73,  Nothing Serious
  • May:           Christopher Davis, 84, The Conduct of Saints
  • June:           Marc Davis, 77, Bottom Line

Accounting for this trend, Bill Eisner, 78, whose novel The Stone Lion comes out in February, notes, “A writer’s life is his working capital: the people he has  known, the situations he has encountered, the places he has seen, the experiences  he has had. Older folks simply have more to draw from. Much of my own writing  was inspired by the lives of the people I have known, but once a person is transposed to fiction and given the roundness and completeness that fiction demands, he or she is so changed as to be unrecognizable even to the person who inspired the character. When you are older, you have seen and done enough to provide sufficient material for a lifetime of writing.”

Supporting Eisner’s assertion, Marc Davis, 77, whose novel Bottom Line will be available in June, adds, “I’ve got loads of stories from my days as a newspaper reporter, here [in Chicago] and on the Texas-Mexican border.  I also have tales of the commodity futures business, in which I made some bucks buying coffee options in the wake of the Big Brazilian Freeze of 1976, tales of my career as an art teacher, and painter, with a fistful of prizes, and then my work in advertising, winning two Tempo Awards and one Echo, for my direct mail campaigns for the art of Norman Rockwell, and others, on collectors plates.  And lots of others, including a story about my Dad, a Chicago newspaper man during the Front Page era, who ‘shot’ Dillinger exclusively, with a camera.”

All of this, Davis notes, “disproves again Scott Fitzgerald’s remark that there are no second acts in American lives.  Apparently, there are second, third and fourth acts, and curtain calls, with encores.”

Yet the writer’s life is no walk in the park, according to Christopher Davis, 84, whose The Conduct of Saints is due in May: “The work is difficult, both the reading and the writing. People will say they love to write. Even good writers say so, but I think they are talking about desire and expectation. They mean they love good art and, because they have sometimes made it happen and because they love their creation, they hope (it is a desperate and pessimistic hope) to do it again. Since this creative work involves instinct and thought in a contest that is resolved by means of the manipulation of words (instead of paint or clay or sound), and since the language we use as a medium in the art is derived from the language we use in our ordinary lives and gives a false appearance of being the same thing, writing is one of the hardest jobs men and women do.”

Seconding this opinion, KC Frederick, 76, whose Looking for Przybylski is due in October, adds,  “It’s always been a miracle, looking back at my earliest notes for a fiction, that already latent in those obscure scratchings was a  complex entity that would someday breathe and move.  To make it happen, though, meant using every tool in the tool box as well as every instrument in my little orchestra.  When the fiction’s done a sense of ending goes along with the feeling of achievement: this thing is finished, it doesn’t have to be done again, let’s try something new. But then there’s the blank page. Next time around you have to start as a baby, learning to speak all over.  Each novel can be a lifetime—doesn’t that complicate how writers calculate their ages?”

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8 comments

      1. Certainly… To corrupt a quote from Mark Twain, “Iced tea, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.”

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