We recently had the chance to catch up with Scholastic Awards alum Ned Vizzini and talk to him about his upcoming book, House of Secrets, (coming out April 23) which he wrote together with director Chris Columbus who began the Harry Potter film series! It’s the first novel in their exciting fantasy trilogy. Check out what he had to say about it below and take a peek at the artwork inside the book! You’ll also find some helpful advice for young writers at the end of our interview.

SA: What is House of Secrets about? And, what makes this story epic?
NV: House of Secrets is about three kids – the Walkers – who move to a creepy old house in San Francisco that used to be owned by an even creepier writer: Denver Kristoff. Kristoff is like an H. P. Lovecraft cult figure who wrote pulp tales of pirates and warriors and dark magic. When the Walkers anger the wrong person in their new home, they get banished into the world of Kristoff’s books, where all his mad creations come to life!

Fat Jagger Carrying the House from House of Secrets. Photo credit: Greg Call

Sounds pretty epic! How did the idea for this book series arise?
The idea for House of Secrets came from Chris Columbus, who had this vision he couldn’t shake: a house floating in the San Francisco Bay. He lives up there, where they have beautiful “painted lady” Victorian homes like the ones you see in the credits for Full House. He kept trying to write a story about a family whose house ended up floating in the Bay, but it didn’t work out in various ways until we met and started putting it together as a book series.

House in the Sea. Interior Art from House of Secrets. Photo credit: Greg Call

That’s great! We’re excited that you two are working together. How do you write a book with a collaborator? Did you write one chapter and Chris write the next?
We had an outline for House of Secrets before we started writing it, so there was a road map. I would email a chapter to Chris and he would send it back with his changes, and vice versa. It isn’t as hard as you might think; the great thing about writing with a partner is that once you send a chapter off, you can relax and have a sandwich!

The Book of Doom and Desire from House of Secrets. Photo credit: Greg Call

Haha, that’s good to know. Is this your first foray into Fantasy writing? What are its particular challenges?
This wasn’t entirely new territory for me. My 2012 novel The Other Normals is about a kid who falls into a fantasy world. I also grew up on Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Redwall, so I was familiar with fantasy series. The challenge is in the execution, particularly with character. When you’re in a fantastic world, it’s easy for character to get subsumed by the fantastic. You have to work hard to keep emotional stakes.

Storm King Battle from House of Secrets. Photo credit: Greg Call

Great tip for young fantasy writers out there. You won a Scholastic Awards’ Honorable Mention in 1996 and went on to publish your first book Teen Angst? Naaah… at just 19! When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer in 2nd grade. We had a special activity called “Writers’ Workshop” for two weeks in school. We were all given blank books to fill up, like hardcover picture books. I thought blank books were very expensive and were all hoarded by the book companies – I couldn’t believe I was actually holding one!

What was it like to win a Scholastic Art & Writing Award?
Well, as you pointed out, I didn’t win a National Award, I won an Honorable Mention. I thought it was very funny at the time and I wrote an essay about it in my first book Teen Angst? Naaah…. That essay was actually the first thing I ever published (in a newspaper), so it was incredibly important to me — and since then it’s been an honor to see my name mentioned with John Baldessari and Truman Capote and other past winners.

We’re glad to hear! Did winning a Scholastic Award help you get to where you are now? Of course. The Awards suggested to me that I could actually do this.

I guess we did! Last question. Each month, you provide useful advice on writing and publishing to our readers. If you could give only one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?
This is a controversial answer, but I’m sticking with it: don’t write a book. A lot of young writers try to write a book when they’re 13 or 14. (I know because they email me.) Writing a book is a mind-warping, grueling process, and it’s best to start out with shorter pieces. That’s what I did. Reading short stories and writing stories about your own life is the best introduction to prose writing.

Great advice Ned!

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Have questions about writing or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. In television, he has written for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles. E-mail your questions to askned@artandwriting.org.

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