Soka University featured in a chapter of Ties That Bind, by local author
Suzanne Chun, the wife of Aliso Viejo city councilman and Soka Bistro frequenter Ross Chun, recently published a book Ties That Bind: Tales of Love, Family, and Friendship which contains several short nonfiction stories that represent some of her most treasured memories. As the title suggests, the stories she chose to incorporate left a deep imprint on her life. In one of the book’s chapters, she shares her experience at an event she attended at Soka where the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams spoke. The contribution made by Betty Williams is a powerful illustration of the positive effect strong social ties can have on a society. The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited. Her book is available on Amazon.
JN: Growing up, who was your biggest role model?
SC: My mom.
JN: Is there any particular lesson she taught you that has stuck with you to this day?
SC: She has overcome a lot of challenges. She has achieved a lot. Even though she was working a lot, she was always there for us or tried to be there for us. She would bake cookies. She made a lot of homemade things. I know it wasn’t easy for her with work, but she still did that. … And even now she tells me she is guilty about the things she couldn’t do for us. And I’m like, “Mom you did a lot. You did a lot of things that stay-at-home moms do.” It’s incredible. She always created that happy home wherever we were.
JN: Turning to the book itself, can you point to a specific source of inspiration for writing this book?
SC: I will think of an event in my life and think that will make a story. I just love talking about an episode, or an incident or a period of time because it takes me back. And I love going back and engrossing myself in a different time and kind of enjoying it all over again.
JN: I am curious about your creative process. In particular, how did you determine which memories you wanted to incorporate in this book? What difficulties did you face, if any, in writing out your past recollections?
SC: It’s really interesting because it’s not my whole life. It’s only certain incidences here and there. The memories come to me kind of as a theme or a lesson I learned. Or just something I can take away from it. And there’s a lot of periods in my life that I would like to write about but it’s just kind of random fond memories. There isn’t a theme that ties them all together. So that’s how I choose. They kind of just come to me.
All of my memories were a pleasure to write about. “The House on Key Avenue” I debated about because there was a little dysfunction in that story. I talked to my mom about it at length. We enjoyed reminiscing about it. [The story is about] when our family pretended to live in one house but actually lived in another. I decided to leave it in there because it’s such a colorful year. Also, nobody’s life is perfect. I need to share parts of my life that aren’t perfect.
JN: What has this whole process taught you about yourself?
SC: I started with a writing class and then in my writing group I just realized that I like to write these stories. And I didn’t write them in order. I wrote them all over the place. In the end, I assembled them in order. And so I’m in a writing critique group. As my memories came to me, I would write them out and have my group critique them. Some of the more involved stories I had critiqued a couple of times because I really needed to edit them a lot. It was over a seven-year period that I wrote the stories.
JN: Moving to the content itself, the story you wrote about Betty Williams really stuck with me. After hearing her personal efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland, when, in your opinion, as individuals do we need to stand up for other people’s rights?
SC: There’s a quote. I don’t have it word for word. I think it might be Martin Luther King who said it. These are my words, not his. When we don’t speak up for what’s right, it’s like we are going along with the bad guy. I guess I feel like whenever we can, we need to speak up. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what will be an appropriate way to speak up because you know you can speak out really quickly and angrily and it does more damage than good. I think we do need to try to have a positive dialogue when we are speaking about something is wrong. As early as we can collect our thoughts and find an appropriate way to speak up for justice we should try to.
JN: Do you believe the ties you mention in your book are strong enough to overcome the divisiveness present in our society today?
SC: Yeah. I think it starts with family. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a loving family. But it does start with simple ties like that. We need to realize that those ties are really no different than ties to people across the world. We are all really connected. There are so many studies done showing [the impact of] one person going to the store and being friendly to a store clerk or having a friendly exchange—that clerk passes it on. Every bit of joy or happiness we share with those around us extends around the world. It sounds crazy but it really does happen. If we look at it that way, we can spread it around the world.
JN: Do you have any plans for the future? Any projects on the horizon?
SC: I am working on a middle-grade novel. That’s grades four through sixth grade. It is a mystery novel. It’s fun to immerse myself in fiction and put myself in another world for a little bit. So I am excited about the middle-grade novel.