Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jessica Ramsey Golden: In Praise of Late-Bloomers

Raymond Chandler

You're going to love this. Listen:

“A large black and gold butterfly fishtailed in and landed on a hydrangea bush almost at my elbow, moved its wings slowly up and down a few times, then took off heavily and staggered away through the motionless hot scented air.”


What better way to describe the flight of a butterfly?

It is an immaculately constructed sentence. As complex and spare as the framework of a cathedral.

If that sentence doesn't kick your chest open, I feel sorry for you.

Here's the thing:

The man who wrote that sentence published his first novel when he was 45 years old.

He wrote this too:

“He swept the room with a raking glance. His smile nailed on.”

Prose so tight, it would stop bullets.

If you've ever seen a Coen Brothers film or enjoyed “The Usual Suspects”, you've witnessed some of Raymond Chandler's far-reaching influence.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must point out Chandler was very much a product of his time. His novels are rife with racist, sexist language.

And he is a brilliant novelist.

When you read his books, you re-read whole scenes just because the dialog is so snappy you can't wait to hear it again. Or you turn to your long-suffering spouse and say, “Listen to this sentence!”

It's breathtaking.

And did I mention he published his first book at the age of 45?

That's important.

At least, it's important to me.

You see, I'm turning 35 this month.

For women, at every birthday starting at 30, when you tell someone how old you're turning, they suck in air between their teeth and gently ask, "How are you feeling about that?"

I'm okay with my age.

It's my productivity that worries me.

I've been writing fiction for 3 years, and so far all I have to show for it is one unpublished manuscript, two short stories, and two messes still under construction. 

To edify myself I've started to collect Late Bloomers like our dear Mr. Chandler.

Here's some more:

Toni Morrison wrote her first novel when she was 39.

Isabel Allende published her first novel at 40.

Maya Angelou was 41.

Dante was, most likely, at least 50 when he penned the Inferno.

Ricky Gervais quit his job to start writing comedy at 38.

Of this Gervais has said, “It's never too late. But start now.”

Prodigies are well and good. But there's something to be said for stamina. Especially in writing, a field with an alarming rate of self-destruction.

Don’t get me wrong. When I see some whiz kid making good, it’s not that I resent the little darling.


But there is comfort in knowing that we don't all make it up the hill in the first 20, 30, or even 40 years.

I've known since I was 8 years old that I wanted to write fiction. Then I wasted a lot of years saying I wanted to be writer, but not writing. I had excuses. Completing school. Having babies. Raising babies. Working.

You can waste a lifetime waiting for the right time.

Me, I've started. So I'm closer than I was 5 years ago.

Dreams take work.

It can't be instant pudding for everyone.

It's never too late.

But start.


Jessica Ramsey Golden’s poetry has appeared in such journals as The William and Mary Review, Orbis International, Calyx, and Cirque. In 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2011, she began writing fiction. She is currently drafting a science fiction project, while seeking representation for her literary Gothic novel, The Hidden Door.


Anonymous said...

both understanding and inspiring, love your examples, need to visit his works again

Owen Thomas said...

Great post, Jessica. I was combing your examples with great interest. I'm 49 and just published my first. I was hoping to find one of your late bloomers closer to 50! Oh well, better late than never. I agree with you that Chandler was a really fun craftsman.

Val said...

While I have never found that anyone asks me how I feel about my age (40) when I tell them how old I am (that might should earn a person a sock in the nose) I think it's extremely important to remember that it's only too late when you're dead.