Loving Love and Queer Inclusion: Joy Interviews author Jason June

I first got to know author Jason June when he was my literary agent’s assistant! The three of us would have conference calls about whatever manuscript I was working on and my agent would be tough-loving me with everything that needed to be fixed, while Jason June kept calling out how great it was in the background.

Needless to say, he became my favorite person, and he’s remained so as he became an author himself, writing  wonderful, joyful books! Jason June has been at Brazos for in-person story times with his adorable WHOBERT WHOVER. We’ve taken him on school visits and now he’s returning virtually on February 6 with a Valentine’s-themed Story Time for PORCUPINE CUPID!

And that’s just the start of what’s going on with Jason June this year, so I simply had to get him to sit down and chat about it all. Here’s what he had to say:


 

Joy Preble: So tell us about the origins of this delightful Valentine’s themed picture book. Porcupine really loves love, doesn’t he? How did he come about in your imagination?

Jason June: Porcupine really does love love, and so do I! I'd always had it on my author bucket list to have a holiday picture book out, and Valentine's Day has always been one of my favorites. I'm obsessed with a celebration in which the purpose is to tell the people you love that you love them. I know many people think you should just tell those people you love them anyway and not need a holiday, and I totally agree with that. But I also think that we live such busy lives, and if this past year has shown us anything, it's that the pressures and unpredictableness of the world can often take the spotlight and overshadow what we love most. So to have a day where it's like, "Spread love!"? I'm all about that.

I'm also all about the conversations about love that the holiday can present, which led to Porcupine Cupid. I not only wanted to have a character that just lived and breathed the emotion, but I also wanted to explore the unpredictability of love. I think we see a lot of examples in children's media where characters just are in love, but they don't always delve into how the feeling of love just sort of pops up. We don't point at a person and say, "I'm going to love you!" We just do. Sometimes it's the most organic thing in the world, other times, it's totally unexpected. So Porcupine is a metaphor for that unexpectedness. For how you can just be poked by the emotion, and then it's how you talk out those feelings (as the characters do in PORCUPINE CUPID after being poked by our matchmaker's quills) that can lead to a beautiful bond.

 

 

JP: Wow! What a great answer. So much these days feels unpredictable, so it’s nice to think about the wonderful unpredictability of love! And speaking of unpredictability, one of the great thing about picture books is seeing how the illustrations add so many dimensions beyond the text itself.  Can you talk some about how Lori Richmond’s illustrations? They bring such a cheerful inclusivity, in all senses of the term!

JJ: I am so, so, so grateful to Simon & Schuster for immediately being on board when I said I wanted to be really queer-inclusive with our couples. And this really came down to Lori's illustrations because the text alone follows Porcupine in his plan to bring his forest neighbors together. Lori was the absolute best ally right from the start, and the whole team talked about how we could include gender and queer cues to show that this forest is all about love for all, not just a very limited, cisgender heterosexual definition of love.

We pair feminine characters together, masculine characters together, and others whose energy lies outside that binary. We have a bear wearing a scarf in the colors of the trans flag, along with a rabbit doing yoga over a mat in the colors of the genderqueer flag. While on paper these accessories are small things, they make such a big difference in showing kids that love is for everybody and starting conversations about different types of gender and romantic expression. As a gay and genderqueer person myself, I'm hopeful these nods to the queer community that Lori included in the art will make today's queer kids realize they are not alone like so many of us adults felt when we were younger. Every new idea Lori had for these nods just made my heart burst in the absolute best way.

Speaking of hearts, I'd also like to point out all the hearts Lori painstakingly included into each and every spread. From heart noses to the thousands of heart leaves, Lori paid attention to every single detail and made sure it sang with love!

 

 

JP: I hope everyone gets a copy and takes the time to appreciate all those amazing details that help bring nuance and joy to PORCUPINE CUPID! And in a related matter, I love that the humor here is a giggle-inducing corny as in WHOBERT WHOVER, which you know is a Brazos favorite! Is it hard to write ‘funny’? Or does it just slip out?

JJ: I am so glad my words make you laugh! That's definitely what I'm going for, but the biggest realization I think all writers who write humor learn pretty quickly is that humor is so subjective and it's such a magical, stars align cosmic love fest when what you put down on a page makes others giggle. Because there have definitely been times when people are like, "I don't get it!" And that's totally okay and also magical that we can put art out there that tugs at different people's hearts and/or funny bones.

So, I wouldn't necessarily say writing funny is hard. I just write what makes me laugh and try to punch it up when there are parts that aren't making me feel anything. But my biggest tip for beginning writers hoping to write funny is to still share your work. While humor is subjective, you still want to be sure that what you've written is making somebody else laugh so that this isn't just an exercise in making books only for yourself, cackling maniacally in an empty room. Getting reader feedback can really help you tap into delivering faster, funnier, cleaner jokes!

 

 

JP: I agree. Reader feedback is so crucial to make sure something’s working like you think it is. You’re writing for a wide group of age ranges now - everything from picture books to early readers and even YA!  What motivates you as a writer? What do you want to bring to the world with your story telling?

JJ: Oh wow I love this question so much. You know, when I first started writing, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to bring into the world. I knew I wanted my work to be an escape, I knew I wanted there to be a laugh, but I didn't feel a general direction in my writing. But the universe threw an almost four year gap in selling books my way, and in that time while I kept at it and got to the keyboard despite the dry spell, I got to hone that direction a lot.

I know now that I want my work to not only be an escape and give a laugh, but I want it to be so unapologetically queer. I know I want my work to be love-forward and show that no matter if you're a young one having a book read to you or on the cusp of adulthood and really diving into that quest to figure out who you are, the possibilities for expressing who you are and what makes up your heart and your soul, are endless. So really I'd say, regardless of what age range I'm writing for, what motivates me as a writer is letting readers know they are seen and loved.

 

 

JP: That’s the key, isn’t it? To write your heart, to write what it means to human, and to let your readers be seen and heard and let them see and hear others. I’m so glad your stories are in the world! What’s coming next for Jason June?

JJ: I am so excited for the first two books in my Mermicorn Island chapter book series with Scholastic to drop on February 2nd. It's such a mer-mazing whimsical world full of magic and love and mermaid-unicorn hybrids! Then on June 1st, my debut YA romcom, JAY'S GAY AGENDA, publishes. I am so so so so honored to be able to have this book out that celebrates gay love and lust and all the ups and downs that come with being seen as a romantic and sexual being for the very first time. Seriously, I can't say enough how thankful I am to be a part of this generation of writers exploring the many layers of queerness, and showing how joyful and love-filled it can be. All the rainbow emojis!

 

JP: Thanks for such a great interview, Jason June!

 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Porcupine Cupid Cover Image
By Jason June, Lori Richmond (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781481481014
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - December 1st, 2020

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective Cover Image
By Jason June, Jess Pauwels (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781481462716
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - July 18th, 2017

Search for the Sparkle (Mermicorn Island #1) Cover Image
$5.99
ISBN: 9781338685183
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Paperbacks - February 2nd, 2021

Narwhal Adventure! (Mermicorn Island #2) Cover Image
$5.99
ISBN: 9781338685190
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Paperbacks - February 2nd, 2021

Jay's Gay Agenda Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780063015159
Availability: Coming Soon - Pre-Order Now
Published: HarperTeen - June 1st, 2021

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