James Brandon has decided the color is sort of like shrimp. The pink walls in his Carmel home are in the room where he does most of his writing. In his kitchen are pale blue cooking utensils, which pop against the vintage yellow chairs and yellow wallpaper on the adjacent kitchen wall.
Brandon’s focused attention to color and mood is also present in his debut novel, Ziggy, Stardust and Me.
The young adult book was released by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books on Aug. 6. The story follows loner teenager Jonathan in 1973, in a time and place when homosexuality is considered a mental illness. Jonathan is often confused and is often very alone, so he finds a safe place in his imagination. It’s there where his hero – David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust – guides him through life. And it’s there where Jonathan can be anything he wants, including a “normal” boy. One day he meets Web, who is is fearless, handsome and not afraid to be gay. While the pair are opposite, Web is the first person to see Jonathan completely and thinks he’s perfect and may lead Jonathan to accept himself fully. As a gay man, Brandon says he identifies with the main character’s struggle with self-acceptance.
“I knew the feeling of growing up knowing you’re different, but not being allowed to be,” he says. “I’m 42 and still feel it. It’s ever-present when it’s implanted in you at a young age.”
Brandon wanted to add to the coming-of-age genre for young readers because he thinks queer stories are needed.
“There are some people who feel that the pains and angst of being gay is overdone, but honestly a big piece of the story is the character working through that shame,” he says. “Until we get to a point where coming out isn’t such a heartache for people – because it is still very much a hard process – the struggle is still very real for young people.”
Brandon came to Carmel with his partner two years ago after spending 20 years in Los Angeles, where he worked in theater and television.
His novel is set in the context of a difficult time in LGBTQ+ history, before Brandon himself even knew that context.
“When you are at an age when you’re questioning everything about your sense of belonging, when you see yourself in a book or in history, you realize you are a piece of it too,” he says. “We need you being you in this world.”