Julian Winters is the author of YA novels, including Running with Lions and The Summer of Everything. His latest novel, Right Where I Left You, comes out later this month. His books always feature a diverse cast of geeky characters, so I was thrilled to get a chance to chat with him. Julian told us all about his love of comics, why his characters are so diverse and what’s coming up next for him.
Fair warning! Mild spoilers ahead!
Melis Amber: First up, what would you like our readers to know about you?
Julian Winters: I’m a massive comic book geek! I love writing clumsy, funny, queer characters whose love and happiness doesn’t have to be earned. I want them (and readers) to know they deserve those things, and I hope that’s what people take away from Right Where I Left You.
MA: I loved Right Where I Left You, and I’m 100% recommending it to the GGA fam. But in your (obviously unbiased opinion 😉), what’s the number one reason they should read it?
JW: Because they’ll find joy in multiple places, just like Isaac. Whether it’s in the friendships or fandoms or The Princess Bride references or teens experiencing their first Pride or the complexity of family … joy exists all over the pages.
MA: Your characters are total book nerds. And especially in Right Where I Left You and The Summer of Everything, they spend a great deal of time in book shops — loved the little shoutouts to all the queer YA books in RWILY, by the way. What role did books and reading play in your own upbringing/childhood?
JW: Comic books played a huge part of my childhood. They were my escape. The books I was assigned in school … were not. Almost everyone featured a Black or queer character whose entire existence was filled with trauma, suffering, and eventual death.
I didn’t want that to be my journey. We’ve come a long way since then. Now, I’m a voracious reader. But comic books were what shaped my bone-deep belief that I’m worthy of being a hero.
MA: So, particularly when talking about queer adolescence, the line between friendship and romance can easily get complicated. You capture that liminal space really well. I find it fascinating that your main characters often cross from platonic love to romantic love with their best friends. What has inspired you to make that choice?
JW: For me, as a queer person, friends were my safe space. They allowed me to be my authentic self. I could be geeky and vulnerable with them. Those are often qualities we want in a romantic partner — the ability to be ourselves, fully.
For this book, Isaac is experiencing so much, I needed somewhere for him to feel like he wasn’t losing himself. That was Diego. As a queer teen, you have enough to worry about. You need places where you feel safest. Sometimes, those places are also where you find love.
MA: Can I just say how much I love the diversity and intersectionality in your books? Especially how many bi boys you write! The inclusivity feels natural (to be fair, I don’t know what “forced inclusivity” actually looks like). Because so much of someone’s worldview is shaped by their identities, I’m curious as to how you build your characters and decide upon their individual identities.
JW: Thank you! This means a lot. I’ve been very fortunate through high school and my adult life to be surrounded by a multitude of identities. Like you said, I don’t know what “forced inclusivity” is. It’s natural for me to have a squad filled with a range of identities. I want the same for my readers.
When I’m writing, I don’t have a Diversity 101 checklist. I’m thoughtful of who’s often erased from these stories, but I don’t intentionally add a character just to say I had “X” in my books. I can’t imagine crafting a story where everyone looks, sounds, identifies the same way. It feels inauthentic.
If you walk into a Starbucks in almost any city, you’ll find diversity and intersectionality everywhere. And yet, we’re all there to get the same thing. We can be different and need the same things. That’s the world I have in mind while writing.
MA: I saw that you used to be a manager trainer. Did that experience, or any other work experience, influence your writing career?
JW: It definitely helped me focus more on my writing so I could leave that industry behind! I don’t think any of my previous jobs have “influenced” my writing career, but they have helped to strengthen my empathy. I have a lot of complex feelings about the way businesses treat their workers. The expectations placed on them to be superhuman.
I will say being a management trainer has fostered a need to be accessible to new authors. Beginnings are never easy. I try to be a shoulder people can lean on during their journey.
MA: What are you reading, watching, playing etc. these days?
JW: I’m reading and loving the Superman: Son of Kal-El series. Tom Taylor is doing incredible things with those books. I also recently read Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas and the world isn’t ready for how great that book is. I’m re-watching Schitt’s Creek because I just need to laugh unapologetically.
MA: Because we’re Geek Girl Authority, I’ve got to ask: What’s your favorite fandom?
JW: This is so hard! The MCU fandom? Specifically the WandaVision fans. We had so much fun on social media every Friday when a new episode dropped. I was also a Directioner [One Direction fan] for many years. I made lifelong friends there.
MA: If you can tell us, what’s up next for you?
JW: Yes! I’m very excited about my next, not-yet-titled YA contemporary. Without giving too much away, it’s The Breakfast Club meets Can’t Hardly Wait meets Booksmart. A love letter to teen party movies. I get to delve into many important topics I’ve wanted to write about for a while. It’s out Spring 2023. I’m also in a handful of anthologies being published between fall 2022 and 2023, where I really get to step out of what people expect from me.
His latest book, Right Where I Left You, is out on March 15, 2022.
This interview was originally published on 3/13/22.