My “Other” Audience

I have come to the realization that I don’t write for teens. I mean, I do, but let’s consider this: the majority of you reading this post are adults, and you are here primarily because you’ve read my work. Therefore, it stands to reason that as much as I envision my audience as under eighteen, I could be completely wrong.

And I’m okay with that.

Recently, the topic of adults reading YA books has received heavy consideration. If you’d like to read more deeply about this, go here, here or here. I find the issue intriguing for a number of reasons, but mostly because from my perspective, at signings and promotional events, I don’t see a lot of teens. I see adults of various ages, buying for a friend, a cousin, a niece, a nephew, a son, a daughter. However, they ALL say they same thing, “I’ll read this first to see how it is.”

It’s difficult to hold back a smirk. I sincerely appreciate that my novels will eventually make their way into the hands of teens––if those teens exist­­––but I have to wonder if this purchase, ostensibly for someone else, is a ploy, and if these adults are purchasing what they deem guilty pleasures.

Now, I hate the term “guilty pleasures.” Like what you like, especially when it comes to reading. Don’t let someone knock what you read because it isn’t in line with what they want you to be reading. The mere fact that you as an adult are reading is wonderful, because it’s not the standard.

I’ve talked to enough adults who haven’t read a novel since high school. I’ve talked to plenty of adults who stopped reading for pleasure in college because the classics bored them to death, and the suggested contemporary, adult lit, was more of the same. These same adults will say to me about my work, “I haven’t read a book that I was unable to put down in so long, I’ve forgotten that feeling.”

And that, right there, is everything.

The nature of this issue boils down to one point: storytelling. I don’t care if it’s a classic from the canon, a children’s picture book, some chic new adult genre, or YA, if the story grabs you and won’t let go, that’s awesome. And as I’ve said before, the goal for my work is for it to be awesome. Sure it can be other things, too: deep, intriguing, dark, gritty­­––but it has to be awesome. Because that is the hallmark of good storytelling. You want it to go on. You’re angry when it’s over, but also elated because it was such a thrill. And you know you’ll recommend the story to others, and you’ll think about it for days and weeks to come. It will become a piece of you.

Young Adult lit does that. It has that power. So does adult lit, and children’s lit. But YA is unique in that it has the power to wake up something inside of you that has lain dormant. All those intense teen emotions. They haven’t gone away. You haven’t really grown up. You’ve only gotten older.

And once you’re comfortable with that notion, once you abandon the idea of guilty pleasures, because of age, the reading landscape will open to you. And it is full of capital A, awesome.

Go, read it all. And if you need suggestions, I’m here for you. 

DARE ME Countdown Giveaway Challenge #3

If you are familiar with the dashing dude above, then, yes, you guessed it, today’s challenge is all about Newton. No, not the fig kind. But first, yesterday’s winner.

For her account of Dairy Queen disaster and being called “Butterscotch Girl” (see the comment section), Stephanie Rosch wins a signed copy of Dare Me. Send me your email, and thanks for the great story!

And so, back to Challenge #3 and Newton. Surprise, surprise, Ben the kid who does crazy stunts, considers the implications of the physics to them as well as the Natural laws, as they defy them. Therefore, there are the excerpts below from Dare Me. You’ll need them to understand the challenge, as Ben does a good job of summarizing the three laws.

The challenge:  Which law most applies to life?

Answer that with an example, and you’re entered to win. Do so here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Enjoy Ben’s ruminations below, and remember, Newton’s watching you.

Excerpts:

Law #1

I head to physics and learn about Newton’s First Law. Who knew that it took a genius to figure out that objects at rest or in motion stay that way unless acted upon? It seems rather simple: The beginning of something, or the lack of beginning, is up to the individual, unless someone else forces the issue.

Law #2 

I read Newton’s Second Law: The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.

Right. So, positive things continue in a positive direction, negative, well, negatively; the acceleration matches the force applied, and the larger the mass, the slower the acceleration. Hmm. Was Newton also psychic?

