Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Black History Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of February, where Black authors are invited to celebrate being Black and Black books! Find the introduction post for Black History Month here.
From his first published novel Running with Lions to his upcoming Right Where I Left You (2022), Julian Winters has been loved at the Pond from day one. His novels feature Black queer protagonists, who are lovable, fun, and thoughtful. They demonstrate that it is okay to be figuring stuff out, and to enjoy themselves along the way.
While Right Where I Left You doesn’t quite have a cover yet, I’d like to share the blurb; we can’t wait to read this book!
The novel follows Isaac Martin during the summer before his freshman year of college, as he navigates social anxieties of flirting with old crushes who might become new boyfriends, family disconnects, and the looming dread of being separated from his best friend as they enter the next chapter in their lives.
I was overjoyed to have Julian visit the Pond for Black History Month. We talked about the stories behind his characters and communities, their respective quarantine activities, and tons of recommendations for your TBRs by Black authors. He visits us as a soccer-playing lion in a gold and black jersey!
But first, I’d like to share Julian’s latest book, The Summer of Everything, a fluffy queer contemporary romance about a Black comic book geek who has to help save a bookstore, save his sibling relationship, and maybe win the heart of his best friend/crush as well.
The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters
Comic book geek Wesley Hudson excels at two things: slacking off at his job and pining after his best friend, Nico. Advice from his friends, ‘90s alt-rock songs, and online dating articles aren’t helping much with his secret crush. And his dream job at Once Upon a Page, the local used bookstore, is threatened when a coffeeshop franchise wants to buy the property. To top it off, his annoying brother needs wedding planning advice. When all three problems converge, Wes comes face-to-face with the one thing he’s been avoiding—adulthood.
Now, confronted with reality, can Wes balance saving the bookstore and his strained sibling relationship? Can he win the heart of his crush, too?
Author Interview: Julian Winters
Joce: Hi Julian! Thank you for joining us at the Pond, and welcome! We are so excited to have you here to celebrate Black History Month. Can you please tell us about yourself?
Julian: Hi Joce! Thank you so much for having me here at the Pond. I’m the Young Adult author of Running With Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron, The Summer of Everything, and Right Where I Left You, which comes out in 2022. I love writing about Black joy, queer, clumsy main characters doing normal things, figuring out their future, and occasionally (often) falling in love. I’m also a total comic book geek who loves watching anime, volleyball and soccer, and is always craving cheesecake.
Joce: Your books feature characters with a wide range of identities in all demographics, and I feel like so many teen readers cherish that they can always find themselves in the stories you craft. Does your own experience affect the communities you craft, and if so, how?
Julian: Definitely! As a kid, I grew up in a mostly white, suburban area. It was like what I saw on TV, so I didn’t think differently about the ways it made me feel less seen or understood for my uniqueness. I knew exactly what it was like to stand out in a crowd, but also what it was like to be invisible or invalidated because you’re the minority.
I was fortunate, when my family moved to Georgia, to go to a high school that was extremely diverse. I got to appreciate the beauty of community and how powerful it is to have that. To find commonalities with people across various identities and backgrounds.
It’s something I will always include in my writing: the power of identity and being seen and finding the people who love and appreciate you as you are.
Joce: Running with Lions revolves around soccer, and in The Summer of Everything, Wes loves comic books. Are you a soccer and comic book fan? What was the research process like for each of these niche areas of interest?
Julian: Yes to both! I became a soccer fan by proxy because my sister played in high school. I’m not very athletically gifted; I tripped on my own sock this morning! But watching my sister play and seeing the bonds she formed with her team really made me fall in love with the sport.
I’ve always been a comic book geek. My dad got me hooked on them as an early reader. I never quite enjoyed reading the books assigned in school because the representation, especially that of Black or queer characters, was often tragic. There were rarely happy endings for them. But in comic books, I saw Black characters with superpowers, complex backstories, saving the world. It was very motivational to have that kind of representation. To know I got to be the hero.
As far as research, I had to learn a lot about soccer to write Running With Lions. I realized I had no idea what the official name of certain moves are, who plays what position and where they are on the pitch, the roles they played… it was much easier in my head to write a soccer book than it actually ended up being!
Thankfully, for The Summer of Everything, I just got to geek out about my favorite comic book characters and storylines and movies. I also got to talk about one of my favorite Black superheroes (John Stewart) through Wes and that felt awesome.
Joce: Remy in How to Be Remy Cameron is an adopted gay Black teen boy, who is adopted by white parents. Can you tell us more about navigating the creation of his character and family dynamics?
Julian: My mom is adopted. Up until just recently, she never knew her birth parents/family. It isn’t something that hindered her from being a fantastic mother or human, because there was a piece of her identity she didn’t always have or that she was curious about it. She still made me feel like I was amazing and could accomplish anything. I wanted to write something for her, but also for younger-me as a gay, Black teen who knew who he wanted to be, but had no clue how to get there.
I wanted to show the ways in which family isn’t always necessarily something we’re born into. Sometimes, it’s something we’re given and, with time, all of those pieces come together. We still feel whole knowing we have people who love us as is. For some people, like me, that family also comes in the form of friendships. I wasn’t confidently out like Remy in high school. I didn’t unlock that side of myself until I found my friend group who helped me to be comfortable and proud of who I am, in the same ways my own mom gave me that kind of strength.
