Interview With James L. Sutter (The Ghost of Us)

Today we are very excited to share an interview with Author James L. Sutter (The Ghost of Us)!




Meet the Author: James L. Sutter

James L. Sutter is a co-creator of the best-selling Pathfinder and Starfinder roleplaying games. He’s the author of the young adult romance novel Darkhearts, as well as the fantasy novels Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine. His short stories have appeared in NightmareThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the #1 Amazon best-seller Machine of Death, and more. James lives in Seattle, where he’s performed with bands ranging from metalcore to musical theater.

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About the Book: The Ghost of Us

One Last Stop meets Cemetery Boys in this swoony YA romance from beloved author James L. Sutter.

Eighteen-year-old ghost hunter Cara is determined to escape life as a high school outcast by finding proof of the supernatural. Yet when she stumbles upon the spirit of Aiden, a popular upperclassman who died the previous year, she learns that ghosts have goals of their own. In the wake of his death, Aiden’s little sister, Meredith, has become a depressed recluse, and Aiden can’t pass on into the afterlife until he knows she’ll be okay. Believing that nothing pulls someone out of a slump like romance, he makes Cara a deal: seduce Meredith out of her shell and take her to prom, and Aiden will give Cara all the evidence she needs for fame. If not, well—no dates, no ghost.

Wooing the standoffish Meredith isn’t going to be easy, however. With Aiden’s coaching, Cara slowly manages to win Meredith over—but finds herself accidentally falling for her in the process. Worse yet: as Meredith gets happier and Aiden’s mission nears completion, his ghost begins to fade. Can Cara continue to date Meredith under false pretenses, especially if it means Aiden will vanish forever? Or should she tell Meredith the truth, and risk both of them hating her? And either way, will she lose her only shot at proving ghosts are real?

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~Author Chat~


YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book? 

When I wrote my previous book, Darkhearts, I’d had really clear inspiration. There was a single bombshell moment when I was reading about the Beatles’ original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who quit the band before they got huge, and then realized I could combine that with my own experience as a teenage musician in order to explore what happens emotionally when you miss your chance at fame. It truly felt like a lightning strike in my brain.

My new book, The Ghost of Us, was nothing like that. I knew I wanted to write another YA romance, and I had some tropes I was interested in—love triangles, fake dating, ghost hunting—but I didn’t really know how to put it all together. Then one day I sat down and wrote a snarky monologue from the perspective of a teenage ghost, about how much it sucks being dead, and something caught. It was funny! It was honest, and a little bit uncomfortable! It was everything I look for in the start of a YA novel!

And it screwed me up for months. Because ultimately, the story I wanted to tell wasn’t about being dead—it was about taking charge of your life and refusing to be defined by the bad things in your past. My ghost character, Aiden, is the one who kicks everything into motion, convincing Cara, the ghost hunter who discovers him, to try and date his depressed little sister, Meredith. But the real story was between Cara and Meredith. Once I let the spotlight turn onto them and let Aiden and his experience take a backseat, everything snapped into focus. It also helped that from pretty much the beginning, I had a really clear image of the last scene. Since I knew what I wanted it to look and feel like, I could write the whole book toward that moment.

YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book? 

I’m a sucker for funny side characters, so honestly, it’s probably Cara’s dad. He’s such a good-natured goofball, and I love writing really supportive families where teens and adults can banter with each other.

Of the main characters, though, I think it’s Aiden, the ghost. He’s sweet and caring while also being an irritatingly confident dumbass, which I think is a pretty reasonable reflection of my teenage experience.


YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel? 

The novel, all the way—titles can be super hard for me. For this one, it was tough to find a title that somehow equally conveyed the fact that it was both a ghost story and a romance. Fortunately, The Ghost of Us came to me fairly early while I was still writing, and just felt right—in my mind, the “us” speaks not just to the romance, but also to the relationships between Meredith and dead brother or Cara and her ghost friend. I love a title that can mean several different things!


YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?

Spoiler time! Cara’s best friend, Holly, is an extremely moral character who works super hard to always do the right thing. Cara, by contrast, can be kind of a selfish jerk at times, so Holly ends up being her Jiminy Cricket, always trying to guide her toward good choices.