Law #3

I step into physics, and it seems as if we’re continuing a theme here. On the board is written: Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The words are more like something out of a fortune cookie than a scientific law. Still, maybe I should pay more attention.

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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Tweets from the road: First Signing for DARE ME

On Saturday Market Block Books held my first signing for Dare MeIt was a gorgeous day with lots of foot traffic from the Troy Farmers Market. I met teachers and parents who snapped up copies of both Dare Me and Tap Out for their students and children–and even one man who admitted Dare Me was going to his daughter, once he’d had a chance to enjoy. There was even a guest appearance by the world famous author, Dennis Mahoney, who was in for a copy and to talk to the incomparable Stanley from Market Block about Troy Author Day. Below are tweets from Saturday, including a screen shot from a baffling Amazon image. Even better is my super awkward pitch to Stanley about Dare Me. I try to stay poised, but it’s been a while since I’ve been out promoting.

If you didn’t have a chance to come out, check my schedule at the bottom. Thanks.

How could I not suggest this?

You have to love the ornate feel of everything in Troy.

Like I said, Dennis was there. Here’s proof:

And Amazon. They don’t want to release the pre-orders yet. However, during this window of time, Dare Me was on sale, and only one copy was left. No clue.

Good times trying to figure out what to say:

The Teenage Landscape

I am constantly wondering what I’m going to write next. This seems to be the bane of existence for most writers, because as much as we love what we have just finished, there is always the question: Well, is that it?

This tends to nag me when I’m between projects. Mind you, “between projects” means a novel is coming out, i.e. Dare Me, and a draft of another is written. So it’s not as if I’m whiling away my time, but on the flip side, just because something’s complete doesn’t mean it’s any good. Hence the incessant push to Always Be Working.

I’m fortunate to have in insider’s view, and all of my work is a mix of my impressions of teen life, combined with my emotional memory of being an adolescent. I’ve barely met my classes for the year and already I’m blown away by the “cast of characters” before me and the issues they already bring to the table. This year, like all the others, certain activity will consistently emerge (the daredevil behavior in Dare Me), or a particular image will present itself (the hoodies in Tap Out), and my mind will get racing. Then I’ll use bits and pieces of it all to create an impression as full-bodied as I can make it. And off I’ll go with a process that works.

Now, however, Dare Me will soon be out, and readers and critics will have their interpretations about how I present the teenage landscape. Say what they will, but I think this comment nails it: “This book is signature Devine: Intense. Gripping. Honest.”

That is my purpose. I tell stories that are usually a bit dark, are typically intense in nature, but always, always try to present some truth. Not necessarily a truth I want, but one I see and understand. That last point is what gets me yelled at. In my work I try to be a mirror instead of a design. And some people do not like what they see.

That’s all right. Because I’m still going to write with honesty. I’m going to pay attention to my students. I’m going to ask questions about their lives, have conversations with the very demographic I write for. There’s a universal desire in wanting your story told. I do the best I can for the countless ones I hear.

I’m glad to be back at work, for a multitude of reasons, but many of them have to do with being allowed to engage with today’s teens. Their lives are so different from what I knew back in the 90s, but in so many ways they are the same. And if I continue to examine that distinction, I’ll always have an answer for that nagging question.

Dare Me Events

The release for Dare Me is fast approaching and I wanted to give you all as much advance notice of events as possible. Therefore, below is the flyer that will be circulating around our area. You’ve got from September through December to come out, say hey, get a copy signed, and depending on the venue, have some drinks and free food.

For those of you that are not in the area, or who just can’t wait to get a copy, pre-order now and your copy should be sent on 9/17. Stores that pre-ordered will also be stocked, but any that did not may not have copies until 10/8. 

I look forward to all of the fun and festivities. Last year with Tap Out was a blast, and I can guarantee this year will be as awesome, if not more so.

Thanks in advance.

You Just Gotta Go There

Bennington Battle Monument Photo, Click for full size

My wife and I had a date night over the weekend. This is a rare occurrence, made all the more so by the fact that we traveled close to an hour to get to our destination: Bennington, Vermont.