But, while writing Remy, I also wanted to make sure he didn’t have to carry the weight of representing the entirety of each of his identities. I didn’t want his story to be the story of any adopted, gay, Black teen. Communities/identities are not monoliths. Every person’s journey and life experiences are different.
Joce: In the pandemic, we have been relying on media and art to move from day to day. What do you think each of your main characters have been watching, reading, or listening to in quarantine?
Julian: Ooh, this is a great question!
Sebastian has probably been listening to the new 1975 because Mason would be bombarding him with playlists, and he’d be reading whatever graphic novel Emir would be reading (most likely Marvel-related, probably something with Wiccan and Hulkling) just so he’d have an excuse to cuddle up with Emir and share the same book in their dorm room.
Remy would be listening to POP ETC, obviously, and either watching Craig of the Creek reruns with Willow or the Food Network with his dad. He’d also be FaceTiming Ian to binge-watch Love, Victor because it’s set in Atlanta and they could relate to some of the storylines.
Wes is listening to the new Weezer, watching WandaVision while waiting on HBOMax to drop that Green Lantern series, and reading Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas because Cooper’s hosting an online book club he wants to partake in.
Joce: Congratulations on your fourth (fourth!) book, Right Where I Left You, being published next year! What can you tell us about your upcoming release?
Julian: Wow, it really is the fourth book, huh? When did that happen?!
Right Where I Left You is about Isaac, a gay, Black, eighteen year old, who has big goals with his best friend: going to the ultimate comic book convention and attending their first Pride. But one misstep (involving a former crush) completely derails those dreams, forcing Isaac to face his own social anxiety, learning to trust new people, and the undiscussed issues within his family.
It’s definitely a funny, heartfelt book that centers family, change, and learning to be confident in the person you’re becoming.
Joce: There is a certain celebratory energy around Blackness and queerness – and other marginalized identities, including Emir from Running with Lions, who is Muslim and British-Pakistani, and Nico from The Summer of Everything, who is Latinx – in your stories that I have seen so many readers appreciate and love. Why is expressing this energy important to you?
Julian: Part of it is because, like I mentioned earlier, the media and literature I grew up with was rarely about us (BIPOC, queer) having that joy and success and power. We were background characters. Our stories were that moment of “growth” or a lesson for a (usually) white, straight character to have. It has been this constant reminder that we are undeserving of that kind of happy ending, that kind of joy in who we are. Or that we have to earn it.
I refuse to let other people feel like I did as a young adult: powerless. I always want readers to pick up my books and feel that kind of joy. That energy. I want them to walk away knowing who they are is strength. It’s power. It’s beautiful. And they’ll never have to earn that happy ending. It’s theirs from the start, whether they recognize it or not.
Joce: Let’s do some book recommendations! What are a few 2021 releases you are looking forward to, or read already and loved, by Black authors?
Julian: Leah Johnson’s Rise to the Sun stole my heart and I’m wondering if Leah plans on mailing it back anytime soon? Also, Isaac Fitzsimons The Passing Playbook is an absolutely beautiful and joyous book. Kosoko Jackson’s Yesterday Is History broke me in all the best ways. Readers are not ready for Kalynn Bayron’s This Poison Heart! The cliffhanger at the end was uncalled for! I can’t forget to scream Meet-Cute Diary by Emery Lee is the romcom that made me swoon so hard when I read it.
I’m looking forward to Bethany C. Morrow’s A Chorus Rises, Roseanne A. Brown’s A Psalm of Storms and Silence, L.L. McKinney’s Nubia: Real One, Jay Coles’s Things We Couldn’t Say… I don’t know who I have to pay to get an advanced copy of Blackout by Nicola Yoon, Ashley Woodfolk, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Dhonielle Clayton, but I need that book.
There are a bunch of other books I’m missing, but I’m like that Issa Rae GIF: “I’m rooting for everybody Black.”
Joce: Finally, I remember being introduced to your books by someone I met at a school event a couple years ago (this story is shared with this person’s consent, with name omitted). He told me that it took a long time to find a character who was a gay Black teenage boy and that he felt seen and valued, especially in Remy. What are a few more books you could recommend that feature queer Black men or boys?
Julian: Wow, first, please thank your classmate for me. That means a great deal to me. I definitely want to recommend Kosoko Jackson’s Yesterday Is History again. It’s so great to see a queer, Black boy at the center of a sci-fi YA. One of my favorites is By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery. What a powerful and funny book! The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera. This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story and King and the Dragon Flies by Kacen Callender. Real Life by Brandon Taylor.
Again, I’m missing quite a few, but they’re definitely out there!
Joce: Thank you so, so much for visiting the Pond! CW, Skye, and I really appreciate it and are such fans of your work. We cannot wait for Right Where I Left You!
About the Author
Julian Winters is an award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running With Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron, and The Summer of Everything (Duet Books), received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. Running With Lions is the recipient of an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award. How to Be Remy Cameron and The Summer of Everything were named Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and ALA Booklist respectively. A self-proclaimed comic book geek, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta where he can be found watching the only two sports he can follow—volleyball and soccer. His next novel, Right Where I Left You, will be published by Viking Children’s/Penguin in 2022.