Interview: Suzanne Park, Author of The Perfect Escape and Loathe At First Sight

Please Note: I received electronic review copies of both The Perfect Escape and Loathe At First Sight and was monetarily compensated in exchange for composing and hosting an interview with the author. This compensation in no way affected my opinions.

Title The Perfect Escape
Author Suzanne Park
Pages 320 Pages
Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Humour, M/F Romance
Publication Date April 7th 2020 by Sourcebooks Fire
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From debut author Suzanne Park comes The Perfect Escape, a hysterical comedy about a teen boy who teams up with his crush to enter a survivalist competition, only to discover that love is its own battlefield.

Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?

Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate’s colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate’s problems, and she needs the money too.

If the two of them team up, Nate has a real shot of winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact…

Title Loathe At First Sight
Author Suzanne Park
Pages 368 Pages
Target Audience Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, M/F Romance
Publication Date August 18th 2020 by Avon
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In a debut perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Sally Thorne, a junior video game producer finds herself getting closer and closer to the one person she hates most after a mass troll attack online almost ruins her life.

Melody Joo is thrilled to land her dream job as a video game producer, but her new position comes with challenges: an insufferable CEO; sexist male coworkers; and an infuriating — yet distractingly handsome — intern, Nolan MacKenzie, aka “the guy who got hired because his uncle is the boss.”

Just when Melody thinks she’s made the worst career move of her life, her luck changes. While joking with a friend, she creates a mobile game that has male strippers fighting for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Suddenly Melody’s “joke” is her studio’s most high-profile project — and Melody’s running the show.

When Nolan is assigned to Melody’s team, she’s sure he’ll be useless. But as they grow closer, she realizes he’s smart and sexy, which makes Melody want to forget he’s her intern. As their attraction deepens, she knows it’s time to pump the brakes, even with her Korean parents breathing down her neck to hurry up and find a man.

With her project about to launch, Melody suddenly faces a slew of complications, including a devastating trolling scandal. Could the man she’s falling hard for help her play the game to win — in work and in love?

About Suzanne Park

Suzanne Park is a Korean-American writer who was born and raised in Tennessee.

In her former life as a stand up comedian, Suzanne was a finalist in the Oxygen Network’s “Girls Behaving Badly” talent search, and appeared on BET’s “Coming to the Stage.” She found this to be the funniest thing in her comedy career because, well, she is not black. She was also the winner of the Seattle Sierra Mist Comedy Competition, and was a semi-finalist in NBC’s “Stand Up For Diversity” showcase in San Francisco.

She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, female offspring, and a sneaky rat that creeps around on her back patio. In her spare time, she procrastinates. Her YA romantic comedy debut, The Perfect Escape, releases April 7, 2020 and her adult romcom Loathe At First Sight comes out August 4, 2020.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

1. Professionally-speaking, 2020 has been quite exciting for you, as you’ve had both a young adult novel (The Perfect Escape) and an adult novel (Loathe At First Sight) published in a single year! I’d love to hear a little about your experiences drafting and publishing books for two different target audiences. Did you encounter any significant or interesting differences between writing (and publishing) books for a young adult reader versus an adult reader?

The publication experiences for my two books were so different that it’s hard to even compare them (so a note to writers: journeys toward publication may vary widely!). For all of my books, I try to do something “hard” that I’ve never done before so I’m learning new things and stretching to new levels. When I wrote my YA book The Perfect Escape I wanted to challenge myself in two ways: by writing a dual POV (which I’d never tried) and writing the book primarily from a male teen’s perspective. It took about 5 months to draft and one month to edit. The developmental edits weren’t too bad when the editor came back with notes, and the voice and humor stayed the same from the beginning. I love this book because it’s nuanced and layered, and has so much energy and momentum.

For Loathe At First Sight, I actually wrote it two years before The Perfect Escape, and redrafted it (a 50% rewrite by the end) from being a darker comedy to a workplace comedy with romance. That book took a lot longer from start to finish with all of the story and plot changes, but adding to that, I wanted to make sure I had all the gaming industry details right, so I did a ton of research for this novel. The last thing I wanted was for people to discount the book because it wasn’t an accurate representation of what it’s like to work in gaming. My adult editor loved the main character’s voice and the feminist message, so I’m thrilled this one will be in people’s hands soon.

