We had the good fortune of connecting with James Persichetti and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, why did you pursue a creative career?
I’m not sure it was much of a choice. I’ve been writing books ever since I learned to write the alphabet in first grade. While I’ve been unsure about a lot of things in life, I’ve always known with absolute certainty that writing is my calling. In some ways, that’s a blessing. There are plenty of people who struggle to find what they’re passionate about well into adulthood. In other ways, it’s a curse, because I can’t be content unless I’m writing. That last part is probably the main reason why I decided to pursue writing as a serious career instead of merely a hobby. I am happiest when I’m writing, so I want to find a way to support myself doing it. But beyond simply making myself happy, there’s an incredible power in story that connects us on a human level. Stories have helped me understand people with different backgrounds than me, come to terms with who I am, cope with death, and find joy in surprising places. I hope that something I write might one day do the same for others.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I write queer characters going on adventures where the conflict isn’t about them being gay. They’re the kind of books that I would have loved to read as a kid, seeing a bit of myself in a positive light without a tragic ending. I’ve been writing my whole life, but the journey has been full of surprises. I started out writing classic fantasy. Your basic Lord of the Rings knock-offs, dragons, adventure, all of it ending in a dramatic battle sieging a castle. I learned a lot about writing, but the ideas weren’t all that original. After college, I bounced between pirate books, Italian Renaissance intrigue, some contemporary romance, a bit of YA. I think I was trying to find what I really loved. All this time, the books I kept reading were middle grade. Rick Riordan, Jonathan Stroud, Jeff Seymour, Kevin Emerson, Kevin Sands. Every time I went to a bookstore, I would gravitate toward the middle grade section. The covers popped with color, the adventures had spirit, the characters were hopeful and determined even though they still dealt with heavy issues. I don’t know when exactly it clicked for me, but I realized that maybe I should try writing the kinds of books that I loved to read. This is a crucial lesson in any creative work: find what is most exciting to you. What makes you come alive? What makes you want to sit down and work? For me, middle grade was that spark. I went to conferences, pitched my book, participated in round table critiques, and got amazing support from my long-standing critique group. It wasn’t long after I started working on my first middle grade book that my writing got interest from agents. But then another surprise came up. Out of the blue, an agent that I had worked with in the past reached out to see if I’d ever considered writing graphic novels. The idea was completely foreign to me. I have zero artistic skill, so my initial reaction was to say no. But she had discovered the artwork of an illustrator in Germany, L. Biehler, and thought it would be the perfect style for an Arthurian legends gay romance. And given the kinds of queer-lead adventure stories I write, she thought I would be a good fit to write the story. The three of us got on a call and brainstormed ideas, and suddenly this new story began to form of knights from Arthur’s Round Table going on a quest and finding love. Six months later we had a proposal, which landed my first publishing deal. That’s another important lesson I’ve learned from this unexpected journey: be open to anything. Don’t lock yourself into one way of doing things. With no experience in graphic novels, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But I’ve learned so much from rising to the challenge, made new friends with amazing creative people like our illustrator L. Biehler, and most importantly, I had a blast writing it. Our Arthurian legends graphic novel comes out in 2023 and I hope to sell my middle grade books soon. But even then, I want to remain open to anything. Whether it’s fantasy or science fiction or contemporary romance, I want to write the kinds of stories that spark joy and continue to represent queer characters in an uplifting and empowering way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Starting with what’s close to where I live, we’d get pancakes at Snooze at the Westminster Promenade. Then check out the Butterfly Pavilion and hold the tarantula Rosie. Then go ice skating at the Ice Centre. For dinner we’d either get Ooka sushi or pizza and beers at Kokopelli. A little bit further south we could get drinks at the School House in Arvada. I love walking 16th Street and anything around Union Station, so we’d probably spend a day downtown. While I was still working in Denver, I would stop at Amante for coffee before heading into the office. It’s a great place to start the morning. Then we’d head over to the Tattered Cover on Colfax, browse the books, and hit up the Chocolate Lab for some chocolate-infused cocktails. For dinner, we’d go to Domo, the best Japanese restaurant I’ve eaten at since coming home from Nagasaki. I could also spend a whole day walking around the Denver Botanical Gardens. Heading to Boulder, we’d walk Pearl Street and check out the kite and wind chime shop, Into the Wind. Tea at the Dushanbe Teahouse and walking along the river. If it’s summer, we’re definitely going to hit up the farmer’s market and then see Shakespeare under the stars. To get into nature, we’d hike Chautauqua or go deeper into the mountains. Depending on how adventurous we’re feeling, we could go for a drive into the mountains, hike through Rocky Mountain National Park, spend a day in Aspen, or down to the Sand Dunes. And while I’ve never been there yet, I’ve always wanted to go camping in Black Canyon. It has low light pollution, so I hear it’s an amazing place to go stargazing.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are too many people to name, but one person who helped unlock my writing potential is Dr. David Hicks. My creative writing teacher in college, he’s the person who convinced me that writing is a skill that can be learned, not just an inherent talent. As silly as this sounds, this idea was a game changer for me. I thought a writer was born that way and just sat down to write books without any training. Arrogantly, I fancied myself that kind of writer. But he taught me to treat writing like a skill. Just like a painter needs to learn techniques, elements like light and shape and texture, so does a writer. Craft needs to be studied. Structure, character, pacing, dialog, all of it. If it weren’t for Dr. Hicks, I’d probably still be stuck writing fluffy thought pieces and meandering adventures with no plot.
Check out David’s book White Plains, which can be found on Amazon.
Angie Hodapp (portrait)