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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At a Glance: Six Months of Promo and Events for Dare Me

I have been promoting Dare Me for the past six months. It was fun, exhausting and very rewarding. However, I am glad that the crunch is over. The time and energy it takes is extensive and wreaks havoc on anything else scheduled––you know like the rest of my life 🙂

That’s not a complaint, just a simple fact. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the craziness, and I’m fortunate enough to be doing it all over again for my next novel, which will be released in the fall (details to come).

Therefore, for those of you who might be interested, I’ve outlined all that I did, or that happened regarding Dare Me for half of a year. Many authors do more, and many do less. This is what I did, and I hope it illustrates the business of books on the personal level. Because trust me, if I were to write about the behind-the-scenes work, this post would have to run for a week straight.

July 2013

I didn’t get started until the end of the month, but I kicked things off with a bang, releasing my trailer for Dare Me through a blast, released by over 50 bloggers, worldwide. There was a copy of the novel and a t-shirt giveaway that netted over 5,500 entries. Not bad, right?

Then I wrote an article for one of my favorite librarians and her site Teen Librarian’s Toolbox, titled “Careening with our youth culture“. It’s all about why teens like to do crazy things, and especially why I felt compelled to do some of my own. It was paired with a giveaway, too.

August 2013

August is always busy, and so I only managed to release the flyer for all of my scheduled events for Dare Me. I put it on Scribd, which made sharing so easy.

September

My publisher printed 200 copies of those same flyers I posted to Scribd and I sent them to local high schools at the start of the school year.

Then I had my Dear Teen Me letter posted. Go read it, if you haven’t. It’s awesome.

I then held my first signing at Market Block Books.

October

Dare Me was published in October, so things got cooking. I was interviewed by our local WNYT affiliate, and then held these signings and events:

Signing @   Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library

Signing and panel discussion Troy Author Day @ Troy Public Library

Signing @ Barnes & Noble:  Saratoga Springs

Release party & Signing @ McGreivey’s Restaurant

During this time I also ran a five-day giveaway for Dare Me as a build up to the publishing day.

I also received this awesome review from Kirkus

November

I was interviewed by Kori Miller of Back Porch Writer for her podcast. It was a blast, and if you have a half hour, go listen.

Awesomeness hit in November when I went to NCTE. I signed copies of Dare Me and met English teachers from around the country. A couple of my colleagues even showed up, which was so nice. And then I met a few authors whose work I love, and I even got my picture taken with A.S. King.

December

The last month of the year started out fantastic with both the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune selecting Dare Me for their holiday books gift guides for Young Adults.

Then I got to use my author status for some good by participating in a signing/fundraiser for the High School I work for at another, local Barnes and Noble. If you have kids or are an author and teacher like me, contact B&N and set up a Book Fair. So simple, yet so effective.

January

The American Library Association’s Widwinter Meeting was held in Philadelphia this year, home of my publisher, Running Press. Therefore, I got to go to the city of brotherly love, sign, meet awesome librarians, and then have a blast wining and dining with everyone from Running Press and some of my pub siblings. I even met Daniel Kraus while at our cocktail party. I refrained from getting all fanboy and we had an awesome chat.

For the duration

I ran four giveaways at Goodreads, at various times throughout these six months. I now have only two copies of those I receive from my publisher left. But it was worth it, as close to 2,500 people entered the giveaways and, therefore, have Dare Me on their radar.

Now

Phew. That was a lot. Or maybe it was just enough. Possibly there was more I could have done. I have no idea, because that’s the impossibility of any business. Some analytics cannot be measured.

So what matters to me are the answers to these questions:

Did I have fun? Yes.

Did all of this enrich my life? Yes.

Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

And I will, in another six months. Be sure to join me, and thank you if you did this time around.

Full Kirkus Review of DARE ME

Kirkus Book Reviews

I know I previously teased about the Kirkus review of Dare Me, but here is most of it, below, in its full shining glory. Please follow the link and share this bad boy. Then feel free to tell people that you know an author who is “astute and riveting.” You know, cuz Kirkus says 🙂

DARE ME

 
Age Range: 12 – 18
 
 

KIRKUS REVIEW

Fully attuned to the adrenaline-fueled appeal of dares, Devine deftly conveys the dire consequences that can ensue once the first step is taken.

Ben, a perfectly normal high school senior, and his buddies Ricky and John pull an amazing stunt, which they post anonymously on YouTube, hoping for “weblebrity.” What comes their way is a contract promising them money if they continue to do ever-more-dangerous dares. When not filming dares, narrator Ben works as a pizza-delivery guy and longs for popular co-worker Alexia, who’s attached to a bad boy. His reflections on physics, English class and math become more penetrating as the ante ups with each completed dare. Adding in cameraman Trevor changes the equation only a little. Trev is a nerd and a target for bullies, but he’s also exceptionally smart and a quick thinker. As the stunts continue… (Read the rest here).

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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

Kirkus on Dare Me

Kirkus Book Reviews

Kirkus reviewed Tap Out last year and I was astounded that they felt my violent and vulgar examination of poverty was “bound to have huge appeal to kids whose lives are being mirrored, and it may prompt luckier readers to take some positive action.” Of course, they were right, and I have been so moved by the readers who have contacted me with stories of how my work struck a nerve, began a conversation, provided solace by demonstrating that this fight is universal.

