Suzanne Park, ONE LAST WORD

Suzanne Park, ONE LAST WORD

Zibby chats with Korean American writer and comedian Suzanne Park about ONE LAST WORD, a smart and breezy romp brimming with pitch-perfect humor, endearing insights, and lovably relatable characters. They delve into the novel's plot, which revolves around a new app that lets you send messages to anyone you want after you die… and the craziness that ensues for the protagonist when someone with the same name dies and her messages get mistakenly released. They also discuss VC funding bias and workplace dynamics. Finally, Suzanne describes her writing journey, from stand-up comedy to novel writing.


Zibby: Welcome, Suzanne. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss One Last Word, your latest novel. 

Suzanne: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I'm so excited to be here. 

Zibby: Can I tell everybody that it is 6 a. m. where you are and this is like a complete act of, you know, writerly dedication that you are on the podcast this early.

I feel terrible. 

Suzanne: Yes, but I've listened to other podcasts where there are people there at 5 a. m. So I don't feel 

Zibby: I feel so badly. 

Suzanne: I have a right to say anything. 

Zibby: Sorry, I'm so sorry. 

Suzanne: It's totally fine. 

Zibby: Okay, one last word. I love the way you write. It's so fun and breezy and like you jump right in and don't want to put it down and you're like, wait, that was like a whole book there.

Like, you know, it's like conversational, but yet But not, you know, flippant, right? I mean, anyway, I just, I really like books with this tone because they feel so accessible and accomplishable, that's not even a word, and yet fun, like fast paced and all that. So anyway, I just love it with the inner dialogue and just all of it.

Anyway, I love it. 

Suzanne: Oh, thank you so much. I'm really happy to hear that you connected with the story and the writing style. 

Zibby: Yeah, loved. Tell listeners what One Last Word is about. 

Suzanne: Sure. So One Last Word follows Sarah Cheh, and she's developed an app called One Last Word that allows you to send your final words to people when you pass.

And another Sarah Chet dies. And when that happens, her obituary is posted online and the drunken, drunkenly drafted messages that she, Sarah has put into her draft folder have been sent out and they're sent out to her overbearing parents, her ex best friend and her unrequited crush from high school. And then she gets to deal with that aftermath.

While she's also trying to get into a pitch contest for her app, she's trying to be mentored by some highly esteemed venture capitalists. She gets into the program and then finds out that the unrequited crush that she sent the message to is actually going to be her co mentor. 

Zibby: Love it. This, of course, is everyone's worst nightmare, right?

The messages that you write just for yourself to get out of your system or whatever, somehow become, you know, shuttled to your recipient and you can't do anything about it. . 

Suzanne: Yeah. So now that it's left me, after I've written it, I completely double check everything that I do now, out of fear that this might happen because I, I know it's possible.

So I, um, yeah, I now I triple check before I, you know, send out any email because of my book. 

Zibby: Yeah, I think I, my main takeaway is not to have anything in the drafts. folder. That's a good idea. Right? Why even have a draft? Just delete the draft. I mean, not for writing. Yes, you can keep lots of drafts for writing, but for emails and other and apps and things like that, forget it.

Just forget it. 

Suzanne: Yes. I've started to at least just take out the email address out of sheer fear now that that might happen. So at least I know it won't get sent. That's a good idea though, just to not even have it. 

Zibby: I mean, my kids probably have 200 drafts of TikTok videos because I was like, you can make them, but you can't post them.

So like if those were to ever get out, it would really be not, not good at all. I should probably just go in and delete them. But yeah, not good. I appreciated the VC pitching and all of that as someone who's worked in the startup world in the past. And, you know, I guess theoretically I'm sort of in a startup.

I don't even know, but you know, I know we both went to business school and there's like that whole common language of trying to get backers and all of that. And this, I love this sort of Shark Tank ish. vibe and the great news of somebody, you know, coming down with the chicken box and talk a little bit about the VC world and app development and all of that craze.

Suzanne: Oh, sure. So when I wrote this book, I think I got the original inkling that I wanted to write a book about V. C. probably back in 2017, when there was a lot in the news about women in V. C. and the poor treatment of women in V. C. And then I started digging around, and I think it wasn't until probably two years ago when I drafted the book.

