Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Who are you calling old?

Here’s a post at Kill Zone Blog: Just Who Are You Calling Old?

Some readers snicker at Ellery Queen’s description of the “elderly” Inspector Queen who was “not yet 60.” The dynamic mystery writing duo were young whippersnappers of 29 when they created Inspector Queen.


To be fair, I thought 60 was ancient when I was in my 20s. Now, not so much.

I bet many of us can identify! Why, I remember … many years ago … figuring out how old my twin and I would be in the year 2000. Wow, that seemed old! (We were mere children when I figured this out).

I don’t believe I ever thought, “Hmm, which means that in 2020 I will be twenty years older than that.

Nor, today, do I think much about how old I will be in 2040. I really prefer not to think about that. I will just say that 50 does not seem old to me anymore and sure enough, if a character was described as “elderly” at sixty, I would wonder what was physically wrong with that character to create that impression.

So just how old do you want to make a senior character in your novel?

[F]inally, if your chance of dying within the next year is 4 percent or higher, you might be considered ‘very old’ or ‘elderly.’ . . . This threshold for men increased from about 65 in the 1920s to 76 today. So men are “old” at 76. …
women today transition out of middle age around 65, a number that has increased from the late 40s in the 1920s. ‘Old’ for women today is about 73, which increased from the late 50s in the 1920s. And ‘very old’ today is about 80, an increase from about 67 in the 1920s.

I’ll buy that, for now, always in the hope and expectation that by the time I’m 80, that won’t actually seem old. Much less “very old.”

I will just mention, while we’re on the subject of age and aging, that Pippa is doing better this week. She was young for 14.825 years. Then she was suddenly old. Oh, she went gray a long time ago and by now all the colored areas have roaned out to much paler color than you’d see in a young Cavalier.

Even so, I would say that now, although she has specific physical problems, she is not actually “very old.” She is not frail, has not lost muscle tone, and in fact would still be young if her hearing and (especially) vision were better.

Last Saturday she went to the park and met a delightful, extroverted five-year-old child (plus parents). She’s been more mentally alert and physically vigorous ever since. I suspect I was wrong to keep her close to home and in calm environments. I think she really loved going out and meeting someone new. More frequent trips to the park are in her near future, and we’ll see how she does.

Here she is, contentedly snoozing after last week’s adventure.

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3 Comments Who are you calling old?

  1. Mary Beth

    Glad to hear about Pippa’s improvement!

    I can remember reading THE CURSE OF CHALION for the first time (15 years ago, maybe?), when Caz admits he’s 35, and thinking that was SO old. And now I’m 35 myself and still frequently looking for the adult in the room. Interesting paradigm shift. Caz has certainly done—and endured—a lot more in his time than I have, though.

  2. Elaine T

    Great news about Pippa!

    Mary Beth, I know, been there, too.
    Caz was probably physically aged by his various tortures, but still 35? Old?

    An older historical novel from the sixties labels a character in his mid-thirties middle-aged. Aging has changed a lot in the last 75 years.

  3. Rachel

    Well, you do remember that the response at one point, when Caz said he was thirty-five, was an astonished stare and “You don’t look well.” So he had indeed been seriously aged by his life.

    Still … yes, I am sure a lot of us wish we could magically be restored to a physical thirty-five. I sure do.

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