Water You Up to, Jason June?

Austin-based YA author dives into new ocean romantic comedy

Upon virtually meeting Austin-based young adult fiction novelist Jason June (like Mary-Kate Olsen), there is an instant comfort. Maybe it’s because he’s a fellow earth sign, who knows, but it’s worth mentioning, given that he is a New York Times bestselling novelist.

Jason June (Courtesy of Jason June)

He laughs incredulously at the moniker. It still feels fresh for him – as exciting as when he first heard it. We begin our chat with much-deserved congratulations, and then, quickly, we fall into a repartee about the accessibility of queer literature. “I’m so honored to be a part of the generation of queer authors that are making sure teens today have the books that we didn’t have when we were 18,” Jason June says.

Out of the Blue is adorned with an illustration on its cover by Ricardo Bessa. Jason June mentions, with gratitude, that Bessa has made the covers for each of his works thus far. “Consistently, Bessa captures the sweet tenderness of young queer love,” he says. On the cover are the novel’s protagonists, Sean and Crest. The two characters sit poolside, turned toward one another. This is the sort of illustration, fusing the effervescent story’s fantastical elements with the sleek buoyancy of a graphic novel, that blends in well on the typical YA-fiction-lined bookshelf.

Growing up, the queer and gender nonconforming author found it difficult to find the sort of books he now writes. That is, books that offered representation of queerness and difference. Sean’s characterization redefines “the Adonis trope” and is illustrated beautifully fat. Jason June mentions that books that defied “conventional” representations of love were hard to come by in his youth. Oftentimes, books of the sort might only be found in the little back corner of a bookstore, perhaps even solely catered to adults. “It was really important to me, because of this, to also create a main character who is plus-size, who self-describes as chubby, because chubby and fat people deserve to be the love interest in a story,” Jason June attests.

Courtesy of HarperCollins

This queer rom-com, published by HarperCollins, is a story split between both Sean’s and Crest’s points of view. Out of the Blue is the tale of Sean, who has recently experienced a devastating breakup. Crest, on the other hand, is a mer-turned-human who’s on a journey to help a human on land throughout the duration of one moon cycle. Crest meets Sean, who happens to be a lifeguard, when he washes up on the shore. Then, Crest picks Sean as their human in need, determined to help Sean by making his ex jealous enough to come back.

The novel is set in sunny Los Angeles, where Jason June resided before arriving in Texas. Moving to Austin is what led to him getting published. He began attending the Writing Barn, which held classes for children’s literature. This led the writer on his journey to workshopping.

At these classes, he found community, too. He remains good friends with many of the writers and they steadfastly support each other’s work.

“It’s nice to have a whole huge support group to fall back on, because the publishing life is a tough life, any artist’s life is, where you’re getting constant rejection. For people to keep you afloat, to use a sea pun, that is fully here in the Austin community,” Jason June says.

Aside from community, the scenery of Austin has also inspired the author in his work. Living lakeside provided some inspiration for Jason June to write Out of the Blue. He mentions that he feels lucky to live out by the water, which gave way to him going swimming nearly every day throughout the early part of the pandemic. It allowed him to form an almost aquatic connection.

“There’s something about lakes specifically that brings me back to my childhood. It felt very nostalgic and comforting. Although it wasn’t the ocean, it really helped inform Crest’s point of view on what they’re missing about being home and the comfort water brings them,” he mentions.

It was interesting to hear Jason June’s methodology on writing points of view for different characters without entangling voices. Sean’s grief-ridden state and Crest’s resentful and frustrated outlook on humankind are distinguishably conveyed. Jason June mentions that he drew from his own penchant for rom-coms to create much of the way Sean, a rom-com fan/budding director, thinks and views life. As for dreaming up Crest, it was fun for him to create not simply Crest’s way of thinking but also to explore how much of the way Crest is derives from the foundations given to them back home in “the blue.” The blue and merfolk, some of its inhabitants, are a reflection of what Jason June wishes this world could be, at least as far as understanding gender goes.

As the interview draws to a close, Jason June finishes by mentioning the donation drive he has been participating in as a response to queer book bans. He brings up local organization Queer Youth ATX, which is set to receive a package filled with copies of Out of the Blue at Epoch Coffee later in the afternoon. “I was thinking about the teens that would be off from school this summer who potentially wouldn’t be able to walk into their local libraries and find books that have characters like them because people had banned them,” he explains. Jason June has partnered with 30 privately owned LGBTQ+ centers that were able to get 300-plus books donated. “I wanted to find a way for a queer book, written by a queer author with queer characters, could be given directly to queer teens and could not be taken away from them.”

Luckily for us, Out of the Blue can be found at our Austin Public Library or at one of our indie bookstores, like BookPeople.

Out of the Blue by Jason June, HarperCollins, 384 pp., $17.99

Check out Jason June’s Instagram @heyjasonjune or subscribe to his newsletter at heyjasonjune.substack.com.

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LGBTQ, Jason June, Out of the Blue, Queer Youth ATX, queer young adult novels, HarperCollins

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