Skip to main content

Into YA with James Brandon


Today I'm talking to James Brandon on the blog about his new book Ziggy Stardust and Me and how he came to write the story! Hope you enjoy!

1. You’ve written a historical novel set in the 70s. How much research went into creating an accurate setting? Was it difficult to naturally write about a world and events that took place around forty years ago?
Once I knew the story would be set in the summer of 1973, I spent a year immersing myself in the time period before I began outlining and drafting the story: I only listened to early seventies music (which I now find to be some of the raddest music to date), I watched TV shows and movies, and devoured books and magazines from that time. I also spent weeks at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco sifting through their archives. I remember finding a set of letters from a pair of lovers who I’m fairly certain never met in real life. (They couldn’t out of fear.) These letters were written with such raw emotion, you could feel the love pounding through their words. That passion inspired Jonathan’s voice and connected me to my queer history like I’d never experienced before.
And after my thorough research, I found the comparisons between then and now eerily similar. It was a tumultuous time: Every marginalized faction of society was screaming to have their voices heard and the Watergate scandal with President Nixon’s impending impeachment was in full swing. (For starters.) Talk about “history repeating itself.” I have strong feelings about today’s current events, so it was easy (and mentally helpful) for me to channel those emotions into the narrative.

2. The story also revolves around a boy who is realizing his sexuality and struggling to accept it because being gay was actually illegal at the time. What drew you to telling this story set in that period of time? Did you always set out to tell this narrative in the 70s as opposed to the present day? 
I was first inspired to write this story after a friend of mine brought me an episode of This American Life titled “81 Words.” In it, the narrator talks about the time when her grandfather, Dr. John Spiegel, was one of the psychiatrists with the APA who helped remove homosexuality from the DSM (The Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which is also known as the Big Book of Mental Illnesses). Suddenly anyone who identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum was cured. It’s a dramatic account of that time, and it’s an integral part of our history I knew nothing about. In fact, after listening to that episode, I realized how little I know about our queer history and how rarely, if at all, it’s taught. I wanted to change that for myself and help educate readers about the importance of this time as well as the enormous contributions LGBTQ+ peoples have made throughout history. And since homosexuality was officially “declassified” as a mental illness on December 15, 1973, I knew I wanted to set the narrative a few months prior to that decision.



3. Your writing style heavily influences the tone and feeling of the book and gives the story an extra dimension. Does voice come naturally to you or have you developed it over a long period of time? Do you have any advice for beginning writers looking to cultivate their voice?
Thank you! Honestly, I think I’m still finding my voice as an author, but for this particular story, Jonathan’s was discovered as I started writing the first draft. His escape into music, where he feels most safe in the world, helped me find a lyricism to his voice that I felt was integral to understanding his state-of-mind. I wanted the reader to be immersed in the story, to fully experience and feel his journey, rather than just read about it. 
“Finding your voice” is such an abstract concept, one that can be challenging to know how to address in concrete terms. My advice for any writer in honing your voice is two-fold: 1- Write, write, and write some more. It took me well over 100 drafts before I felt secure in Jonathan’s voice, until it felt as natural to me as if I were having a conversation with my best friend. To me, that’s the key. In my opinion, you have to know every single piece of your character’s backstory (I’m obsessive and literally have four spiral notebooks filled with backstory about Jonathan) in order to authentically and creatively write their story. 
My voice is ever-evolving, as I think it should always be.  And this brings me to the second piece of advice: You have to know yourself first before you can ever begin to know someone else. You have a unique set of gifts to give to the world. When you own those gifts, when you find strength because of those gifts, I think you’re that much more in tune with your authentic self, and living from that place will lend itself naturally to discovering your “Writer’s Voice.”


4. In your bio it mentions that you spent a decade touring the world in a play for a decade. How has touring and getting to visit so many places impacted your writing
Touring with Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi for a decade changed my life dramatically. In short, the play is the story of Jesus—from nativity to crucifixion—told through the lens of a young, gay man growing up in 1950s Corpus Christi, Texas. What the play did, that surpassed all our dreams and expectations, was bring LGBTQ+ peoples back to a faith they’d been ousted from because of their identity; they were seeing a story they grew up learning told to them through their lens. Lives were being changed and healed, including the cast, because of the power of this piece. Not only did I experience first-hand the transformative gifts of art-making, I was able to more deeply understand the intersectionality of my LGBTQ+ family. These two learned lessons deeply influenced my journey into writing.


