Hua Hsu on ‘Stay True,’ Friendship, and Why West Coast Asians Are Built Different

It sounds super sick.

YES. There’s a section like a 50-page section where they’re all just looking at the TV. But that kind of book made me feel hopeful. Like, the main character of the book is really nasty. He can’t stand it, but he’s also an intense dreamer. So books like that gave me a lot of insight into the emotional sphere. But it’s not like I’m thinking I’m writing something in conversation with Maxine.

Yes Yes Yes.

So I am conscious that it will be read as Asian American. I was aware it was going to be read as Gen X. And I felt it was also a very Californian book, because at least where I grew up, there were a lot of Asians around me. I don’t feel hungry with that much rep because—

I think it’s a West Coast Asian thing.

It’s a totally West Coast Asian thing because you go to a Chinese restaurant and you’re like, “These people aren’t passive.” They are authoritative and fun [as anyone else]. And then, coming to Taiwan as a child, you’re watching Asian TV, Asian movies. I don’t know, you’re just taking advantage of that experience a lot.

Well, I think that’s the main difference between West Coast Asians and anyone who grew up anywhere else in America. They’re like being in a vacuum, but as the West Coaster, you’re just immersed in it, and the spectrum is so different as it goes from Cambodian to third-generation Japanese-American.

And I feel that’s something I didn’t appreciate when I was 14. But then you go to college, suddenly I go to Oakland and hang out with Vietnamese kids. I’m going to Richmond and do this counseling with all the kids in the Hmong gang. And it’s like, oh, there’s so much eclecticism, and it puts a strain on the catalog, but it also makes you feel good because there’s a catalog and we can do whatever we want. with it.

The guy who became king the year before I was in high school was Benjamin Cho, this fashion designer passed away a few years ago. But it does not seem strange to us that Ben Cho is the king of the homeland. It’s like, well, we have Asians involved here. We have a wide range of nerds. This person is well dressed—of course they can be the king back home. I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone who isn’t from the West Coast.

In the book, you dive a little deeper into the occult, specifically with the fly that you still see everywhere after Ken’s death. As you’re going through the process of putting the book together, are there any other little oddities like it?

You mean, do I see other signs?

YES. Like it could be magical thinking, but it could also be that the universe is trying to talk to you in a real way.

I mean, I guess I hesitate to put it out there because much of the book is about me being able to misunderstand or misnumber things. And so I don’t want to look like, yeah, he’s smiling.


But I remember he always left stuff at my house, so I had a bunch of his old furnished hats, clothes, and furniture. And I remember when I went to pick up this photo of my author taken by this young photographer Dev Claro, he was wearing this Texas Longhorns hat, that’s what Ken used to wear.

And I was like, “Are you from Texas?” He said, “No, I just liked the hat and I bought it on eBay.”

Oh, that’s strange.

It is a very special 90s Texas Longhorns cap. I find that spooky. But it can also make absolutely no sense, because it’s a great hat. Hua Hsu on ‘Stay True,’ Friendship, and Why West Coast Asians Are Built Different

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