Skip to main content

Interview: May 2006

May 2006

Ned Vizzini has expertly captured the trials and tribulations of teenage life with TEEN ANGST? NAAAH... and BE MORE CHILL. He examines a much deeper facet of adolescent struggles in his latest novel, IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY.

In this interview with Teenreads.com contributing writer Carlie Webber, Vizzini discusses the autobiographical elements found in the story, explains why chooses to write about smart, geeky characters who are less than popular, and shares some experiences with readers who have been affected by his work.

Teenreads.com: IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is based on your own experiences in psychiatric care. How much of Craig's story parallels what you underwent? What are the differences?

Ned Vizzini: IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is 85% true --- how's that for a precise figure? I did get really depressed and I did go into a hospital with many of the personalities Craig meets in the book. Biggest difference: I didn't meet a love interest in there.

TRC: The guys you write about, like Craig in IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY and Jeremy in BE MORE CHILL, tend to be the smart, geeky, unsure types rather than the popular jocks. What inspires you to tell their stories?

NV: I'd like to say that I write about smart, geeky types because I'm one of them, but I'm also interested in outcasts of all kinds --- homeless people, lunatics, people who refuse to have cell phones. Why are they different and what can they teach us about what's normal?

TRC: You wrote IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY in just under one month, right after your discharge from Methodist Hospital. What was that month like? Were you hopeful? Excited? Worried?

NV: The month in which I wrote IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY was sweaty. Even though it was January. I was in my house writing from the time I woke up to when I crashed! Sometimes I had to remind myself to stop for food. It was exciting and cleansing. I was happy with the words as they came out, and usually I'm a huge self-critic.

TRC: Was your high school anything like Craig's? What were you like as a teenager?

NV: My high school formed the basis of Executive Pre-Professional High School in the book. It was ultra-competitive and it could (and did) drive a few kids crazy. While I was there it was sink or swim, and I swam --- I bounced from one social group to another, performing amateur anthropological studies. Generally I fell into the geek/dork realm, but I played in a band so that softened the blow.

TRC: Is it harder for you to write about serious issues or to be funny? Your books often combine the two. Is that more difficult than focusing on one or the other?

NV: The best kind of story, in my mind, is one that makes you laugh and then makes you think. I call it "turning the knife"--- whoa, there's meaning here! Generally, if I'm happy, it's easier to write the comedy; if I'm down, it's easier to write about serious topics. In a good year, hopefully I'll go through enough comedy and tragedy to create a readable book.

TRC: What kind of responses have you received from your teen readers about the books you've written?

NV: I've received responses from the coolest, most intelligent young people you can imagine, and a great regret is that I don't get the chance to talk with them as much as I'd like. I have had people send me great writing; I have had people bring me to their schools; I have corresponded with students as they've grown up and started to chart a course for their lives. The response has been thoughtful, sometimes very critical, and occasionally bizarre (check the finger skateboarding video I got sent at www.nedvizzini.com/fun_stuff).

TRC: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

NV: For craft, I think aspiring writers should work on personal stories first and then move on to bigger ideas. (Starting with a novel can be frustrating.) Also, keep a blog --- it will keep you on your toes. Then make sure that you have people who will honestly read and critique your work. Finally, if something seems strange on paper, do it --- it might be brilliant. As for the business side of things, aspiring writers should look to the blog world and the world of alternative/indy press (TheStranger.com, Opium.org) as well as youth-oriented publication projects like TeenInk.com and 826NYC.org.

TRC: What projects are you working on currently?

NV: Right now, I am working on developing IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY into a film as well as writing short stories and beginning work on what will be my first adult novel. I'm also teaching in the NYC public schools this fall. That's another piece of advice for aspiring writers: do everything! Have adventures!