YEM Author Interview: Jason June shares how his life experiences as part of the LGBTQ+ community influence his writing

Jason June is the author of Out of the Blue. Out of the Blue is a dazzling coming-of-age summer tale. The book explores gender and sexuality through a helpful, fun and age-appropriate lens. YEM was able to speak with Jason June about what inspired him to write the book, about topics surrounding gender and sexuality in general, the writing process, and if there is a new series or sequel in the works.

Young Entertainment Mag: Congrats on the upcoming release of your book, Out of the Blue! What inspired you to write this book, and about topics surrounding gender and sexuality in general?

Jason June: My big inspiration for this is my overwhelming love for merpeople basically since the day I was born. The very first movie I ever saw in the movie theater was The Little Mermaidand I just absolutely fell in love. I was around 2 or 3 and I just couldn’t get enough.

I always knew when I finally became a writer that I was going to write a merperson story. And then it tied into my awakening as a genderqueer person. I came out as gay in my senior year of high school, but I didn’t really fully unlock the layers of my gender until I was in my early thirties. So being able to link up those loves of merpeople and sort of explore how much more gender could be in society was really magical and really helped Out of the Blue shape itself.

YEM: How much do your life experiences as part of the LGBTQ+ community influence your writing?

Jason June: My personal experiences probably just give little seeds to my stories. Mostly they’ll be overarching ideas about life or experiences that some people have, like in Jay’s Gay Agenda. In that book there was the experience of being the only out person in your high school.

In Out of the Blue, I’m exploring being in love with a physical place that I think many queer people can relate to. They might not have always felt at home where they grew up. And so, when they find the city or physical location that they love, it truly becomes a part of their personality. And then they meet a person that they love and through whatever circumstance in their life, either that person lives somewhere else, or they must move somewhere else, there’s a choice. Ithink it’s a common experience in the community to find people that have to choose between a physical space that they love and a person that they love or finding some way to make both work. And that’s what I’m exploring in Out of the Blue, where Crest is a merperson, and they literally must choose between this cute human they fall in love with who lives on land or going back to their home in the ocean because they can’t choose both. So it’s an exploration of what do we do when there are these facets of ourselves that are in conflict with one another even though both of them are about things that we really, really love.

YEM: As we’ve seen, representation is incredibly important. Have you had any interactions with fans or readers that inspired you to keep writing queer-inclusive stories?

Jason June: Absolutely. It’s so amazing to get a note or a DM or a letter sent from a reader that just explains that they felt seen in these pages, whether it was because they haven’t been able to come out yet and are getting to sort of live vicariously through characters that are making them feel like there’s going to be that day where they can really come into their own, or whether it’s because they finally get to see somebody like Crest describe gender in a way that they wish society could get on board with. So, it’s been really magical to experience that, and those kind of notes and feedback are what keeps me going and keeps me writing.

YEM: A lot of your books intersect fantasy and real-life. Is there a specific reason why you feel drawn to join these genres/topics?

Jason June: There is not really a specific reason other than me thinking life in general is magical. The interactions we can have with those around us can just be truly magic and just light your body up, whether that’s romantic, whether that’s platonically, whether that’s physically, we do have magic as people. And so, it’s been fun to link the literal magic of merpeople with the magic of real life and see how those intersect. Using mer magic to highlight the magic that humans haveeven when they don’t think they have any is really special to me.

YEM: Do you have a particular author who inspired you throughout your journey as a writer?

Jason June: There are so many authors that inspire me today. I feel really lucky to be in this generation of authors who are making sure that there are books for teens that were not around when we were kids. So just to name a few off the top of my head Adib Khorram, Julian Winters, Leah Johnson, Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, Aiden Thomas, Kacen Callender, Steven Salvatore, and many, many, many, many, many more. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of amazing queerness. It’s really contemporary authors today that are inspiring me to keep writing because we’re all able to have a conversation together with our books that really portray the depth and breadth of the queer experience. And it’s just been so magical to be a part of that.

YEM: What does your writing process usually look like? Do you ever find it difficult to get a train of thought going or start on a story?

Jason June: So, my writing process on a day-to-day basis is usually me getting up really early in themorning and planning my day. I’m a super morning person. I’m the annoying “sunshine and rainbows let’s sing and greet the day” person. So, when I start writing, I’ll get going based on myoutline. I’m a hardcore plotter. So I have an extensive outline before I go in and start writing. I have a plan every day when I sit down to write and that’s not to say that I won’t ever meet a roadblock along the way, but because I already have this roadmap, it’s a way shorter timeframe of trying to figure out what’s going on because I’ve already really thought this through. That also really explains my “Type A” Virgo tendencies to really keep things in a routine.

YEM: Queer-inclusive literature has been harped on for being ‘inappropriate,’ with bookbans being put in place to prevent readers from having access. How do you think harmful rhetoric about queer stories could affect people who may want to learn more about gender and sexuality?

Jason June: This rhetoric about the “inappropriateness” of being queer is so harmful. For teens and pre- teens who don’t know that they’re queer yet but know that there’s something different about themand don’t have the words for what they’re going through, having all this talk around them abouthow awful queerness is puts obstacles in their subconscious. It can impair them from being able to unlock who they truly are.

