What secrets are the elderly in your life hiding?
When you look at the elderly, what do you see?
Someone fragile and frail with wrinkled, shaking hands?
Someone with a longer list of things they can't do than a list of what they can?
Someone near death, harmless, and washed up?
In many cultures, the elderly are revered and respected...but I would argue that in American culture, the elderly are often overlooked, forgotten, and discounted.
I think often about how frustrating that must be. Because behind those fading eyes and those shaking hands, there is a person with a history that they haven't necessarily forgotten. Behind that elderly person's eyes are stories, regrets, memories, fears, sorrows, rejections, and guilt. There is a lifetime of living....and a lifetime of choices.
When I started writing first romance and then thriller, I was drawn to this idea. I tend to write stories centered around emotions. I want to dig into the gritty, raw feelings of life, even if they're hard to face. No, especially if they're hard to face.
Aging provides a perfect backdrop to all sorts of heavy emotions.
I think the second reason I wanted to write about the elderly in my thrillers is because it just seemed like an exciting idea. I know, I know....it seems like a terrible match to write a thriller about someone who is aged. Aren't thrillers supposed to feature the young, vibrant, sexy leads?
For me, the answer was: not necessarily.
I started thinking about the fact that darkness lurks in everyone, and that regrets and guilt probably play the loudest near the ends of our lives. Thus, I started imagining characters whose bodies perhaps were declining but their sinister minds were still intact. What would it be like to be a villain with malicious plots and desires....but a failing body? How would it feel to be trapped by physical limitations? And most of all, what secrets are harbored behind those eyes we assume are nothing but innocent?
An aged person often becomes a different persona in our minds. We look at an aged person with unassuming viewpoints. We stereotype them in our heads. Elderly equals calm, frail, and sweet. Elderly equals slowing down and innocent. The elderly are paragons of morality in our minds.
But I wanted to ask the question: Are they really? What secret desires, guilt, and frustrations could be lurking in an overlooked and misjudged group of the population? What sinister capabilities could they still be hiding?
And, above all, how would the fact that no one would suspect an elderly person of something evil and malevolent play into the story?
These were the reasons I wrote my debut novel, The Widow Next Door, the way I did. I've had some reviewers comment that the tale was too depressing because of the age of the protagonist. Others found it boring to follow an elderly woman's point of view in a thriller. I get that. It's not typical. It's not expected, and it may not even be desired by some.
But I also know this is the story I felt compelled to tell because it was the story that spoke to me. The widow isn't the typical thriller protagonist--and I'm more than okay with that. Because I think the tale she tells can open our eyes to the way we look at aging and to the way we look at our own physical demise.
Her story forces us to tap into our darkest, deepest versions of ourselves and ask: When I'm older, what regrets will haunt me? And what parts of my true self will perhaps unearth themselves?
It's a question terrifying in its own right, and its a question I was happy to explore.
What do you think? Do you think the elderly can house dark secrets? Do you think a thriller can feature an elderly protagonist? Let me know in the comments.
Stay Safe and Be True,
L. A. Detwiler is an English teacher and a thriller author with Avon Books, HarperCollins UK. Her debut novel, The Widow Next Door, is available now. Be sure to click the button below to connect with her on Facebook and learn more about her upcoming novels, appearances, and more.
USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door