Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview with Mike Jung - Captain Stupendous himself!


Today I have the great pleasure of introducing an old friend back to the Inkpot. He is also my Ninja beta reader and zombie buddy and an incredibly talented, hysterically funny writer. He was a founding member when we first started the Enchanted Inkpot and I'm so pleased to be able to do an interview with him for his debut book. Please welcome our very own Mike Jung!

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Ello - Hi Mike! Welcome back to the Inkpot! I'm so happy to be able to celebrate your book release with you! So let's start off with the burning question of the day. Why superheroes? Why did you write a superhero book and why do you think that there is such a universal appeal for these type of stories?

Mike - I’m a big believer in the idea that we should write the kinds of stories we ourselves would have enjoyed as kids, and as a kid I was an old-school Silver Age Marvel and DC Comics fan. My older brother was a pretty serious collector – he owned all 18 issues of Silver Surfer Vol. 1 AND every issue of The Fantastic Four that the Surfer originally appeared in, for example, and I’m sure I did him a serious injustice by reading a lot of the resale value out of his collection. I read those comics incessantly (sometimes to tatters), and I spent a lot of time drawing the characters and writing my own stories for them. It was a hugely formative experience for my future creative life. I don’t know if I can speak to the universal appeal of these stories, but I know for me they served an important function. I had a hard adolescence, and I often felt completely alone on a psychological and emotional level. I needed to be able to believe that some people were actually interested in championing the underdogs of the world, rather than trying to hurt or even destroy them. I knew that Superman and his ilk weren’t authentic representations of reality, but even the fantasy of individuals who used their strength in a selfless way made me feel some hope, especially in times when I didn’t otherwise feel it at all. Also, superheroes are just huge fun - the powers! The canned dialogue! The ridiculous costumes!

Ello - Who is your favorite superhero?

Mike - Spider-Man, probably, and yes, the hyphen must be included in the name. Like so many Spider-Man fans, I really identified with what was, at the time, a completely new kind of superhero: a scorned, dismissed, and insecure young teenager, who can’t escape self-doubt and pain despite the fact that he possesses this set of superhuman abilities.

Ello - Huh, you know I never thought of him like that! So how did the idea come to you?

Mike - I started writing Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities after my daughter was born, and my initial thought was to write a book about a girl who discovers that her father is actually a superhero. I know, “wow Mike, that’s so egotistical,” but I was immersed in thoughts and feelings about the father-daughter relationship. The book eventually moved pretty far afield from that concept, but it’s how I got the ball rolling.

Ello - I think that is ridiculously sweet, BTW. How long did it take to write Geeks?

Mike - I started rattling the keyboard in late 2006, I secured my book deal in late 2010, and Geeks hits the shelves in late 2012. So, from conception to bookshelf it’s been just about six years.

Ello - You have one of the best publication stories I’ve ever heard. Care to share it with us here?

Mike - OH SURE, YOU TWISTED MY ARM… Like a lot of people, I had a particular editor right up at the top of my “OMG I want to work with this person” list, and like a lot of those same people, I thought it was faaaaaar from likely that I’d ever actually do it. So imagine my surprise when one day I got a Facebook message informing me of a friend request from that very editor, a Mr. Arthur A. Levine. Shocking, right? We later ascertained that he’d been reading the comments I’d been making on Lisa Yee’s FB posts, thought I was funny, and wanted to get acquainted. Once I fully understood that this was Arthur A. Levine the editor of Harry Potter, and not Arthur A. Levine the air conditioning repair specialist, I accepted the request, and over the next few months we joked around and got to know each other a bit.

