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.

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Booklist Likes PRESS PLAY

Both of these articles are from an author and reviewer I admire, Daniel Kraus. He has reviewed Tap Out and Dare Me, and now Press Play. Additionally, as you’ll see below, he has included Press Play in a round up of titles regarding hazing. Both the review and the inclusion in the round up have me thrilled. I hope you enjoy 🙂

Press Play, by Eric Devine | Booklist Online.

Press Play.

 

Devine, Eric (author).


Oct. 2014. 368p. Running Press, paperback, $9.95 (9780762455126). Grades 9-12. 
REVIEW.  First published September 1, 2014 (Booklist).

Greg Dunsmore is 16, but here’s the more relevant number: 352. That’s his weight, which over the years has earned him the nickname Dun the Ton, but not a whole lot of friends. Fortunately, the one pal he has, Quinn, is a fitness fanatic and has begun to train Greg every day after school. It’s during a workout that they stumble upon the horrible hazing rituals of the championship lacrosse team, everything from stick beatings to being force-fed feces. Greg is a budding filmmaker, and with his new buddies Oliver (who is even bigger than Greg) and Ella (a hard-as-nails fellow video auteur), he takes to secretly filming the crimes. This is definitely a Devine novel; there’s so much sweat, blood, and adrenaline that you almost need to wring out the pages. Readers will need to forgive a late hard-to-swallow plot point, but once they do, it’s thrilling to watch Greg enter the lion’s den himself—the lacrosse team’s Hell Week—for the bruising finale. A tough, smart look at weight issues, self-respect, and our intrinsic desire to belong at all costs.— Daniel Kraus 

 

Read-alikes: Hazing—the Game Nobody Wins, by Daniel Kraus | Booklist Online.

 


Read-alikes: Hazing—the Game Nobody Wins.

Kraus, Daniel (author).


FEATURE.  First published September 1, 2014 (Booklist).


Eric Devine’s Press Play is the newest from an author whose characters often fight from the fringe. Though Devine’s books frequently center upon sports, this is the first to focus squarely on hazing, which makes it the latest addition to a strong list of YA novels on the topic. These books are gutsy, gritty, bloody, and often shocking—but so is the crime of hazing.

FreefallFreefallBy Ariela Anhalt. 2010. Harcourt, $17 (9780152065676). Gr. 10–12.

Sure, it’s an uppity boarding school (the jocks here are fencers), but that doesn’t mean that all is cozy. Luke’s best buddy, Hayden, has always been the reckless top dog, but then a new hotshot arrives and steals his thunder. Soon after, the new kid is pushed from a cliff to his death by Hayden—either a hazing ritual gone wrong or a flat-out murder. With credibly written turmoil, Luke, the sole witness, is left to sort through his feelings and admit to himself the truth of what he saw.

 

 

If You’re Reading ThisBy Trent Reedy. 2014. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9780545433426). Gr. 7–10.

Seven years after his dad died in Afghanistan, Mike begins receiving letters from him, delivered by an anonymous member of Dad’s former unit. These missives encourage Mike to embrace the glory days of high school, and so he tries, until a bully on the football teams begins to haze him. This is a literary, nuanced, respectful treatment of a number of complicated themes, from sports dynamics to the military, many of which hinge upon secrets that, should they surface, would have ramifications for everyone.

 

InexcuseableInexcusableBy Chris Lynch. 2005. Atheneum, $16.95 (9781416939726). Gr. 10–12.

It could be argued that Lynch’s landmark book, told from the point of view of an accused rapist, is a foundational text of these sorts of books: fueled by adrenaline, morally inconclusive, and offering more questions than answers. Keir, a most unreliable narrator, is trying to defend himself against the accusation. But to the reader, it feels like the culmination of a long string of overaggression, which stretches back to a football-team hazing incident caught on tape. An unnerving study of how permissiveness of violence can spread ever outward.

 

LeverageBy Joshua C. Cohen. 2011. Dutton, $16.99 (9780689847899). Gr. 10–12.

Cohen’s stunning debut focuses on Danny, a star on the gymnastics team but a pipsqueak as far as the hormone-pumped, college-scouted footballers are concerned. A competition erupts between the two squads, leading to a horrifying instance of hazing dealt out to one of Danny’s teammates. Told from the alternating perspectives of Danny and Kurt, a quiet new fullback, this is a rich, disturbing tale of being trapped inside expectations and forced to continue the established order—or pay the price.

