Before we start the interview with the author of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE, here are just a couple of random things about Matt Blackstone.
He lives in New York. He teaches school. His wife makes quilts. And of course he's a writer.
Anyway, on with the fun . . .
What is A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE about, in 40 words or less?
It’s about a teenager with OCD who can’t tell the difference between his obsessional thinking (which seems as real and frightening as scary scenes in scary movies) and his lonely reality as a high school outcast.
Why did you write A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE?
Teachers often say that loud, disruptive students are thorns in their sides but most would admit that the truly dangerous ones—dangerous, at least, to themselves—are the quiet, aloof ones who fly under the radar because they nod politely at their teachers. They play the game well, well enough to get promoted, but they are anything but well.
A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE is the result of seeing a growing number of my students isolate themselves. Rene’s rituals and magical thinking exemplify what it means to be mentally ill, or at least socially inept, in a high school setting that demands academic prowess and social fluency. I wrote this book to offer hope to wild card teenagers (what teen isn’t a wild card these days?) or those who begrudge their parents (sometimes deservedly so), question conformity, and feel so desperate and alone that the only safe place is inside their heads. But what if even that place isn’t safe?
How long did you work on this book?
The first draft was surprisingly quick—about six weeks. I started it on a train ride and couldn’t type fast enough. Then next day, I took it with me on a family vacation to Mexico, where I typed at the beach, at the pool, on local sweaty bumpy buses to and from Chichen Itza, on the plane ride home, and then every morning and night until I finished. I spent two months revising it before I sent it off, mumbling a prayer at the mailbox. Editing was slower than I’d imagined, but I enjoyed every step of the process.
How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
You get close to a manuscript. It’s your blood and sweat and tears and time—all that time!—and if you’re lucky, you’ll finish a few drafts and become even closer. You’ll become friends. Not friends of friends or Facebook friends or John McCain’s “(my) friends,” but friends. Real friends. Friends as tight as family. Homies—yup, you and your manuscript become homies.
You know deep down, really deep down (if you dug long enough to reach China) that your homie is only a Microsoft Word file, a stack of paper filled with words, words that make a book—not even a book, almost a book, but it’s your baby, your friend, your homie and though you don’t have a history of ascribing love and friendship to inanimate objects, you can’t help but feel sad and scared and apologetic when you mail it out because you’re tossing your homie into the wild all by himself and suddenly you understand why in Cast Away Tom Hanks screamed “I’M SORRY WILSON! I’M SORRY! WILSON I’M SORRY!” when the current carried his volleyball away.
You take back all the times you’ve mocked that scene when punting a basketball out of your little brother’s reach—“I’M SORRY SPALDING, I’M SO SORRY”—because now your homie is alone and you’re alone and all you can do is wait. If you emailed your materials, your only option is to click “refresh.” You realize that refresh is a terrible word, a truly terrible word to describe what you’re going through because you feel a lot of things, but none of them are refreshment.
You hate yourself for throwing your characters into the wild. (Refresh.) You hate that they’re all alone and buried in a pile of slush. (Refresh.) You picture them slashed and bloody and shredded into a million little pieces. (Refresh.) You feel bad for James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, for getting spanked by Oprah on national television but you envy him now. (Refresh.) You hate the word “refresh” and hate that you’ve been a sucker for it all your life: soda, slurpies, Gatorade, frozen lemonade—all them tasty but none of them nearly as refreshing as a glass of water. (Refresh.)
But all you can do is wait.
This happened to me. All of it. I didn’t call my manuscript “Wilson,” but it was my buddy. My homie. My pride and joy. You All in the Kool-Aid But You Don’t Know the Flavorwas a memoir about my Teach for America experience, from the boot camp of summer Institute to the streets of West Baltimore; from political corruption ($50 million was stolen from the city budget) to crumbling schools (my principal at Frederick Douglass High School changed students’ grades to improve our graduation rate)—things got so bad that HBO spent a year in our school filming Hard Times at Douglass High).
So I was invested. But after three months of revision and three rounds of submission all I had to show for it was a note from my agent that said there was nothing more to do.
A year later, right before that family trip to Mexico, I decided to give it another shot.