Time and Place

BOB

I’ve never enjoyed the expression, “There’s a time and place for everything.” If you’re on the receiving end of it, it typically means that you’ve made a mistake with your timing, or you are not suitable for the place you are in. For quite some time I’ve felt this way while writing and revising the manuscript I’ve been working on for the past two years.

Note that I used manuscript, and not book. To use another idiom, “This dog won’t hunt.” Or, plainly, this manuscript will not be sold and become a book.

This is not a reflection on me as a writer, because this is completely normal (although, trust me, it feels like a complete reflection on my abilities). It’s merely a matter of time and place. Now is not the time for this story. That’s a matter of business factors and industry demand. Books are business, and every business must know the waters before setting sail.

This is devastating to me. I’ve revised this particular manuscript, in varying degrees, seven times. And still…

Therefore, with a bit of a heavy heart, and feeling very much like I was in a place I didn’t belong, yesterday I went to the Central New York finals for Battle of the Books, held at the New York State Museum in Albany.

I’d been invited by the organizer to present to the 200 or so teens, of which middle and high school teams competed in a timed, Jeopardy-like quiz competition, where they had to properly identify the title and author(s) of books, based on short excerpts read to them. They had read all books prior, and Dare Me was on the list for the HS students.

Battle MS

Middle School teams

Fortunately, I brought along two middle school students, my daughter, Grace, and her friend, Caroline. They were a welcome distraction from the general nervousness I felt about presenting, and my fear that when quotes about Dare Me came up, none of the competitors would have a clue.

The competition was fierce, with students buzzing in before quotes were even finished being read. Oneonta won the middle school bracket because of their unbelievable knowledge of the books, and their member, Emily a.k.a. “trigger finger.”

It was a tighter race for the High School teams. Oneonta and Fort Plain tied, and were forced into a tie-breaker. No lie, had Oneonta known the last quote used from Dare Me, they would have won, but Fort Plain ended up taking the top spot.

Battle HS

High School teams

Watching the teams compete was as thrilling as watching any sporting event I’ve seen, and I was unbelievably impressed with the dedication and effort that must have gone into securing a spot at the finals.

I then had a brief break to tour the museum with my entourage, but shortly was back in the auditorium, under an enormous screen, with my presentation looming. Fortunately, I had my girls with me, because they distracted me with stolen, winning cup selfies, and karaoke with Adele. The sound system in the room is amazing.

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What stolen trophy?

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Karaoke with Adele 

But then the teens filed in, and it was go time. I did what I do: entertained the hell out of the crowd, telling stories about the difficulty of getting into publishing, as well as the struggle to stay alive once in. They were enthralled, and that bit of self-doubt I’d been feeling vanished for a while.

Once the presentation was over, I felt as I always do: hopeful that they’d enjoyed and that I hadn’t wasted anyone’s time. Id’ forgotten about the signing.

There was no book seller onsite, so the students who wanted books signed had to bring their own copies. I sat at the front of the auditorium and the line stretched up the steps. So many had come with books and posters and bookplates and T-shirts and forearms and hands for me to sign. It’s impossible to express the gratitude I felt in that moment. None of these teens knew prior to coming to this event if I’d be any good, and they certainly didn’t know how down on myself I felt. Did they ever lift my spirits.

During the signing, I received a T-shirt made for me, signed by the team, which is totally awesome, but then I had one of the most surreal moments. A student shared with me that after having read Press Play, he was inspired to tackle his health and had already lost 20 pounds doing so. Mind blown.

BOB shirt

I write fiction for teens, not motivational non-fiction. I write scary, often violent, and downright disturbing stories. That these kids loved. That these kids found motivation from. That these kids then read on their buses back to their hometowns, many, many miles away, and sent me messages on Instagram thanking me and telling me how awesome the books were they’d just started.

Time and Place. What a difference a day makes. Pick your idiom about needing the rain for a rainbow. They all work. Yesterday was equally necessary for me and for those amazing teens. Thank you to all who showed me much love yesterday. You have no idea how I needed it.

And have no fear, I’m writing another manuscript. I have other projects already written that may come to fruition. So, a swing and a miss, but not down and out. As they say, there’s a time and a place for everything.

 

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.

The trouble with completing a novel

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My next novel is complete. I finished edits over the phone with my editor yesterday afternoon. It didn’t hit me then that I was done, but it did later in the evening, and I feel a bit lost at this point.

And no, the woods above aren’t a metaphor for how I feel 🙂 Much of the novel, Look Past, takes place in the woods, and it’s scary as hell. Yet, after having spent close to three years working on this story, I am kind of terrified by how it will be received. But first, here’s the catalog copy for the novel, for those of you who have no idea what Look Past is about:

Mary is dead—murdered in a brutal way. Avery, a transgender boy who loved Mary but who was shunned by Mary’s very strict Reverend father, can’t sit on the sidelines while the police, including his own uncle, handle the case. Therefore, his interest in forensics takes over and he goes to the crime scene. Avery’s investigating puts him in harm’s way, as the authorities are on edge, trying to decipher who the killer is, and have no time for the outcast teen. Avery must, like the rest of the town, wait for the police to do their job.

However, following Mary’s funeral, Avery receives the first in a series of disturbing texts that can only have come from the killer, revealing that Avery is now a target, dead-center in the continuing manhunt and investigation. With the entire town caught in the grip of fear and uncertainty, Avery is torn between finding the killer and protecting himself.

Soon, though, even hiding and hoping is taken from Avery. The killer, in a disturbing cat and mouse game, toys with Avery’s heart and his identity. If Avery plays along, can he bring Mary’s murderer to justice? Or will sacrificing himself be the ultimate betrayal?

With his characteristic honesty and gift for creating page-turning plots, author Eric Devine explores the depths one must go, in order to see past the superficial and to find the truth.

Gripping, right? And intense. At this point, these are facets of my writing that should be expected. But here’s the thing, I’ve never written a murder mystery before. I have read a ton since I was a child, but trust me, there’s a vast difference in having read one and having written one. Yet, I’ve pulled it off. It wasn’t easy, but with help, I figured it out.

Also, I’m not transgender. To me, I don’t find an issue with that. Like with the murder mystery aspect, for the gender disparity, I read a lot, and researched, and I interviewed people. I did the work. As an author, I believe that creativity is paramount to experience. To paraphrase Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird, I should be able to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it. That’s the job. To be at a slight distance, objectively, from the world, but to feel, subjectively, everything.

And yet the landscape of social media and the ways YA is often picked apart for what it is, for what it lacks, and how the author is a manifestation of both, can be disturbing.

Possibly this is why my emotions are mixed. I love that Avery’s story is going to be out in the world. I love that a really good murder mystery is going to unfold. I love that perspectives are going to be challenged. Yet, it’s like raising a child for the past three years and having to let him go, only to then wait for people to bash him and my parenting skills. Good times.

Again, though, that’s the job. The words are complete. The story is finished. Soon I’ll receive a cover image, and by spring advanced reader copies will be available. It’s exciting, and terrifying, much like the story. Which I believe is a fair tribute to a little piece of my life, the years I have spent, which will now, morph into a new life in readers’ hands.

 

For Dan, How to Be Descriptive.

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I don’t offer writing advice. Mostly because I don’t feel like an expert, which I know may seem weird as an author and English teacher. But, largely, that’s because I’m always questioning what I know, which may be fundamental to learning anything. The second, and more broad reason I don’t like to give advice, is because I think the process of writing is different for everyone. So the caveat that always applies is the following: this is what works for me, and it may or may not work for you.

And so, with that said, let me offer some advice 🙂

Recently, following a school visit, I received letters from the students, thanking me for visiting, which was awesome, but also asking for writing advice. One particular student, let’s call him Dan, asked the following:

“How do you write with such description? I just can’t.”

Huh, how to be more descriptive. That’s a knotty question, and one I think is excellent for every writer, regardless of his or her stage in the game. However, I think the question is better framed as “How do I provide just the right amount of description?” For some, like Dan, this may mean more is necessary. For others, possibly less. But for all, it is always about hitting the sweet spot of details for each scene. And every scene has different demands. And every writer has a different way of meeting those demands.

For me, I don’t go for extensive character description. I don’t like to completely paint physical characteristics. I enjoy leaving that up to the reader, because, I feel, it can engage the reader more fully with the story. They have to do a little work, and that’s important. Being involved and not passive is exactly what should be going on in good writing.

