Feeling the Love at NCTE

This past weekend at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention was all about feeling the love. I know the motto was (Re) Inventing the Future of English, but that’s some title someone decided was necessary to give us direction. As if English teachers need any 🙂

For me, however, it was a trip of double-duty. I was there as an author and as an educator. Therefore, the experience was very symbolic of the differences in the two worlds in which I live, as well as the connections.

Prior to walking into the Hynes Convention Center, I had to stop at the Barnes and Noble in the mall to pick up a book suggested by my agent. While there, I just had to peek. Yup, there sat Dare Me, ready for purchase. I loved this fact.

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Following this, I walked the exhibit hall, checking out the publisher and vendor booths. There was an alarming amount of materials and software programs available for purchase. All of it geared toward making our lives as educators easier, and somehow capable of this (re) invention. These booths were sparsely populated. The English teachers that did dare, dodged sales pitches and tried to assess the products for their merit.

The publisher booths were not sparsely attended; they were packed. Albeit, many were giving away books, so that’s an obvious draw. And many had famous authors signing, another enormous plus. However, the lines for these booths told the real story. English teachers, who were spending days being told how to (re) everything within the classroom, were willing to spend time in line, waiting for a book and a moment with an author. That’s so very telling. Educators clearly understood the power of returning to a classroom with books, and especially those signed and dedicated to their students.

This I adore, because it doesn’t get much more basic than a class and kids and books. No (re) invention here. Just the foundational basics that are necessary and that work, with the bonus of a dedication––possibly a promise for what may be achieved by reading.

I too, stood in line. For Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight. It’s an excellent story of a teen who tries to cast off a label, but ultimately understands the futility in denying oneself ownership of who he is. Bill was wonderful. Happy to have a fellow author, but more happy to have me as a reader and teacher, willing to share his novel with students who might not necessarily find it otherwise. Yes, I totally love this combination.

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I love it almost as much as I love this next picture:

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Two of my colleagues, Laurie Berner and Kim Shell, attended the conference and texted me this picture while they were in between sessions. I love them for taking the time to check out the booth where my work was displayed and letting me know they cared. This is the perfect blend of my two worlds.

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I’m not going to lie; this is one of my favorite pics from the weekend: me signing away. My hour flew by, as I spoke with and signed for educators, excited to bring my work back to their students. All my books went, and I  can only hope that the students who read, remember to reach out to me afterward. I so want to hear their feedback. Because in spite of the audience of adults, I write for teens, and appreciate their insight.

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And look who showed up again. How could I not love this?

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And here is possibly the highlight of my event: meeting A.S. King. She has written some of the best YA lit I’ve read, and having the opportunity to say hey and have a picture taken with her was a true honor. But what I loved about this moment is two-fold. One, she actually knew who I was. I’m sorry, but that recognition went straight through me and I am positive I blushed form head to toe. Two, I loved the down-to-earth nature she possesses. I had heard that meeting her would be very chill, but it was more chill than I had imagined.

We had signings at the same time, so I made a bee line to her both, after mine, and there she was, talking away with another fan, like she had all the time in the world for us. And she gave us that time. I can only imagine how many students will now benefit from the teachers who picked up her work and will now gladly bring it back to their classrooms, full of praise for the author and her stories. THIS is exactly why educators need more if this experience. It changes the dynamic and makes books so much more authentic.

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My last event of the conference was a luncheon with teachers and a keynote address from Ishmael Beah, author of the memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, and the soon-to-be-released novel, Radiance of Tomorrow. The dichotomy of the event could not have been more striking. As educators we sat and talked about the highs and lows of the conference, from the CCLS to just what mixed-modal meant. We examined and considered the title of the weekend. And then Beah spoke.

His speech was beautiful, and within it was the promise of everything we as educators hope for: finding a better way through language.

However, Beah comes from an oral tradition culture. His writing is infused with such, as was his speech. And the irony for me was profound. Beah spoke of learning narrative structure and of how to be a good listener and ultimately practitioner of the tradition and upstanding member of the community through storytelling. That’s it. It all boiled down to the stories. Speaking them. Listening to them. And owning them in a way so that you could retell them.

And for me that struck such a chord. Because as an author and educator this is exactly what I’m trying to do. I want to write well enough so that readers are engaged. I want them to be so invested that they then take ownership of the story and share it with others, so that the process continues. The same holds true in education. Regardless of the delivery, the stories I tell via a lesson plan or that the students create on their own through an essay or a presentation, the concept remains. Learn how to love the story and it will become a part of you, and you will be a part of it, and in the process both will grow.

It’s funny that it took a conference about (re) invention to bring this to light. Because we’re already there, always have been. We just need to remember what that looks like.

So thank you to everyone I met. I hope you share my work, and I hope your students enjoy it, and allow it to inform them, and then pass it along. I hope their stories grow from mine.

Maybe we can all reinvent ourselves, just not through an artificial application, but through the very organic aspect of stories. What’s there not to love in this? 

