Friday, November 9, 2012

All Things MMA: Day 3: Author Interview

First, I just want to apologize to those who are following along with me this week. I am in currently in school, and though I had a schedule to help me stay on top of everything, life happened and my brain went haywire. I will continue with All Things MMA, but it will probably roll into next week a little bit.  Anyhoo, on to the real reason you are here: the author interview.

I had the opportunity to interview Eric Devine, the author of Tap Out.  In case, you missed the post or forgotten it or whatever the case may be - I LOVE Tap Out!!!!

To be fair, I have to say that there are multiple reasons to love Tap Out,  it could be the honest portrayal of the characters and their situations. It could be the plot of the story itself. It could be the fact that this is a book about a teen boy that teen boys will want to read. It could simply be of the cover, which is totally kick-ass.  Yes, months after I read it, I am still gushing over this book. While I could go on and on and on about how great this book is, I will save that for anther day. What I love about this story is how he integrated MMA into the story. I am honored that Mr. Devine has taken time out of his schedule to do an interview. Without any more gushing.... here is the interview. 

TLP- What was the inspiration for Tony's story?

ED-There was no one moment of inspiration, but rather a series of events. I have been teaching high school English for ten years, and in that time have witnessed the very difficult reality of some of my students. They've talked to me, shared their stories in writing, and have exposed me to worlds I didn't know. Prior to teaching I worked primarily with teens at in in-house, locked psychiatric center, which afforded me a view of trauma and psychosis many never see. Therefore, when a troubled student of mine came to me with Matthew Polly's American Shaolin, and we then talked about MMA, the tumblers in my mind turned. I read Polly's work and then watched my student and his friends interact. I thought about the place of MMA in our culture alongside poverty and abuse, and all the dark stories I've encountered fell into place, and Tony emerged.

TLP- Are any of the characters based on real people?

ED-Yes and no. To a degree, I've met all of the characters in real life, but, again, in pieces over time. They are all compilations. From the kids I knew growing up, on through my students today, these characters exist in the world, but no one is a direct representation of someone specific.

TLP-Why did you choose MMA as an outlet for Tony?

ED-It is the type of sport he needed. Teens today come out of martial arts and wrestling and want something more. Other kids just need an outlet, a place to fight, or learn to fight, safely. MMA gyms are popping up everywhere and I think for someone like Tony, the ease of fit with the sport is ideal. He wasn't going to make the football team. He knows a life of physical contact, and for once he could learn how to hone those skills, not in the street, but somewhere safe and supportive, which is truly what he needed, and what the gym could supply.

TLP-What is your connection to the sport of MMA? Do you participate in the sport? Have you fought in the cage?

ED-I am a former CrossFit trainer and have trained a number of athletes in disciplines of the sport--Ju Jitsu, Judo, former boxers--as well as fighters. I appreciate, but do not participate in MMA. With my background of injuries and age, I'm not sure fighting is a wise decision for me.

TLP-If you  have not, what did you do to become familiar with the sport?

ED-Because I have never fought in a cage, and because I was approaching MMA from an amateur standpoint, I focused on learning the disciplines by sitting in on classes, taking copious notes, talking to the athletes and then watching endless hours of YouTube footage of amateur fighters. I've had many fighters congratulate me on the authenticity of the practices and the fights. Apparently, my research paid off.

TLP- What were your high school years like?

ED-I was a bit of a disaffected youth, even though I played football and ran track and lifted weights non-stop in the off-season. I have type 1 diabetes and that was a major struggle. I hid myself and my emotions, because as a teenage male I had no idea what to do with them. I was--and still believe I am--intelligent, but wasn't smart enough to focus primarily on school. I made many mistakes along the way, but they were all worth the while, because the lessons I learned stayed with me. They certainly make me a better high school teacher.

TLP-You're also a teacher, how do you balance the two careers plus family?

ED-I schedule everything. During the school year I get up at 4:30 am and write until 7:00 am, and then head off to school, Monday through Friday. I have two school-aged daughters, so there's no time for writing in the evening. For my wife and I it's all about their homework and daily activities and needs. I try to attend to social media when they are in bed, and sporadically throughout the afternoon. I take the weekends off from writing because I need to recuperate and rejuvenate for the week ahead. During the summer I write from 6 am until 12 pm, Monday through Friday. If I need additional time, I can write later or on the weekends because our schedule is much more relaxed--my wife is a teacher as well. It's not easy, but I find a balance. Writing informs my teaching and teaching informs my writing. As being a father and husband informs both. I live and I write what I understand of the world and teens because of the relationships I'm afforded.

TLP-In three words,  describe Tap Out. 

ED-In. Your. Face.

TLP-How difficult was it to tell Tony's story? Did he take you in a different direction than you originally planned on going?

