Thursday, June 13, 2013

FML Madness - Matthew MacNish

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Matthew MacNish, a great write I expect big things from someday soon, and the host of the The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, a blog about his road to publication, where he provides some amazing help to people with their queries. If you're serious about querying, you need to check out his site. Now onto his story!

My life has had a lot of FML moments (both in the sense of: seriously, F my life! And in
the sense of being a major crossroads). Moments, like the head of a pin, in which you know, sometimes at that moment, sometimes not until much later, things will never be the same again. Most of them I had no control over. My dad leaving. My mom dying. My aunts and uncles becoming my guardians and deciding to split my sisters and I up. Some of them, though, and one in particular, I did control.
Unlike Simon Cross, I never got to see what the other choice would have brought. What the alternate reality might have brought, for good or ill. That’s the real beauty of Shaun’s new novel, I think: that you never know what one big decision might end up affecting, and sometimes, things can lead to all kinds of unexpected results. A decision that seems wise and well thought out at the time can end in disastrous results just as easily as a change made on a whim can bring the greatest achievements. Or … you know, something in between.
Anyway, as usual, I over-explain. Let’s get to the story, shall we?
It was early 1995. I was 17 years old. I was living at this kind of weird cultist emotional growth boarding school for “at-risk-teens” in bumblefunk north Idaho (look up CEDU, or Synanon, if you’re curious to know more), and I’d had it up to here with the place.
I’d actually run away from it once already, made it all the way to the airport, in Seattle, where I slept and begged for food for a few days, trying to convince my legal guardians to let me come back home.
The whole situation was nuts. My guardians, who were not my parents, had decided I needed to attend this school because I was out of control. Granted, I had been expelled from a more traditional, college preparatory boarding school as a sophomore, because they’d found alcohol in my dorm room, but that’s another story entirely.
This one is about escape. And crossroads.
So, this school, this cult, was a really wacked out place. There were no accredited psychologists, psychiatrists, drug rehabilitation counselors, or pretty much any other kind of professional actually qualified to assist troubled kids. Mostly, it was a bunch of lumberjacks, and people who had graduated from the program, after being brain-washed, and decided they wanted to “teach there.”
Naturally, I wanted out of there like I wanted oxygen. It was the middle of winter, though, and north Idaho is not exactly friendly to foot travel in the colder months, so just hiking off campus, like the time I’d run away before, wasn’t going to be an option.
A friend of mine, Jeremy (he turned out to be a nutcase, but again--that’s another story)
had a plan. Actually, he had a plan, and I had a decision to make. Did I want to get out of there badly enough? It would mean a lot of changes in my life--more on that in a minute.
Jeremy and I lived in the same dorm. He woke me up the night of the plan, and said he was leaving. I was still undecided, so he left without me, but said he’d come back, if he could find a ride in town. The closest town was not very close at all, and it was as cold as the ninth circle of hell out there, so I figured he had little chance of making it. I hoped he wouldn’t freeze to death or anything, and told him as much, but I was tired, so mostly I just rolled back over and went to sleep again.
Sometime later, I was awoken by a hand shaking my shoulder. My awareness rose slowly out of the clutching depths of REM, and probably the sticky tendrils of adolescent arousal dreams, to eventually discover Jeremy standing over me, a wild look in his eye, and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.
Needless to say, I was shocked, and a little embarrassed.
“Come on dude, got us a ride,” he whispered.
“Put that out!” I hissed. “You’ll wake (I can’t remember the name of our dorm leader).”
Smoking was strictly prohibited. Jeremy didn’t care though, he had tasted freedom, and that he came back to get me at all was saying something.
I got up, dressed, quickly packed a bag with some warm clothes and followed him outside. It hadn’t snowed, thank god, but there was snow on the ground, and our boots crunched through the hardened upper layer so loudly I was certain we would wake the dead. Or worse: the living.
But we made it to the edge of campus, and there it was … our ride.
I stood on the edge of a precipice. The aforementioned lot of changes swirling visibly before my eyes. On the one side, the side in which I ducked my head against the chill wind and went back inside to stay at school like a good boy: another year in this hell hole. Another year of no music. Another year of “rap” sessions, in which kids were “encouraged” to scream at each other and beat pillows on the floor. Another year of isolation--from my friends, my sisters, my girlfriend.
But also, maybe a chance to go to college. Certainly a high-school diploma, whatever a joke it might be earned from this place. And almost certainly some level of reconciliation with my family. A chance to go home. A chance, just maybe, to be loved.
On the other side. Well … on the other side was freedom.
Which one do you think I took?
In the long run, of course I can’t be certain how much difference in my life that decision made. And like I said, unlike Simon, I don’t have the luxury of a literary examination to figure it out, but I think I made the right choice.
I’ve got a pretty good life, all told, so I can’t complain.

I think you made the right choice too, Matt. Thank you so much for sharing this. Since Matthew and I share a love of all things written by Andrew Smith, how about I give away a copy of Andrew's newest book Winger today? When I tell you this book made me cry like a baby, I am not exaggerating. Leave me a comment telling me whether you would or would not want the opportunity to see how your life could have turned out if you'd made other choices.