A couple of months later my brain melted and dribbled out of my ears when I got an actual email from Arthur, sent from his work address, requesting my manuscript. It was hard to send it to him with my brain all melted like that, but I did. Arthur A. Levine Books is both deluged with submissions and perpetually understaffed, so I was prepared to wait it out, but a couple of weeks later I registered for the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference and realized Arthur was teaching his first-ever intensive class. “It’s fate!” I screamed, startling my daughter and upsetting my wife, and I signed up for the class. I was incredibly fortunate to communicate with Arthur via Facebook before the conference, because otherwise I don’t know if I’d have summoned up the nerve to suggest we grab a cup of coffee and sit down to chat. We talked about writing, Lisa Yee’s publication story, picking a school for our kids, growing up with brothers…everything but my manuscript, which was a very deliberate choice on my part. I didn’t want to mess up the rapport we seemed to be developing. I left the conference feeling like I’d struck up a really terrific new friendship, which isn’t something I do very easily, and I felt unusually serene about the manuscript situation – it would play out however it played out, I told myself, and I’d be at peace with it either way.

Two days later I got a call from my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, who informed me that Arthur had gone home from the conference, read my manuscript as soon as he got back to his desk, and decided on the spot that he wanted to acquire it. Which he did. It was the beginning of the most fulfilling and enjoyable experience of my professional life – my expectations for working with Arthur were absurdly high, but he exceeded them. My respect and affection for him are impossible to overstate.

Ello - Seeing you guys together is always awesome. It's obvious how much you both respect and like each other. I think whenever you guys are together this is what happens:

Ello - Well your illustrated cover is beyond awesome. It is stupendous! Can you share with us your reaction when you first saw your cover?

Mike - I looooooooooove my cover. That was pretty much my first reaction, quickly followed by “Dude, the robot has a serious Jack Kirby vibe,” and “This guy draws way better than me!" I’ve heard enough cover-related horror stories to know how lucky I am to be so deliriously happy with it.

Ello - What is the best part of being an author?

 Mike - It’s hard to pick any one favorite thing – it’s ALL been enormously fun. Building worlds, developing characters, and crafting language in order to convey a story is a deeply satisfying way to spend my time. If you’re talking about publication, however, I’d say it’s the people. I get to work with smart, talented, passionate, funny, warm, amazing people - the friends and colleagues I’ve met during the journey to publication have enhanced the quality of my life so, so much.

Ello - Books now are so different than when we were growing up. If you were a kid right now, what books would be your favorite?

MIke - The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex would knock me over at any point in my life, and of course as a child Harry Potter would probably have blown my mind to an even greater degree than it did as an adult. And I suspect I’d still consider Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius to be the gold standard for funny, moving, painfully truthful children’s fiction, as I do now.

Ello - So what’s next for Mike Jung?

Mike - I’m working on the proposal for my next book, a middle-grade fantasy that’s grounded in Korean mythology and touches on themes of cultural assimilation and alienation. It’s very different from Geeks. I also have essays in two forthcoming anthologies, Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves (2012, Zest Books), and Break These Rules (2013, Chicago Review Press).

Ello - And on a personal note, I get to gloat about the fact that I am a beta reader for Mike and his awesome new book!

Ello - Ok, my last question. You are on a deserted island and meet a genie who can’t get you off the island but can fill one very large and magical suitcase (think Hermione’s purse) with 10 of your favorite things. Assuming that food (not including sweets and luxury items) and clothing (loin cloth at the very least) is already taken care of, what would that suitcase contain?

Mike - Can I count “a pile of 500 books” as one thing? If so, cool, that’s thing one. If not, WHY NOT?? Okay, okay. I’d bring my guitar, because there’d be plenty of time to practice; a capo, because I’m not very good at playing barre chords on my guitar; an All-Clad copper-core 4 quart saucepan, because it’d provide maximum cooking flexibility and that unparalleled All-Clad heat distribution; a 1996 Klein Mantra Pro mountain bike (I sold mine years ago! What a mistake!); my Superman logo fleece robe, which is really just a blanket with sleeves stuck on it but is also really warm; a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, because it’s the best book about writing ever, and the island might have birds; my Chrome messenger bag, because it’s an awesome bag; an industrial-size barrel of ibuprofen, because I’m a broken down old man; a bucket of Popeye’s fried chicken, because I never get to eat that kind of stuff anymore; and if the genie could provide unlimited wireless internet access (what kind of loser genie couldn’t do that?) I’d bring my iPad, because I’m a hopeless social media addict.

