A couple of years ago, I was in between projects and found myself wanting to write another middle grade novel. When I say "another," understand I had written a couple, years ago, that eventually became drawer novels. I now call them my schooling!
My most cherished memories of books and reading are from that time when I was 8-12 years old. Even today, as much as I love young adult novels, it is often a wonderful mid-grade novel that sticks with me. I think I’ve mentioned my adoration of Kate DiCamillo before. I recently read THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT, and as soon as I shut the book, I turned to page one and started to read again. Another recent middle-grade book that I loved: Barbara O’Connor’s THE SMALL ADVENTURE OF POPEYE AND ELVIS. Two very different books, in both subject matter and tone, but both touched my heart, as the best books do, I suppose.
So, I wanted to do that. I wanted to write a middle-grade book that would touch a reader’s heart. But mostly, I wanted to write about something happy, FOR MYSELF! My young adult novels, while ultimately ending in hope, are sad, and at times, dark. I needed to write something different. Something that the book-loving ten-year-old girl inside of me would love. Would it be published? I probably hoped so, but mostly, I just wanted to have FUN writing a book without any thoughts or worries of the outcome.
Driving home from work one day, I was brainstorming ideas, as I often do when I’m in the car. And I thought – what’s something that just the mention of the word makes people, including me, happy? That’s when cupcakes came to mind. Cupcake shops have become pretty popular in the past few years, so I thought, how fun to set a story in or around a cupcake shop.
As I wrote the story, characters came to me who made me smile. A barber who loves to tell knock-knock jokes. A grandma who has a thing for hats and loves to share stories about the famous people she’s met over the years. An artist who understands the healing power of art. In YA, you have to be careful about quirky characters. Too much, and you will turn readers off. But in MG? I think younger readers enjoy them, when they aren’t too far over the top.
Yet, all the while, amongst the fun characters and happy cupcakes, my main character, Isabel, was struggling. Struggling to keep her mom encouraged about the cupcake shop she was opening. Struggling to figure out a way to make her dream of traveling come true. Struggling to not be envious of her best friend, Sophie, who seemed to get everything she wanted.
Because as much as I wanted to write a happy book, we all know a completely happy main character isn’t going to make a good story. Nor is it going to be very realistic.
Still, I did what I set out to do - the book was so fun to write. I loved hanging out with the characters. I loved seeing the cupcake shop come to life. I loved researching cupcake flavors and tying a different flavor into each chapter and coming up with cute little sayings to go with them.
It was exactly what I needed at the time.
Sometimes, as an author, I think it’s easy to get caught up in trying to write the next big thing, trying to write what will sell, trying to please everyone but ourselves. I'm not saying we shouldn't keep those things in mind when we're thinking about our careers. But once in awhile, if we need to write something for ourselves, if we need to write something *without* thinking of any of that, but just to find the joy in writing, it's okay to give ourselves permission to do it.
I wrote this book, first and foremost, for me. And I have to say, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.Yes, my first middle grade novel, IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, is released today! Now I just hope that lots of kids enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it!!