by Hiko Mitsuzuka
Ned Vizzini has been breathing fresh new life into YA fiction for the past couple of years. While most readers were soaking up the melodramatic exploits of teen vampires and the epic adventures of boy wizards, Vizzini was carving an alternative niche for himself, spinning relatable and insightful tales of teen depression, alienation, and popularity and building one hell of a following. He's the author behind such neo-classics like Be More Chill (an HIH fave) and It's Kind of a Funny Story, which received the film treatment back in 2010 and starred Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, and Zach Galifianakis.
Now, Ned is diving into the world of RPG (that's Role-Playing Games for anyone who still can't differentiate Star Trek from Star Wars) and revisiting his geek roots in The Other Normals. The new book, which hits shelves tomorrow, focuses on 15-year-old Perry Eckert, a gamer who gets shipped off to summer camp and finds himself caught in the middle a very real battle with otherworldly creatures. What sounds like every nerd's thrilling dream come true turns out to be an awesomely warmhearted adventure filled with colorful characters and an unlikely hero for anyone who's ever had a socially awkward childhood (raising my hand).
Having had the pleasure of chatting with Ned over many cups of coffee (and one birthday mojito) throughout the years, I recently tweeted and emailed the bestselling novelist to see if he had some time in his insanely busy schedule -- he's also a writer on ABC's Last Resort -- to let me pick his brain a little more. And this is what went down...
NV: In high school, I was friends with two Russian kids from Sheepshead Bay, which is an old-school Russian neighborhood in Brooklyn. (I hung out with a lot of Russians in high school; we understood each other.) These two guys were wildly different sizes; one was small and the other was huge. And one day when we were hanging out in the park, I had this realization: if we were in Dungeons & Dragons, the smaller of my friends would have the dagger, and the bigger one would have the axe, and I would have the sword, and we'd be warriors! Ever since then, I've wanted to write about a kid who fell into Dungeons & Dragons, and The Other Normals is that book.
HIH: You make your fair share of appearances at events and signings. What's one question people always ask you?
NV: People always ask me if I know other young adult authors, like Cassandra Clare. I think they imagine it's one big club. But I don't know any of the right authors -- and the right authors change every year anyway.
HIH: Do you have any particular rituals you practice in order to help you write?
NV: Yes -- I look at the calendar.
HIH: What's the greatest piece of advice you've received thus far?
NV: The best advice I ever got was from my wife, Sabra Embury. In terms of mental health, she taught me that the most important thing to do is compartmentalize. That the place where I go wrong (and where lots of people do) is that they let their problems escape from compartments in their minds and overrun their heads. I've had a lot more luck with depression since I started compartmentalizing.
HIH: Tell us a little about Last Resort. What was the transition like, moving from MTV's Teen Wolf to a major network thriller?
NV: Last Resort is amazing! It's a huge, meaty, smart, action-packed, fast-paced political thriller about a freaking nuclear submarine, and you can watch the pilot right now on Yahoo. The transition has been great. One big difference between it and Teen Wolf is that the writers room runs as the show is filming -- so while we're breaking story, writers are traveling to and from Hawaii to be on set!
HIH: If you weren't a writer you'd be ________
NV: A computer programmer. It's still my backup plan.
HIH: So, you're a New Yorker who's made the big move to L.A. and we gotta ask: What do you think is Hotter in Hollywood nowadays?
NV: The L.A. Opera is the hottest ticket right now! I went to opening night of the 2012/13 season with my wife and saw Placido Domingo (71 years young) in The Two Foscari. Up next: Don Giovanni. The unexpected thing about it is the people-watching: all kinds of freaks go to the opera, and while most of them wear suits and gowns, a few show up like they're going to clam bake.
You can follow Ned on Twitter @ned_vizzini
The Other Normals hits stores tomorrow, Sept. 25. *For chance to win an autographed copy of Ned's book, stay tuned!
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)