Y’all! My hiatus is ending soon, but I am still here, as planned, chatting with James Brandon today about his debut, Ziggy, Stardust and Me!
Ziggy, Stardust and Me is a LGBTQ+ historical fiction debut set in 1973, an important time in LGBTQ+ history. I’ve been excited for this YA coming of age story and all that it brings to the table for months, and I can’t wait to pick this up!
So, today I’m chatting with James about David Bowie, the time period, and so much more! Enjoy–and remember that Ziggy, Stardust and Me is out on August 6th!
Hi James! Thank you so much for joining me today to talk about Ziggy, Stardust and Me! A LGBTQ+ historical coming-of-age story is well needed in YA and I’m really excited to pick it up! Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Ziggy, Stardust and Me–incorporating Bowie lyrics as you do?
Ziggy, Stardust & Me is a whambamthankyoumaam story set in St. Louis circa 1973 when many ch-ch-ch-changes are happening in the world. Jonathan Collins has to turn to face the strange because homosexuality is still considered a mental illness, so he escapes into this imagination where he can be a hero just for one day. (And where he gets to talk to his best friend, Ziggy Stardust, among others.) But when he meets a boy in bright blue jeans with long black hair—Web, a Lakota Two-Spirit—his world is turned upside-down and he begins to hope for Life on Mars…
That was fun. 50 points for Gryffindor if you can guess all the lyrics.
LGBTQ+ folks have always existed around the world in history, with varying degrees of visibility. What made you choose 1973 America in particular as the setting for Ziggy, Stardust and Me, and do you think the story in its most basic essence would have come through as strong in another time period?
On December 15, 1973, the American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (also known as the Big Book Listing Mental Illnesses for Healthcare Professionals), and suddenly millions of LGBTQ+ folks were “cured” of their “illness.” I wanted to explore this important piece of queer history, a moment I knew nothing about. So the story is set during a sticky, humid St. Louis summer in 1973, six months prior to the time that forever changed and defined the modern LGBTQ+ movement.
Jonathon, the protagonist, is going through a lot right now. He’s struggling with his alcoholic father, bullies, and hoping his treatments will make him “normal.” His imagination, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and his relatives help him cope. What made you choose Ziggy Stardust and this particular element of popular culture from the time as something Johnathon fixates on?
In all my interviews, you are the first person to ask me that and I’m excited to finally answer it! I think music is the key to unlocking so many closed doors in our soul, doors we might be too scared to open ourselves. David Bowie created this androgynous alter-ego character, Ziggy Stardust, out of a desire to change his own persona. It was revolutionary for the time. (Still is, in my opinion.)
Ziggy’s story goes a little something like this: He’s a messiah-like figure, a bisexual alien rockstar, who shoots down from the stars to save all the lost children of the world. He brings hope, salvation, self-love, kindness, and peace to anyone who will take it. But he didn’t count on so many fragile souls, and soon he’s so ravaged from everyone’s selfish taking, he obliterates into stardust.
Ziggy Stardust was the perfect metaphor of the early seventies. He was introduced at a time of great tumult, when quite literally every faction of marginalized society was fighting for equality. His persona reflected the change all young people were struggling with, and spoke to a greater desire of the change within they were ultimately seeking. His lyrics are genius, his message profound. And because of this, I knew Jonathan would find the key to unlocking his own self-discovery through Him.
A boy named Web is introduced in Jonathon’s life and he is drawn to Web and the escape he presents. One of the finest lines in fiction dealing with self-acceptance mixed with romance is making sure the protagonist isn’t “cured” by the romance–in what ways did you go about making sure this was apparent to readers?
An excellent question. Certainly I think their romance plays an integral part in Jonathan’s journey to self-acceptance, but I see it as one of many awakenings rather than a cure. There are many broken bits in Jonathan’s life he’s trying to fix and he knows deep down the only glue that can piece them back together is love. This salve comes in many forms along his path, but he won’t let himself see them. There is great comfort in meeting someone who sees you for who you really are. But that in and of itself is only a small piece in your inner puzzle; you must first learn to love yourself before you can ever fully love another being.
Finally, something a little more fun! If Jonathon was transported to 2019 America, what do you think he’d like to do? Is there something from our modern pop culture that you think he’d appreciate a lot, or is there somewhere he’d like to visit?
If Jonathan magically transported to 2019, I think he’d first be devastated to learn David Bowie went back to the stars a few years ago and would do everything in his power to try and stop it from happening when he returned to 1973. Beyond that, he’d abhor technology, but I think he’d love electric bikes and would spend hours riding one around the city. And he’d indulge heavily in Big Gay Ice Cream. And he’d spend hours binge-watching The Great British Bake-Off or the Barefoot Contessa. And he’d undoubtedly grab tickets to see TheCher Show on Broadway and Lady Gaga in Vegas. And before he had to be transported back to 1973, I know for sure he’d sit on some beach to watch the sunset and realize even with all the change, the beauty of nature remains forever constant.
I’m not a David Bowie expert, but that first question AHHH.
I loved what Brandon said about music unlocking the soul–and Johnathon seems like quite a character, so I’m excited to read more about him and his journey and how Web plays a role!
If you enjoyed hearing about Ziggy, Stardust and Me, definitely check out more about it below & make sure to let James know if you liked this interview!
More About the Book
Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon
Hardcover, 256 pages
August 6th 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.
Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.
A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.
More About the Author
James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is Co-Director of the documentary film based on their journey: Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s Co-Founder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. He’s also a certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, spent a summer at Deer Park Monastery studying Zen Buddhism, and deepened his yogic practice in Rishikesh, India. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington Post, Believe Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health Magazine. Ziggy, Stardust, and Me is his first novel.
Preorder & Library Request Campaign
And, there’s a really exciting preorder & library request campaign going on for Ziggy, Stardust and Me–you can win cool things like . . .
- A “Gay is Good” vintage remake button
- Official Ziggy bookmark
- Signed bookplate (hardcovers only)
- Ziggy cover sticker (artwork by the glorious Tomasz Mro)
- $1 donation to BAAITS
- and a really epic grand prize!
Find out more about the campaign at https://www.justbejb.com/preorder!
Is Ziggy, Stardust and Me on your TBR? What LGBTQ+ YA have you read recently?!
Also, I don’t mention this a lot but I’ve posted on my Patreon recently which you can access for only $1 a month! Some posts include . . .
- Turning 18 and What It Means in the YA Book Community
- Performative Activism, Performative Love, & the Modern (Privileged) Liberal High School/College Student
- How I Choose Books In a Bookstore (& Why I’m the Target Reader, but not the Target Buyer)
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