By Cindy Mindell ~
WEST HARTFORD — David Steinberg left Hall High School in West Hartford at age 17, opting for Yale University over one more year with his friends. He would go on to Duke University School of Law, then out into the professional world, first as a lawyer, and now as a Hollywood screenwriter.
At age 42, Steinberg has returned to senior year at Hall, in his first book, “Last Stop This Town.” He will launch the young adult novel in West Hartford on Apr. 4, at Barnes & Noble in Blue Back Square.
“It was formative and a little traumatic,” Steinberg says of his decision to leave high school early. “I thought that going off to college meant getting a leg up on the fun. But freshman year was hard. What kind of dummy goes to Yale and expects it to be like ‘Animal House?’ Because I missed senior year of high school, I’ve been obsessed with high school ever since.”
“Last Stop This Town” is the fantasy version of what Steinberg thinks that year may have been like, had he stayed at Hall.
The story follows four male Hall seniors on the weekend before graduation. Before they each go off to a different college, the friends decide to have a “last hurrah” in New York City, where “all hell breaks loose,” Steinberg says.
As a screenwriter, Steinberg is known for his comedies, counting three of the four “American Pie” sequels and the recent “Puss in Boots” among his credits. While the novel follows comedic lines, “it was important to me that it have an emotional core,” he says. “Senior year is a magical and scary time: you’re excited about the future, but you’re acknowledging that your high-school friends won’t be your best friends for the rest of your life. The characters know that this is the last time they’ll be together in this way, and they’re admitting that they’re scared. What excites me as a writer is exploring the realistic dramatic aspect of their story.”
The book is set in the present day, and references Hall High and other familiar West Hartford locations, some of which no longer exist. The first scene describes an incident out of Steinberg’s life. “In high school, we would get in my car and figure out how fast we could drive without killing ourselves,” he recalls. “In the book, the guys are sitting around and decide to do a high-speed test on Brookline Drive, for no reason other than to try to drive as fast as they can.”
Steinberg says that, as an adult with children of his own, and after reading a lot about brain chemistry and psychology, he now understands why teens do what they do. “The development of the teenage brain, especially the areas controlling judgment and impulse control, is not complete. The idea that teenagers will do these crazy things as a way to pass the time should make parents worry.”
Steinberg’s parents, Paula and Lewis, still live in West Hartford and are members of Beth El Temple, where Steinberg celebrated his bar mitzvah. They thought he was crazy to leave a Manhattan law firm to study film production at University of Southern California. “But when I told the partners, their eyes lit up and they said things like, ‘That sounds good’ and ‘Take me with you,’” Steinberg recalls. “No one was happy at the firm. It was like a scene from a prison where someone is getting paroled, getting out.”
Steinberg and his dad drove cross-country to L.A., where the 26-year-old spent the summer before school writing a script and boning up on classic films. Within 18 months, he had sold three scripts and was suddenly “the teen comedy guy” for TV and movies, he says.
Steinberg does a lot of research in malls, eavesdropping on teens’ conversations. “I’m fascinated by language and I love listening to kids talk,” he says. “In my writing, I don’t spend a lot of time making sure that kids talk in the current slang, but I keep up on how people use language. Teen characters in a TV show or a film or a book will talk cooler than a real person. In real life, their conversation is mind-numbingly boring, but when you write, you have to make every word count.”
“Last Stop This Town” is meant for two audiences, both those looking back on high school and those about to leave that part of their lives. “I wrote the book for people my age who wanted to remember that experience, but also for kids now who are about to graduate,” Steinberg says. “I wanted it to come out before they graduate, so that they could see what might not be obvious to them in the moment, and so that they can stop and think about the moment before it passes.”
“Last Stop This Town” book-signing with David H. Steinberg: Wednesday, Apr. 4, 6 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Blue Back Square, 60 Isham Road, West Hartford
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