Lauren discusses her debut novel Last Tang Standing, the importance of humor in books, the way reading promotes empathy and understanding, choosing to write the book in diary format, and coming up with the idea for the novel while she was a stand-up comedian.
Lauren discusses her debut novel Last Tang Standing, the importance of humor in books, the way reading promotes empathy and understanding, choosing to write the book in diary format, coming up with the idea for the novel while she was an amateur stand-up comic, and much more.
Last Tang Standing can be purchased at Murder by the Book.
Lauren’s 6 recommended reads are:
book, read, tang, authors, title, singapore, people, faced, standing, funny, different cultures, write, cover, age, thought, love, hope, podcast, diary, comedic
Lauren Ho, Cindy Burnett
Cindy Burnett 00:09
This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast where I interview authors about their latest works. Listen to what inspired the storyline, how their covers and titles were chosen, their personal connection to the story, and other fascinating tidbits about the authors themselves. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books. I can be found on Instagram and Pinterest at @thoughtsfromapage. And if you have any comments about the podcast or feedback for me, you can reach me through my website, www.thoughtsfromapage.com. Lauren Ho is a reformed legal counsel who writes funny stories. 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. Today, she's talking with me about the Last Tang Standing, her debut novel. Thanks so much for listening. And I hope you enjoy the show. Welcome, Lauren. I am really looking forward to talking with you about Last Tang Standing. How are you today?
Lauren Ho 01:10
I'm great. I'm great. As good as one can be under current circumstances. And how about you?
Cindy Burnett 01:15
Doing well. I really, really liked Last Tang Standing. It was so entertaining. And so funny. I just laughed constantly while I was reading it, which is definitely welcome in this year of crazy times.
Lauren Ho 01:27
Thank you very much. I appreciate it. When you especially when people tell me like oh, it's not typically a genre with pickup, but like your book is so funny. It carried me through everything. So. So that's a really nice thing for you to say. Thanks.
Cindy Burnett 01:41
Why don't we start out by you telling me a little bit about Last Tang Standing?
Lauren Ho 01:46
Sure. So Last Tang Standing basically follows a 30-something female lawyer who is based in Singapore and trying to make her way up the corporate ladder, fending off the unhealthy interests her mom displays in her love life. So it's a, it's a comedic novel. It's a little bit like a coming-of-age novel in a way. But it also has this really nice romantic subplot. So for fans of romcom, you've got like that romantic element in it. And for people who are just looking for a light read with cultural elements, while it, it would satisfy that itch as well. So that's the book.
Cindy Burnett 02:26
How did you decide to write about this subject matter?
Lauren Ho 02:29
So I, myself am a millennial who has faced a lot of the issues that my protagonist Andrea has. But I like to stress that my parents are totally not like the parents, the relatives in Last Tang Standing because I'm half joking, but I kind of want to be invited to the next like family gathering. (both laugh) I like to stress that my parents are really cool. And in fact, most of my immediate family members are really cool. And not at all, like the tiger parents that you would think populate like Singapore. So I mean, I faced a lot of the challenges that Andrea my protagonists has faced, but like at an earlier stage of my life, and I actually thought of the, I dreamt up the book, basically from a set that I had done on stage. So I was an amateur stand up comic for maybe two years in Singapore. And I was just doing a set about like conditional love and Asian parents. And I just thought to myself, like, there's something there. And I started like writing down ideas. And I got the idea for a character. And that's basically how the book was born.
Cindy Burnett 03:40
I think this is a relevant topic. For many cultures, trying to in our modern world understand that it's okay to maintain your own culture, but also bring in new people and learn new things.
Lauren Ho 03:52
This is common to a lot of immigrant cultures, because maybe in the past, they had faced a lot of microaggressions in their host country based on the fact that they're just different. I think that kind of makes a lot of the these parents who are growing up in a host country, very protective of their children, and they kind of want to spare the children as much of the hurt and pain that they have experienced themselves growing up. And they believe, rightly or wrongly, that if the children kind of stick to the people who have the same background as them, they won't have to face as much difficulties just getting along together. I think it's just like self preservation. So a lot of it is just like fear of the unknown, or just wanting to keep the status quo and just making sure to everything's as comfortable as possible for the children and also for themselves. Because, you know, they're, they're getting along and age and things like that. So I think there is an element of that. But I completely agree. I just think that there are a lot of elements about like culture shock and, and just, I don't want quite casual racism. I just think that the inability to accept different cultures is very much not just an Asian thing I think it's just very common in, in countries where there are a lot of different cultures living together. And there might have been a difficult history in the past. And people are just trying to figure out in this day and age how to get along better. So I think there are a lot of themes in here, in Last Tang Standing, that could basically translate to like, people who are not from Asian culture basically.
