The Memory Project
Off the top of my head, natural (Johnny Ketchum)

TMP: Thirty
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I stole this from Karen at First Offenders. But her post about being thirty got me wondering -- if forty is the new thirty, why is it that there are so many bright young twenty-somethings writing crime novels these days, or trying to? When I started out, Dennis Lehane was, at 30, the youngest guy in the room, with Sujata Massey clearly the youngest gal. The other "youngsters" included Harlan Coben, Steve Hamilton, Rick Riordan and, well, me -- all thirtysomething IIRC.

I have a theory about this. In the 1980s, Vintange Books, flush with the success of Bright Lights, Big City, published a lot of wonderful paperback originals, including the work of James Crumley. I know that Coben, Lehane, Hamilton and George Pelecanos read Crumley (as did I) and I have a hunch that Michael Connelly may have as well. But crime fiction was still largely ghetto-ized, so serious young writers took fliers on more literary forms. I know I did, at least. Others, such as Pelecanos, might have always set their sights on crime fiction, but waited until the relative sedateness of their thirties to start writing. At any rate, there are a lot of Crumley-ites in our generation, too many to be mere coincidence.

I think the critical success of writers such as Connelly, Lehane and Pelecanos, among others, legitimized crime fiction in the minds of younger writers in the 90s and now the aughts. So instead of spending their 20s on the Not-so-Great American Novel, they're trying genre. I'm thinking of Bryon Q., Dave White, Sarah Weinman and even Duane S. (Although 34, Duane earns young artist status because he also managed to marry and have two young children.)

I spent my 30th birthday flying to Mexico, where I had a three-month fellowship to study Spanish. Wait -- memory errs. I traveled two days earlier than my birthday, according to the journal I kept. ("Took about eight hours door to door," I wrote, sitting on the street outside the home of my host family, who wasn't there when I arrived. "After the bad weather in San Antonio, everything seemed simple. Of course, I understood very little of what was going on: first taxi driver's Spanish was virtually incomprehensible; I had no idea how things worked at the bus station, so I just had to find someone else with an 11:40 ticket and follow them.") I wrote again the next day, describing Cuernavaca as "dirty by my standards, but clean by the standards of a Mexican city . . . Even the trees overhanding the barranca (ravine) are full of refuse." But my 30th birthday went unacknowledged. I had told my friends back home that my birthday wouldn't count in Mexico. And, unlike all these bright young people I've listed above, I don't remember having any career goals. I had come to Mexico with the goal of completing a long short story, but I never finished it. I started a novel, but abandoned it. I did, however, sort out my career ambitions while I was there, deciding that I wanted to land a job at a newspaper in Baltimore or Chicago, a goal I realized within three months of returning to San Antonio.

I did however, set a goal of finishing the first draft of my first novel by age 35, and I managed that. Just. I finished the book that year and it was sold while I was 36. The book was published days before I turned 38. In hindsight, that looks pretty fast. But I know it felt like anything but.

What age milestones have you set for yourself? What birthdays stand out for you? What goals have you realized? What ones have you let go, and why? What's you're next big goal for yourself?

(Yeah, my hands are getting better and I'm enjoying the quiet before the storm of publication. Can you tell?)

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