Interview With an Author: James Ramos

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author James Ramos and his latest book, The Wrong Kind of Weird
Author James Ramos and his latest book, The Wrong Kind of Weird

James Ramos (he/they) is a nonbinary, unapologetically dorky Minnesota native who now calls Arizona home. Weaned on a steady diet of science-fiction, comic books, and classic literature, James wrote his first story at eight years old and hasn't stopped writing them since. He counts Jane Austen and Frank Herbert as his biggest literary influences, and believes in the unifying power of the written word. James is passionate about storytelling, particularly stories that give voice to marginalized people, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. When he isn't writing he can usually be found cosplaying with his friends or surrounded by his amazing family of cats. His latest book is The Wrong Kind of Weird and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for The Wrong Kind of Weird?

Growing up, I was really awkward and didn't understand a lot of the social cues and nuance that everyone else around me seemed to pick up on automatically, and I remember deciding one day in seventh grade that I wanted to be one of the popular kids, so I started studying them to find out what it was that made them popular so I could emulate them. That went on well into my high school years, and I deeply, deeply regret wasting all that time and effort on something so meaningless. Thinking about that extremely cringy time in my life was what ultimately inspired this book. So in a way something good came out of all that, years later.

Are Cam, Karla, Jocelyn, D'Anthony, Mackenzie, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

They are definitely an amalgam of a lot of people I grew up with! I try not to base any one character on any one specific person because that's a little too close to home for me, but lots of the conversations they have and the things they're into were inspired by the people I know, and there's a little bit of myself sprinkled in each of them, too.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Honestly, I think with the help of my amazing editor Stephanie Cohen, the story and the characters ended up stronger and much more refined than they were initially. My first drafts are always really short and barebones, so most of the subplots and secondary characters get fleshed out in revisions or subsequent drafts.

In your acknowledgments, you thank Jane Austen and state that her work is an influence on your own. And you reference Pride and Prejudice throughout The Wrong Kind of Weird. Is Pride and Prejudice your favorite Austen novel? If not, what is?

I adore Jane Austen. I'd never read Pride and Prejudice until I was an adult. My sister used to carry around a copy of it in her purse with her, and after a while, I got so curious that I finally read it, and the rest is history. My first book was a gender-flipped YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and it's for sure one of my all-time favorite novels! It's the ultimate enemies-to-lovers story, and that's one of my favorite tropes. Although I have to admit, in terms of Jane Austen, Emma is a close second.

Do you have a favorite version/retelling of Pride and Prejudice (novels, film, or television)? A least favorite? One that is so bad it is fun?

I will forever be in love with the 2005 film! It's such a lush, gorgeous film, and it captures the emotions of the characters so perfectly. I cry almost every time I watch it. There's also a web series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries that I also love because of how well it takes all of the elements and characters of the original novel and puts them so perfectly in a contemporary setting. It's also hilarious.

Similar question for Hayao Miyazaki? and Studio Ghibli (whom you also acknowledge): Do you have a favorite of their films/works?

I’m partial to Kiki’s Delivery Service. I have a soft spot for black cats, and I have one who looks and acts just like Jiji! But I really love the Ghibli aesthetic, and the earnestness and heart that so many of those films have.

How would you characterize your own high school experience? Were you a popular kid? One of the kids who didn't "fit in"? Someone else?

I have had experience on both sides of the spectrum. I was definitely more of an outsider during my first two years, but for my junior and senior years, I feel like I became more of a popular kid. Unfortunately, I think most of that came from my acting less like myself and trying to project a certain image. I really wish I would have had more faith in the fact that if I had been myself the right people would have accepted me for who I was.

Do you have an idea/theory as to why high school is, overall, such a challenging experience for most people when they look back on it?

I think high school is a microcosm for the "real world" in a way, especially socially. A lot of the situations we learn to navigate during that time are ones we continue to have to deal with into adulthood, but it's the first time many of us are experiencing so many different things and all these new pressures, not just socially but physically and mentally, and it can be tough to handle so much at once. It definitely was for me.