Cindy Burnett 05:22
I agree completely. And I think you're saying that way more articulately than I did. But that was my point that I think that the issues at issue in Last Tang Standing really are relevant to anyone today and learning to deal with different cultures, and people are frequently afraid of what's different from them. And I think trying to learn and understand different cultures is the first step toward that.
Lauren Ho 05:45
Yes, and reading is just so important, because reading outside your comfort zone is really important. And I'm so glad I myself am supposedly an Own Voices author so, I'm really glad that in the states there is like this whole push right now because of Black Lives Matter or even before that, that they really, really want to see marginalized voices being elevated in publishing. And I'm so glad for that because it's just, it's just so timely. And it's just so necessary, because people, like fiction is a way of bridging that divide in understanding different cultures. So I think it's just, it's so necessary, and just so timely, and I'm, I'm for it. So I'm just really glad that that's happening.
Cindy Burnett 06:26
I agree completely. I have learned so much recently from reading various Own Voices authors and their books. And I think it is completely necessary. And it is a great way to get glimpses into other cultures.
Lauren Ho 06:39
Yeah, especially now this day and age where we can't really travel as well, when we kind of confined to the home. So it's just a wonderful way to escape as well. You know, it's just like, Oh, I can't go to Capri, but I can read a Kevin Kwan's new book, you know, I mean.
Cindy Burnett 06:53
I'm looking forward to the days when we can travel again.
Lauren Ho 06:56
I hope so too.
Cindy Burnett 06:57
I love the way you tell the story in diary entries. How did you decide to use that format?
Lauren Ho 07:02
Well, I think I always wanted to write in the first person POV. And because Andrea has such a, such a distinct comedic voice, I wanted it to be in diary form, because I wanted people to get a sense of who she was immediately, like from the first page. And it's just such an intimate way to get access to the thought process of a protagonist, you know, using a diary form. So for me, there was like, there was no debate, I, I just knew that Andrea had to be written in diary form.
Cindy Burnett 07:34
I really enjoy that type of format. And she is so funny. So the diary format really worked well for telling her story.
Lauren Ho 07:41
Cindy Burnett 07:41
Well, I absolutely love the title on this one. So tell me about it. Was that the title you had from the beginning? or how did you how did you come up with the title?
Lauren Ho 07:49
That is really a really good question. Because I remember when I was on submission, I had a totally different title. And I'm a bit embarrassed to repeat it now. But because I thought it was like so funny and sardonic, and whatever, but that I think about it, I cringe because it is cringy. And I don't know how I settled on Last Tang Standing. It was supposed to be a placeholder title until I got something more. I don't know what I was aiming for. But let's just say my editor, my agent loved it. And they were like, Oh, yeah, that's what you should go with. That's good. That's good. So Last Tang Standing became the title. But it wasn't the Last Tang Standing in the beginning. And I'm so glad that we changed it Last Tang Standing because I think it's catchy. And it's memorable, I hope, and a little bit mysterious, because you're not really sure what Tang means. There's some kind of science to getting the title right. And I think it kind of hits all the quadrants.
Cindy Burnett 08:47
I think it definitely does. It's very relevant to the story, you understand it pretty early on as you're reading and it's memorable. But I have to ask what the cringy title was?
Lauren Ho 08:57
(laughs) I knew you were gonna ask. Okay, so originally when I was trying to get agents, and it was like, My Mother Is Watching Me Date: A Novel or something. And I'm thinking about it. Now. I'm just like, ugh it's such a long title. And it's not even funny. I don't know. I don't know why I was thinking. But yeah, that was the original title.
Cindy Burnett 09:17
Well, I do like Last Tang Standing a little better. But I do think it's catchy. And it's easy to remember, I sometimes think some of those titles that just have kind of a bunch of words strung together, it's harder to remember them because you're like, what order do they come in? What is the title but Last Tang Standing is going to stick with you immediately.
Lauren Ho 09:34
Cindy Burnett 09:35
And that cover that is actually the whole reason I picked up the book. I think it is just fabulous. So tell me about how the cover came about.
