Thursday, July 7, 2011


Okay, I'm here again today to highlight a fabulous contemporary novel, A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE. It was written by an agent-mate of mine, who I actually got to meet when I was in New York City!

Let's dive right in.

The Twitter version: tell us about your book in 140 characters or less:
A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE is about what goes wrong when a teenager panics, and can't stop. And friends only make it worse.

The official blurb: Rene, an obsessive-compulsive fourteen year old, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he's nervous. If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle when the time adds up to thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7 + 4 + 2 = 13), or washes his body parts in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will break a bone, contract a deadly virus, and/or die a slow and painful death like someone in a scary scene in scary movie. Rene's new and only friend tutors him in the art of playing it cool, but that's not as easy as Gio makes it sound.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a professional baseball player, but I was, what the medical profession refers to as, “extremely uncoordinated.” Sports scientists, with the help of modern technology, later diagnosed me as “bad” and/or “unskilled.” (Ha! Excellent use of "and/or" -- love it.) So I settled for writing.

What made you decide to go that “extra step” and seek publication?
I wanted to be an author, but it wasn’t easy. First I had to conquer my worst fear: a mountain of rejection letters piled so high on my desk that if I breath or cough or sigh with enough gusto the entire mountain will collapse on me like an avalanche and crush me and cover me in my own rejections and failures and nobody will hear me scream and I’ll die a slow and painful death, which newspapers will find fascinating and therefore report on the front page in big bold lettering, “MAN DIES OF FAILURE; NOT HEART FAILURE, JUST FAILURE”—but since nobody reads newspapers anymore, nobody will hear about it until Comedy Central gets its hands on the story and Steven Colbert proclaims, with a wag of the finger, “Nation, I thought Bill O’Reilly was a loser, a real Loserasaurus [audience cheers]. . . I did, I really did, but then, Nation, [Colbert chuckles], but then I heard of Matt Blackstone,” as the audience, howling like hyenas, chants his name instead of mine: “Ste-ven. Ste-ven, Ste-ven . . .” (This is awesome--and only one sentence! LOVE THAT. I mean, who can write something so awesome in one sentence? Matt Blackstone.)

Then I had to let go, which is hard because you get close to a manuscript. (Oh, boy, do you ever.) 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 him 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 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.)

So, yeah, it wasn’t easy. My first book/homie, You All in the Kool-Aid But You Don’t Know the Flavor, was 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). (Oh my heck! I'm stunned right now...)  After a year 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. (Aw, sad.)

Six months later, right before a family trip to Mexico, I decided to give it another shot with a new project, a new homie: A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE. I couldn’t type fast enough—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. Four months later I had a two-book deal. (Woo hoo!)

Quick! You’ve been chosen to go on Survivor. What luxury item do you take?
Garden of Eatin's spicy blue tortilla chips. They're delicious. Yes, I would lose Survivor. I'm okay with that. (Well, almost anything loses to tortilla chips, so yeah.)

And the most important of all: bacon or chocolate?
Chocolate, preferably in ice cream, in cookies, or placed on my pillow, like they did when I was six at a hotel near Hershey Park. Unfortunately, nobody has done that since.

Matt's got mad social networking skillz. Check him out, yo:
Twitter contest--to win 1 of 10 autographed hardcover copies of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE!!!

Check out what the other Bookanistas are up to this week at the Reading Room.

Or on their blogs:


Kelly Lyman said...

LOVE this interview. The books sounds great--not something I would typically pick up, but I think I will. Even if the book sounded horrible (which it totally doesn't) I would still pick up this book to read it only based on the interview. He is hysterical!

Matthew MacNish said...

Matt sounds hilarious.

Leslie Rose said...

I'm laughing way too hard for the 5:00am hour. I can totally picture the Stephen Colbert segment. Better to guest on The Daily Show.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm shocked over how many people choose chocolate.

I have also been diagnosed with lack of coordination disorder. It was particularly bad in 6th-grade when I was pitched to over 17 times before I made pathetic contact with the ball. That same year, I had the distinction of coming in 2nd-to-last place in the long run.

Another great interview with Matt. Who wouldn't want to read his book?

storyqueen said...

even if I hadn't already known about this book, this interview would make me pick it up!

Matt, you are hilarious.

Stasia said...

So agree with you on the Garden of Eatin' chips--delish! Wondering about dipping them in chocolate...

Jessie Humphries said...

What a cool story! And what a witty funny guy too! I love hearing these success stories. Good luck with your book.

Jenna said...

That was hilarious! (Refresh.) Thanks for the interview -- I've got to check this book out now.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Doesn't anyone ever take a Swiss Army Knife?? Or like a bolo machete?? Those tortilla chips won't last but one day, and in that humidity they'll totally get soggy. Just sayin. :P

Great interview, Elana! Matt is a gem. I love that he's written a book like this. I think it will strike a chord with a lot of people.

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks for hosting, Elana! Matt, I am so excited for this one. The cover alone is a total checkout magnet!

Wishing you much success and pillow chocolate,

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

How fun! I hadn't heard of this one but thanks for sharing.

Matt, you're pretty dang funny.

Matt Blackstone said...

Thanks for comments! So nice meeting all of you!

Peggy Eddleman said...

He had me at the title of the book. And then again at the cover. A third time at the premise. All of it: AWESOME!

Michael Winchell said...

That cover is awesomely funny. "Your fate is in my hands. Which is why I wash them. And wash them. And wash them." That did it for me. I grabbed the sample on my Kindle and loved this dude's voice. Bought it. Thanks for the heads-up about this one, Elana.

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