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

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Amidst the Chaos

These past two weeks have been insane for me, professionally, and personally. We had the JDRF Walk for my daughter, a spring concert, my eldest’s first communion, and, of course Mothers’ Day.

I held the cover reveal for Dare Me and dialed in on the last chapters of my Work In Progress. I’m two chapters out from what would be my 2015 title. Fingers crossed.

But amidst all this, last week, I got quite a surprise. For those of you who are members of my Facebook author page, you know the story. I apologize for the redundancy, but every good story bears repeating.

First, I posted this:

Received a tweet from a teacher this morning directing me to her review of Tap Out. Two things to love in her piece: 

1. That the kids WANTED to read the story.
2. That she read it AFTER they did. That takes courage with the content, but I applaud her for that.

Tap Out should not be the new literary standard, by any means, but as a gateway for readership… I’ll take it. Here’s the review.

Then, later on, I followed up with this post:

So the teacher who contacted me had another request after I responded to her tweet. Her class wanted to know the story of how Tap Out came to be. I had five minutes while I had lunch, so I typed the message below. 

She got back to me later in the day, thanking me for the message, as her students truly enjoyed the feedback and a moment with an author.
I am quite honestly the one who reveled the moment. To know your work has value, real, impacting value. Yeah, that’s what motivates me at 4 AM when I’d rather be sleeping.
Hope you all feel the same with the work you do:

(My message to the students):
Hey, Eric Devine here. So, my inspiration… I’m sure I have an articulate blog post on my site, but I can’t find it, so here’s the quick and dirty:

I teach in a school that had a number of students participating in MMA. I noticed them and realized that many had a similar background (impoverished, violent homes). I then considered what it would like to be one of them, but on an extreme level, where they had literally nothing, not even MMA as an outlet. What kind of life would that be?

Tony was born from that idea. I wanted a kid tough enough to withstand, but who has been beaten down long enough that he questions himself, what he can take and whether he should keep fighting.

I’ve witnessed a lot of kids like Tony (male and female) who are good people, but for whom life has not been kind. Some turn out well; most do not. Therefore, I wanted a good kid who’s been given a raw deal to suffer as much as anyone could, in order to see which way he would go.

I can honestly say I did not realize how it would all shake out, but I am happy with the fact that Tony made some choices that do not sit well with people. That lets me know I made it authentic. Real life rarely sits well at all times with all people.

Tap Out is not a story of my life turned fiction. I have witnessed poverty and extreme violence and insanity, but secondhand. I am not Tony, but I love him for all his flaws, and for his humanity. Because in the end, I believe there is hope for him.

Later, I messaged the teacher and she told me that the students were so awestruck that they demanded she give them all printouts of my response. Unreal.

But it’s also so validating, because I meant every word of that response, and to receive such feedback made my day on so many levels. It’s a tough job, writing. You have to fully commit, and must expect nothing. I’m there. I live that life, in the very odd, isolated way it can often feel. But then there are these moments, when all of it is worth it.

Not because of the money. Not because of the accolades or critical praise. But because some kid, somewhere is reading. And he or she is reading my book. And he or she loves it.

I did that. And I get the opportunity to continue to do that. Yes, that is awesome. And I’ll rough the chaos for that moment of order, whenever it materializes.

One project at a time?

Sorry, I had to use a Tard image, because I love his grumpy face. Also, he answered the title question perfectly.

I am currently working on three projects, one of which I’ll provide a bit of a teaser for at the end, so keep reading. It seems insane to be working on three books at once, but it also is the only way to survive. I must be ahead of the curve and always prepared with new material. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to move form one intense world to the next. Here’s a peek at each.

First, my next novel, Dare Me, will be released in the fall by Running Press. I don’t have an exact date, but I do have a cover image (hint, hint). I have to complete at least one more pass of the manuscript based on my editor’s notes. Fingers crossed it’s only one. From inception to now, I’ve had two major passes that physically hurt. But the pain is worth it because the finished project, a story of YouTube daredevils going from daring to death-defying, will be fantastic. It is not as dark as Tap Out but the intensity remains. When it’s complete, I’ll offer some teaser excerpts.

Second, as I’m finishing up Dare Me, my agent is reading the novel I wrote this past summer and fall. It has a tentative title, and my first reader loved it. He was even surprised by the ending, which I think amazed both of us. But I cannot give away too much, because until my agent gives the green light, the manuscript is just that, not quite ready for the “novel” label.

Third, I am currently working on a novel that is far and away the largest departure from my comfort zone. Yet, also something I’ve always wanted to write. I’m researching as much as I’m writing and am having a great time watching this story come together. Here’s hoping I can see it through in the next couple of months.

Last year at this time I never would have thought I was going to be this far down the rabbit hole. But now, I find it to be the only place I want to be. I hope you continue to enjoy and share Tap Out, and I look forward to offering you more work so that you can continue.

*Teaser*

You made it this far, so here’s a tiny slice of the cover to Dare Me. Enjoy:

Dare Me excerpt

Tap Out and the 2013 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers

Hey, here’s just a quick post in case you missed this on twitter or facebook. Tap Out made the cut for YALSA’s 2013 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers. In essence, this means that librarians feel if you are looking for a title for a teen, who doesn’t like to read, the books on this list might be a great place to start. The titles are as diverse as the readers who will find them and love them. I am thrilled to have Tap Out on the list, because I believe it is a perfect fit, and the chance of librarians and teens finding this title is that much greater. I’m still holding out hope for an at-risk teen connection, and possibly that may arise from this as well.

I would also like to thank Running Press for putting the support needed behind my work so that librarians knew of its existence and had the opportunity to examine its value. And of course thank you to the librarians who nominated and then voted for Tap Out. Your work is important and I am glad to be a part of it.

