For the last two years, 20-year-old Shane Burcaw has shared his tales of life with spinal muscular atrophy — "from awkward handshakes to trying to find a girlfriend and everything in between" — on the wildly popular Tumblr called Laughing at My Nightmare. His blog has attracted more than 250,000 followers, and in the grand tradition of Tumblrs to book deals, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group has acquired Burcaw's Y.A. memoir for its Roaring Brook Press imprint. It's scheduled for a fall 2014 release. Executive Editor Nancy Mercado says, "There are many blogs-turned-books out there, but in this case, Shane Burcaw's extensive body of online writing will be a terrific jumping-off point for a wholly original memoir." Burcaw, who was recently profiled by Rainn Wilson's production company, Soul Pancake, for the My Last Days series, combines an appealing frankness with a keen sense of humor on his blog, where he writes, "I love to laugh and my life is pretty funny." I asked the writer a few questions about his disease, his blog, and of course, his Y.A. book deal.
Can you tell us a bit about spinal muscular atrophy? How has it impacted you?
My disease makes me look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex that's trapped in an 8-year-old's body. Basically, my muscles deteriorate as I get older. I've been in a wheelchair all my life, and someday my disease will cause my death. And on that happy note, next question! No, but you'll have to read my book to see all the crazy shit that happens as a result of my disease. I bet Roaring Brook will love that line.
What was the initial inspiration for your Tumblr, and how did it evolve from that?
I was honestly just bored one day so I decided to create a place where I could write some funny stories online. At first I wrote the blog anonymously, and didn't tell anyone in my life about my new project. I was embarrassed. Not only did I tell share awkwardly hilarious stories that I had never shared with most people, but I also began to explore my feelings about my disease and eventual death, which was a very private matter for me up until that point in my life. Soon, however, people all around the world started discovering my blog. I would wake up to 50 new followers and be in shock all day. The next day I had 100 more. On top of that came countless emails from readers, telling me my story had changed their lives and given them perspective. It was astonishing, because my original intention was just to tell a funny story or two. A few thousand followers later I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents and the rest of my friends and family. It has been a whirlwind of craziness ever since!
Who are your readers, primarily?
My primary audience is high school and college students from Australia to Nebraska to London to my 18-year-old brother, Andrew, here in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. When I check my follower count and see it climbing by more than 1000 followers per day, it still feels just as magical as when I first began.
So, from Tumblr to book ... how did that happen?
It's been an idea in the works for about a year (I've been writing the blog for almost two). But this past semester I worked with one of my awesome professors, Dr. Hinnefeld from Moravian College, to begin the process of finding a publisher. When I eventually got hooked up with Roaring Brook, it seemed like the perfect option. I have to thank my agent, Tina Wexler, and many of my friends and family for supporting me and guiding me through this process.
Tell us a bit about the book. Will it be different from the Tumblr?
The book, which I am titling Laughing At My Nightmare, will be the story of my life. On my blog I tell short, specific stories, and some of those will be featured in my book, as excerpts from the blog. My intention for the book, though, is to provide a larger, chronological narrative. There are many topics I haven't touched on the blog yet. I can promise you they will be touched in the book. It's going to be silly and sarcastic and serious and sad and sassy and super sexy.
Any idea what your writing process will be like? Will you keep up the blog while you're book-writing?
I've never written a book before, and my current writing practices for the blog can be defined as "chaotic," so it will be an adventure this summer. I do intend to keep posting on the blog, but I might scale back on the longer stories. It will be worth it though. Pinky promise.
What do you hope to accomplish with the book? What makes it ideal for a Y.A. audience?
My hope is that this book will make people look at the world through a brighter perspective, even if only for the few hours that they're reading it. It's an ideal Y.A. book because I see myself as a Y.A. Even though my message is appreciated by people of all ages, I think younger people identify with my humor and sarcasm a bit more.
You started a nonprofit to help raise funds to research your disease. How did that come about?
As my blog started to grow, I realized how much my story was inspiring people to live more positive lives. I started a nonprofit called Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc. with the mission of encouraging people to approach their problems with a positive frame of mind, while also raising funds for muscular dystrophy research. We do speeches and make movies and have fun events!
Anything else people should know?
I am seeking volunteers to bring me fast food and slurpees this summer. Writing is strenuous!