Zibby Owens: Lauren Ho is the author of Last Tang Standing. She is a reformed legal counsel who writes funny stories. This is according to her. I think they’re funny. Anyway, that’s according to her. Hailing from Malaysia, she lived in the United Kingdom, France, and Luxembourg before moving with her family to Singapore where she is ostensibly working on her next novel. Then she says Last Tang Standing is not based on her mother, at all, seriously. How can you not want to read it or listen to her episode after hearing that bio?

Welcome, Lauren. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Congratulations on Last Tang Standing. How exciting.

Lauren Ho: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I’m really excited to be talking to you today. I hope we’ll have fun.

Zibby: You have the funniest about-the-author bio, book jacket description that I’ve ever read. I already read it on your bio here. You’re so funny when you say it’s not based on your mother, at all, seriously. Tell me about how Last Tang Standing is not based on your mother. What’s it based on, then? Maybe start by explaining what the book is about to people who haven’t read it.

Lauren: Last Tang Standing is a book about a thirty-something lawyer who’s basically trying to climb the corporate ladder while fending off the unhealthy interests her relatives have in her love life. It’s basically written in diary form. It’s set over the course of a year. You’re going to follow Andrea’s journey, Andrea’s the protagonist, as she tries to find what she what wants in life. That’s basically the story of the book. When I say it’s not based on my mom, it’s because I’m legally obliged to say that, but my mom knows. No, I’m kidding. It’s only partially based on her, of course, I have to say. This is being recorded.

Zibby: When you meet the main character in this book, she’s facing the Chinese New Year which I didn’t even know was the worst time ever for single women who are over thirty in the Chinese culture, community. Tell me a little more about that. Did this happen to you? These are friends of yours this happened to? Just tell me about where you started the book, how you entered it that way.

Lauren: Obviously, I exaggerated certain aspects of the book for comic relief, but it is a terrible time for single people, Chinese New Year, like I suppose any clan gathering for people from cultures where family ties are so really important and you have a lot of clan gatherings. Chinese New Year is pretty much the worst for singletons that are above thirty and who are of Chinese background. I didn’t go through this, thankfully, because I got married pretty young. I got married when I was twenty-seven, not because I was afraid of the clan gathering, I must stress.

Zibby: I don’t know. I think you’re protesting too much. I’m not sure I buy it, but okay, fine.

Lauren: I had many friends who had gone through similar things. They told me they always dreaded Chinese New Year because people get extra drunk and extra prey-y. That’s not even a word.

Zibby: Predatory.

Lauren: Predatory, yes.

Zibby: Where are you, by the way? Are you in Singapore now? Where are you calling from?

Lauren: Actually, I’m in Malaysia, which is in the same time zone as Singapore. I’m currently based there because my husband’s work forces him to be there. We might move back to Singapore. I don’t know. I’m kind of in between places. It’s because I am from Malaysia, but I hadn’t been living in Malaysia for over a decade, more than that, before I moved back. It’s strange.

Zibby: Are you in closer proximity to your mother now?

Lauren: Oh, no. She’s in a different state with my dad. I think they’re trying to avoid me. No, I’m kidding. Actually, they moved to a state closer to Singapore when I had a kid. They would do the crossing. They would cross the streets to see me. Then we moved to Malaysia. They’re like, “Oh, you’re in Kuala Lumpur now. That’s not what we were expecting.” Now they have this house in Johor, which is the state which is closest to Singapore. They’re like, “That’s not working out the way I thought it would.” life, right? That’s an important lesson for my mom to learn.

Zibby: Tell me about your decision to write this book at all. What made you want to write a book, or this book in particular?

Lauren: I have been writing competitively, I call it competitive writing, for some time. I used to write short stories and submit them for competitions. Some of them have been published. I always had in mind that I wanted to write a novel, but I never really had the time. Back then, I used to be a legal counsel and I was always working really long hours. When we moved to Singapore about six years ago, I finally had the time to sit down. I had the bandwidth to write. At the same time, I was also trying out stand-up comedy as an amateur. This was the time for me to experiment creatively. I got the idea for the book during a stand-up comedy set about conditional versus unconditional love and Asian parents. That’s how I got the idea for the book. It just snowballed from there.

Zibby: That’s so funny. I saw, actually, you’re in conversation soon with Kevin Kwan. I interviewed him yesterday.

Lauren: Great. I’m so excited about it. I try not to think about it because I might not be able to sleep at night if I do. I’m just trying not to think about it.

