I took the advice on agent blogs and web sites that encourage writers to know their genre by reading other books that are out there.
I have been reading the classics since I was twelve. I fell in love with Milton, Chaucer, Hawthorne, Dickens, Poe, Austen, Steinbeck, Faulkner. Did I mention Milton? Few things give me as much pleasure as Book I of Paradise Lost. I highly recommend it. The personification of Satan is priceless.
I haven't read much in the way of women's literature since my women's lit classes in college about twenty years ago. So I did a search on Amazon and ordered a stack of books (real ones, the paper kind, which apparently only cost about two dollars more than the virtual kind).
The first on the list was Kathryn Stockett's The Help. I couldn't put it down and devoured it in three days. When I finished the last word in the last chapter, it was past 1 AM. This is the best book I've read since To Kill a Mockingbird.
On Thursday, I picked up Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. I saw the movie when it came out but don't remember much of it. By page 46, I had cried three times. I was so upset by it, I couldn't tell my daughter why I was crying when she asked. All I could do was hold up the book while I wiped my tears. I don't like books that make me cry, but I couldn't put it down.
I had several moments reading both books where I felt completely inferior as a writer, as if my weaknesses had a flashlight shining on them.
Instead of feeling like I should give up, like I can never measure up, like maybe I suck, I feel like rolling up my sleeves and putting the work into my stories to make them equally awesome. I think my novels are good, but now I want them to be great. I want people to read my novels, hand them to someone else, and say, "You've got to read this!" How cool would that be?
It's definitely time to get to work.
What books have inspired you to be a better writer?