Better Know an Author: Julian Winters

I’m so thrilled to have Julian Winters back on the site today, this time as the guest of honor! You almost definitely already know him, given he’s become quite the darling of YA even before debuting with Running With Lions last year, thanks to his boundless enthusiasm for books and support for their authors, but now you can get to know him even better as we await the release of his sophomore novel on September 10, 2019, from Interlude Press! Come say hey to Julian Winters!

Congrats on the upcoming release of How to Be Remy Cameron! Please tell readers a little about it?

Thank you! How to Be Remy Cameron is coming of age story about an out-and-proud seventeen year-old-boy named Remy Cameron who’s always been comfortable with who he is. He’s president of his high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, has a very supportive family, and a diverse group of friends. When he’s assigned an essay in AP Literature about “Who Are You?” that will decide whether he makes it into his dream college, Remy’s forced to examine the labels associated with him and whether he truly knows who he is.

If you were sticking three post-it notes onto the cover to share your experience of writing it or your feelings on having it out in the world, what would they say?

“Be Yourself.” “Queer AF.” “Overjoyed.”

You, of course, debuted with Running With Lions, which is such a delightful mix of sports, romance, bi rep, and friendship, but is also pretty rare in being a male-authored queer YA rom-com. What was your path to publication like, and what’s response to the book been like? And, maybe more importantly, what’s your favorite soccer team?

My path to publication didn’t follow the traditional route. At the time I was writing Running With Lions, there weren’t many queer male authors being published in YA. I had one goal for Lions: to reach at least five queer teens who needed to know that they could be anything in life. But I didn’t see that kind of story being pushed in the major publishing houses—so I researched independent publishers and found Interlude Press. Independent presses provide the leverage needed to tell the story of your heart with all the support found in major publishing houses.

The responses to Lions have been overwhelming. From the bisexual teens who needed to see themselves on page more to the queer Muslim community who needed a character like Emir, it’s been incredible. It’s also been amazing to have so many athletes who didn’t have a queer YA sports book get so excited for this book. To know I’ve been able to give so many people a reason to smile, cry, or know they can accomplish things has blown me away.

As far as favorite soccer team, I’m a hardcore UCLA fan.

You’re also something of a pioneer in being a queer Black male author in YA, which we’ve discussed on the site before is one of the least heard voices in the category. In the time following this post, of course, there’s certainly been an increase (two of the contributors to this discussion have since landed book deals, as has Jay Coles, and I hope/imagine there are more I’m missing), but clearly there’s still a long way to go. Why do you think it’s still such rare representation, and what are some stories you’d still really like to see?

Oh, I remember reading that article and feeling so inspired! For once, I didn’t feel alone. It meant the world to me.

I’ve always wonder why there aren’t more queer Black male voices in publishing. Part of it is our intersectionality. We’re just beginning to get more Black voices in general out there. We’re still fighting to get more queer voices telling our stories out there. It’s almost an either/or situation where the intersectionality is erased in favor of one or the other. But there are so many talented queer Black male voices that need to be heard. We have so many stories to tell. I’m excited for Ryan Douglass and Kosoko Jackson to debut. I’m ready for more Jay Coles. I want us to have fantasy novels starring queer people of color. We need mysteries, horror, queer Black boys in space, romcoms. I’m ready for more Black male voices, period.

Speaking of stories! You’re a contributor to All Out Now, the upcoming all-queer YA anthology edited by Saundra Mitchell. What can you share about your contribution?

I’m so excited to be apart of All Out Now! My short story is one I rarely see but needed—a positive father/son coming out moment. It’s very special to me because it’s a Black father/son moment, which we rarely see because of the stigma within the Black community surrounding queerness. I won’t spoil everything but it’s a little bit romcom and a lot of heart.

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember seeing in media, for better or for worse

The character Hollywood in Mannequin. It’s kind of funny but also sad that I share this with Shaun David Hutchinson, who wrote about Hollywood in his YA memoir, Brave Face. In the ’80s, queer characters were painted two ways: either as a joke or as a tragic character. We weren’t taken seriously, we didn’t get happy endings, we fell in love with the wrong people, we died. I didn’t recognize that growing up because I was surrounded by a community that didn’t welcome LGBTQIA+ people. I was embarrassed by Hollywood, especially as a Black male terrified to come out. But he’s one of the reasons I write the stories I do. Because we deserve better.

You’re really getting into publishing as queer YA is wildly on the rise. What have been some recent favorites for you, and what are you so excited for coming up?

I have so many favorites, so this list isn’t complete but: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, The Disasters by M.K. England, Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig, Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson, How (Not) to Ask a Boy to Prom by S.J. Goslee, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, Keep This To Yourself by Tom Ryan, Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian. And so many more!

I’m super excited for Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett, By Any Means Necessary by Candice Amanda, Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, Reverie by Ryan La Sala, Monster of the Week by F.T. Lukens, Ruinsong by Julia Ember, Red Skies Falling by Alex London, The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar, Until You Come Back by Jay Coles, Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson, Crier’s War by Nina Varela, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia, Jake In a Box by Ryan Douglass… should I keep going?

It’s hard to miss, if you know any queer YA authors and go to their events, that you’ve certainly become a favorite human among them. What do you think makes for a great queer YA author community member/literary citizen?

Listen, be supportive, be kind, and hold the door open once you get in. I cannot stress the last one enough. As a queer author, our numbers are limited. It’s even smaller for queer POC. We must get past this mindset of only holding the door open for our inner circle/friends. This world is not built on the voices of select people. The publishing industry is not an Olive Garden on Mother’s Day. There are plenty of tables and seats for everyone! We can’t think that if we let someone else in, our spot will be taken from us. We can’t reserve seats for our friends. Every reader needs a book they can pick up and feel valid, understood, loved. They can’t find it in only one group of authors’ books. They need a variety. We must be willing to help each other so we can help them.

After Remy Cameron and All Out Now, what’s up next for you?

A nap! I have a short story in the Up All Night anthology, edited by Laura Silverman. There’s an unannounced project coming from Interlude Press. I just finished something that I’m really excited about but, of course, I can’t talk about it. I will say this: comic geeks, gamers, Pride, convention shenanigans, and Queer AF!

***

Julian Winters is the best-selling author of contemporary young adult fiction. His debut, Running With Lions (Duet, 2018), won accolades for its positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow—volleyball and soccer. How to Be Remy Cameron is his second novel.

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