There’s More NINJA! Where That Came From: Interview with Arree Chung

Hello, Arree, thank you for joining me for an interview to talk about your 2 upcoming books in 2016!

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Tell us a little bit about the new NINJA! Sequel!

NINJA! ATTACK OF THE CLAN is about taking the time to play. There are epic battles and someone gets licked, so there are plenty of shenanigans in the book but there is also an emotional story beat that kids can relate to. In the NINJA! series, I aim to make stories that feel authentic to a child’s experience.

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I came up with the idea for ATTACK OF THE CLAN at a Christmas party. The adults were chatting away while the kids played. At some point, the kids invited me to join their game. I’m usually the first one to join in on the ruckus, but this time I was busy catching up with a friend. The kids begged me to play hide and seek with them and I absentmindedly said yes. They ran through the house and found their positions. Ten minutes passed by. One little girl yelled from her hiding spot, “we’re NOT in the guest room!” When I realized that I had neglected the kids, I felt bad. But I knew exactly what I had to do. I hid!

Ninja_Attack_of_Clan_End_Page.jpgWhen the kids came out, they asked where I was. They looked everywhere until, out of nowhere, I surprised them! We rolled around the floor tickling each other. I thought about how it’s so easy to get caught up in the many things we’re that we sometimes forget to take time to play. NINJA! ATTACK OF THE CLAN was so much fun to make and I can’t wait for readers get their hands on it.

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Tell us a little bit more about The Fix It Man.

The Fix It Man is a true collaboration between Susan Hood and I. Along with Nancy Inteli and Joe Merkel, (the wonderful folks at Harper Collins), we formed a team and worked in an unconventional way.

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Typically, the writer and illustrator do not collaborate in creating books. This is usually done to protect the illustrator. The traditional ways of working are in place for good reason. Sometimes, input from the writer can make hamper the creative process for the illustrator. Editors are very aware of this and are careful about the creative process. However, there are times where a project can benefit from collaboration.  

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In making The Fix It Man, Susan and I had weekly calls where we came up with story ideas together. During the week, I would send her loose sketches of ideas and she would send me references and ideas of her own. Then together, we would refine those ideas and sometimes come up with new ones on the fly. It was fun. We both left our egos at the door and were willing to scrap ideas. I threw away drawings and she re-wrote lines. It was a lot more work for everyone involved but I believe it also created the best possible book.

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A lot of love went into making The Fix It Man. From the onset, we were pretty ambitious with what we wanted to do. Nancy had an idea of creating a book with Rube Goldberg contraptions, and since I am such a huge fan of Rube Goldberg, I was jazzed. Also, I was inspired by seeing some of Jack Ezra Keats collage illustrations and thought that collage would be the perfect technique to create the art for The Fix It Man. There are a ton of fun details that I think young readers will love.

Do you prefer writing and illustrating your own books, or do you prefer illustrating other people’s books as well?

For me, it all comes down to the story. I believe the story concept is the most important part of the creative. It drives everything from the words written to how the book is illustrated. Sometimes a manuscript will spark my imagination, and I’ll feel compelled to illustrate it. I only take on manuscripts where I have a unique vision for illustrating the story and feel that I can add value.

I have many of my own stories to tell, so I make sure that I reserve time to tell my own stories as well. I love the Children’s book industry because it is one of the few businesses where an artist can wholly deliver his vision. I love making every part of a story, from writing each word to designing every detail. I feel very blessed to be in a creative industry that values originality and voice.

I try to take on only the stories that I am most excited about. Some are written by others and some are of my own. I try to keep a one to one ratio of writing and illustrating my own versus illustrating other people’s books. 

Tell us about the potty training books you’ve worked on with Todd Spector.

I was really excited about making these books because Todd had a unique perspective on potty training. Potty training can be a scary and nerve wracking experience for kids. I loved the idea of making it a fun game. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to create cute illustrations of kids peeing in funny ways.

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What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Well, readers probably don’t know that I’m a extrovert and a very outgoing, friendly person. However, I do have my introverted ways, especially when I’m working on story ideas or figuring out a problem in my head. I’m also an ENTP (Myers-Briggs Personality Type.

If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

As an ENTP, I get really excited about ideas and want to make them happen. If I wasn’t making books, I’d be finding ways of making new things into the world. Perhaps product inventions or creating a business from scratch.

How did your career as an author/illustrator start?

Well, my creative journey started with the opportunity to work at Pixar. There, I saw how a story was crafted and designed. I also saw how story tellers could not only entertain but inspire the world through their stories. I knew then, I wanted to be a storyteller.

I left Pixar to become an artist. In Steven Turk’s Children’s Book Illustration class, I fell in love with making books. I loved how the worlds played with the pictures. I loved that I could make every part of the book. Since that class, I have been working steadily on my own stories.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I just wrapped up a picture book I wrote and illustrated titled, OUT! It’s about a toddler and his loyal dog, Bella. When the kid escapes his crib, Bella has to keep him safe. All sorts of things happen and Bella is always blamed for the mischief. It is a very funny and heartwarming story that I am really proud of.

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Currently, I am working on a NINJA! Christmas book. I don’t want to say too much about it right now since I’m still in the middle of it but I can tell you there are plenty of traps and surprises. It’s pretty fun.

I also have more stories with Maxwell planned. There is a ghost story idea that involves ghosts from Chinese folklore. There’s also a story idea where Maxwell and a friend are playing but things get out of hand and somebody gets hurt. This is something that happened in my childhood and was frightening for me at the time. So there are many more NINJA! stories still to make.

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I am also working on a very personal middle grade novel titled MING LEE. It’s about my experiences growing up as a Chinese-American. I didn’t feel completely American nor Chinese. There are a lot of funny stories to share and I think a lot of kids will be able to relate to it.

Also on the diversity theme, I have a picture book idea titled MIXED. I’m super excited about this concept and hope it will be the next book picture book that I publish.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

We’ll be adding more activity guides and content to arree.com in June. When I have a little more time, I am also planning on posting my process of making picture books. I hope it will be helpful for other storytellers young and old! So check back to arree.com at the end of June. Readers can also connect to me at arreechung@gmail.com or on social media.

Find Arree Chung’s Facebook Page

Follow Arree Chung on Twitter.

Thank you, Arree, for joining me here!

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