5. I always love to hear about what debut authors want to do next. Can you share about any upcoming projects?
Well, after the dust settles a bit on this debut journey, I want to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again. I love baking and entertaining, and with the holidays approaching I’m so excited to start hosting some parties at our house. As far as book stuff, I can share that my next two books will each dive into another lost or forgotten moment in LGBTQ+ history. Since I’ve been on tour, I’ve witnessed a voracious appetite in people of all ages to learn more about our history, and although it’s currently required to be taught in only four US states, I look forward to seeing those numbers increase over the next few years as these books release.

Links of Interest:
Into YA with Laura Silverman: Here
More Than Maybe Cover Reveal: Here
Pointe: Review Here
Frankly in Love: Review Here

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi: YA Book Review

  Yolk  by Mary H.K. Choi Overview: Jayne is in fashion school in NYC. Well, she's enrolled. It's debatable how often she actually attends. June has a fancy job in finance, or that's what everyone thinks. But when June gets cancer, the estranged sisters are pulled together because June needs Jayne's identity to get treatment. By pretending to be her sister to get the life-saving procedure, June is forced to come clean and pull Jayne back into her orbit. Though their relationship stays rocky, they're suddenly glued together, forced to admit that their respective glamorous lives are actually filled with roaches and trauma and missteps. Overall: 5+++ This book made me happy cry (that's never happened while reading) and sad cry. Characters: 5 The book is told from Jayne's perspective in an extremely close first person. This book has plot. Things happen in the way that life happens, but it's mostly just characters getting split open and probed for all their w

YA You Need To Read: April 2021

It's already April! School has been super super hectic, and I'm starting my old job as a bookseller again, so I haven't had much time for reading lately (ironic, I know), but I did want to talk about some books coming out in April that I can't wait to read (one day) that might inspire you to pick them up. I particularly can't wait for My Epic Spring Break Up! It's been on my list for a while now (I mean, look at that cover), but I also found some new books that hadn't been on my radar while browsing around the internet that I wanted to bring to your attention.  Let me know in the comments what April books you can't wait for!  Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Kahn  April 6th Zara has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas for a while. She's always dealt with the Islamophobia that's rampant in her high school, but when the star football player gets suspended, Zara becomes the target of a racist attack by the rest of the team that puts her and her family'

Once Upon a Quinceañera

Once Upon a Quinceañera   by Monica Gomez-Hera Overview: Carmen hasn't graduated high school, even though it's the summer after senior year. When her senior project fell through, Carmen has to scramble to complete the project over the summer. That means no college (not that she applied) and no future plans beyond becoming a Dream (floating around in a Belle costume at children's parties) with her best friend Waverley. So maybe it's not the summer Carmen wanted, but it's fine. At least until her ex-boyfriend who ruined everything, Mauro, also shows up on the team and then they get assigned to work her nemesis and younger cousin's quinceañera, which becomes the big event of the summer. Nothing ever quite goes to plan for Carmen, does it? Overall: 4 Characters: 4 I enjoyed hanging out with Carmen for a while. She's super witty and cynical in a way that I appreciate. I also loved reading about a character who's just out of high school and doesn't have a

Olivia Rodrigo'a SOUR As YA Books: Track By Track

This list turned out to be much harder to make than I anticipated when I came up with the idea last week. I set out to match songs to SOUR because what goes better with an album written by a 17/18 year old than YA books, but it turns out that YA books are just too hopeful for this album. Unlike many of these songs, I couldn't find books where the characters ended the book totally despondent and broken up. It took a bit of brainstorming, but I think I found a book to match the essence of each SOUR track. Le me know in the comments which songs on SOUR are your favorite. Mine are "brutal", "favorite crime", "deja vu", and "jealousy, jealousy".  1. "brutal" : War and Speech   by Don Zolidis War and Speech just radiates the same badass, discontented with teenage life energy as "brutal". This was the first book that popped into my mind when I thought about making this post. Just look at the cover. Sydney's life has been fa

Halsey's I Would Leave Me If I Could Poetry Review

  I Would Leave Me If I Could  by Halsey  I've started this review a couple times and scrapped all of them. I've written hundreds of reviews before, and this is the first time I have absolutely no clue how to review a book. It's not just because it's poetry. And it's not because I don't have thoughts on every single poem. I've read the book twice and scrubbed a million notes around her words and highlighted every poem on my second read through. I have so many favorites, and my heart feels like it's going to burst after finishing each poem. Halsey exceeded every expectation I had set to the high bar of her music. I almost feel like this book is too good for my review to remotely do it justice, so I don't even know where to begin.  This book is extremely vulnerable. Halsey has never held back on telling the ugly truth in her lyrics, but the poetry takes it so much farther. She has space to tell the entire story, fewer constraints than what will fit in

