Interview with Author David Yoo

I recently raved over David Yoo’s Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, and I am so excited that he agreed to answer some questions. Hopefully this interview will pique your interest in reading the book!

1.) I could tell you were inspired by teen films from the 80s. What’s your touchstone film? And if Albert & Mia were 80s teen films, which ones would they be?

Sixteen Candles was my touchstone film. In my opinion it’s by far the funniest and least corny of the John Hughes canon, but I definitely had a complicated relationship with this movie as a teenager. On one hand it was a revelation for me in terms of how honestly it treated its teen characters, but at the same time, as an Asian American boy growing up in New England, the movie frustrated me to no end merely because it was responsible for producing the character Long Duk Dong, the William Hung of my generation. I can’t tell you how many times strangers at the mall, even adults—sometimes, would mutter lines to me like, “What’s happenin’, hot stuff?” in broken English, but I’m getting off topic.

As for Albert and Mia, well, I suppose they’d probably be Some Kind of Wonderful. That’s easily my least favorite Hughes movie, although I kinda have a begrudging respect for it now. Back then I just never bought that any guy in their right mind would be so oblivious to the innumerable charms of Mary Stuart Masterson, but then once I got out of high school I realized that that’s precisely what makes the movie so realistic—high school guys get so obsessed with the popular girls that they’re blind to anyone else and it’s like an unspoken rite of passage to go to college and feel utterly perplexed as time and time again your new freshman buddies peruse your old high school yearbook and point out all the nerdy girls as the prettiest ones…anyway, I guess that would make Albert the, um, Mary Stuart Masterson character? Which would then make Mia the…um, Eric Stoltz character? Now I’m confused, does this mean my novel was–previously unbeknownst to me–an allegory for two teens growing up the wrong gender? Eh, maybe I should just go with Pretty in Pink, although Albert’s nothing like Duckie, and it seems ridiculous to compare a guy nicknamed “The House” to a character legally-named “Blane.” You know, when I first started typing this seemed like such an easy question…sigh.

2. I’m curious about your choice to have the race between Albert and Ryan happen at the beginning of the Walk and not at the end. Did you ever consider doing it the other way around? If so, what changed your mind?

I had the two race each other at the beginning of the Walk because for me this story is all about characters undercutting each other right before things get good. Therefore, there was absolutely no pre-meditation to Albert’s less-than-admirable actions at the Walk, whatsoever, but it kinda made sense to me that he initiates the race at the very beginning, before the event has a chance to become something special, the same way The House, in Albert’s mind, disrupts his relationship with Mia right before it can truly blossom.

3. I was cringing for Albert whenever he was with Mia in front of her friends. What do you think was going through Mia’s mind?

You have me thinking about 80s teen movies, and I have to admit I immediately thought of Can’t Buy Me Love when I first read this question, and now I’m feeling paranoid that I unconsciously channel every 80s teen movie ever made whenever I sit down to write. Incidentally, I actually re-saw the movie for the first time maybe a year ago and was stunned at how un-cool her suede outfit looked to my adult eyes…anyhew, Mia felt a mix of emotions at school with Albert: hope that her friends would see Albert as she did as well as utter despair as her eyes re-calibrate now that they’re back in school and she sees for the first time just how gawky he is compared to her socially-saavy friends. I wanted Mia to be realistic—as sweet a person as she is, and as much as she truly likes Albert, the opinion of her high school friends, no matter how glaringly phony or snobby they can be, still means something to her. In which case I think Mia was feeling pretty helpless in the face of everything.

4. Albert is such a fantastic character. He’s dorky but has a wicked sense of humor–the kind of kid that makes people say, “You’re going to really love college.” Do you have plans to write another Albert book? (Because, you know, you should.)

If you want me to I will! Like most writers, I find that when you spend so much time working on a novel you end up getting pretty attached to the characters, and I have given some thought to what would happen next between Albert and Mia. The epigraph, “They say a baby’s true baptism occurs when he first falls out of bed,” (by Lucia Berlin) pretty accurately sums up the course of their relationship in this novel, in the sense that the ending is also a beginning of sorts. Their initial honeymoon is over, no question, but their relationship is just getting interesting.

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