Thursday, June 13, 2024

Justine Pucella Winans

Justine Pucella Winans (they/she) is a queer and nonbinary writer who lives in Los Angeles with their husband and incredible Halloween-colored cats. Their books include YA mysteries like the critically acclaimed Indies Introduce title, Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything, and One Killer Problem. Their MG speculative horror titles include the acclaimed Stonewall Honor Book, The Otherwoods and Wishbone. When not writing queer, creepy, and funny fiction for kids and teens, they can be found training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reading (a lot of) manga and webcomics, and actively avoiding real life scary situations.

My Q&A with Pucella Winans:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

It was difficult for me to come up with a title for this book! Initially, it was The Westbridge High Mystery Club, as the story follows the main character, Gigi, enlisting the help of the school's unofficial Mystery Club to investigate the suspicious death of her favorite teacher. My agent wanted something a little more unique and catchy, so the next idea was Crimesolving, Crushes, and Other Things that Kill You. My editor wanted something shorter, and we eventually agreed on One Killer Problem. It definitely sets up the book as a murder mystery, and also gives a nod to the high school setting and the crime scene being a math classroom.

What's in a name?

I have only the highest respect for authors that put a lot of meaning in character names, but I am not one of them. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet in my cases, since I usually just go through lists of names and see what stands out and feels fitting for the character. If I have to name a more villainous character, it's possible I will use a name of someone who has wronged me in the past, but I'll never admit to which ones!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self would be surprised by the amount of queer representation in One Killer Problem, mostly because I was still figuring myself out and closed in high school. So she'd also be secretly excited, I think. There would probably be some surprise that I was writing in the mystery genre, especially something so funny. I was already trying to write novels while in high school, but the kind of stuff I wrote then was either dystopian or contemporary on the darker and emotional side!

I did write and even queried one thriller, but it was super dark to the point of agents not liking that it did not have a happy ending. So I think teenage me would really enjoy it, but be surprised that I was able to write something more lighthearted and fun and still get it published!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I've always been very drawn to characters and voice, so beginnings come more naturally to me. Endings are definitely harder, especially for mysteries like One Killer Problem. I had to nail the twist and big reveal in a way that doesn't feel entirely obvious from the beginning, but also isn't impossible for readers to figure out. For that reason, and my tendency to rush through endings in my early drafts because I just can't wait to get to the end, the ending definitely goes through more changes.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

None of my characters are exactly like me, but they all have some elements of myself that allows me to write from an authentic place. Gigi definitely shares my bisexuality, my IBS, my love for plushies and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and my past tendency to push people away so I wouldn't get hurt. However, we're totally different. I'm way more of an anxious and non confrontational person than she is! I relate to her brother, Luca, in the sense that I was the nerdy theater kid stressed about finances before college, but I'm not the kind of outgoing that he is. I relate to Gigi's friends, Sean and Mari, in being big readers and mystery fans, but they are both way cooler than I am. Some characters I'm not really like at all, so I wouldn't get too in their heads, but they are still fun to write!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was a film and theater major in college, so I do take a lot of inspiration from movies and some plays. I'm also a big fan of anime, manga, and webcomics, so that storytelling inspires me a lot. When I was first coming up with the concept of One Killer Problem, I took some inspiration from the anime/series Hyouka, which has a Classic Literature Club that is dragged into cozy mysteries around the school. In previous drafts, the Mystery Club would constantly do odd jobs, which might have had a little Gintama inspiration, especially with the humor. I do also pull from my personal experiences, occasionally texting myself jokes and ideas as they come up.
Visit Justine Pucella Winans's website.

--Marshal Zeringue