For years—three, maybe four, okay probably five—all I wanted was a book contract.
I would’ve done anything to get it: put my soul on the open market, do cartwheels on flaming stones, eat a jar of mayo, denounce my love of the Phillies, accept bribes and teach my 10th graders that reading is for suckers, that Cheetos are healthier than carrots, that the principal is a rhinoceros, that true love is a bunch of hokey boloney unless it’s on The Bachelorette, that the economy has never looked so sexy, that cooties are real, that college is the devil, and that I am really a very manly woman.
If only I had a manuscript to edit. An acceptance letter, however corny the story, to open and read and frame, instead of a mountain of rejection letters piled so high on my desk that if I breathe 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
And then an agent finally said yes—at first I thought the email said, “jes,” as in Jessica, which isn’t my name—a few editors also said yes not jes, and I was spared the headline and the Steven Smackdown. Still, it was hard to talk about. It made me irritable, itchy, like red ants were crawling up my thigh. I didn’t recognize my voice; no matter what I said, I sounded fancy—no, foncy—like I had a British accent, played a smashing game of Polo, and ate only “mixed greens,” and only with a salad fork. I told myself, “Self, yeah you, you’re not British; tell them the truth: your favorite food is hot dogs, you own one pair of jeans, suffer (sometimes for weeks) from writer’s block, and like to sing “Poker Face” while washing your face in the shower.
But, I’ve learned, you have to talk about it. You have to sell yourself, even if the self you’re selling isn’t Mr. Foncy Ponts. This I realized early on in the process—and again a few months before my book came out and my book reading/signing schedule was . . . well, it wasn’t really a schedule, per say . . . it did say, “Matt’s Reading Schedule” at the top, but . . .
Cue the headline. Cue Steven Colbert, adjusting his glasses, trying hard not laugh: “Nation, in the history of civilization, there are many men who rose above their circumstances and truly lived the American Dream—Abraham Lincoln; Jackie Robinson; John Boehner, saddled with an unfortunate last name, became the Speaker of the House [audience chuckles]—and then, Nation, there are those who saw the promised land, enjoyed the view, got this close [pinches the air] . . . and failed miserably. Like this guy. Matt Blackstone. [Cue my author photo]. Now, Nation, I may look like a cold-hearted newscaster, but underneath I am an emotional, vulnerable creature who weeps at sunsets and injured puppies and authors with ‘Matt’s Reading Schedule’ at the top of the paper [covers his smile with his arm] and nothing but naked paper underneath. In the words of an ancient philosopher . . . ‘Whomp, Whomp.’ Nation, say it with me: ‘Whomp, Whomp.’ Everybody now: ‘Whomp, Whomp . . .’”
I wasn’t okay with that. I had to get my book out there. I believed in its message (I wrote A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE for the outcast teens I teach). I believed that teenagers would enjoy and benefit from the story. I believed in my ability to present it. And I was tired of Colbert mocking me. I wasn’t going to be a Loserasaurus.
So I sat my butt in a white chair at the end of June and I emailed. I called. I visited stores. I stopped by libraries. I wrote letters. I contacted schools (and all their English teachers). I emailed the state of California. And half of New Jersey. I skipped breakfast, and then lunch. I called principals, superintendants. I mailed letters and books and flyers (Linda, at the local post office, thanked me for keeping her in business). I reached out to my friends, and their friends, and friends of their friends and their Facebook friends, and spent entire days on Gmail. I slept when I could no longer see. I ate dinner at my desk. I don’t know for sure how much time elapsed, as days blended quickly but passed slowly, but I was told it was more than six weeks.
My wife staged an intervention. Threw me in the shower. Reacquainted me with washing machines and deodorant. Escorted me outdoors. Showed me the sunshine. Introduced me to the sound of birds. The taste of strawberries. The satisfaction of sleep.
Now, as I write this article, I am two weeks from the start of school. My precious teacher summer is almost over. But I learned an important lesson about self-promotion and hard work. And what it takes.
My Fall schedule now includes visits to 15 stores, 11 schools, 6 libraries, and 3 festivals.
A total of 35 events. Can’t even keep a poker face. The number makes me smile.
List of appearances: http://www.
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.