Jeff & Will announce the Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection for June: Seeking Solace, the third book in the Walker Boys series by Ari McKay.
Jeff reviews Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June and Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee before he interviews the authors about their debut YA novels. Jason June and Emery discuss the inspiration for their stories, both drawn from their own lives. They also talk about their desire to bring an authentic teen experience to the page, exploring themes like first times, finding pronouns that fit, and telling stories where queer teens get a happy ending. They also share what Pride means to them, and offer book recommendations.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Seeking Solace by Ari McKay on Amazon
- Jason June & Emery Lee Interview
- Jason June: website |Twitter | Instagram | TikTok
- Emery Lee: website | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
- Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Ricardo Bessa website
- American Pie on Amazon Prime Video
- Full House on Amazon Prime Video
- Generation on HBO Max
- Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith on Amazon | Kobo
- Pride by Ibi Zoboi on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Emergency Contact by Mary H K Choi on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa on Amazon
- Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re kicking off YA week with debut authors Jason June and Emery Lee as we talk about “Jay’s Gay Agenda” and “Meet Cute Diary.”
Will: Welcome to episode 314 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello everybody.
Will: Welcome back rainbow romance readers. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show.
A new month is underway and that means that we need to tell you about the Big Gay Fiction book club selection for this month. And for June, we’re wrapping up Ari McKay’s “Walker Boys” series as we read “Seeking Solace.” It’s a sweet and sexy romance that takes place a board, a cruise ship. And I don’t know about you, but I think that qualifies it as the perfect summertime beach read.
As always members of our Patreon community will get an early sneak preview of this month book club episode. So, if you’re a part of our Patreon, keep an eye out for that. And the episode, featuring our deep dive discussion of “Seeking Solace” will be dropping into the regular podcast feed on Thursday, June 24th to wrap up Pride month.
Jeff: Yeah, it was the perfect book to kick off summer because of the Caribbean cruise and the beach time there. I felt just all nice and beachy reading that. So, look forward to discussing that with everybody.
So, before we get into the interview, let me tell you about the books that Jason June and Emery Lee have written. And I’m going to kick it off with “Meet Cute Diary.”
Review: Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee
Jeff: This is Emery Lee’s debut young adult novel, and it is absolutely sublime. It’s got a terrifically diverse cast of characters of teenagers who are far from perfect but completely endearing as they all navigate a summer in Denver. As author Becky Albertalli says right on the cover, it’s an utter delight.
Noah is uprooted from Florida, headed to California, but he’s spending the summer in Denver with his college-age brother while the parents go on to find a new house. Noah’s been working on the Meet Cute Diary for months, but the blog is called into question by a troll who says all the meet cute stories are fiction. Truth is, they are fiction, Noah created them to give other trans teens hope that they could have a meet cute of their own. Noah’s looking for his own meet cute too and in an effort to save the blog he hatches a plan to get his own meet cute. This leads into getting a fake boyfriend (maybe one that can become a real boyfriend…maybe, Noah’s got a plan for that) as a way to prove the stories are real. Drew is all too willing to play along and the two go off an many planned dates to show the world the Diary is real.
Meanwhile, Noah needs a job because his parents are just going to fund a free summer. He ends up working at the summer camp his brother is. Here he meets Devin–it’s not a great first meeting since Devin throws up on him due to a panic attack. Devin however becomes an incredible friend, initially its sort of a one sided friendship as Noah is obsessed with fixing the Diary. But soon it becomes more mutual and Noah and Devin are having good times working with the kids at camp, but also sometimes hanging out outside work. Devin’s story is really great as e explores genderqueerness via pronoun usages. E talks with Noah a few times about how e wants to be identified. It starts as he/him, moves to they/them before choosing e/em. The conversations about pronouns are wonderful and affirming and offer some great insight on the journey of discovery it can be for some.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Noah has major separation anxiety from his bestie Becca back in Florida. They’ve worked on the Diary together for a long time and the miles between has made their relationship change in ways they’d never anticipated. It’s rough on both of them.
Noah is the absolute definition of messy, speak-before-you-think, self-absorbed teenager. Everything really needs to be his way, in his time and on his terms. This summer though shows that he’s missing a lot staying in that mindset and Emery does an incredible job showing his growth into a better friend, better brother, better boyfriend and better person. It’s not always easy–Noah takes a lot of steps forward but also several back too as he grows into a more mature version of himself.
And what of the romance? Noah really wants to make it work with Drew. He’s smitten with Drew even before the fake boyfriend thing is hatched and he wants to move it to the next level. And he’s got a list of steps to go through that he thinks will lock him and Drew into happy coupledom. Drew, however, had his own motivations for going into the fake relationship and they don’t always mesh with Noah’s.
Then there’s Devin. They more Noah spends time with e, the stronger the friendship grows. Could that be something more?
The journey of both relationships are so rich in their ups and downs. Again, Emery does a masterful job balancing between the two stories and giving Noah a lot of choices to make. With those choices comes moment where Noah rises up to be a hero, but at other times Noah makes wrong decisions. That’s what being a teenager’s about though and the roller coaster ride is wrapped up in a very endearing rom-com vibe, which includes some very tender moments as Noah endures a lot of growing pains navigating what to do about the all-important Diary and the relationships that are always in fluctuating states.
I adored this book so much. Emery brought complex, diverse characters to the page for a story that could just as easily be that of a teen next door. Everything about this book resonates with what a teenager today deals with in terms of social media, discovering themselves and going through the all-important but never easy first love. Make sure to add Emery Lee’s “Meet Cute Diary” to your TBR. You won’t regret it.
