Ask the Author: James Brandon
What would you like readers to know about you?
Hmm. Well, I played Gay Jesus in Terrence McNally’s brilliant play, “Corpus Christi,” touring the world for nearly ten years. That definitely influenced who I am today and birthed the LGBTQIA2S+ activist within me (which is a role I’m still growing into). And in my free time, I love to bake and cook. (I’ve always wanted my own cooking show.)
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
ZIGGY, STARDUST & ME is a love story set during the tumultuous time of 1973, when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. 16-year-old Jonathan Collins is currently being “treated” for his illness, and he believes himself to be “cured.” That is, until Web enters his life. Web has secrets of his own, and as they start developing feelings for each other, the two boys learn how to tackle issues of race, homophobia, and identity in a world that is doing everything in its power to tear them apart.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
Before writing this novel, I was completely unaware of my Queer history. A friend of mine brought me an episode of This American Life, titled “81 Words,” which dives into the months prior to homosexuality officially being removed from the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. I was embarrassed I knew nothing of this time, or any part of my history for that matter, so I started doing my own research to learn more about where I came from. Once I fell down that rabbit hole, the initial seed of the story was planted within.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
Oh, that’s a tough question! I guess I’d say the two scenes when Jonathan and Web share their first connection at Jonathan’s house were ones I really loved writing. I think I felt the palpable sense of relief they both felt being alone together for the first time, and the freedom/fear/nervousness/excitement that came along with it.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was the first YA novel I read where I thought, “Man, I’d love to do that someday.” It’s still my favorite YA book. I also love Jandy Nelson’s writing; to me, she’s a revelation. Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not was a gorgeous/funny/heartbreaking novel that inspired me. Kacen Callender has a writing style that makes my heart bounce a little higher every time I read them. The same goes for Akwaeke Emezi and Ocean Vuong, both of whom seem to find their own soul language when they write. Any writer, especially queer-identified, who isn’t afraid to tackle a tough issue head-on, and unapologetically so, is someone who inspires my own work.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
Write what you love. Write what’s missing for you from novels you’ve read, because we need your voice to feel that void right now. Write what makes you scream, or what makes your soul weep, or your heart burst. Write with passion and gusto, and don’t stop until you can look at a first draft. Then keep going. It will be easy to get distracted along the way, maybe even give up at some point, but those who persevere will get published. I never dreamed this would be possible for me, but that’s how I was able to do it.