If you could tell your high school freshman self something, what would it be?

Chill out! Stop trying to be someone you aren't. It totally is not worth it. Also, maybe turn in more of your homework…

What's currently on your nightstand?

Lots of manga and comics at the moment! A friend of mine convinced me to finally take the dive and get into One Piece and now I'm completely obsessed! I'm also a devout Spy x Family fan right now. I’m also rereading some classic Spider-Man comics from the Stan Lee/John Romita era.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Oof, that’s tough, but I’d say Frank Herbert, Jane Austen, Mary H.K. Choi, Brittany Cavallaro, and William Gibson.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Probably Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. My mom bought it for me at a book fair when I was around eleven or twelve, and I devoured it. It was the perfect mixture of fantasy and cyberpunk, and the humor was so dry and sharp. That book definitely informed a lot of my early writing, and probably a lot of my current writing, honestly.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Twilight, for sure! I actually did have to hide that from my mom! She ended up finding it, although I'm still not sure how! I guess I wasn't as sneaky as I thought I was.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Lots of the "classics," honestly! Moby Dick is one that comes to mind right away. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is another. I've gone back and read some of them, but it's a slow process.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I have to confess I buy a lot of books because of the cover! The most recent one was actually The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang. The cover is absolutely beautiful, and then I read what it was about, and that only made me want the book more! But yeah, usually I'm a sucker for a good cover.

Is there a book that changed your life?

That would absolutely be Frank Herbert's Dune. I read it for the first time during a family road trip when I was ten after my mom let me watch the 1984 David Lynch film, and it was this life-changing experience. The sheer density of the world-building, and the scope and scale of the story and the amount of detail in that book altered how I approached writing and expanded what I thought could be done with words.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Would it be wrong to say mine? Only kidding (kind of)! No, but there's an anthology called Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd that I think everyone, whether or not you're any kind of geek, nerd, or dork, should read at least once because it gives such an insight into lots of facets of geek culture, and the stories were written by self-professed geeks, so it feels familiar and genuine. It was one of the first books I read that had characters that were as dorky as I was, and it was the first time I realized I could write characters with interests and enthusiasm similar to mine. If they made a second volume, I would kill to be a part of it!

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

If I could go back, I'd want to read most of the Sherlock stories for the first time. Those are some of my favorites, and as much as I re-read them, it would be cool to not know how the mysteries are solved.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was incredible! Jennifer Sue Walters has been one of my favorite comic book characters for years, so I've been waiting for her MCU debut for a long time, and it did not disappoint! Aside from her being one of my faves, the casting and the writing were both phenomenal, and I loved the deconstruction of so many of the tropes that are standard MCU fare. Not to mention the self-awareness, and how Jen was able to ultimately take control of her narrative while trolling the sexist "fanboys;" that was a really empowering thing to watch, and I enjoyed every second of it. I can only hope to write something that's so amazing in so many ways one day!

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

I actually experienced what I'd consider the perfect day this past summer! A friend and I took a day trip to San Diego to go to the Spider-Man Experience at the Comic-Con Museum, and then we went to San Diego Pride and saw Ashnikko perform. The only way that day could've been more perfect is if I could have brought my cats along!

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

I think that would have to be, "why do you write?" And the answer is that I don't have a choice. Growing up, I didn't have a lot of support for it. In fact, I had a lot of people trying to get me to stop doing it, and I definitely tried. Somehow I'm compelled to do it, and I think that's because stories are one of the only ways I feel connected with other people. I think that stories in any medium breed empathy and allow us to tap into the universal truths of the human experience and emotions that we all experience, and ultimately that can bring us together. I want to be a part of that.

What are you working on now?

I'm always working on multiple projects at once, so right now, I'm working on my next book, which will be a YA coming-of-age novel like The Wrong Kind of Weird, along with a YA fantasy and a sci-fi project that's been floating around in my head for years. I love supernatural romance, cyberpunk, and space operas, and I've got projects I'm working on in all of those genres at the moment!

Book cover for The Wrong Kind of Weird
The Wrong Kind of Weird
Ramos, James