Fordian Fun

WWYK

By the end of my day presenting to grades 7-12 at Waterford Jr/Sr High School, I was backed into a corner by a mob a middle school students looking for signatures and selfies. “They sold out of books. Sign my arm,” one kid said, and so I did. The bell rang and a teacher told the group they needed to get to class. They didn’t budge. With phones in hand they wanted pictures. They got them, and then I packed up, went home, and collapsed.

Fortunately the drive wasn’t far. I live in the town in which I presented, which boasts a K-12 school for the tight-knit community. To say the day was a success would be a gross understatement. Because as I sat, after hours of presenting, my phone began a slow and steady explosion that would last the rest of the weekend. The students had found me on Twitter, and the teachers and parents, and others in the community, on Facebook. And all were positive:

I was even invited to a local diner 🙂

I cannot express how fantastic it is to receive such swift and positive feedback. I have done a fair amount of presentations, and never has the outpouring of support been so strong.

Maybe it’s because I’m from the town. Possibly it’s because I high-fived every student as he or she walked in. It could be that the kids connected with my message or my writing. I don’t honestly know. It could be simply that I went into this presentation as I always do, with the goal of pouring my heart out, and the kids noticed this. Yes, I have pretty engaging books to read from, and a slick Prezi that accompanies my talk, but I tend to think it’s the willingness to look like this that makes all the difference:

Whatever it was, I cannot say thank you enough to the faculty and staff for inviting me in. And a special thanks to the English department and Mrs. Clinton for doing so much work behind the scenes to make the day a reality.

Thinking back on my own high school experience, I can count on one hand the amount of presenters who came and fired on all cylinders and truly connected with the school and with me. It is my hope that for the students of Waterford, my presentation is one they will remember in such a positive light, because damn did I have fun 🙂

high five

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TLT: Teen Librarian’s Toolbox: Breaking the Gender Molds, a guest post and giveaway by author Eric Devine

Reblogged from Teen Librarian’s Toolbox (Which is a phenomenal site. Head over there to enter the giveaway)

Breaking the Gender Molds, a guest post and giveaway by author Eric Devine

I’m a 36-year-old, cisgendered, heterosexual, white male, who writes Young Adult novels that are boy-centric, and I’m bothered by the slim definition of what it means to be a man.
 
I was raised under very stereotypical precepts about manhood, and I was always bothered by them. Instead of watching sports, I read. Shyness overtook bravery. I did not demand, I accepted, and it was problematic.
 
Until I flipped the switch during middle school and played the part. It was instantly apparent how much easier it was to be a loud-mouthed punk than it was to be me. But in spite of the ease, I was unsettled, because I knew who I had abandoned.
 
Painful, yes, but excellent training for the work I do today. Because those expectations, those norms of masculinity, still exist, are extremely pervasive, and put boys and teens into extremely uncomfortable situations where they either have to behave the part or suffer the consequences. The pressure is real and terrifying, and something I try to address in my work.
 
 
In summary: Tap Out is about what one does as a very stereotypical “tough” male in a hostile and violent environment that has only one use for him. One he doesn’t want, but is hamstrung to escape.
 
 
Dare Me explores what it’s like to want to break the profile of “nothingman” and win acclaim, earn money, and come out on top by succeeding at feats of valor––or more commonly known today as YouTube stunts.
 
 
Press Play is about pushing back against the dominant, violent culture, by fighting with technology and intelligence, instead of fists. It’s about choosing not to hide, in spite of the enormous danger of exposure.
 
Much of my decisions regarding what I write and how I address issues of gender, in particular masculinity, are informed by my own experience, but equally by my students. We talk. A lot. And I tell stories of my youth because they want to understand how I’ve arrived at my perspectives. I’ve addressed aspects of drug use, sexuality, violence, suicide, rape, privilege, and any number of humorous/disgusting combinations about life you can think of. Often we talk about expectations placed on girls and boys, even if my students don’t realize that’s what they’re talking about.
One day we discussed fighting. There had recently been one, and based on the details, I innocently asked about a broken nose. The class sensed I knew more about this topic than I was letting on and asked me to tell a story of what I knew of breaking someone’s nose.
 
I did, briefly, but more importantly, then asked, “What are the expectations for males in our society, especially contact sport athletes, when it comes to fighting?”
 
This led to an engaging conversation that quickly turned from only males in sports to males and females broadly. And it was an interesting experience for many of the girls to hear the boys talk about the pressure of fitting in. They deftly detailed that on some level the dirty jokes and swearing and fighting are part of the roles in which they are asked to play (Yes, they struggled to word it this way––they’re teens––but the message was clear: forced stereotypes are universal).
 
