When I’m Sixty-Four

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me?”

Fill in the blank…

Of course: “…when I’m sixty-four.”

Yeah, I played the HELL out of Sgt. Pepper when it came out.

My older brother and I each had record players, but one copy of the record between us. We would sit in each other’s rooms and listen. Rapt. Over and over. The White Album, too. Holy smokes. We were nuts about The Beatles. When a new album came out, we would own it within the week.

I liked The Stones better than he did; he liked The Who more than me. (Tommy changed my mind. But every band took second place to The Beatles).

But that song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
Catchy, bouncy, plaintive—impossible. And so clean and melodic, the second song on Side Two after the psychedelic “Within You, Without You.”

Sixty-four seemed ancient. I pictured a wheelchair, watery oatmeal, infirmity. Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

Then my father died at age 54 in 1979, and seven years later, my mom died at the same age. By the late 1980’s I thought maybe there was some sort of ticking time-bomb inside me, too.

You know, an expiration date.

By the time my mother died, I had been writing fiction for a few years. I was working on a draft of an early novel.

Three years after my mother passed away, I got married in a double wedding on the top floor of an old funky warehouse in LoDo (when the buildings were empty). It was 1989. I had just landed a good agent in New York for that first book, a mystery, and quit a good TV news job to write a second book. The first book had taken six years. I didn’t want the second book to take that long.

At the wedding, the bar was open before the ceremony started. We had a great rockabilly band on hand for the dancing.

And we walked down the aisle to…

“When I’m Sixty-Four.”

Our friends loved it. We laughed.

Sixty-four seemed, still, so distant.

Eighteen years later, I finally got published at age 53—a small, indie press. I had a great time seeing a book reach readers. Phew, published. Right under my personal deadline (literally).

Did I have one year left? It didn’t feel like I was about to die. I mean, what does that feel like?

A second book came out when I was 57 and a third when I was 60. Then, a fourth at age 61. The third and fourth with Midnight Ink, a fine house.

Last week, I turned 64. (No wheelchair! No watery oatmeal!)

I Feel Fine. (Another Beatles song.)

And I am making plans to publish Book #5 next fall—the fifth book in the Allison Coil series. It’s called The Melancholy Howl. At the same time, my amazing agent in New York is shopping a standalone mystery. It’s called No Lie Lasts Forever.

And I’m starting to write a new one.

My heroes are writers like Pat Stoltey, still in her mid-70s and cranking out books. Or James Lee Burke (born in 1936) and Lawrence Block (1938) and still, yes, cranking out books. How about Mary Higgins Clark? Born in 1927.

Every day I write is a good day. Every day I wrote was a good day.

There are lots of cool things about the writing business, starting with the writing itself.

But here’s one more. As I start to think about winding down the professional career (Note to my mortgage holder: starting to think about it, not actually doing it yet!) I am glad to have writing out there as something that will keep me going, interested, engaged. Most of all, it will keep me writing.

No matter what happens to the stories I put together, I’ll be writing.

Maybe even when it’s time for watery oatmeal.

P’s in Publishing … by Margaret Mizushima

Margaret MizushimaWhenever there is a first time published author panel at conferences, I’m often in the audience. I never tire of listening to the different ways authors connect with their publishers. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers played an important role in my story, and while this blog might be aimed more toward those seeking publication, other members could still be interested. I’ll tell you how the P’s in publishing worked for me.

Persistence. Don’t give up. Like many of my writing friends, I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ve attended writing conferences including those presented by RMFW, bought a bookshelf full of how-to books, attended creative writing classes and writing institutes, and studied my favorite authors to see how they crafted their novels. I’ve written several novels that are buried in my storage cabinet and will never again see the light of day. I’ve wanted to give up, but I didn’t; and persistence finally paid off, resulting in a publishing contract. Continue to pitch your work to agents and editors if you want to go the traditional route. Take classes in indie publishing if you’re interested in going that direction.

Positioning. I found both my agent and my publisher at writing conferences. Position yourself so that you can meet yours. Pitch your work at conference pitch sessions, sit at a meal table with the person you want to meet, introduce yourself in hallways and elevators. Be polite; ask permission to pitch outside of scheduled pitch sessions. I met Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books at the RMFW Conference 2014, sat at his table on Friday night, and asked if I could pitch to him after dinner. He agreed and told me to send it, which I did as soon as I could. I know how scary it feels when you sit at the computer with your finger hovering over that send button. Be brave. When you get the nod, be sure to follow through.

Mizushima_Killing TrailBe Pliable. Matt Martz passed my manuscript to Nike Power, editorial and publishing assistant at CLB. She loved the characters, setting, and writing, but not the plot. She asked if I was willing to talk about it, and of course I said yes. We began an exchange of emails leading to suggested revisions that would require a large amount of time. My novel fit between genres, and she thought it would find readers more easily if I made it a solid mystery. I hesitated. There were no guarantees, and approximately two months of work lay ahead. Besides, I liked my story. But…although the work had generated some interest, I had not yet received an offer. I decided I had nothing to lose except time, and maybe I’d end up with something I liked even better.

Be prompt. If I wanted to make their 2016 publication schedule, I needed to meet the deadline that Nike suggested for me. This is important at this stage for other reasons, too. Editors want to make sure you can get your work back to them when they need it. They may offer some flexibility, but it’s still an opportunity for them to see if you can be on time, even before you’re offered the contract. In my case, the resubmission worked. Nike told me she liked the new version, and she would talk to my agent. I’m delighted to say that she remains my editor, and we’ll be working together on two books, the first two in The Timber Creek K-9 series.

Promote. Promotion starts before you publish. In reality, it should start when you set a goal to write a book. Marketing should include taking a look at what readers want. I don’t mean try to follow a trend, things move too slowly in this industry for that. Write the story you want, but keep your readers in mind. Research by reading popular books, study how bestselling authors develop their characters and structure their stories, and strengthen your writing skills through education and critique. Network at conferences, listen to authors who already know the ropes and are willing to offer guidance, set up those social media sites and accounts. Attend workshops at conferences to learn about the different ways you can promote, both online and off.

And that brings me back to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This organization can help you achieve your writing goals. At RMFW 2014, conference chair Susan Brooks stated that this is our tribe. Be a part of it, and benefit from all of the many opportunities RMFW has to offer. I’m very grateful for everything it has given me.

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books, available now for preorder on Amazon. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hayhook” was selected for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She likes reading, hiking, and yoga, and she lives in Colorado with her husband and a multitude of animals.

Learn more about Margaret at her website. She can also be found on Facebook at Margaret Mizushima Author and on Twitter @margmizu.