BH Interview: Author Barbara Rose Brooker on Sex, Ageism and Why Hollywood Mistreats Betty White
When Barbara Rose Brooker began writing her first book she recalled a note written years earlier from a professor who said she had the talent to be a serious writer. Brooker simultaneously discounted friends and family who were, to put it bluntly, less supportive.
“They all thought I was crazy,” Brooker tells Big Hollywood.
Crazy or not, Brooker completed and published her first book at the age of 50. Now, she’s the author of the popular novel “The Viagra Diaries,” an unblinking account of sex in your golden years currently in development at HBO for a possible series.
She wasn’t considering fame or financial rewards when she decided, late in life, to give writing a try. For Brooker, it simply meant following through on a goal she had neglected for decades. "Diaries" cemented her status as an author, but it wasn’t easy getting the respect of the publishing world.
“No agent would read it,” she recalls, saying ageism is rampant in the country. So she went the self-publishing route, and suddenly readers were contacting her about the novel’s 70-year-old protagonist, Anny Applebaum.
“I was amazed at the response, the emails I was getting from men and women,” she says. “They love the sex in it.”
Now, Simon Schuster is set to publish a revised edition of “The Viagra Diaries” April 30, 2013, and her next book, a stand-alone tome called “Should I Sleep in His Dead Wife’s Bed,” will hit book stores later that year.
Many of the issues Anny faces in “The Viagra Diaries” will sound familiar to 20-somethings – like fear of commitment. That doesn’t leave Brooker pessimistic about sex in your senior years. She takes the position Anny herself does – be in charge of your own life.
“She makes her own choices … she doesn’t give in to the ancient fallacies about age. She fights that and she wins for herself,” she says.
Brooker understands that for every story like “The Viagra Diaries” there are many more examples in pop culture of seniors behaving badly. Consider the sassy roles written for Betty White, for example, or films where the trash talking granny is mean simply score cheap laughs.
“I adore Betty White … it’s not her fault. It’s how Hollywood and the networks view age. They make jokes about of it. They make many [older] people look silly trying to be so young and cool instead of being who they are,” she says.
Brooker isn’t actively involved in HBO’s development of “Diaries,” a project which once had Goldie Hawn attached to star. The late-in-life author is still hopeful Hollywood will turn around its thinking regarding seniors, especially as the Baby Boomers enter that age bracket. She points to the success of films like this year's “Hope Springs” and the 2003 dramedy “Something’s Gotta Give” as proof there’s a market for love stories aimed at an older generation.
“The Boomers are expanding … the population is expanding ... the issues are the same,” she says.
Brooker routinely gives talks across the country on ageing and her newfound fame, and she comes across plenty of kindred spirits.
"I’ve met the coolest women in their 70s and 80s," she says, women whose dreams got "tucked under their pantyhose" but now want to explore them anew.
“Never give up the dream. It’s with you all the time, in adversity … in trauma,” she says. Frustrated writers need only take five minutes a day to put something down on paper or the computer screen. That's how she succeeded at long last.
"I kept writing … and when I finally did publish it felt like I was married for the first time .. it was wonderful," she says.