On the Road to Reinvention by Joanne
Move over chick. It’s time for this hen to strut her stuff. (LuAnn Schindler)
Seven years ago, a hen strut wasn’t even on my radar. I had just retired from a 31-year teaching career and was still experimenting with a new and (sometimes unsettling) stage of life. Sleeping in each morning. Leisurely breakfasts. New hobbies. Volunteering.
Three months into retirement, I realized that I needed more than this patchwork quilt of activities. Everything came to a head at a luncheon. After a pleasant meal with stimulating conversation, I watched as over two hundred retired professional women swooned over the entertainment: an Elvis impersonator. They stood and hollered, waving dinner napkins and program. They coveted the flimsy polyester scarves he was draping around the necks of selected women. I took that luncheon as a sign from the universe. It was time to go down another road.
After some reflection, I decided to resurrect a writing dream from my high school years. Within days of making this decision, I received a call from an editor who offered to publish one of my travel articles. Excited, I started my wordsmith business and ordered my first set of business cards.
That first article was only beginner’s luck.
It took twenty-one months to get another one published. In the meantime, I attended creative writing workshops, took online courses, and continued to send out queries. Slowly, a writing practice emerged and articles, book reviews and short stories started appearing in newspapers, magazines and online. This was gratifying, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my creative bent. I wanted more.
“More” translated into a novel. In my case, two novels: A Season for Killing Blondes and Between Land and Sea. The murder mystery failed to launch. Agents and editors were amused by the premise—A brunette lottery winner never has an alibi when dead blondes turn up in dumpsters near her favorite haunts—but they passed on the novel. Between Land and Sea, a fantasy about a middle-aged mermaid, didn’t fare much better.
Frustrated, I sought the advice of a visiting author. He met with me after reading the first 25 pages of my novel. He got right down to business.
“You’ve got an interesting premise here. Excellent plot development. And I like what you’ve done with the female characters, but—”
“Go on, I can take it.”
He sighed and shook his head. “The “b” word. It’s all over these pages.”
I couldn’t remember using any inappropriate language, let alone the “b” word. What on earth was he talking about?
“Boomers,” he whispered. “All the characters are over 50. You need youngins.”
“What do you mean by youngins?”
“Characters in their twenties and early thirties. That’s what selling now.”
I thanked him for his time but decided not to follow his advice. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the anti-boomer talk. At every creative writing workshop and seminar during that spring, I encountered more of the “youth” talk, most of it spoken in hushed tones.
“It’s okay to have an older woman as a sleuth but make sure you surround her with younger characters.”
“Don’t mention anything about boomers in your query letter.”
“Don’t even think about using retirement homes or nursing homes in your novel.”
I persisted, determined more than ever to feature boomer women and their older sisters as protagonists in my novels. I would love to say that the universe saw fit to reward my efforts, but that was not the case. Instead, more rejection letters followed.
In 2012, the winds of change started blowing.
The term “boomer lit” was bandied about on social media, and groups formed on Twitter and Facebook. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Intouchables and Quartet attracted record crowds and Downton Abbey became a worldwide sensation.
People were taking a closer look at heavyweights like Maggie Smith, Dame Judy Dench, Bill Nighy and Francois Cluzet. The younger supporting casts added color, but for the most part were forgettable and expendable. I don’t think anyone can imagine Downton Abbey without the Dowager Countess.
Those favorable boomer winds also blew in my direction. On January 31, 2013, senior editor Debby Gilbert of Soul Mate Publishing offered me a contract for Between Land and Sea. The novel was released in mid September 2013.
Feeling validated, I revisited A Season for Killing Blondes and reworked several plot issues and characters. After one round of editors, the cozy mystery found a home. On August 16, 2014, editor Johanna Melaragno of The Wild Rose Press offered me a contract.
Blurb- A Season for Killing Blondes
Three thousand euros worth of pastries. Can you believe it?
When I agreed to import the pastries, I had no idea I would be subsidizing the failing Italian economy and helping Silvio Berlusconi stay in power for a few weeks longer. Left to my own devices, I would have gone down the street to Regency Bakery, picked up some pastries and just walked them over. But my mother and Aunt Amelia were adamant. The open house for my new career counseling office needed a proper launch, one that could only be achieved with pastries from a Sicilian bakery.
To be fair, both of them were horrified when they saw that final four-figure amount on the invoice and swore me to secrecy. While conspicuous consumption is valued in the Italian community, being taken for a ride is not, and we would never hear the end of it from Uncle Paolo who is still complaining about the ten cents he has to pay for a shopping bag at No Frills.
I watched my mother rearrange the amaretto cookies, stuffed figs, biscotti, and other delicacies that had arrived yesterday. She and Aunt Amelia had brought in their best silver trays and carts and spent hours—according to Uncle Paolo—creating a colorful Italian corner.
“Everything is perfect. Maybe too perfect.” My mother made the sign of the cross and mumbled a Hail Mary.
“Relax, Ma. I’ve got everything under control. Nothing bad will happen.”
“Things have been going too well, Gilda. The lottery win. Your new career. This beautiful office. I’ve had one of my dreams, and you know what that means.”
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In high school, Joanne dabbled in poetry, but it would be over three decades before she entertained the idea of writing as a career. She listened to her practical Italian side and earned degrees in mathematics and education. She experienced many fulfilling moments as she watched her students develop an appreciation (and sometimes, love) of mathematics. Later, she obtained a post-graduate diploma as a career development practitioner and put that skill set to use in the co-operative education classroom. She welcomed this opportunity to help her students experience personal growth and acquire career direction through their placements.
In 2008, she took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.
Where to find Joanne…