Friday, July 8, 2011

Meet the Amazing Matt Blackstone, Author of A SCARY SCENE FROM A SCARY MOVIE

Happy Friday! Man this week went fast. For today, I thought I'd bring you this fabulous interview with Matt Blackstone - he is such a great guy. Check it out:

CF: Why did you begin writing?
MB: I always felt like I had stories to tell, even when I didn’t.  I’d write ridiculous tales in elementary school and show them to teachers who’d touch their cheek and say, “Oh, that’s, uh, nice.”  It wasn’t until college that I learned how to write for a purpose.

CF: Tell me a little about your personal writing process?
MB: I view the first draft as a vomiting session.  I throw up everything in my head down on paper.  I try to do it as quickly as I can, without censoring anything.  If something sounds terrible, and a lot of it does, so what?  It’s a first draft.  I believe that momentum is everything.  I find that if I take days off in the middle of a project, I lose the voices of my characters and am less motivated to push through.  But most importantly, momentum or no momentum, you need to push through your fears.

(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 . . .”)

So, yeah, I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen.  When I’m on a roll, there’s no greater feeling.  Other than winning the lottery.  But I haven’t yet felt that feeling.

{{See what I mean – Matt is just fabulous!}}

CF: What is the hardest part aspect of being a writer?
MB: Sitting.  A lack of butt goes back through generations of Blackstones.  I am no exception.  It’s hard to stick to a sitting schedule, but it’s very important.        

CF: Where do you find your inspiration?
MB: I teach a group of immensely talented 10th graders who also happen to be immensely entertaining.  I don’t tell them how funny they are, or laugh at all their jokes, but they’re an absolute riot—and a great source for material.  I laugh when I get home, then I write.

{{I so get this! The kids I work with are my greatest source of inspirations too!}}

CF: In your book, you write about a very real mental health issue - OCD. What kind of research did you do to portray this so well?
MB: I wish I could say I slept so much time in the library that I often feel asleep in my books, drooling all over the pages, but I can’t.  I can say that Google is an excellent companion.  

CF: What has been your favorite part of this journey so far? The hardest?
MB: 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 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).

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 a family trip to Mexico, I decided to give it another shot.  Four months later I had a two-book deal.  This was my favorite part of the journey to publication.

My favorite part of getting published: meeting other writers, especially the friendly and helpful everyone ones, which is pretty much EVERYONE.

CF: I know you are also a HS teacher - how has that helped with your YA writing?

MB: Advantages
·  My 9th grade students inspire my characters with delightfully awkward goofiness
·  I can test out my writing with the target audience.
·  I can leave by 4 pm, except during tennis season.
·  I need to wake up at 6 am to get to school on time. If I want to write, I’m up by 4.
·  Editing essays, in addition to editing my own work, gets tedious.
·  I’m a very patient man, which is why I got into this profession in the first place, but 12 hours each day with teenagers (9 hours of teaching and then coaching them, 3 hours of writing about them) is a lot of time. (No, I’m not a parent of teenagers yet. Those of you who are deserve to be knighted.)

CF: What's next for you?
MB: My wife and I closing on a house in three weeks, so that’s taking up much of my time.{{Congrats!}}  Also working on another YA book with characters even weirder and quirkier than those in A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE.  

CF: Randomness time:
Sweet or salty? Salty.  Except for ice cream, rice pudding, cakes, pies, brownies . . . on second thought, sweet.
Rome or Taiwan? Never been to either place, but the movie Gladiator kicks butt.  Rome it is.
In person or online? This may be an online post, but I prefer in person.  Anyone live near NYC? 
NYC or Seattle? I live in NYC.  But the grass is always greener on the other side.  So Seattle.
Paper/pen or laptop? Paper/pen is more romantic, but my handwriting is too bad.

10) Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you or your books?

Thanks Matt for the fabu answers! I wish I lived in NYC to meet you IRL - but I'm sure that'll happen one day. 

Be sure to swing over to Matt's site to get in on the contest - today is the last day!!! 

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