Thank you.

The Only Constant

under construction2013 has gotten off to a rocky start. There was the flu I am still recovering from, and most recently, a boiler and fireplace that are acting up, kitchen cabinets that are snapping their hinges and putting holes in the wall, and a stained hutch that looked better in the mind’s eye than in the light. Quite simply, my house is a mess and I don’t have the wherewithal to fix it, because I’m still recovering, and yeah, still writing. A lot.

I am currently waiting on edits from both my agent and my editor for two separate projects, and I’ve just begun a third. One that requires extensive research. For the most part research isn’t something I’ve had to go out of my way to complete. I work with teenagers. I’m equal parts field researcher and educator. Tap Out did require a fair amount of gym time, interviews, and hours on YouTube, but where I’m going requires a fair amount of people opening their hearts and their lives to me. I will be much more intrusive and not nearly as passively observant.

And I feel ridiculous taking this on, considering how in shambles things are for me. But if I wait for the right time to move ahead, to stretch my capabilities, that time will never materialize. The one constant I’ve found in writing is that I have to say yes. In spite of everything else, say yes, and then write it. Because if it’s what my heart desires, then I have to feed that emotion. It doesn’t always work well, but it fulfills a need and a purpose that serve a greater end, one that even I only vaguely understand.

Trust me, I spend a significant amount of time behaving just the opposite. I live a regimented, disciplined life, plotting out piece by piece, not to dissimilarly than a novel. But this world is not under my control, and rare is it that I have a chance to follow a whim. That is why, amidst the ridiculousness that is my life, I reach out to people, I write and I write and I write. It is cathartic and it is a bit of therapy. It allows me to explore and learn and grow. It is easy to stagnate, and writing keeps me fresh and vibrant.

Regardless of the superstition I feel over the fallout of 2013, I’ll get over it. In no time I’ll be in my groove, the house will be in order and I’ll laugh about the rocky road the beginning of this year has been. But I’ll get to do that because I’ve looked past the immediate to what lies beyond, and I feel it’s phenomenal. It will take a hell of a lot of work to get there. But I cannot think of anything worthwhile that didn’t require such.

Goodreads and the week that didn’t exist

goodreads_f

Last week didn’t exist for me. I went to work Monday. That was it. From there it was a series of appointments with my doctors and a lot of sleep. When I was awake, I wasn’t very with it, and was completely useless as a father and husband.

A week later, I’m doing better. Not great. My first day back to work was exhausting, and I’m still ready for bed around 7 pm. But I can function, speak coherently and have returned to writing.

However, during this malaise I did have one accomplishment: I overcame my fear of Goodreads

When I first heard of Goodreads, I immediately signed up for an account and started adding the books I could remember reading–it happens that way, I just read so much. Then I realized that there was an entirely different purpose to Goodreads, the reviews.

I took a glance at the ones for Tap Out. Painful. There were some strong opinions about my work and about me, and I did what any rational person would do, I freaked out. And then I never went back to Goodreads. What was the point?

Well, there is one, but I’d missed it in my fear. The author end of Goodreads. Yes, this site that collects reviews and makes it easy for people to connect over books and find titles similar in taste also provides marketing services to authors. All you have to do is ask.

So I did. Something I should have done back in August for the pre-release of Tap Out. We live, we learn. So now I am running a giveaway on Goodreads for a signed copy of Tap Out. At this point there are close to 300 people entered to win. That’s pretty fantastic, I think.

I have not reached Goodreads expert status, yet. But I am aware that there are many options for connectivity on the site, and I will certainly look into each. But for now, I’m just happy to have overcome my trepidation. It’s just too bad it took the flu to get me there.

On Letting Go

Letting-Go-Open-Hands

I’ve had a nagging problem with editing my next novel, tentatively titled, Dare Me. To properly edit, you have to be able to see your work’s failures. Objectivity is key. But I haven’t been able to achieve that objective distance because I’ve had something else on my mind: Tap Out.

My rough and tumble novel has been out for almost four months. It’s not as if the fanfare has died away, but the energy behind foisting it upon the world has been spent, and now the story is moving on its own volition, with readers finding it and posting about it and passing it along. And like a child, I must let it grow, let it walk alone, while I sing its praises and offer support.

At the same time, I must give my attention to my baby, Dare Me. For the past month, I did this, hiding out in my office while the swirl of Christmas built outside my door. I dove in with my editor’s notes in hand and cleaned up my mess and got my characters straightened out and ready for the world. And like any parent, when I was done, I needed a drink.

Still, however, that nagging was there. I knew I’d edited well, but something continued to crawl under my skin.

Because of the holidays there was little time to give this consideration during the week from Christmas to New Year’s. And then there was snow, two storms here in the Northeast. And I had to shovel.

Stephen King discusses in On Writing how writers should always be writing, but how after finishing a project they should also take a little break to recharge. I tend to heed King’s advice because he’s Stephen King, and I think he knows what he’s talking about. Therefore, I was out in the snow, not writing, not editing, just scraping away my driveway, and I came to clarity.

I love Tony and Rob and my cast of characters from Tap Out, but I have to let them go. I have to make room in my heart for Ben and his friends and the insane antics they get involved with in Dare Me.

This, apparently is the life of a writer: Love, let go, and love again.

And I do. I love Tap Out. I love Dare Me. I love the novel that will follow both, and the one after that… and on and on.

With this notion I reread Dare Me. I forgot that I’d ever written anything else and focused only on Ben and his friends and the stunts and the pressure and the conflicts. I didn’t need to edit. I just needed to read and enjoy. And I sure as hell did.

So I continue down this road with you, my wonderful readers, and your tireless support. You don’t need to let go of any of my work, but please make room. Tap Out isn’t going anywhere, but understand that the wild ride has just begun.