The adage: ‘if you love something let it go and if it comes back to you, it’s yours’ fits Stand Up, Yumi Chung! (March 17, 2020, Kokila) novelist, Jessica Kim. Before becoming a debut critically acclaimed published author, Kim had quit writing at one point. When she was a youth, in addition to comedy, she enjoyed writing, but didn’t foresee it as a profession, at least not as a novelist. Asian American fiction writers didn’t seem to be a thing. It was when she started a blog that her love for the written word was rekindled. “I was a young mother of two young diapered children living in an 18th floor high rise with my husband working 100-hour weeks,” the former educator shares with So Booking Cool. “And I was far from family and friends, and I was just really lonely and kind of out of sorts living in Manhattan as a lifelong California girl.
“And, so, I started this blog, just a personal blog, really for myself and my family…I hadn’t really written for pleasure in a very long time at that point. I found myself making time in my very busy day amongst my chaos with my two young toddler newborns to dedicate this time to writing about my day.”
Not only did Kim have fun blogging, she also attracted readers beyond her family and friends, many of whom asked if she’d ever thought about writing a book. A dream was realized. Kim left her teaching career of 10 years and pursued writing. The then 35-year-old googled how to become an author and joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, took writing classes, and completed a manuscript. Like many aspiring authors, she queried her manuscript but faced a lot of rejection. Discouraged, she gave up on her passion.
“It was really devastating for me ‘cause I had spent a year and a half writing this story,” says Kim. “That’s missing out on weekends, that’s not going to my kids’ softball games, that’s going to expensive conferences. And it was a lot of investment, and I was not sure if it was worth it, if I had what it took to get this. I can’t even get an agent, how am I going to sell this book?”
Kim vowed to focus on other hobbies and interests but would find herself reminiscing about the characters she’d created. As fate would have it, another stranger would motivate Kim. She revisited her rejection letters and observed a common theme: suggestions that she write her novel as a middle grade one instead of YA. During the period of her reworking her manuscript, she would catch Ali Wong’s viral stand-up special, Baby Cobra. The representation of a fearless, talented Asian American female comedian was powerful to Kim. It also contributed to her creative juices. “And I think that it caused me to start to think what was Ali like as a child? What was she like when she was 11 years old? Were her parents into it [comedy], were they not? What was her story? And I realized, ‘oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I think I have something here!’”
Watch the interview to learn more about Stand Up, Yumi Chung!; the time Kim was nervous to confess to her husband that she wanted to write books; how her background in teaching influenced her as an author and creator; her plans to do author visits at schools post-pandemic; how Tiffany Haddish influenced one of her characters and Kim’s appreciation for The Last Black Unicorn; why she recommends re-reading books; whether she would ever write about Asian American women or boys; what she wants readers to take away from her work; her next book; why it was important to have an interactive website as an author; and more! For more information and to stay connected, visit Kim’s official website and her Instagram.