Exclusive Interview with Mary H.K. Choi, author of Emergency Contact - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

From debut author Mary H.K. Choi comes a compulsively readable novel that shows young love in all its awkward glory—perfect for fans of Eleanor & Park and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Book Type:

YA Contemporary

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Exclusive Interview with Mary H.K. Choi
By Mary H.K. Choi

Exclusive Interview with Mary H.K. Choi, author of Emergency Contact

EMERGENCY CONTACT is out tomorrow—a clever and witty story about friendship and first love, in all its awkward glory. If you loved ELEANOR & PARK and TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE this may be your next favorite read.

I had the chance to chat with author Mary H.K. Choi about the book, and I’m thrilled to share this behind-the-scenes insight on EMERGENCY CONTACT.

How would you describe EMERGENCY CONTACT?

Girl meets Boy. Boy and girl decide that actual human contact is deplorably awkward and retreat behind their phones. They enter into a torrid text exchange until full emoji with the heart eyes is achieved. A great deal of other strife unfolds like terrible mothers, addiction, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, pregnancy scares, roommate fights and discussions of sexual assault. It’s about artistry and friendship and how to adult as responsibly as possible even when it’s excruciatingly hard.

Where did the inspiration for the novel come from? I think I read somewhere that the idea all started with a piece you wrote for Wired?

It was inspired in part by a long distance friendship that mutated through the power of text and DMs to a relationship. The Wired article simply informed the way I wanted Sam and Penny to engage with their phones.

Tell us a little bit more about Penny and Sam.

I could tell you an entire book of random detail on either of them but will spare you the fine print. The thing I will say is that they’re going to have a surprising, storied, torrid romance after this incredibly intense friendship. The best thing about them is how they challenge each other and so they’re going to be combustible as a couple. Penny gets a tattoo and Sam teaches her how to cook.

Penny and Sam are each struggling with their own issues when they meet. What makes them want to connect, despite their first, awkward encounter?

They’re thrown together into a stressful situation by complete happenstance and I liken it to the plot of the movie Speed—the one with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock where they’re on a runaway bus. You end up kind of imprinting on people who you go through something rough with, since the turmoil fosters a trust and a kinship. It helps that they think the other is cute.

The story explores a range of topics, from the complicated nature of friendships and family relationships, to aspirations, sobriety and even sexual assault, but mostly, it seems to be about a growing connection—a growing intimacy—between two people. Is that what you set out to write about?

There were versions of this book that were a lot more gimmicky or contained devices like self-help. There were versions that contained more of their personal works—Penny’s sci-fi writing and Sam’s other documentaries—but the thing that was always consistent was that I did set out to write a book that ultimately deals with the interiority of these characters who are deeply inside their own heads and struggling.

One of the fascinating things about the book is that the chosen medium for communication is texting. In my college communication courses I remember being taught the layers of intimacy in communication, with in-person, face-to-face convos being the richest, most intimate form of interaction. In Sam and Penny’s case, texting really deepens their relationship. Can you talk a little about that? What is it about texting that really works? That really resonates with this generation?

It’s funny, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the hierarchy of communication. And of course we’re all in general agreement that phone calls can be more intimate than “u up?” texts at 2AM or that IG DM is less personal than the group chat. But it’s always about the intent and the person and the circumstance much more than the conduit. Texts work for Penny and Sam because they both feel too messy and not presentable to live in real life. The fact that Sam doesn’t have to worry about Penny judging his clothes or his hair or his cheap drug-store glasses or his room and torn shoes while they’re talking about his career aspirations is such a safe place for him. It’s the total opposite of how it was with his ex. And in exactly the same way Penny suffers from having to share a room with Jude and spending time with Mallory after a lifetime of everyone only ever paying attention to her mom. This is a girl who can barely make eye contact with people. The fact that as a writer she can talk without ever once worrying about what she looks like or where she should put her eyes or her hands is liberating and emboldening for her.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading EMERGENCY CONTACT?

That being a true friend is work. That being relied upon is a huge honor and to ask for help is a form of intimacy not a favor or imposition (as long as you’re mindful of personal boundaries). It’s also about how to become an artist and how brave it is to commit to yourself and declaring your artistry by daring to create. And that friendship can lead to romance but that it’s not a hierarchy. That friendships are rich and nourishing and awesome despite how being an adult is hard. That it’s rewarding it is to work on yourself since the alternative is falling completely apart. And how falling apart is okay, too.

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One Comment:

  1. Paula Byrd said:

    Sounds amazing! Has everything I love in a book, I will definitely be reading this!


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