Arree Chung made a lot of spreadsheets before learning how to draw and paint. He loves the storytelling that is created between words and pictures in picture books and comics. He is the son to 1st generation Chinese Immigrants who wanted him to pursue a more conservative career rather than the arts. Over 15 years later, Arree is realizing his artistic ambitions as a published author and illustrator.
Arree’s first picture book, “Ninja!” released in June 2014. He is working on more picture book projects as well as writing a middle grade novel about the Chinese American experience. For more info, visit his website and blog.
What are you thinking about right now?
I’m thinking of all the creative projects I want to accomplish in the next few years and how lucky I am in being able to tell my own stories. I’ve worked hard to get here but I also feel very fortunate. For all the people who have helped me in my journey, I am so grateful.
What one person or object best represents the 80’s?
Bon Jovi: guys with long hair singing soft rock love ballets!
If there is life on Mars, what celebrity might resemble the Martians?
Steve Martin. I love him.
What is a song that you could listen to all day, every day, on repeat?
Louis Armstrong, it’s a wonderful world. Makes me smile every single time.
What do you do too much of?
Procrastinating! Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Email and the occasional iphone game I’m obsessed with. I’m pretty good at getting things done but I do have a hard time starting sometimes. Once I get going, I have a hard time stopping so I end up working into the wee hours of the morning.
If you could make up a school subject, what would it be?
Life hacking. I think we live in such an interesting world these days. People are questioning traditional notions on how things work and sharing what they’ve found works on the internet. I am constantly trying out new ways of working to push myself. I think a school subject on problem solving in life would be interesting.
What is the biggest indication that someone is a nerd?
They actually know what they are talking about! It’s cool to be a nerd these days because it shows you deeply care about a subject even if it’s not popular. Nerds can also identify when others are faking it.
What latest trend simply baffles you?
Selfies and the need to take pictures of everything one consumes.
If you had to choose, what is the most important quality in a relationship—humor, smarts, personality, looks, money, or mutual interests? Why?
I would say personality. In particular, loyalty and empathy to understand the other person deeply.
If you could add one feature to your cell phone, what would it be?
I’d add an invisibility feature. It would simply disappear so that I wouldn’t even be tempted to pick it up and goof off. When I’m working and need to concentrate, I usually put my phone in my closet. Sometimes I even forget where I left my phone and have to call it from my Google voice number.
Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?
Most times, I can feel what the book should be like. It’s not a clear vision. It’s more like a fuzzy feeling, like how you feel when you just woke up from a dream. You don’t remember all the details but you certainly felt something. The rest of the creative process is trying to realize that feeling through hard work. Trying out different words and pictures until you capture that feeling.
Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?
My natural curiosity and love for storytelling leads me to being a story teller so I would say that my passion choose me. With that being said, I had to also choose to pursue my passion. Coming from an Asian American background, it was not the typical or popular choice to pursue a creative life. There have been lots of sacrifices and struggles along the way but I’m proud that I’ve stuck to it. It helps to be a little stubborn.
Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?
My magical hours seem to be from 10 p.m. to 3 or 4 a.m. That’s when the world is quiet and I can just get lost into what I’m doing.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Strangely enough, jobs have helped me to persevere and not quit. At this point, I’ve had several jobs and most of them were not very satisfying. I end up feeling frustrated and I channel that frustration into working hard on what I want to do. Instead of endlessly complaining, I take on the responsibility to change my own circumstance. It took me a while but I learned the difference is that you have to discipline yourself to work on your own projects after a full day of work. Working on your own projects everyday adds up.
There are also many mentors and people that I admire. I admire their dedication to their craft and passion for what they do.
If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity?
I would teach art and paint funky pictures.
What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?
5. Write down your dreams and the things you absolutely want to do. They WILL happen.
6. Work on your craft EVERYDAY.
7. Find mentors.
8. Don’t give up. Rest when you need it. Try again.
9. There are kind people out there that will help you.
10. Be kind and help others.
When did you realize that you had a gift for writing?
I don’t think I have a unique gift. I truly believe that we are all creative. To be human, to feel and to imagine is to be creative. Writing and storytelling I believe is a craft that you develop over many years of practice. It’s only after a TON of practice that you start developing your voice. It’s the 10,000 hour rule. I’ve always had nuggets of creative ideas that were in my head and after so many years of practice, I can now capture some of those ideas into a form that can be shared.
How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?
Sadly, at the present time, I don’t. My life is all about work but I’m okay with it because I’m loving everything that I’m doing. There will be a time to slow down and have more balance but it’s not right now.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
Read good books. Listen to music, experience great art. Laugh with friends and play. And then when you’re tired, you stop, nap and dream.
What is your typical day like?
I usually make oatmeal in the morning and try to finish something I was working on the previous night. It helps a lot to look at something with fresh eyes after you’ve slept on it. After that, I go through my to do list which is organized first, weekly, then daily. I try to limit myself to 3-4 important things to get done and then I set out on doing them. I also try to exercise everyday.
Do you have family members who like to write too?
My dad was a journalist for a Chinese news paper in Taiwan and Thailand. He was an avid reader and a great story teller. My mom is an extremely creative and wacky person. She is more of a verbal storyteller though.
What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today?
Overall, I had a wonderful childhood. I grew up in the suburbs of Nevada and California. My mom stayed home with my brother and I in those early years and we spent a lot of time on doing kid related adventures: catching frogs, biking and reading books.
My childhood definitely influences my work. I try to capture the adventure and feeling of what it’s like to be in full play mode. Also, I have a brother who is very different than me. We’re almost complete opposites. I’ve learned to look at how different we are as a study in character. When you are making up characters, you have to know them. You have to know why they act the way they do. I take a lot of story from things that happened to me while growing up.