Suzanne Park is the author of several contemporary romances for both adult and teen readers. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous, her latest YA, is a laugh-out-loud-funny story of a mid-range teen influencer who is sent to a digital detox camp on a farm in Iowa after one of her live baking videos accidentally turns PG-13. I’m very happy to have Suzanne here to answer a few questions about her latest book which has already become one of my favorites.
Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Suzanne Park: I was a kid who loved reading, but was limited by the types of books we had at our school library and public library system. I grew up in a small suburb in Nashville with underfunded schools and libraries, so you can imagine how limited the selection of books was for a curious Korean-American girl growing up in Tennessee!
It never occurred to me that I could be an author one day. I didn’t do particularly well in my English classes and my HS English teachers didn’t think AP English was a good fit for me. There weren’t any creative writing classes offered in my high school, and in college the closest courses they offered at the time were for poetry and journalism.
As an adult though, I took a lot of writing classes (one was held at an old Best Western in downtown Seattle) and had picked up stand-up comedy along the way. By doing stand up, I was able to refine my joke writing and hone my voice.
My first novel I drafted 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 into a mentorship contest called Pitch Wars in 2016. In this contest, 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, wrote and sold my adult and YA debut novels.
Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous?
Suzanne: I was inspired to write SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS after watching a Korean documentary about game addiction. The story followed five teenagers who were sent to internet addiction camps in rural areas for treatment. It made me wonder if we had camps like these in the U.S. (they don’t). So then the question for me became, what if I wrote a novel about a teen who was sent away to a digital detox camp? Around the same time, I went out to dinner with my family and noticed that nearly everyone at this nice restaurant was constantly checking their phone. It made me think hard about how society had evolved such that this had become the norm. After I turned in my finished book to my editor, the Netflix documentary THE SOCIAL DILEMMA released. It raised a lot of issues and challenges with social media and technology, and I had included many of the same points in my novel.
Miss Print: Sunny’s relationship with social media and her phone is complex to say the least. What’s your own relationship to tech and social media like? Do you have a favorite platform? Least favorite?
Suzanne: I have my high engagement days and “off” days. After doing so much digital detox research, I’m better able to recognize and control my consumption, but it’s not easy. My favorite platform is Instagram, and I’ve started to use Clubhouse more regularly. I find Twitter a little scary and I’m too wordy for the character limit, but I still engage when I think of something that makes more sense on that platform. I actually downloaded TikTok a long time ago, but took it off my phone pretty soon after that because of security breach concerns. I never put it back on my phone.
Miss Print: Sunny’s experiences throughout the book, both at Sunshine Farms and as an influencer, might seem far-fetched but (minus the farm animals) are all grounded in real content creator concerns as well as actual tips and tricks from experts to have a better relationship with technology. What reading and research did you do to get these details right?
Suzanne: As part of the research for this book, I read tech articles, listened to business podcasts, read tech company financial statements and books like DIGITAL MINIMALISM, ESSENTIALISM and ATOMIC HABITS. These books are tech and/or business-focused ones that teens don’t typically read. I distilled some of the main points and themes from these books and included them in SUNNY SONG in a way that I hope can help teens think about their media usage and better understand the tech companies’ motivations behind the technology. After all of my research, my social media consumption has gone way down. Oh! I also read books about farming and read Laura Ingalls Wilder novels, Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables to get the setting right.
Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. So, of course, I have to ask: How would Sunny and your other characters be handling the pandemic?
Suzanne: I try hard to emphasize in the book that social media isn’t necessarily “bad,” but rather tech companies have motivations and incentives that you may not be aware of, and people have control over how they’re spending their time. Using tech platforms to connect with friends and family for enjoyment can be wonderful. But it’s the mindless scrolling and extreme focus on online personas that can be unhealthy, and I would hope after the camp experience they’d be more aware of it. I can absolutely see Sunny, her new farm mates, and close friends using this time to stay connected, trying “high value” funny and possibly over-the-top and absurd things to pass the time.
Miss Print: You have written books both for adult readers and teens. Does your writing process change depending on your audience? How do you know when you’ve found the right voice for your story?
Suzanne: My writing process doesn’t change much between age groups… I seem to dive head first into doing research with almost everything I write, whether it’s about gaming, or zombies or farms! I do focus hard on voice and try to accurately reflect the views of teens and adults given realistic life experiences of my characters. So my teens stumble through life and figure lots of things out for themselves. My adults will have more life experiences yet may have more deeply ingrained beliefs or misbeliefs that guide their decisions and actions.
I don’t always nail the voice at first, sometimes I have to rewrite the first few pages to get the main character’s perspective right.
Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next release?
Suzanne: SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS is a coming-of-age story featuring a Korean-American L.A. based teen influencer Sunny Song who is sent to a digital detox camp in Iowa. It explores themes of social media obsession, identity, and what it means to be truly connected. This book releases June 1st.
SO WE MEET AGAIN is a part coming-of-age story, part love story in which a young Korean American woman discovers that finding a new career and new love means learning to embrace the awkward and unexpected—exploring familial expectations, finding your voice, and unimaginably falling for your childhood rival. This book comes out later in the summer, August 3rd.
Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
Suzanne: I took so many detours before I became an author, so I always urge writers of all ages to not give up. I read broadly and encourage others to do the same— it really helps you figure out what type of writing you like to read, and also helps you see what you don’t enjoy reading, which is just as important.
No two writers are the same, and you might need time to figure out what works for you, whether it’s writing a little every day or writing large chunks in a workshop, sprinting with friends or writing alone without distractions, or plotting versus winging it.
And finally, don’t assume all writers understood and loved Shakespeare. In high school I failed many quizzes and essays about Shakespeare…it doesn’t determine your destiny!
Thank you again to Suzanne for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Suzanne’s books on her website.