Ello - Well that wraps up our interview with the amazing Mike Jung. Thank you Mike for being here with us today and celebrating your release! In parting, I just want to leave you all with a little ditty Mike composed and sang at his book launch this past weekend. It's so catchy that I find myself singing it all day long! So go ahead and buy a book or 10! Enjoy!



  1. Loved this interview, Ellen! Mike's delight in what he does is so infectious, and I particularly loved hearing the details of the very unusual acquisition process, from becoming Facebook friends with Arthur to signing a contract for publication. Wow. You certainly made your agent's job easy, Mike!

    1. Thanks Lia! Joan did go to bat for me with the negotiations, of course, but yeah, the way it came together still boggles my mind. It was extremely fun. :)

  2. Oh, how do I love this interview & behind the scenes info. Mike, I didn't know when you met Arthur, the editor, not the repair man, at the conference, he already had your mss! So looking forward to reading GEEKS, GIRLS and passing on to my boys. Thanks, Ellen & Mike! Lovely post!

  3. That is a terrific publication story, wow!

  4. Thank you so much for this fabulously entertaining, totally STUPENDOUS interview, Ellen and Mike! Mike's book is so terrific--it's funny, the action is nonstop, AND it's full of heart! Kids will adore it. Mike himself is one of those great people who manages to mix the best traits of ordinary people and Superheroes into one package & at the same time, no telephone booths necessary. Evidence? That song! That ukulele! I was there when he played it, I'm tickled to say, and in person it's Just As Good. And the lovely news is: so's that ukulele player's book! Go, Mike!

  5. MIKE's in the house!!! Hi, Mike!! So glad to have you're back where you belong....with us, here on the Inkpot. :) Sounds like the launch was a blast (which I missed, bummer, and all that cake. I'm sure there was really great cake, right? ;))

    Excellent interview! I read it the whole way through with a huge smile on my face. (And since I'm here in the public library, I'm quite sure the other library patron's are wondering what's going on over here on my computer. LOL)

    Thanks for gracing us with your stupendous, master-mindedly, Spider-Man-like presence and wishing you lots of book sales. Also, world peace.

    Ello, you always rock. Thanks for bringing Mike to us & for the fun graphics. (I especially love the Will Smith one - that is Will Smith, Fresh Prince, yes??)

  6. What a fabulous interview! I loved the "discovery" story -- and the buy-my-book song should become an anthem for authors everywhere. Thanks so much, Ellen and Mike!

  7. Great interview Ello! I was lucky enough to be at this very STUPENDOUS event!
    Mike, Luka read your book already - he said it starts off good, then gets even better, then after a reading pause he said Mike's a really good writer, then apparently the climax was pretty awesome, and then was still really good afterwards and basically he LOVED it and thought it was super FUNNY!

  8. Wow! Great interview! Congrats, Mike!

  9. Thanks Lia! Joan did get involved in a serious way during the contract process, but yes, it was definitely not how I expected it to happen. :)

  10. Thanks Katherine!

  11. Hi Kristin! Yes, Arthur did have it beforehand - I took it as a huge compliment that meeting me at the conference spurred him to read it. And thanks!

  12. It's good to be back, Lena! The launch really was great, people were being hugely supportive. The cake was incredibly large, if nothing else. :)

  13. Keely, it was great to see you there! And I'm so glad Luka likes the book!!

  14. Anne, of all the people at the party I was happy to see, you were one of the people I was MOST happy to see. Thanks so much!

  15. Thanks Amy! My songwriting is nothing if not honest. :)

  16. Great interview, Mike. With all the Arthur Levine connections, I feel like your godmother!

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