ED-When I began Tap Out I knew it would be bleak. The opening scene came in a rush, as did the subsequent chapters, and I started to understand just how dark this world was. At that point I outlined. I set a challenge for myself to make life worse for Tony at every moment where opportunity seemed to be around the corner. I decided that he needed to be pushed past the brink in order for me to know if he could still redeem himself, if he would keep fighting. That premise made for some very disturbing writing. Even though I had outlined, all that meant was I knew within each chapter what I wanted the outcome to be. I didn't know how I was going to get there. And as they say, "The devil's in the details." So very apt for Tap Out. I shudder at some of the things my characters did, especially Tony. But the fact remains that he stayed true to himself, grew as a character, and didn't allow the tide to pull him under.

TLP- As you know, I love Tap Out  and I believe that it is relevant to today's teenage boys while also being one that they will read.  Because of the language, violent sport that is MMA and the dark situation that is Tony's life, your book will probably never find its way to a school's library. It wouldn't surprise me if it found it's way to becoming a banned book. Does that bother you?

ED-In so many ways that I wrote a post in answer to this question on my blog.

TLP- Please read the response on his blog.  I had goose bumps and was cheering at the computer when I read it. 

TLP. If you could write Tony's story a different way, would you?

ED-No. The only aspect I question is the language, but that is only because everyone else is so bothered by it, I'm not. And it's not because I believe every poor teen has a potty mouth. They don't. But the particular characters in this setting do. I have spent a lot of time with impoverished youth, as well as time researching inside MMA gyms. The language in Tap Out is 100% authentic. Therefore, for me, there is no question. If great stories are supposed to capture lives, especially those "on the fringe" and present them to the reader as genuinely as possible, then sanitizing the language would have been a great disservice to everyone. As a side note, it slays me that the language is what gets the majority of attention. Not the violence, the prostitution, the drugs. Apparently all of these things are fine, so long as you do them without dropping an F-bomb.

TLP-This is your platform: Why do you feel people should read Tap Out?

ED-It is easy to dismiss that which we do not understand. It is easy to make fun or look away or judge. So many teens grow up poor, or neglected, or abused, or all three. When they become teenagers it only makes sense that life will have a tendency to be difficult for them. We do not desire foul language and violence and unintelligence in our society. Yet, when the support system a child is reared in does, how can we expect him or her to know or behave any differently? Therefore, I think Tap Out, and other books that dive into darkness within our society, have the ability to provide a profound opportunity--they shine light within the darkness and on the outside. How we react to and treat our youth that need help says more about us than it does the teen. It is far easier to turn away than it is to lend a hand, especially if one is afraid that the hand will be bitten. Tap Out humanizes this subculture. This was not my intent. I just wanted to tell a good story about a boy's tough life. But I'm fine with the result. To make any "other" someone closer to ourselves is powerful. To force a reader to realize that not everyone who presents a certain way wanted to be that. To help people live the life vicariously and to open their hearts in the end is the ultimate goal. Tap Out does this. Tap Out forces the reader to ask, "What would I do?" Or if the reader has walked in Tony's shoes, to feel a sense of validation that his or her story is being told.

TLP-Are you currently working on anything new? Can you tell us anything about it?

ED-I just sold my next YA novel to Running Press. Expect its release in the fall of 2013. It is about a group of friends, who in their senior year, try to gain popularity by performing death-defying stunts and posting them on YouTube. Of course what starts as an innocent idea rapidly goes south as the dares become more intense and other forces step in and make demands. It is not as dark as Tap Out but equally fast-paced. Expect white-knuckled reading..

Eric, thank you for taking time and stopping by my blog today. If you are interested in reading Tap Out, you have a few options: 
Purchase at Amazon
 Or.... keep following All Things MMA Week here because I will be doing a giveaway and Tap Out is headlininig the card (mma-speak for it's the prize)!!!!

Want to get in touch with Eric? You can find him at his Blog- Eric Devine Young Adult Fiction Author
You can catch him on Twitter: @eric_devine.  He's also on Facebook. Don't be afraid to hit him up. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he responded to on of my tweets about Tap Out and even more surprise to find that he's very approachable. 

Always Shine, 
Starr K


  1. Awesome interview! I, too, loved TAP OUT and as a teacher myself, I know what Eric means about being affected by students' stories. We cannot help but internalize them.
    I passed on TAP OUT to a friend of mine who has a teen son, and she started reading it...then she couldn't put it down, so her son had to wait!
    Can't wait to see more from Eric Devine!

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    The Patience Trilogy

    1. Beth, thanks for stopping by. I will definitely be using Tap Out as R.A.K. gifts this Christmas Season. I wish I had a way to track it and see where it ends up.