Interview With Ned Vizzini


Ned Vizzini is the author of It’s Kind of a Funny StoryBe More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah… In 2010, It’s Kind of a Funny Story was adapted into a film by the screenwriting/ directing duo behind Half Nelson. The film starred Zach Galifianakis, Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts. Ned currently writes for L Magazine, MTV’s Teen Wolf and has an essay in The Walking Dead anthology. Ned’s forthcoming YA novel, The Other Normals, will be published in fall 2012. We got a chance to talk to Ned.

Thought Catalog: I know you’re living in LA now, and you just had a baby. Has that affected your routine as a writer at all?

Ned Vizzini: I don’t have a routine as a writer. I am motivated by deadlines and guilt and fear of death. I get things done when I have to get them done. Moving to Los Angeles has made me more productive because there’s less ambient noise. Of course having a baby is a huge commitment but it also negates lots of other commitments so it evens out and leaves me time to write. And my wife is instrumental in keeping me focused and giving me time to work.

TC: What are you doing out in LA?

NV: Having fun and making money.

TC: Anna Boden, and Ryan Fleck did an amazing job on IKOAFS. What was it like working with them?

NV: Ryan and Anna were great. They really understood the novel, gave me a chance to provide a song for the film, and even offered me a cameo in the film. And when I turned that down, they gave my book Be More Chill a cameo instead (which I didn’t realize until I saw a final cut). That was very sweet and cool of them.

TC: Jesse Eisenberg did the audio book for Be More Chill. Did you ever get to meet him? Have you read any of his McSweeney’s pieces, or seen his new play, Asuncion? You guys, on the surface at least, have a ton in common.

NV: I’ve never met Jesse Eisenberg but I hope to. In addition to doing the audio book for Be More Chill he read from It’s Kind of a Funny Story at a benefit for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, a nonprofit that I’ve been proud to support for years. I like his “Manageable Tongue Twisters” on McSweeney’s.

TC: Emily Gould wrote a lot of disparaging things about you for Gawker. Was it a bummer reading that stuff?

NV: Oh jeez, I’m not sure if Emily Gould wrote those posts or if it was someone else at Gawker. It’s fine. They called me out and I deserved it; it’s not something to get bummed out about. I don’t think I even generated much traffic for the site. I did get a personal assistant; I haven’t had one for years, though. I’ve learned how to manage my time better and don’t need one now.

TC: What was it like working for Russ Smith?

NV: You’re referring to my time at New York Press in the late 1990s. Russ Smith was the paper’s founder and he wrote the “Mugger” column but I worked more closely with editors Sam Sifton and John Strausbaugh. (What was it like working for them? It was awesome.) Russ was and remains a singular character and I’ve always appreciated his support; he now runs Slice Today.

TC: There has been a lot of talk about there not being enough male YA readers, and the YA market being over-saturated with female protagonists. Would you say most of your readers are female? Would you ever write a book from the perspective of a female?

Ned: I’m lucky to belong to the subset of YA authors who can write a book from a male perspective and have publishers consider publishing it. That’s been true from the beginning; Free Spirit Publishing put out Teen Angst? Naaah… in 2000 with the idea that I had a voice that could appeal to guys. To this day, the feedback I get is about 50/50 male/female. What can I say — thank you, males! I have considered and continue to consider writing from the perspective of a female. Stay tuned.

TC: Can you tell us a little bit about The Other Normals? Will it deal with the same themes that you’ve tackled in previous books?

NV: I don’t think about “themes” when I write; I think of “seeds.” For Be More Chill the seed was me watching MTV and wondering what it would be like if a product could make you cool and listening to the Drunk Horse song “AM/FM Shoes”. For It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the seed was going to the psych hospital. The Other Normals comes from a different place. I’ll try to explain.

When I was 13 I got into Dungeons and Dragons, but I never actually played it because you needed more than two people and I didn’t have that many friends. What I did do was read the books obsessively. I found that I could stare at charts of weapon statistics and spells and be totally happy. It was weird how happy it made me. And I came to realize that it was because the world around me at the time was complicated (I was supposed to like girls but I hated them; I wasn’t sure how to dress or act or speak) but the world of the game was simple.

I think this is the decision teenagers make when they get into fashion or poker or Skyrim. They want to shut out the complicated world in favor of a world they can control. And I wanted to write about a kid who has shut out the real world in favor of a fantasy world, but who has to leave the fantasy world behind to fully bloom. And The Other Normals is the result of that.

TC: Talk about Urban Renewal Renewal! Are the concerns about URR’s quality all in your head?

Ned: Uh, Urban Renewal Renewal is a novel that I wrote in 2007-2009 about a guy who tries to de-gentrify his Brooklyn neighborhood. It was my first attempt at non-YA book. Over the years I have harbored ambitions to write literary fiction and that book was me getting that out of my system. I’m not the only person who has concerns about its quality. A very very small number of people have PDFs of it. The opinions range from “this isn’t the right thing for you to be doing” to “it’s good” to “I think you have to split it into two books” to… nothing at all because the person hasn’t read it in the two years since I’ve sent it. Maybe it’ll mutate pleasantly someday. Stay tuned.

TC: I know that IKOAFS took a month to write. I was wondering, what are your thoughts on NaNoWrimo?

NV: I’m a little embarrassed that It’s Kind of a Funny Story took me a month to write. It was a crucial moment in my life. I don’t think it will be repeated. I certainly don’t recommend it to anyone and I don’t think it should be mandated by the blogosphere. NaNoWrimo is good because it weeds out a certain type of person who always thought that they “had a book in them” but doesn’t really like writing. Other than that… I know some people get a lot out of it but every time it rolls around I think, “You’re not supposed to be able to do it in a month. You’re supposed to suffer like you’re supposed to.”

TC: Do you ever just want to be mean?

Ned: Of course I want to be mean sometimes, but every time I am it blows up in my face. You have to be a transgressive genius to get away with public meanness.

TC: Can you confirm that the film does imply that Bobby, Zach Galifianakis’ character, kills himself?

NV: I think Bobby is headed toward suicide at the end of the Funny Story film. You’d have to ask Ryan and Anna about their intent, but I think the final shot of him is a glimpse into how suicidal people move and think.

TC: Will there ever be a movie for Be More Chill or Teen Angst? Naaah . . .?

NV: I don’t know! Stay tuned.

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