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Id kill for another Squip right now
 

BY NICHOLAS ANTOSCA

uring his 24th birthday party earlier this month at Manhattan's KGB Bar, Ned Vizzini was telling a story about a guy who'd been locked up in a mental hospital. "He wants drugs, right, and he wants them so bad. He throws himself through one of the glass windows, which are pretty strongly reinforced, meaning he has to work up some real momentum. Anyway, he falls about three feet onto a balcony but still breaks his leg. The police show up, take him to the emergency room and then arrest him. So he goes from the mental hospital to a jail cell, where he still can't get drugs. Rough life, huh?"

COURTESY NICHOLAS ANTOSCA
Also, be more narcissistic.
 
Vizzini, a novelist who will be giving a Calhoun master's tea on Mon., Apr. 11 at 4:30 p.m., can claim some real momentum of his own, but his trajectory has not been quite so grim. And although he, too, had a brief but harrowing stay in a mental hospital, he managed to get a noveldue out in 2006from the experience instead of a broken leg.

After his first novel, a science-fiction bildungsroman (think Philip K. Dick meets Roald Dahl) called Be More Chill, was published last year by Miramax, he worked obsessively to get it publicized, even overseeing the creation of a viral marketing campaign that treated the book's conceita pill-sized computer called a "squip" that, when swallowed, makes you coolas a reality. Google "squip" now and you'll find sites like SQUiP News (straightforward reporting on all things squip), Get SQUiP (how geeks can get their own squips), SQUiP USA (insurance coverage), and Celebrity Squip (it seems Justin Timberlake has one), among many others.

The strategy worked beautifully. The New York Times ran an article about it in October 2004. Then Vizzini appeared on the Today Show, which selected Be More Chill for its book club, and Entertainment Weekly put the book on its list of 2004's best novels. The Weitz brothers, who made American Pie, are making it into a film with the help of Steve Pink, the screenwriter behind High Fidelity.

Be More Chill was so successful, in fact, that Vizzini had a nervous breakdown from the pressure of sudden fame. Soon it began to affect his sleep habits and appetite. By then, he couldn't deny the fact that he was clinically depressed. Fearing for his sanity and his safety, he entered an adult psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn and asked for helponly to learn that such a decision is, quite literally, a real commitment. Once you get admitted, you aren't going anywhere, at least not right away.

Vizzini spent six days in the mental hospital. In his everyday life and career, his social networking skills and shrewd observational instincts had always served him well, so he put them to good use in the hospital, too. By the time he was allowed to go home, he had become comfortable with the motley assortment of heroin addicts and schizophrenics with whom he'd found himself surrounded.

"I have more respect for the people I met in adult psychiatric than for many people I know in the outside world," he said. "They were people who had been through incredible hardships and just wanted to have very simple things that we sometimes forget about."

After his release, he dutifully sat down to write the Be More Chill sequel that fans had been clamoring for but found his thoughts returning to his experiences and the people he'd met in the hospital. Setting aside the sequel project, he started writing something elsea story about a suicidal 14-year-old boy who finds himself locked in a mental hospital. "As soon as I got started, it happened very quickly. I would just wake up and start writing. It had never happened to me before, but sometimes a book will just pour out of you."

Writing nonstop, he produced a 400-page manuscript in about one month. Even as a first draft with the ink still wet, the novel is a remarkably rewarding read, its propulsive and convincing narrative told with clever, sharp prose that could pass for that of a younger, more sincere Julian Barnes. His editor at Miramax loved the book, and it's set to be published next year under the title It's Kind of a Funny Story.

"I have a real hope," Vizzini said, "that I have something young people can read and say, 'Not only am I not alone in going through something like this, but it's not all dark. There's humor here and there's life.'"   


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