20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
Jason June (it’s a two-name first name, like Mary-Kate without the hyphen or the Olsen twin) is a genderqueer writer mermaid who loves to create picture books that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark, and young adult contemporary rom-coms full of love and lust and hijinks. His picture books include Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, illustrated by Jess Pauwels, and Porcupine Cupid, a queer-inclusive Valentine’s Day story, illustrated by Lori Richmond. His debut YA novel with HarperTeen, Jay’s Gay Agenda, is scheduled to hit shelves this June.
I had the chance to get acquainted with the endlessly creative Jason June for the latest edition of 20 Questions. He told me all about what inspired his writing career and Jay’s Gay Agenda, why queer representation matters now more than ever, confirmed that “Over” by Lindsay Lohan is the best song ever written, what he’s working on next, and so much more.
Growing up, did you always want to be a writer? Did you consider any other career paths?
I did always want to be a writer! It started with copying down movies like Labyrinth word for word, and realizing that words were the driving force of a story. Then I moved on to Pokémon fanfiction, then creating original works, some of which I still have, like the critically-acclaimed Gerbil Wars about human-size rodents in space that I penned when I was eight. And by “critically-acclaimed” I mean my mom felt obligated to tell me it was great. But then once I graduated high school I got into my head for some reason that being a writer wasn’t a viable option for my future. Some big insecure naysayer was like, “Everyone tries to be a writer, it’ll never work out.” So I tried my hand at journalism for a while, but it did not ring true at all. So after interning at a literary agency for a time, I picked back up on the dream of being a writer and here we are!
What inspired you to want to write books?
I truly love that you can create an escape from words alone. The first books that really took me away were Dinotopia and the Animorphs series. Just through a page I was on an island where people and dinosaurs lived together, or morphing into different animals to battle space slugs bent on conquering the universe. From there I knew I wanted to create worlds with words. It’s so magical!
If you could pick one author that’s inspired you the most, who would it be and why?
Oh man, this is the hardest question ever! There are so many authors who have inspired me, and it feels like more and more do each day. But I think I’m going to have to say K. A. Applegate—the pen name for the writing duo of Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant—who wrote the Animorphs books. (Is this cheating that I technically picked two?!) Their books were the ones that really got me robsessed with reading.
Favorite book of all-time?
Holy wow. This is like…impossible. But some books that regularly sit with me include:
Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles. The worldbuilding in this is phenomenal, and Clayton’s take on consumerism and the lengths we’ll go for beauty is just stunning.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I can’t get over the emotion in this between two boys and we are getting a sequel, folks!
Ashley Shuttleworth’s A Dark and Hollow Star. I just finished this one and it is an epic high fantasy told from four POVs, and they’re all queer! Gawd, it just felt so good to get all the magical action and high stakes and be surrounded by queerness!
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
Just go for it, lady. In terms of wanting to write for a living, in terms of figuring out how to best express your genderqueer femme self. Just go for it.
What inspired the creative process for your debut YA novel, Jay’s Gay Agenda?
JGA is very loosely based on my experiences as the only out queer kid at my rural eastern Washington high school. I didn’t get to jump into a queer community until college, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what that would have been like if I got to have gay relationship milestones in high school, so I used that as the seed for the book along with my Type-A Virgo tendencies of list-making, which led to the creation of the titular Gay Agenda.
One movie that will always make you cry?
When Drew Barrymore gets egged in Never Been Kissed. It wrecks me. Totally wrecks me. I’m crying.
The last series you binge-watched?
I just finished The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which confirmed for me my biggest goal in life is to become someone’s zany magical aunt circa Hilda.
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
Claire Kann. She writes with so much queer joy but still has frank conversations about gender and sexuality and relationships. Her book If It Makes You Happy explores all of these and I love it so, so much. There’s even a restaurant, Goldeen’s, named after a Pokémon! Joy and gender are two of my favorite subjects, and it’d be great to have someone who is such an all-star at writing about those topics write my obituary.
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
I’m reading Jonny Garza Villa’s Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun right now and wow wow wow wow wow. It follows Julián, a Latinx gay senior, as he gets drunk and accidentally comes out online, unleashing a whole storm of excitement (a Cutie McCuterson DMs him after coming out) and anxiety (having to still stay in the closet when it comes to his dad). Jonny has so perfectly found that balance of jubilation at being yourself after you come out that can come hand in hand with fear when we’re still in an environment that’s not safe. It’s so beautifully done, with both laugh-out-loud and heart-clutching moments.
One song that you will never be sick of?
I’m going to pick two entire albums for this, and they are both of Lindsay Lohan’s albums. I have listened to them a kajillion times, know every word, and if you want a song that makes me cry every time, it’s “Over” from her platinum-selling debut album, Speak.
Favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
Tuck in and read a good book, followed by back-to-back viewings of Trolls and The Devil Wears Prada.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
Descriptions of people and settings! I love to focus in on a conversation where people normally don’t say, “Your red hair billows in the wind like an unextinguishable firework” or whatever, so I’ve always got to go back in and make sure we know what my characters look like and where the hell they actually are.
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?
Dolly Parton! Like, ohmigawd, Dolly Parton! I just want her take on everything, I want her to tell me I’m doing the right thing if I just stick with it, darlin’, and I want her to force a chuckle as I make some Jolene joke that we both know she’s heard literally a million times.
As a writer and artist, what would you say is the best way to rest or decompress?
Honestly, I wanted to write because I love books, so reading always relaxes me. It lets my brain shut off from the story I’m trying to create and just enjoy the world someone else has made. I love it.
Favorite social media app?
I think Instagram. I’m not a very good photographer at all, but it allows me to explore my femme fashion and get inspired by others.
As a genderqueer author, how would you describe the importance and significance of queer visibility in literature and media right now?
It is so so so so so important. We have been told for so long that there’s only one way to be a girl, and only one way to be a boy, and that those are the only options. There are an infinite number of ways to express your gender, and sexuality is so much more than just gay or straight, so we need all kinds of queer authors sharing their experiences so that teens today realize they aren’t alone and have space to figure themselves out, and are always welcome whether they find out who they are today, tomorrow, or never.
If you had the chance, what’s one superpower you would give yourself?
Shapeshifting! You could do anything! You could fly up high, or giant squid yourself and reach the deeps. Like, how cool would that be? Also, on a real level, I hate my hairline. It reads too boy for me personally, so in those moments when I get really insecure about it I could just give it that shape that I want and not have to think about it anymore.
One thing that has been keeping you sane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
You know, I’m not really sure that anything is keeping me sane. I definitely have things that will keep me going: deadlines, my husband, my Pomeranian named Pom Brokaw. Or the little things like geeking out when a new Drag Race episode comes on. But, I think like so many of us, I’m really not okay. I can and will get through, but I think I’ve reached the point where I need to admit to myself that I’m a high-strung ball of nerves because of this and I won’t feel sane until I’m vaccinated and in-person things start again. Which is hopefully very, very soon!
What can we expect to see next from you? Are you working on anything in particular?
I’m currently working on my next young adult novel! It’s a standalone unrelated to the JGA world, and it’s loosely inspired by the movie Splash! It features a merperson coming up on land and meeting a human who needs their help via fake dating and explores so many rom-com tropes. I’m so excited about it! I really hope it makes a…splash! Sorry, I couldn’t help it.