A Gift from the Pandemic
First, a list. After the list, why it’s included. Most important: I saved this list for you.
Kira-Kira – Cynthia Kadohata (2004)
The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane – Kate O’Shaughnessy (2020)
Holes – Louis Sachar (1998)
Hello from Renn Lake – Michelle Hurwitz (2020)
Ban this Book! – Alan Gratz (2019)
Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter – Carmella Van Vleet (2015)
You Go First – Erin Entrada Kelly (2018)
Small Medium at Large – Joanne Levy (2015)
The Best at It – Maulik Pancholy (2019)
A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (2019)
Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera (2014)
The List of Things That Will Not Change – Rebecca Stead (2020)
Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim (2020)
Pie in the Sky – Remi Lai (2019)
The Honest Truth – Dan Gemeinhart (2015)
Shouting at the Rain – Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2020)
Ruby Holler – Sharon Creech (2012)
She Loves You – Ann Hood (2019)
See You in the Cosmos – Jack Cheng (2018)
Just Under the Clouds – Melissa Sarno (2019)
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl – Stacy McAnulty (2019)
Front Desk – Kelly Yang (2019)
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World – Ashley Herring Blake (2019)
One for the Murphys – Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2013)
Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life – Shelley Tougas (2017)
A Handful of Stars – Cynthia Lord (2015)
For me, the “close down” portion of the pandemic happened Friday, March 13. I began working at home and a week later was laid off. I knew at that moment two things had to happen: (1) I had to stay home; (2) I had always wanted to write middle-grade fiction full-time and now was my chance.
I checked my list of purchased books I hadn’t read and ordered a bunch of Kindle because I was afraid to go to a bookstore. I made a detailed list, got my mask (I already had some from my work), went to the grocery store and spent $400. It took almost three months to go through a tank of gas, I stayed home so much.
Almost all my reading is middle-grade fiction. In 26 weeks I read 26 #MG books. The only reason this reading list isn’t heroic is because I live in rural mountains now and wifi is at early 2000s level. I can’t stream a thing. Ask me what I’ve watched from Netflix, HBOGo, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Nothing. Nada. That list is blank. I almost feel like I should still have the Prodigy software.
This isn’t to brag. I don’t normally even keep a list of what I read, after I discovered I’ve had this bad habit of collecting way too much narcissistic information.
The list is here to share this important lesson: when you really read your writing genre, you rapidly advance your education. These are traditionally-published books: big houses, highly-literate agents, deep-knowledge editors. As you read, you see all the things a writer must do: sharpen a character arc; view a relationship in a fisheye lens to deepen it; condense time or stretch it further; build scenes not with what you wrote, but with what you thought.
In the end what you publish with traditional publishers is something that is you. You will sell when you’ve honed your craft, plunged your mind for every last way to portray the characters and scenes, and can honestly answer, “THIS is why I am the best person to tell THIS story.”
You’re already writing. Let the enjoyable act of reading teach you too. Look for the good books in your genre that interest you. Buy them and read them. LOTS of them.