Lauren Ho 09:43
So I wasn't exactly, unlike Que Mai who I think you interviewed a few episodes ago, I wasn't really given like so many options. I was given like one option, and I made some modifications to it. I think because my editor loved it so much. She was like almost afraid that if I saw the others, I would be like, Oh, no, I think I preferred the other. But yeah, I didn't have so much say in it. And it's the same for my UK cover as well. I think I was just given, like the final product and just like, oh, what do you think? And I thought, it's pretty great. I'm not an expert, but it looks cool. And kind of in the spirit of the book, so I just went with it. But then later, I don't know how I came across the person's, like the illustrator, who did the digital art for the U.S. cover, the red one. I think her name is Sandra Chu. And I happened across a blog, and I saw the different options. And they were really, really good. But I must say that, like the red cover was like the clear winner. So I mean, I'm glad I didn't. I mean, I'm the kind of person if you give me like, a lot of choice, I get confused. So maybe, maybe that was a good thing that they just like stuck to one option. Then I had some say in how it looked but yeah.
Cindy Burnett 11:08
I love it, and red is my favorite color. So I'm always drawn to anything red. But I just think it's very simple and clean. And I love how "a novel" is written in her earring. I just think it's really, really well done. And it's different. And I think in this day and age, when you see a lot of covers that look similar or have the same imagery, that this is fabulous, because it just stands out. And you know, it's your book, the second you see it.
Lauren Ho 11:33
Yeah, it's a really great cover. I mean, props to props to Sandra, Sandra did a great job.
Cindy Burnett 11:39
Well, are you working on anything at the present?
Lauren Ho 11:42
I am kind of working on a standalone novel, which I hope will be picked up by my editor. Hint, hint. It's completely different. It's not set in the so-called Tang universe, as one of my readers named it, and I love it. This is a completely different novel. It's standalone, it's going to be set in Singapore. And it involves a fictional company that's kind of like Bloomberg, and a protagonist who's basically like, again, like not big fan of what she's doing, but and has like other interests outside of work. And this one involves like a podcast. So I'm really hoping they get picked up because I think it's it's great. And obviously I'm biased. But yeah, that's what I'm working on right now.
Cindy Burnett 12:27
And that sounds really interesting. Well, I look forward to seeing it when it makes its way out into the world. How long does it take you to write a book? Like how long did it take for you to write Last Tang Standing ?
Lauren Ho 12:37
Well, the first iteration of Last Tang Standing, which I used to submit to agents and stuff, took me about a year, but it wasn't great. So I got like, a few rejections but a few, like, revise and resubmit requests, right? So I did some revision. So I guess all in all, it took about a year and a half before, from like from the first day I started writing to the day I got an agent, it took about a year and a half. But basically after I got an agent, and we did another revision, it took maybe two months where we had the right version to sell to a publisher, and we sold it over a week or less. I think it was really, really fast. So I guess all in all, it took me a year and a half to write the book with some time after that to revise, and it took me, yeah, but took me about three years to get to see the book on the shelves, which apparently is quite fast. I don't know. Apparently, it's quite fast from like, the day was acquired till the day was published, it took like 11 months. So that's pretty fast for a book. But yeah, the whole process was pretty fast.
Cindy Burnett 13:47
That is very fast. 11 months is really quick. I've had friends whose books have sold and then you know, it's a year and a half later before it's actually published.
Lauren Ho 13:56
Oh, that's a typical timeline a year and a half to two years. But this is fast, because I'm a bit of a perfectionist. So I was noodling. And like playing around with this with the edits, even like, to the very end. And my editor was just like, it's cool. It's cool. It's been good for ages Just give me the book. And I was like, No, but there's this scene. I really need to like not edit my book so much.
Cindy Burnett 14:20
Well, it's hard.
Lauren Ho 14:21
Just trust the editor.
Cindy Burnett 14:22
Yeah, just let it go. You know, I was so curious. Where did the inspiration for Orson come from?
Lauren Ho 14:28
Oh. I had a friend who's had some interesting Tinder experiences. And in Singapore they were there was at one point this like scammer, who like cheated some women from like out of their money, and I just kind of put all that together and made Orson up. But yeah.
Cindy Burnett 14:51
He was entertaining. I actually really enjoyed that storyline. What do you like to do when you're not writing or reading?
Lauren Ho 14:57
I guess it's probably like a pre-pandemic and post-pandemic response, like pre-pandemic, I used to love to travel and read. And I guess watch Netflix. But I guess nowadays, since we can't travel, I guess it's just Netflix and reading.
Cindy Burnett 15:13
I read a lot too. And you know, early in the pandemic, I couldn't really focus. I was having a hard time just because I felt it was so stressful. And I was constantly watching my CNN feed as to what was happening. And finally, my husband's like, you need to put that phone away. You know, it was stressful. And so then I started reading, and I've been able to read even more than I normally do, because there's so much more time. So that's been really nice.
