The Big Idea: José Pablo Iriarte

Author José Pablo Iriarte is here today to tell us a bit about his debut middle grade novel, Benny Ramírez and the Nearly Departed. Both his novel and his Big Idea feature a feeling many creatives (and others!) are familiar with: imposter syndrome. Follow along to see how fitting into a new school is only the beginning of Benny’s problems.


I first encountered the term “imposter syndrome” from the proprietor of this very website. I was in Denver in 2008 for Worldcon, and since it was my very first Worldcon, I attended a panel/presentation given by John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal that was titled something like “Worldcon for N00bs” (I’m too lazy to attempt to look it up, so let’s assume that’s what it was called). I was an aspiring writer without a fiction sale but with a recently completed novel manuscript, and Kowal was a finalist for the Best New Writer Not-A-Hugo and I wanted to learn the secrets of becoming part of the community of specific writers, and who better to learn from than these two?

At some point the two of them talked about the phenomenon of imposter syndrome and I had an immediate flash of Holy crap, I know exactly what she means! Not as a writer, because I wasn’t even accomplished enough to be an imposter. But I’d experienced it as an early-career teacher, and in other contexts where people seemed to defer to my alleged knowledge and talents, even when I wasn’t sure I had much of either. Now I get to deal with it as an author, where I’ve got some of the credentials that would suggest I know what I’m doing, but I’m pretty sure I don’t, that I’ve gotten lucky two or three times, and that it’s only a matter of time before somebody comes along and realizes I’m just playing at all this.

In Benny Ramírez and the Nearly Departed, my middle grade debut novel from Knopf/Random House, Benny has to deal with a case of imposter syndrome of his own, and he could point to pretty definitive reasons why it’s deserved: He’s enrolled in an arts magnet school, but he has no discernible artistic or creative talent. While everybody else in the school had to audition to get in, he’s there because his parents are on the staff as teachers, and so their kid gets to bypass that hurdle. His father is a successful screenwriter who has left Hollywood to teach drama. His mom is a polyglot who plays guitar. His siblings are a talented dancer and a star thespian. And then there’s Benny…

Benny Ramírez and the Nearly Departed: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

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Source: The Big Idea: José Pablo Iriarte

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