Pump Up The Volume

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Last night, I was in my car, and happened to catch one of the local DJs talking about his approach to Facebook amid our new political era. He has turned off political posts in his feed. I don’t know he did that, because, I really don’t use FB that much, but even if I did know, I wouldn’t follow his lead. Yes, like many of you, I have unfriended or stopped being able to see those people who post nothing but political posts, because they are always overly partisan, and not typically grounded in anything that seeks to educate or is based on facts.

However, I use Twitter devoutly. I follow people from all walks of life, who tweet or retweet articles and information that reinforces and challenges my opinions. I think this is good and necessary. Because the advice the DJ was offering is garbage. You must stay informed. Sticking your head in the sand is always a problem, regardless of how your politics lean.

Being blissfully uninformed is not the kind of civic responsibility I want emulated. I’m sure this DJ stays in the loop in other ways, aside from social media, which is VERY smart, but to say that you don’t care what your friends and neighbors and community think, and that you’ll just ignore the world until everything settles down is one hell of an entitled position to hold. Don’t stare at another cat video. Read something.

This entitled thinking is useless for those who cannot escape the realities of the here and now. Some people have been deeply and immediately affected, and others will soon be. To ignore this because it’s “not my problem” is a disservice to the American people. When members of the armed forces show up at airports, stating, “This is not what I put my life on the line for,” I don’t think you can tell people to ignore the issues.

I recently had a conversation with my daughter about disability. In case you are just tuning in, both my youngest daughter and I have type 1 diabetes. We can’t just blissfully ignore our disability, because there is no way to put it on pause, to take a day off, to not be immersed in its issues daily. I’m not thrilled about this, and would love a break, but I’m also a realist, and I believe this is a profound analogy for today. I have to look. I have to read. It is my responsibility as a citizen of this country, as it is my responsibility as a patient. Do the work.

Therefore, if you are on social media, don’t hide from the rhetoric. Pump up the volume. Read. Listen. Engage. Consider both sides and then make your decision. Because if you’re not, if you’re like that DJ just waiting for the storm to pass, shame on you. We are clearly at a turning point in our country, and you should want to be so involved that when it turns, you can say, “I’m glad I had a hand in that.”

And if you’re looking for reputable sources, consider these:

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The Winter of Our Discontent

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I could say that I’ve been too busy revising my latest manuscript to write a post recently, and that would be true. But that’s not the only reason I have shied away. Honestly, I’ve feared being too bleak.

A shocking sentiment, I know, from the guy who brought you Tap Out, but it’s true. I have been deeply frustrated since November, and now that we are facing a change in power, I am almost completely unmoored from my faith in a just world. Or, at least a just country.

It’s not that I don’t understand how and why we are where we are. I’ve read so much, from both sides, that I feel like I have a handle on the process and the perspectives that came into play. However, that understanding brings me no solace. It doesn’t help in dealing with whatever is to come. And I think that is the worst, the fear of the unknown, especially when the unknown is so alarming.

Really, this isn’t even about the politics. It’s about the shift in tone and rhetoric. There’s a self-serving and callous attitude that has emerged, and I fear for the teens and children who are inadvertently affected. Post-election, I’ve heard more crude and crass speak from teens and the younger children I know. There’s a disposition of, “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of story.” As those famous lyrics go, “If nobody’s right, then everybody’s wrong.”

This is the bleakness I fear. So, I’m looking for the light. I’m looking for any articles or books or shows or movies that tackle this with clarity. I genuinely appreciated the take Black-ish had in their episode “Lemons.” It was nuanced and non-partisan.  The type of thinking I’d like to see more of.

In my latest manuscript I’ve taken on a very difficult subject: race relations in America. In spite of the bleak aspect of the topic, I forced myself to look for the light. I was writing and revising this during all of the election season (September-January). It’s impossible to think what was occurring in our world didn’t directly affect my words. But I write realistic fiction, so that’s the point.

Still, I worry about that story, not simply because I want it to sell, but because the message, for some, might come off as contrived, as if there’s no way teens could ever figure out what adults can’t. But that is my light: that this next generation of voters can and will. That this next generation will turn away from the negativity and the hostility and embrace something greater than themselves: humanity.

As far as I know, we’ve got this one trip on this planet. It is my deepest belief that we need to spend it with our eyes open, seeking out the good, trying to make things better, and not believing ourselves to be the center of every story. The world is vast and has much to teach us. But we need to be open to the message.

