YOUWe can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?
I’m bad at following directions, I run marathons, I have a stuffed animal named Flopsy, I coach my school’s tennis team, I find the smell of Australian Gold sunblock to be glorious and intoxicating, I rode elephants in Thailand (and learned that elephants’ breath smells the opposite of glorious and intoxicating); I planned on skydiving until watching an introductory video that said six times, “We are not responsible if you die”; my favorite color was red, then green, then blue, then black and now whichever color my wife tells me to wear; I am not related to magician Harry Blackstone, the investors at the Blackstone Group, the hotelier at the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel, or the founders of Blackstone Wine; I caught my first foul ball at a game two years ago and I still get made fun of for my celebratory dance; I dance with my hands balled up fists, except when I do The Worm; I have a younger brother who unfortunately is bigger and stronger than I am; I hate grape jelly and love crunchy peanut butter; my Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor says I have a deviated septum; I am a proud member of the Lake Owego Polar Bear Club; I can hold my breath underwater for 16 minutes less than David Blaine; my favorite baseball player is Matt Stairs, he is 43 years old; I find it hilarious that as kids we used whoopee cushions and now we have a Big Fart Button on our phone.
Oh, you wanted one random fact? Told you I’m bad at following directions.
As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?
At age 5, my favorite was definitely Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Alexander is such a whiner, but you gotta feel for him: gum in his hair, getting smushed in the back of the car . . . life in Australia probably would be better.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Sam Who Never Forgets by Eve Rice. I now realize that my four favorite children’s books are about screw-ups. Alexander and Sam are forgetful, and Max is a troublemaker. I’m not sure if I’d categorize my kid-self as a forgetful troublemaker, but I sure loved reading about them.
My tastes haven’t changed all that much, as I’m now immersed in YA novels that feature a host of loopy, loony characters who like to stir the pot. And plot.
You're also a high school English teacher. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to writing while teaching?
- 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.)
It's the inevitable question: what inspired 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?
One of the great things about A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE is that the main character suffers from OCD. Can you tell us about why you gave this affliction to your hero, Rene?
Because it’s so scary and dangerous and serious, yet so accessible and universal. Unless you’re Ryan Seacrest, you’ve panicked at some point in your life, uncontrollably so, sweating through your shirt. And we all have our quirks, our “things,” our obsessions that we cling to for comfort, especially when we’re stressed. So we all can relate to Rene on some level. Except for Ryan Seacrest. (With his oceanic name, his suave hair, and a job that makes other people panic, I can’t imagine him ever freaking out. I don’t think he’s human. But I can’t prove it. Yet.)
Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE?
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.
If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from ASSIASM, what would you want it to be?
Hope. Things are never as bad as things may seem. Except when they are.
But even then, you’ve gotta hope.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?How long it takes for a book to be published. And how often I get to the keyboard and think, “Holy crap, my powers are gone! What happened to my ability to write complete sentences?”
Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
Momentum is everything. Write every day. 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.
What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing?
Strength: creativity, especially in my characters.
Weakness: There’s isn’t enough room on the internet galaxy for this list.
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