On writing about the Subject and not the Story

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s classic, On Writing, for like the twentieth time. If you’ve never read it, and even if you have no writerly aspirations, do so. If you ever want to write for a living, then definitely read it, along with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird and Writing 21st Century Fiction.

Through re-reading King’s advice, I realized what I did wrong with my failed manuscript. I wrote about the subject matter of the story and not the story itself. That may seem like semantics, but the approach in storytelling matters. Instead of spending time with my characters, I asked my characters to spend time focusing on things I wanted them to discuss. Classic mistake.

The characters always guide.  They do what they want based on who they are as people and what motivations drive them. This makes them real, human, flawed, worth reading about.

This was not a pleasurable epiphany, but one I’m glad I had. And I bring it up because I believe in our current climate this type of scenario may happen with other writers and creative individuals. We are so infuriated with our current environment, we want to do something about it with the tools we have, words. But regardless of the skill set of the person wielding any tool, the approach is still everything.

If a carpenter built  “about a house” instead of actually building one, I’m not sure the results would be desirable. Same with writing. It’s perfectly fine to have a mental sense of what the story is about, but that’s only because of the action that’s taking place, the emotions on the page, the push and pull of characters as they move through this life they’re living.

I know you know this. I know I know this, but a little reminder can’t hurt.

And while I’m realizing things and making changes, I’ve also decided to put my YouTube channel to use. I have my book trailers there, but I also think it would be a great benefit to librarians trying to book talk my work, or to any reader who is researching who I am, to have a face with the name and stories. Therefore, I’m thinking of posting on Fridays, and for the next few weeks will cover my books, one at a time. After that, I’m open to any suggestions.

So, if you want to see where I write or what my outlines look like, or what books have most influenced my career, or how I get my inspiration, let me know. Do so here, via my email contact, or leave notes on my YouTube channel.

Additionally, there’s still time to win a copy of Look Past over at Goodreads, but make sure you enter before the clock runs out today.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the change of the season and the beginning of new things in your life, be them old things remembered, or new avenues to travel 😉

Advertisements

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.

Why Dare Me?

DareMeCvr

All teenagers want to be seen. Today they can achieve visibility in an instant, but they face the same challenge as we all have, rising above everyone else and into the limelight.

This is Dare Me.

This is why I wrote Dare Me:

  1. I wanted to explore YouTube culture and the way it is shaping our teens, who constantly want to be seen, and see themselves. Or some idea of that.
  2. Being a daredevil–or lacking “good judgment”–has plagued me since I was a teen, and it continues to plague teens today. Combine this with YouTube and something powerful emerges.
  3. Need proof of #2? Tosh. O.
  4. On that note, I’ve always wondered why we as a culture derive pleasure from others’ pain. We watch, cringe, and then watch again. I hear, “Watch this, Mr. D,” from my students daily.
  5. Tap Out was dark, as in I-can’t-see-my-hand-in-front-of-my-face-is-that-a-gun? dark. I wanted less dark, but equal intensity. Having characters risk their lives on a monthly basis fulfilled that goal.
  6. Money. Today, it’s everything, on par with the visibility quotient of #1. Adults have limited ability in this economy to turn things around quickly. So, what if? What if a teen knew of a way to make money, lots of it, risking something he doesn’t truly think he can lose, but is worth everything? Mhmm, that’s a great layer.
  7. Romance. For real. I wanted to see of I could write sparks. They are as genuine as can be for this would-be couple, in this volatile situation (Don’t think of that terrible line from Speed–it’s much more innocent and honest than that).
  8. Exploration of friendships. Risking your life is easy. Having emotions is difficult. You cannot do the former without having the latter. So, what are those emotions when they’re tied to your friends? And what if you haven’t been that close since middle school? What if this type of behavior was your undoing in the past? What now?
  9. Identity. Every story is about identity. Loss of it, a search for it, a confusion about it, a disillusionment over it, a false belief in it… Every story I write looks at this dynamic, and Dare Me asks how one can stay true to oneself when everything is up in the air.
  10. The one barometer I have for my stories is this question: Is it awesome? The answer has to be yes. And not just for the plot or for the characters or for the deeper, thematic issues. ALL. OF. IT.

