Thursday, May 31, 2007
Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing his views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.
Today’s interview is with David Yoo. He's a talented writer and author of Girls for Breakfast from Random House. It is edgy and wickedly hilarious novel. His upcoming novel AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL is due out in 2008 from Hyperion. He currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
EI: What were you like as a teenager? Please tell your readers more about David Yoo -- the man behind the author?
DY: Here’s what I was like as a teenager: I worshipped Let’s Active and XTC and The Replacements, and yet I more than willingly attended Motley Crue and Poison and Tesla and Warrant shows at the Hartford Civic Center…I revered the pre-Mighty Ducks ouvre of Emilio Estevez…Despite not really liking how they tasted, I ate, in retrospect, an appalling amount of Nerds candy simply because I liked the packaging…
I loved to talk shop about sports cars with gearheads despite not knowing anything about cars, and I’d invariably use the phrase “flux capacitor” in my extended b.s. soliloquoys about the latest model Maserati…I was the fastest in my high school at the shuttle run—those sprints where you pick up chalkboard erasers.
FYI, the key to success isn’t so much having quick lateral movement or an explosive first step, but rather it’s merely having a knack for picking up erasers really fast…I thought Edie Brickell was really pretty until she married Paul Simon--from that point on I thought she was really ugly. Contrasting this is the fact that I wasn’t attracted to Witchboard II’s Tawny Kitaen until after she married Whitesnake lead singer, David Coverdale, which, if I stop to think about it, kinda makes me feel confused…One time, on a dare during a study hall, I ate a dead bee. It did not taste like honey…
My protracted campaign to turn “what are you, a goddamned penguin?” into a national catchphrase, to be used immediately after anyone said, “Dude, chill out,” stalled after approximately three fruitless months…And what I probably regret the most from my teen years at this point is the fact that the sole reason I took French instead of Spanish in high school was because I knew that people in Montreal spoke it. Worst fricking decision of my life.
EI: Could you describe your path to publication--any stumble along the way? Is there anything about you that you would do differently, knowing what you do now?
DY: Actually, that’s precisely how I’d describe my path to publication—a series of stumbles until I sold my first book, and while this would suggest I’d have a number of things I’d do differently if I had the chance, I don’t think I’d do anything differently, surprisingly, because I think it would have been detrimental to my writing career had I achieved publication any earlier than I did, and equally disastrous had it taken much longer. And yes, I’m aware that I pretty much said absolutely nothing just now, but I stand by it.
EI: What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
DY: Every part about writing is really hard for me, but at the same time it doesn’t feel that way, because I type so fast. If I had to choose a specific aspect of writing, however, I’d say dealing with plot is a perpetual struggle. I’m a voice-driven writer, and having to consider actual plots almost feels like an intrusion.
EI: Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer?
DY: Would it be weird to say that a little boy named Tony who lives inside my mouth told me to? If so, then I’ll go with Salinger, McMurtry, Camus, and James M Cain.
EI: Can you tell your fans about your experienced working with the late, great fiction writer Lucia Berlin?
DY: Lucia taught what she excelled at in her own fiction: emotional honesty. While she drew heavily from personal experience, even the stories that were wholly made up felt true, because she had no interest in not cutting to the core of her characters. It’s something I try to do with my own writing, with far less success. Also, she just wrote and read and paid little attention to trying to put her stuff and her name out there, and as a result she’s the best writer most people haven’t heard of, a true ‘writer’s writer.’ She’s one of those people who keep me humble, the mere thought of her tends to balance out those moments when I feel like the world owes me something. But don’t get me wrong, the world does owe me something.
EI: Let’s shift gears... tell us about your edgy and funny book ‘Girls for Breakfast’ what is the premise? And how did you come up with the title and idea?
DY: Don’t ever shift gears so abruptly on me like that again, yowch. Anyhew, the simple premise of GFB is that it’s graduation day from high school for Nick Park, and he’s looking back on his life trying to figure out what went wrong and where in order to understand why he’s completely alone at the end of high school. And in looking back on specific moments from his life he comes to realize how closely tied his obsession with girls is with his utter self-loathing and ambivalence towards his ethnicity. Think Up the Creek meets Five Easy Pieces, with a dash of Proust thrown in there for good measure.