Zibby: Do you watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Have you ever seen that show about a stand-up Jewish comedian back in the, I don’t know when it was, the fifties probably? Midge Maisel decides to not be a housewife anymore and just take over the world and go do stand-up comic everywhere. Anyway, you should watch it. It’s really funny and really good. Or maybe you should just make your own version of a show like that.

Lauren: No, I don’t think I would be a — I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t think I would be a good actor or scriptwriter. We’ll see.

Zibby: I don’t know. You pulled off this book. Tell me more about the process of writing your book. You thought of the idea during stand-up. Then what happened?

Lauren: Then I did the adult thing of setting aside some time every day and writing a little bit every day. When I was my twenties, I used to think writing would just be like, oh, the muse has struck and I’m going to sit down and write something. I actually got pretty good advice from my friends who told me if you want to finish a novel, you need to sit down for a certain number of hours a day and just write the novel. That’s what I did. That’s the only reason I managed to finish the novel, discipline. I might have forgotten the question. Sorry.

Zibby: No, that’s okay. That’s fine. I just wanted to know about your journey to writing it. Did you have the whole thing plotted out in your head? Did you know the way you wanted it to go when you sat down to write it, or did it all just come tumbling out once your fingers hit the keyboard?

Lauren: The first draft I ever did, which I thought was good enough and which I submitted out to agents, obviously was not good enough. I got some requests for full manuscript but no actual bites in the end. The first draft was not so good. It was just something that I had the barest grasp on plotting. I just thought, this is the way it should go. After I got those rejections, I sat down and I read more than a couple of craft books. I learned how to plot by reading these books. I redid maybe thirty percent of the book and added another twenty percent. All these stats make me sound much more intelligent than I probably am. That’s how the version that actually got me an agent and actually was sold came about. It has gone through a lot of redrafting. Once I knew what I was doing, I was like, I should add this idea in and I should add this scene. My editor was like, “Give me the damn manuscript.” No, she did say, “Give the manuscript. The deadline’s here.”

Zibby: It reminds me a little of Bridget Jones’s Diary and the whole diaristic format of the book and having little entries next to different times and what you were thinking, or not you, sorry, what your character is thinking as she goes through it. Did you model it on books like that? Did you have any inspiration from other books? Or did you just go at it the way you had in mind?

Lauren: I had always known that I would write the book in diary form. What I did was, before I started writing, I started reading all the diary books I had, so Bridget Jones’s Diaries. I had two or three of those. I read them all. Then I read Adrian Mole diaries. I think I read two or three of series.

Zibby: I loved the Adrian Mole diaries, by the way. Nobody talks about them anymore. I still have one from when I was little. Those were fantastic.

Lauren: Yes, they’re so good. I just basically read them. I needed a refresher as to how a diary-form novel could be. I just did my own thing. I probably put in more traditional narrative structure. Sorry, I probably more traditional narrative chunks than Bridget Jones’s Diary did or Adrian Mole. It’s like a mixture of — I did my own thing, I guess. I hope that answers your question.

Zibby: Yeah, that answered my question. Start to finish, how long do you think the whole project took you?

Lauren: I finished the first draft in 2017. I spent 2018 redrafting. I got my agent in 2019. I think the whole process probably took three and a half years. Publishing takes such a long time. It’s not for someone who has very short attention span or very little patience because the turnover for one project takes forever. You have no control over it. You basically have to just relinquish control and let your publishers do their thing. That can take a year and a half to two years. People don’t know that.

Zibby: It’s slow. That’s why sometimes I like writing essays that you post yourself immediately. Eight hundred words, and then it’s up. Then you can post it and spread the word. I feel like I’m too impatient for a lot of things. Are you working on a new book? What’s coming next for you?

Lauren: I’m working on a sequel that will hopefully be sold. I actually don’t have a second book deal yet. I’m waiting to finish the book and then see how it goes and then actually sell the second book, I hope. I’m working on a sequel. Maybe TMI, I’m working on a sequel.

Zibby: No, not TMI. I saw on Instagram how you took your daughter and you’re staking out different bookstores now that you can be out of the house and look around and all that. Tell me about what that feeling was like seeing your book on a shelf.