I hope that provides some insight. Because BEA kicks off on Wednesday and runs through Saturday. At some point, Running Press will be giving away Advanced Reader Copies of Dare Me.

I hope that every copy disappears and that all turn to this site and find this post. Then when they head to Goodreads they can score me on my success or failure regarding my goals. Especially #10.

Enjoy.

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.

Audience

As anyone who is trying to connect with the world knows, audience is key. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, musician, artist, or businessman, it’s all the same. The connection to those people who you believe your “product” is for will make or break you.

I’ve been thinking about this because of recent chatter about the negative vibe between authors and reviewers on Goodreads. I’m not entering that fray. People more knowledgeable than me have already addressed the issue. My takeaway, however, is that somewhere there is a disconnect with the audience. The people who the author wants to read his or her work either are not, or are, and are behaving inappropriately. It’s a sad state of affairs because often a good review can elevate and enough negative can achieve just the opposite.

This, of course, has forced me to think of advertising and marketing and what I know of the “business model”. I am an educator and a writer. I do not hold an MBA, yet I am faced with these principles of business every day. Education is changing towards this end and writing books is a business. Therefore, I must market, I must advertise, I must reach that audience who is everything. But how do I do that? How do I reach the teens who I know will be changed by Tap Out, or whose eyes will be opened, or those who will be able to hand my work to someone and say, “This is my life”? How do I achieve this and at the same time avoid those who will shoot down my work because it’s uncomfortable?

The short answer is that such is an impossibility. The long answer comes from Seth Godin’s blog this morning. I’ve included the image from his post below:

For me, it’s the story I must now build. Not the one I’ve written, but the one around Tap Out. Why does Tap Out matter? How is it different? Why should anyone care? Fortunately, I’m gaining help with this. Below is a review from the School Library Journal that says it all:

DEVINE, ERIC. Tap Out. Running Press Kids, September 2012. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780762445691.

62012tapout(FullStory)

Gr 8 Up—Tap Out by Eric Devine is the memorable and heartbreaking story of Tony, a boy whose mother has constantly been dating a variety of abusive boyfriends throughout his childhood. Even though he wants the abuse to stop, Tony knows he can’t win a fight between any of them. When Cameron, one of the worst abusers, comes along and gets his mother to start doing drugs again, Tony knows he needs to get rid of him. After agreeing to go to a mixed martial arts class with his best friend, Rob, Tony instantly falls in love with the sport; it helps him relieve his anger at his mother, Cameron, and his terrible living situation in the trailer. When a drug problem arises in the neighboring trailer, Rob and Tony unwillingly become tied in as well. While Tony and Rob both share problems, each deal with their own by themselves. Tap Out deals with social status, teen pregnancy, heartbreak, and drugs, all situations today’s teens might relate to.

Starting with the first page, Devine instantly captures your attention and holds it until the very end. Something is always going on whether it deals with drugs, fighting, or just what the characters want to do with their lives after high school. When I first read about mixed martial arts, I thought it would be a story that only guys could relate to, but after reading it, I realized that both genders can enjoy the novel equally. However, I didn’t like the ending. It was good as far as the plot, but the outcome was terrible. Overall, I thought the storyline, the drama, and the characters were all thoroughly put together. Personally, I’d recommend this book to any of my friends.—Sarah A., age 15

This article originally appeared in School Library Journal‘s enewsletter SLJTeen.

Thank you, Sarah.

To my audience:

I’m here and I’m trying to reach you. I’ll keep trying, I promise.

To those for whom Tap Out is not for:

Please, do me a favor, pass it along to someone for whom it is. Build the story of my work. You have the power.