David Yoo's Girls For Breakfast is one of those books I want to recommend to everyone, but I'm reluctant to tell them why I like it so much. It's just a genuine, funny story about Nick Park, an adolescent girl-crazy Korean American kid, growing up and trying to fit in as the only Asian kid in his school. The book is absolutely hilarious, true, and ridiculously embarrasing. I fear that I can relate with Nick's thoughts and experiences in more ways than I really care to admit. First published last year, the book is finally out on paperback this week. I highly recommend picking it up. Get it at your local bookstore in the "teen/young adult" section, or the usual online retailers.
I had a chance to catch up with David, who answered questions about life, writing, Girls, and other silly things...
How's it going?
It depends on who you ask. Personally, I can't complain, but if you ask anyone who knows me how they think things are going for me they'd probably look down at their feet and softly mutter, "You know damn well how he's doing, why are you putting me in this position?"
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a writer and my first novel, Girls For Breakfast (Random House/Laurel Leaf), comes out in paperback September 12, 2006.
If you had to sell your book to some random person inside Barnes & Noble, what would you tell them?
Well, if they're inside a Barnes & Noble, they're probably holding in their hands a copy of Marley and Me, in which case I'd inform them that the dog dies at the end and the couple ends up getting divorced, and then I'd add, "By the way, did I mention that I wrote a book?"
Where did you get the idea to write Girls for Breakfast?
Was it important for you to tell a specifically Asian American story?
Editors who rejected the novel would often say, "I liked the writing, but could you maybe make Nick a girl, and in the end, could she take a trip to China or something?" Okay, I'm exaggerating, but this particular Asian American story doesn't see the light of day very often, and for that very reason I did have a vested interest in telling it. I wanted Asian American teens experiencing similar upbringings as mine to have a book they could relate to, because the fiction that spoke to me growing up were all non-Asian authors. There wasn't an Asian American Portnoy's Complaint, or The Last Picture Show, and I probably could have used it.
In a lot of ways, your book covers many of themes familiar to Asian American literature: parents, race, not fitting in... but what I like
about your book (and what differentiates it) is that it's so damn funny.
Humor is a way to write about deeper, sadder things without sounding preachy or melodramatic or overly self-righteous. Also, having a funny Korean narrator goes against the stereotype of the stoic, quiet, submissive Asian guy that is often portrayed in the media, and part of what I try to do is show another angle.
I felt like I could relate to Nick's experiences as a real Asian American guy. How much of Girls For Breakfast is
The book is intended for teens and young adults, but I think it really resonates with an adult audience. What kind of reactions have you gotten from readers, young and old, Asian American and non-Asian American?
Well, books like Catcher in the Rye were considered adult because the category "young adult" hadn't been established yet, and while I love young adult fiction, I wrote Girls For Breakfast with Salinger in mind, as opposed to Judy Blume, so to me I see it as a crossover novel. That said, I feel this book is for teens for the reasons that I mentioned earlier, but at the same time I feel this book doesn't fit neatly into the category of young adult fiction, which, despite what I just said, has very specific delineations that makes it different from adult fiction. One of the things I love about young adult fiction is that it tends to cut out a lot of the excess you find in mediocre adult literary fiction, but at the same time I'm leery of how some young adult novels are so strict about the pacing and plot development that as a result they end up having pat resolutions or a blatant morality pasted into itGirls For Breakfast has subtle revelations and depends more on voice then plot that is typically more common in adult fiction. That, and the book's steeped in everything-80s, so it holds a modicum of nostalgic currency for people of my generation. That last sentence has to be pretty much the lamest thing I've said in a month.
I'll add that there definitely has been a discernible 'specific' response from readers, depending on their demographic, and the breakdown generally goes something like this:
Adult non-Asian readers: "It was really funny!"
Adult Asian readers: "It was really sad!"
Young readers: "I liked the Triceratops."
Infant readers: "Goo..."
Elderly readers: "Do you have a real job?"
Who/what are some of your creative influences, literary and otherwise?
Literary: my former professors whose work I revere: Lucia Berlin, Steven Millhauser, Steve Stern. I'm always hesitant to list Nabakov or P Roth or other
famous writers I love, because then the person's eyes light up and they go, "Did you read Pnin?" and I'll shake my head no. "Pale Fire? Speak, Memory? Ada, or... jeez, what exactly have you read of his?" and I'll answer, meekly, "Laughter in the Dark," which is one of my favorite all-time novels, and I can practically quote it at this point, but they'll still look at me like I’m a big poser. Which I am.
