WOTJ: In one paragraph, tell us about Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities.
Mike: Three 12 year old boys and one 12 year old girl discover that their hometown superhero Captain Stupendous has forgotten how to be a superhero, and they’re the only ones who can help him remember in time to save the city from a new supervillain. This paragraph is also a sentence! Oh wait, now it’s not. Rats.
WOTJ: What is your favorite children’s book?
Mike: Oh man, I have a lot of favorites, for a a lot of different reasons. The first fantasy novel I ever read was Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong; Leo Lionni’s picture books have claimed vast tracts of land inside my heart; Tuck Everlasting is a nearly perfect book that I first learned about when Natalie Babbitt visited my elementary school; I’ll always have fond memories of George Seldin’s A Cricket in Times Square, partly because my mom was very impressed that it referenced the opera Lucia di Lammermoor; and I love Harry Potter with the same maniacal intensity as any other Potterphile. But I’ll go with Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius, because it’s been such a huge influence on me as an author on both creative and professional terms.
WOTJ: What are you writing now?
Mike: I’d tell you but then I’d have to send my goons after you to ensure your silence. Oh wait, I don’t actually have goons… I don’t want to say too much because it’s still very, very early in the process, so let’s just say it’s a middle-grade fantasy that delves into questions of ethnic and racial identity, with some aspects of Asian mythology thrown in for fun.
WOTJ: Is there a book on your bookshelf that you are embarrassed about owning?
Mike: If you’d asked me this 10 years ago I probably would have said “yes, there are a bunch of them, and I’m absolutely not gonna say what they are,” but I’ve had a serious change of heart about that.
Literary agent Tricia Lawrence (of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, which represents me) introduced me to the work of Brené Brown, who’s spoken and written extensively about the importance of vulnerability. She uses the phrase “the man in the arena” to illuminate how much courage it takes to expose ourselves to the slings and arrows of the world at large, which we as authors do every time we publish a book. Now that I’ve gone through that process I completely understand how much passion, commitment, and steely resolve it requires to be the woman or man in the arena, and how meaningless it is to use embarrassment or shame as a barometer of other people’s work.
That doesn’t mean I like everything I read, because I don’t, but regarding any of the books on my shelves as “embarrassing” feels like a form of dishonor and disrespect, and I no longer feel right about that. The process of creating art is meaningful, and I’ll honor and respect the people who undertake that process, even if only within the confines of my own thoughts.
WOTJ: How do you feel about public speaking? What advice do you have for new authors that are terrified about the prospect?
Mike: I really like public speaking, partly because I’ve pursued a lot of activities that forced me to become more comfortable with the process of speaking to complete strangers and other potentially hostile audiences. My undergraduate degree is in art, so I’ve experienced my share of bare-knuckle critiques; I spent a few summers working as a door-to-door fundraiser; and before I started writing fiction my main creative outlet was writing and performing original songs at coffee shops and open mics.
I find it helpful to think of public speaking as a performance, not unlike singing a song, acting in a play, stepping up to the plate in a softball game, or delivering a lecture in a classroom. That performance can and should incorporate aspects of a person’s real personality and character, and the obvious comparative standard for writers is their voice as writers. Think of public speaking as an opportunity to create a stage character based on characteristics of your writerly voice, such as humor, emotional honesty, intellectual inquiry, and so on. Create a sort of mental costume to slip on when speaking, as if you’re ducking into a phone booth as Clark Kent and emerging as Superman.
One last thing – being terrified at the prospect of public speaking seems eminently sane to me, and I’m a big fan of acknowledging the terror. I make no qualms about telling audiences how nervous or insecure I feel about a speaking gig, simply because it makes me feel better to do so. It also provides an easy way to just get started, which is sometimes the hardest part for me. Fear provides energy; fear can be your friend. You can use fear.
WOTJ: We hope you’ve enjoyed learning from Mike Jung. Learn more about Mike on his blog and social media accounts: