You wouldn’t know it by looking at his IMDb page, but David H. Steinberg, is about more than just sexed-up, profanity-laden raunchfests.
“If you meet me in person and we’re having a beer, it’s not like I’m the guy who’s telling stories about crazy sex escapades and doing it with girls,” he said.
In fact, Steinberg, the screenwriter behind teen comedies like “American Pie 2” and “Slackers”, is a lot classier than some trigger-happy critics might give him credit for. Most would be surprised to learn that he specializes in family films, having written the original draft of 2011’s “Puss in Boots”, a “Tinker Bell” television feature and various other projects for every animation studio.
But Steinberg’s true fascination lies with the high school experience and subsequent transition to the college level.
“To me, the sex comedy is just there to make it funny,” he said. “I can write about it because I have an opinion, but I’m mostly interested in the emotional story.”
It was this interest that drove Steinberg to write his first young adult novel, “Last Stop This Town,” released this past March. The book, which Steinberg originally wrote as a screenplay, tells the story of four high school seniors who decide to spend their last weekend before graduating at an underground rave in New York City.
Q: What inspired you to write this book instead of turning it into a film?
A: Film can be a little bit frustrating because it’s a collaborative medium, and a lot of times as a writer I’ll get rewritten or directors will come on and make the movie their own, actors will improvise, even the editors can move things around. Sometimes that can work out great, but sometimes the movie isn’t really what you wrote. So when I set out to write a novel, there was the idea of having it be just all my own work instead of having it be so collaborative.
Q: Do you think the novel might be able to end up as a movie?
A: Yeah, that would be great. There’s also a sense of completion in writing a novel. If it never turns into a movie, at least I feel like it’s done, that I got the whole story out there, because sometimes even when you write a screenplay and it doesn’t get made, then you feel incomplete. So I’d be okay with the novel being the end of the road for the story.
Q: The book takes place in your hometown of West Hartford, CT. How much of it is based on real-life experience?
A: Well, I wish it was all based on real-life experience because a lot of the stuff these guys do is pretty great and pretty fun. There are some things that are kind of true. The opening scene where they race through the streets, that’s true. [My friends and I] used to do that just because growing up in the suburbs is kind of boring, there’s not a lot to do and we would just see how fast we could drive on every road in town without killing ourselves. I think the interesting thing about that is when you’re 17 or 18, that kind of stuff does not occur to you that you might die, because you don’t appreciate risk-taking. On the one hand, that’s really fun. It’s fun to be that age and just go for it and do crazy things and then laugh about it afterwards. When you’re 30, you lose that. Ninety-nine percent of the stuff in the book is made-up, because my life wasn’t actually that exciting. Anything involving girls wanting to have sex with everyone, that part was made up. I didn’t actually know any of those girls.
Q: Which of the four main characters do you identify with the most?
A: I think the most relatable characters are Noah and Walker. Noah’s kind of like a successful monogamous guy, and Walker’s like the unsuccessful monogamous guy, and it’s probably not going to come as a big shock to people that I was more of a Walker-type of guy. I was talking about getting girls more than getting them, so I think that’s more of a relatable character, the guy who thinks he’s behind schedule. All his friends have had sex before and he’s like, “why hasn’t it happened to me yet?”
Q: Was it your intention for each character to embody a specific teenage archetype?
A: Yeah. I think that when writing a teen comedy, you start off with characteristics that are common in high school, and then you build on it so that they become unique, three-dimensional characters and it’s not just a cliché. It’s a fine line: You want to be able to say “I knew a guy kind of like that in high school,” but not “I’ve seen that character before a million times before.”
Q: At 192 pages, the book is pretty short. In hindsight, do you wish you’d made it longer?
A: I guess it’s kind of a novella. I’m fine with the length it is because as a screenwriter, I write short things anyway. I like to write on the short side because I think people, [myself] included, have a short attention span. But given the nature of the 24-hour story, it was hard to draw it out too much. Maybe I’m just lazy [laughs]. That’s possible too.
Q: How do you deal with critics?
A: I think people who say, “Oh, I don’t even read those reviews” are all lying because you’ve got to ego-surf. I have a Google alert that comes up whenever the novel name comes up on the Internet. I think that after a certain number of years of getting paid to write, you realize that people have different opinions and if I’m continuing to work as a writer, then the establishment accepts that I know what I’m doing. I try not to get too upset, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I saw them. I definitely see those reviews.