A couple of weeks ago, a momentous event occurred: I received my Medicare card in the mail. I haven’t gotten so dotty that I didn’t know I was turning 65 this year. It’s just that I’d sort of put it out of my head. But that fat envelope with the small red-white-and-blue square of cardboard inside brought it all into focus—with a vengeance.
My government has officially declared me OLD.
Not that I wasn’t thrilled, in a way, to receive it. As a self-employed writer for the past dozen years or so, I’ve had to carry my own medical insurance. Being blessed with excellent health, I often felt that paying the premium was like throwing money in the street. It’s one of the facets of pursuing a writing career the how-to books don’t tell you about. That and self-employment tax, although my former career as an accountant actually prepared me for that one. For those of you non-writers in the group, SE tax is the payment of a double dose of the Social Security/Medicare withholding, both the employers’ and employees’ portions.
Okay, enough grousing. It is what it is. What all this really brought home to me was that under normal circumstances, I’d be thinking hard about retirement right about now. If I’d still been practicing accounting, I’d be looking to sell my practice or perhaps, if I were working for someone else, about hanging it up. The problem is, I did that—in 1994 when my husband and I sold our respective businesses and headed south. That early escape from the day-to-day treadmill is what allowed me to begin writing and, miraculously, to find this second career.
So now what? There doesn’t seem to be any guideline for how long a writing career lasts. Look at some of the people whose books we love. I know for a fact that at least a couple of them I’ve encountered personally are still going strong into their seventies and even eighties. There’s no one out there who draws a line in the sand and says, “Okay, that’s enough. Turn in your mouse and keyboard. We’re putting you out to pasture.”
Of course, in reality there are some folks with the power to bring a writing career to a screeching halt. Your publisher, for one. If you’re doing this to make a living, even a secondary one, losing a publisher can bring your career to a grinding stop. Unfortunately, that’s happened to way too many excellent writers in the past few years. Or the reading public can decide they’ve had just about enough of you—which leads back to my first point about publishers. Either way, the decision to hang it up may not be entirely the author’s. Not that one couldn’t keep on writing just for the sheer joy of it. I like to think that’s what I’d do. I don’t know, though. Maybe not.
Anyway, when this momentous birthday occurs, I will be out hawking Canaan’s Gate, the tenth Bay Tanner mystery, due for release next week. I do notice that the imminent arrival of my watershed birthday has slowed me down just a tad. I’ve cut back on the number of appearances I’m doing for this book, and I’m sticking a little closer to home this time. I don’t know if that’s a factor of age or repetition or the fact that my dear husband has, as I tell him, become like a linen suit—he doesn’t travel well. In any case, one thing I haven’t lost is my enthusiasm for writing and my deep gratitude to those who choose to buy and read what I write. Those e-mails and messages from people who’ve taken the time to let me know they enjoyed the latest installment of my series are enough by themselves to keep me going regardless of age or anything else.
And, now that I think about it, how often does the government get things right anyway?
Kathy Wall grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. She and her husband Norman have lived on Hilton Head Island since 1994. Her 10th Bay Tanner mystery, Canaan’s Gate, will be released by St. Martin’s Press on April 27.