It’s so unfair to them to not give them this loving, warm, accepting environment, especially because none of these books about queer people are inappropriate by any stretch of the word. These books are written for teens in a way that teens can understand. And does that at times include discussions of sexuality? Yes, but you go to school and they teach you sex ed. They teach you how your body works. Or they read about straight couples in YA discussing theirchanging bodies and desires, it’s a beautiful part of the human experience. So, books that aregeared for older queer teens are also going to include body talk from a queer lens and perspective. That’s a wonderful thing because for so many of us, our sexuality is a part of our human experience and that needs to be explored. That needs to get the spotlight. It needs to be shown to the world and to readers who need these books, that they’re deserving of the full breadth of the human experience, just like their straight counterparts.

Photo Credit: RYAN BILAWSKY

YEM: To counteract some of these bans, you’ve started an awesome effort to encourage bookdonations to LGBTQ+ center partners so readers have access to these novels. How did you come up with the idea and get started?

Jason June: I came up with the idea just out of pure frustration about these book bans happening. I didn’t want there to be a moment when Out of the Blue came out—which is meant to be a fun summer beach read that queer teens can see themselves in—where readers wouldn’t have access to it. Itjust broke my heart to think about books getting taken away from kids before they can even get a chance to read them. Especially during the summer, when they might not necessarily be around their peers because they’re not in school together. So I came up with this donation drive and realized if I teamed up with LGBTQ+ centers that are private organizations, book challenges cannot affect what they carry.

It was great to be able to team up with all of these organizations and to get almost 30 centers on board. We’ve had requests for almost 1000 books. I’m just hoping that folks are feeling generous and are wanting to donate. The Out of the Blue donation drive ends on June 4th, but the need for queer teens to see themselves in books never ends, so reach out to your local LGBTQ+ centersand ask what kinds of books they’d like donated.

YEM: How do you hope your books will affect queer readers who don’t see much ofthemselves in the media?

Jason June: I hope these books just let them know that they truly aren’t alone. And I know when you’re a teen, sometimes it feels like you’re on this lonely island and that things will never get better and it’s such a cliché, but it will get better as you move through life and you get to create the world around you that you want, that will include the friends around you that you want, the family around you that you want, that’s either blood or otherwise. There’s going to come a time when you really have the life that you want. I hope that my books show them that those kinds of lives are out there and they’re going to be welcomed and loved.

YEM: We love that you’re really drawn to writing about mermaids in Out of the Blue and your other books! Is there a reason you feel connected to these aquatic creatures?

Jason June: I have felt totally connected to them since that first viewing of The Little Mermaid. It really was coming into my own in terms of my genderqueerness and not really feeling like I’m necessarily on one end of the gender binary that I realized a lot of people that don’t consider themselves cis have this pull towards merpeople. So maybe that’s part of it, where they can live in the water that doesn’t have the whole constraints of gendered society that we have. Additionally, they don’t have the parts that everyone up here on land tends to obsess about that have created these totally arbitrary rules. Merpeople are free from all that.

YEM: How do you think you’d feel if one of your books was adapted into a film?

Jason June: I would go flipping ballistic in the best way! I would just love it. It would be amazing to see these characters come to life, to find a whole new way for people to connect with them and just to see what would be done with it by the production company and the screenwriter and the director, because that turns my book into a whole other form of art. And that’s exciting to me, it’snot one of those moments where I’m like “oh gosh, it’s got to be exactly as I write it on the page.”I fully understand that that’s a different medium and there are so many other exciting things that can happen. I can’t wait to see that if that day ever comes.

YEM: Are there any characters in Out of the Blue or another one of your books that you feel connected to?

Jason June: I feel really connected to Crest who is the merperson in Out of the Blue and specifically their take on how they interact with people from the jump. They don’t pressure them to act like a boy or act like a girl. They let them tell them who they really are, and that’s hard for humans because we’ve had these gendered rules ingrained in us, literally since birth.

Crest’s sort of freeness from these expectations and norms is really exciting. While I’m still trying to work against all the gendered roles that have been put onto me, I do connect with this vision that Crest has of how things can be and how they are for them in their mer society. That just really makes my heart sing.

YEM: Without giving too much away, do you have a new series or sequel for any of your other books in the works?

Jason June: I do not have any sequels on the way currently, but I do have a couple projects coming up. One is called Riley Weaver Needs A Date to the Gaybutante Ball. That’s my next contemporary novel with HarperCollins that I’m very excited about. It’s tackling labels in terms of our gender and our sexuality and how those can both liberate us and limit us. I’m excited to portray that through this fun lens of the Gaybutante society, which is a world-renowned organization for queer taste makers that our lead, Riley, is trying to join.

I also have an upcoming project that is fantasy – major fantasy. Whereas Out of the Blue is light fantasy in that Crest is a merperson and they come on land, with most of the story on land, this next fantasy series that will be announced soon is a contemporary fantasy that has lots and lots and lots of magic and I’m very excited to announce it.

YEM: What’s your favorite quote from the book?

Jason June: It’s really hard to pick one quote, but I will say my favorite expression is from Crest. Anybody that they don’t like, they just call them a blowhole. And I think that that’s a really funexpletive to use.

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