(My interview with Ned about the book can be read at the bottom of this post. GATW is no longer.)
Last night when I was lying in bed, catching up on the news, I saw an article that acclaimed author Ned Vizzini had committed suicide. Hoping it was a hoax, I rushed to his Facebook and what I currently feared most was true: Ned had died.
Let’s rewind a few years back.
In 2010, I was stuck in an abyss of loss. I was surrounded by many friends and family, but I never felt so alone in the world. I was depressed, anxious, angry, and scared -- dying sounded better than living in a constant wretched state. To keep my mind busy, my mom gave me a book called It's Kind of a Funny Story, a memoir written by Ned Vizzini. It's a pseudo-memoir about Ned's teenage life.
I read the book. Then I read the book again. Then I read it once more. I read it three times in a row. The book spoke to me; it touched me, it inspired me, it gave me hope and showed me that even though the unknown future is terrifying, it’s also going to be beautiful. And I wanted to live.
I reached out to Ned via Facebook and spilled my guts about my situation and how his book healed a lot of my pain. He got my number and called me — we spoke on the phone and decided I should fly out to L.A. to meet and talk about how to cope with sadness. So I flew there and met him, his wonderful wife Sabra, and their newborn son Felix.
A few years later I moved to L.A. and took a trip with Ned, Sabra and Felix to the LACMA for the Stanley Kubrick exhibit. We spent the day walking around the exhibit in awe and Ned — who was quiet and awkward — spoke to me, asked how I was doing, and told me he’s proud of how far I’ve come since the last time we had a conversation. It was a beautiful day, and I can’t thank Sabra enough for beating it in my head to get my depression-plagued ass out of bed and meet them at the museum.
When I made it public I was giving up film criticism for film distribution; Ned wrote a nice note on his Facebook about it. He was such a big supporter, but more importantly, he recognized the reason I reached out to him, the reason we became friends, was because of my mother, who took a chance on giving me his book about depression and suicide.
I didn’t get to know Ned as well as I wanted to — we're both awkward people and were awkward people around each other — but I did become closer with his wife, Sabra (she is a very outgoing person and could carry a conversation with me, who has become more awkward and anxious by the day). If you are reading this Sabra, know that you are a fierce and courageous and inspiring spirit, and I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being my friend, copy editing my crappy writing when I needed it, and being so friendly to me when you barely knew me.
Ned, wherever you are, I want you to know that you were one of my heroes. Even though you are gone, your love and support will never be forgotten.Thank you for helping a stranger from Facebook. You helped me, and the best thing I can do is pay it forward.
Please pray for Sabra, their son and their entire family. They have a hard road ahead.
TIFF 2010 Interview: It’s Kind of a Funny Story author, Ned Vizzini. September 25, 2010
Interviewing Ned Vizzini was a dream come true for me. I first read his third novel, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," about three years ago when my mom bought it for me for Christmas. The kind of funny story on my end is she thought I would relate to the main character Craig, and I did (high school was rough, man). I fell in love with this book and read it over and over and over.
When it was announced that the novel would be made into a feature film, I sought out Vizzini, and we began messaging one another (via Facebook) about doing an interview for the book and film. If you've seen my TIFF coverage, you would have saw that I did see the film and spoke with its directors and principal cast. This was a genuine delight. After the break is my interview with Vizzini. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did conducting it.
I have kind of a funny story about how I got ahold of this book. My mom got it for me for Christmas about three years ago. She said, “Chase, I read the synopsis, and I instantly thought, ‘This has Chase written all over it.’” I’m still not sure whether or not that’s a compliment, but I’m flattered either way. With that, I know that this is semi-autobiographical. 1) How much of this is your story? And 2) How difficult was it to spill out some of the depression you were battling?
What a kind mother! Thank her for me. My mom is always sending me articles about alternative mental-health remedies; she's more concerned about me than I am.
It's Kind of a Funny Story is 85% true. I was depressed; I was actually in a psych hospital in Brooklyn. I freaked out while I was trying to finish a book and my mental state spiraled, and I called a suicide hotline, and they told me to go to the hospital and I did. I had a singular experience in there; I met people who made me look at life in a different way. When I left and started writing about it, I made the main character a teenager as opposed to a guy in his early 20s and added the love triangle because those always make novels better.
You might think depression was difficult to write about, but it was a huge relief. It came to me naturally. Seeing the words on the page got them out of my head.
The story deals with a very serious topic but handles it in a sort of light-hearted and funny way. What kind of troubles (if any) did you have going about it that way?
I believe in the healing power of humor. I believe that anything that can be laughed at can be controlled and handled.
When I was in the hospital, there was one point where I was desperate to use the phone. They had one pay phone in there, and it was like prison; there was a social hierarchy behind who could use the phone and if you didn't get in line early you would miss the cutoff at 7 pmf and that was it -- no phone for you. I missed the cutoff and was despondent until this other hospital patient looked at me and went, "What are you so stressed about? You want to make a call? Just use the banana phone!" And he held a banana to his head like it was a phone.
How was I not supposed to laugh at that? Humor in the psych hospital is one of the few things people have.
Since I relate so much to our main character, Craig, I’m certain others do as well. So many times the media use the “life imitates art” aspect when something bad happens - do you feel any pressure or responsibility when you publish your books or articles about teen angst (which just so happens to be the title of your first novel)?
I don't feel any pressure or responsibility to do anything but entertain people with my writing. That's enough. I have enough problems making the writing good.
I know some authors want to give some input on books they’ve written that are being adapted into a film, and some want the director(s) to have complete creativity. What kind of involvement did you have (if any) for IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY?
Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden had sheer creativity with the film, and I was very comfortable with that. Based on my first meeting with them, I knew they understood where the book was coming from, so I trusted them. I did suggest a song for the film, "Happy Today" by the WoWz, that ended up on the soundtrack; also, before the "Under Pressure" scene one character wears a T-shirt for the San Francisco band Drunk Horse -- that's my T-shirt. It's in my closet right now. Have fun trying to spot it!
This is your first book adapted into a film and the film premiered last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is one of the most prestigious festivals on the planet. How cool did that feel?
Less cool, more lucky. That would be the best word to describe how I felt seeing IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY premiere at Toronto. A whirlwind of other emotions came into play too but honestly I could write an essay about them and probably will, so let's stick with lucky.
Do you realize how badass your last name is? I’m willing to bet you’ve gotten PRINCESS BRIDE quotes all your life. I’m sorry brings back bad memories, but it’s just so awesome.
Vizzini is a relatively common southern Italian and Sicilian last name; I'm half-Sicilian. I used to hear PRINCESS BRIDE references, but people preferred to make fun of me for other things as a kid, like talking too much. I did once meet Wallace Shawn, who plays Vizzini in PRINCESS BRIDE, and he's had it rougher than me. He's an accomplished writer and actor, and he's still got people coming up to him going "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"
Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr.?
Dinosaur Jr. Because I mentioned to a friend of mine that I liked a Dinosaur Jr. song and he's one of those people who has 60,000 hours of music on his computer he gave me their whole catalog (not including 2009's Farm) and so I've got so much of their music on my computer that I prefer them by default. But Nirvana beats both these bands.