That I really started doing more research into, okay, that was 2017. How have things changed? And in a lot of ways they haven't. So only 2 percent of VC funding finds its way to women. And when the money is given to women who own companies, it's always in lower amounts. So I've kind of, most of my books, my adult books have been focused on women in the workplace, especially male dominated work environment.

So that to me felt like the perfect type of. book that I wanted to write next. And yeah, so there was just more and more data that I was researching and reading about that only 5 percent of the S& P 500 CEOs are women. And that when they do have these types of pitch competitions and whether they're online or in person, the questions that are targeted to the men that are these, you know, developers or these, you know, aspiring.

CEOs, they're always focused on kind of the winning aspect of a business. Like what are the opportunities? And then when you hear the questions targeted to the women, they're always focused on how do you avoid losing? And they have a different tone. They're about limitations and problems. And just everything that I was reading about, it just felt so biased that I really wanted to call that out in the book.

And then the way I write, as you mentioned before, it has kind of a different kind of a, I wanted to definitely couch my point with humor so that when people read it, they'll kind of maybe sit back after and reflect after they've read the book saying, Oh, well, you know what? VC does have a long way to go as far as equity goes.

Zibby: Well, you do have that scene where Someone, you know, blatantly calls out that this woman is Asian, this woman, what's her name? Susan is Asian. And, you know, how she should conduct herself in a pitch and this and that. And Susan has to say, you know, I don't know, I don't know about that. And the person who takes her aside and says, like, well, I'm actually Asian, but I present as white and you wouldn't have known that and, you know, I found that scene really interesting. 

Suzanne: I do feel like the things that I've tried to include in the book, there are things that were taken out to just for storytelling sake, but I feel like what was left in the book, I really feel give an accurate portrayal. Of what the BC world is like when I started writing this book, when I start writing any book, I do a ton of research and then in most of my adult books, because they're centered on the workplace.

I do usually find people friends or friends of friends that are in whatever industry. So in this case, I did have friends who had pitched startups, people who were in VC or have presented to VC funders and in speaking with them, I got a lot of information and I know, and I actually spoke with a woman who works at a VC and she has funds that can Are targeted toward women owned companies.

And so when I spoke with her, she had a lot to say why she ended up where she is because she had worked in the industry for so long and finally ended up doing what she thought was best for the business and also doing something to change how VC was set up. 

Zibby: Interesting. Very cool. Well, when you were thinking about.

Some of these messages, because of course the book got me thinking about, well, what would I do? What would I say? And I actually did at one point write notes, although I'm going to have to toss them soon because God only knows what I wrote, but I did write like goodbye notes to people. for when they could open when I'm gone, which is so morbid.

But, you know, of course this is what I do in an afternoon with my anxiety laced brain, always thinking the worst. Do you have notes to people you love for when you pass away? What do you think about that idea in general? 

Suzanne: You know, I don't know if I have anything specific now. I do know when my daughter was born, I had written a few things that were just a collection of like life lessons that we've kind of developed over time, and I wanted to put them all in.

You know one document so that she would have them when she's older because there were things you know that happen when you're teaching a toddler something or whatever and you're like actually this happens all the time in the real world or this actually happens to women and just share that knowledge and try to guide her in life and that's probably the closest I've come to that.

I have had a few things sitting in my inbox that I wanted to send off to people that I knew, but never did. And those probably have been deleted a long ago. You know, just things that have questions or, you know, just when I, especially during the pandemic, I had a lot of time to think about things. And so I did have a few things drafted to friends that I hadn't heard from in a long time and just wanted to reconnect with.

Some I sent out, but not, not all of them. 

Zibby: So you have written a number of books. Are those all the books on the shelf behind you? 

Suzanne: Yes. Yes. These are all of my books. Um, this is my YA side and this is the adult side. 

Zibby: Honestly, I feel like the line between YA and adult is so blurred. I can never tell the difference really.

Cause I'm an adult, but I like reading about people who are teenagers. Like I don't, I don't know. I don't, I'm not a fan of this new categorization. What do you think about that? 

