I was recently interviewed by Jane Ballard of the “A Girl and Her Book Reviews” blog. She is a former librarian and provides editing and proofreading services at Editing Services Ink.
Jane has kindly allowed me to republish the interview here. You can find the original interview, “Interview with Children’s Author Michael Wong” on Jane’s blog. Thank you, Jane.
Give a summary of your life till now (education, work, etc.) and how it led you to write.
I grew up in England. I lost touch with my mother when I was eight after my parents divorced. I left school at eighteen, and because my dad needed me to work in the family restaurant, I couldn’t go to university.
My dad passed away a few years later. I was twenty-three. I was a bit lost over the next years, working as a waiter and cook in various restaurants. The future did not look great.
Then, I discovered the internet in 1997. I saw the opportunity and jumped in with both feet. My family and friends thought I was crazy.
I created a website for webmasters, and eighteen months later sold it to a Softbank-funded start-up in Los Angeles. I joined the company as editor-in-chief. Unfortunately, the company went bust during the dot-com implosion.
I met my future wife in LA. She moved from Hong Kong to live with me. Towards the end of 2001, my girlfriend and I moved back to Hong Kong. She went back to her flight attendant job at United Airlines. I continued running my internet marketing business online.
In 2004, my wife and I decided to emigrate to Australia, where my wife’s family lives, to start our family.
We have two kids (eight and fourteen), and we read to them regularly. That sowed the seeds of my love for children’s books.
At the beginning of this year, I decided I wanted to write children’s books. I spent six months setting up the business. I spent most of the time on creating a system of images that allowed me to drag and drop images to create the illustrations for each book.
I released my first book on August 8, 2019. I have released a new book on the eighth of each month since and plan to release one new book a month for the foreseeable future.
What inspired you to start the Picco Puppy series?
I feel the urge to leave something behind after I am gone. So, I thought I would give writing children’s books a go.
My children, Dr. Seuss, and Peppa Pig, all inspired me to start the Picco Puppy series.
My kids inspire me with their stories, the challenges they face as they grow up, and the lessons they teach me.
I discovered Dr. Seuss after I had my first child. I thought how wonderful it was that The Cat in the Hat, which was written in 1957, would still be delighting kids some sixty years later and probably for another hundred years to come. It is because of Dr. Seuss that I write in verse and rhyme.
Peppa Pig inspired me because I read that Peppa Pig is a billion-dollar business, which is just mind-boggling. I thought to myself if I could create a brand that was only a tiny fraction as successful as Peppa Pig, it could provide my family with a good quality standard of living.
Picco Puppy Plays Soccer is based on a true story. Can you give us more background about that?
I would love to share with the world the full back story. However, I am cautious not to reveal too much about the person behind the story because I want to protect their privacy. I am concerned that disclosing the child’s identity might have long-term ramifications.
This seems to be an issue that more people are talking about these days — consent, or lack of it. I believe we should keep children safe and respect their privacy by not posting identifiable photos and their names without their permission. You could ask a young child for consent, but I think they are too young to make that kind of decision.
The story behind the book truly inspired me. The hero of the book wanted to score a goal because he had seen all his teammates score. To experience disappointment game after game at such a young age, but not let it get to him, was so inspiring. To persevere and finally succeed after sixteen games is incredible.
The person behind the book faced some real challenges. In the end, I decided that by not labeling the child, the story would appeal to a broader audience. After all, we all have our challenges. The book teaches kids that whatever struggles they might have, with practice, perseverance, and a never-give-up attitude, they can succeed and make their dreams come true.
Do you plan to write adult books, or will you stick with children’s literature?
I have never really enjoyed reading them, so I can’t see myself writing them. But you never know. I’m sticking to children’s books for now though.
Tell us about your next project.
I am currently busy setting up the Picco Puppy Club, where people can get access to all the Picco Puppy ebooks, coloring books, audiobooks, and read-aloud videos for a low monthly or annual subscription.
I decided to go this route because I wanted to give kids more than just an ebook.
The coloring books will provide kids with hours of coloring fun, stimulate their imagination, and help improve their fine motor skills.
Studies have shown that audiobooks stimulate kids’ imagination, and generate more vivid images in their minds, more emotional responses, and more interest in a story. They’re great for entertaining kids in the car.
The read-aloud videos flip through each page of the book while a professionally trained actor and singer narrate the story with emotion, drama, and character voices.
The narrator told me her kids asked her to read one of the Picco Puppy books, something like seven times in one day. The read-aloud video would allow her to “read” to her kids, without actually reading. It might be a feature many other parents would welcome too! ?
Describe your research process.
A lot of my inspiration comes from my kids, and the lessons I’ve learned being a parent for fourteen years. I think I have enough stories in me for the next ten years.
I make a conscious effort to read one or two new children’s books every day to learn from other authors. That is a form of research.
Before I started work on my first book, I did research to come up with a list of the 300 or so most commonly used words. This included Dolch Words, also known as Sight Words, and other commonly used terms. I try to use words from this list wherever possible. But the words are very limiting, so sometimes I do relax the rules a bit.
According to experts, high-frequency words make up about seventy-five percent of words young children use in reading and writing.
I helped my younger son learn 300 Sight words before he started kindergarten, and I think it helped him with his reading and writing.
I also have a long list of rhyming word groups that I regularly refer to.
What’s your writing routine? Do you have a dedicated office, or do you write at the kitchen table? Do you write longhand or type everything?
When I set aside time to write, I sit down in front of my desktop computer or use my laptop on the couch and type as much as I can. Sometimes I can write for a few hours non-stop.
After I have finished a couple of drafts, I create the illustrations. My illustrator helps me with additional images that I need for a story.
I have a goal of publishing a new book each month because I thought it would be so cool to publish one book a month. It quickly adds up: twelve books a year, sixty books in five years, and 120 books in ten years.
Having said that, I have learned that there are authors who write an adult novel in a month, every month. They put my work to shame! I might try to up my game and write and release more than one book a month at some point.
I have a long list of book ideas or titles. As soon as I release this month’s book, I pick the idea for the next book and run with it.
Do you outline your stories or let the characters take you where they want to go? Do your characters speak to you?
I sometimes outline my stories because it can help as a guide. I have written books without an outline because the entire story was crystal clear in my mind, and all I had to do was type it out.
I wrote a couple of stories that I plan to publish later in the series in a couple of hours because the words just flowed through me.
I then ask my older son, who’s in his teens, to read my work to see what he thinks. It’s good to get the opinion of someone else and especially someone much younger. He provides good, honest, sometimes too honest, feedback, which I find incredibly useful. ?
What writers do you admire, past or present?
I admire all writers. Writing is a challenging, lonely profession. Anyone who has the creativity, determination, and patience to write a book has to be applauded and admired.
Dr. Seuss is my inspiration. For some unknown reason, I never came across his books growing up in England. I only discovered them after I had my first child. My kids love Dr. Seuss.
My older son sometimes entertains us with The Lorax, word for word, in the car, which his mother and I find rather impressive. He has aspirations to be an author.
What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like least?
I love the feeling of creating something that can have a positive impact on thousands of kids around the world. I enjoy teaching. In another life, I would have been a teacher.
I don’t mind the publishing side of the business, but it can get repetitive. I spend far more time and effort than I want, doing all the technical stuff. As soon as the business can afford it, I’ll hire someone to help me out with that side.
What little personal quirk would you like to reveal to your readers?
People often tell me I don’t have an English or Australian accent, despite living in England for thirty years and in Australia for the last fifteen years.