Therefore, my focus for detailed description falls to character action and setting. I am a firm believer that seeing what a character does is for more important than how a character looks. And providing a vivid backdrop on which this action takes place is simply necessary.

So, the question is how that is done. My answer: close your eyes and be the character.

When we write, we are not ourselves. Sure, we’re the person in the chair, hammering away at the keyboard, but we are also the girl or the boy, the villain or the hero. We have to be. We must get inside not only their heads, but become them, mind and body.

With your eyes closed, you can envision the scene unfolding, much like a movie. What do you see? What do you hear and feel? Is there anything to be tasted or smelt? It is not that you have to incorporate all of the senses, but it is important that all description not be limited to sight. The word “imagery” can be deceptive. It is truly about all five senses and creating that real-world, 3-D like quality. The reader does not feel distant from the story. The reader is in the story, and to do that means proving just enough detail, exactly as it needs to be, but not too much, nor too little.

Yes, it sounds a lot like a recipe. It is. And that is how you should build your story, ingredient by ingredient, for each scene. Some need more noise, others, touch. If you are living your character’s life, you’ll know intuitively.

Of course I could be blowing smoke, so let’s take a look at Dare Me. The following excerpt is from the first few pages, where Ben is about to perform the first dare.

I turn and look. Nothing but cornstalks and pavement, blue sky and puffy white clouds. Perfection. I focus on that image and the stillness, the quiet. If I don’t, I’ll chicken out. My mind’s already filling with scenarios for how this will end badly. But school starts tomorrow, and I agreed to this, however it goes.

I pull the ski mask over my face and slide out the window.

The wind whips even though Ricky’s only going like thirty miles per hour. I can’t hear what John’s saying. His mouth’s moving, but it’s like being in a dream, all background noise, nothing real. He jacks his thumb into the air, an obvious sign for me to get on the roof. I take a deep breath, steady my elbows, and push myself up.

My feet tingle and my heart hammers, but I keep going. I grab the roof rack and pull and am flat on top. The wind pours over me now, but the space around my face is calm. Unreal.

I would suggest that as a reader you were very much with Ben there, not merely watching him. You felt his anxiety, juxtaposed to the beauty of the day. He’s doing stupid things and you understand his terror as it unfolds against the whipping wind.

So, if that works for you, Dan, and any others, cool. If not, there are excellent books out there like Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Pick one up and see if the advice there strikes a chord.

If you liked this advice and would like more, please don’t hesitate to ask.

And, as always, keep writing.

 

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 🙂

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Status Update

LP release

When I get incredibly anxious, as I have been recently, I begin to doubt. Myself. My work. My voice. Then I shut down. I simply have no interest in communicating because I’m afraid what I might say. That I might reveal too much.

And this is what I have been anxious about and holding onto: I won’t have a book out in 2015.

That’s it, which I know is pretty ridiculous. Many authors do not publish a book a year. And so many unpublished authors would kill for my “problem”. Yet, at the same time, if it shut me down, I need to give it attention and not merely rationalize the feelings away.

I have spent close to two years working on LOOK PAST. It’s been downright exhausting, because I’ve had to push myself so very far as a writer. From interviews to research to simple plotting, the novel has high demands. And then this past summer, after receiving excellent advice from my agent, I rewrote the entire manuscript.

That rewrite paid off, because that is the version that sold. But it has sold with a caveat. The manuscript is due for yet another a massive overhaul, which is why you won’t see it until 2016.

Recently, after announcing the sale, I’ve had much congratulations, which I’ve enjoyed, but I am so thankful for my one friend, who after realizing I wouldn’t be releasing a book this upcoming fall, asked, “Are you okay with that?” He understood. I’ve been on a roll, and the momentum has helped fuel me. And now?

It’s a mere bump in the road, I’m sure. But from this juncture, eighteen months feels like an unplanned detour.

I’m coming around to the idea, and know it is for the best, but it’s been mentally taxing. Fortunately, writing is great therapy for me. So while I’ve been riddled with doubt, I’ve been writing. Just last week I finished the first draft of a novel that forced me to dig even deeper as a writer than I had to with LOOK PAST.