…which makes the scene where Holly finally gets fed up and snaps super fun. A reader sent me a message just the other day that said only, “DUDE! The green glowstick was HARSH!” and I cackled because I knew I’d done that scene right.


YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now? 

At a nuts-and-bolts craft level: Story is about people. We’re social animals, and no matter how cool your worldbuilding or action scenes, what we really get invested in is characters. So when planning a story, I chart out every character’s emotional arc—what issues they’re wrestling with, and how they change as a result of the events of the story. It gives everything more weight and momentum. Even if I’m writing, say, a space-age firefight between mercenaries and aliens in my Starfinder comic book series, knowing that one character is questioning their parenting style, and another is wrestling with the morality of the mission, and another is jealous of someone stealing their role… it just makes everything more vibrant.

But at a more metaphysical level: Just write the story. Say what happens next. As China Miéville once told me: The idea of writing a whole novel is terrifying, but you can write a chapter. And if not a chapter, you can write a scene. Or a paragraph. Or a sentence. Even just opening the document is a victory. One of the most important things I learned during my years as an editor is that every story, no matter how brilliant, starts as a pile of garbage. And I can write a pile of garbage! You can too. So let’s get started already. 


YABC: What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?

I just finished a nonfiction book called Bitch: On the Female of the Species by Lucy Cooke—it’s all about how patriarchal thinking has historically warped our understanding of evolutionary biology, and is chock-full of fascinating animal facts, digging into everything from the prevalence of female-dominant species to same-sex relationships in the animal kingdom. It’s absolutely shocking how much the science of sex and gender in zoology is the direct result of researchers simply ignoring whatever data didn’t fit their narrative.

On the young adult fiction side, I really enjoyed If This Gets Out by Cale Dietrich and Sophie Gonzales—as a M/M boy band romance, it was close enough to Darkhearts that I didn’t let myself read it until after my own book was finished and out, but it was well worth the wait! I truly couldn’t put it down.

YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book? 

I’m going to say Aiden, but it wasn’t so much about the character himself as his relationship with Cara. Originally, I wanted this book to be a love triangle—I thought it would be really fascinating to have Cara falling for both hot, mysterious Meredith who she barely knew how to talk to and Meredith’s ghost brother where they could only talk. That was true all the way through the draft I sent my editor, Sara Goodman, who thankfully came back and was just like, “yeah, I’m not buying Cara falling for Aiden.”

So I went through and doubled down on their romance—so much intimacy! Late-night whispers in her ear!

And it still didn’t work.

So I changed it to just Aiden crushing on Cara, which kinda worked. But ultimately, my editor was like “Why can’t Cara and Aiden just be friends?”

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was right. Cara’s such a loner because she’s terrified of being betrayed and abandoned, and that fear is just as much at play in her friendships as in romantic relationships. Plus, I really want to see more wholesome cross-gender friendships in fiction. So in the end, killing the love triangle made everything between Cara and Aiden much stronger, and let me focus more on the main romance between Cara and Meredith.

(Poor Aiden.)


YABC: What is the main message or lesson you would like your reader to remember from this book? 

That you don’t need to be defined by your past, or by what other people think of you. As Meredith tells Cara after their first date: If you’re already unpopular, then you’ve got nothing to lose. You can be whoever you want to be, right now.

We can’t choose what life throws at us, but we can choose how we respond—and who we stand beside. We can find our people and hold each other up.


YABC: What would you say is your superpower? 

I think it’s communication: being really open, being honestly curious about other people, and not being afraid to dig into the tough stuff. It sounds so simple, but you can make or deepen friendships so quickly just by asking people about the things that really matter to them and then listening to their answers. I love when I meet a new person and within twenty minutes we’re talking about our relationships, our hopes, our existential fears. Among my friends I’m often the one who broaches hard subjects that everybody’s been anxiously skirting around, because you can’t solve conflict if you won’t discuss it. Life’s too short to skate along the surface—let’s go deep!




Title: The Ghost of Us

Author: James L. Sutter

Release Date: 06/11/2024

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre: Young Adult / Romance / LGBTQ

Age Range: 13-18

1 thought on “Interview With James L. Sutter (The Ghost of Us)”

  1. I loved this book and appreciate the author revealing that Aiden and Cara was supposed to be a love triangle. There is still a underlying love between them but its platonic which I love.

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