Mike Jung is a funny, funny man with a ukelele. ‘A ukelele?’ You ask. Yes, a ukelele, trust me, he’s like the John Mayer of ukelele playing. Or maybe the Jason Mraz. Whatever, he’s really good is my point. (I don’t have a clip of him playing, but check out the fantastic photo below of him serenading editor Arthur A. Levine and author/illustrator Dan Santat)
‘But this is not a blog about ukelele players!’ You argue. ‘This is a blog about middle grade writers’. Which brings me to the point I was trying to make all along — Mike Jung is a funny, funny man with a ukelele who is also a fantastic writer. His debut novel, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Books, 2012) is hilarious, heartfelt, rip-roaring adventure chock full of middle grade goodness! And not only that, he’s a one-time blogger at Mixed Up Files, who has come back to let us help celebrate his book launch!
So fasten your seatbelts, middle grade readers! Here is one stupendous interview with the man who made superhero Captain Stupendous famous:
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed on “From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors,” Mike! It’s nice to have you, as a former blogger here, return “home” to celebrate the launch of your fabulous debut novel, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities.
Superheroes, Robots, Aliens, and Dastardly Supervillains – your novel has them all. Yet, “Geeks” get top billing in your title and in your line-up of protagonists. What’s up with that? Are geeks the new superhero?
Geeks and superheroes both have perennial relevance, if you ask me! I knew all along that while the heroes, villains, battle scenes, and sound effects were important for making the book fun to write and read (I hope, anyway), the real heart of the story lay with the emotional arc of the characters. One of the many benchmarks of Arthur Levine’s genius is his ability to cut through all the trappings of a story and see its essence. He helped me see that GEEKS is really the story of how Vincent Wu, who sees himself as dismissed, berated, and unlovable, but eventually realizes that he’s acknowledged, celebrated, and genuinely loved. Vincent is very much the eponymous geek.
So onto the second part of your title, “Girls.” There are three boy protagonists in your adventure – the three stalwart members of the Captain Stupendous Fan Club– and one girl. Did you think about things like gender balance when writing?
Thinking about gender issues is something I always try to do – it’s a big deal, you know? I want my daughter to grow up in a world that doesn’t devalue or dismiss her because of her gender, and I think our personal sensibilities and values do infuse our work to at least some degree.
That said, I wasn’t thinking specifically about maintaining mathematical balance between the boy and girl characters. In early drafts Polly actually was the narrator of the story, and the most important secondary character was her best friend, who was also a girl. And after two years of working on the manuscript I hit a wall, because it just wasn’t working as well as I thought it could – I couldn’t find the story arc, the characters weren’t developing fully, and most importantly in my mind, the voice felt off.
I scrapped the manuscript, strip-mined it for recyclable bits and pieces, and started over. I didn’t make the story autobiographical, but the friendship of the boys in the Captain Stupendous Fan Club was loosely inspired by my own boyhood and teenage friendships, which were NOT gender balanced. And the manuscript suddenly came alive.
Now, does that indicate something about my own level of unconscious gender bias? Probably, although I’m not sure that’s a question anyone can honestly or accurately answer with regard to themselves. In terms of sheer “this many boys” and “this many girls” numbers, the story ended up resembling my own middle-grade life experience with a fair degree of accuracy, so it is, at the very least, grounded in the childhood Mike Jung’s subjective perception of reality.
To read the rest of this interview and qualify to win a copy of Mike's book, please visit From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors!