There’s a saying that if you want to read a book that you can’t find on the shelf, then you should write it yourself.*
I follow the (paraphrased) advice of that amazing author, Toni Morrison, as does the hilarious and personable Cody Wagner. His style is so clear that you feel like you’re having a conversation with Wagner as you’re reading the answers to my 20 questions, and readers are sure to feel the same way about the characters he’s created.
He’s two books into a magical series ‘The Gay Teen’s Guide to Surviving A Siren’ (because would a gay teen be unable to refuse a siren’s call?). Although you’ll experience a world unlike any you’ve ever imagined, the characters challenges are reflected in truth. He has one of the most heartwarming ‘fan’ stories I’ve ever read (I mean none of my fans have hugged me while crying) and like me, he has a penchant for Nancy Drew and artful asides.
So until the final book in his trilogy is released please enjoy Cody’s answers to my 20 Questions.
Twenty Questions With…Cody Wagner!
1. Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours? Hmm… I’d say A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving. He was able to make you feel something in every scene, no matter how seemingly small. And for me, reading is about feeling. There’s a scene where Owen plays the Ghost of Christmas Future in a show. On the surface, doesn’t that sound lame? It’s a total throwaway part that doesn’t do much. However, Owen brought it to life! He was so terrifying in the role, people were like passing out and stuff. That may be an exaggeration, but he became the star of the show. That scene was so amazing to me, and it said so much about the character.
2. How old were you when you started writing? Well. I started writing Nancy Drew fanfiction when I was a kid. Don’t judge! I wanted it to be scarier, so I put Nancy and her friends, Bess, and George (yes, I know their names), in real danger. I remember one scene had like Nancy getting her arm broken. The problem was, I had no actual story to go along with the awful things happening to her. It was like Saw IX: The Nancy Drew Edition. It was terrible, so I’m not sure that counts. I started writing more seriously about fifteen years ago when I wrote a stage play I could star in. It was about grownups living as kids for the summer.
3. Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with. JK Rowling. And that’s it. I’d want to make a great impression on her, so it would just be the two of us. And since she supports the LGBTQ community (and my novels are LGBTQ), I’d hopefully win her over and get her to Tweet about my books so they get more exposure. Is that the most selfish thing ever? Eek!
4. What would you eat? I literally eat Thai food like 5 times a week. I’m obsessed.
5. How do you plot out your work? I’m somewhere in between a “plotter” and “pantser.” I need to have a good idea of where each scene needs to go. It’s even better if I know where each scene in the entire book is going. Otherwise, I just stare at my screen, get frustrated, and end up taking Buzzfeed quizzes. However, I don’t do anything too rigid, because the characters usually take over once I start writing. Also, I write my first draft as fast as possible. No looking back. It’s complete garbage, but at least it gets finished. Then I go back and start editing the crap out of it. This stops me from obsessing over every page and not finishing anything.
6. Do you write in the morning or evening? So. They say that once you get older, you become a morning person. And I want it to happen! So badly! But, alas, I still find myself crawling out of bed at like 10. It stinks. I ended up taking a year off from my job a while back, and I had these grand plans to kayak on a lake every morning in the summer. It never happened because I couldn’t wake up!! So I’m definitely a night person and do my best work late in the evening. Also, I said alas.
7. Is there music on? Yes, but it can’t have any vocals. Otherwise, I have to start singing along. Even if I don’t know the words.
8. What inspired your last story? I come from a small, homophobic Texas town. Being gay was so taboo, it wasn’t discussed; the whole thing was swept under a rainbow carpet. Therefore, I felt like the only gay in the world. It was very lonely. So I knew I wanted to write an LGBTQ book I could give to young me. That’s the general idea, but there’s another story that’s more specific to the plot. So my sister and I were outside drinking margaritas one day, and we started talking about Greek Mythology. At one point, we were discussing Sirens, and I randomly said, “Do you think gay guys would be immune to the Siren’s song?” And that sparked the idea for my series, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren (TGTGTDAS).
9. Name three books so good you wish you wrote them. Nancy Drew and the Invisible Intruder. OK, maybe not. But that was one of my favorites in the series! I’d have to say Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, and the meandering section of Harry Potter, Book 7. A lot of people hate that section (where the trio isn’t really accomplishing anything), but it was so bold to include a hundred pages of kinda nothing, and it has so much purpose once you finish the series.
10. What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well? The OA is well soooo written. It’s a slow burn, but I’m still on the edge of my seat during every episode. Friends is my favorite show of all time. I like it when comedy comes from situations versus setup/punchline (like Two and a Half Men… the worst show ever. EVER! EVERRRRR!). Friends does a good job of situational comedy, in my opinion.
11. Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece? Definitely Ben Platt from 4 years ago. He’s goofy and awkward, but also likable and smart.
12. Which of your pieces was the hardest to write? Definitely the sequel to the first book in the TGTGTDAS series. Honestly, I had the rose-colored glasses on and thought a book 2 would be easier than the original. I mean, the characters and setting were pretty much already established. NOPE. Part of the amazingness of book 1 is setting up that magic. But it’s already there for book 2, so you have to think of new ways to keep it fresh, while still delivering the book 1 familiarity. It was incredibly difficult, and I kept getting “plot blocked.”
13. Which was the easiest? Surprisingly, book 1 in the TGTGTDAS series has been the easiest. I think I “plotted” that book a bit more than the other 2, so I had something a bit more concrete to work with. Also, I learned it’s easier when you get to reveal the setting, characters, etc… of your world. I mean, it’s tough because you want to do it in an interesting way. But it’s fun pulling your readers into your world in the first book.
14. Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it? The villain in my series is very, very, very atypical. And I wasn’t sure it worked. But most readers understood the motivation behind the villain, and they liked it. That was a huge relief. I can’t say any more without spoiling THE WORLD!
15. What are you working on now? I’m trying to get the first draft of book 3 finished. It’s about 75% done right now. It’s probably the most streamlined of the three (it doesn’t have the little subplots the first two books had). BUT, I also want to wrap the series up in a satisfactory way. So I’m being super critical of it. Help!
16. What story do you have to write before you die? I have a manuscript that’s sitting in my virtual drawer right now. It’s the first full-length novel I’ve written. I love it, but I thought LGBTQ fiction was more topical right now, so I shelved that original project (it’s historical dystopian). But at some point, I have to bring it back out and give it some love. It’s actually my oldest idea (I came up with it when I was like 12) but I think it’s interesting. Go young me!
17. What’s your best fan story? I had a girl come up to me in Corpus Christi, TX. She was coming out of the closet and having a rough go of it. That area isn’t the most gay-friendly and her parents weren’t supportive. After talking for a minute, she started full on crying and thanked me for writing my books. She said they really helped her feel like she wasn’t alone and that they were a wonderful escape for her. That story is the reason I write LGBTQ fiction.
18. What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style? I actually like putting dumb, random asides in parentheses (like this one, yeah!). Some people steer away from that, but I love introspection and character-driven writing. So I love those little tidbits that show a character’s personality.
19. Have you ever based characters off of real people? Absolutely! Jimmy, a character from TGTGTDAS book 1, is based on a childhood friend. Throughout the course of the book, I set out to make Jimmy unlikeable. But because of his innocence and naivete (good word!), he ended up being one of my favorite characters. And that’s kind of like my friend. He was a weird little butterball who lied about the most random things. But he was lovable and great.
20. Who’s your favorite character? I really like Cassie, one of the main characters in the TGTGTDAS series (and the protagonist’s best friend). I don’t want to say more than that. Hashtag spoiler alert. Or maybe it’s just to pique your interest in the series, mwahahaha…cough!
*”If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison