3 S.R. Johannes: Matt Blackstone on his journey through A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Matt Blackstone on his journey through A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie

Matt Blackstone's A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE is about Rene, an outcastteen with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a very real and frightening condition (especially for teens, as it’s in those teenage years that symptoms first manifest). Even though we don't all have OCD, we do have our quirks, habits, and hangups. The book was just released this month.

Rene, an obsessive-compulsive high school student hell-bent on becoming a superhero, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he’s nervous, which is six to eight hours per day, depending on whether it’s a weekend or weekday. On a weekday, he witnesses his English teacher smash his head into the blackboard. Rene is convinced that he is responsible for this and all other tragedies. If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle during a time of thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7+4+2=13), or washes himself in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will get left back in school, break a bone, fall into a coma, contract a deadly virus, and/or die a slow and painful death like someone in a scary scene in scary movie. Or worse.

Rene’s new and only friend tutors him in the art of playing it cool, but it’s not as easy as he makes it sound. Can Rene ever be safe—he doesn’t like to talk when not surrounded by security details like locks or walls or people he trusts—when the most horrifying place is in his head?

A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE started with grade change. Having taught 10th graders for four years, I switched to 9th for the first time in 2009. Immediately, I noticed how panicky they were. How awkward and goofy and nervous and charming. They were obsessed with grades, obsessed with their reputation, and—well—they were obsessed with skipping lunch.

They were terrified of upperclassman and hated the hot cafeteria, so they avoided the lunchroom like the plague. They begged—begged—teachers to let them in their room during lunch. So, during those lunch periods, I got to know them even better. I learned how stressed and jumpy and routinized they were. And how some just used me for my room. They had no intention of talking, but constantly organized things on their desks.

From there, I chose a name, Rene, and ascribed him some of the characteristics of my freshman. But since Rene was the narrator, I needed to believe the “I.” I needed to give Rene some of my superstitions, some of my own quirkness, some of my own plain ole weirdness:

I’m an avid sports fan. Born in a suburb near Philadelphia, I’m hopelessly in love the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers. I have a long and sordid history of bizarre behavior when it comes to rooting for my team on TV. If my team falls behind, I change seats on the couch. Or change my snack from tortilla chips to pretzels. Or switch from water to juice. Or change t-shirts. Or lay down on the floor, as long as there’s a rug there (gotta draw the line somewhere).

Luckily for me (and my wife), I’ve gotten better. The years have mellowed out my sports craze. But every now and then, usually in the playoffs, when the game gets tight, I play the mental game: the seat, the chips, the t-shirt . . . it all becomes a factor. If only the Phillies would appreciate all the work that goes into their playoff victories!!!

Outside of the sports world, I’m a huge fan of blue Precise V7 pens, I usually park in the same spot at school, and I’m a sucker for the same breakfast: an “everything” bagel with butter. If I had a particularly good writing day, I like to eat the same snack I had the day before. Except when I run out of that snack. I may be superstitious, but I'm also lazy—a lucky snack definitely isn't worth leaving the house for.

The good news—and what separates these idiosyncrasies (or, yes, compulsive tendencies) from the disorder—is that my life will go on if I can’t find my favorite pen or a friend won’t get up from their seat or the bagel store is closed, and if someone takes my parking spot, I don’t hike up the stairs to hunt down the driver and demand that he immediately move his car or else I’ll crack him with a knuckle sandwich.

But some people do. They don’t use the term “knuckle sandwich” because it’s old and corny and sounds like something only my grandpa would say, but they do stress out and panic if things aren’t just so. And they do this every waking second of the day. Combine this with the fact that teenagers naturally panic, I could only imagine how difficult it must be.

Luckily, I didn’t have to imagine. There are few psychologists in the Blackstone extended family, so a lot of the research was done through phone calls and emails. And lucky for me, Google was invented, so I didn’t have to browse through encyclopedias or medical journals to find info on OCD.

I then made sure to give Rene some of the goofy charm of my 9th graders and some of my own interests—superheroes, cereal, writing—so that Rene was indeed real for me.

And then I prayed and begged—like my 9th graders did to me during lunch—that an agent would accept me.

You can find Matt on Twitter or his Website

For other Bookanista posts, check out these posts:

Elana Johnson revels in Ruby Red

LiLa Roecker is nuts for I’m Not Her

Christine Fonseca interviews picture book author Michelle McLean – with giveaway

Beth Revis reveals her reading recommendations

Jessi Kirby discovers Where Things Come Back

Shannon Whitney Messenger swoons for Supernaturally – with giveaway

Shelli Johannes-Wells features “guestanisto” author Matt Blackstone

Carolina Valdez Miller is bedazzled by Between – with giveaway

Shana Silver wonders at The Near Witch

Stasia Ward Kehoe celebrates Selling Hope


Tere Kirkland said...

Sounds like quite a labor of love, and it must make you feel good to know your book will show kids (and adults) with ocd that they are not alone, and that the world WON'T end if they move during a time of 13, for example.

Thanks for the fun interview, Matt and Shelli!

*goes to strike all incidences of "knuckle-sandwich" from my ms*

Shannon O'Donnell said...

As a fellow high school teacher, I can visualize exactly what those freshman are like! I love the story of this journey and I MUST have this book!! :-)

Peggy Eddleman said...

I have a son starting 9th grade this year, and after reading this interview, I TOTALLY HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK! Sounds like it might give me a little insight. :)

Janet Johnson said...

Sounds like a fascinating read! Thanks so much for sharing. It's always interesting to see what inspires writers. :)