So, my takeaway is that maybe this is what happens when you push hard and you get way outside your comfort zone. It takes a little bit longer to assimilate all that has been learned. I’m holding onto that, now, instead of my anxieties, and know I will still enjoy fall of ’15, just not nearly as much as I will fall of ’16.

 

Bearing Witness to Violence, a guest post at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Hey, I have a guest post up over at one of my favorite sites, Teen Librarian Toolbox. You can read it here, or click the link below, and read at Karen’s site. She has a treasure trove of excellent content, so be careful to set aside a few hours.

Bearing Witness to Violence, a guest post by author Eric Devine — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Recently I was at a school in Harlem, giving my standard presentation of how I became an author and what my work is about, and I found myself at the section on Press Play, which many of the kids had read, and I was nervous to speak about the story’s roots. There, before me, sat multiple athletes and the athletic director, and I looked at them and said, “I hate jock culture. That doesn’t mean I hate athletes or sport, but I do detest the privilege athletes are given merely because they are strong, or can run fast, or throw a ball well. Those same privileges, by and large, are not afforded to students of similar academic prowess, and that is a problem.”

Boy do I know how to work a crowd :)

Yet, in spite of the bristling athletes and the way the director looked at me, they began to nod as I talked about how I looked at this concept in my work.

Press Play is about Greg Dunsmore, who is his own worst enemy. Bullied for being overweight, he has turned to his phone and the movies he makes with it for solace. He lies with his film and has a reputation because of it. He is a pariah, especially in a school dominated by its devotion for the boys’ lacrosse team. So in his senior year, for his film class documentary, as a way of demonstrating he is more than the lies and the taunts, Greg decides to film his weight loss. He wants this for himself, not for them, or possibly as a way to make one honest film. Therefore, he sets out with his “friend” Quinn to train. While doing so, the boys hear something going on during the lacrosse team’s indoor practice in a nearby gym. Greg grabs his phone and they investigate. This sets in motion the dilemma of the novel, because Greg finds the team brutally hazing the underclassmen and gets it on film.

What does one do with such evidence? Go to the principal or the authorities. But how does one do that when the principal is the coach and seemingly everyone in the town has either played the sport or is financially connected to the team?

And so the story takes on these two dimensions: the will-he-won’t-he-Hamlet-like waffling of Greg, alongside the increasingly horrific abuse. This scenario is an unfortunately common parallel to so many who find themselves in sexually violent scenarios. Who can you trust when your trust has been taken? How can you move on when you have experienced what you have, and yet in your gut know others may be victims?

Because it’s all about power, and so often victims have only their voice matched against entities infinitely more powerful than themselves. And so they stay quiet, and who can blame them?

Yet, here we have Greg, witness to the acts, with evidence, and in the age of all things internet, the possibility of a voice powerful enough. But he’s a liar. Has proven that time and again. What can he do, after years of being abused and subsequently and callusing himself with lies, to now help these victims?

I’ll let you read the story to find that out.

But I can tell you that after I detailed this scenario to the athletes and the school’s athletic director, it opened up a conversation in which the director asked about hazing in their school’s program.

Now, on the spot like that, I’m not one bit surprised that the kids said nothing occurred. So of course I asked, “Does it not occur, or do you not recognize it for what it is?”

That caught them off-guard.

And I think that this question is the key to the #SVYALit program. Replace “hazing” with “rape” and then ask the same question above to a teenager who isn’t comfortable talking about sex, much less a violent encounter with sexual elements. I think the response is universal, and is the one I received from the boys: shrugged shoulders, and a “maybe.”

This is why I am proud to be a part of the conversation. Because teens do commit violent acts against one another, and many have sexual aspects that make them rape. And yet teens are not fully aware of this, nor how to talk about it. Therefore, the chat Anthony BreznicanJoshua Cohen, and I will have on 1/28 is important. Hazing abounds in high school, in small incidents and in massive, conformist ways. And often it teeters on, and then falls into, sexual assault, and may be the one area in this spectrum of violence where boys are more represented than girls. That worries me. That predilection, or at least that shoulder-shrugging acceptance of violence, sexual or not, paired with the privilege of athletics, is a noxious creation.

Please, tune in, or catch our conversation after the fact. The angles of this issue are vast and knotty, and only through relentless exploration and discussion will we ever make headway. Because a shrug in the face of the aftermath of such violence is not only unacceptable, it is reprehensible.

