When Mike Jung meets people face-to-face for the first time, they sometimes say “wow, you’re tall!” Which is interesting, because he’s not THAT tall. Mike plays the ukulele with debatable skill, proudly owns a stuffed zombie doll that Ellen Oh’s daughters picked out for him, and is the author of the middle-grade novel GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2012). He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife (who’s taller and blonder than Mike), his daughter (who’s faster and more energetic than Mike), and his son (who’s nicer and a much better communicator than Mike). For more info, visit his website.
If you could have one super human power, what would it be?
Flight, without a doubt, and not just because Eleanor in Eleanor & Park picked it too. It would be an incredible sensory and conceptual experience to fly. I’d also save money on gas and parking.
What is the craziest (or stupidest) thing you have ever done?
I once lived in Central America for a year. I contracted a stomach parasite pretty much the moment I stepped off of the plane, and lost 15 pounds in my first month living in Honduras. I followed a girl down there – the genesis of many a half-baked act, am I right? The truly half-baked part was how that girl became first my wife, then my ex-wife – the decision to get married may not have been, err, thoughtfully made. Years later I got married to the right person, which was possibly the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but then I decided to write a book, which is possibly the most masochistic thing I’ve ever done.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
No idea, which is kind of great. Over the past two decades I’ve learned that ten years is long enough for a teeming swarm of life-changing events to take place, so I’m gonna wait it out and see. I feel optimistic, though; I think there are more good things in my future.
What books are you reading right now?
Jaclyn Moriarty’s A CORNER OF WHITE, Malcolm Gladwell’s WHAT THE DOG SAW, Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA, and the new Billy Collins poetry collection AIMLESS LOVE, among other things. I’m not reading all of those at the same pace, you understand…
What’s your favorite writing quote?
The answer to all writing, to any career for that matter, is love.
– Ray Bradbury
Do you have any advice for other writers?
There’s so much advice out there that I feel compelled to try and say something different, which I’ll undoubtedly fail at because there’s so much advice out there! So I’ll just cough up a few brief things: invest a lot of time and energy into developing your own unique creative process; accept that pursuing a career as a published author is phenomenally difficult and fraught with risk; celebrate every milestone and achievement, no matter how small; and if we ever meet in person, feel free to buy me a doughnut.
What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.
I can handle myself around dialogue, and I’m told that I’m also good at describing physical gestures, but the thing people generally comment on the most (and is therefore the most obvious answer) is humor. I think the real answer is bigger than that, however. Humor is highly subjective, but when I’ve been able to provoke a laugh in my readers, I believe it’s because I’ve found some nugget of recognizable emotional truth and portrayed it honestly and well. There are many ways to portray emotional truth, of course, and humor’s probably the way I do it best.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Tricky question, because I think mentorship is so, so much about the quality of the actual, personal relationship, and you can’t know what that will be like until you’re really in it. I’m gonna cheat a little bit, because while my editor is known far and wide as an editor, he’s also an author. Arthur Levine is, hands-down, the best mentor a person could ask for on this earth. He edited and published my book, obviously, but he’s also provided a wealth of insight into the intricacies of communicating emotional experience via the written word, and I’ve never felt less than 100% certain that his investment in wringing every last molecule of quality out of my manuscript is equal to mine. Arthur’s intelligence, experience, and commitment to partnering with his authors has helped me improve my writing to a staggering degree.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I can’t remember exactly where I read it, but somewhere on the interwebz there’s an interview of Aimee Bender (author of THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE and THE COLOR MASTER) in which she was asked if she ever wished she could edit her early work. She essentially said that she believes artists should honor the intent, effort, and creative integrity in all of their work, even if their skills and understanding of their art form have evolved over time. I like that, and believe it as well. I hope that five, ten, and twenty years from now I’ll be able to perceive my debut novel with the same deep feelings of happiness and accomplishment that I have now. No, I wouldn’t change a word.