Skip to main content

Writing my First Book at Age Sixty-Nine

This is a guest post by Dean Robertson. 

I wish I could say, as I know many authors can, that I started writing as a child, that I wrote little stories which I read to my parents and my best friend. I wish I could say I have shelves of journals I kept in high school or college. I wish I could tell you I kept a writer’s journal during my three decades of teaching, meticulously recording conversations overheard in restaurants or descriptions of a woman’s dress or a man’s hat. 

I did none of those things. In the late 1970’s—before I started teaching full time—and in the early ’80’s—in the first years in the classroom, I wrote and published four essays. After that I must have realized that I had only so much passion in me and that mine was ignited in front of a chalkboard engaged in lively discussion with teenagers about literature. The only writing I did was to complete a good many essay assignment along with the students. 

Over the years, I have occasionally had what I now recognize were really very good ideas for long essays—the experience of recording books on tape; keeping bees; raising llamas. I did research, took notes, made outlines, but I never wrote those essays. I lacked the energy, or the interest, or the discipline required for sitting down and doing the job. For a long time I kept all that material in an old four-drawer oak file with brass labels from a railway office. Somewhere along the line, I misplaced the folders with the research, the notes, and the outlines. It would be difficult to reproduce them now. I gave the file cabinet to my son when he started his first teaching job. 

In 2006, I retired from teaching. I did not spend the next eight years preparing to write a book. I spent them catching up on old New Yorkers, reading the New York Times online, re-reading my favorite nineteenth-century novels—Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and George Eliot’s Middlemarch—and a few more modern favorites—Faulkner’s The Unvanquished, Absalom, Absalom, and “The Bear”; Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels; and Margaret Drabble’s early ones. I’m sure there were many more. I read, and I discovered the guilty pleasure of naps. 

But one morning in March of 2014 I woke up early, as I always do, made a cup of tea, sat down at my laptop, and started writing. I wrote all day and into many nights—not eating well and certainly not sleeping enough—for about seven months. Friends worried; cousins called more often and threatened to visit; everyone was alarmed. I only talked to the few who wanted to hear about what I was writing. 

Sometime in October, Looking for Lydia; Looking for God appeared— over two hundred pages in my computer files. I had to admit it looked a good deal like a book, although I never once used that word until the day in January of 2015 that I signed a contract with a publisher. 

In a television interview on a local news station, I was asked, “What preparation did you do for writing this book?” On the YouTube video of that interview, I look puzzled for a minute before I smile and answer, “None.” 

I don’t know if that is strictly true. I spent my life reading very good literature. Although I didn’t write stories as a child, I read them. I was a compulsive reader; if I didn’t have a book, you could find me pouring over the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table. I have never been able to not read. My best memories of my father are of his reading to me at bedtime. There is a passage in Looking for Lydia: 

“Stories are meant to be heard and felt. One of my fondest memories from childhood is my father’s reading to me at night. I only wanted to hear one book, an old volume of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books. We lived on two hundred acres of North Georgia woods, and my fantasy life consisted almost entirely of becoming Mowgli, the child raised by wolves, the child whose best friends, Baloo and Bagheera, were a great brown bear and a sleek and dangerous black panther. I read "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and I longed for a mongoose. I remember very little about my father, a kind but distant man who died when I was sixteen, but I can still hear his voice, half a century later, reading those stories.”  

There was a guest post on this website whose title caught my attention, “You’re Not a Writer if You’re Not a Reader.” 

Maybe I did prepare for writing my first book at age sixty-nine. 

Dean Robertson is a retired English teacher; she is approaching seventy. She spent thirty years teaching literature in independent secondary schools and small private colleges. When she retired, Dean cut off her schoolteacher’s bun and headed to the Tidewater region of Virginia. In 2013 and 2014, she had a bad fall, convalesced at the Lydia Roper Home, bought a co-op, and wrote a book. In 2015, she found a publisher for that book and had her first grandchild. In 2016, she is now writing a weekly blog, supporting other writers, and working on her second book. 

Looking for Lydia; Looking for God is a memoir. It is a spiritual memoir. It is a confession. It is a family saga and a cameo of life in a southern city after the Civil War. It is the mystery of a nineteenth-century woman, come from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, the year the war ended, and the story of the mysteries that don’t get solved and the questions that don’t get answered. It is a study of the Bible that began in the Lydia Roper Home and has grown outward in the most unexpected ways. It is a story about growing older and a story about beginnings. It is a story for everyone. 
Looking for Lydia is available at:
You can read more about Dean Robertson or contact her at her website: OR by email at: pdroberts1@gmail.comDean answers all emails and enjoys getting them! 

