We’re unabashedly passionate about the things we love at Nerdist. As our name might hint, we have deep feelings about our fandoms and can’t get enough of the stories that inspire us. That’s why Julian Winter’s brilliant new novel Right Where I Left You immediately caught our eye. The LGBTQ romance focuses on two best friends. Isaac adores comic books, he’s the definition of a geek. His best friend Diego is a video game obsessive. Their friendship is as close as they come, but over one summer things change as the boys explore life, love, and fandoms. To celebrate the upcoming release of this must read book we chatted to Winters about comics, creating believable romances, and the moment he can’t wait for readers to discover!
Nerdist: This is a story about fandom, video games, and superhero comics, so could you begin by telling me the origin story of Right Where I Left You?
Julian Winters: It started in 2018 after I’d seen Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I remember an overload of emotions: joy, triumph, love, sadness that it was over. Those same emotions were on everyone’s face leaving the theater, especially the younger viewers who’d just seen a hero that looked like them on the big screen for the first time. I wanted nothing more than for queer, geeky teens to experience that same joy. I was struck with ideas about the power of fandom, the complexities of family, experiencing your first Pride, and a geeky boy with his gamer best friend. I put out a random tweet about it and got such positive responses, the rest was history.
The world building is so vibrant and fresh. Tell us about creating fiction fandoms.
It was challenging. I’m an avid comic book reader, so I wanted to create fictional characters/worlds that felt familiar but original. Charm, Reverb, and Disaster Academy ended up requiring its own notebook of information! My editor, Dana Leydig, asked me to show parallels between that fictional world and Isaac’s. My friend [author Adib Khorram] suggested I use chapter interstitials to reveal more of the Disaster Academy world and how it related to Isaac. Fortunately, decades of fandom life—those memories of geeking out as a community about a new thing or swooning over your favorite ship finally declaring their love—and writing fan fiction made it a lot of fun.
You craft such a believable and joyously messy relationship between Isaac and Diego. How did you bring that to life?
“Joyously messy” is the theme song of my life! I believe the best friendships are imperfectly perfect. The person who makes you dance to Bruno Mars to get your mind off a problem is the same person you’re most scared to tell a secret to because it might hurt them. It was important to show friendships can be fun, nurturing, and complex. Again, credit to my editor who asked for more of Isaac and Diego. It gave me an opportunity to show their growth as individuals and as a pair in different ways.
There’s so much love for comics in this book. How did your own fandoms inform Right Where I Left You‘s story?
I’m a longtime fan of Young Avengers, X-Men, Teen Titans, etc. If readers look closely, they’ll see nods to Wiccan, Rictor, and other queer comic characters in Disaster Academy. I truly got to live my geeky dreams in the pages. But, as a kid, I longed for more mainstream BIPOC queer representation in comics. Especially storylines that had happy endings. It’s what fueled my writing this story—to show queer characters can be heroes, make mistakes, fall in love, and people will root for them because they’re amazing. Period.
Best friends-to-lovers is such a fun trope. Why was that the right setup for Right Where I Left You?
I knew I wanted Isaac to experience a lot in this book. Unresolved family issues, social anxiety, his first time pursuing a crush, Pride, thoughts of not being enough… I needed a safe place for him to land. Enter Diego. For some queer people, our first true crushes/experiences with love evolve from friendship. It’s where we’re safest. Where we can be our most authentic selves. We can joke, laugh, cry, and just exist. With all that’s happening to Isaac and Diego, I knew best-friends-to-lovers was a great way for them to experience everything, including the intricacies of first love.
Do you have a favorite moment, character beat, or page turn that you’re excited for readers to discover?
Hands down, Chapter 11. It’s the one I imagined writing from the earliest inception of the book. It’s a turning point in Isaac and Diego’s friendship on multiple levels. I love how it’s a funny, sweet, electrical moment that ends with tension neither character saw coming. I hope readers experience a range of emotions in that chapter!
Is there anything you’re hoping that readers take away from this book when they pick it up?
I hope readers take away a sense of empowerment—in themselves, the things they love, their goals, the feelings they’re not ready to share with everyone. By the end, I truly hope Black and brown and queer readers feel like I did after Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—we’re capable of creating our own happy endings. We don’t need the world’s permission to be the hero.
Right Where I Left You releases on March 15.
Featured Image: Penguin Young Readers