When Ned Vizzini's not working on a novel, he's writing for television. He continues to juggle both endeavors this week, as his new book, The Other Normals, hit the shelves just days before the premiere of the new ABC series Last Resort. While running around on his blog tour, he dropped by Bildungsroman to say hello.
Many of your published works, including the essays of Teen Angst? Naaah... and the novel It's Kind of a Funny Story, have been inspired by your personal experiences. What part of your past prompted The Other Normals?
When I was in high school, I was hanging out with two friends in the park – one of them was very big and the other was very small. And I realized – I know this is mean to my friends, but they probably won't read this – that if we were in Dungeons & Dragons, my smaller friend would be the dwarf, and my bigger friend would be the barbarian, and I would be the guy with the sword. And I thought, How cool would that be? Ten years later, that moment started becoming The Other Normals.
Creatures & Caverns, the role-playing game (RPG) Perry plays in The Other Normals, will draw in readers who play Dungeons & Dragons and watch Felicia Day's webseries The Guild. What's the craziest RPG character you've created/portrayed?
I don't have any crazy RPG characters because they're always killed! Seriously - I never last more than 20 minutes in D&D. One time my character was crushed by a giant lizard carcass.
Yikes! That sounds painful. In this day and age, it's relatively easy for people to communicate via email and text messages rather than phone calls and in-person meetings. Along the same lines, kids and adults alike can pull back from "the real world" while still engaging with others in a virtual world. What do you think are the benefits of RPGs and online communication, and what could be the drawbacks?
The only bad thing about texting is that people do it when they drive. Otherwise it's great! People complain that it's destroyed reading - it's saved reading! People growing up today are immersed in text. You don't "watch" a web page, you "read" it - and if you want to seem smart, you read a book too. As for face-to-face human interaction, I'm not worried about it. Biology dictates that we still need it. Once we get breeding pods, I'll be worried.
When speaking at school events, you talk about education, the writing profession, and ways to diminish stress and stay sane in high school and college. What do you hope the students take away from your presentations?
I have a video of my talk "How Not to Go Crazy in College." I just want people to take away three simple strategies for stress management. I outline those strategies in the video. If people leave the talk remembering them, the talk is a success. If they don't, I repeat them.
You also write for television, having written for MTV's hit series Teen Wolf, and are currently working on Shawn Ryan's new ABC show, Last Resort. How did you get involved with those shows?
I moved to Los Angeles in February 2010. I had started exploring TV with literary horror master Nick Antosca two years before. He had this idea for a show and we wrote a pilot episode for it and WME took an interest in us. At some point it became clear that if we actually wanted to write for TV, we had to be in LA. So we came out (Super Bowl Sunday, good day to fly) and took meetings and read scripts and kept writing original stuff that people liked and showed up at Comic-Con to meet the cast of Teen Wolf and eventually got our first job (on Teen Wolf). Now we're incredibly lucky to be on Last Resort. You can see the first episode on Yahoo right now!
In the writers' room of a TV show, you break stories with the other writers. When you write a novel, you typically write alone. What do you like about working collaboratively? What do you like about working solo?
The great thing about writing a book is that no one can tell you it's wrong. Well, everyone can tell you it's wrong - but then at least you've written it. In TV, people tell you you're wrong before you even start writing, and they do it subtly (which can be confusing). But TV writing gets you out of the house.
Speaking of collaborations, you've teamed up with filmmaker Chris Columbus to write the fantasy series House of Secrets. How did you two become acquainted, and what led to the series?
Chris had this idea – one of those bold, simple ideas you have to use before the universe gives it to someone else. He had written it as a TV pilot but it was pretty cost-prohibitive. He was looking to write it as a book. He found my books (the agency comes into play again here; WME has been good to me) and we met and I asked him if there was anything he'd always wanted to do in his films that had been too expensive. And he told me Yes - as in, Duh. And so we did those things in House of Secrets.
Your novel It's Kind of a Funny Story was made into a feature film, with a screenplay written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. What was it like to see your story come to life on screen?
Honestly I've written about this at such length that I'm going to direct you to the set reports. There's more detail there than I could ever remember here.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Oh boy. I don't know. Here are ten books I've read that I can remember, off the top of my head:
- The Lord of the Rings
- Mariel of Redwall
- Digging the Vein
- Jurassic Park
- The Pregnant Widow
- Down and Out in Paris and London
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The fact that those bubbled up means something, I hope!