I was so proud of our conversation because it was obvious that I had provided a space for my students to think about concepts they’d never fully entertained, which is exactly what I try to do in my stories. Yet, the issue stuck with me. Because what didn’t emerge in that conversation was that those pressures don’t go away. They morph and become stronger. And in light of very recent events of parties and rape and fight clubs, I felt a bit hopeless. How is a male, today, supposed to successfully navigate the pressures of being “a man” and evolve into someone who is unafraid to embrace a balance of masculine and feminine traits? In essence, how are they to succeed where I failed?
 
I won’t say books are the answer, because that’s naive. Parents, adult figures, older brothers and sisters, and by very large measure peers and pop culture all have a hand in shaping boys and girls. Books are a part of that, and a significant one if they flip preconceived notions on their heads. If they challenge the stereotypes. If they offer alternatives to the norm of cisgendered, heterosexual, white protagonist. Or if they expose and explore the trappings of how and why the stereotypes abound.
 
And they already exist. But the audience needs to be wider. I know men and women who haven’t read a book since high school, and so for all the good that I can do by writing novels that challenge societal assumptions, how are my stories ever going to find a way into the hands of the sons and daughters of these adults, who do not value reading, who may be completely comfortable with the expectations of the standard male and female models because they were never challenged to think otherwise, and who have not had conversations with their children about the fact that “being a man”  or “being a woman” is an ever-evolving process that is a paramount pursuit in order to have a fulfilling life?
 
But there are others. Like me, and not at all like me, who are having these conversations, who are reading and helping teens navigate. There are teachers and librarians and adult figures in various capacities who are open and willing and helpful. There are allies in every struggle. And I feel that the issue of redefining both masculinity and femininity is a pressing and important concern. Not so that we can foist new roles on boys and girls, but so that we can accept the traits of masculinity and femininity, the fact that they are a part of us all, regardless of gender or sexuality. If only so that the “boys will be boys” mentality, that is one of the most ignorant concepts in our culture, can die.
 
And so with it, some of that pressure. I say “some” because there will always be pressure. But it is up to us to decide how it is applied, and to what end. Do we want to continue the binary opposition of male versus female in our culture, or do we want to move forward with a better understanding of humanity and of ourselves?
 
Because in the end, even my freshman understand the pressures are they same, they just manifest differently. Therefore, we should be seeking virtues of behavior and not categories. Because breaking the mold is beautiful, but never again having to fill one is stunning.
 

Eric Devine is a high school teacher and the author of Tap Out, Dare Me and the upcoming Press Play, all from Running Press Kids. He blogs here at Teen Librarian Occasionally and wrote a chapter in The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services, edited by myself and Heather Booth and published in July from ALA Editions. You can follow Eric online: 

 
Win Eric Devine’s Books!
 
Eric and Running Press Kids have generously donated a copy of Tap Out which I am putting together with my arc copies of Tap Out and Dare Me picked up at various library conferences to give to you as a prize. You can win a complete set of Eric Devine books! If you live in the U. S. you can do the Rafflecopter thingy below until Saturday the 23rd, The Tween’s birthday and the debut of the new Doctor, to enter.

Liked TAP OUT? Check out CAGED WARRIOR.

CAGED WARRIOR

 

If you’ve read Tap Out, then you know I’m down for a gritty, YA novel about MMA and trying to find a way out. There are plenty out there that work this theme, but Caged Warrior brings an intriguing premise:

McCutcheon Daniels’ life is full of bone-cracking violence. As a star fighter in the gritty underground Mixed Martial Arts circuit in the poorest section of Detroit, McCutcheon fights under the tutelage of his volatile and violent father, not so much for himself but to survive as protector of his beloved five-year old sister, Gemma. We get to know McCutcheon as he battles opponents who are literally trying to kill him. Mr. Freedman, his science teacher, spots his intellectual potential, befriends him, and encourages him to enter the lottery for a scholarship to an elite charter school so he can obtain a first-class education. He is at first dead-set against the idea, and of course his tyrannical father forbids it. But the school’s headmaster, Kaitlyn, a student assigned to be his guide, and Mr. Freedman continue to encourage him to consider it. 

His father and the Priests, the local Mafia-like crew that run Detroit’s organized crime, have other plans for McCutcheon. For them, he is simply a tool to make them money. And when that cash flow is threatened, his father hits McCutcheon where it hurts most-he hides Gemma and threatens his own son that he’ll never see his beloved sister again if he doesn’t play by the Priests’ rules.

For the first time in his life, McCutcheon reaches out for help. Mr. Freedman turns out to have a very mysterious past and not only helps McCutcheon find his sister but also his mother who had simply disappeared on McCutcheon’s 13th birthday. All seems well, but happy endings aren’t really something McCutcheon feels he can rely on. And he may be right.

A ferocious novel, Caged Warrior is like a great fight movie, a tour-de-force of relentless conflict, but one that is leavened with rich characters and meaningful and loving relationships.