Now I have to ask Will, because “Meet Cute Diary” became the first YA book, outside of what I forced you to read for my YA books, that you’ve picked up at a long time. What drew you to this particular book to take the dive into it?
Will: Well, this summer is proving to be an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gay romance and stories about the trans experience and I really couldn’t resist a book called “Meet Cute Diary.” It sounded too cute to pass up.
I really enjoyed it. And like you said, Noah is a very messy teenager, which rings true personally to my own experience. I’m really glad that there are authors like Emery Lee telling the kind of stories that need to be told, while being entertaining and heartwarming at the same time.
Review: Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June
Jeff: And speaking of entertaining and heartwarming, let me just tell you about another book, “Jay’s Gay Agenda.” This one comes from Jason June, and I completely fell in love with Jay in his quest to work through his agenda to go from meeting other gay teens, to kissing a boy, to loosing his virginity.
Jay hatches his agenda as his parents move from rural Washington, where he’s the only gay kid (or at least out gay kid) at his school, to Seattle. It takes him no time at all to find a tribe in his new school. Not only does he have a meet cute mere moments after arriving on campus, on his first day he also finds the Queer Striaght Allaince and ends up with a Gay Guide to help him cross things off the agneda. The ultimate goal for Jay, and what makes this story so endearing, is that Jay knows from early on that’s he trying to get the place he can be fully himself, to have his tribe. At one point, when around a bunch of queers for the first time–at a drag brunch–he talks about the energy you feel when you’re around your people and part of a queer family.
Jason June brings together so many different teen stories and weaves them together and a perfect package. Jay falls into a bunch of drama, and sometimes he’s in drama and he doesn’t realize how much, such as between Max, who is his Gay Guide, and Max’s ex. Or the terrible choices he makes as he finds himself between a boy who will have sex with him versus the guy who steals his heart in that initial meet cute I mentioned.
What Jason June does so well here is presenting the very messy, complicated reality of being a horny teen trying to figure yourself out while being around other horny teens trying to figure themselves out. You’re not an island of one, everyone’s got something going on and sometimes they may be looking out for your best interests… or not. The story has so many perfect turns as Jay both soars high with getting to cross things off his list, while also crashing as things go wrong.
Jay’s got a great friend in the making with genderqueer Max. Max knows everyone, and is a great guide for Jay to meet other queer kids. That connection helps Jay fully get to know Albert, his meet cute who nearly killed Jay with a Robot Printer (Yeah, I said robot printer. And you’re just going to have to read that to get how cute this whole robot printer thing is.). Then there’s Tony, the college boy Max introduces Jay to, and who may be his ticket to seeing another boy’s penis, which is a very distinct item on that list–to see a penis that is not his own. All of Jay’s adventures are so sweet and so cute even while some of them can make you cringe because you know he’s doing something that if he was a little bit older, he would know better.
But, Jay’s best friend back home is having rough times and all of Jay’s big city goings on is seriously straining their relationship. Lu and Jay have been through a lot, but as things turn from bad to worse for Lu, Jay has to figure out how to help his friend while continuing to explore everything that’s new. It’s a great study on how friendship morphs as we get older, and as we move.
Of course, things blow up for Jay across the board. I knew that had to happen. But damn did they blow up big, and across the board. I had some ideas what Jason June might be setting up to, but I was so wrong and it was all so much worse, and entirely realistic based on Jay’s action. As big as the blow ups were though, Jay sorts out, with a great parental assist, and does the work to put it all back together again. I love the entire book, but the final act is everything as Jay goes from the lowest of low to getting everything back to better than it had been before.
I’m so glad “Jay’s Gay Agneda” and “Meet Cute Diary” landed in my TBR. The diversity in characters, the very real–and I keep coming back to the term messy because it applies so much to teen lives and everything they have to deal with in this chaotic world–are going to show teens who pick it up some stories I have no doubt they’ll relate to. At the same time for us adults, the stories offer a world that’s very different from when we were teens.
Speaking of chaotic world, I’ve got to give props to Jason June for setting the books in post pandemic times. There are a couple of references peppered in where it’s clear Jay and this gang of characters have come out on the other side. It’s not a big plot point at all, but I really liked knowing these characters had been there, done that.
I can’t wait to read more YA from both Jason June and Emery Lee and everyone needs to get both of these books right now.
Now, as you can tell from those reviews, I adored these books, and I had an incredible time talking to Jason June and Emery Lee about them. I loved hearing about what went into the creation of these characters and the story that these authors wanted to tell in these books.
Now, a quick note about a technical issue here. About three-fourths of the way through, Emery’s computer crashed. So I finished the interview with each of them separately, which is why you’re going to notice that they stopped talking to each other as we go along through the interview. It’s still a wonderful conversation all around though and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Emery Lee & Jason June Interview
Jeff: Emery and Jason June. Thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited to get to talk about these wonderful books that you’ve written.
Jason June: Thank you so much for having us.
Emery: I’m really excited about this.
Jeff: So for each of you, these are your first young adult novels. So I would love for you to take a moment, introduce yourself and tell us about your wonderful books so that our audience if they haven’t picked them up yet, know what they’re getting into here, and Emery, we’ll kick it off with you.
Emery: Okay. Cool. I’m Emery Lee. I am a YA author and artist, and a YouTuber, and I’m basically a tea enthusiast. All I do is talk about boba tea, like 99% of my time.
My book is “Meet Cute Diary” is about a trans teenager who runs a romance blog. But when the stories that he writes on the blog are exposed as being fiction, he has to stage the ultimate fake relationship with one of the blog’s fans in order to save the blog’s reputation. So, ultimately it turns into a whole summer romance as he tries to prove that he is the master of all things romance.
