interviews

ned vizzini

sheldon
rampton

Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini began writing for New York Press at the age of fifteen. At seventeen he was asked to write a piece for The New York Times Magazine, which led to the publication of Teen Angst? Naaah... , a memoir of his years at Stuyvesant High School. Now twenty-three, Ned lives in Brooklyn, New York.








PSP: To you, what is the difference between being a "young writer" and just...a writer?  Is it merely a question of age?  Your subject matter? Do you still consider yourself to be in this category, and can you describe the process of maturation in your life through your writing?

First, I consider myself a young writer until I'm 30. Then I'm a failure.

There is one difference between "young writers" and "writers": marketability Book companies are as youth-obsessed as any other spigot of American Media Enterprises and they jump on taut flesh. It's all a business and it's sad but of course I sound hypocritical for criticizing it, being 23. The only excuse I can offer is a guarantee: in the future I will be a huge failure! I promise. Every time I see a homeless person, I want to sit down and talk with them, because I know I'll be next to them someday. And I'll write a lot better.

I was at a celebrity charity function two days ago where the guests included
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, that tall chick from Third Rock, and James
Gandolfini (who DOES look just like my dad!). I fell asleep. I had a
terrible time. I told my friend who brought me: "Bring your other friends to
these. This isn't my element. I'm more at home with the dregs of humanity."
And she said, "I can see."

Young people and old people alike can tackle difficult and varied subject
matter in their writing. There are young people who write very well about
adult themes (Nick McDonnel, Marty Beckerman) and there are old people who
write very well about adult themes for young readers (M.T. Anderson) and
there are people who write badly about any sort of theme. Between young and
old writers, the marketing distinction is the only consistent one. (David
Amsden discussed it beautifully in his Believer essay "The Perpetual Debut
Novelist.")
 
As I get older, I am definitely trying to handle themes other than "I Can't
Get Laid." But it's tough to get away from that one.

PSP: What are your tools of the trade and accompanying rituals?  Are you banging away on your iBook G4 in your bedroom from the exact hours of 5pm to 10pm?  Bic Clic Stics and leather bound journals at the local Connecticut Muffin? How do you write?

First of all, screw Macs--where I come from (comptuer science), we call them
Wackintosh.

Secondly, I write when I feel guilty for not writing. That generally happens
every few days. I write on the subway, on my computer at home, and in
between, printing out pages, marking them up, transcribing them,
supplementing them with longhand, transcribing that, printing it back out,
editing it. When I run out of pens I buy a whole crapload and throw them in
the side pocket of my messenger bag--a trick I learned from a friend.
High-and-mighty writer rituals are only for high-and-mighty poser writers
(that's right, "posers," not "poseurs"--I have always thought "poseur" was a
bit of a poser move).
 
PSP: What's the latest on Teen Agnst? Naaah... getting optioned by Jane Startz Productions?
 
My movie/TV option with Jane Startz Productions, under the auspices of
Miramax, is dead! They couldn't sell it. So if anyone wants to option Teen
Agnst? Naaah... (four years, nine editions, 50,000 copies and counting),
email me or something.

PSP: On your website you mentioned that you're currently working on a book about money not being a substitute for making art.  Is the ms. fiction or non-fiction, and what was your inspiration for tackling this particular subject?

The ms. that I am writing (about, among other things, money not being a substitute for making art--it's also about teen depression) is a fiction
book. It takes about 65% from my life, as Be More Chill did. My inspiration
for it was seeing status anxiety and its accompanying ailments--stress,
hyperactivity, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, violent outbursts,
vomiting, suicide--creep into younger and younger people. Also, my sister,
who is creative and effervescent and exactly the opposite of the young
people who bend to materialistic death, was an inspiration.
 
PSP: What do you think about this website?  Don't forget to turn up the volume!

http://picard.ytmnd.com/
 
Wow! It's a Captain Picard loop! Not my favorite--I don't like the techno
music; I prefer unadulterated loops. There's one for "You're the Man, Dog"
from Finding Forrester (Sean Connery) at www.yourethemannowdog.com but
NOTHING tops "It's A Trap!" at www.itsatrap.com. That used to be my homepage. Does anyone know who's putting these up? Please email me if you do, like if you want to option my book.

PSP: You've been incredibly successful at tapping into DIY marketing venues, making creative use of the internet, inventing the Squipiverse, blogging, etc.  How important is an author's ability to self-promote if they are seeking success in today's literary climate? Do you think this kind of marketing has trumped more traditional forms of book review, like newspapers and radio?
 
A sea change has taken place in popular media (which used to be called
mainstream media", but the mainstream doesn't exist anymore--it died in 2003
and was post-mortem-ed by TIME essayist James Poniewozik). It used to be
that you had to be on TV to be successful with your art. I don't mean
successful" academically; that still takes good reviews, relationships with
professors, the respect of your peers, etc. etc.--I mean making $$$$$$. You
weren't going to make $$$$$$ or even $$$ if you weren't on Oprah. Now it's
very different. There are LOTS of cult writers out there making a
living--among them myself, Jonathan Ames, George Tabb, Zoe Trope. The way
that they do it is by respecting their readers and making themselves
available to their readers and involving their readers in their world, via
blogs and contests and live events. Now, when you're a young person in
America, it's infinitely cooler to discover something on the internet than
it is to see it on TV. I was going to be on the Today Show over the summer,
and when I got bumped I was pretty bummed, but now I realize that wasn't the
biggest loss in the world--I wasn't popping up in front of housewives but I
was still doing my INSANE stuff on the internet. And the insane stuff is
what kids respect. The DIY ethos has taken over America in Generation Squip;
the possibility of sustaining onesself as a niche writer (or artist or
musician) is greater than it was been since back when we all played lutes.
So long as you're not in it to be FAMOUS (death! squip!), you can, should,
and must use blogs and the internet to get your work noticed as well as, and
even more importantly than, TV/radio.

Reviews are still the shit. In any form they come in.
 
PSP: You just started co-curating the reading series at Barbes with Soft Skull Press. How is that going?

I really enjoy what we have going on down at Barbs ( http://nedvizzini
com/barbes/). What started as a totally shot-in-the-dark opportunity for me
has become an excellent bi-weekly party, where writers come together, read
their work, get some drinks, yell at each other, and make friends. Everyone
who reads has to bring a question about the work they read; then, when their
piece is over, they ask the question to the audience. Whoever gets it right
gets a free drink! If the author brings more questions, they can give away
prizes as well! I make sure it isn't stuffy. It starts as a reading and ends
as a drunken fracas.

PSP: What's your take on the whole "spoiler candidate" issue?
 
Ralph Nader was class president at my high school so don't fuck with him.


Ned Vizzini 2004
 

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