Intriguing, right? Well, today is the publication day, so if you like this, feel free to download Chapter 1, or go ahead and buy directly. I know I am. Enjoy.

The Walking Dead, Tap Out, and The Naïveté of Self-Sacrifice

*There are spoilers for both Tap Out and the series finale of Season Four of The Walking Dead in this post*  Proceed at your own risk.

I had a conversation about Tap Out, post-finale of this season’s Walking Dead that I’ve had before. Except this time, because of Rick’s actions, the conversation took on a different context.

Person: But Tony killed. He murdered those people.

Me: But he would have been killed. What’s your point?

Person. One, we don’t know that. Two, I could no longer relate to him after that.

Me: *trying very hard to keep calm about that first comment because, author* So if someone is pushed to the limit, essentially put in duress, they can’t save themselves?

Person: No. They can save themselves, but they can’t kill others in the process.

Me: So, then what Rick did, biting Joe’s neck like that, to save himself, Carl, and most likely Daryl and Michonne, that wasn’t okay?

Person: But that’s different. That’s post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi and not contemporary fiction.

This is where my brain kind of collapsed on itself. Because even though Sci-Fi is not my thing, I understand that the parallels of the stories often run against those of our contemporary lives. So to dismiss that genre as such is foolish. However, what struck me the most was the naïveté expressed. Somehow, in this person’s world, the notion of self-sacrifice is only viewed as noble. While I’m not going to say the notion isn’t noble, I believe what matters is context. And in Tony’s and Rick’s cases, self-sacrifice would have proved no benefit.

Tony, forced by Cameron to pour the gas and light the fire that burns down the warehouse, is not responsible for those deaths. That’s on Cameron. Yes, in a purely black and white logical sense, Tony’s a murderer. I understand that. But what in Tap Out is black and white? Nothing. That’s the point.

People force others into inescapable situations and then we look at the victim and say, “How dare you protect yourself. Surely there was another way.” No, there wasn’t. In the context of that novel, Cameron would most certainly have killed Tony, and most likely on the spot. And what good would that have served?

Tony did what he had to in order to survive. I’m not suggesting we applaud his actions, but to denounce them in light of ALL THE THINGS that are done to him…please!

Same holds true for Rick. Say what you want about the push pull of Farmer Rick and Monster Rick, but when push came to shove and his son’s life was on the line, along with his own, Rick let the monster out. And good for him. I see nothing wrong with him doing what he needed to do, albeit in a very gory manner. But the very act of biting Joe’s neck like he did was so symbolic. What else in that world bites to kill? Exactly. Rick is willing to be as ruthless as he needs to in order to protect Carl. He cannot do that if he is dead. Therefore, he must do whatever it takes to stay alive.

And survival is a very powerfully ingrained instinct. Both Tony and Rick went through the ringer before getting pushed to the brink. I think it is a testament to the spirit that each does not given up.

Not that giving up is easy, not when your life is on the line, but neither is it inherently noble. Not if evil wins because of this sacrifice. Because there is real evil in this world. And Walking Dead comments on that. Who is really to be feared, now? Not the zombies, but the humans. And what is Tony to fear? Repercussions for his actions? No, the evil of Cameron and the biker gang, set on making him a pawn.

Both do what I hope we all would do if brought to our knees––fight.

And win.

Siena College Visit

I did not attend Siena College, but have had the good fortune to be invited to speak there by Pendragon, the college’s Literary Magazine Club. I will be giving a presentation on my path to publishing, fielding some Q&A, and then signing after, thanks to the support of Market Block Books. If you want to swing by, check the flyer below or the pertinent details, and I hope to see you there!

Thanks, ALA Midwinter

Philly

I could go on and on about how awesome ALA Midwinter was, but I have to keep this brief because I’m in the middle of edits for my next novel. More on that later because I don’t think anything’s official yet 🙂

However, I do want to extend a huge thanks to all the librarians I got to meet at my signing on Saturday. It was so wonderful to see such enthusiasm over YA lit, and my work, specifically. I also need to thank Running Press, who made my attendance possible. They keep supporting me on so many levels that I can’t truly express how much I appreciate them.

Also, I wanted to post my trailer again for all the librarians to whom I mentioned its existence. It’s great material for a book talk, and I truly hope it inspires some readers. And if it does, have them tweet, email, or in any way let me know they enjoyed.

Thanks, again.

Trailer for Dare Me, created by Patrick Willems

Back Porch Writer Interview

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Kori Miller of Back Porch Writer, which is  a site dedicated to podcasts about all things writing. We spent a half hour talking about Young Adult literature, my books, and writing in general. If you have a half hour in which you’d like to listen to my insight about what I write and why I write it, please do so. Kori conducts a great interview and if you’re an author looking for some exposure, contact her. I had a blast.

Enjoy!

Listen: here