Lauren: It was great. I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s like dread mixed with anticipation mixed with too many drinks. The first time I saw my book on a shelf, it was in Kinokuniya in Malaysia. I was just so overcome with emotion because it was Kinokuniya. Kinokuniya is the like the Waterstones, if you wish, or Barnes & Noble of Malaysia and Singapore. They’re everywhere in the region. They’re a big deal. I’m Malaysian, so seeing my book in the Kinokuniya store in was a big deal for me. I kind of want to see the book in person in Singapore because that’s where I wrote the book. That’s where I was when I had my stand-up comedy stint for two years. I kind of want to be there to see the book. I’m hoping that the borders open and we can travel soon. This year’s been a tough year to be a debut. I won’t kid around. It’s been a tough year.

Zibby: It’s hard. I know. I have just had such an outpouring of empathy and trying to — I just feel so bad for people like you who have done all the work and done everything right, and then it comes out and the environment is just not what you expected. The work hasn’t changed, it’s just everything else in the entire universe. I have a lot of compassion for trying to get the word out about great debut books like yours. My heart goes out to you and all your peers. It’s tough, but not impossible. Look at you. You’re standing out already. It’s great.

Lauren: Not impossible. I think the thing that most authors want is that in-store event where they can sign the books and meet fans or haters. You want to meet the people who’ve read your book in person. There’s still something special about meeting people in person because we’re social animals. It’s not the same, signing a stack of books and having the bookstores mail them out, which is what I’ve done for a few of the indies in Kuala Lumpur where I’m based. It’s just not the same because you don’t get to meet your readers. I’m hoping that this will change. It looks like it might change soon. I’m still crossing my fingers. I’m really happy that I’ve managed to meet so many interesting people through virtual events, like you. This would have never happened if not the c-word. I take pleasure in these unexpected serendipitous events. I’m going to meet Kevin Kwan. There are good and bad things.

Zibby: That’s true. I do like that the physical boundaries separating people are gone. I was like, what am I doing today? Oh, I’m interviewing somebody in Malaysia and then an hour later in London and then an hour later in Nigeria. That is so cool. I never would’ve had this before. It wouldn’t have been on the menu of options. That is a huge benefit that physical boundaries no longer should prohibit any communication, not that they did, but now at least it’s in my face that it’s so easy.

Lauren: You have a very professional-looking mic.

Zibby: Thank you. I love my mic. I got it on Amazon. It’s a Blue Yeti microphone. I googled best microphones for podcasts a couple years ago. This is what came up. I am a huge fan. My son has stolen one and is using it upstairs to play video games. Some of his friends think he’s the coolest. Thank you, though. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Lauren: Yes. Sit your butt down and finish the manuscript because that’s the only way you will have anything to present to anyone. Sit down, finish your manuscript, and start getting other people’s opinions on it, but not too many, gentle-but-firm readers. Does that exist? Yes. You need people who look through your work and tell you if it’s good or bad, but finish your work.

Zibby: Is there anyone you wish you hadn’t shown your work to?

Lauren: Not really. I kind of wish I’d shown my sister the second or third draft I did. The first draft, she was not very impressed. She’s read a lot of my stuff. She was like, “This is not going to go very far.” She was right. It didn’t really go very far. I wish I’d shown her the second or third manuscript. It’s more like a regret, not really I wish I hadn’t shown someone this.

Zibby: Excellent. Thank you, Lauren. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for talking about your own experience. Thanks for bridging this international borders of us getting to chit-chat today and all the rest. Thank you.

Lauren: Thanks for having me. I hope you enjoy your other two interviews in London, was it, and Nigeria?

Zibby: Yeah.

Lauren: Wow, that’s pretty intense. Good luck. Take good care of your voice. I feel like you might need that.

Zibby: I’ve honed it from years of screaming at my children, so it’s fine now. It never gets tired. Maybe one day we can finally meet in person if you ever get to New York. I don’t know if I have any plans to go to Kuala Lumpur, but you never know. Life is crazy.

Lauren: I think it’s more likely that I’ll be in New York one day than the opposite. I have a tip. If you ever need something to lubricate your throat, warm apple cider vinegar with a dollop of honey is really good for your throat. I’ve used this. My voice is going a little bit. I don’t know if you can hear this, but it’s because I’ve done a couple of interviews today. Honey is so good.

Zibby: My husband has jars and jars of apple cider vinegar in the fridge. He’s all about that, turmeric and apple cider. We’re like a homeopathic store here. Thank you. Yes, he’s always trying to get me to do that. I usually don’t, so thank you for the reminder. I appreciate it.

Lauren: It was so good to talk to you.

Zibby: It was so good to talk to you too.

Lauren: Have a really good afternoon. Morning?

Zibby: Yes, still morning here. You too. Have a good night. Thanks, Lauren. Take care. Buh-bye.

Lauren: Bye.