Press PlayPress PlayBy Eric Devine. 2014. Running Press. $9.95 (9780762455126). Gr. 9–12.

Greg Dunsmore is 16, but here’s the more relevant number: 352. That’s his weight, which over the years has earned him the nickname Dun the Ton, but not a whole lot of friends. Fortunately, the one pal he has, Quinn, is a fitness fanatic and has begun to train Greg every day after school. It’s during a workout that they stumble upon the horrible hazing rituals of the championship lacrosse team, everything from stick beatings to being force-fed feces. A tough, smart look at weight issues, self-respect, and our intrinsic desire to belong at all costs.

 

RookieBy Lorna Schultz Nicholson. 2012. Lorimer, paper, $9.95 (9781459400245 ). Gr. 10–12.

Aaron may be small, but his speed, drive, and wits have earned him a place on the hockey team at an elite academy. There, however, he falls victim to a grueling hazing incident involving sexual assault. In the aftermath, his world is thrown off balance, and he chooses not to report it—until a second attack lands him in the hospital. This may be a short novel aimed at reluctant readers, but Aaron’s tortured decisions, none of which are tidy, contribute to the complicated, agonized feel.

 

 

Find more feature articles by Daniel Kraus

If You’re Reading This, I’m at Work

It’s true, today I start back to my other job. I’ve enjoyed my summer vacation, feel as if I made headway on my current projects, and certainly enjoyed the time I spent with family and friends. But now I dig in, because so much lies ahead of me, and some pieces are similar to last year at this time, while others are entirely different.

On September 2nd, last year, Tap Out was nine days from its publication date, and I wrote, thanking a local English teacher for her praise of my work. At the time I did not realize that the release date had already passed–I didn’t know what that date was–and that along with everyone who’d received an Advanced Reader Copy, those who had pre-ordered were already reading and reviewing Tap Out. The early reviews were indicative of the way the remaining reviews would go: some love the story; some are offended by it. At first, the negative reviews bothered me, but I quickly got over them and focused on the critical praise that mattered, the reviews from the important publications, like Kirkus, as well as from those in the know, like Ann L.

Now, Dare Me is twenty-seven days from its publication date, with the release date of September 17th. Therefore, I know that in two weeks everyone who pre-ordered will be receiving copies, and I will be searching like mad following that date for reviews. I have also read the Kirkus review of Dare Me and know that it is astounding. So much so that it altered the cover of my novel. Further, I know there are scant reviews already from those with advanced copies, and that the feelings are mixed. As to be expected. Still, I do not have a review from any local teachers, so I’m waiting, because I know how busy they are about to get, and I know how much their opinion matters.

Unlike last year, my signings are all set, and I’ve posted them below. With an October 8th pub date, I have time to get these exact posters into classrooms across the region well before a number of my events. WNYT (channel 13) is interviewing me on 10/5, just like lat year, but sadly, the Times Union will not be running an article on Dare Me. I’m still scratching my head over how that played out.

No worries, though, because I have a good feeling about Dare Me. It’s another novel that will capture the attention of reluctant readers. It’s another novel that honestly explores the contemporary lives of teens without shying away from the hard facts and without making sure that in the end everything is all tucked neatly back together. That’s not how life works and that’s not how I envision my stories. This time last year I was praying that Tap Out would be accepted. It has been, on many levels, including by YALSA and Booklist. This year I am praying that Dare Me finds a wider audience, not because I’m greedy, but because, as I recently wrote to my editor, when we were discussing what’s next, “So yes, stories, I have them. Fingers crossed I manage to tell them well enough.” Trust me, there’s more to come.

And as it was this time last year, the same remains true today. I’m back at work, but really, I’m always working. Teaching and writing have such similar qualities: engage the audience, keep them enthralled, and leave them having learned something new. My lives intersect in one place, the blank page. I hope you enjoy what you find there.

*Bonus*

I will most likely be including the trailer for Dare Me at the end of all of my posts from here until October. Enjoy.

Trailer for Dare Me, created by Patrick Willems