 

 

Back Porch Writer Interview

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Kori Miller of Back Porch Writer, which is  a site dedicated to podcasts about all things writing. We spent a half hour talking about Young Adult literature, my books, and writing in general. If you have a half hour in which you’d like to listen to my insight about what I write and why I write it, please do so. Kori conducts a great interview and if you’re an author looking for some exposure, contact her. I had a blast.

Enjoy!

Listen: here

About that book ur hatin’ on…

Do you remember when you were a teen and you went online and found reviews of books before reading them? And you then blogged about them after reading?

Wait? What?

Forget what I just said, because if you’re roughly my age (35) or older, there was no internet until high school. Hell, there was no Internet; it was THE WORLD WIDE WEB. And we weren’t searching for book reviews.

However, today reviews abound. From the high-brow New York Times to the low-brow, one star, 20-word review on Amazon (that’s the minimum required), and all the blogs in between. In spite of all of the awesomeness that is the internet, this portal to, well, everything, do you know which reviews teens read?

None.

All right, not none, but I wanted to be dramatic. If any, they’ll read Amazon. Maybe, they’ll read Goodreads reviews, if a friend or parent has an account. And writing reviews? Sure. Some. But in comparison to the adults, not even a drop in the bucket.

Thus begins the paradox.

Reviews for YA lit are largely written by and for an adult audience. Now, I previously wrote about how I have no problem with having an adult audience. And I don’t, and I want them to keep reading and reviewing. My concern is this: when adults review from an adult perspective.

Young adult lit is first and foremost literature for teenagers. Adults read it as well. Great. However, imagine if we turned the table, and today’s teens read adult books, and then reviewed them. Across the board, not just here and there. Can you imagine how that would sound?

This novel didn’t really speak to me, because I don’t like have a mortgage or kids and really have no clue about a midlife crisis. Why should I? BTW, where’s the action in this story?

See how convoluted that was? And that’s my issue. So many reviews of YA lit (mine included) are written by adults speaking to adults, who don’t take into consideration that they are not the primary audience. YA writers move their words across the page and structure their stories in a fashion that is in step with the action, behaviors and beliefs of teens. Writers of adult fiction do the same for adults. Therefore, it only makes sense that the writing will not and should not be the same. How this gets lost is beyond me.

Yet it happens all the time. And I get angry and sad and frustrated, but know I am ultimately powerless. We as adults co-opt everything about youth culture, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am disheartened. Because teens don’t often find material on their own; they rely on adults (librarians and bookstores) to offer up selections.

And when those libraries and bookstores do not carry stories that may be the most suitable stories for these teens ever, because enough adults weren’t pleased, I feel like writing blogs like this and begging anyone who is about to review YA lit to remember what it was like for you as a teen.

Not the absence of computers and cell phones, but the feelings. The raw emotions. The randomness and lack of logic. The muddled world in which you lived and did your best to make sense of.

That world, the one that existed inside your head, and within your heart. It still exists. It looks different. It sounds different. And possibly it doesn’t fit you as well as it once did. But it’s not your call to say that it must. Because it’s not yours, it’s theirs.

Embrace and celebrate that difference. Don’t rob today’s youth of it.

From the UncommonYA blog, “F. This.”

UncommonYA – Blog.

F. This.

11/08/2013

 

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by Eric DevineWriting should be more of a mirror to society than a portrait. I believe if we are writing well, then we are telling truths about what exists, not only how we want to see the world behave. These truths are often labeled dark or edgy or gritty, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with these adjectives. However, the problem arises when they become synonymous with controversial.The term controversial is a universal call for someone to get up in arms. And today, some people savor the whiff of controversy, so that they can use it as a platform to discuss their opinions, shoot others down in an online flame war, or even worse, twist the premise of the original controversy for personal gain.

And yet we wonder why authors tell stories about the darkness of humanity?

I am fortunate that I teach teenagers every day. Focusing on stories and structure and the power of words with adolescents reveals what every Young Adult author should know: they are real people with flaws.

Shocking, I know.

But considering how much adults talk about and write about and spend energy on keeping books with dark material away from teens, maybe it is. The premise of these well-intentioned adults is two-fold: 1. Teens don’t need to read about “this” (whatever inappropriate topic has been deemed such). 2. If they do, like those “gateway drugs”, they’ll learn things that will open doors down terrible paths.

And this is when I get irate.

Teens swear, make bad choices, get in fights, have sex, do drugs, and experience such inhumanity from one another, it makes my soul cringe. However, this has been the case since I was in high school, close to twenty years ago, and I doubt it’s a new development. The speed and intensity of ithas changed, via social media and technology. Yet, do you know where this, and the aforementioned issues are dealt with, where lessons are learned by characters, so that others may vicariously learn? You guessed it?

And if that source material, the handbooks for how-things-might-go-down, is shot through a rosy lens, what has been taught? That these events are fine. That doing these things is okay. That treating one another like dirt leaves you feeling awesome.

I understand the premise of the adults. I sincerely do. But they are wrong. I have never seen a child “break bad” because of a book he or she read. I have never heard a teen interviewed by an administrator for something heinous he or she has done and claim a book as the source of the idiocy.

It doesn’t happen.

