Writer at 79: ‘Pursue the skinny little dream cavorting in your head’

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79-year-old writer Doris Reidy's route to publishing.Doris Reidy is publishing her 10th novel after she initially published her first at 72.She’s best known for her light, funny and often touching books featuring Mrs. Entwhistle, an energetic widow of 80. .After initially going the traditional agent route, Reidy decided to publish independently. .I find people my age are often presented as caricatures. Our society values youth to the point that the very word “old” has become a pejorative. Elders are too often portrayed one-dimensionally as eccentric, inept or feeble, Doris Reidy to Reporter Newspapers for the AJC

Doris Reidy doesn’t like to waste time, and she hopes other people feel the same way.

“I think this is the place where I say it’s never too late, but let’s face it. Sometimes it is too late. Bodies wear out, brains blow a fuse, and sorrow whittles a person down to a nub. So, if you want to do it, whatever it is, do it now.”

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She’s a perfect embodiment of her own advice and of the saying “write what you know.” An energetic widow of 79, she’s about to publish her 10th novel—and she didn’t publish her first until she was 72. She’s best known for her light, funny and often touching books featuring Mrs. Entwhistle, an energetic widow of 80. A chat with her reveals a lively mind, a realistic but optimistic outlook, and a dry sense of humor.

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Doris Reidy published her first novel at age 72.

Credit: Reporter News

Doris Reidy published her first novel at age 72.

Credit: Reporter News

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Doris Reidy published her first novel at age 72.

Credit: Reporter News

Credit: Reporter News

Q: Tell us about your background.

I’m a transplanted Hoosier and have lived in the same house in Cobb County for the past 48 years. That makes me about a native, but not quite. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s I wrote non-fiction articles for papers and magazines. It’s a lot like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer—it feels so good when you stop. When I opted for a regular paycheck I became the executive assistant to the CEO of a large hospital system, and then assistant to the mayor of Marietta, I retired early to care for my husband who was seriously ill.

Q: How did you get started as a writer?

A: You mean other than in third grade when my poem about fairies dancing in the moonlight made the local paper? Honestly, it was torture getting published as a freelancer for periodicals. I only persisted because I thought I couldn’t write fiction and I had to write something. The very first article I sold was to Andy Sparks at the AJC Sunday magazine. It was about a belly dancer, and I went to a class and participated in the name of research. Then I wrote book reviews of true crime books.

Q: How did you transition to fiction?

A: After my husband was stable and life settled down, I decided to write a novel to see if I could. I’d always said firmly that I lacked the imagination to write fiction, preferred to deal in facts, and didn’t know where to start. I told no one what I was doing, including my husband and our three adult children. It felt like my personal secret mission. There were no witnesses to my mistakes, but also no one to show me how to do better.

Q: What changed?

A: When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come, and at that point I met a wonderful writing teacher, Josh Langston. Josh is an accomplished, successful novelist and shared his expertise generously with beginners. Something he said in class changed everything for me as a writer: “A plot starts with a person in a place with a problem.” A cartoon light bulb lit up in my brain—’Of course! I can do that!’ When I was widowed after 52 years of marriage, writing became my refuge.

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Q: How did Mrs. Entwhistle come about?

A. She started life in a short story, but she was having none of that and insisted on taking the lead in a series of novels. She’s the character that most appeals to readers. She’s a composite of my mother, a strong Southern woman, and maybe a dab of me. The first book, “Mrs. Entwhistle,” is a collection of connected stories, as is the fourth book, “Many Happy Returns, Mrs. Entwhistle.” The rest are conventional novels. There’s a cast of recurring characters, including Maxine, her best friend, and Roger, her dog.

Q: Does Mrs. Entwhistle progress well into the modern age?

A: She does okay with her cellphone but has a love-hate relationship with her computer. She remains unhip and unrepentant throughout the series. One thing I hear consistently from my readers is that she reminds them of their moms or grandmas. I’m mindful of stasis as I write her, and one of the ways I keep her moving is by getting her involved with young characters.

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Reidy's novels focus on Mrs. Entwhistle, an energetic widow of 80.

Credit: Reporter News

Reidy's novels focus on Mrs. Entwhistle, an energetic widow of 80.

Credit: Reporter News

Combined ShapeCaption
Reidy's novels focus on Mrs. Entwhistle, an energetic widow of 80.

Credit: Reporter News

Credit: Reporter News

Q: How do you think senior characters are portrayed in books?

A: I find people my age are often presented as caricatures. Our society values youth to the point that the very word “old” has become a pejorative. Elders are too often portrayed one-dimensionally as eccentric, inept or feeble. If feels like nobody’s listening when we say it ain’t so. My goal is to present Mrs. Entwhistle as a fully developed character who’s still equal to life’s challenges. The surest way to get her to do something is to suggest that maybe—at her age—she’d better not!

Q: Share with us how you got published.

A: As a late starter I had no time—literally—for the slow walk that is conventional publishing—where you query agents, wait to hear, get a nibble, submit a synopsis and the first chapter, wait again. Maybe you’ll get lucky and interest an agent who repeats the process with publishers while you wait to hear.

I went that route briefly with my first novel, “Five for the Money” and heard only crickets. So, I decided to publish independently. If you’re technically adept, it’s possible to format a manuscript, design a cover and publish a paperback on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, for zero dollars. Of course, if you want it to be good, you’ll want to pay for some professional help with editing and design.

There are more than 48 million titles available on Amazon, and to make mine visible I use global online ads, and price the books low enough to be an “oh, what the heck?” purchase. Some of my readers write reviews, and that connection is precious. I appreciate every single comment, even the negative ones.

Q: Any final words from you or Mrs. Entwhistle?

A: Do it now. Pursue the skinny little dream that’s cavorting around in your head—what have you got to lose? That dream may beef up and propel you in a direction you never imagined.

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Credit: Reporter Newspapers

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Credit: Reporter Newspapers

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Today’s story comes from our partner, Reporter Newspapers. Reporter Newspapers publishes free, community newspapers in Brookhaven, Buckhead, Dunwoody, and Sandy Springs. Visit them online at ReporterNewspapers.com or on Instagram @Reporter_News.

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