One challenge has been trying to talk about the books to people outside of the book world because they might not know exactly what you mean by saying a book is “YA” or “Adult” (one ex-co-worker asked, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ADULT? LIKE X RATED?”) so I have had to think hard about explaining how these markets and age groups differ and how the potential readers would be different.

2. In addition to describing Melody’s initial feelings toward her potential love interest, the title of your adult novel, Loathe At First Sight, seems to be a playful reference to a beloved romance trope, ‘enemies to lovers’. From fake relationships to love triangles, every reader looks for and loves something different in the romances they read. What romance (or other literary) tropes do you enjoy reading (or writing!) most and why?

Yes! I love a good enemies-to-lovers. To be perfectly honest (confession time)…I didn’t exactly know what tropes were when I first started writing (I know, so embarrassing). I knew what they were in theory, but I never thought about them as categories for the stories. And I don’t usually know until after I start figuring out the main characters’ backstories that I determine the trope(s) my book might include. I just turned in my YA book to my editor that’s about a city girl falling for a country boy — it’s an idea I’ve had for a long while and finally put it to paper. But I didn’t think of this as “opposites attract” story until I was well into figuring out the characters’ misbeliefs, strengths and flaws because I didn’t want it to be a superficial “opposites” conflict.

I love reading and watching a good forbidden love story (there’s a little bit in that in Loathe too because the love interest is technically her employee). The adult book I’m drafting now has a childhood rivals-to-lovers storyline, and it’s been a ton of fun to write because they dredge old sh*t from their past lives that they need to get over but haven’t.

3. I recently read a fascinating post you shared on The Geek Embassy in which you spoke about how your initial perception of Loathe At First Sight as a light-hearted workplace romantic comedy shifted to something a little more serious after speaking with those in the gaming industry and doing extensive research on the subject. Why was it important to you to accurately capture the gatekeeping, misogyny and racism that so often makes the gaming industry unsafe for female creators and players (particularly those from a marginalized identity), and what was it like to to craft the novel to reflect this situation accurately while also including a secondary romantic subplot? Was it difficult to balance these potentially disparate elements of the story?

When I came up with the idea of this book, I’d initially thought it would be a fun and lighthearted workplace comedy, like The Office, but set in the world of gaming. But as soon as I scratched the surface, it was instantly clear to me that the gaming industry was not fun and games for women, especially for women of color. Sexual harassment and racism was (and is) pervasive and rampant, and not much changed for women in gaming over the last ten years.

Most of what you’ll read in Loathe At First Sight is absurd and humorous, but there are some cringe-worthy and very serious parts as well that were important to my story because I wanted to shed light on the macro- and microaggressions, racism, sexism, and harassment prevalent in the game world without diminishing the seriousness of the problem. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

The workplace romance is a source of conflict for Melody because she’s already in a tough situation at work, and one wrong move on the relationship front could mean immediate termination. What I loved most about Melody and Nolan’s relationship though was they helped each other grow and thrive in a workplace where everyone had pegged them as something they weren’t, and this isn’t something I see often in workplace comedies. I thought the title Loathe At First Sight worked perfectly for the book because it wasn’t only about the enemies-to-lovers relationship, but also that the main character is surrounded by hateful naysayers who want to see her fail.

In my past life as a stand-up comedian, I didn’t shy away from racism and sexism in my material so I wanted to try to do the same here with providing humor alongside social commentary. Publishers Weekly said that I wrote a novel from a female game producer’s perspective that makes “tough topics go down easy by couching them in wry humor,” so I hope I was successful in providing a balance of seriousness with comedy.

4. As someone who struggles with confrontation, one of the things I admired most about Melody in Loathe At First Sight was her ability to advocate for herself and fearlessly speak up when she witnessed injustice or inequality. Do you have any words of wisdom for those of us who want to feel more comfortable and confident speaking up in our own lives?

Melody shows strength in ways that I didn’t necessarily have in my late 20s and I wanted to show her confidence in the story in a realistic way (for example, I didn’t want to have her all of a sudden out of the blue waking up with complete self-confidence or coming up with a brilliant million dollar business idea out of nowhere). What she does do in the story is surround herself with likeminded people at work who provide support and seek help from those who are more senior to her to provide mentorship, support and advocacy (speaking up too) when she needs them the most. Melody wasn’t the most salesy person, or great at media engagement (she outsourced those things to Asher), but she does get some practice too by chatting with people at the convention and generating enthusiasm for her game. She also celebrated her wins with her team, which really showed her strength as a leader (she also gave them donuts haha). Later on, she give a big speech in front of her company, and all these things she did prepped her for that. I learned how to do a lot of these things later in my working career, and in hindsight I wish I had done them earlier.