Jeff: To be that at such a young age.
Emery: Absolutely, you already know he’s in over his head the second he thinks that he’s the master of anything.
Jason June: Emery’s book will make you feel every emotion imaginable. I am such a huge stan now of Emery’s ever since I read it.
silence: Thank you, I love that.
Jason June: And I am Jason June. It’s a two-name first name like Mary Kate, but without the hyphen or the Olsen twin, and I am gay and genderqueer, and my name ties into my whole genderqueer identity, where I describe myself as femme. And I added June because I feel that really encompasses my femininity because all of the women on my mom’s side of my family were born in the month of June. And I owe so much of my personhood to them.
And I’m the author of “Jay’s Gay Agenda,” which follows our titular character as he’s the only out gay kid at his rural Eastern Washington high school. And so, while all of his heterosexual classmates have all these relationship milestones, he makes a list of all the things that he wants to do when he finally meets another boy who likes boys.
And it runs the whole gamut from first date and firsthand holding to having sex for the first time. At the start of the senior year, his mom moves the whole family to Seattle, where he’s finally surrounded by gays. And so, the book follows him as he crosses items off his agenda.
Emery: Jason June’s book is probably one of the most beautiful book covers I have ever seen in my life. I’m so obsessed with it.
Jason June: I love it so much. Ricardo Bessa is the illustrator, and he’s just a freaking genius. And the amount of love you could see happening between Jay and Albert on the cover is amazing.
He’s also doing a pre-order print for “Jay’s Gay Agenda” that is just as cute where they’re sitting on a bench at golden hour in Seattle, just gazing at each other’s eyes.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh. That’s awesome. I think you both hit the cover jackpot because “Meet Cute Diary” to cover is pretty awesome too.
Emery: I was so in love with these characters before I even started reading, just because they look so cute on the cover, and I love that. That’s adorable.
Jason June: It is so cute. All the little snapshots of Noah and Drew together. My favorite one is the fall.
Emery: The fall is everything. The second I saw when I first saw the cover sketch, I was like, Oh, this is cute. This is cute. And then I saw the fall and I was like, Oh my God, that’s amazing. That changes the whole game.
Jeff: Let’s talk a little bit about these wonderful characters and where they came from. Now Jason June. I know you’re upfront in the author’s note in “Jay’s Gay Agenda” that it’s based on your diary is growing up. But it’s also a rom-com at the same time that is based on your diary. So you mentioned that most of this takes place, and I love this phrase takes place once Jay has had his LGBT quarantine ends. So kind of where the boundaries between diary and fiction and where do they meet?
Jason June: Totally. It’s very loosely inspired by my life as the only out queer person at my rural Eastern Washington high school.
I didn’t keep a gay agenda, but I did keep this diary that had all my hopes and dreams. Some of them were very innocent. I couldn’t wait to go on a first date that actually mattered to me, meaning somebody who was a boy that I was going on a date with and having the first kiss and then also detailing like how I could not wait to have sex.
So, the whole gamut of having these sweet, innocent moments to my 18 year old body feeling super alone and not being able to express myself. And from there, it just becomes fiction. Jay’s story in terms of how it all plays out and who he meets. I did have my sort of gay awakening in Seattle like Jay. But the events are totally different.
Except for Jay’s dad’s reaction to when he comes out to him at the very beginning was the same reaction my dad had. Which was essentially saying “dad I’m gay” and he went, “well, I thought as much,” and then launched right into a safe sex talk. So it was really anticlimactic.
Jeff: I love that. I mean, this isn’t a big spoiler cause it is pretty much in chapter one. They talk over a football game, and the football game just completely drifted into the background. Like we’re going to have this moment and learn how to put on a condom right now. As if it was sitting next to him to be able to pull out at a moment’s notice.
Jason June: Which is totally what happened.
My dad was like, okay, Monday Night Football will be the background soundtrack to your safe sex talk.
Jeff: I love how you’re so sex positive with Jay immediately. That agenda starts with the super innocent, I just want to find a boy. I want someone, essentially someone else, to hold my penis besides me.
Jason June: Exactly. And that was my big mission with this story is to be really sex positive and to normalize, naming the things that we’re imagining doing or the things we’re hoping sexually will happen. Not to be voyeuristic or anything, but to show teens and especially queer teens that these sexual thoughts and sexual fantasies are totally normal and they pop up pun intended, out of nowhere. When we don’t name these things, and when we keep them from, teen readers eyes, it sends the message that it’s dirty, especially when people will describe books without sex in them as quote unquote clean.
And a lot of times, guardian figures will ask for a clean book for their kids. And I’m really all about changing that vernacular. Because to say a book without sex is clean then means if a kid enjoys a book with sex in it that they’re dirty. And that is not the case. Sex is a wonderful facet of humanity that many of us have and many of us enjoy.
And we need to get this in the conversation where there’s no right way to express your sexuality. No right timeframe. So, if like you’re not a sex ready reader yet that’s totally okay. If you are never a sex ready reader and an asexual person that is just as beautiful as somebody who is a sexual being. It’s just letting everyone be open and free with their sexuality. So that there’s no more stigma or shame.
Jeff: And like you said, it’s so important in YA, as teenagers kind of start to see how it all comes together, what they can be comfortable with, what they should be comfortable with.
Jason June: Exactly, I know when I was a teen and never seeing a gay teen voice their sexual desires made me feel like a terrible being.
There was so much shame that I had to deal with. “American Pie” came out when I was a teen and my straight guy classmates laughing about how horny Stifler’s mom made them. But if I tried to say what about the hot Uncle Jesse on “Full House” or something? If I tried to steer the conversation to hot dads, it would not be okay.