Teens learn from one another, from the internet, from their parents, from their teachers––probably in this order. If a teen is reading books, hoping to find something to help navigate these rough waters, we should applaud them, give them a medal and then beg them to pass the stories on. Because many teens do not read. They spend extensive time watching Vines and YouTube videos and on Twitter and on Facebook. And they cut one another down from the safety of the keyboard, and unless no one or no story jars them from this, they grow into adults, who make decisions about content, hear the word controversial and fall into the loop society––not books––has created.

Want to see if I walk the walk? Check out either Tap Out or Dare Me.

Find fearless author Eric Devine online:


Website
Eric Devine Facebook
Eric Devine Author Page, Facebook 
Twitter
Buy Eric’s books:
Dare Me, Tap Out, This Side of NormalAmazon US, Amazon Canada: Dare MeTap OutThis Side of Normal; Barnes & Noble: Dare MeTap Out;  IndieBound

“A boy who knows only grinding despair finds hope within the walls of a gym. . . . This is bound to have huge appeal.” School Library Journal Teen
“Devine instantly captures your attention and holds it until the very end. . . . The storyline, the drama and the characters were all thoroughly put together.” Publishers Weekly

“Devine doesn’t pull any punches.” http://foreveryoungadult.com/2013/10/09/whats-the-matter-mcfly-chicken/

Tap Out: a 2013 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers AND a 

2013 Top 10 Sports Book for Youth: Booklist

Good Morning Columbia HS…

This week, instead of the same ol’ same ol’ morning announcements, like the image above, the Blue Devils at Columbia High School have this coming at them:

Exactly. Deborah Lyman, the head librarian,  convinced the AV crew to plug my signing this Friday at Good Buy Books by waking up the school this week with my trailer. Somewhere Patrick Willems is smiling.

As am I. This is a pretty phenomenal way to promote reading, as well as support of local authors and businesses.

Therefore, I want to extend my thanks to Deborah, the AV crew, and Lynne from Good Buy Books. Jolting kids awake is fun, but doing so for a good cause is fantastic.

Lynne is hosting a signing/hangout on Friday from 6:30-8:30, snacks included. So please, tell your family and friends in East Greenbush. If you know a teen at Columbia, ask them if they’ve been paying attention to the announcements. Tell them you know me and that hanging out on Friday will be fun.

And then come on out. I’ll sign, crack corny jokes, and help teens feel comfortable with the act of reading. There’s no stigma, just good times.

See you Friday!

Good Buy Books: 330 Columbia Turnpike, Rensselaer, NY 12144, (518) 479-2665

My “Other” Audience

I have come to the realization that I don’t write for teens. I mean, I do, but let’s consider this: the majority of you reading this post are adults, and you are here primarily because you’ve read my work. Therefore, it stands to reason that as much as I envision my audience as under eighteen, I could be completely wrong.

And I’m okay with that.

Recently, the topic of adults reading YA books has received heavy consideration. If you’d like to read more deeply about this, go here, here or here. I find the issue intriguing for a number of reasons, but mostly because from my perspective, at signings and promotional events, I don’t see a lot of teens. I see adults of various ages, buying for a friend, a cousin, a niece, a nephew, a son, a daughter. However, they ALL say they same thing, “I’ll read this first to see how it is.”

It’s difficult to hold back a smirk. I sincerely appreciate that my novels will eventually make their way into the hands of teens––if those teens exist­­––but I have to wonder if this purchase, ostensibly for someone else, is a ploy, and if these adults are purchasing what they deem guilty pleasures.

Now, I hate the term “guilty pleasures.” Like what you like, especially when it comes to reading. Don’t let someone knock what you read because it isn’t in line with what they want you to be reading. The mere fact that you as an adult are reading is wonderful, because it’s not the standard.

I’ve talked to enough adults who haven’t read a novel since high school. I’ve talked to plenty of adults who stopped reading for pleasure in college because the classics bored them to death, and the suggested contemporary, adult lit, was more of the same. These same adults will say to me about my work, “I haven’t read a book that I was unable to put down in so long, I’ve forgotten that feeling.”

And that, right there, is everything.

The nature of this issue boils down to one point: storytelling. I don’t care if it’s a classic from the canon, a children’s picture book, some chic new adult genre, or YA, if the story grabs you and won’t let go, that’s awesome. And as I’ve said before, the goal for my work is for it to be awesome. Sure it can be other things, too: deep, intriguing, dark, gritty­­––but it has to be awesome. Because that is the hallmark of good storytelling. You want it to go on. You’re angry when it’s over, but also elated because it was such a thrill. And you know you’ll recommend the story to others, and you’ll think about it for days and weeks to come. It will become a piece of you.

Young Adult lit does that. It has that power. So does adult lit, and children’s lit. But YA is unique in that it has the power to wake up something inside of you that has lain dormant. All those intense teen emotions. They haven’t gone away. You haven’t really grown up. You’ve only gotten older.

And once you’re comfortable with that notion, once you abandon the idea of guilty pleasures, because of age, the reading landscape will open to you. And it is full of capital A, awesome.

Go, read it all. And if you need suggestions, I’m here for you.