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Monday, December 23, 2013

Remembering Ned Vizzini and "Strike a Chord"

One of the perks to my gig as Fiction Editor at YARN is working with some established authors. We approach published YA authors routinely and ask if we can shake a story out of them. Or an essay. Or a poem. It's wonderful to publish teenage and emerging writers alongside big-name authors, and YARN is the only YA lit mag that does this.

Last Spring, we caught a big one: Ned Vizzini. I remember dancing around the kitchen and crowing about how I'd get to work with Ned Vizzini!! (While my husband, who is not knee-deep n the trenches of YA-land, stared at me blankly: Who?) I loved Ned's 2006 novel, It's Kind of a Funny Story, amazed by the power of its voice. I was also excited about his upcoming House of Secrets series with Chris Columbus, which in a few short years my own son might be ready to read.

Ned had written a short story for adults, called "Strike a Chord," which he thought might work for YARN. The characters were a bit old for our market (twenties) but Kerri Majors, Lourdes Keochgerien and I thought it could be reworked and the characters aged down a little. That voice -- that voice -- we wanted that voice! And the theme of the story -- finding just one good  idea, and finding space to create your art even under constraining circumstances -- we were sure that would resonate with our teen readers. (Not to mention our adult readers! Don't we all just crave one good idea?)

I passed along our suggestions for how the story might work for YARN. Ned was more than willing to roll up his sleeves and give it a go. He took some of our suggestions and ran with them, and then came up with other clever solutions we hadn't dreamed of. The best of the original story was preserved, now pitch-perfect for YA readers. We did a round or two of light edits and published "Strike a Chord" in April.

I never met Ned in person, but in our email correspondence I was struck by his kindness, his creative energy, his willingness to see his story in new ways. As a big-name author he could have had a big attitude, and he simply didn't. When I contacted him several weeks ago about an SCBWI Magazine Award nomination, he responded right away (as always), saying how honored he was that we thought of him. I could not have imagined the extent to which he still struggled from depression, or that a few weeks later he would take his own life.

Based on the volume of lovely tributes to Ned Vizzini that are zipping around the internet in the wake of his passing this week, my experience is very typical. (My favorite tribute is this one by my friend Kristen Kittscher, who did meet him it's a really great story of Ned's generosity toward fellow writers, especially debut authors).

In case you missed it the first time around, I'd like to share with you Ned's story for YARN, "Strike a Chord," and I hope it strikes a chord with you too.

PS. Depression is a real illness, for which there is help. We all have something important to offer the world.  If you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed, reach out to someone. Know the signs of depression and please seek help if you need it. Reach out. If you are in crisis, or need help finding a therapist, visit the website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or You Matter (for young adults), or call them at 1-800-273-TALK.


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