Join us on Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 12 Noon Eastern for a Google Hangout led by Press Play author Eric Devine and featuring Brutal Youth author Anthony Breznican and Leverage author Joshua C. Cohen. The topic will be hazing. Learn more about the #SVYALit Project.

More on Hazing at TLT:

Take 5: Hazing

Initiation Secrets: Press Play and a look at hazing with author Eric Devine

Breaking Tradition: BRUTAL YOUTH author Anthony Breznican on the fight against hazing

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Eric Devine is the author of fearless fiction: Press PlayTap OutDare Me, and This Side of Normal. He is also a high school English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Eric is represented by Kate McKean of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.

About Press Play:

Greg Dunsmore, a.k.a. Dun the Ton, is focused on one thing: making a documentary that will guarantee his admission into the film school of his choice. Every day, Greg films his intense weight-loss focused workouts as well as the nonstop bullying that comes from his classmates. But when he captures footage of violent, extreme hazing by his high school’s championship-winning lacrosse team in the presence of his principal, Greg’s field of view is in for a readjustment.
Greg knows there is a story to be told, but it is not clear exactly what. And his attempts to find out the truth only create more obstacles, not to mention physical harm upon himself. Yet if Greg wants to make his exposé his ticket out of town rather than a veritable death sentence, he will have to learn to play the game and find a team to help him.
Combine the underbelly of Friday Night Lights with the unflinching honesty of Walter Dean Myers, and you will find yourself with Eric Devine’s novel of debatable truths, consequences, and realities. – October 2014 from Running Press Kids

PRESS PLAY Pub Day Contest

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Yay, it’s Pub Day! And to celebrate the fact that Press Play is out in the world, I’ve created a fun and interactive giveaway. You have the opportunity to win a signed copy of Press Play, as well as this long-sleeve T-shirt.PP Shirt-1

From today, 10/28, through Tuesday, 11/11, you have one job––to create a video. What kind, and what to do with it are below:

*You do not have to be a Tumblr user to enter. You just need to go to the site. I promise*

  1.  Go to a bookstore. Record yourself making a big deal about finding Press Play on the shelf. Maybe you can even talk it up to other patrons. It’s your call, just make it fun for everyone.
  2. If you’ve already gone to the bookstore or to one of my signings, and, therefore, have a copy, there’s no need to go to the bookstore. Make a video in which you discuss the awesomeness of the book. It doesn’t have to be you sitting in front of the camera, talking. However you want to create the “review” is up to you.
  3. Once you’ve recorded, you’ll need to upload your video to YouTube or to Vimeo so that you have an Embed code or URL
  4. With video complete, go to my Tumblr: http://initiationsecrets.tumblr.com/
  5. See that “Submit” tab?Step 5
  6. Click Submit and you’ll see this:Step 6
  7. Now, enter a name and email. I need to be able to tell you that you’ve won 🙂Step 7
  8. Now, you’ll need to change “Text” in the upper, left corner to “Video”Step 8
  9. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready and the screen will look like this:Step 9
  10. Paste in your Embed code or URL and Submit

Sweet, right? I know. I’m looking forward to seeing all the videos, the antics, the creativity. And I’m excited to hear your reactions to my work.

Go, have fun. Enjoy Press Play.

Your Weekend Plans involve PRESS PLAY

PP B&N Poster

Hey, everybody! We’re a week out from the publication day for Press Play, which means my normally anxiety-ridden self is overflowing with neuroses. But it also means it’s time for you to get your hands on copies AND to have a chance to see the trailer on the big screen.

Yup, from 10/24 through 10/30, at  Regal Cinemas in Colonie, the trailer will play during the ad space before all PG-13 and R rated movies.

Therefore, movies like Gone Girl, The Maze Runner, Fury, The Judge, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dracula Untold, and Left Behind will all be playing my trailer as you settle in with your popcorn. Do feel free to tweet to me or post to Facebook that you’ve seen it. Go ahead and snap a picture if you’re feeling brave. 

However, I know that seeing the trailer is cool, but getting the book is better. And so if you want to be some of the first people in the Capital District to get your hands on copies, I have two events prior to publication day where you can get a copy and my signature.

