Monday, May 19, 2014

The Writing Process - Author Blog Tour - Arree Chung

What am I currently working on?
Currently, I am working on promoting my first picture book, “Ninja!”  There’s lots to do before the release: book trailer, activity guides, downloadable coloring pages and launching a new website.  I'm pretty close with finishing everything up so I'm excited about that.  Ninja releases June 3rd.

I made a short film that I can't wait to share with everyone.  Here's a work in progress version of the film that gives you an idea of what we've made.  

The short film turned out great.  I shared it with a group of 60 kindergartners and they went crazy over it.  It was thrilling to see how much the liked the book and enjoyed the video.  Makes all the hard work pay off.

I've also made a web-app where you upload a photo and make yourself a Ninja!  It’s called "Ninjafy Me.”  My developer and I are finishing that up in the next week or so, just in time for launch. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
"Ninja!” is different from many other picture books in it’s use of comic book panels and dark saturated color palate.  When I really got into the story, I wanted it to feel moody.  I changed the color palette in the book to match Maxwell’s play fantasy. 

In many other ways, it is very much a traditional picture book.  The protagonist is a boy named Maxwell who is on a secret mission until he gets into trouble.

Why do I write what I write?
I mostly write what entertains me and the 6 yr old boy in me.  I love the age between 3-8.  Kids have so much play and wonder at that age.  They are also very sharp, inquisitive and honest.  Some of my stories are built around themes that I feel are important and others are built for pure fantasy and play.  I don’t think all stories need to have a moral.  Stories are important vehicles for messages but you have to be careful not to be preachy.  Kids are told what to do all day long and nobody likes to be talked down to.

I’m also writing a middle grade novel that describes my experience growing up as a first generation Chinese-American.  The main character Ming, struggles to fit into a new school.  Everyone in school thinks he’s from China when he’s actually an American Born Chinese (ABC).  There are many embarrassing and funny moments that I take from my childhood.  The story is very personal for me and I believe it can be a really good book about what it means to be an American.  We do need more diverse books in America.

How does my individual writing process work?
It usually starts with an idea that I write down.  If I don’t write it down, I always forget and end up kicking myself afterwards.

After that, I’ll free write whatever comes to my mind on loose pieces of paper.  I usually think about the idea in the daily routine of life and let it bake for a while.  Then I doodle.  Lots.

Making a story is a lot like putting together a puzzle.  You start with a bunch of little pieces and you try to put things together.  It's a hot mess in the beginning but when you find a couple of things that work, everything else falls into place.  The best stories are so well constructed that they appear to be effortless and simple.  It’s always my goal as an author to be invisible so I try to eliminate as many things as possible.

At a point, I will diagram out the story narrative to see if I can improve on the structure or to spot any story holes.

If I need to work on words and rhythm, I separate them into flash cards.  This helps me think of pacing and the page turn.  I read the flash cards out loud, pretending to read the book.  It’s easy to hear where things aren’t working.  When I’m happy with the words, I’ll format it into manuscript.  

Then I draw lots.  I’ll thumbnail out a lot of possible scenes and locations.  I bounce between researching online for environment ideas and doodling my character.  Once I feel like I have a lot of the pacing figured out and general sense of character and place, I work on drawing my first dummy.  This is scary step as you are problem solving a lot of things here.  I like to draw to the actual size of the book.  I like to feel how the composition space on paper.  How big/small elements are on a computer screen can be really different than in printed form.

I go through several rounds of revisions on the dummy until I feel it is sharable.  At this point, I’ll share it with my editor and agent.  It’s really great to get an expert point of view.  I also share it with kids and see their reaction.  I revise like a mad man until my editor and I are happy with the dummy.  This usually takes at least three or four dummies. 

After that, I design and illustrate the whole thing.  But that's for another post. 

Thanks for reading!