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.

Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series, including Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014), and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline, and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire "irresistible." More about Mark on his website.

26 thoughts on “When I’m Sixty-Four

  1. What a great post, Mark! I can remember when I was an early teenager in the 70s, sitting with my folks in our upstate New York backyard as we BBQ’d on a grill my dad built out of stone, cement, and a deer antler rack. I sat alongside my dad (who is now 81), and watched the smoke curl up into the branches of the trees around it, wondering…what will I be like at 40? What will I be doing? What would life be like? I am now approaching 60. Pretty wild, huh? Happy belated birthday, Mark! Wish you many fun and productive years ahead!

  2. Holy cow, I didn’t expect to see my name in your post, Mark. That was a fun surprise. Thank you! Yes, I’m still writing at age 75 with four books in ten years (I’m a lazy writer). So far, no wheelchair (except for a couple of months when I broke my foot in 2015). I’m creaky, but not over the hill. 😀

  3. Really enjoyed your post. I’ve started my writing career late in life so it’s nice to think that I’m not too old (just a couple years behind the Beatles song). I’m self-publishing my first book soon. Came across a few ugly roadblocks but this year, soon, it’ll be out there. Thank you!

  4. Yessss! The Joy of Writing is the Elixir of Life! Longevity! Vitality!
    So timely now ….
    “Will you still be sending me a Valentine
    Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?”
    You wear birthdays well, Mark. Now, get back to your keyboard. 🙂

  5. Wonderful, inspiring post, Mark! Cheers to you! I’m not quite there yet (but awfully close) and I’m reexamining a lot of things about my life. But I keep coming back to the fact that writing is the one thing (other than my family) that still gives me joy and energy. I hope to keep doing it a long while.

  6. Just another note to say thank you for such a neat memory,looking back and forward, especially engaging for the OTA (older than average) writer! Keep pounding that keyboard!

  7. Mark, great post. Thanks for sharing and encouraging. Writing must keep people looking younger than their birthdays too.

    Great job on #Western Reboot.

    I’ll leave this post like the paperback writer on Penny Lane that I will be–eventually.

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