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

09/25/2012 11:50 AM |

The author as a young(er) man

  • The author as a young(er) man

Park Slope native Ned Vizzini is the author of four books including It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which was made into a movie starring Zach Galafianakis two years ago by the directors of Half Nelson. His latest novel, The Other Normals, about a role playing game made real (sort of), was released today by Balzer + Bray. He’s also a writer for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. (He is also sometimes a contributor to this magazine.) We spoke to him on Gchat—just like the kids do these days!—about what percentage of his books are real and who writes the best hate mail.

lmag: Though you live on the West Coast, Brooklyn and New York City are still your settings of choice. How does your hometown inspire your writing process?

nedvizzini: I think you have to live in a city for more than two and a half years to set a story there. I also haven’t experienced growing up in Los Angeles—a particular experience that involves car accidents.
One thing that I loved about growing up in Brooklyn was that once I could ride the subway, it was a world of strange possibilities. I could see people vomiting or making out at any time. That atmosphere of being amid the unexpected is good for a book.

lmag: So the unexpected was a big part of your understanding of New York, and it certainly features in The Other Normals.
Would you say this book draws on much from your personal life?
(apart from the inter-dimensional travel)

nedvizzini: I always had this fantasy in New York that the subway doors would open and I would be in a jungle or a forest. It never happened so I had to make it happen. I’d say the book is 50% real life, 50% based on things that actually happened to me in high school and summer camp. That’s more inventive than my other books. They are 85%, 65%, and 95% real, respectively.

lmag: Ha! You sound like you had that calculation worked out beforehand.
nedvizzini: I did.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is 85% true. Be More Chill is 65% true. Teen Angst? Naaah… is nonfiction, so it better be 95% true.

lmag: So if The Other Normals is 50/50, were you really a D&D player as a high schooler, or was that the other 50 percent?

nedvizzini: I was a D&D player in high school, of sorts. I had the exact situation as Perry, the hero, does in the book. I had all the D&D books but I never had anyone to play with—or when we did play, it was always like two hours of making characters and then somebody’s mom called and we had to go home. But I LOVED those guidebooks and I LOVED making characters. It was like a drug for me.