Lauren Ho 15:37
And it's just been such a good year for books as well. I feel I don't know. I think like, before this year, there was a point in time when I was just not reading that much, which is really sad because I didn't have time, because you know, of work and stuff. But, like this year, I've read so many books, and it's been such a good year. I mean, there's just such a, such a bumper crop of books this year, like literally, and it's just wonderful. It's such it's just like a treasure trove of books. I love it.
Cindy Burnett 16:09
I agree completely. I actually specialize in historical fiction. And so I do the She Reads historical fiction roundups. And I just recently turned in the initial 2020 Best of, and I couldn't get it any lower than 14. I usually can get to 10. But there have just been so many good books come out this year, but I agree. I think 2020 has been a great year for books.
Lauren Ho 16:30
Yeah, it's been really, really good. What would you recommend from historical fiction? Well, like okay, three, let's just have three.
Cindy Burnett 16:37
Well, Fiona Davis's The Lions of Fifth Avenue is really good. And that is the number one recommended book by authors to come on my podcast. I mean, it just over and over again, it's been interesting. And then Hazel Gaynor has a book coming out in October called When We Were Young and Brave about the Japanese occupation of China and then a British school, who ended up impacted by that during World War Two. It's really good. And I love Susie Orman Schnall's We Came Here to Shine about the 1939 World's Fair in New York. And then obviously, Que Mai's book The Mountains Sing is one of my favorite books this year. I just think it's amazing.
Lauren Ho 17:16
Okay, I've got to read it, because I was planning to but I was just worried, you know, because the subject matter is quite heavy. And she's such a good writer, because I've like read some of her other translated stuff. And I, I wanted to read it earlier, but I've just been trying not to get into like, really, really heavy subject matter books. So I've got to read it. I've heard such good things about it.
Cindy Burnett 17:38
I mean, it's just absolutely beautiful and the fact that she wrote it in English is just amazing.
I know. It's, it's it's really I mean, she's she can do it all. I've also heard off Fiona Davis's book from a couple of people. I don't remember. I'm gonna pick it. I'm gonna check it out. Yeah.
Cindy Burnett 17:58
Well, on that subject, why don't you tell me what you've read lately that you really liked?
Lauren Ho 18:02
I'm going to start with like the more established authors, because I'm going to do a few of my debut author friends. So from like established authors, I really like Brit Bennett's, The Vanishing Half. And I really love Laila Lalami. I hope I'm saying her name right Laila Lalami, The Other Americans. And I just finished Emily St. John Mandel's, The Glass Hotel. And I thought it was fabulous. I really loved it. So I guess like that would be my three recommendations from like established authors. From my debut group, a recently read Forever 51 by Pamela. Oh my gosh, I'm gonna butcher her name. So I don't know how to Skjolsvik I think, but it's a great book because it's about a menopausal woman, in her in her 50s, who's a vampire and she's trying to like atone for her crimes and is basically such a funny book. It's comedic women's fiction. And I also read Madi Sinha The White Coat Diaries. I was asked to blurb for it a long time ago. And I thought it was just a really good, warm, funny coming-of-age novel about a young doctor who's basically like faced with some ethical dilemmas and like how she gets, extricates herself out of that. And it's so well done for anyone who's looking for a contemporary women's fiction book, and Own Voices as well. And I have one more recommendation. This is kind of like a genre in itself. I guess. It's feminist women book, I guess by my fellow debut author Lainey Cameron, she wrote this book called The Exit Strategy. And it's just a really well done story about two women who are basically like, trying to make sense of their lives after they find out that they've been kind of like seeing the same man, and it's set in Silicon Valley. So it's really interesting. Like I like when I have glimpses into worlds that I know nothing of whether it's just like a different age group or a different setting or a different world, you know, a different country, a different culture. So these are the three books I really enjoyed from my fellow debut authors, but there are others.
Cindy Burnett 20:22
I have The White Coat Diaries on my Kindle or my Kindle app from NetGalley. And I need to get to it. I keep hearing how good it is.
Lauren Ho 20:31
I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I also really want to read Saumya Dave. Her book is Well- Behaved Indian Women. And I've heard such good things about it as well. And I really want to that's like my next, it's on my TBR. It's like, I have to read that book. So really excited about that.
Cindy Burnett 20:46
It looks like it's good too, and people have been highly recommending it. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Lauren, on the Thoughts from a Page Podcast. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Lauren Ho 20:56
Thank you so much for having me. It was great.
Cindy Burnett 21:00
Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you liked this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram at @thoughtsfrompage, tell all of your friends about the podcast and rate it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I would greatly appreciate it. Lauren's book can be purchased at Murder by the Book where I work part time, and the link is in the show notes. Thanks to K.P. Regan for the sound editing and I hope to see you next time.