And that just makes you deal with a lot of insecurity. I’m hoping to be a part of this generation of queer creators that ends that shame spiral.
Emery: I think it’s a really good point too, because I feel like even thinking about the books that I read, when I was younger, there was a lot of heterosexual couples who would have sex as like the big culmination of their relationship. This was very much heterosexual people having sex as a consequence of the ultimate true love.
And it was just this very yeah, sex is in everything, but it’s only ever shown one way. It’s ultimately the truest expression of love and it’s only between a man and a woman. I feel there is like this new, like finally, like openness to you can have sex because you want to, and you can have sex just because, or you gonna have sex just to learn, and then you can have sex with whoever, whatever type of people you want to.
That is like a huge thing that’s only recently started to pick up. And so that really is I think important, especially for teens, because for a lot of teens, this might be the only way you can really learn about sex, especially if your parents don’t believe in being open about these types of things.
Jeff: It’s a nice revolution. I think we’re probably seeing it over the last year or so in YA literature really come out. And even in some of the TV, I don’t know if either of you have seen “Generation” on HBO Max, but it is very everything queer and everything about a teenage life that can be messy and happy and, weird and wonderful and crazy and all of it.
Jason June: I watched the first episode and that was something that really stood out. Teens getting to be themselves, and that’s so important.
Jeff: Yeah, and I really hope that show kind of catches on for its tone so we see even more of it because it is so queer too.
Emery, Noah and the idea of the “Meet Cute Diary.” Where did that spring from for you?
Emery: I feel like Jason June and I took a page out the same book, like where we were just doing a little bit of projecting and then fictionalizing the rest. But for me, I was on a road trip with a friend when she had what I call an almost meet Cute and she kind of like bumped into this guy.
And I was like, Oh my God. If this were a book that would have been a meet cute. As a kid, I had always been that person who like, I loved the idea of this big, fancy, like romance of this, like ultimate happily ever after. But, as marginalized as I am, growing up and going to a Catholic high school, and just being surrounded by a lot of like conservative people. There was not a lot of possibility for a romance that would actually ring true and so I kind of did what Noah would do, where I would look around and be like, oh, imagine if that would turn into something.
So after we had that run in on the road trip, it just clicked like a teenager making it into this huge thing where he would write these full fictionalized stories where he would come up with a happily ever afters and made like these like perfect endings.
And then getting away from him and turning into this whole internet trend where people are just like going wild for these stories. And just him losing control of that whole narrative.
Jeff: And it’s such a now story with how connected Noah is to the internet, that he can’t really get away from his phone, and yet he has to get this job and do these other things and try to sort out life beyond the internet. That trajectory was really interesting. And I think teens will see themselves all over that.
Emery: I think the internet is this thing that we talk about as if it’s like this abstract distant thing, but I think we reached this point now where everything you do is a little bit internet involved.
It’s very hard to just completely cut yourself off or disconnect from it. So I do feel like, especially like with, when I write YA I just feel like compelled to explore the way the internet can become such an overbearing and massive part of our lives. Especially I think when it comes to being queer. I think for a lot of teens and like a lot of just younger people, our queer awakening comes from exploring identity through the internet and having that one spot where you can actually do these things without having to worry about people in your life being like, that’s weird, why are you doing that? So I think that ended up just being like a huge staple of like his story was just kind of like how the internet impacts all of it.
Jeff: I’m going to ask a question that I didn’t prepare you for. Cause this would be a fun question. So we’ll see how this goes. What would happen if Noah and Jay met?
Jason June: I think they would love each other. I think that, I think Jay, first of all would be intimidated as Noah just seems. It comes across as so confident to me in a setting, knows his opinion on things and knows what he wants to say. At least from my interpretation as the reader. Emery, your interpretation as a creator could be totally different, which is so fun. But Jay would be, would be so down to be friends with Noah and would also be really in awe of Noah’s way with words because Jay is a numbers guy and would feel like he’s kind of like, well, the only thing is I’ve written is this kind of horny lists. So
Emery: I feel like Noah would be like, so invested in the list. Like he would be like, Oh my God, like you have this whole list of all these things you want to accomplish, like as a queer person, like Noah would be so invested. Like he would be like, I need like step-by-step like tell me everything. I want to know every single detail of how this plays out.
Jason June: And that’s the best part. Cause like Noah separates romances into steps. So he would be such a good guide to be like, okay, here’s how this would happen if this was a movie, and we make this happen for you. It would be so good.
Emery: But I feel like Noah would be like, okay, I have this perfect plan, but it would all be bad and it would just go really badly. But he would try.
Jason June: I smell a crossover novel.
Jeff: It birthed right here on the show.
As I mentioned, this is the first YA for both of you. How did you decide that these were the stories to be the debut?
Jason June: For me, I actually tried to write middle grade fantasy before this multiple times and it wasn’t landing and I just needed to kind of have a whole pallet cleanser. So I started reading young adult contemporary, and I like immediately fell in love. Books like “Hearts Unbroken” by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Pride by Ibi Zoboi, Emergency Contact by Mary H K Choi and I just totally fell in love with the whole genre
Then I thought, okay, wait a minute. I’ve been trying to focus so much on literal magic, but each of these books are showing me the magic of real life and magic in each of these character’s perspectives that felt to me very personal, that felt to me like there was a bit of magic from the authors too.
Magic is like my favorite word, because I feel like there is magic in the world, even if it’s not wizards and unicorns and mermaids, but I think there’s a magic in our energies. And so I wanted to bring out the magic of what I felt, being a queer person coming into their own.
That’s why I started writing Jay, and then that just felt so right.
