Saturday, September 29, 2012

Interview with Ned Vizzini, author of The Other Normals

Ned Vizzini began writing for New York Press at the age of fifteen. At seventeen he was asked to write a piece for The New York Times Magazine, which led to the publication of Teen Angst? Naaah... , a memoir of his years at Stuyvesant High School. He is also the author of It's Kind of A Funny Story and Be More Chill. 


Q: Thanks so much for joining us today, Ned. Let's get some of those typical interview questions out of the way first. When did you first become interested in writing? 

A: I discovered New York Press in the mid-90s in Manhattan. It was this incredible free newspaper that was distributed in boxes on the street. Before blogs, these “alternative newspapers” were the way you got your off-kilter news and opinions. And New York Press had amazing writers like Jim Knipfel and Amy Sohn and Jonathan Ames and Matt Taibbi and Tom Gogola and Sam Sifton and John Strausbaugh. And I just ate it up. I wanted to write for them so I sent them an essay and they printed it and paid me $100. I was hooked.

Q: Your first novel, Teen Angst? Naaah . . ., was published only a year after you graduated from high school, an awe-worthy feat in the eyes of teen-writers around the world. What advice do you have for other teens interested in writing?

A: Remember that there are people out there who are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure out what you like. Trend forecasters. Marketing analysts. They have meetings to try and figure out how to sell you clothes and soap. And here you are, an actual teenager with the capacity to write – do you realize how valuable you are?

Q: What are the greatest challenges for you when it comes to writing? 

A: The greatest looming challenge is always the same: not being able to write well.

Q: Though any avid reader's answer to this question is constantly changing, I just need to ask: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

A: My favorite author is Michael Crichton. I come back to his books every few years. It's pure pleasure. When I was 12 I started reading Jurassic Park in the bathroom and I got so into it that my legs fell asleep and my dad was beating on the bathroom door – “What are you doing in there?” – and I tried to get off the toilet but I collapsed on the floor because both legs were asleep and the book skidded across the room and I thought, What power!

I used that story in The Other Normals; I just made  the book role-playing game manual instead of Jurassic Park.

Q: One of my favorite things to ask authors about is the environment in which they write. What sort of atmosphere do you write best in? (Pen and paper? Laptop? Quiet room? Mood music? Dog at your feet? Cat on the desk?)

A: If you want to write, it's important not to have specialized requirements. That's like being a panda as opposed to a rat. It's better to be able to eat everything than to only eat young bamboo. That said, I like my Sony Vaio laptop. I like OpenOffice. And if there's a lot of noise I need to drown out, I like Psychologically Ultimate Seashore.

Q: Who is one person that has supported you the most outside of your family? 

A: I have to thank two people: my editor Alessandra Balzer and my agent Jay Mandel. I have the kind of relationship with both that I don't think writers are supposed to have anymore – we have worked together for 10 years, through company moves and huge life changes. Both have helped me refine my work by asking the right questions.

Q: I recently saw that you wrote for season two of MTV's Teen Wolf, and are currently writing for ABC's Last Resort. How is writing for a television program different than writing a novel? Has it changed or developed your writing in anyway?

A: Writing for a TV show is very different from writing a book. Instead of sitting at your computer, you sit in a big room with other writers and talk out story ideas. (This is called “breaking story.”) THEN, once the story is agreed on, if it's your turn to write a script, you sit at your computer .

TV writing has helped me identify cliffhangers and chapter endings for my books. Every TV scene needs to end well, in a way that propels the viewer to the next scene. Once you write enough of them you get a natural feel for how to make a not-that-exciting end of a chapter into a page-turner.

Q:  What is an odd fact about yourself that's usually a surprise to people? 

A: I don't like Dr. Who. None of it. Not at all.

Q: And last, but certainly not least, tell us about your new novel, The Other Normals. Where did you get your inspiration for it? You aren't a secret role-playing addict, are you?

A: The Other Normals is about a 15-year-old role-playing addict who falls into an actual fantasy world and has to put his knowledge to the test against real monsters.

And yes, I am a secret gaming addict – or I was. My drug of choice was Magic cards, which I wrote about for New York Press when I was a teenager. I played them until I turned 30. I can't tell you how many times I threw them all away and bought new ones – just like a real addict!

The inspiration for The Other Normals came from these sorts of games. I think the reason we get addicted to things like Magic cards, or Yu-Gi-Oh, or World of Warcraft, or Tumblr, is because it's a little world that we can control and manipulate and understand – but at some point we have to leave that world to grow up.

Wow, I sure didn't expect that one. Thanks so much for stopping by, Ned! Don't forget to check out The Other Normals here.

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