Boomer author bets on boomer readers

As the boomer generation, we have never let other generations define us and we’re not about to start now. That’s what Vicky Phillips of Underhill, Vermont, is all about. Vicky writes under the pen name, Daisy Pettles.  She saw a vacuum in books with baby boomer protagonists, and is trying to fill it. We’re impressed with her story. Hope you will be too.

I turn 60 this year and my mother is 84. We are both lifelong mystery readers, dating back to our shared love of Nancy Drew. But although we grew up, Nancy did not.

Writer Vicky Phillips

In some mother-daughter phone chats last winter we found ourselves in need of new authors to read. We both craved older, adventurous, female protagonists. My mother suggested that since I had retired from a career as an internet marketer, I head back to the keyboard and pound out some stories.

Being of the mind that if there’s a problem, I ought to act to create a solution— a great notion from the 1960s and 70s— I took my mom up on the challenge and researched the marketplace.

I was puzzled by the dearth of older characters. Baby boomer readers are a mighty tribe. This is especially true in the mystery genre. In fact, a 2010 study of readers by Sisters in Crime, which supports mystery writers, found that 67% of mystery readers are women. Moreover, a whopping 71% of these are age 50 or older.

In contrast, the average age of a mystery leading lady is 33. I immediately decided there is a need for novels that better reflect my demographic, as well as my mother’s.

Alas, the publishing industry disagreed. I pitched the idea to American publishers. Each time, they “loved the writing,” but declined the series with a note that my characters were “simply too old.” Make them young and we’ll gladly rep you, I was told.

After several months of rejection I decided I was the right woman to take a risk on this new niche. The result, a year later, is The Shady Hoosier Detective Agency. Book 1 of the series, The Ghost Busting Mystery, features detectives-in-training whose ages, 67 and 71, fall far outside the 30-something range favored by publishers. I founded Hot Pants Press and adopted the pen-name Daisy Pettles to develop entertainment for boomer women.

Both my mother and I worked for a living, so we decided to model our protagonists on women much the same as us. Studies show that Americans age 60 and over are not retiring, some out of necessity, but many by choice. In The Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, the protagonists are lifelong friends who share a house and a 1960 Chevy. One in particular, named Veenie, has been a lifelong snoop. The other, Ruby Jane, has great computer and research skills. For them, the decision to work again is both a way to supplement their incomes and a way to exercise their innate curiosity.

I believe there is pent up demand for older, upbeat female characters. Back in the 80’s, the most successful TV drama was the “Golden Girls,” about five widowed women 55+ sharing a home and laughter.

My goal is to update the mystery novel to better serve this core reading demographic, by creating books that mirror my life and the evolving lives of boomer women. I don’t think there has ever been a more active generation of women. Our literature should reflect that.

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Ghost Busting Mystery, the first book in Daisy Pettles’ new boomer mystery series, is available as a 99 cents ebook download. It may also be purchased in print form from ($10.99) from Amazon.

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13 Comments

  1. Great idea which I had planned to do. When I asked my writing group who I could fashion my protagonist after and they said, “YOU!” I’m 76 this year and I suppose I would have an even tougher time selling my books. But people of age are doing amazing things these days. Brava to Vicky for jumping out there.

    1. Hi Kaye,
      We have a lot of 60+ members here in Vermont in the Burlington Writer’s Group. I attend when I can and was lucky that they have a manuscript exchange program as well as writing classes. There’s a lot to learn to both write and market the work but it’s a lot of fun and I just try and learn something new every day and write each day also. Go for it!

  2. I totally agree with you Vicky about the lack of good books aimed at our generation. I’m a fan of the romance genre and am quite weary of the overwhelming dominance of that genre by the 20- and 30-somethings with perfect bodies. Almost without exception, romance stories include nothing but “beautiful women” and “handsome men” protagonists.

    My theory about the bias in the romance publishing industry is that many of the editors themselves are in that younger age group and, thus, aren’t able to relate to stories of older people. Perhaps the idea of boomers being romantic offends them. Maybe the same is true for mystery editors. It’s a fact that age bias based on false assumptions exists in our culture in so many hidden ways. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s true for the publishing business as well.

    1. Hi Mary Jo, I agree that romance is very age fixated. I was shocked at how age-phobic all the pulp genre niches were, especially when it came to older women. Every pitch I made was the same” “no old characters.” Most editors added to that, “they are boring.” The age bias is doubly odd given that readers in this country are older and largely female to boot. No mind … time for a change

  3. Vicky, that’s a great idea! I think you’ll find help, support and some good tips for writing and marketing in our Boomer Lit Group in Goodreads. I founded that group back in 2013 when I wrote Crimson Clouds, a “boomer lit” novel featuring a man, recently retired, in his sixties. I think that’s where I made the mistake: I should have picked a female protagonist! Particularly as I am a woman myself and much of the book was inspired by my own experience (both as a manager and artist-painter). Oh well, so be it! I think you might be luckier because adventurous females draw readers for sure, adventurous males leave them cold unless it’s Patterson writing! The Boomer Lit group’s address if you care to visit (there are close to 700 members): https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/81261-boomer-lit-novels-short-fiction-memoirs-and-more
    And you have a list of Best Boomer Lit Books (Listopia) here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/40709.Best_Boomer_Lit_Books When you’re done with your novel, you add it here!

    In case you wonder why you can’t find me, please note I used my pen name for all this: Claude Nougat.

    1. Great tips, Claude. Thanks. I am active on Goodreads and NetGalley so I’ll certainly look up the Boomer group there and see what people are reading and thinking. ook 1 — Ghost Busting Mystery, is out now and available on Amazon as an ebook as well as all the other retail sites and in print through Ingram and Indie Bound. We shall see!

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