Emery: I love that too, because I feel like I originally was not a huge fan of , YA contemporary? Not that I didn’t read it, cause I would read it on occasion, but I think for me, I was always like, Oh, fantasy is so much more fun. There’s so much more you can do with it. And then it was probably in, 2017 that I started writing my first YA contemporary, and I agree with you. There’s magic in writing. These things that are they’re real and like they’re real world things, but there’s a lot of magic and it’s like the charisma between characters and like the way that they can connect with each other and like the way that, like all of these things kind of tie together.
And so like for me I didn’t know “Meet Cute Diary” was going to be my first YA. It was actually the ninth book that I drafted. So when I wrote it, I was kind of at this point of I’m just writing books to write books because I just keep doing it. And so I wrote it thinking this is going to be just like all the other eight, like this one’s probably not going to, get me an agent.
it was actually my break, because I had just written the darkest book I’d ever written and it was so depressing. And I was like, okay, what if, instead of writing another book, that’s like a post-apocalyptic world. What if I write a rom-com? That would be a great, change of pace for a moment there. And so I basically wrote it as being like, okay, cool. I’m going to write something snappy and fun before I get into something I’ll start.
And so it was kind of just that like escapism and something I always tell people is even though I, I do tend to lean into like fantasy as a genre, I feel like rom-coms, especially have this element of being fantastical. Like they don’t have to be necessarily super grounded in the reality of the everyday. Like you see that a lot, like in “Meet Cute Diary” with Noah, he just has all these ideas and these things that are kind of absurd, but like just the experience of writing a story where magic can happen in the romance, magic can happen in the friendship, in the meet cute and in all of these tropes.
And I think that was very much like my, I went from writing so much serious fantasy stuff that I was like, I’ll have this magical, like happiness moment as I just jumped into this rom-com. So that was kind of how that happened.
Jeff: I love that. And I think I’m curious in your opinion on this, and I think Jason June, you categorize it well in terms of the magic, especially for in young adult contemporary fiction. Everything so hyper real and hyper immediate and hypersensitive for a teenager that it can easily lend into that magic as well, because some of it’s discovery for the first time, or just because so much of the emotion rides on the surface, because they haven’t been beaten down by adulthood yet that it makes it makes those characters pop in that way better too, to kind of create that magic.
Emery: One element in “Meet Cute Diary” with the steps, I think it’s step eight is the fall. And just like that scene in and of itself was so inherently I feel as I was writing it, I was kind of leaning more into like my fantasy style of writing because it’s so dramatic.
And it’s just like they’re literally jumping off of a cliff edge over like this like waterfall thing. And it’s just, I feel like when you think about some of those elements that become so prominent in YA, and some of the ways things are so emotionally charged and there’s just so much magic of being able to do things for the first time.
I don’t know how well y’all remember, but I feel like in like that summer feeling you would get after like in between years of like high school of Oh my God, it’s summer. We have three months and anything can happen. And I feel like just like that, that was kind of like that energy that I was trying to bring into the book. So it ended up just feeling like this, like magical high in every page cause it’s this is this moment where it feels like we can do anything, and I love that.
Jason June: Absolutely, I feel like just your point where adulthood can kind of bash us down. When you are a teen, you’re experiencing so many things for the first time that there is just so much, so much energy and hype from that, that your body creates, like the first time you kiss somebody that you have been wanting to kiss. It’s just like tingles and electricity through your body. And it’s just the most magical, magical thing. And I do think not having decades of experience where you can get kind of jaded, so to speak, but just the hope of teen years is something that I really love and I’ve tried to continue to carry with me into adulthood.
Jeff: These books are so important to have in the world right now, especially for trans teens, because there’s so much going on right now. So many states are trying to legislate against trans teens and against LGBTQ in general. For young people to find these books, seeing that a happy is possible and available to them.
And also for adults who read YA I think these are important too, to see these teens portrayed because they may not know them necessarily or what goes on in their heads. What kind of responsibility was on your shoulders, as you told these stories, both for the teens and you know, for the adult readership?
Emery: I think it’s interesting because to a certain extent, I had to almost pretend that there wasn’t a responsibility as I was writing it. Otherwise, like I never would have written it. I feel like I’ve been really involved in like the online, queer community and like the reading community for a long time.
So to a certain extent, I did have those thoughts in my head. You know, what are the things that we don’t see enough of? What are things that I know a lot of readers have been asking for? That we feel like you can never really find in books? But to a certain extent, I had to just kind of like tune it out and be like, you know, this book is not going to get published.
No, one’s going to read it. Cause I feel like if I was thinking, you know, how are people going to take this and make it the trans experience? I probably would have choked and I never would have finished writing it. I think kind of like the whole, like vision of it kind of became more clear after it’s sold and I was revising with my editor.
And that’s when it kind of became like how do I make sure that what is going into this book paints, you know, not only a realistic image of what it is to be trans, but something that like readers can kind of gain something from and to a certain extent, like there are, there are other trans books, like I’m not the first trans author by any stretch of the imagination.
But I wanted to make sure that what my book was doing was providing something that I felt like trans readers weren’t getting enough. And so that was why I kind of leaned into that escapist angle of can I give trans readers, and really cis readers too, just like this image of trans people where there’s happiness, without the expectation of like suffering or education.
And so it became kind of like, how do I keep this book on this track so that when readers pick it up, they can imagine a life for trans people that isn’t first and foremost eclipsed by bigotry or misgendering or like struggle. And so that I think was like, the hardest part was just kind of like keeping in mind that there were parts where people wouldn’t say can we explore a little more of Noah’s thoughts on you know, for instance going to the summer camp and not knowing how people will see him there.
