Monday, June 27, 2011

A FEW QUIRKS by Stasia Ward Kehoe

AUDITION author Stasia Ward Kehoe stops by to share her own quirks.  Rene, from A SCARY SCENE IN SCARY MOVIE, isn't alone:
If you, like me, grew up as a performer, you are likely to have accumulated a bunch of obsessive little habits by the time you reach some form of adulthood.  You pick up classic rules of superstition, like dancers wishing luck backstage with the word “merde” (It’s French for, uh…maybe just look it up!), and never saying the title of “the Scottish Play” (By Shakespeare…you can ask Google or Bing, if you’re so inclined) aloud in a theatre for fear of dire consequences.  And you are inspired to create pre-performance rituals of your own. I suppose you can say I have been thoroughly schooled in anxiety-growing techniques since childhood. Here for your enjoyment are some of my current quirks, both personal and writerly.
1.       I keep a two-dollar bill in my wallet.  Have for decades.  I got the bill on a date with my then-boyfriend (now husband).  We were touring Monticello and they gave them out as change.   Many years later, I discovered he kept his, too! Are we matched or what (or maybe it’s dangerous have two such compulsive people in one house)?
2.       I find the number 13 to be lucky and it always bums me out that there are no 13th floors in hotels.  Maybe I’m just contrary.
3.       I talk too fast (especially when I’m nervous) so, before I embark on any public speaking engagement, I eat a Werther’s Original caramel in the odd belief that this will somehow slow me down.  (I seem to have quite a collection of food fetishes.  See #2, below.)
1.       I wake up around 4:30 every morning (I do not need an alarm clock for this—just happens) and jot down a few lines about my writing plans for the day.  Then I try to go back to sleep.
2.       I believe I write better if I have a small dish of bittersweet chocolate chips and unsalted peanuts on my desk.  When the writing is going poorly, the dish is empty before noon.  If I’m on a roll, the chocolate can sit there for a week.
3.       I never allow myself to write the words “the end” on a manuscript until I really believe I’ve finished telling the story.  Sometimes it is years before those words are entered into a document.
On a serious note, despite the sleep deprivation, chocolate weight-gain, and so on, I try to remember to be grateful for my habits because they make me who I am and, I hope, in some strange way, enable me to be a more thoughtful, more compassionate person and writer.
Thanks, Matt, for inviting me to post today, for your terrific debut novel, and for bringing this conversation about OCD and anxiety out into the “movie spotlight.”
Stasia Ward Kehoe’s debut YA novel, AUDITION, will be published by Viking on 10-13-11.  Visit her online at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

POSSESSION author Elana Johnson: Me and My Routines

PossessionPOSSESSION author, Elana Johnson, drops in to explain the importance of her routines:
In A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE, Rene won't move if the time adds up to 13 (8:41 is bad luck because 8 +4 +1=13), he sniffs his hands when he's nervous, he jumps over cracks in the concrete, and follows the same routes to and from school.
Well, I am one of the most routinized people ever. I like to do things the same way, every time, and it does make me a bit frazzled if things happen out of order, or too fast. The best example is my morning routine. I do the same things, in the same sequence, every working day.
If my husband calls and needs me to bring him something, it throws me all off. If I have to wake my daughter up later than normal, I’m totally discombobulated. I may forget to brush my teeth, because if it’s not done right after I shower (while I check my email for the first time that day), it might not get done.
Sad, but true.
I’ve forgotten to pack a lunch because I didn’t do it as soon as I came downstairs. I’ve been late because I have to take the same route to work, even though it’s packed (and I mean, PACKED) with construction.
What can I say? I like routine. I like the comfort of knowing what comes next, and how long that activity is going to take. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I have my morning routine down to about 45 minutes from rolling out of bed to rolling down the driveway.
Do you have any routines that you follow religiously? Maybe we can get together and compare…

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My quirks, my "things," my obsessions

OCD is a frightening condition, characterized by obsessive routines (compulsions) and thoughts, often referred to as "magical thinking."   It affects roughly 5 million Americans at some point in their lifetime.
It's distracting.  It's  real.  It's serious.  And very scary, especially for teenagers, for it's in those teenage years that the symptoms of OCD first appear.
But what's universal about OCD is that we all have our quirks, our "things," our obsessions that we cling to for comfort.  Over the next four weeks, I'll be  hosting discussions on both the universality of OCD, as well as the seriousness of the actual disorder.  I'd love to hear about your own quirks, your "things," your obsessions that drive you (and your loved ones?) bananas.
It's only right that I go first.
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).
If my team is ahead, I like to stick to what's working: the certain snack, the winning beverage, the lucky seat.  I avoid boastful phrases like "we got this," "it's over," for fear that the tide will shift.  Not until the game is over--really over, after the final buzzer/bell/pitch/whistle/horn--will I rejoice.
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 enjoy a morning workout, I usually park in the same spot at school, and I'm a sucker for the same breakfast: an "everything" bagel with butter.
The good news--and what separates these idiosyncrasies (or, yes, compulsive tendencies) from the serious disorder--is that my life will go on if I can't find my favorite pen or the bagel store is closed or I overslept my morning alarm, 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.
The sad thing is that even though everyone has their quirks, their "things," their obsessions, very few people talk about them, so people with the actual disorder think they've completely lost their mind, which is scary for anyone, but especially for teens, for whom identity is so critical and confusing and fragile.
If you'd like to share your own quirks, please comment or feel free to reach me via the contact link above if you'd like to guest post.
Hopefully, these features over the next month will highlight the idiosyncrasies that we all share, and lessen the stigma (and fear) that OCD sufferers feel on a daily basis.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Publishers Weekly Review!

 I am thrilled and grateful for this Publishers Weekly review:
"Blackstone makes a bold and idiosyncratic debut with this boisterous novel about a 14-year-old boy with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The author effectively renders the messy, noisy interior world of Rene Fowler, who lives alone with his single mother and struggles to not just survive but enjoy the chaos of high school. Rene is wedded to his routines and his habits (perpetually smelling his left hand, wearing rubber bands on his wrists, not moving if the time adds up to 13--8:32 or 5:44, for example), and relying on his Batman cape for security. He also has a serious crush, red-haired Ariel, his 'angel,' and a new friend--a 'freakishly tall,' social butterfly, Gio. When Rene's long-estranged and boorish father returns home, Gio and Rene run away to Manhattan, where they come across Ariel, and their paradise/nightmare adventure there takes up the last third of the book. Rene's honest, often humorous voice is as compelling as it is exhausting. Blackstone succeeds in creating a singular teenager who happens to have OCD; readers will emerge with a close understanding of the mind and heart of someone with this disorder."   Ages 12–up. (July)