We’re not there yet, but there’s always light after the dark. Spring follows winter. Now, we may be discontented, but that is not fixed and permanent. Nothing truly is. We are all malleable.

Merry, Merry

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The image sums things up, to a degree. 92,000 words, which took me 15 weeks to write. Yet, this is a story I’ve now written four times. Not revised four times. I rewrote from page 1, four times. 

Ah, the life of an author 😉

Really, I’m thrilled with this draft, and think this time it will pass the test with my agent.

For now, I can focus solely on Christmas and the rest of the season. I wish the same for you. Clear the deck. Remember what matters. Embrace your loved ones.

Merry, merry to you all. I’ve been hard at work so I can provide good news in the coming year. In the meantime, thank you for all the support you have shown me.

 

Giving Thanks

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I didn’t think I was going to write a Thanksgiving post this year, not because I have nothing to be thankful for, but because this year has been so rough. Honestly, the past eighteen months have been some of the worst of my life.

I won’t rehash all of those details here. But in summation: I lost my editor at Running Press; one of my daughters was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; I did my best to help my wife through the decline of her father’s health and her own very invasive surgery; I then, helplessly, watched my father-in-law’s descent into dementia and death; then we tried to heal.

The summer was wonderful, including our trip to Ireland. The fall brought the release of Look Past, but also  the death of our 14-year-old  chocolate Lab, Nola. Then there was the election. 

This story isn’t tragic, though. It’s life. And I’ve been fortunate enough to continue my work, which allows me a voice and supplies me ways to foster more empathetic generations to come. I’ve had numerous school visits so far this year, and my daily work with my students is always something I enjoy. I’m lucky, in spite of these past eighteen months.

We’re all still healing but my family is intact. I’m currently writing a story that addresses so many of the social and political issues that are in need of discussion right now. I don’t feel as powerless as I did a year ago.

But this year has changed me. It opened my eyes even wider to the things I value. I’ve had to accept that there’s so much professionally and personally that I simply cannot control. All I can strive to do is tell a great story. Not just with the words in my novels, but with the actions of my life. I can do better. I am thankful for coming out the other side of this with that revelation.

I have no intentions of being cynical. I have every intention of working hard. This life is not necessarily fleeting, but damn does it move quick. I have every intention of embracing the good and the bad, and taking it all in stride. It’s grist for the mill.

So, thank you, to those of you who read my work, who find that I have something valuable to say. I’m humbled by your existence. Because when I look at myself, I do not see Eric Devine, Author. I’m just a 38-year-old man, whose trying to leave this world a better place through my words. 

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.

TeenReaderCon 3.0

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Pictured: Awesome teens from Hudson Falls, and from left to right, awesome authors, James Preller, me, Ryan Smithson, Joseph Bruchac, and Patricia McCormick

I had the pleasure of attending TeenReaderCon this past weekend, for what is now my third year in a row. It was another phenomenal year of bringing together authors with their audience in a way that simply did not exist when I was a teen. And the teens completely dig the event, which is why I jumped onto the stage for my introduction, and then proceeded to climb things during my presentations, sign foreheads, forearms, and shoes. I tried to provide the kind of energy these kids deserve for showing up on a miserable October day to hang out with us. 

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One of the highlights for me, beyond this strange tradition I now have of signing foreheads and such, was talking about Look Past. During my presentation, I talk about how I became an author and then about my books, and there’s a lot of laughter and self-deprecation when I discuss Tap Out, Dare Meand Press PlayNot so much with Look Past.

Both times the room went from what felt like a stand up set, to absolute quiet. The teens and the adults in the room really wanted to hear about this story and how and why I came to it. I was intrigued by how much more open and willing they were to discuss LGBTQ issues. Say what you will about this generation, but at least the teens in attendance this weekend have big hearts and open minds.

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This picture of Jazz Jennings is what I use as a jumping off point for discussing LGBTQ issues, and I love it

I even had an offer from a teen to create a trailer for Look Past and then teens who reached out via Instagram, who finished the novel this weekend, and promised to offer a review on Amazon.  That kind of engagement is just unreal and so awesome and I am thrilled to be a part of that energy.

So, thank you to everyone who attended my presentations, bought a books or books, had me sign anything, and just for being all around fantastic people. And a huge thank you goes out to everyone behind the scenes at TeenReaderCon who worked so hard to make the day a success. It was. I’m already looking forward to next year. Thank you.