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About Devine Intervention

"Frequently hysterical ... devastatingly honest writing that surprises with its occasional beauty and hits home with the keenness of its insight." 

—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

 

"So much fun... an insightful story about seizing life for all it’s worth while you have the chance."

—Publishers Weekly


"It is a pleasure to read a writer who so delights in language, and who writes so captivatingly in a teen voice with such imaginative description."

— Los Angeles Times

“This is a love story. Not a romantic love story, but a story of the development of a deep caring relationship with another being. Humorous and sad at times, it brings us to ask ourselves what we think about heaven and how we get there. Believable and fast-paced, it keeps us reading to the end.”

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Photo by Emerald England.

Friday
Mar212014

Divergent and a Despicable Bias

"Divergent" opens this weekend, the movie based on Veronica Roth's bestselling trilogy. There's been a fair amount of coverage of what it signifies if the movie fares poorly—that YA books as adaptations are dead, that people are tired of everything YA has to stand for...

This is so unfortunate.

For starters, I really feel for Veronica Roth. Her book has been unfairly singled out for criticism. I read this wildly misleading piece in the New York Times in January and wanted to send her a box of chocolates. It's simply not true that YA is all dystopians, all lucrative, or all written with ease by very young people. The article called this book "threadbare," which is a huge insult to the taste and hearts of the many people who loved the book. Just because you or I don't fall for a particular title doesn't mean it's a bad book. If even one person loves a book, it means the author did something right.

And while I had questions about the way Roth's world worked, I was able to put those aside and see it as a metaphor. Sure, it would be impossible to organize around a complex society around single attributes the way it's laid out in Divergent. But that very often is how high school feels. That we're all reduced to our simplest signifier, and it's hard to escape, and no one wants you to be more than one thing at a time. It's why "The Breakfast Club" was and remains resonant.

To enjoy the movie to its fullest, you have to be able to go into it thinking about things metaphorically, and not literally. For other forms of art, people seem to have no trouble doing this. No one looks at a Picasso and says, "Wow. That guy definitely couldn't paint noses."

With any piece of art, emotional resonance is more important than logic. It's not to say logic is unimportant, or that some books aren't better than others at creating both. But the purpose of a book is to give a reader a meaningful emotional experience, and Divergent did that for a lot of people, as will the movie.

I'm not saying the book or the movie rises to Picasso's level.

This movie is arguably striving more for entertainment than art, and it struggled at times to deeply establish the motivations and relationships between characters that would have made all of the violence and spectacle as resonant as they should be.

But this is true for most movies. And there's nothing wrong with being entertained. The moment that stops being important is the moment we've stopped being fully human.

I'm really bugged by the eagerness people have to dismiss something based on a YA book as inferior or the mere result of a trend. I hate the idea that this work we're doing and these books that so many people love represent a bubble. There's just too much substance there for this notion to persist.

I'm also bugged by the idea that YA is a genre. It's not. It's a marketing category, just as adult books are also a category. Both are split into genres that might include romance, science fiction, mystery, historical, horror, and the vaguer "literary." But YA ... it's not a genre that follows set conventions. The books are as diverse as adult books, as different from one another as people.

I object to the free pass that adult literary adaptations get. Many adult books are adapted into movies, and no one is making blanket generalizations about this practice. No one's saying, "If 'Gone Girl' tanks, no one's going to make adult books into movies."

This is because books written for adults are generally more respected than books written about the teen experience, simply because they are written about adult concerns.

It's an ignorant bias, as ignorant as respecting adults more than we respect teens simply because they are older. To understand how terrible this bias is, think of your least favorite adult. Then think of your favorite young person. Is your least favorite adult seriously deserving of more respect from the world simply on the basis of his age? Let's hope not.

What's worthy of respect is what is honest and true and made with care and skill. This can be a book as seemingly simple as WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE or something as emotionally complex and literary as M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing books.

It's understandable, I suppose, to have this bias against young people. Teens are, by design, still developing. But this doesn't make them inferior. Nor does it make books about their experience inferior. Honestly, if I had to choose company or a book, I'd choose the curious and passionate teen over the jaded and satisfied adult any day. Just as I'd choose a passionately written, from-the-heart young adult novel over an adult novel that dwells in the land of middle-aged settling, where characters pop their pills and agonize about cruises and holiday homecomings, no matter how elegantly it's constructed.

There are some truly great books being marketed to young readers, books that are every bit as good as the best adult books. To lump them all together, making them easier to dismiss, is the same as writing young people off as inferior just because they're young.

I write for young people in part because I remember what it was like to have so much uncertainty in front of me, to have so many questions that fueled me. I write for young people who are deciding who they want to be and what they'll live and die for, because these choices matter. I write for young people because I care for them and believe in them.

And so should we all. Because before long, we will depend on them.

Divergent: The New York Times review of the movie, which I largely agree with.

 

 

Thursday
Mar132014

Dodge Ball: A Modest Proposal

Sometimes, when something makes me mad, I write a strongly worded letter. It's so bracing. Like splashing cold water against my cheeks. Or like drinking a Diet Coke in one greedy sip. Today I needed to do just that. Write the letter that is. I'm not quite desperate enough for soda.

And remember! If you ever want to receive a strongly worded letter of your very own from me, try throwing a ball in the face of a child. My child or anyone else's ... I'm not picky. Also? A ball is sometimes just a ball. Sometimes, though, it's a metaphor for other things.

Dear Principal H.: 

In the olden days, physicians used to treat certain diseases with mercury, which made the patients insane. Or physicians would slice open veins because everyone knows you feel better after a good bleed. Unless it's killed you.