As for the title, there’s no real story behind the origin. Besides the fact that I came up with it immediately after getting struck by lightning. I am crazy about titles, though. I spend at least twenty minutes every day trying to come up with cool titles. My fear is that one day I’ll run out of good titles and be forced to publish a novel bearing a title so corny it demands being printed on the cover in a loopy cursive font. One of my biggest nightmares.
EI: How much of ‘Nick Park’ character life is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with his or with any of your other characters? What were your challenges?
DY: Usually I don’t think of my characters as characters who live on after the last page, I don’t really envision them outside of the novel or short story they reside in. However, I definitely do see Nick Park as a character I want to trilogize. I have a feeling that isn’t a real word, but you get what I mean. Reason why is Nick is a character that I invested a lot of time in and so I would like to see what happens to him in future books, down the road.
EI: Did you start writing this book with a different plan specifically in mind? How did your books get written? Is it inspired creativity, or a more disciplined hard work approach, with detailed outlines, scheduled writing times, etc.?
DY: With GFB, I started out wanting to write an episodic, ten-years-in-the-life-of epic novel, and the rough draft was well over 1000 pages long. To prepare for it I wrote a dozen short stories featuring Nick, trying to get a handle on his voice, the way he would act, etc. But it’s different with each novel.
I’ve been starting to address plot more lately, and while the story never unfolds remotely like the way I’d envisioned it, I suppose I am starting to lean more towards actually thinking through my stories rather than back in the day when I assumed it would work itself out and I just sat down thinking whatever I wrote would make sense and naively enjoyed the rush of typing really fast.
The struggle is to find a balance between that freewheeling, improvisatory rush of writing style that I used to embody with the more measured, plotty way I go about things today. As for writing schedules, it took me ten years to realize this, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that on a good day I’ll write for four to six solid hours, but after that my mind is mush. Despite knowing this, I still try in vain to write for way more than 6 hours each day, and I fail to do so each day. I’m kind of an idiot, when you really think about it.
EI: Did you find an editor first or an agent?
DY: Agent. I’m fortunate to have an agent that I actually consider a friend. Granted, I mean one of those friends you and your closer friends secretly make up derogatory nicknames for for when he’s not around, like “The Third Wheel” and “We Need You To Drive.”
EI: Do you express your inner self in your writing, or do the personas you create exist only in your imagination?
DY: I do consider writing a form of therapy for me—I find that the mountain of guilt that resides inside my gut shrinks with every page I write. I think this is because my basic philosophy about writing is, “If you write about it, you didn’t really do it in real-life,” or something to that effect.
As for whether the personas I create exist only in my imagination or not, I have to admit I spend so much time going over and over my writing during the editing process that the scenes that are purely fictional eventually blur into reality for me. At this point I have trouble distinguishing what actually happened in ‘real life’ and what didn’t.
This sounds like a lie but I swear I recounted a story recently to a friend about how I accidentally licked something that had traces of squirrel urine in it and for weeks afterwards I was uncontrollably jittery and could jump really far, and as I was telling him this I realized in my head, “My God, there’s no way this is true.”
EI: What would you tell those authors considering applying to an M.F.A. program? In your opinion how important is it for a writer to have a writing degree?
DY: It’s about as important for a writer to have a writing degree as it is for a songwriter to have a degree in songwriting. Which is to say, it’s VERY important. Actually, I do think MFAs can be worthwhile if you use the time to actually work on your craft and produce pages.
It’s a waste of money and time if you go there and merely re-submit old stories to workshops and spend the bulk of your time loitering in vanilla incense scented coffee shops all day, staring at raven-haired girls as you pretend to read your tattered copy of The Sun Also Rises. Oh my lord, did I just use the phrase ‘raven-haired?’
EI: Do you let anyone read your manuscript, before you send it to your editor or agent?
