Kind of a Funny Story author
gets serious at UHS
By Lindsay Spagnuolo,
Utica High School Arrow Reporter
“I’m Ned Vizzini and these are my books.” Quickly throwing his hands up in a V motion, Vizzini held two of his novels up in the air, simultaneously saying, “Bam!”
The audience, filled with students interested in writing, laughed for what would turn out to be just one of many funny moments throughout the next hour and a half presentation.
Vizzini, author of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” is in the middle of a national tour, presenting his program “How NOT to go Crazy in High School,” as well as a question and answer session about another program, “From Personal to Published.”
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” was turned into a movie last year starring Zach Galifinakis, Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts. As part of promotions before the movie’s release, Eventful ran an online contest for schools to have Vizzini visit their school.
“When we heard about the contest, we knew we had to get the word out to everyone,” Arrow adviser Stacy Smale said. “We had a few students on the newspaper staff that had already read the book and loved it, so the students went all out, advertising with posters, email and even posting links on Facebook.”
Ranked fourth in the nation for accumulating thousands of votes, Utica High was the second stop on Vizzini’s tour.
Vizzini had three steps to keep students sane: keep your antennae up, which means be awake and pay attention; don’t sell yourself short; and stress is not a real threat, it’s only your body’s response to what you think is a threat.
A phone call Vizzini made during a dark time in his life is what brought him to where he is today. It was this same phone call that his main character, Craig, from “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” makes to a suicide hot line.
Because he made the call on a Friday night, the suicide hot line number was overwhelmed, and Vizzini found himself talking to Keith, a college volunteer from the Brooklyn Anxiety Management Center.
His presentation that day, Vizzini said, could also be called “How NOT to End up on the Phone with Keith.”
“He portrayed the parts of high school nobody wants to talk about,” sophomore Sarah Scalici said. “He didn’t idolize high school. He talked about the reality. The things he said were really inspirational and they made you feel like you’re not alone, and you can make a difference.”
At the age of fifteen, Vizzini started getting his writing published. Students were interested to hear how they could find similar success.
“Start small,” Vizzini said. “Don’t sit down and try to write a book because you will go crazy. Start by writing short stories or articles for your school newspaper or a local newspaper.”
In addition to “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” Vizzini also has two other published books, “Be Chill,” and “Teen Angst? Naaah…” A fourth book, “The Other Normals,” is scheduled for release in 2012.
“Each time I wrote a book, my method was different,” Vizzini said. “If I could improve in one area, it would writing an anti-hero, which is a character who is horrific and terrible, but at the same time the reader still connects with them and is rooting for them.”
Although Vizzini may be a critic of his own work, students who have read his books feel differently. His published stories are mostly, if not completely, based on his own life experiences with just a little bit of a twist. He uses fictional characters and puts them in actual situations that happened in his life.
“When I started writing my short stories I didn’t fictionalize them,” Vizzini said. “It was definitely a mistake because once I wrote about the corruption at a summer camp I had been to and forgot to change the name of the camp. The mother of another kid who had gone saw the article and it created a huge mess. When you fictionalize, nobody can complain, it is safer, and the possibilities are unlimited.”
Whether he was talking about his experiences battling depression and mental illness, or writing and the world of publishing, the audience appeared to “have their antennae up.”
“His presentation was really entertaining and informative,” teacher Kelly Watchowski said. “I was pleasantly surprised because it was not what I expected at all, but in a good way. He captured a wide range of things and easily related to the students.”
Vizzini said he enjoyed his visit to Utica High, and said he was pleasantly surprised by the quality of questions the students asked.
“The students were very insightful and engaged,” Vizzini said. “There were more people here, and there was a lot more participation. It is so rewarding to be able to talk to all the students. This is my favorite part of the tour. It also helps me keep in touch with the world and the teens today.”
Following the question and answer portion of the event, students had time to purchase Vizzini’s books at a 40 percent discount, and have them autographed with a personal message.
“He was really funny and easy to relate to,” sophomore Nina Delise said.
Even though Vizzini is a well-known published author, he is just a regular guy who still marvels at Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” and makes everyday mistakes, like accidentally ruining his shirt and briefcase when the cloth was caught in the zipper moments before stepping on Utica’s stage.
“When I go out in public, I don’t get recognized,” Vizzini said, “but I really appreciate that.”
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