From the Screen to the Page

“American Pie 2” writer David H. Steinberg ventures into young adult literature with “Last Stop This Town.”

Debut novel

Debut novel “Last Stop This Town” finds screenwriter David H. Steinberg changing his ways, sort of.

Griffin Fillipitch

 

There is a moment in David H. Steinberg’s new young adult comedy, “Last Stop This Town,” where he writes, “Yet part of graduating high school was also pretty scary. It was the part they didn’t show you in the ‘American Pie’ movies or on ‘Greek.’”Steinberg, author of the screenplays for multiple entries in the “American Pie” franchise, is giving a little wink to anyone who knows his body of work.

But he is also distancing himself from the constraints those films imposed on his writing and making clear that they still inform and dominate the way that he tells a story. This tension can be felt all over his novel “Last Stop This Town.”

It’s a premise you’ve probably heard before: Four friends go out for one last crazy night while coping with the fact that they must soon part ways for college. But even if the plot is somewhat worn territory, there’s no question that Steinberg, the writer of “American Pie 2,” “Slackers” and “Puss in Boots” among others, felt unshackled by the form of a novel as opposed to a screenplay, especially since it is his first time writing one.

“On a movie, the studio comes in, and they want everything to wrap up neatly. They want there to be a lesson but not a sad lesson,” Steinberg said. “I wrote ‘American Pie: The Book of Love.’ At one point the guy and girl get crossed signals, and they both go out and sleep with some other person. Then they realize that they made a big mistake and wind up together in the end. The studio said they were cool with the guy sleeping with another girl, but you can’t have the girl sleep with some other guy. I hated that but had to change it. With the book, every decision was my own. That meant a lot to me.”

Steinberg feels that, without the script changes that come from the director, actors and studio while making a movie, “Last Stop This Town” has an air of sadness that his movies have lacked. And he’s right. The book captures important truths about the pain of leaving for college that many do not.

“Personally I had a very hard time leaving for college. It was not what I thought it would be,” Steinberg said. “It’s not just that it’s hard but that no one tells you it is going to be that way. You’re still going to have fun. I’m not saying that it’s going be a 100 percent awful experience, but you think it’s going to be 100 percent awesome, and it’s not. That’s the big disconnect, that TV shows and movies make it seem that way, but it just isn’t.”

But the difference between Steinberg’s novel and the films he has done may be a little larger in his head than it is in actuality. A lot of plot points, gross-out gags and even the four main characters can easily be equated to elements of “American Pie.” Steinberg knows well enough how to make these things work, but still, any recommendation of “Last Stop This Town” should be contingent on a predisposition for stories and humor of that nature.

Considering the massive success of “American Pie” and films like it, this should mean that plenty of people will like it. Even so, as a young adult fiction novel very much geared toward boys, it’s kind of a rarity of a book.

“Some of the publishers we were talking to said, ‘Teenage boys don’t read books, and this is such a guy book,’”*** Steinberg said. “I don’t think that’s true. This is just the kind of stuff I write about. Trying to get laid and crazy [expletive] happening but also the friendship of these guys and how they drift apart. That’s what I’m interested in: writing about that experience.”

For this reason, the existence of “Last Stop This Town” is a triumph of sorts. The novel itself has less inspired moments than you would hope but still more than you might expect. When the book does reach for deeper emotions and sadder truths, it finds them. It’s clear that Steinberg wants more of these in the stories he tells, no matter what medium.

“I’m sure people throughout my career have been like, ‘Wow, you talk like you’re writing great literature. You wrote an ‘American Pie’ movie. Get over it. You’re not that awesome.’ I just think, ‘Yeah. But at least I’m trying to be awesome.’”