Sunday, January 26, 2014

Author Interview with Mike Jung

For my first author interview of this year, I bring to you Mike Jung, who wrote GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine). Illustrations were by Mike Maihack. This MG book is a science-fiction and superhero story with a superhero fan club, robots, and a middle school crush. The story is told from the perspective of Vincent Wu, the president of the Official Captain Stupendous Fan Club. Vincent and his friends live for sightings of their local superhero. My page turning sped up when Vincent learns the identity of his beloved superhero and when someone close to him is threatened by the evil Professor Mayhem. The book had the right amount of heart and humor, as well as action and suspense.

I recently interviewed Mike. He currently lives in Oakland, CA and works as a library professional for a liberal arts college in the East Bay.  

What did you study at U.C. Irvine?
I was one of the more dysfunctional students in the UCI Department of Fine Arts. My specialty was ceramic sculpture - earthenware, to be more specific. I conducted one incredibly brief experiment with throwing vessels on a wheel, but the other 99.9% of my time there was spent making handbuilt forms. People described my work (such as it was) with terms like biomorphic abstraction, but I'm afraid I was not the most scholarly art student in the world, so that was more credit than I truly deserved. Despite my unhappiness during those years, however, I did genuinely love working in clay, and I miss it - it's much easier to work in clay when you have free rein in a university's ceramics lab than when you're trying to make space in your kitchen. 

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES is refreshingly funny. How do you weave humor into fiction writing?
I wouldn't say that I deliberately try to weave humor into my writing, at least not anymore - it's more that over time I've developed a voice that naturally skews toward irreverence. I've always been more comfortable and effective with written communication than verbal communication, but high school and college were the years when I made more conscious efforts to write fiction - I took a bunch of fiction and playwriting classes at UC Irvine, for example - and those were probably the years when I was most deliberate about TRYING to write in a way that I thought was funny. That very self-aware effort to be humorous became more organic and internalized with practice, however, and eventually became an integrated part of my writing sensibility.

What books/authors did you like to read as a child?
I was (and remain) a devoted fan of fantasy and science fiction, so authors like Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L'Engle, T.H. White, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, and Orson Scott Card were very important to me. I'm so sad and horrified by what I've learned about Orson Scott Card's beliefs in recent years - I couldn't disagree with him more strongly than I do - but ENDER'S GAME hit me with the force of a hurricane. In middle school and high school, I became a fanatical reader of Stephen King - this was back in what I consider his true heyday, when I was able to procure books like CUJO, FIRESTARTER, and PET SEMATARY at their original publication dates. I sometimes feel surprised by the fact that I haven't tried to write a horror novel yet, but I suspect that day will eventually arrive.


You’re welcome, Mike!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

TV Characters Who Come Out of Character Off Their Show

Once, I looked up Hugh Bonneville on Twitter, and I freaked out when I saw his profile pic. Lord Grantham does not wear jeans!

When I'm really hooked on a TV drama (not sitcoms, not reality TV, not movies, just TV dramas), I TRY to avoid watching main actors' interviews or looking then up online at least until the show has ended or their characters have been written off. Of course, I sometimes look anyway.

The reason I avoid looking up these actors is because it can be unnerving to see a tortured character, one I'm used to seeing as serious and dark, suddenly hamming it up on the red carpet at an awards show. My insides might sigh when a character I have connected with as the "real girl" next door emerges all glammed up on a late night talk show; she flirts with the host and is squeezed into something short and racy that shouts, "I'm so not the sorry frump I play on TV!" 

When a TV character sells themselves to me so well that I can temporarily overlook their fictionality, at least one person has done their job- it could be the actor,  the director, the stunt artist, the makeup/costume people, the casting director, the camera crew, the sound and lighting technicians, the screenwriter, etc... Someone knew how to cast the right spell so I could be comfortably immersed in a character's world while taking a short break from mine. 

I've also finished many good books and have said good-bye to a number of well-written characters the way someone would wake up groggy from a colorful dream, still grappling with the conclusion that the dream and even the people in it were not real. As an aspiring fiction author, I'd like to offer the same escape for someone else someday. 

Have you ever been thrown back to see an actor come out of character and "be themselves?" (I put "be themselves" in quotes because sometimes actors "being themselves" for the public can obviously still have masks on.)

What book have you read where the characters and plot seemed so real that you had to remind yourself that this was a work of fiction?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IWSG: Twitter as a Cocktail Party

Today is IWSG day, a one-time-per-month event where writers can blog about their writerly insecurities and other stuff. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for hosting! Today I'm going to talk a little about my experiences so far with Twitter, my interpretation of an online cocktail party, a public schmooze-fest of private conversations and information sharing. On Twitter, users get exposed to a gazillion hashtag hors d'oeuvres, and the flavor of cocktails, or tweets, you'd sample vary from the sweet and fruity to the scorching and ruthlessly bitter.

I tried to stay away from this party for as long as I could, even when I'd hear stuff like: "Twitter can bring more readers to your blog." "Twitter can help you generate a fan base before you're even published." "A huge follower base will make you more attractive to agents and editors, who do care about your social media presence."

I ended up joining Twitter, but for none of those reasons. 

When first I signed up for my current Twitter account, my main objective was to "follow" some authors, agents, and editors for glimpses into their psyche and to get industry updates.  I didn't tweet much back then. Some industry insiders criticize people like me: "There's no point in having a Twitter profile if you don't post regularly." Admittedly, I felt a bit uncertain about what to tweet at first. That said, I also believe that each Twitter user should define what they want from their experience, as opposed to letting someone tell them what a "legitimate" Twitter experience should be. So I remained satisfied in my silence. 

When I first began posting on Twitter, it was mostly because I wanted to earn an extra point or two while I entered kidlit-themed giveaways, as in "I just entered to win an ARC from so-and-so..."  Announcing a giveaway might've made me "resourceful," which earns you attention in Twitter's kidlit industry scene. But honestly, by posting about a giveaway on Twitter, I was just being a contest freak, hehe.

Gradually, during the last year, I began using Twitter more often for other things, like sharing posts and articles, and tweeting random thoughts and experiences. So perhaps I am showing others more of "me." And sometimes being me means challenging the recommended Twitter guidelines dished out by well-intentioned veteran Twitter users. For example, I'm a huge foodie and dessert enthusiast. So I just don't buy this rule that so many people dish out: "Don't tweet about what you've just eaten because people don't care." You know what? Sharing about food is part of who I am, and I don't mind hearing what people are eating or what they've made, just as long as they're not posting about their lunch every single day (which I wouldn't do either).

As I'm connecting with more people, I'm slowly backing away from the punch bowl. And even that took some time. It's so easy to share and overshare on a public platform like Twitter (and even the blogosphere) that I have to be careful not to veer into TMI territory. Though I must admit that I really admire some people I follow who share so much about themselves online without reservation. In fact, some of my favorite people to follow are those who go to the places I can't go in an online forum. At least not right now.

I don't tweet everyday. But I'm slowly getting the hang of it, even though I didn't join for the reason that a lot of people tell aspiring authors to join for, nor do I necessarily do things the way people tell newbies to do to maintain a following. It can be liberating to start something for my own reasons, and only my own reasons, and to build it up into something at my own pace, at my own guidelines.  

If you're on Twitter, feel free to follow me @CynthiaSociety.  

Have you ever challenged or broken social media "rules?"