The Ned Vizzini Interview

 

22-year-old Ned Vizzini is the latest addition to the hip young urban literati that seems to be sprawling out of America. Only the man himself can possibly describe what it’s like. “It’s fantastic. I stand outside readings distributing flyers and hot girls from Manhattan look at me as if I'm some species of ungulate. Then, I get caught up in beef between people who don’t realize they are the runt of all media and NO ONE CARES WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY! Then, I go home and masturbate! I’m really, really lucky to have a girlfriend, let's just put it that way.”

 

Since he was 15, Vizzini has been published every where from The New York Press to Newsday. His first book ‘Teen Angst? Naaah…’ struck a cord with teenage outcasts across the world and hence gained a somewhat cult following. Now at 22, the self-confessed media darling finds himself signed up to Miramax Books in America and HarperCollins in the UK for a two-book deal. In his first novel, Be More Chill, Vizzini quite commendably explores what it is to be ‘cool’. He takes a fresh spin on a somewhat tired topic by asking what would happen if a complete nerd were able to swallow a supercomputer in the shape of a pill (a ‘squip’) that tells your brain how to be cool once swallowed.

 

In this extract from the book, Jeremy the hapless loser of the book it just getting to grips with having a squip inside his head telling him how to be cool in the presence of hottie, Brooke. The squip’s speech is indicated by caps.

 

“GREAT JOB. NOW BOTH HANDS FOR THE SHIRT.

 

My other hand was in the dirt - pretty useless, huh? I pick it up and pull the lower lip of Brooke’s shirt over her navel (with a ring, whoop-de-doo) and then her solar plexus. Finally, in one of those epic moments that I thought only happened on your deathbed, her shirt is up by her neck and her breasts are splayed out! Damn! Although they’re not really “splayed out,” they’re more like “laid out,” like two little hot cakes from McDonald’s with cookies-and-cream nuggets on top of each one. They are much smaller in person than they were under the shirt; they look like they belong to a ten-year-old. Boy. “One of your nipples is pierced,” I say quietly.

 

“Yeah,” Brooke smiles. “Just got it done.”

GO! GO!

I bury my face on Brooke’s breast, “stage left” this time, aiming for the ring. I want to stick my tongue through it, this crazy metal sexy thing -

“Aaaaa! Jeremy! Ow! Stop!”

UH-OH.

I look up. “What?”

“It’s infected! You can’t lick it.”

“It’s infected?” I squint at the nipple, placed at the end of my nose. Jesus, it’s all purple and yellow around the part where the hoop goes through the skin! And green! “Oh man, I’m sorry, what did I do?”

RETREAT! RETREAT! DISEASE! RETREAT!”

 

From his early beginnings Vizzini seemed to be finding his writing style in the most unusual of places. “I grew up until I was 6pm,” says Vizzini immediately correcting himself, “ I mean, 6 years old, but that was funny so I’ll keep it, in Manhattan, next to what is now referred to as “the lipstick building.” (Because it looks like a tube of lipstick.) When I was a kid, it wasn’t built yet - they were pile-driving the foundation in. So all day I would hear the pile drivers: ka-chung, ka-chung. Then, we were also next to a nightclub called Pulse. So at night, once the pile drivers were done, I heard the nightclub beat: utz utz utz utz utz utz utz. So growing up, I had a lot of rhythm in my life, and very seriously I think that contributed to my writing.”

 

Speaking about lessons learned from his first book Vizzini elaborates on his technique. “I learned everything! How to put a sentence together that makes the reader want to read the next sentence, how to hide humour in weird places so it comes out on the second or third read, but most importantly: how to turn a funny story into something sad, empathetic, and important. I call it “twisting the knife.” You hit the reader with humour and bizarre-ness and ridiculousness, then you turn on them with real emotion. That’s a trick I learned in Teen Angst? Naaah… that I use in Be More Chill.”

 

Vizzini has written countless amounts of articles for a variety of American publications so why the move to fiction? Vizzini excitedly explains, “I love writing fiction,” he says, “I started in journalism but that was never real journalism - just stupid stories from high school and character profiles of New York lunatics. I do like writing those sorts of newspaper articles, but there are a few terrible secrets about journalism: first, you get paid shit and get treated like shit, while you watch talking heads on TV get rich and write best-selling novels. Second, your work doesn’t last. Sure, you can break the most important story in the world -Woodward & Bernstein with Watergate, say -but a hundred years from now people will read the book about Watergate, not the newspaper articles. Books last. You have the chance to create something that endures. So fiction is where I would like to be.”

 

Vizzini came across Ireland’s very own Cecelia Ahern recently on her American book tour. “When it comes to Cecelia Ahern and PS I Love You, first of all, as a nation, Irish people, you shouldn’t waste your time being jealous. I have lots of problems with jealousy; I get jealous of everybody. I was particularly bad last March when my friend Marty Beckerman got a blurb from frickin’ Hunter S Thompson, but my dad told me, “Ned, jealousy is a waste of time; you just have to worry about what you can control,” and I throw that back at you. If you think Cecelia Ahern is a bitch for writing a big-time novel when she was 22, then write one yourself and out-bitch her.”

 

Vizzini continues, “I did meet her and was totally bewitched by her. This young lady could be selling me sides of beef and I’d be all over them. I went to her reading just because I was like, another 22-year-old writer, may as well meet her. Then when I got to Barnes & Noble I was a little shocked at the over chick-lit-ness of the book, but you know, I have a lot of friends who write that stuff, and they’re not bad - it’s best to keep an open mind. So I sat through her Q&A and handed her a flyer for Be More Chill. I bought her book, too, and read two pages - I remember a line about a brain tumour being pretty blunt and funny. I’ll get to the rest of it. The important thing is that now I’ve got an in with the future Tee-Shock of Ireland, eh? Eh? You gotta work it.” He pauses. “God I’m a shit.”

 

HarperCollins, his UK publisher, have been describing the young Vizzini as Melvin Burgess meets American Pie. A scary mix if ever there was one. “Young adult novels that depict graphic sex can be very dangerous. Not because they contribute to the moral degradation of the world, but because they make it seem like you get to have graphic sex in high school! Which you very well might not. Same with movies: you show hot teenagers in school arranging threesomes, then you actually get to high school and there’s one pimply girl without a boyfriend, the only cute guy has a speech impediment.

 

The important thing in writing is truth,” explains Vizzini, “So if you really did sleep with your teacher when you were fifteen, go and write about it. I didn’t. I did, however, make out with a girl and get stopped because she had an infected nipple ring. So I put that in Be More Chill. I also jerked off on the internet a lot. So I put that in Be More Chill. Apparently that is controversial to people. I don’t care what’s controversial or not - I care about what is true, about connecting with the people who understand me. Because I’m common; man, there are thousands just like me.”

 

The publication of Be More Chill hasn’t gone unnoticed by the dollar-filled eyes of Hollywood producers. “It is in the hands of a very talented producing and screenwriting team - the Weitz brothers who did American Pie and Steve Pink who adapted High Fidelity - but it’s not like we’re casting yet (and it’s not like I’ll have anything to do with it when we do). Right now we’re actually at a more exciting stage: Steve is about to write the screenplay and I’m here to help him. It’s pretty cool to have the guy who adapted High Fidelity calling you on your cell phone (his number always comes through as “unknown”) to discuss ideas.”

 

Vizzini has already been labelled as part of the ‘Generation Y’ writers, a term he doesn’t particularly like. Although he says he’s honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as fellow writers like Marty Beckerman, Nick McDonnell, J.T. LeRoy and Christopher Paolini. He seems un-phased by the prospect of his book being made into a movie. “I don't care if MTV or anyone else makes any movies of my books,” he says, “I am just happy to be working against the karmic debt my generation has incurred via teen pop, school shootings and Power Rangers.”

 

 

Be More Chill can be ordered online from http://www.liamgeraghty.com/www.amazon.com

 

By Liam Geraghty

Interview first appeared in Mongrel

 

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