We went to a local brew pub, had dinner, saw the sights of downtown, checked out the battle memorial and then made one last stop at a classic dive before heading home. Nice, right? But what’s the connection to writing?

Five years ago I joined a critique group based out of Bennington. I stayed with them for over two years, traveling close to an hour each way, twice a month (weather permitting). This was back before I had anything published, before I had an inkling that I was even good enough to seek publication.

As my wife and I traveled and saw the sights, I remarked about the time I spent with the group. It was well worth it. They brought my writing to the next level, and without them I don’t think I would be published. But at the time, my wife admitted, “I feared for your sanity.”

And she was right. I was spending time and gas money we didn’t have, chasing down this elusive dream on dark back roads between New York and Vermont. The commitment was exhausting because of the demands of my young children, my full-time job and life in general. But still, I went there, as often as I could, armed with whatever I was working on, prepared to be cut down and prepared to provide as much constructive criticism as I could muster.

I don’t offer much in the way of writing advice, here–unless I do and don’t realize it. But this trip suggested to me the most valuable I unconsciously pursued: Go there.

There doesn’t need to be an hour away. It doesn’t even need to be outside your home, but I suggest it. For any craft, for any business, for any career you want to advance in, you must sacrifice. The same holds true for being a good parent, educator, human being. If you want to move from writer to author, I believe you must make a concerted effort to become that idea, and that takes a willingness to get outside your comfort zone, and to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Now, this doesn’t mean you throw yourself on the altar of writing. Don’t be the sacrifice and have nothing left of yourself, but put up your ego, your preconceived notions of your talent, your whatever-stands-in-the-way and let others have a look see.

If you intend to write for the public, critical feedback is inevitable. And often there is too much of it. But if you went there and you became accustomed to such, you’ll come to understand what voices to trust, especially your own.

P.S. Thanks, Carrie, for taking me out. I can’t promise I won’t turn our next date night into a blog post, but I’ll try not to.

P.P.S. The most recent review of Dare Me, from Publishers Weekly.

Them Crazy Kids Dancing with “Molly”

Confession: I crank Miley Cyrus’s new song “We Can’t Stop”, and I’ve been known to sing along with Ke$ha’s “Crazy Kids”.

I don’t actually enjoy either song. I think Ke$ha is wildly overrated and I miss the days of “The Climb” when I didn’t have to tell my eight and five-year-old to turn away from YouTube. Or as my eldest says, “Back when Miley wasn’t crazy.” Exactly.

The issue for me when I hear these artists, is the emulation factor. I work with teens, and as much as they may publically sound like my eight year old decrying Miley’s transformation, privately they take note. Same with Ke$ha’s party-hearty appeal. There is no substance beyond the message that crazy is perfectly fine, admirable, really.

What?

That is why I listen and I watch and I take notes. The culture that plays out on iPhones and computer screens across the globe eventually becomes a filtered version within high schools and the surrounding communities. Sometimes not so filtered. Locally, on the heels of Cory Monteith’s death, we have a heroin problem, and I’ve talked to many educators whose students have been in trouble for “dancing with Molly.”

This is nothing inherently new. Tweens and teens have been copying the age group above them for decades. What is different is the boundaries being pushed, the messages sent, and the risk involved. Then again, possibly I’m wrong and it has always been this way. But I don’t really buy that. We all knew those handful of crazy kids in high school–some may say I was one of them. They don’t exist anymore. Their numbers have swollen as the fringe is being swallowed by the mainstream.

So what does this have to do with YA fiction?

Everything. Especially as it has been under attack for supposedly pimping wild times, as if YA authors are secretly attempting to undermine youth culture. Some believe that kids turn to YA literature as a way to get educated about these topics.

Pause. Think about that for a second. When is the last time you saw a teen reading a book to figure out how to be a bad-ass?

And…Play. Teens do read YA for information, but not in the way being posited. Teens are awash in these images and they turn to YA as a reference for how to handle them, not emulate them.