Suzanne: A lot of the times when I'm asked the question they like, how hard or how difficult is it to write between the two and is there a difference?

And for me, there's no true difference in how I write. It's mostly about making sure that the voice of the young adult is authentic. 

Zibby: Mm-Hmm.

Suzanne: And has real experiences that are realistic for that age. So when I've written books. that are about high schoolers. They do make a lot of mistakes that would probably frustrate somebody that is, has lived a full experience in their life.

And I give them time for first mistakes and let them try to resolve them and reflect upon them. And I think that that's one way that I've found a difference between the two. And to also just make sure that the voice is authentic. And that's not just saying like, Oh, we have to include slang or something that's current in culture.

It's, it's actually just making sure that the type of experience they're having is realistic to high school or junior high or whatever age group you're targeting is. Just making sure that you're not putting your own experiences as a mom, you know, into what you think that a teenager would be living and feeling like, or my experiences when I was young, because it's different now.

Zibby: Right. True. As I see with my teenagers, but yes. So how did you get started? What is your pacing on releasing these books? Like how do you continually Innovate. Well, I have like a hundred questions, but okay, let's start with how you got started and, and then how you keep coming up with these different ideas and how often you write.

Suzanne: When I started writing, it was back in 2014. I think it was the first time I actually wrote a novel, but if you kind of fast forward before that, What I originally had wanted to do after graduating from high school and college was to become a humor writer, and I didn't know how to do that, and so I ended up actually in stand up comedy, somehow.

That was the way I ended up writing, but thinking back to what I did, I don't know if I would have done anything differently, because I do think that the type of humor that I had on stage translates very well to stand up comedy. what I do in novels, but back then I was fresh out of college and I ended up googling Asian American humor writers and a list of stand up comics came up and I just contacted the first person who was a stand up comic in, in New York and I had drinks with her and she ended up telling me that she was just a stand up comic.

Like all of her, Things that she had posted on her website were a little bit inflated. Her writing was actually her joke writing. Her performing was her performance on stage. Everything was kind of revolving around her doing stand up. So when I realized it wasn't the perfect match, I said, Oh, well, nice.

Thank you for your time. Nice meeting you. But then she invited me to her stand up show that was happening later that evening, just across the street. So I decided, well, I'll support her. I'll go and see what it's all about. On stage, her whole act was about her being Korean American in Tacoma, Washington, and her experiences dealing with how that was for somebody growing up in a rural environment, you know, with an Asian American family.

And so when I saw her on stage, something clicked and I said, wait. Those are the types of stories I didn't know were interesting to people. And to see her come alive on stage and then tell that type of humor and then have funny anecdotes from her growing up, I just realized that that is something that I could do fairly easily and my family is far more dysfunctional than hers.

One more story, deeper well, so I, uh, if later on I ended up going on stage and perform comedy for 10 years. probably altogether. And at some point after Motherhood, I realized, wait, I don't know if this is the life that I had dreamed of myself. I am fairly successful in terms of how stand up comics go, where I can probably get a gig and perform and then go on the road if I really, truly wanted to.

I have done that and I did not enjoy it. So, I had to do some soul searching and then ended up deciding taking some writing classes and that's how I ended up kind of where I am. I actually started off with a collection of essays, personal essays, and tried to send that out to agents and the feedback was mostly positive, but the climate was different in terms of what publishing was buying and they were not buying collections of essays at that time.

But one agent had a really good insight where she said, if you are willing to take some of these essays and fictionalize them, you might have what could be the shell of a novel. And that's just food for thought and that was enough to get me going to start my first novel. 

Zibby: Wow. I was also, by the way, trying to sell a collection of essays in like 2018 and everyone's like, essay collections don't sell.

And I'm like, you know what? I actually love reading essay collections. Like why? Why do they not sell? I think essay collections are great. 

Suzanne: I, I completely agree. I really enjoy them, especially humorous ones. And the thing that was funny was most of the people had told me that the only way to sell an essay collection is to be really famous, a celebrity.

And I said, well, it seems easy to write a novel than to be a celebrity, so I'll go with novel writing at this point and it ended up working out. 

