Novelist Ned Vizzini On Addiction, Bashing Pinatas, and Robert Downey Jr.’s Nose

09/25/2012 11:50 AM |

lmag: Is that where some of the creative inspirations for the fantasy elements came from for this book?

nedvizzini: Yes, there’s a particular D&D set called “Al-Qadim” that really did it for me. It was based on Arabian Nights, which I read, along with scholarship on the stories in preparation for writing The Other Normals.

lmag: How’d you come up with the idea for the hybrid-species beings that live in your alternate dimension?

nedvizzini: The idea was sparked by Martin Buber, the philosopher who wrote “I And Thou.” He says in the opening paragraph of the book that human beings are two-fold by nature. That nothing we do is without a dividing line. I wanted everybody in the book to be both one thing and another.

lmag: It’s interesting how that translates to the fantasy elements just as much as to the “real-world” characters of the story.

nedvizzini: Well, I had a friend when I went to summer camp who was like, my best friend at school. He was smart, he was kind, he introduced me to the Nirvana “Incesticide” cassette tape. Then when we went to camp, he just ignored me. He wanted attention from women and I stood in the way of that. I wanted Sam’s character to embody that sort of two-faced-ness in the book.

lmag: In a way, Perry also has two halves: the scared teen who hasn’t discovered himself and the Peregrine who is braver and self-assured. The story becomes a balancing act between those two versions of himself.

nedvizzini: That’s the idea! I wanted to get at this wonderful thing that sometimes happens when we unexpectedly find that we’re capable of something.
I mean there are so many times in life, when we’re unqualified for whatever we may be doing. But then there are these times—
for example, at my 30th birthday party, my friend brought a piñata.
I didn’t think I could hit this piñata for shit. I’d been drinking and I just didn’t think it was going to happen.
But I remembered the Scott Pilgrim movie, how Scott hit things and points and coins flew from them, and as I was being spun around, I just went to a very focused place inside my head and I DESTROYED that piñata. I mean, I actually roared as I dismantled it with the stick and ripped it open with my bare hands, showering everyone with candy.

lmag: That does take me to something that’s pretty big in YA though.
This self-realization process. For Perry, like lots of teens, everything sucks and he wants to get away—a form of escapism, but interestingly here, it’s precisely his adventures into escapism that allow him to confront the real world. Would you say this book shows the up-side of escapism?

nedvizzini: For me the book is really about addiction. It’s about addiction to something that takes you away from your real life. Whether that’s drugs, playing Angry Birds Space, Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft isn’t important to me. I think we get addicted to things because we can control them. People talk about addiction as a lack of control, but once you have whatever it is you’re addicted to, you’re in total control—you can use it, you can play it, whatever. It’s real life that is hard to control. And sometimes the only way out of an addiction is to give in to it hardcore. Sometimes the only way out is through.

lmag: I like that your books show drug use, feature unabashed cursing, discuss sex and violence. But because they’re YA fiction, I could see that bothering some people. Ever get any particularly good hate mail from prissy parents?

nedvizzini: I’ve never had my books banned (to my knowledge). The most hate mail I’ve ever gotten was back when I was writing for New York Press—but it was a badge of honor over there. I think that my books are known for discussing outre topics and so the people who have no tolerance for them stay away. That being said, The Other Normals has less sex and drugs than my earlier books. There isn’t an infected-nipple-ring scene like in Be More Chill or any pot smoking. The drug of choice is ordinary pebbles that make the fantasy creatures high. So I don’t anticipate even the minimal blowback I got from Be More Chill and It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

lmag: If this book became a movie like It’s Kind of a Funny Story, who would be your ideal actors for the major characters?

nedvizzini: Oh goodness, wishful thinking—but I’ll play the game. If the book gets turned in a movie, I just want Robert Downey Jr. to play Mortin Enaw. He’s the put-upon “spirit guide” and I was honestly picturing RDJ when I wrote him. That’s the first time I’ve done that. I just love picturing Robert Downey Jr. crouched, with red skin and tail, smoking these pebbles, going, “Hey, kid, I got a lot of problems.” When I describe Mortin Enaw as having a “Hollywood button nose,” that means RDJ’s nose. It’s a good nose.