Write This Way
River Park author pens popular books
By Seth Sandronsky
Necessity can spur literary creativity. Just ask Marilyn Reynolds, an author and retired high school teacher who lives in River Park.
As a teacher at what she calls a “last chance” high school in Southern California between the 1970s and 1990s, Reynolds faced a classroom dilemma. Most of her at-risk students did not want to read. Suggesting classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Pearl” failed to change the situation.
Reynolds persisted (a quality that would prove to be more than a teaching tool for her underserved students).
“I wanted them to gain the breadth and freedom that can come through reading,” Reynolds says. “Giving them a reading habit would be the gift of a lifetime.”
Consider one of Reynolds’ students. “A very withdrawn girl,” she says. “Although never disrespectful, she refused to read. I could not find anything for her.”
At that time, Reynolds was drafting her first young adult novel called “Telling,” the story of a 12-year-old girl who is being sexually molested by a neighbor. She later shared it with her students.
They easily connected with the story, Reynolds notes. In fact, her very reluctant reader plowed through the manuscript. It resonated with her because, as the student revealed in a subsequent book report, she had long kept secret her own similar experience. (Reynolds connected the girl with a trusted counselor.)
The same student became an avid reader, and a bellwether for readers attracted to Reynolds’ gritty teen fiction. “I knew that I had something important to offer,” she says.
Publishers did not get the memo. Reynolds did not give up. She persisted. “Telling” was finally published after 23 rejections and became the first of 11 books in Reynolds’ popular “True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High.”
These novels flesh out teen pregnancy, rape, racism, abortion, school failure, lack of family support, sexual-identity crises and mixed-race heritage. Her most recent book, “Eddie’s Choice,” deals with white supremacy and racist bullying on a high school campus.
Critics have lauded the story, noting its appeal to a teen audience. “Today’s high school readers will understand and engage with these characters and their problems,” writes a reviewer for Manhattan Book Review.
Reynolds is also the author of “‘Til Death or Dementia Do Us Part,” which chronicles her caregiving journey with Mike, her musician husband, from his 2009 diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia until his death in 2014. On a lighter note, she also penned a collection of personal essays, “Over Seventy and I Don’t Mean MPH.”
Writers write, but at different places and times in their lives, as personal conditions change. Reynolds, as a fulltime teacher, wrote her first two books in the evenings and on weekends. Later in retirement, her writing routine shifted from mid-mornings to early afternoons.
Writers are also readers. As a youth, Reynolds mostly read Nancy Drew mystery books. “I was not a sophisticated reader,” she says. Today, Reynolds enjoys reading fiction authors such as Kate Atkinson, Daniel Mason, Elizabeth Stroud and Anne Tyler. In the nonfiction category, she prefers Mary Roach, Susan Orlean and The New Yorker magazine.
Reynolds is not one to rest on her past work. Her next writing project is generations from young adult fiction.
She has begun a novel with an 84-year-old woman protagonist. “I guess that I have switched from writing young adult fiction to old adult fiction,” she says with a laugh. There is a symmetry of sorts there.
In sum, readers’ responses to her work are a big factor in Reynolds honing her craft, one idea and word at a time. Nobody achieves success, literary or otherwise, without help. To this end, Reynolds gives a maximum shout out to the robust and nurturing community of Sacramento writers, and to local publishers New Wind Publishing and River Rock Books.
“Nothing compares with the experience of going to the mailbox or opening my email and finding a message from a faraway reader telling me how one of my stories has, in some way large or small, affected that person’s life,” Reynolds says. “No one could ask for more.”
Seth Sandronsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.