Otherwise: My friends. My family. The people who live in the apartment with the big window across from my apartment after 2AM. Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. The Vaudevillian duo from Williamsburg known as Jesse and Bo. The undiscovered talent of Ashley Simpson Shires and Josh Melrod. The comedy of Matt Hyams, etc...
Did you always want to be a writer? Were you encouraged to be a writer?
Not really. I mean, I never kept a diary or declared at age 10 that I was going to be a writer someday or anything like that, but in retrospect, I realize now that growing up I daydreamed pretty much all the time, and by the time I was midway through college I realized I had no choice in the matter. Because I'd spent all my time in my head, telling stories to myself, I'd ended up with terrible grades. One afternoon sophomore year I desperately made a list of what I did reasonably well, and I only came up with two things: I could flick beer bottle caps better than average, and I was a convincing liar. The list was obviously pointing me towards a career as a struggling writer.
What sort of advice do you have for aspiring Asian American writers/authors?
Don't be afraid of going against the grain, and don't let anyone's opinions override your own, because you are always right. Also, by year 5 your parents will finally crack and stop badgering you to get a sensible job in insurance out of sheer mental fatigue, and so you'll be home free. The thing is, around this time you'll actually start kinda wishing you had a sensible job in insurance, so you'll feel decidedly confused about your career track for a while, but if you're really meant to write you'll keep doing it.
Last great book you read?
I'm interested in someday writing a really short novel, so I recently re-read Rain by Kirsty Gunn, which I like quite a bit, but 'great' isn't a word I use lightly. Maybe I should just list a handful of the dozen or so novels that I tend to manage to read at least once a year: Endless Love, Mildred Pierce, Catcher in the Rye, Rosemary's Baby, Revolutionary Road, and Wide Sargasso Sea.
Last great movie you watched?
The Squid and the Whale. Also, this weekend I saw Showdown in Little Tokyo again, and while I can't with a straight face call it a great movie, I'd forgotten how sharp the homoerotic non-sequiturs are. Very quotable movie, easily Dolph Lundgren's best work.
Have you thought about writing for television or film? How about adapting Girls for the screen?
I think about a lot of things. But yeah, I have a couple of screenplay ideas that I will at some point get to, but I'm wary of ending up facedown in a pool (assuming Sunset Boulevard is par for the course). At the moment I enjoy writing books, because I like working things out by myself. Of course, if thrown the right amount of money, I'd do pretty much anything.
Ever consider writing a sequel? I'd love to see what happens to Nick Park in college...
I have a sequel, perhaps a trilogy in mind for Nick Park, but I have a few other books to write before I return to him.
Take a moment to plug something, anything (other than your book).
Done. Okay, that was a terrible answer, um, let's see, well I'd like to give props to books by fellow writers I dig and who I also get a huge dose of motivation from: Matt de la Pena's Ball Don't Lie, Andrew Auseon's Funny Little Monkey, and Owen King's We're All in This Together, to name a few. I'd also like to officially pledge allegiance to the musical ouvre of the now defunct The Vitamen; and lastly, I haven't seen it yet, but if it holds up to the incredible screenplay, which I own, I'd like to throw a shoutout to Michael Kang's debut film, The Motel.
I don't know if I'm answering this one correctly, but I would love to sing a duet with Richard Marx on national television someday. That, and my next novel.
What are you working on next?
My taxes from 2003, and the previously mentioned work-in-progress, which I'd be happy to describe, only I have no idea what it's about.
What makes you angry?
By no means a complete list and in no particular order: drivers who pass on the right; people who think the dialogue in Crash was even remotely natural--let alone timely; Frank Lampard fans; fruit fliesespecially when there's no fruit even in the apartment; 90% of all auto mechanics; every band's one "Coldplay song"; that girl in Boulder eight years ago who, in the middle of our blind date, asked me, "Can Koreans have twins?"; adults who wear youth small T-shirts and play bass with a pick; people who put beach chairs in parking spots after a snow storm; people who visit tanning salons in the summer and think freckles that have their own freckles is attractive; 99% of all people in most coffee shops; people who actually use the phrase "to my chagrin," in daily conversation; Notre Dame fans during winning seasons; any kind of animal abuse aside from delicious baby calves; the evolutionary question mark that is Carrot Top; but what makes me the most angry, by far, is litterbugs. It sounds corny, but I seriously get shakily angry, even with the elderly, when I see them litter. In fact, I literally almost came to fisticuffs with a 70ish-year-old lady a few weeks ago when, while walking in front of me, she callously unwrapped a box of Merit 100s cigarettes and dropped the crumpled plastic onto the sidewalk. "Big mistake, Ethel," I muttered, as I picked up the wrapper and started chasing after her. Probably not the final image I want to leave prospective readers with, but what the hell...
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