Well, now Kirkus has reviewed Dare Me. The review will be available on their site to paying customers today or tomorrow, to all in September. My publisher may have the full review up as well, and I’ll be sure to link to the entirety when I can. In the meantime, I can give you snippets, enough for you to know that Kirkus, again, gave me praise. I can only hope that they are again correct in their assertions. Enjoy:

“Fully attuned to the adrenaline-fueled appeal of dares, Devine deftly conveys the dire consequences that can ensue once the first step is taken.”

“Devine’s examination of the teenage boy’s need for adrenaline is admirably complex…”

“Ben [protagonist] reflects, ‘This is larger than us, and we’re already in motion and gaining speed. The natural course is to let this run take us where it’s going. There are no brakes in freefall.'”

And, my favorite…

“Astute and riveting.”

One more reason

If you still need a reason to read Tap Out, or if you just missed these along the way, I’ve compiled reviews and interviews for your convenience. If you are still on the fence, I hope you find something here that provides the deciding factor.

If not, maybe meeting me in person and talking about the book will seal the deal. If so, I’ve listed my events below, along with an image of the flyer I hope you will soon see around the Capital District.

If none of this wins you over, then I hope during the month of September and beyond, when people are reading and talking, someone gives you a copy and says, “You have to. It’s awesome.” Because it is for you, readers, that I have written Tap Out. It’s a dark and disturbing story, but ultimately it is about our humanity. And that narrative must be read and shared and discussed.

Enjoy.

From Kirkus Reviews

TAP OUT (reviewed on August 1, 2012)

A boy who knows only grinding despair finds hope within the walls of a gym… http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/eric-devine/tap-out/#review

From School Library Journal

Starting with the first page, Devine instantly captures your attention and holds it until the very end.—Sarah A., age 15

http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/articles/teens/894845-353/book_reviews_from_young_adults.html.csp

From the Times Union

In the end, can we believe that Tony will succeed? I think the answer depends on how much we feel someone in his circumstances can rise above. Does he have that strength, or is he, sadly, too far gone? I want readers to question the exact question you posed. Is Tony cold, or is he just trying to protect himself when no one else in his life is able to?

http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Fighting-words-3828732.php#ixzz25jc2oYy2

From Scripts and Scribes

9/8: WNYT (Channel 13) interview with Beth Wurtmann @ 8:30 am. Tune in.

9/8: Kaged Kombat at the Saratoga City Center. Doors open @ 5:00 pm, fights begin @ 6:00. I will be with Legion Training Center distributing promotional material for Tap Out

9/11: Tap Out releases. Pre-orders will be shipped. E-books should be available. Local stores will have copies. Please use the Tap Out: Find a Seller or Store via Running Presslink if you are looking.

9/25: Now that you all have read come see me at the Clifton Park Library from 7-9 pm and I’ll sign your copy. We’ll also have The Open Door Bookstore on hand for purchases.

9/29: If Albany is more convenient, I’ll be at the Book House in StuyvesantPlaza from 3-4 pm

10/6: Release party and signing at Legion Training Center. Come out and let me sign your copy of Tap Out in the cage of the best MMA gym in the area. Not only will books be available, but you’ll receive 20-30% of merchandise and memberships. If you have any interest in MMA for conditioning or for self-defense, this is THE place to be. For all ages and ability levels.

Tap Out-Flyer

Kirkus Review

I did not know much about Kirkus Reviews until last week when my editor Lisa Cheng forwarded their review of Tap Out. Which was followed immediately by another email from my agent, Kate McKean.

The emails came as I was driving to a speaking engagement at a local high school that uses my first novel, This Side of Normal, in their Biology curriculum. I was mentally running through the presentation when my phone chimed. When it chirped a second time I got nervous, pulled over and read.

Befuddlement swept over me. Kirkus didn’t ring any bells. Well, maybe one. I recently started following Kirkus MacGowan, on Twitter and thought for a moment that both of the industry connections in my life were emailing about him. I don’t know, maybe he was going to blurb Tap Out? I was excited. And then I read the review.

Now, I can’t reprint it in its entirety. For those of you with subscriptions, to Kirkus, the online version is up today. The print version will be out on May 15. However, I can give you one absolutely fantastic line, the very last of the review:

This is bound to have huge appeal to kids whose lives are being mirrored, and it may prompt luckier readers to take some positive action. 

Okay, so I quickly realized that this wasn’t about Mr. MacGowan and that some reviewing had occurred that I was not aware of. In the same moment, I was elated. This seemed awesome, but I still didn’t know who or what Kirkus was. And now I was running late for my speaking engagement.

I made it on time, delivered an inspiring presentation, then hung around and spoke with teachers and parents. When I returned to my van I dashed a quick text to my wife, explaining as best I could that I had some good news. She didn’t know who Kirkus was, either.

I Googled Kirkus immediately upon arriving home and became enlightened–They are, in their words, “The World’s Toughest Book Critics” (and after reading some reviews I tend to agree). I had no idea that Tap Out  was being reviewed by any critics, let alone such a stalwart of the industry. I guess this is the way things go, but I’m such a noob it’s embarrassing.

Regardless, I’m ecstatic for the review and appreciative to Lisa and Running Press for having the faith to submit Tap Out there.

I hope this is the beginning of the swirl of good vibes for Tap Out. It certainly feels that way, especially sinceCalifornia is on the horizon. But more on that next time…