And I was kind of like, no. There were a few times that I had some edits suggestions and I was just like, no, because I ultimately knew that the way this book will be received, especially as a rom-com, is that if it focused too much on the struggle of being trans, that it might eclipse the joy of it.
I wanted there to be at least one book that I felt readers could pick up and say this book doesn’t rehash the trauma or paint transness as being inherently tied to trauma. And that was really hard.
Jason June: And it’s so well done though, Emery. I love “Meet Cute Diary” so much specifically because Noah and Devin getting to explore their gender in purely a mode of discovery and not having drama there, like you say, and just being able to. I think anybody who’s not cis-gender. We’ll find that so refreshing.
I know I did where it was just with Noah getting to figure out how he wants to dress all the time and Devin getting to figure out how e wants to use pronouns for emself. And it was just really, really, really refreshing as one who’s had to do that myself and been nervous as hell about trying to figure out my gender in front of other people. It was just so joyful.
Emery: Thank you.
Jeff: That was one of the things that, I learned in “Meet Cute Diary” because I’ve never seen e / em / eir used in fiction, and I’ve never met anybody who is e / em / eir until now you Emery, because those are your pronouns. And I loved Devin’s exploration of should I use this pronoun, use this pronoun and how welcoming Noah was to be, I will use whatever you tell me to use because they’re yours. And it’s not for me to judge if you should, or you shouldn’t.
And I think that the whole pronoun thing is so important for the teens to understand, but also for older folks like me, you know, who are still learning and still making the mistakes. I liked it in both books, you know, how the pronouns are addressed.
Emery: I kind of approached it like language learning. When you’re studying a language, they kind of tell you the worst way to learn a language is to just open up a dictionary and just try to memorize all these terms. The easiest way to learn a language is to just immerse yourself in it and just kind of let it like play out enough that you become familiar and comfortable with it.
I think that’s how I try to approach like any sort of like social commentary in books is I don’t want the reader to feel like I’m sitting here giving them terms and being like here, learn this, learn this, learn that. It’s very much like, when you, when someone tells you, you need to know this information, memorizes information like you inherently are like, Ugh, this feels like high school. I don’t want to learn that. Get away from me.
But I think when you show something playing out, just in a way that feels natural, like inherently your brain starts to think, Oh, that’s kind of like, interesting. I didn’t know this but you start to accept it more, once seeing these people do this thing, it seems easy enough. Like I get that. That seems cool. And then like you start to learn it at a much, easier and more natural way.
So I think for me, it was very much like I knew I wanted to kind of give teens that info. So there was that understanding oh, like pronouns, you can kind of do what you want with them. They don’t have to be like this super strict and rigid thing, but I didn’t want it to be like a lesson, sit down and learn about pronouns. So I was like, if I feel like if I put this in the book and I just make it such a normal and you know, natural thing that happens between these characters then that kind of gives people a template of Oh, I guess we can do that too without, you know, putting this pressure okay, make sure you study hard and pass your exams kind of thing.
Jason June: I thought that was such a really organic way that you did that, Emery, because all the pronoun talk was in dialogue. So to your point, it wasn’t, it never felt teachy because you were just reading a whole conversation of Oh, that’s totally how easy it can go down. And it doesn’t have to be this intimidating thing, which I think a lot of cis people get in their head about which then makes it a whole thing for everybody involved in the conversation where we might start to be concerned about the person being uncomfortable about getting it wrong. And it’s no, it can just be a breezy moment where we’re just acknowledging each other’s humanity.
Emery: Yeah. And I think, especially like with, with pronouns like one of the biggest things it’s so many people are just so unfamiliar with it. Cause they don’t know a lot of people who are having these open conversations. So I feel like sometimes it’s just about showing people like this is how natural and easy it can be. It doesn’t have to be like this big complex thing.
Jason June: Completely. And Jay, the only person that that goes by, I guess non-cis usage of pronouns would be Max, who’s genderqueer like I am. And also like me, he goes by he / him or she / her pronouns.
The interesting thing about that. This is one thing that my editor and I talked about is in the book nobody ever refers to Max by she or her pronouns, even though he says, it’s okay to do that. And that he embraces his femininity. And I decided not to have anybody address him as she / her, not because that’s not a part of him, but because when you give people the option 99.999% of the time, they’re going to go with the pronouns that they assume match the part between your legs.
And it’s this weird psychological thing when you realize that even when you’re kind of opening the door to a conversation of gender is more than genitals, people fall back on genitals. And most of the time, it’s not because they’re trying to be nefarious. At least I should say most of the time. In my family and friends and all that people who know me, or who are coming upon me professionally are usually not coming from a place of malice.
But it is so ingrained in society to split people based on what’s between their legs. It is crazy. And even with this is the thing for me that I always get stuck on, even by labeling someone he or she. We’re actually saying, Oh, that human with penis wants to go to this restaurant or we’ll say, oh, that person was vagina needs to go to bed right now.
That’s actually what we’re saying, not talking about that person’s heart or that person’s energy, because we’ve been told as a society to classify people on genitals, as opposed to energies. It’s this whole rabbit hole of gender that you could go through. So that’s my little fun gender rant for everyone
Emery: I feel like that’s such a good rant because when you think about it, like when you logically think about the way that we approach gender, it’s gross. Like it’s creepy. Like how creepy is it that every time you talk about somebody you’re shouting out, what kind of genitals they have?
You know, like the, the concept of Oh yes, like you with the vagina over there are doing this. You would never do that about anything else. Like the idea that you should just comment on someone’s body parts. Every time you talk about them is so disturbing inherently.
