SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Brendan, Cordelia and Eleanor Walker were suspicious from the first. Cordelia is 15, Brendan 12, Eleanor is eight, and they know that when a real estate agent says a place is charming and rustic, they mean it's small and it's got wild bears in the backyard. So, when they first see the house at 28 Sea Cliff Avenue in San Francisco, they're suspicious. The Kristoff House, as it's called, turns out to hold secrets, magic, skeleton pirates, and a behemoth who looks a little like Mick Jagger. "House of Secrets" is the name of a novel - what's supposed to be the first of a series - written by Ned Vizzini, the bestselling author of many books for young adults, including "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and "Teen Angst? Naaah." And his co-author is Chris Columbus, the movie producer and director best known for directing "Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire," and the first couple of "Harry Potter" films. Chris Columbus joins us from KQED in San Francisco. Thanks so much for being with us.
CHRIS COLUMBUS: Oh, thanks for doing this.
SIMON: I was struck by a sentence early in the book that just says "At 8, 12 and 15, Eleanor, Brendan and Cordelia were absolutely sure they were at the worst possible age, the most powerless and unfair." Does that pretty much sum up childhood?
COLUMBUS: I think it does. You know, people have always asked me why I'm drawn to material about kids, and for me, it's - I remember being that age and feeling completely and utterly powerless. You know, there's so many things you want to do and so many things that you're told that you can't do. So, you start to dream and you start to fantasize, and you start to go on adventures in your mind, whether it were comic books or Ray Bradbury stories and movies, particularly. You start to learn from those particular heroes.
SIMON: Let's try and sketch out the story a bit. The Walkers move in. Cordelia is a devoted reader and she recognizes that name, Kristoff, from the Kristoff House, immediately. This is Denver Kristoff, who was...?
COLUMBUS: Yes. Who was based on a writer, someone maybe like Ray Bradbury or H.P. Lovecraft, but even more prolific, if you could believe it. Kristoff, Denver Kristoff wrote hundreds of fantasy novels in his time. And when the kids move into this house, there are about 120 of Kristoff's novels in the house. And through supernatural circumstances, the kids are sent into the world of Kristoff's novels. Now, the house itself physically moves into those worlds, and that's - it becomes very exciting. We designed the book - you mentioned that Cordelia was a reader - we designed each chapter to be a cliffhanger, much like some of the work of Michael Crichton or even Charles Dickens. And so we wanted the kids to keep turning the pages, to not be able to put the book down. And when they finish the book, wanted of them to start to explore possibly other writers.
SIMON: What do you enjoy about writing novels as opposed to a screenplay?
COLUMBUS: This particular novel, this was one of the greatest creative experiences I've had in my life, because there were no restrictions in terms of budget. When you're writing a screenplay, you're thinking about this scene can only go on for three pages, 'cause we're not going to be able to afford the fourth page, or we're not going to be able to do this. I think it's a thematic sequel, in a weird way, to "The Goonies." People have been asking me for years to write a sequel to "The Goonies," and I could never find a way to write a sequel. So, for all those people who love "The Goonies," this is closest you're probably going to get to it.
SIMON: Because of the amazing movie technology that exists today that you know so well, is it sometimes getting harder to awe and dazzle youngsters?
COLUMBUS: I completely agree with you. I think it - I guess you have to keep pushing the boundaries. So, you know, the images that are in this book and a lot of the first image that really struck me years ago when I was running down by Crissy Field in San Francisco, I got to that point that listeners will remember sort of looks like the "Vertigo" shot, by the Golden Gate Bridge with Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. And then I thought what if one of these houses fell off the side of the cliff and slid into the ocean and was floating? For whatever reason. I thought that's an image I've never seen. I've never seen a house floating on the bay. And then it occurred to me how cool it would be to have a pirate ship attacking that house and the inhabitants of the house had to sort of race through the house as cannonballs are flying through the walls. And that image always stuck with me. And it's kind of the image you see at the front of the book at this point. It's come full circle.
SIMON: End of book one says end of book one, meaning there's going to be a book two?
COLUMBUS: Ned and I are 130 pages into book two and it's incredibly fun. The concept, for me, of these characters who look like they just escaped from the last episode of "Game of Thrones" about to kill these three kids when suddenly a World War I fighter jet crashes directly over them and inadvertently saves their lives. And out steps a dashing 18-year-old fighter pilot. Being able to combine those two worlds in the second book and then hopefully a third book will enable us to bring other worlds in the "House of Secrets" series.
SIMON: Well, but I circled the phrase: The people who give up never write history.
COLUMBUS: That is true. People say to me why don't you just stop already? Why don't you retire and golf? And I say, no, I really feel like I have not accomplished what I want to accomplish. I don't feel like I've made a film that is as good as I want it to be. I always feel that something has to be better. And for me I much prefer, you know, dropping dead at a very old age - none of us want to drop dead at a young age - on a movie set.
SIMON: Well, a long and healthy life and career to you, Mr. Columbus.
COLUMBUS: Thank you very much.
SIMON: I don't think I've ever said to somebody before: and may you drop dead in exactly the way you want to.
SIMON: You know, as compliments go that's a peculiar one, but if that's what you want I'm pleased to offer it.
COLUMBUS: I will accept it. I'll try not to step in front of a bus when I leave here.
SIMON: Please. Chris Columbus, the film director and coauthor with Ned Vizzini of the new novel for young readers "House of Secrets." Thanks so much for being with us.
COLUMBUS: That was fun. Thanks a lot.
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