Giving Thanks

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I didn’t think I was going to write a Thanksgiving post this year, not because I have nothing to be thankful for, but because this year has been so rough. Honestly, the past eighteen months have been some of the worst of my life.

I won’t rehash all of those details here. But in summation: I lost my editor at Running Press; one of my daughters was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; I did my best to help my wife through the decline of her father’s health and her own very invasive surgery; I then, helplessly, watched my father-in-law’s descent into dementia and death; then we tried to heal.

The summer was wonderful, including our trip to Ireland. The fall brought the release of Look Past, but also  the death of our 14-year-old  chocolate Lab, Nola. Then there was the election. 

This story isn’t tragic, though. It’s life. And I’ve been fortunate enough to continue my work, which allows me a voice and supplies me ways to foster more empathetic generations to come. I’ve had numerous school visits so far this year, and my daily work with my students is always something I enjoy. I’m lucky, in spite of these past eighteen months.

We’re all still healing but my family is intact. I’m currently writing a story that addresses so many of the social and political issues that are in need of discussion right now. I don’t feel as powerless as I did a year ago.

But this year has changed me. It opened my eyes even wider to the things I value. I’ve had to accept that there’s so much professionally and personally that I simply cannot control. All I can strive to do is tell a great story. Not just with the words in my novels, but with the actions of my life. I can do better. I am thankful for coming out the other side of this with that revelation.

I have no intentions of being cynical. I have every intention of working hard. This life is not necessarily fleeting, but damn does it move quick. I have every intention of embracing the good and the bad, and taking it all in stride. It’s grist for the mill.

So, thank you, to those of you who read my work, who find that I have something valuable to say. I’m humbled by your existence. Because when I look at myself, I do not see Eric Devine, Author. I’m just a 38-year-old man, whose trying to leave this world a better place through my words. 

Serve Your Story

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Working on a novel while another has recently been released is a particular kind of hell reserved for authors. As much as the desire exists to bury yourself inside the new story, it is impossible not to feed the urge of checking in to see what people are saying. This is the best/worst move ever.

If your book is selling crazily, there will be lots of great reviews, but there will also be some one-stars, because people like to be contrarian, or more commonly, Haters gon’ hate. If your book is selling, but not at a blockbuster pace, there will also be reviews. Less, much less, and the percentage of those negative ones is higher.

Clearly I am no blockbuster or you would have read here how unreal the feeling is of seeing my work on the New York Times Bestseller List. Yeah, that Instagram post has yet to present itself.

And so I’m living in that latter part of review world, where yes, Kirkus and Booklist have been kind, which is nice, as are the other bloggers who have also said nice things, including the fact that Look Past should be nominated for an Edgar. Very cool. 

But authors, by and large, might read 100 awesome reviews and only remember the one terrible one. We live on self-doubt and coffee. Some of the reviews I have read for Look Past are as bitter as the coffee I’m drinking now. And that’s fine. Truly, it is. People should voice their opinions, with one caveat: the question that should always be asked when you, as a reader, arrive at a point of contention: Does this serve the story?

This is a device I use with my students to think critically about the author’s intent and not only their personal reactions. Because there is a machine beneath the words, and it’s important to see what it is doing.

This concept is really no different than Vonnegut’s Rules for writing. I have always approached my work as entities unto themselves. Microcosms, yes, but ones that operate to deliver a particular end. That end is often to paint a stark image of the world around us.

I believe my characters should be unrestrained. I want them to do and say the things that I see and hear daily. I want my stories to look, unwaveringly, at the way our society treats one another and how, in turn, that gets reflected and morphed through the experiences of teens. In short, realistic fiction. 

And so when faced with difficult decisions about what to do with plot or character I always ask myself the above question: Will this serve the story? If it does, I execute. If not, I tweak until it does.

I will be presenting to students next week on getting words on paper, on getting their stories out, and to a degree, NaNoWriMo. There is no doubt that I will touch on this issue, so that when they are in their own stories, creating worlds and events with purpose, they remember what they are serving, not the masses, but the story. Because, if not, they may end up with the figurative pneumonia that Vonnegut discusses.

My hope is that they will not only write their own work with this critical gaze but will turn it on the stories they read, including my own, and come away with an appreciation for the process, however they feel about the story.