Popular posts from this blog

El Deafo | Cece Bell

And being different? That turned out to the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”
Genre: Middle Grade Graphic Novel/Memoir. Number of Pages: 233. Perspective: First. Location: Virginia.
This graphic novel follows the author throughout her time as a young girl in the 1970s and her experiences losing her hearing from meningitis at the age of four. She learns how to make friends and accept herself. For a complete summary, you can go here.
This was a beautiful story about someone who copes with becoming deaf. I took an American Sign Language course in college and we talked a lot about the deaf culture; it was interesting to learn about some of the daily challenges that someone who is deaf faces. This book explains those challenges in a way that children can understand and relate to. We have come a long way with accessibility since the 70s, but we all could use …

5 Reasons Why I Hate Book Series

Many of you know that I hate book series. If at all possible, I try to stick to stand-alone novels. A few rare trilogies land on my bookshelf and an even rarer few get a good review. Here are my reasons why I hate trilogies: 

1. The first book is perfected.

Authors have an unlimited amount of time to perfect the first book. They may have many rewrites and rejections before it is finally accepted by a publisher. By that point, the book should be pristine. The author may not have a deal with the publisher for a series yet, but once the first book proves its worth, the publisher will definitely ask for the rest of the series. Depending on the popularity, the author will be forced to get the next books out quickly—unless you are George R.R. Martin. There will be less time to perfect the story and it will be sent out without many rewrites, as to appease the fan-base. As a result, the rest of the series suffers in comparison to the debut. 
2. The waiting is torture. 

Part of the reason why the …

Ten Things Writers Need to Know

This is a guest post by Heather Weidner. I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone who wants to write. Here’s my list…
1. Read. Read. Read. 

Read everything you can get your hands on. Learn about the genre. Learn about techniques and style. See what works and what doesn't.

2. Seek out writers like you. 

Find a writers' group. I write mysteries, so Sisters in Crime was a perfect fit. I am also in the online community, Guppies. They have tons of resources and advice. And they are so supportive and helpful. 
3. There are a lot of books out there on the craft of writing. 
My favorite is Stephen King's On Writing. Invest in books that help you. But use your library too. FREE is good.

4. If you are serious about writing, find a critique group. 
It's an investment in your time to read the submissions. Make sure that the feedback is helpful. Critiques need to be constructive and not personal. My critique group specializes in mysteries and crime fiction. And that works fo…

Hex | Thomas Olde Heuvelt

“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay 'til death. Whoever settles, never leaves."
Genre: Horror. Number of Pages: 384. Perspective: Third. Location: New York.
Hex is the story of a town that is cursed by a witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut. She shows up in houses and just stands and stares for days at a time. The people of the town can never leave and are plagued by the fear of what would happen if the witch’s eyes and mouth are ever opened. For a complete summary, you can go here.
This book started off kind of funny and light-hearted. The middle starts to get a little creepy and suspenseful, and the end is downright strange. It was an enjoyable book, but you’ll have to wait a long time for the climax. The bulk of the action happens in the last 50 pages. For me, that felt rushed and left me with more questions than answers. 
Hex was originally written in Dutch and translated to English. With that in mind, I am utterly impressed with the flow and readability of the story. Th…

5 Things I Would Have Done Differently Before Self-Publishing

This is a guest post by Mark Benjamin. 
About three-quarters into 2015, I decided to self-publish. My novel was stuck in that phase of completed / nearly done, and I had been agent shopping for three years prior, and the brief thought (if at all) of self-publishing had been pushed out of my mind by the traditional method. That is, until my wife, Lucy, sent me the Amazon Kindle Publishing link. At the end of May 2016, my debut novel, A CHANGE OF HEART, Book One of The Royal Blood Chronicles, was released, an urban fantasy novel bringing back vampires from whence I first found them, cue in Lestat and Louis. There was a lot to learn throughout the entire self-publishing process; emotions ranging from doubt to hope, anxiety to determination, fear to belief. I would like to share my experiences, then and now, and how I would have done things differently.

1. Just Do It
Those three words are the beginning and end of it all. The story hit me and I ran with it. I could have waited until I thought …

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required