Zibby: Yeah, looks like it. Yeah. And the other thing that I've found people doing is they are Xa, Xa collections, but they don't call them that. They just say memoir. But they're actually really essays.

That's right. They trick you into reading them anyway, which, uh, which is great. I want to hear one of the dysfunctional stories that you used to tell on stage about your family. What's some, what's like one, like one thing that you used to go on the road and crack people up? 

Suzanne: Gosh, I don't know if I've actually told that many jokes.

I mean, I've told a lot of jokes about growing up. I don't know if any of them are. Once that I remember word for word, but a lot of it was, gosh, I, I could tell some about my brother, but he would kill me and then he would kill me. There is one that I never really ended up telling, and I had in an essay collection that was about how we lived in Tennessee and 10 years after we had moved into the house, maybe it is sorry.

Probably about 15 years after we had moved into this house, it was the mayor of our small town was on that street and he moved out, but the end of the street, Garth Brooks moved in. And so I had a whole thing about how my mom had an encounter with Garth Brooks, and I don't know if they got along. I think she was weird, and that made him a little weird, but it was really funny because any time I would talk Just explain like the idea of just the very idea of my mom just talking to him.

And then at some point she showed him her garden in the backyard, which was funny because at the time there was no garden. She had just planted a bunch of stuff. So there's nothing growing. It was just like rows of dirt, you know, He came down and he didn't understand like what was going on because she was trying to explain that she planted tomatoes and whatever, but they hadn't grown yet, but they will.

And then she, because it was steep hill, she knew the foot path and how she got down. And then she said, Oh, I have to go back to cooking. She ran back up the hill and left him down there. So just to see my sister and I staring down the hill, watching Garth Brooks try to climb up our backyard, steep backyard and not succeeding.

He's a wonderful man, but I feel bad that my mom couldn't do that. So, you know, he's got like dirt under his fingernails as he's trying to climb up the hill. And, uh, I just could not get that picture out of my mind. So anytime I see him winning all these awards, I really don't have that same vision. Of him.

I see him as our neighbor who my mom abandoned at the bottom of a hill to showed this pathetic garden. . 

Zibby: That's so funny. 

Suzanne: This is the first time I've actually told the story in maybe 10, 15 years outside of a friend group, so... . 

Zibby: I feel honored. Oh, thank you. I feel honored and I loved it. And I will now think of Garth Brooks differently.

it's like it's got, he's gotta be someone's neighbor. Right? 

Suzanne: Turns out you do come over, you know, very neighborly. 

Zibby: Very neighborly. Who knew? Amazing. Wow. See what happens when you just ask. That's excellent. Okay. Stand up comedy. Then you got the advice to write fiction. You just like cranked out a novel.

And sold it and the rest was history. Is that, was it easy?

Suzanne: Oh, oh man, I had a very windy journey. So the first book that I wrote was an adult book. And that was actually how I got my agent back in 2016. And I was part of a program called Pitchforce where people who are Accepted into the program, then get mentored by agented writers or authors, and I was lucky to have an amazing duo that agreed to be my mentors.

And at the end, I was able to pitch this book, got the agent and we took it out and it did not sell. And I was very. Disappointed because I thought, you know, I thought once you got an agent, that's what was the key to publishing. And I've learned a lot since then. So I'll fast forward. The book that did sell first was The Perfect Escape, and that is my fourth book.

So I had three shelved manuscripts up to that point. This one sold pretty quickly. It's a YA book. About two teenagers who work at a zombie escape room. They both find out that they have a desperate need for money. So they enter a survival, a survivalist competition and you know, what could go wrong with that?

So that book sold in 2019. And then I decided while that book was being shopped around, I would try to revive one of my shelved manuscripts. And that was loathe at first sight that started off as a darker workplace company and I rewrote it. Added a love interest in a romantic storyline and turned it into a more lighthearted story that I guess could be considered a rom com and that was right when rom coms are starting to sell.

So I think that was good timing. I felt like I had a good idea of what was coming out in the marketplace as far as, uh, you know, what was. starting to become a trend or starting to sell. And that was something I just had a gut feeling could work. I don't think anything else I had written could have worked.