I use multiple pronouns sets in my daily life, and I’ve alternated pronouns for a long time. And when I first started like branching out and using multiple sets of pronouns, I used to use e / em, he / him and she / her and everyone would exclusively use she / her. And it was extremely annoying because I was like, this is the one that I actually vibe with the least, why is this the one that people are using?
And again, it’s just very like presumptuous of well, I think you have this between your legs, so that’s how I’m going to address you. I do think that people are so used to it, so we don’t question it. But the second you start to question it, it’s really creepy, like inappropriate way to classify people.
Jason June: Exactly. We’re a species full of perverts.
Jeff: So I love asking authors what their favorite scenes are to write, because while the whole book is your child, you’ve got to have something in there that is just like this thing right here, for some reasons. So Emery I’ll come to you first. What’s your favorite part of “Meet Cute Diary”
Emery: It’s hard for me pinpoint like one exact scene especially because for me, I tend to be a darker writer. So I tend to really love those like angsty scenes. I didn’t really have a lot of those for “Meet Cute Diary.” But I think for me, it was a combination between just like those tender moments between Noah and Devin, where you kind of got that gender and like queerness exploration. I feel like that was like really authentic, and I feel like that was really heartfelt. And so that really rung true for me.
And then the other was actually just step eight, the fall, when Noah takes the plunge, I feel like that scene there’s a lot of like magic to it, like we were talking about before and just a lot of like emotional charge to it,
so I feel like that scene like that scenes just felt like a really powerful scene to write. Partially just because of how like literal the imagery is and having him literally jumped off of a cliff edge.
Jeff: Which took a lot. I would not have done that. I have to say.
Emery: I could never.
Jeff: Go Noah.
It’s interesting too. You say you write so dark. I didn’t see dark in this at all. You really quashed that part of you down for the rom-com.
Emery: It was just an absolute, like experiment for me. I didn’t actually think I could pull it off. So it was kind of like fun to be like, okay, I’m going to write this book. I’m going to try to keep it really lighthearted and fun. And somehow it actually worked.
Jeff: What was your favorite part of “Jay’s Gay Agenda?”
Jason June: My favorite part to write for Jay was the ending. I love the ending. It’s the, probably the one chapter that has stayed the same from the very first draft to publication was how that ended and not to give anything away. I like the state of mind of all parties involved, and I think they’re all vulnerable in their own way. Vulnerable in terms of admitting when one of them has made big mistakes and is saying that they did wrong and that they want to do better in the future. Then vulnerable for the other party involved where they’re acknowledging that they’ve been hurt. And they’re sharing that hurt because that’s such a vulnerable space to put yourself in to say, here’s how you hurt me because you’re exposing your buttons. You’re exposing to that and how, how you can be damaged by naming that. Then also contemplating forgiveness and moving forward is such a big thing.
I especially think that, when people make mistakes and when they own up to their mistakes, that can sometimes have the effect of making a bond stronger than if that mistake had never been made, because you’re learning intricate moments about each other. You’re seeing a bad side to one party, and you’re seeing that side of how you can hurt the other. To lay that all bare and to say, we’re going to move forward, knowing this about each other is a really strong thing and a strong facet for relationships. I think that that can make your relationship deeper when you know that you can weather hard things together.
Jeff: I think it’s important for teens and really for everybody that forgiveness and kindness is so necessary. We don’t have to carry a grudges forever. We don’t even have to carry a grudge for two minutes. We can listen. We can understand what we can learn. We can grow.
Jason June: Completely. Like I know when I was a teen, I felt everything so strongly, every single emotion, whether it was happiness or lust or love or anger, I would feel anger really strongly and think that I should hold this grudge against this person or not want to forgive them because they really did me wrong and stop thinking about how that person who did me wrong, might be seeing the world and how their personality is different and might have them just interpret what was going down differently.
I mean, it sounds so like therapist speak and so cheesy, but even if we’re speaking the same language we will speak different personality languages, or love languages if we’re talking relationship wise. And so, you actually have to learn how to translate what another person is saying, even though on paper, you understand what the words mean, but when your heart puts meaning behind it, our hearts don’t speak the same language. I just think that’s a really fascinating aspect about mankind in general.
Jeff: As we celebrate pride month here on the podcast, please tell everyone what pride means to you.
Jason June: Pride to me means just really owning who you are, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have every aspect about yourself figured out at this point in time. But knowing at this, this June, here’s where I am today and here’s where I am this month. And here are the aspects about myself that I love. And specifically for the queer community, it’s us embracing the parts of ourselves that we’ve been told are not right. That have been hidden away from the spotlight and mainstream media. And luckily I feel like we’re getting more and more queer voices out there, and part of that is through pride is just expressing our queer voice. For me lately, it’s been really embracing my genderqueerness and my femme side of self that I didn’t discover until my thirties.
So it’s just been really fun to embrace that and realize that was what was missing out of the puzzle piece that is Jason June for so long, and here we are.
Emery: I think ultimately pride is just all about embracing who you are. No matter what somebody else tells you, no matter what the expectations from society are, as far as you know, you’re supposed to be straight, you’re supposed to be cis, you’re supposed to conform to all these rules and regulations. And pride is just all about saying I’m not going to do that. Like I’m not going to change who I am. I’m not going to filter out my expression and like my like embrace of myself, I’m going to be loud and I’m going to be proud and I’m going to do I’m going to do me.
And you know, that’s something that like, it’s just the embracing of yourself and saying it’s not my job to water down who I am so that I’m more palatable to other people.
Jeff: That is such a great line right there. Not watering yourself down to be palatable to other people.
Looking ahead, of course “Meet Cute Diary” is just barely out of, for a little bit as we do this, but what’s coming up next for you?
