With two debuts hitting shelves this year, Suzanne Park has a lot to celebrate! First in April, Park released a YA romcom about a teen who teams up with his crush to enter a survivalist competition in The Perfect Escape; and coming August 18th, a junior video game producer finds herself getting closer to the one person she hates most after a mass troll attack online in Loathe at First Sight. Below, Park chats about inspiration behind both releases, weaving comedy with tough issues and fighting stereotypes of Korean-American characters.
You’ve worked as a stand-up comedian, tech marketing executive and now you can add published author to the list! What inspired you to publish a book?
I’ve always wanted to become a humor writer (is “Humorist” a real job title these days?), and through a series of random events, I tried out stand-up comedy, thinking that was a good way to start. My comedy career was going well, but over the years it didn’t feel like it was what I was put on Earth to do. I took a lot of writing classes in the evenings after work (one was held at a poorly lit Seattle Best Western meeting room with uninspiring decor) and drafted my first book—which was an absolute disaster. It was a three-hundred page blog entry about pretty much nothing. I cleaned it up considerably and submitted the manuscript for a mentorship contest called Pitch Wars. My mentors helped me with plotting, planting (foreshadowing) and pacing. After a few rounds of intensive rewrites, my three hundred page blog post turned into a real novel. From there I got a literary agent, and years later, I sold two novels each with two-book deals in different age categories.
How was the process of writing jokes for your stand-up performances different from weaving comedy in both Loathe at First Sight and The Perfect Escape?
My fiction includes observational, absurd humor, which is similar to what I had in my stand up comedy acts. I’ve found that for both stand-up comedy and writing humor in novels that context, beats and timing can be just as important as word and phrasing choice. But the biggest difference between writing jokes for stand up and putting jokes in books is that with stage comedy you can use physical comedy to help convey a joke, but on the page, you’re limited to only words so that was an adjustment for me.
You have not one but TWO debuts releasing this year! First, how does it feel to be publishing two debut books in the same year and what inspired both of these stories?
It’s been difficult promoting and drafting at the same time, but I’m finally figuring out what works for me and setting more limits. The April launch of The Perfect Escape, taught me a lot so for the upcoming release of Loathe at First Sight [out August 18th], I’ve been doing more self-care, being smarter about time management leading up to launch, and I’m celebrating all my wins now even if they’re small!
For both books, I wanted to write #OwnVoices stories in which the Korean-American main characters are not stereotypical. Both protagonists have to overcome a lot by the end of their books and have a ton of grit. I got the idea for The Perfect Escape a couple of years ago after my brother, sister and I attempted a zombie escape room challenge. The experience was more hilarious than scary and the host was an energetic guy who really got into the game. He was maybe in his early 20s, and I thought it would be funny if I wrote him into a book and set a romance right there in the escape room— the most unromantic place in the world. Plus, I’d been obsessed with zombies and apocalypse survival because of The Walking Dead— I’ve seen every episode and read a few of the comics. I thought teens might like an action-oriented rom-com. It’s something I would have loved to read. It could be one of the nerdiest meet-cutes ever. Also, I hadn’t seen many romcoms in YA featuring a Korean male protagonist.
For Loathe at First Sight, I set out to write a workplace comedy set in the video game industry because I liked gaming and I hadn’t seen much written about it in contemporary fiction. When I began researching for this book four years ago, it was instantly clear to me that the gaming industry was not all fun and games for women—especially for women of color. Sexual harassment and racism was (and is) pervasive and rampant and I wanted my book to help bring awareness to all of that— this is especially relevant now because the game industry is currently going through a reckoning with their own #MeToo movement.
Also, I grew up watching romantic comedies from the ’90s and early 2000s and was heavily influenced by them as I developed and wrote both of these novels. There’s definitely more of an emphasis on the “com” in my books, similar to TV-style romcoms.
Loathe at First Sight deals with tough topics like online harassment. How did you balance talking about tough issues while still weaving in comedy?
To be honest, this wasn’t easy to do, and this might be one of the times that my previous comedy experience helped me. In my stand-up act I never shied away from racism and sexism so I brought a lot of that boldness to this book. I learned in a storytelling class with Robert McKee that when intense thriller-y movies like Get Out or Parasite have humor breaks, it allows the audience to breathe and cut the tension. I wanted to do this too since the harassment and loathing in the book need those pauses for the reader. Publishers Weekly said that I wrote a book that makes “tough topics go down easy by couching them in wry humor,” so I hope I was successful at providing that balance with seriousness and comedy.
I read that it was important to you to write #OwnVoices and to help fight the stereotypes of Korean-American characters that you saw growing up and are still around today. Can you share how did this for both The Perfect Escape and Loathe at First Sight?
When I read romantic comedies or see them on screen, I’m always struck by how gorgeous/attractive/rich/charming the main characters are. But nerds should have happily-ever-afters, too! It was important to me for my main characters to both be Korean-American because it’s important to see Asian-Americans (first and second generation) who aren’t one-dimensional and aren’t stereotypical. In Loathe, Melody Joo is fierce, creative, resourceful and she works in game production, which isn’t a career path many Asian females take. Nate Kim in The Perfect Escape would be the perfect male lead in a movie (ahem, Netflix, feel free to DM me) because he’s athletic, smart, funny and flawed in a relatable way. A recent review from the Asian Review of Books said it best: “With more books like The Perfect Escape, diverse characters will become the norm and old stereotypes may finally be put to rest.”
What’s your favorite romantic comedy or book?
I recently rewatched Clueless and fell in love with the writing and Paul Rudd’s charm all over again. It’s one of those movies that’s part coming-of-age and part romance. It’s fiercely debated online whether it’s a romcom or not—I think it is!
Three words to describe what you’re writing next?
Oooh, they’re both romcoms coming out in 2021.
For the YA: DIGITAL DETOX CAMP
For the ADULT: F*CK WALL STREET