SO first--apologies! This interview has been planned for a long time, and well, LIFE got in the way. My friend, YA author Julian Winters, released his second novel, How To Be Remy Cameron, in September of this year. We coordinated the interview toward the end of that month, then both traveled to writing conferences and such, and before I knew it, we've hit November. HELLO! But I am so excited to share this book with you if you haven’t yet read it.
How To Be Remy Cameron is a contemporary YA novel set in the metro-Atlanta area starring a seventeen-year-old boy of the same name. All of Remy’s friends believe him to be super confident, know what he wants in life, and to be an all-around overachiever. But through Julian’s unique voice, Remy shares with us that he is not okay with all the expectations society has dealt him and his classmates, and this shows up in a variety of labels and stereotypes. Remy is adopted, black, gay, a leader at school, and a pretty good student taking AP Literature. He’s got big dreams to attend Emory University as part of the Creative Writing Program if he can survive his last two years of high school and build an impressive resume. That’s a lot of pressure. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of kids put these same types of pressures on themselves. The competition to get into a top university is fierce, and my students are trying to navigate life and find themselves in the process. This too is Remy’s story.
I also want to say that this book hit me straight in the heart as a mom and as a teacher of diverse kids. I hope I am every bit the supportive mom to my kids and students as Remy’s parents & teachers are in this story. I can’t imagine the fear and anxiety that some kids face, but I try and be a good listener and assure them that my classroom is a safe place to learn to be themselves. Without further ado, here is the Take 5 interview Julian Winters so graciously gave about How To Be Remy Cameron and his own writing process.
CB: What inspired you to write your novel, How to be Remy Cameron?
Julian: A lot! But the main inspiration came from reading so many great books over the years and realizing there just weren't many books that reflected younger-Julian. I've read a lot of great love stories, coming-of-age novels, and could see bits and pieces of myself in the main characters but couldn't find a majority of me. I wanted to give a story to all the queer teens to show them they don't have to fall into any one particular category to be great or amazing or deserving of a happy ending. They don't have to earn that happy ending either. They don't have to know who they are or accept the story that society is trying to write for them. I especially needed queer teens of color to see that their story is just as important as anyone else's. That they don't have to be perfect. That they should be able to celebrate who they are, whether they know what that looks it or are still trying to figure it out.
CB: What do you hope is the biggest take-away for your readers of this book?
Julian: We, as humans, are so much more than the labels others define us by. You're more than enough. You're not too much of anything. Define yourself when you feel comfortable doing it. And everyone, no matter your race or gender or sexuality or background, deserves that right.
CB: What is a lesson you learned the hard way in your writing journey?
Julian: No matter how badly you want it, the first draft will not be perfect. The second draft will not be perfect. The FIFTH draft will not be perfect. Accept it. Accept that you, as a writer and as a person, are a work-in-progress. Just let the words live somewhere else besides in your brain.
CB: What was your hardest scene to write in this book?
Julian: There were a couple of really hard scenes to write. I'll refrain from spoilers but there were a few interactions Remy had with various characters where he had to confront a part of himself he'd never discussed aloud. One scene in particular where Remy deals with a very disturbing encounter at a party took me a few days to write because I was tackling an aspect of race that people acknowledge but don't openly discuss. It was a struggle because I knew I needed to discuss it but part of me worried how others would react to it. It's another lesson I learned: if it's going to make others uncomfortable, then we need to confront it. We need to stop asking, "Will it bother this group of people?" Sometimes discomfort leads to the root of a problem.
CB: Yeah, that party scene was a tough one to read. And you're right, as uncomfortable as it was, it is a reality that people need to read.
CB: Finally, what is your writing Kryptonite (meaning what disrupts your creative flow) and how do you overcome it?
Julian: Social media! I haven't fully overcome it yet but I'm learning to set boundaries. If I'm writing at home, I leave my phone in another room. I never check social media on my laptop, so that makes it easy. When I'm in public, I give myself writing blocks. I'll write/edit for two hours, then take a five minute break for bathroom, to get fresh air, or check social media. Then it's back to work. I tend to falter more in public because there are always distractions (people talking, a dog walking by, a random cute stranger walking into a coffee shop which leads to me daydreaming about our future meet-cute) but I'm getting better. Mostly.
You can buy Julian Winters' books online through Amazon, and just about anywhere books are sold.
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