Are you ever too old for success? Not according to author and astrologer Barbara Shafferman, whose first novel was published shortly after she turned 70. "THE PRESIDENT'S ASTROLOGER," published last December to enthusiastic reviews, was recently named one of three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award for fiction/drama, given by the Publishers Marketing Association.
In a recent interview, Ms. Shafferman talked about her early life challenges and her late-in-life literary success.
Madkane: When did you begin writing, and why?
Shafferman: From the time I first learned to read, I regarded the people who created these wonderful stories as some sort of gods. When I discovered I could put words together effectively, I dared to dream of writing. However, circumstances kept me from writing seriously until about ten years ago.
Madkane: What delayed your writing career?
Shafferman: I was busy raising a developmentally disabled daughter and fighting for the rights of the handicapped whose needs were not being met. I spent most of my "free" time as an advocate for the mentally handicapped, helping to improve educational and recreational programs. So my writing was limited to newsletters and letters to politicians.
Madkane: How did you branch out into other types of writing?
Shafferman: In the summer of 1972 when my daughter was away at a camp for children with special needs, I had some unaccustomed spare time. A local college was offering an extension course on astrology, and by the time I finished the course, I was hooked. Although it seemed incredibly complicated and I thought I would never master it, astrology was the most fascinating subject I had ever encountered. So, when my daughter's needs were met and I finally had the time to write, I produced articles on the subject I knew best, astrology. I never lost the desire to write fiction, however, and after I had some success with short stories, I found the courage to attempt a novel. "THE PRESIDENT'S ASTROLOGER" is the result.
Madkane: Tell us just a little about the plot.
Shafferman: It's a political thriller set in the year 2006 about an astrologer working for the President of the United States, who stumbles onto a plot to unseat the President.
Madkane: How did you come up with the idea?
Shafferman: I was fascinated with the public furor over Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer and I read everything about it. Its potential for a novel must have germinated deep in my subconscious, because about four years later I woke up one morning thinking what a great idea that would be for a political thriller. The title, THE PRESIDENT'S ASTROLOGER, followed immediately. Then it just became a matter of working out the characters and the plot.
Madkane: You make it sound so simple. What challenges did you face in writing your novel and getting it published?
Shafferman: The toughest part for me wasn't the writing. It was trying to find an agent. It's difficult to get a reputable agent, because they're usually too busy to take a chance with an unpublished author. In fact, I didn't find a suitable agent and finally sold it myself to Llewellyn Publications.
Madkane: Now that it's been named a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist, I'll bet some of those agents who turned you down are sorry.
Shafferman: I sure hope so. But there's still time if any agent is reading this. I'm almost done with my second novel and I'll be looking for representation once again.
Madkane: Something tells me finding an agent won't be a problem the second time around. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Shafferman: I'd like to emphasize the importance of not getting discouraged. The people who work hard at sending out their work to markets they have researched carefully do eventually get published. Also, it's important not to work in a vacuum. Try to find a writer's group to join both where you live and through the Internet. Participants can give valuable critiques and suggestions, and provide broad shoulders on which to cry when rejections seem overwhelming.
Madkane: Do you have any other words of wisdom to share with our viewers?
Shafferman: I believe that the mind and spirit do not age along with the body. They merely mature and mellow. That book, painting, quilt, foreign language--whatever special project you've always been dying to try--is still there, stored safely away, just waiting for you. The good news is that the older you get, the more time you'll have to devote to it. Go for it.
Madkane: Finally, where can our viewers buy your book?
Shafferman: Most major book chains carry it, or they can buy it at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Books.com and other online book stores.
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