In a brilliant post by Kelly Jensen, she asks the parallel question to this debate, “Do adults read Gone Girl as a prescription for how to ruin a marriage?” Of course not, you can log on or tune in to almost anything to find an easy answer to that. It doesn’t take much thought.

However, literature does. Reading is hard work, and to fully comprehend the messages, it takes a critical mind and intelligence. The exact opposite of the passivity involved with staring at a screen.

So the next time you find a teen rocking out to whatever the latest craze is, ask what he or she makes of the message. If a response isn’t articulated, take that child to the library or the bookstore and help find something on the YA shelf that will serve as a guide. Because if we don’t, it’s “Always gonna be a uphill battle…” You know how the rest of it goes.

P.S. As I was writing this I came across an article posted yesterday about Miley discussing how her song IS about drugs. Enjoy.

P.P.S. These are the videos for the songs mentioned above. NSFW

Amidst the Chaos

These past two weeks have been insane for me, professionally, and personally. We had the JDRF Walk for my daughter, a spring concert, my eldest’s first communion, and, of course Mothers’ Day.

I held the cover reveal for Dare Me and dialed in on the last chapters of my Work In Progress. I’m two chapters out from what would be my 2015 title. Fingers crossed.

But amidst all this, last week, I got quite a surprise. For those of you who are members of my Facebook author page, you know the story. I apologize for the redundancy, but every good story bears repeating.

First, I posted this:

Received a tweet from a teacher this morning directing me to her review of Tap Out. Two things to love in her piece: 

1. That the kids WANTED to read the story.
2. That she read it AFTER they did. That takes courage with the content, but I applaud her for that.

Tap Out should not be the new literary standard, by any means, but as a gateway for readership… I’ll take it. Here’s the review.

Then, later on, I followed up with this post:

So the teacher who contacted me had another request after I responded to her tweet. Her class wanted to know the story of how Tap Out came to be. I had five minutes while I had lunch, so I typed the message below. 

She got back to me later in the day, thanking me for the message, as her students truly enjoyed the feedback and a moment with an author.
I am quite honestly the one who reveled the moment. To know your work has value, real, impacting value. Yeah, that’s what motivates me at 4 AM when I’d rather be sleeping.
Hope you all feel the same with the work you do:

(My message to the students):
Hey, Eric Devine here. So, my inspiration… I’m sure I have an articulate blog post on my site, but I can’t find it, so here’s the quick and dirty:

I teach in a school that had a number of students participating in MMA. I noticed them and realized that many had a similar background (impoverished, violent homes). I then considered what it would like to be one of them, but on an extreme level, where they had literally nothing, not even MMA as an outlet. What kind of life would that be?

Tony was born from that idea. I wanted a kid tough enough to withstand, but who has been beaten down long enough that he questions himself, what he can take and whether he should keep fighting.

I’ve witnessed a lot of kids like Tony (male and female) who are good people, but for whom life has not been kind. Some turn out well; most do not. Therefore, I wanted a good kid who’s been given a raw deal to suffer as much as anyone could, in order to see which way he would go.

I can honestly say I did not realize how it would all shake out, but I am happy with the fact that Tony made some choices that do not sit well with people. That lets me know I made it authentic. Real life rarely sits well at all times with all people.

Tap Out is not a story of my life turned fiction. I have witnessed poverty and extreme violence and insanity, but secondhand. I am not Tony, but I love him for all his flaws, and for his humanity. Because in the end, I believe there is hope for him.

Later, I messaged the teacher and she told me that the students were so awestruck that they demanded she give them all printouts of my response. Unreal.

But it’s also so validating, because I meant every word of that response, and to receive such feedback made my day on so many levels. It’s a tough job, writing. You have to fully commit, and must expect nothing. I’m there. I live that life, in the very odd, isolated way it can often feel. But then there are these moments, when all of it is worth it.

Not because of the money. Not because of the accolades or critical praise. But because some kid, somewhere is reading. And he or she is reading my book. And he or she loves it.

I did that. And I get the opportunity to continue to do that. Yes, that is awesome. And I’ll rough the chaos for that moment of order, whenever it materializes.