So that sold right after my young adult book. And then that's how I ended up in a situation where I ended up writing fairly quickly, multiple books during the pandemic. And my release, my first release for the young adult book. The perfect escape that came out in 2020, April. And as you can imagine, that was not the best time to release.

That was exactly the time where, you know, you couldn't buy anything in any store and bookstores were shuttered and Amazon was saying certain things were essential and books were not. So that was a tough time to debut. And then my adult debut came out in August of 2020, that same year. So it was a, it was a rocky time, but somehow I made it through on the other side, still being able to continue to ride and not lose that momentum.

Zibby: Wow. So they all came out really recently and what you've just done one a year since then? 

Suzanne: Yes. Yes. So there was a point where I was doing two a year and then I slowed it down to one a year because I was losing my mind. 

Zibby: Yeah. One adult and one YA. 

Suzanne: Yes, it was back and forth between the two and I'm not somebody that can juggle a lot and in terms of just multiple projects at once.

Some people are good at it. I'm not a multitasker turns out. So I would be able to work on one and then have to finish it or put it down and put it in a good place before I could start something else. I wasn't able to have. Several things happening on my screen or in my mind, so that made it difficult to actually do the two, so we slowed it down.

Even one year is pretty tough, but I was able to feel like I could get a better grasp of schedules and be able to promote and do all the things that authors are supposed to do for book releases, rather than just be in deadline constantly, it was really tough. 

Zibby: Yeah, I'm stressed out even just thinking about the schedule you must have had to keep and like, how could you even possibly promote and, you know. Do you have two different publishers then for YA and adult? 

Suzanne: Yeah. 

Zibby: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Wow. 

Suzanne: Yes. 

Zibby: Hats off to you. 

Suzanne: That's the thing is when that happens, where you have two different publishers. It's the author that has to juggle and coordinate everything, um, as far as scheduling and dates and events and things, and make sure they don't overlap with the other publisher's intentions and so that was all falling on me as well, the project management of it all. 

Zibby: And I saw that you said, because I thought this was interesting, I hadn't seen it before on your website. When people ask for blurbs, you say you're a really slow writer reader and so you don't want to blurb a lot of books. Is that true?

You're a slow reader? Or you just don't want to blurb? 

Suzanne: It's so funny because people really don't believe me and I'm actually not a fast writer either. It seems like I would be, but I have to be very, I'm very good at putting tasks on my, on my schedule and completing that in the amount of time that I need to.

So I try to put things into realistic goals. And so When it comes to reading and writing, writing takes precedence over reading. And so when I do have time, I'm the slowest reader in the world. So when anytime anybody has one of those good breeds challenges and they're like, Oh, I read a thousand books this year.

I have read one a month. That are just on my own free time and, and it's funny cause my Kindle will say, Oh, you are on a hot reading streak or whatever. And it's like, fine, I've paid for the day, for me, that's hot. So I do blurb, but it's, it has to kind of come in at the right window where I'm. Open for blurbs, and then somebody has passed along, usually my agent or editor has passed along a request.

And if it happens to land right when I have finished blurbing, then it goes into the queue. So yeah, it really is like five to 10 pages a day is really all I can handle. And I know someone like you gets a speed read and other friends of mine, literally are reading maybe a book. Or to a day, if not a week, and I maybe if I'm lucky, I read a book on my own kind of to help fall asleep and one book to blurb a month.

I wish I could be faster. I know I've read, I've read stories about how people can read faster and you know, speed read and it just doesn't work for me, but hopefully one day I'll figure out a system. 

Zibby: Yeah. I'll just read and blurb for you. It's basically what we'll have to do. Just throw it in my pile.

Okay, Suzanne, thank you so much. Thank you for waking up early and coming on Mom's No Time to Read Bugs. Congratulations on one last word and changing all my drafting habits. And yeah, best of luck with everything, and I hope to see you in L. A. 

Suzanne: Thank you so much for having me. It was a ton of fun. 

Zibby: Okay for me too. Bye bye 

Suzanne Park, ONE LAST WORD

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