Talking Heavy Metal, Parallel Earths, and “The Other Normals” With Ned Vizzini

I first met Ned Vizzini at a Literary Death Match a few years ago in the East Village. He’s the author of a number of acclaimed YA novels, along with some smart essays on fiction and genre. Earlier this year, I spoke with his screenwriting partner Nick Antosca; the two are now on the writing staff of the show Last Resort. Our conversation focused on Vizzini’s new novel The Other Normals, which follows a summer in the life of Perry, a teenager obsessed with role-playing games and tasked with saving the world.

Parts of The Other Normals is set on a parallel earth which shares some history with our own, but deviates from it in several significant ways. How much of the parallel earth’s history (and points of divergence from our own) did you map out?

I mapped out lots of stuff for The Other Normals that I didn’t end up using. World-building is like an iceberg — the reader only sees the 10% that’s above the surface, but if the rest isn’t there, it’s not really an iceberg at all.

Some of the stuff I sketched and planned is on my Flickr:

[batrachian by Sabra Embury]

All my notes are at the Ted Hipple Special Collection in Florida, an archive that preserves YA lit. I also have a bibliography of works used, so people will be able to look up all this stuff if they want.

But basically, the World of the Other Normals separated from our world 600 million years ago, and the two came back in sync in 1258 a.d., and travel between the two has been possible since.

One of the running themes of the book is Perry becoming aware of his own privilege — that what he’d viewed as a middle-class lifestyle is, perhaps, more affluent than he’d believed.

That reflects my own relationship with privilege. My parents are small-business owners. They always told me they were “upper-middle class.” But when I got to summer camp, I wasn’t “upper-middle class.” I was a rich white dork — and was treated accordingly.

There were a few offhand details and references in the novel that I really liked, and I’m curious about their origins. Where did the idea for “Rock Spouse” come from?

“Rock Spouse,” a spell that makes a person fall in love with a rock, is taken from Sir James Frazer’s anthropology classic The Golden Bough. It’s one of the spells Frazier recorded among Pacific Islanders. I just gave it a name.

The Golden Bough, by the way, is where you go once you’ve finished Hero with a Thousand Faces:

And how did you come up with the brand name “Logo Spermatikoi”?

“Logo spermatikoi” literally means “seeds of the Logos,” the Logos being the divine power that ordered the universe according to Greek Stoicism. I thought it would be a good name for a battery that powered a portal to another world.

For all that The Other Normals celebrates role-playing games as a way to bring people together, it also alludes to the fact that they can become addicting. Where did that observation first come from?

That comes from George R. R. Martin’s admission that he stopped writing in the 1980s because he was playing RPGs so much.

“The game was deeply and seriously addictive for all of us…but for me most of all. I was god, which meant I had lots of planning and preparation to do before the players even arrived. The game ate their nights and their weekends, but it ate my life. For more than a year, Superworld consumed me, and during that time I wrote almost nothing. Instead I spent my days coming up with ingenious new plot twists to frustrate and delight my players, and rolling up still more villains to bedevil them. Parris [my wife] used to listen at my office door, hoping to hear the clicking of my keyboard from within, only to shudder at the ominous rattle of dice.”
– George R. R. Martin, “The First Wild Cards Day or, the Game That Ate My Life”

When we talked in LA last year, metal was one of the topics of conversation. Given that you’ve written a novel with cannibalistic dog-people, centaurs, and a malevolent hundred-eyed monster, I have to ask: was there a musical inspiration for some of that imagery?

Metal didn’t specificially influence the monsters in The Other Normals, but I do listen to it when I write. High on Fire’s album Surrounded by Thieves from 2002 has all the metal imagery you’ll ever need, from the cover —

— to the song “Razorhoof” (about a killer deer).

Now The album that is rocking my world is Testament’s Dark Roots of Earth, which has a guy with antlers on the cover:

You just don’t get this kind of imagery with Kanye.

Thanks for reading! Please buy the book!

Photo: Sabra Embury

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