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston: NA Book Review

  One Last Stop  by Casey McQuiston Get Your Copy! Overview: August moved to New York for yet another fresh start and hopefully to finish out college (finally). In her attempt to find a place, she stumbles into an apartment full of interesting people who will quickly become her best friends. They fold her seamlessly into their lives. And then, on the subway, August meets a girl who will change her life forever. As time goes on, August finds out that Subway Girl, or Jane, is stuck on the Q metro line by some kind of energetic force. With the Q shutting down for maintenance by the end of the summer, August and her friends have to band together to get Jane unstuck, even if that means bouncing her back to 1977 where she came from and never seeing her again. Overall: 4 Characters: 5 I genuinely loved everyone in this book, and they gave me such warm, fuzzy, and hopeful feelings. The book would be New Adult if that was a category that publishing actually used (please can we make this more of

Swimming Lessons By Lili Reinhart Poetry Review

  Swimming Lessons  by Lili Reinhart  Overall: 5 This is the first poetry book I've ever read in its entirety outside of Shel Silverstein, so I've checked off one of my reading goals for the year with this one. I've now read a graphic novel and a book of poetry. I've been anticipating Swimming Lessons  so long that I can't believe it's actually in my hands. I've been a fan of Lili since Riverdale, and I've continued to be a fan of hers even when the show got a bit too ridiculous for me to keep watching every week. I've been excited for the chance to get to see something completely created a controlled by Lili.  I'm not sure what I expected from Swimming Lessons . I think I had almost no idea what it would be like or the topics it would cover. After the first couple poems, I was completely hooked. In the intro, Lili prefaces the collection by noting that poetry has always given her solace in knowing other people felt the same specific emotions tha

End of Summer YA to Preorder: August TBR

I know I always start these posts by panicking about how it's somehow already *insert whatever month here* because I'm always genuinely surprised when a new month rolls around and I realize it's already time to make a TBR post. But this month it's extra scary because I'm going to start this month at home like normal and end the month in a a brand new city, on my own, and starting in college in person for the first time. I have a road trip and a million boxes and probably a few tears in my future. (More on that later because I think I'm going to actually write a wrap up for this month sometime this week since there are about to be a ton of big changes!)  Anyway, here are the books I'm most excited for during the month of August. This list is a bit shorter than usual, but it has a bit of everything I love: a college YA/NA, a pop star story, and a book from an author I've enjoyed before.  If you're excited about any of these books, make sure you get you

Is YA For Me?

I've seen a lot of different conversations taking place on Twitter that all come back to a central theme. The YA space is controlled by adults. For the most part, they are the ones with the purchasing power, they have jobs in the industry, they are in a better position to amplify their voices about how they feel about different books and the category as a whole. I've been thinking about these conversations as a whole, and it really does come back to the intended audience not owning the space and what that means for the category and the conversations around it. As a teen who's heavily involved in the YA community, I sometimes feel awkward reading all the different, slightly varied takes from adults. Some make blanket statements for themselves and some work with teens and try to be a conduit to add them to the conversation. Very rarely do I come across a real teen who gets an amplified voice in the conversation (definitely go check out Vicky Who Reads on Twitter because,

Never Saw You Coming by Erin Hahn: YA Book Review

  Never Saw You Coming  by Erin Hahn  Preorder - Out September 7th- Preorder Campaign  From Nicola's Books Overview: Meg is done with living by her parents' rules. Or parent? Nothing makes sense after she finds out that the dad she's known all of her life actually isn't her biological dad, and her biological dad is actually dead. But his grandmother and his brother are living in the UP, and Meg intends to meet them before it's too late. With high school behind her, Meg makes the leap of faith towards a tiny town she's never been to. She quickly folds herself into the community, finding her blood family and her found family, while also facing the stigmas and internalized sexism she's learned through her mom and her church over the years. This is the ultimate coming of age story. Overall: 5+++ Characters: 5 Meg and Micah, the two POV characters are now also my two favorite people. In the companion novel of sorts, More Than Maybe , we meet Meg as Vada's hom