How I Reinvented Myself at 60

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Author Jeanne Ray is living proof that it’s never too late to live your dreams. Here, she tells how she became a bestselling writer—a fantasy she’d shelved as a child—in her 60s. Ray’s fifth novel, Calling Invisible Women, is on sale May 22.

I would guess that nearly every little girl from my generation wanted to be either a dancer or a writer. I wanted both, but I was born to the wrong parents. They felt that I should have a skill I could count on to support me in any dire situation. They weren’t adverse to school post high school, but were unable to see the benefit of four years of college. And I, as genetics would have it, was not one to rattle their cages. (What happened to nice little kids like me?)

So I chose nursing. I had read some Hemingway by then, and nurses seemed to have pretty glamorous roles. Besides, I am a natural born caretaker, and I loved the starchy white uniform with the navy and red cape. It certainly satisfied some need in me, and I did it for 40 years, happily.

All that time, however, as I married and worked and had my babies and worked I did two things in my “spare” time. I read everything I could find, and I wrote poems and the occasional short story. I read to my children, and I found more and more that I read critically to myself. I was teaching myself to write by learning what pleased and moved me in other people’s writing.

Then the day came (in 1998) when I was 60 years old and happier that I’d ever been. I had a great job, a beautiful house and a loving husband. It was then that I saw a magazine cover that stated, “SEX, BEAUTY, HEALTH AT 30, 40, 50.” It flew all over me. I had all those things and more, and I was 60. Now that’s old news, but then I was shocked and angry. Angry enough to write a novel about attractive, passionate people who fall in love over 60.

I had read Romeo and Juliet somewhere along the way, and I read it again. It seemed to me to be the perfect plot for a story about two older people who fall in love despite a history of family hatred and the flack they have to endure from former spouses, parents, children and grandchildren. I hoped it could be funny, poignant and romantic while always revealing the intelligence and wisdom of these two “senior citizens.”

I wrote at night and worked during the day as a nurse. I told no one. When I had about 150 pages, I asked my daughter, Ann Patchett, to look it over and make suggestions. She read it and made some vital technical suggestions which I implemented. And, when it was finished, Ann asked her agent to read it–a huge gift. Her agent liked it, and it went up for auction. Random House bought it. Barbra Streisand optioned it for a movie. They called me at work to let me know. It was nearly more than I could bear. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

This sounds like a fairy tale, but it really happened to me. I had a lot of advantages along the way, but some pretty big trials as well. My biggest advantage (besides Ann) is the fact that I never stopped reading, and reading became my teacher, my mentor. It still is. And being a nurse for 40 years didn’t hurt either.

Learn more about Jeanne Ray.

 


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