In the less-distant olden days, people used to think it was OK to let kids throw balls at each other’s faces until there were no more faces left to hit and a victor was declared. And yet, because this sick and strange ritual was happening during gym class, it was healthy. They call this game dodge ball. I call it nuts.

Yesterday, my 45-pound fourth grader came home early from school, dizzy and in pain after being hit in the head during a school-sanctioned game of crazy. The hit was especially unfortunate, as she had already been knocked to the ground, and while this made her an easy target, she was, according to the rules of the game, off-limits. Oops!

My daughter is very concerned that I am going to get her beloved PE teacher in trouble. That’s not my intention. I don’t even want to get the person who threw the ball into trouble, although I would like him to know that I have excellent aim, and if he’d like to go mano-a-mom-o, I can make time in my schedule. 

In all seriousness, though, the school needs to stop playing dodge ball, at least during gym class. 

First, there are a lot better ways of getting exercise and developing hand-eye coordination. Anything that involves running and throwing balls at places other than heads and other body parts is better. 

There is also prancercise. Have you seen it? Here's a link.
 
I’d love to see the kind of boys who throw balls at the faces of 45-pound fourth graders be required to prancercise instead. It would make for excellent yearbook photos.

Second, an overwhelming amount of evidence now exists that shows getting hit in the head is bad for the head--and not just in the short term. It can cause permanent damage. If anyone claiming to be reasonable wants to argue that dodge ball is worth brain damage, I will ask if he’s ever played dodge ball. The answer will be yes. And then I will rest my case.

Third, dodge ball is mean, especially for kids who are socially vulnerable. In this category, I do not include my daughter, who is a ninja, a wizard, and a unicorn all in one package. But I do think about kids who feel unloved at school, and who dread having their bodies used as targets for the kids who are already targeting them in other ways. On their behalf, I would like to lob a metaphorical red ball at the game’s face.

So, to summarize: Dodge ball is archaic. There are better alternatives. It’s dangerous physically and damaging socially. Let’s give it some mercury, open its veins, and kill the bastard.

I thank you for reading and hope I’ve been persuasive. 

But, just in case, please be warned that if I ever hear of dodge ball being played in class again, I will show up with a ukulele and an anti-dodge ball anthem, and I will not leave until the game is officially dead at school. It should be noted that I am a very bad singer.

 

 

Tuesday
Feb252014

So you’ve attended an SCBWI conference: Now what?

One of the wonderful, talented new friends I met this weekend asked me this question on Twitter. (Hello, @JenipherLyn!)

What a great question. I’ve just returned home from what is probably my 20th major SCBWI event, if you add up the national and regional conferences and retreats I've attended over the past decade.

One thing I’ve learned: The day you get home from one of these huge things, don’t expect much out of yourself. If you’re fundamentally introverted, as I am, you’ll need a bit of time alone with your thoughts and your coffee cup before you’re feeling quite right again.

Once you’ve recovered from this particular conference, it’s time to seal in those connections you’ve made.

First, make a note of all of the people you met and spoke to. If you feel comfortable doing so, friend these folks on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. It’s especially true when these people are writers and artists.

Over the years, you’ll get to know them better and look forward to seeing them at future conferences. And you’ll feel palpable excitement when they sign with agents, publish books, go on tour, and win awards. Or even if they don’t and continue to work on their craft, celebrate life milestones, and generally make the most of their time on this planet.

For me, this stuff is important. We’re so often alone with our work that the pleasure of company from like-minded and like-hearted people is a source of joy and support. Many of my closest friendships have begun this way.

Second, take some time to thank the people who put this conference on. Lin Oliver, Steve Mooser, Sara Rutenberg, Kim Turrisi, Sally Crock, Kayla Heinen, Sarah Baker, Chelsea Confalone, and the rest of the staff at the international office would love to hear about your favorite moments. The work they do has changed so many lives, and no one will celebrate your successes with more enthusiasm.

If you had the good fortune to receive a critique from an editor or agent, it’s also nice to thank them for their efforts on your behalf. The point isn’t to sell a book or get a contract. It’s to show your appreciation for their time and expertise, and to begin building a relationship that will enrich your life with inspiration even if you never end up working with that person.

Finally, persist. If you keep learning and keep honing your craft, you will find an agent and sell a book. It might take a really long time, but if you truly enjoy the work and the company, then it’s time well spent. Over time, you'll learn that there won’t be one moment that changes everything for you, but rather, a series of moments in which you have learned what you need to learn to move forward. Have enough of those, and you will publish a book.

As great as it can be in those rare conferences when you have a stunning professional breakthrough, it’s probably more common to come home and feel a touch of despair in addition to all that inspiration you soaked up. Part of this despair might be exhaustion wearing an ugly mask. Travel, crowds, a flood of information—all of these things can take their toll.

But part might be knowing just how much work there is ahead of you.

If that’s the case, be kind to yourself. That great distance between you and wherever you want to be is something you cover in small steps. Don’t look at the mountain, just the ground in front of you. You might stumble. You might get lost. But these setbacks happen to all of us. Get up. Brush yourself off. Start climbing again.

Don’t give up on yourself and your dream, even if it feels really difficult at times. This work is hard for everyone. If it’s hard for you, too, chances are you’re doing it right.

And now, I am going to be revising my next novel, THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, which Arthur A. Levine Books will publish next year, something I owe largely to a conference just like this one. It will be Arthur's and my third book together in as many years; I hope for similar successes for all of you.