Emery: I don’t have a lot that I’m allowed to share at the moment. I have an anthology out in 2022 that I have a story in. It’s called “The All Signs Point To Yes Anthology.” It’s all about how different Venus signs impact the way that like characters approach like romance. So I’ll have a short story in that. And then other than that, I’m just kind of working on a lot of different projects. I’m working on another rom-com and it’s like an enemies to lovers, like coffee shop rom-com.
And then also working on, like I was saying before with the darker stuff I’m working on demon slayer contemporary fantasy, that’s very graphic and a bit gory, but definitely still fun. So hopefully that’ll be out for people someday.
Jeff: Graphic and gory can still be fun. I’ve seen those movies and read those books.
Jason June: I’m currently working on edits for my next young adult novel. Essentially, my logline pitch is it is a queer retelling of the movie “splash.” I’m very excited about it. There’s a ton differences from the movie, so it’s not really a retelling of the movie, but it is about a, a teen Merperson that comes on land and then has to interact with this human, their whole mission. This mer tradition is to help a human when they come on land and only until they perform a selfless act, can they go back into the ocean.
And so, this merperson meets this human teen and sees that he’s really down in the dumps because he was just broken up with a couple months prior and he wants to win his ex back. The way he thinks he can do that is by fake dating this merperson and all kinds of rom-com, hilarity ensues.
Jeff: Fake dating is so one of my very favorite tropes, I mean romance in general, but certainly in rom-coms.
Jason June: Me too, I love it so much.
Jeff: And I love that you’re doing a merperson because what you didn’t say in your intro and what’s in your bio is you’re a queer writer mermaid who loves to create picture books that mix flambouantly wacky with the slightly dark. So I feel like you’re bringing that into this YA book a little bit.
Jason June: Yes, absolutely. It’s always been a huge goal of mine to become part of mer canon or contribute to mer lore. When I say it, it sounds very fantasy, but it’s really essentially a contemporary where we’re seeing the smart person on land as a human through this Mer tradition. And so we’re getting callbacks to their mer life.
But I just really like being, it’s a dual point of view between the merperson and the human. So switching back and forth and getting to interpret our world through a newcomers viewpoint. It’s just so much fun and like Poking fun at humanity and it’s just been really great.
Jeff: Oh, I can’t wait. I assume that’s gotta be 2022, right?
Jason June: Yes. It will be this time, next year. Summer 2022.
Jeff: What’s a book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners?
Jason June: Oh my God. Jonny Garza Villa’s “Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun.” It is so good. It follows a Latinx high schooler as he gets too drunk one night and comes out online and all the shenanigans that ensued afterwards and Jonny does such a great job of really giving us the whole gamut of emotions here, because in some aspects it is so exciting and so fun because this other guy starts DM-ing the main character and they start this whole flirtation through Twitter. That whole excitement of having that first relationship about thinking a guy’s cute and having him think you’re cute back, but then it also explores how we can come out and sometimes it’s still not safe for us to be ourselves.
And his dad is not accepting and there is just so much heart. There’s so much reality here in terms of after we come out, there is so much happiness and heartbreak that can come hand in hand, even after we’re telling the world who we are. But it still ends with such a sense of hope and everybody needs to read this book. I loved it so, so, so much.
Emery: I’ve had a limited time for reading this year, but I’ve read a couple of really good ones. “Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun” by Jonny Garza Villa. And that’s one of my all time favorite YAs I just feel like it’s so brilliantly done. It’s just such a great balance between the trauma and the struggle, but also the joy and the community and the friendship and discovering yourself. And then of course, my go-to is “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas. That book is just brilliant. How it run. You got to read it.
Jeff: Now how can everyone keep up with you online to find out about the next book? Anything else going on in the life of Jason June?
Jason June: You can find me on Twitter and Instagram and TikTok. I just started the TikTok cause finally get jiggy with it at, @HeyJasonJune. So Hey H-e-y, not what horses eat and then my name Jason June.
Emery: So I’m most often on Twitter though. I’m kind of on a half break right now, but I’m on Twitter @EmeryLeeWho. I’m also on Instagram @EmeryLeeBooks. And they can subscribe to my newsletter, which I have not actually started yet. They go through my website, which is Emeryleebooks.com.
Jeff: We will link to all of those places and all of the books that we’ve talked about on the show, Emery. Thank you so much for being with us. It’s been wonderful to talk to you about “Meet Cute Diary.” Jason, June, I’m so happy you could be here and wish you best of success with “Jay’s Gay Agenda.”
Jason June: thank you so much, Jeff. This was so much fun.
Emery: Thank you for having me. It’s been a really great conversation.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page is also where you’ll find links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And all of the books that we talked about with Emery and Jason June, including their books “Meet Cute Diary” and “Jay’s Gay Agenda” are available on Libro.fm. When you buy an audiobook from Libro.fm, you’re also supporting a bookstore of your choice, which is a wonderful thing to do. Listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast can get a two month audiobook membership for the price of one. To get details, and to take advantage of that, simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And thanks again to Emery and Jason June for joining us. I really enjoyed everything we talked about, especially what would happen if Jay and Noah happened to meet, please let that be a spinoff book, and the discussion that we had about pronouns and gender. Most of all, I can’t wait to see what they write next.
Will: All right, everyone. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Thursday in episode 315, YA week continues as Kirt Graves joins us to talk about the narration he’s doing on the audiobooks for Jeff’s “Codename: Winger” series.
Jeff: I am so thrilled he’s voicing these audiobooks and it was really fun to talk to him about the series and some of his process to bring Theo and the Winger crew to life.
Will: Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, everyone, please stay strong, be safe and above all else keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.