DY: I don’t show many people my stuff. I ought to, but I’m protective of maintaining my vision for the story. The irony (note: the following might not be irony at all, it’s a problem I share with Winona Ryder, along with kleptomania) is that I rarely have a vision that makes any sense.
Another reason why I rarely show people my work is because I don’t like showing stuff that I know I’m going to polish further down the road. That is, I hate letting people read my raw writing. That’s why blogging makes me feel kinda gross—I hate posting for anyone to see stuff off the top of my head that reads crappily to me 24 hours later. And yet I can’t take it offline after the fact even when I really want to, because it feels like any form of editing or censoring breaks an ethical code of blogging or something.
EI: Readers and fans often like to get behind an author's writing routine. Would you like to share with them your typical writing day schedule?
DY: A good writing day (which occurs approximately once a week) goes something like this: I spend a couple hours in the morning grading papers (I teach fiction workshops), and then spend thirty minutes or so right before lunch writing in my journal and re-acclimating myself with whatever writing project I’m currently working on.
In the afternoon I write for a good four or five hours and keep interrupting my progress to jot down ideas for future projects in the aforementioned journal, and the work is going so well I weird myself out by singing impromptu little sentences out of the blue as I type, like “I love to write, writing’s fun, tra la la la la,” and “There’s not enough time in the day tee hee hee I live in a world of wonder,” as if I’m an elf skipping home from the mine at the end of the day or something, and if it’s a really good writing day the other thing that happens is late at night I’ll get out of bed a dozen times at all hours of the night to jot down ‘keeper’ lines for future stories in my notebook.
A bad writing day (which constitutes approximately 6 out of 7 days of the week) unfolds as such: Feeling uninspired, I spend all morning playing old school Nintendo games like Jaws and Contra and Karnov online, perpetually cursing at myself for wasting the morning, then I eat too much at lunch and subsequently pass out with a food coma and wake up hours later drenched in sweat and instantly livid, whereupon I write ten pages in my journal about how disgusting I am, and writing this negative pep talk in my journal takes up the rest of the afternoon, and then at around 6PM I get so frustrated that I’m wasting the day that I shadow box in the kitchen to let off some steam, but since I don’t know anything about boxing I always hyper-extend my right elbow, which has always been messed up with tendonitis since my junior tennis playing days, and I spend an hour icing my elbow and watching trick-shot pool competitions on ESPN2 (there’s nothing more depressing than watching trick-shot pool competitions, which, despite taking place in present day, look as if it was filmed in the early 80s) and at around 7PM I contemplate trying to write a rap album but stop the moment I hear myself shout, “Microsoft Woooooord,” and around midnight I take a deep breath and vow to myself in the mirror that I’ll work hard on my writing the next morning, and then I slide into bed with my ridiculously overheated laptop and go back and forth between watchng Youtube clips of sleepy cats and Google video clips of English Premiere League goals until I conk out.
EI: What can fans look forward from you in the coming months?
DY: To answer the one question readers tend to always ask me at some point (“Dude, is your next novel going to be called Girls for Lunch?”) my standard response still applies: “Nope, and just so you know, you have the exact same sense of humor as my dad. Congratulations.”
I’m currently working on my next novel, AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL (Hyperion, 2008). And for those of you out there in the seventh grade, I have a story in an 8th grade English textbook dropping this fall, so keep an eye out for it. For updates on publications etc, check out my web site, www.daveyoo.com and my blog, www.xanga.com/davidyoo . I’ll probably put a link to this interview in my blog, which will as a result create an inescapable, completely circular wormhole, where you read this interview up to question 13, then click on the link to my blog, whereupon you read the top entry that features a link to this interview, and you end up back here again, for the rest of time. I’ll probably go to jail for it.
EI: Mr. Yoo, thank you so much for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to work with you. Would you like to close the interview with a writing tip for young aspiring authors?
DY: Please, call me Chuck. And thanks for having me, it’s been a pleasure for me as well. My writing tip for young aspiring authors is simply this: BE HONEST.
To learn more about David Yoo, please visit him at:
Posted by E. I. Johnson at 11:06 PM