On Friday, 10/24, from 4:oo until the party winds down, I’m back at McGreivey’s for my Launch party. If you’ve been before, expect the same good time. If you haven’t, expect free appetizers from 5-7, drink specials at the bar, and a packed house of people celebrating my latest creation.

If you can’t make it on the 24th, no worries, I’ve got you covered the next day. On Saturday, 10/25, I’m at Barnes and Noble in Colonie, signing from 2-4. And hey, while you’re there, you can go see a movie. Please be sure to look for the poster at the top of this post, and, again, share it on every social media platform you are on.

And if neither of these dates work, not a problem, just check the flyer below for one that does. I hope to see you at least once, and I can’t wait for your reaction to the turbulent ride that is Press Play!

Sayreville vs. PRESS PLAY: when truth is stranger than fiction

Sayreville

I wasn’t surprised by the hazing allegations in Sayreville, NJ. I was disgusted, especially as details about the hazing came out, but not surprised.  I have been involved with athletics as an athlete and as a coach, and I know, firsthand, the danger of the locker room mentality. As an educator, I have heard more stories about abusive events than I ever wanted to. This isn’t to say I have ever been around circumstances of the severity of Sayerville. But I’m not sure that severity is the key issue. The complicit nature of those in the know, is.

Trust me, in no way shape or form am I blaming victims. Those boys have been traumatized. Nor am I so foolish as to expect the perpetrators to turn themselves in. They should, but that is not how they operate. My concern is with the rest of the team, the school, and the community. I do not live in Sayreville, and I won’t speak ill of a town reeling from such a scandal, but I think the question that needs to be asked–and hopefully is being asked by investigators–is who knew, what, and when?

The thing about teens is that they talk. They tell stories. Often they can’t keep secrets. Based on the media reports out of Sayreville, the hazing that occurred is as much tradition as is the support of the team. And so it is only fair to deduce that someone knew. Or a lot of people, really. Not just the team. Not just their immediate friends. But certainly the coaches, and maybe some of the staff; possibly administration. I’m willing to bet former players knew. Yet, no one spoke out, so far as we know. That fact speaks to the power of abuse and the grip it holds. Everyone feared speaking because of the potential victimization he or she would receive. With good reason.

In Press Play, the lacrosse team is involved in brutal and systematic hazing. No one talks because they know better. No one talks because the powers that be are complicit, possibly more than. No one talks because the town’s economy depends on the team. No one talks because there is no one to talk to.

Some people have had a problem with that concept, of students not trusting adults, or adults being cast in such a negative light. I respect that. And more often than not, teens should be able to trust adults. Except for when they can’t.

That’s why I was thrilled to see a recent review by a librarian who went back and reread Press Play after the allegations is Sayreville came forth. In her words, “I had to reread Press Play this week after hearing about the hazing in Sayreville, NJ, on the news. When I first read the book, it seemed like an over-the-top version of team hazing and bullying, designed to get people talking. After watching the Sayreville superintendent’s press conference on his decision to completely cancel their football team’s entire season, I realized that there is much more reality to this than I ever wanted to believe.”

No one wants to imagine that anyone is capable of being involved on any level with something so atrocious. But people are. And it is as bad, if not worse, in reality, than any fiction I can write.

The reviewer goes on to make a powerful statement in support of Press Play: This is well-written, gripping, and I recommend this for 8th grade and up.
I really want my…graduates in high school to read this. But I also want my 8th graders to read this. There is a lot of swearing, and the bullying scenes should literally make your blood run cold. The reason I want my 8th graders to read this is that I want them to think carefully about what kind of person they want to be when they get to the high school. What do you want yourself to do when the lights go out and you hear the wolf howl signal? Will you step up and say something, and will you keep saying something until someone listens? Will you hide in the back and say nothing while you watch? Or will you be laughing and egging someone on? What kind of character does it take to do the right thing in the face of certain ostracism, and possible violence?”

These are the questions posed to Greg, the protagonist in Press Play. He, who has been bullied and victimized for as long as he can remember, has to decide to step up or stay silent. His journey into the darkness is disturbing, but so worth the read if you care to understand the impotent rage that these athletes feel, these students feel, that you will feel.

Press Play will be published two weeks from today. Read, and continue the conversation, because events like the one at Sayreville are far from behind us.