Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Off the Cuff and Off the Grid: An Interview with Author Paul Yoon


by Jonathan Gotsick and Jennifer Howard

When Paul Yoon graciously agreed to a series of interviews with Hot Metal Bridge during his recent visit to Pittsburgh, he had only one caveat: Wouldn’t it be fun, he said, not to talk about writing at all? We agreed to his demand request, knowing that it would allow us to explore the real Paul Yoon, the one whose favorite candy as a child was Reese’s Pieces and whose best friend at age five was “probably” his neighbor Pete.

We also knew that we’d be able to publish the interview in a zine as well as online, so a crazed alterna-format would be seen as DIY and edgy rather than desperate and dumb.

And finally, we knew that we’d talk about writing anyway, since we’re Hot Metal Bridge and he’s Paul Yoon.

Hot Metal Bridge Asks

Mountain or Sea?
Warm or Cold?
Wet or Dry?
Coffee or Tea?
East or West?
Predator or Prey?
City or Country?
Power of flight or superstrength?
Flowers or Plants?
Sweet or sour?
Evil or Beatific?
Wood or Metal?
Mustache or shaved head?
Bow-tie or suspenders?
Dancing or singing?
Phone or letter?

Paul Yoon Answers

Sea! Definitely. Any time I can be close to the water, I would love to be.
Wet. Although now that sounds strange, along with cold.
East, definitely. But it all comes back around, a circle.
Prey. Because that’s what we write from—the watching place of prey.
City. I’ve been feeling the urge to be in a city lately, to have that kind of life.
Power of flight! When I was younger, a few times a week I would dream that I was able to fly. But in this way where it was a bad dream and I didn’t like the situation I would be able to jump and by jumping be able to fly away.
Plants! Flowers are more aesthetic. Plants feel more useful. You can do a lot with them.
Sour seems more complex. That’s basically it.
Not evil. When I think of evil I think of it in its purest form and there is no empathy there.
Wood. Metal was essentially an invention but wood has existed from day one.
Mustache! Anything that makes me think of Tony Leung and Wan Kar Wai is a great thing.
Bow-tie because one of my dear friends who is my former boss, he works in publishing and he still wears bowties. It also makes me think of prom, in that kind of childhood nostalgia way.
Singing. Because I can’t dance. I used to play guitar and sing, but I don’t play at all anymore. I can only do one creative thing at a time. I’m creatively monogamous.
Letter. I will write anyone back who writes me a real letter. I love letters, but once you fall off the bandwagon it’s hard to get back on it.

Hot Metal Bridge Asks. Paul Yoon Answers. Again.

What was the first lie you ever told?

When we were all in fourth or fifth grade this one kid, on the playground, said that he wasn’t a virgin anymore. But he had no idea what that meant, I think he’d just heard that phrase. And then it became this thing where all of us said it too, ‘yeah we’re not virgins anymore’. That’s the first lie I remember. I’m sure I’ve told a million lies.

Best friend at the age of 5?

No memory, we were so intinerant, we were moving around so much. I’m trying to just remember where I was at age five. Oh, it was probably my neighbor Pete. We hung out a lot. I don’t know where he is now, or what kind of life he’s living. But we just moved so much, about half a dozen times. And I think it affected me in that I am very easily adaptable and I can just get up and go. Moving never stresses me out. Going to a new place never stresses me out.

If you could live for one month as any other person who would it be? Any kind of animal?

I would probably do a time jump and be someone in the past or future. Probably be someone polar opposite, like French royalty back in the day, something so absurd. Or a Mongolian warrior, just to see what it was like to roam the steppes. I want to be Ghengis Khan.

Does immortality interest you?

No! Without mortality there is no life. On a logical level. So much for imagination! (laughs). Immortality is great and very interesting but as a writer I am very interested in death. Writers are morbid.

Any story of someone’s that you wish you’d written first?

A million. John Berger wrote this novel “To the Wedding” which is narrated by this blind Greek peddler. It’s one of the most amazing love stories and one of my favorite books of all time. Anything Michael Ondaatje wrote. When it comes out, I always say, ‘I wish I wrote that’.  It goes on and on.

Is there a word that you wished could be stricken from the English language?

No. I love all words.

Have you any neologisms or do you wish there was a term/word/phrase for an experience or object that doesn’t yet exist in the English language?

I wish there was a better word for ‘déjà vu’. It really bothers me. I hope one day someone invents a better word for that feeling. I don’t like the sound of it. There’s no good reason why.

If you were to write genre fiction, which genre would you pick and why: Romance, Sci-fi, horror, mystery, detective, medical suspense, fantasy?

Probably some kind of thriller genre. I love action movies and thrillers so anything that plays to that I would love to do. Noir or something.

Which do you prefer, computer or paper?

I love both. I’m not, as much as people make fun of me, a luddite. I love my computers. But in the end, the tactile feeling of paper, there’s nothing that can top that. I finished my novel this summer, which I wrote on the computer but I did a draft of it longhand as well and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. So painful. Literally, so painful. My hand was killing me. I did it because I got to the point where I was pretty happy with a draft and then I wanted to see whether writing long-hand would open other doors for me to edit. Because it’s a different experience and I wanted to see what it would do. So I printed out a copy of my novel and just handwrote it. Followed the printed page with notebooks and just copied it longhand.  And it completely changed everything. I thought this would be a quick one week project and it lasted four weeks. I ended up editing nearly every single sentence. I just helped me get the rhythm of it. I think just because you’re spending so much time with each word. It was a great way of cutting superfluous junk. It was amazing. I had ink everywhere, it felt really nitty-gritty, like I was making art.

Hot Metal Bridge Asks. Paul Yoon Answers. Many Beers Later…

For more of this interview and two stories by Paul Yoon, please sign up to buy “HMB presents Paul Yoon’s Tombland: Interviews and Stories” a Hot Metal Bridge zine with original artwork.