Chris Columbus-Ned Vizzini kids’ book has ‘Goonies’-style scares

L.A. Times staff writer Rebecca Keegan, author Ned Vizzini and author and filmmaker Chris Columbus discuss "House of Secrets" at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Saturday.
(Tracy Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Film director Chris Columbus shared a secret Saturday about the recent kids’ novel he co-wrote: It’s the “thematic sequel to ‘The Goonies.’ ”

“House of Secrets,” written with young adult author Ned Vizzini, also is the first book in a planned trilogy. And its two writers, who appeared at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, said they’re already at work on the second installment.

Times staff writer Rebecca Keegan held a public interview with Columbus (director of “The Goonies,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Home Alone,” and first three “Harry Potter” movies) and Vizzini (“The Other Normals,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”) to discuss the novel about the adventures of a set of young siblings.



Keegan opened the event by having Vizzini read a passage from the book that revealed that it’s about more than just a house. Columbus said he initially approached the story as a screenplay before he realized it would be better as a book.

Because the story is written for third- to sixth-graders, it was important to be able to relate to a young audience. Columbus said he admired Vizzini’s ability to get into “the inner thoughts of teenagers” and approached him about collaborating on the book.

Keegan asked Vizzini what it was like for him to work with another writer. He said it was a fantastic experience: Writing alone can be “mentally and physically taxing in a strange way,” but writing with a partner allowed him to “stop and take stock of what’s happening.”


And the book is “pretty darn scary,” he said. Vizzini and Columbus admitted to pushing the action scenes a little bit, but said they tried to respect their young audience too. (Columbus said jokingly that they had “cut one of the decapitations.”)


Vizzini said he thought children need to be exposed to literary violence. His exposure to the “Redwall” adventures, “The Hobbit” and “Harry Potter” was what taught him about “resilience, heroism and bouncing back.”

Throughout the discussion, it was clear that Vizzini and Columbus were driven at least in part by a desire to inspire children to fall in love with reading and books. When talking about his young fans, Vizzini said that even in the current age of new media, the “idea of holding a book is powerful to young people.”

When the discussion was opened up to audience questions, someone asked Columbus whether he plans to turn the book into a movie. He said there were no concrete plans yet because he believed that it was “important to let readers discover the book.”

“One of the themes [in “House of Secrets”] is about the love and discovery of reading a book,” Columbus said.

The novel ends in a cliffhanger, and the next installments have yet to be published. Columbus hopes young readers seek out and read works that are already complete while they wait for the next book.

“If we get a couple of kids falling in love with reading, that would be great,” he said.