Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re chatting with Jessica Kim, the author of
STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG!
One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.
On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.
Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.
As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.
Let’s talk to this wonderful author about her awesome book!
This is Jessica. Everyone say, “Hi, Jessica!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jessica! Tell us about yourself!
Hi, I’m Jessica Kim and I’m the author of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! I’m live in Southern California with my husband and two kids. When I’m not writing stories about Asian American tweenagers finding their way in the world, I can be found sampling artisan condiments and exotic produce at farmers’ markets, going for long hikes on the beach, fanladying over BTS or photographing flowers for my Instagram.
What was the inspiration behind STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG?
This story is a thinly veiled autobiography of me wanting to try my hand at writing, but being held back by my fear of failure (strongly reinforced by my risk-averse Asian upbringing). It’s true.
For years, I’d wanted to write a book but was too chicken to try. Mostly because I’d never seen anyone in my community do such a thing. Also the whole creative thing isn’t the most financially viable career option. But in my heart of hearts, I REALLY loved writing and couldn’t stop. I started wondering what it’d be like if I could just be someone else and shed all the self-consciousness I carried with me all the time.
When I started taking writing classes and showing up to critique group meetings, I’d make sure to put on a brave face and pretend to be my writing alter-ego, the more confident and self-assured creative Jessica who was totally unconcerned with what other people thought. But of course I did. In fact, for a while I didn’t really tell people in my life about my writing because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone asking me, “So when is your book coming out?” and having to reply, “Maybe never!” and then having to flee into the woods to hide from the shame that my big dreams might never come true.
But luckily, I don’t have that fear anymore because I actually do have a book coming out! In March! (pinches self). Sometimes, I still can’t believe it. I’m so glad I stuck with it even though it was so very uncomfortable for me.
What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?
I was on vacation in Hawaii with my family and my agent, Thao Le, emailed me to tell me the good news! I was over the moon and celebrated with banana cream pie from Leoda’s kitchen. Later that night, I was so excited I told the strangers at our luau table that my book sold and they all clapped for me. It was so kind of them.
Oh, fun! Love that you were already on vacation and celebration ready!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG?
1) It is very difficult to be funny on command. Comedians are geniuses and I bow down to their brilliance
2) My characters are real to me. They’re my imaginary friends. Sometimes I’ll be out somewhere and think: “Felipe would really love that Avengers mug” or “That joke is so Yumi.” After spending so much time in their heads, they’ve become so near and dear to me.
3) I never knew how many people are involved in creating a book. I thought it was just the author and maybe some notes from the editor, but nope, it’s not like that at all. There are literally TEAMS of people from the agent to editorial to marketing to publicity to reviewers etc who are involved in the process and I’m so thankful for all the hard work everyone at Kokila and Penguin Young Readers have put into this project. finger hearts.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
This is a weird question! My dear writing friends (we call ourselves the Kimchingoos) and I sometimes muse about how we should have our characters make cameos in each other’s books. Kind of like the MCU. The only thing is we write vastly different age categories and genres so it’d be hard to figure out how Nara the tooth fairy from a fantasy pineapple kingdom would land in my story set in Koreatown, Los Angeles but it’d be fun to try. I’d also have to figure out where to pop Azia J’Adore, drag queen extraordinaire, some Korean witches and goblins, and Riley Jo, the snarky guitar prodigy into the mix. Now you know to look out for these Easter eggs in my future books. wink.
That’s so cool! Take notes, everyone, so you can keep an eye out!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
To tell you the truth, middle grade was my last stop on my journey to publication. At first, I thought I wanted to write picture books. Didn’t we all? And then I took a few classes on how to write them and promptly discovered I was in way over my head. Picture writers are poets! They can paint entire stories in 500 words. Me? I need 50,000. Just look at this interview. I’m all over the place. I could not be reined into that tight format. Then, I wrote an entire YA novel. Was it good? I didn’t say that. But I did it. And well, the feedback I got when I queried it was: it sounds young. Which led me to FINALLY consider the tweens. Which is completely bone-headed in retrospect. I mean, I did teach middle school and upper elementary for ten years AND I just so happen to have my very own living breathing middle grade reader in my own house AND I’ve been told my whole life that I’m immature for laughing at fart jokes. Why did it take me so long to write middle grade? I do not know but I’m just glad I’m here now. MG forever.
Any hints about your next book project?
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
How long it takes. It feels like the longest pregnancy ever. It’s like you’re not quite a mom yet but the baby is coming. But instead of nine months it’s almost two years. Patience, it’s a virtue… that I don’t have a lot of. So, I’m learning to cultivate it.
What are you reading right now?
I just read Debbi Michiko Florence’s book Keep It Together, Keiko Carter and loved it. So tense, so sweet, so awkward. So MG in every way. Read it. It’s super cute.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Bonus Question: What’s one of your favourite jokes?
What do you call a man with no nose and no body? Nobody nose
(dodges tomatoes and runs off stage)
Ha! Love it!
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Jessica!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG!
It hits shelves on March 17th!
Add STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! on Goodreads!
Click here and enter to win a copy of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG!
Contest closes Sunday, March 15th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!