The Boston Herald (06/12/00)

By Lauren Beckham Falcone

"Write-minded: Did this teenager have trouble getting published at such a young age? Naaah!"

What teenager hasnít though that a hysterically funny, sad or romantic time in his or her life would make a great chapter in "The Book"?

You know, the book youíre constantly writing in your head. The one with all the details about your first kiss or that night you and your friends cruised past McDonaldís almost 100 times, or your wacky English teacher who wears the same denim shirt and khakis every day.

But what usually happens is that people forget the details. Or if they do jot them down, they realize their stories are either horribly embarrassing oróworseóboring.

Luckily, none of that happened to Ned Vizzini, author of "Teen Angst? NaaahÖ: A Quasi-Autobiography" (Free Spirit, $12.95), a memoir of his high school years in Manhattan. Of course, remembering was the easy part. Heís only 19, and he wrote most of the book when he was 15.

"When I was in high school, on my way to school Iíd pick up ĎThe New York Press,í" he said. "I liked the paper, and I liked the columnists, and I liked to write, so I saw the mailing address, wrote a story about getting a writing award in high school, and sent it in."

The essay came back two months later.

"I didnít put enough postage on it," he said. "Figures."

After slapping a couple more stamps on the envelope and waiting two more months, he got a call from a New York Press editor.

"He said it was good, but it needed to be shorter," Vizzini said.

And so began his career as a columnist.

"Iíd write occasionally," he said. "I like the ideas to brew. When something happens, itís pretty clear to me itís going to be a good piece. Iíd think about the story, then start writing it a few days later."

Of course, itís not easy swinging a writing career during high school, as Vizzini soon learned.

"Most of the columns took me like, six hours to finish," he said. "Thatís a long time when you have homework to do and itís 10:30 at night."

He wrote about how Nintendo saved him from teenage boredom, the trials of freshman year, being hit on by a New York Press reporter and the antics of his friends and his family. Nothing was sacred.

"Sometimes people get mad when you write about them," he said.

After a year of columns, The New York Times asked him to write an essay on advice for teens. He obliged. Then Free Spirit Publishing called with a book offer.

"Itís so weird," he said. "Everything happened so neatly."

"Teen Angst? NaaahÖ" (which was the title of his New York Times piece) is a combination of previously published columns and new essays.

"I found out itís a long process, putting a book together, but I had two great editors," he said. "Itís funny. When Free Spirit called me, the editors told me that I was one of the few people who could write successfully for the teenage guy, which was great. But then, when we were putting the book together, the editors said there was a real lack of female presence in the book. I was like, ĎIím really sorry, but I didnít have any girlfriends back then. I canít go back in time and be The Man.í"

(Actually, he does write about his ex-girlfriend Judith, whom he dated senior year. "I think she was portrayed fairly," he said.)

As for another memoir? Ö Naaah!

"A 16- or 17-year-old writing about things that happened to him, not tragic things, just basic life stuff, is pretty rare," he said. "But there are a million 20-somethings writing about their lives. Plus, I did the memoir thing. I think it would be cheap to do another one. Confessional essays have a limit. Iíd like to move onto something tougher, something with a plot."

Vizzini, who worked for an Internet company after graduating from Stuyvesant High School last year, plans to attend Hunter College this fall.

"Iíd like to study writing, you know, take Writing 101, to see if Iím missing stuff."

For now, heís working for his father, fielding promo calls from reporters and occasionally giving advice to wannabe writers.

"Write what you know, and kill your darlings, which means get rid of the stuff that is only good to you and you alone," he said. "Thatís the hard part. The easy part is submitting. Prepare to be rejected, but, really, just have the guts to do it."