5. When Melody’s loved ones learn of the disrespect and difficulties she’s experiencing at work in Loathe At First Sight, they encourage her to quit, but she insists on keeping her job and seeing her video game project through to completion. Why did you feel it was important for Melody to remain in – and fight for – her job, and do you have any advice or guidance you could share with those who find themselves in a situation similar to Melody’s?

Melody’s motivations change early in the book: at first she planned to stay there for the money (bonuses) and “coolness” factor, but then after Melody overhears some male executives trash talk her, a fire lights inside her and she is determined to get her game released. She wants to show her jerk executives, coworkers and trolls that they’ve underestimated her.

My advice would be to surround yourself with people who advocate for you. This also means to go out of your way to find those people, and that can be a little weird, networking and introducing yourself to others, but what I’ve found is that people actually like it when people go out of their way to introduce themselves.

I also recommend showcasing wins. This might not be for everyone, but when I worked at a huge company on a large advertising team, I used to put all the ads I worked on on the intimidating general manager’s chair with a note, something like: “Great to see this team get these out the door! The product team loves the work!” He’d see me later and mention it in casual conversation and my colleagues were so impressed. How did the general manager know what I was working on? It’s because I got my accomplishments in front of him and he remembered me because I took initiative. And the best thing? I didn’t even have to talk to him. It didn’t take much, just a color printer and a post-it. But he always remembered my name.

6. Zombies make seem to be a fun and consistent theme in your work! In The Perfect Escape, both Nate and Kate work at a zombie-themed escape room. In Loathe At First Sight, Melody devices a game in which male strippers have to fight off (among other things) zombies in a post-apocalyptic setting. Why zombies, and what are some of your favourite pieces of zombie-themed media?

Haha I’m so glad you noticed this! I’ve been obsessed with zombies and apocalypse survival for a long time, and it all started because of The Walking Dead. I’ve seen every episode (and read a few comics) and bought all sorts of survival guides so that I’d know how to stay alive if the apocalypse came. My favorite zombie media would be Train to Busan, The Kingdom, World War Z (book and movie).

7. From Kate’s pursuit of acting in The Perfect Escape to Melody’s resilience in the gaming industry in Loathe At First Sight, two prominent themes in your work seem to concern the pursuit of one’s dreams and finding – and fighting for – where you belong. Is there anything you hope readers will take away from your work?

As someone who was once pre-med and pursued an MBA degree that she doesn’t use anymore, I am a firm believer in pursuing dreams and figuring out where you belong. I know for a fact I wasn’t put on this earth for my excel spreadsheet and surveymonkey skills. It took a long, winding path to get to where I am in my writing career, but looking back, I don’t think I could have had this career any earlier. I needed my life experiences to help me figure out what kinds of stories I want to write. And I had to try out a bunch of things to figure out what I did and didn’t like in a career. Over time, what you care about evolves as life circumstances change. What you want in life might not happen overnight, or turn out exactly the way you wanted it, but I like to believe that you can get there with time and patience. A dose of good luck would help, too!

8. Melody’s journey in Loathe At First Sight is complete and satisfying, but it seems like there might be more to Nate and Kate’s story. Can readers look forward to a sequel to The Perfect Escape and are there any hints or snippets you can share about what that might entail?

I’d love for there to be a continuation to Nate and Kate’s story. I wrote The Perfect Escape so it could be a standalone with the possibility of a sequel. The book I pitched though is another YA standalone so we will have to wait a bit on any Nate and Kate developments. Fingers crossed they’ll get to have more survival adventures together!

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Jen is a thirty-something Canadian book blogger and bibliophile currently residing in the wilds of suburbia. Aside from a penchant for older men, particularly those with the surnames Firth, Elba and Norton, Jen is also passionately interested in running, Mad Men, and Marilyn Monroe. In addition to being a voracious reader and self-proclaimed television addict, Jen is also an aspiring children and youth services librarian who would like to pursue a MLIS and better help readers find the perfect book for them.