Matthew MacNish is a writer of fiction about young people that may or may not be for young people. He is the father of two beautiful young ladies, three lazy cats, and one adorable German Shepherd. Together they live in the mountains of north Georgia amid his endless collection of vinyl records. He blogs about queries and his own personal path to publication at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, about Young Adult literature at YA Confidential, and about Middle Grade literature at Project Middle Grade Mayhem.


  1. OMG, what a story! I'm speechless!

  2. That was a huge decision, between what you want now and what you want later.

  3. Thanks so much for having me, Shaun! I've got to go spread the word about free Winger. I love that book so much.

  4. Shaun and Matthew -- Thanks. Whoever wins, I'll kick in a special-made illustrated WINGER bookplate (signed) to personalize the prize.

    1. Whoa. Now that's awesome. Thanks, Drew!

    2. Wow! Thank you, Andrew! This is why you're my favorite author...well, that and you're amazing books.

  5. Whoa, they expelled you for alcohol?
    But seriously, that's one hell of a story. I don't know you very well Matt, but from what I've read via your blog etc., I think you made the right decision, or at the very least, you didn't make the wrong decision. I've definitely had FML moments in my life. One of them was making the decision to kiss my budding career (one that I loved)good-bye to move to France. So yes, there are moments when I wonder what life would have been like if I had stayed the States. But then, I look at my two amazing kids and know it doesn't matter because I wouldn't change a thing.

    Nice to meet you Shaun, great guest post today. :)

  6. Your FML story, Matt, is one hell of a truth to read. It's a reminder that so much of what is written and shared in the "not so happy at that moment" books that are out there...well, they sourced from some place real. Because real life happens and it isn't nice all the time.

    Thank you for sharing :-)

  7. This is great, and so is your story. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. I think you were really smart to not get in that car or even go back inside, but to take off and become a Jedi. It's a path that's served you well.

    And I'd definitely want to see what other routes my life could have led to if I'd only been brave enough, stupid enough, or picked up the right book at the right time.

  9. That reminds me of this one time at band camp... um, no, wait; I never went to band to camp.
    What I want to know is why they sent you off to be with a cult.

    1. They didn't know it was a cult when they sent me. Just thought it was reform school.

    2. Oh... so much for research, I guess.
      I had a friend that lived at my house a lot when I was in high school, because he didn't have anywhere to live. He ended up staying with another friend for around a year, but he'd come to my house when they needed a break from each other.
      Then I graduated from high school, and I lost track of him.

  10. I would be curious to see how my life might've turned out - there was a time when it was discussed splitting me and my siblings up (after my parents divorced). I wonder what would've happened? How we might've turned out differently?

    Oh, and I would LOVE to win Andrew Smith's new book.

    1. It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?

  11. Love this, Matt. WINGER is great. Also, I enjoyed the first chapter of FML, especially the image of the feral monkey slinging shit. Which makes my entry for "What is the meaning of FML?" Feral Monkey Libidos. Or Frequently Misheard Lyrics, because it's something that I do a lot of. (Mishear lyrics, that is.)

  12. Interesting to know about one of your cliffhanger moments, do I or not?

    I've had a few, and I knew it was a milestone and would change my future plans. I wrote about it in a journal, thinking that I wanted to remember what it felt like at that age to be at the cusp of a crossroads in my life.

    Thanks for sharing, Matt. (I guessed that you went back inside the school, but that's just because somewhere along the way, you became a father to two lovely kids.)

    Great interview question, Shaun.

    1. That's really cool that you wrote about those milestone moments. I wish I'd recorded more of mine, but I think most of mine were smaller moments that I didn't know would be milestone moments at the time.

  13. Wow, that is one hell of a story. Thanks for sharing, Matt. Reminds me a little of when I took off for Seattle (about that same time, actually) with $700 no job and no plan. Had to clear out of Chitown for a while and I'm glad I did. It was a scary time, but I'm here and the better for it.

    Great to meet you Shaun, this sounds like a terrific story and I will definitely have to check it out. Huge success to you.

  14. Interesting story, but then I'm not surprised. Personally I'm one of those strange birds who would rather not know what 'the road less taken' would have been like. Probably goes with my 'no regrets' policy on life. A lot of FML moments, but not one I'm sorry or wondering about. It's those crossroads that make us who we are today. Me I'm pretty comfortable in my skin. Whoa! that was more and deeper than I usually like to go.

    As for anything written by Andrew Smith, I'm in, but not so sure about that 'cry like a baby' thing.

  15. Great story, Matt! I can see the parallels with Ruby Ridge.

    I don't think i'd want to see how things would have turned out for me if I made different choices. There were some big decisions that I made bad choices on and i'm still dealing with those, so I'd be worried if I saw how things would be different it might depress me, especially since I like my life and where I'm at now.

    (and holy crap do I want to read Winger sooo bad)

    1. Every time I start to regret things I did when I was younger, I look at where I'm at and try to figure out how I would have gotten to this point if I hadn't made those crappy choices. I think even our mistakes help shape us...and it's kind of a comforting thought to know that even the worst parts of our life were necessary.

    2. I tend to agree. There are some things I regret, to be sure, but they are mostly external experiences, things I could not control. When it comes to my own decisions, I feel like some mistakes just have to be made before we can truly learn the lessons they provide.

  16. throwback thursday....oh wait its friday....dumbass that I am


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