Continuing with LGBT Pride Month this week I was fortunate enough to have an interview with Cody Wagner, author of The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren last night.
BaS- Today on Books and Smizmars we have a special guest, author of the award winning book The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren Cddy Wagner
Cody-Hi! I’m also known as Cody. JK
BaS-That damn keyboard, how are you today?
Cody-Lol I’m doing good! Just worked out and had my protein shake. So life is good. (I only workout for the shake.)
BaS-I’ve never had the shake. lol
Cody-Oh I tried a bunch of different ones (some really bad) before finding one I liked.
BaS-well that’s good
Cody-Also: Thanks for interviewing me! I’m Super excited.
BaS-I’m super excited you said yes! Right then, so where did you come up with The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a SIren (TGTGtDaS)
Cody-There’s a facebook post: “He said Yes!” Well I always knew I wanted to write a YA LGBTQ book. I just didn’t know what it would be about. Some ideas were in my head (the most prominent was sorta like that Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but nothing really appealed to me. So I actually wrote a completely different manuscript. Then, one night, I was talking to my sister about Greek Mythology and we got into the Siren. Somehow, this question randomly came up: you think gay guys were immune to the Siren’s song? And that actually kick-started the book. Funnily enough, we were just joking around but the idea stuck with me. And the rest of the book fell into my head. The next day, I ditched my other manuscript and started working on TGTGtDaS
BaS-That’s awesome! It is an interesting way to come up with a story. If you don’t mind, what was the synopsis of the other book? Was it similar?
Cody-Lol It’s not even a little bit similar. Whereas TGTGtDaS is a YA LGBT, the other is adult dystopian mixed with literary history. It’s essentially about a desperate man who tries to create a religion. I honestly don’t know exactly how to categorize it, but there you go. WHen TGTGtDaS is finished, I will be hopping back onto it.
BaS-Good to hear, I look forward to it when TGTGtDaS is finished. How was TGTGtDaS witten? Was it planned or made up as you went along?
Cody– So writers are sometimes designated as “pantsers” or “planners”. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants and make it up as they go. Planners plan things out. I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve tried just sitting down and writing. But, oh man, did I write some garbage! I have to begin with some direction. So I typically have a loose outline telling what each chapter is about (in just a few sentences.) Then I go in and blow them out. I don’t plan too much more than that because there’s this cool thing that happens: sometimes, characters take over the story and they end up doing something different than you expected.
BaS- I’ve heard that happen with a few authors.
Cody-Admittedly, book 2 was a bit different. I didn’t have every chapter planned out. I only had the next one or two chapters in my head and that’s it. The rest of the book ahead of that was blank.
Cody-I think a more practical way to put it is that when you’re writing a scene, you’re immersed in the emotion that can cause things to play out differently. Yeah. Book 2 was EXTREMELY difficult for me. I always thought sequels would be easier. They definitely are not.
BaS-I believe you. Just getting one book finished is exhausting, then you gotta do it again!
Cody-Yep, exactly! And you have to market as .well.
BaS-ah. What influences went into writing TGTGtDaS
Cody-You mean who/what influenced the story?
Cody-Yes! I understood correctly! Ok I have to give a shout out to Harry Potter. It definitely played a part. In TGTGtDaS, the main character, Blaize, is sent off to a boarding school that is *very* different than it appears. It’s not a school of witchcraft or anything, but the feel is similar in that Blaize’s real home is at school. I also loved that, although there are sad/serious moments, Harry Potter also has times of joy. I wanted that in this book. While Blaize goes through some awful stuff, he also has a lot of fun. I also have to say that young me (trademark pending) influenced the book. I grew up in a tiny homophobic town. And I wanted to give young me an escape so I wrote the book for him. Honestly, the book is for all those kids like me, the ones who wanted to be themselves but weren’t able to. I’ve had several reviewers say the book reminds them a bit of gay Harry Potter and I think that’s the highest compliment.
BaS-I actually did get a Harry Potter vibe from it based on it being a boarding school with fun shenanigans happening.
BaS-Par of me did also wonder if there was a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in there based on the title.
Cody-Oh Really? Interesting. I’ve never actually seen the show.
BaS-It was a great show, it’s not on Netflix anymore.
Cody– I have tons of friends who loved it. I’ll have to ask the ones who read the book if they also saw similarities.
BaS-Great! Why did you choose to have TGTGtDaS as a YA book?
Cody-Because I really wanted to give something to younger people who might be suffering or questioning or just curious. I don’t try to claim that my book is the be-all-end-all. But I’m just trying to show that gay kids are like everyone else. That’s one thing I worked really hard at with TGTGtDaS. I didn’t want a book about gay teens. I wanted a book about teens who just happened to be gay. And they go through the same stuff everyone does. I also deal with bullying as it’s something I dealt with as a kid. Bullying sucks (when I was a kid, older guys raised me up a flagpoles by my belt loop!!!). But looking back, I saw that it really does get better. And I want to try to convey some of that to teens.
BaS-I actually did notice you spent more time on the cast as regular teens rather than stereotypes, THANK YOU! And holy crap a flagpole? That’s actually physically possible and not something on tv?
Cody-You’re welcome, I’m basically a 14-year-old myself sooooo. Oh my belt loop broke like 10 feet up. Luckily I grabbed the pole and managed to slide down.
BaS- that sounds slightly less painful than falling onto concrete.
Cody-Very much yes! But imagine sliding down into the waiting arms of bullies. It was like slow motion. Maybe one day I’ll write a story about it.
BaS-oh dear, that does sound pretty awful.
Cody-I think those experiences can make us better people. More sympathetic or just kinder. I’m definitely not saying I’m perfect. But I’m actually glad it happened in a way.
BaS-Understandable. Now that you bring that up, there is a character named Jimmy who is bullied by two of his peers, was he your outlet for the events that happened to you?
Cody-Yes. Blaize is my outlet for wanting to be popular. Oh man, I thought being popular would solve all my problems. I put those jocks on a pedestal in high school. And I really wanted to have Blaize deal with that. Regarding bullying, Jimmy is definitely my bullying outlet. He feels a lot of things I did. It was cathartic writing that and watching Jimmy come around. Honestly, I started the book with the intention of making Jimmy unlikable. But then I felt what he was going through and he grew into probably my favorite character in the book. He actually changed as I wrote him.
BaS-It was an interesting form of character development to read through. You already answered this, but to continue on the subject, is there any of you in Blaize?
Cody-Oh very much yes. He’s goofy and unsure, just like I was. And he has lots of mouth diarrhea like I used to. On the other hand, though, I was a VERY oblivious teenager. I think it’s what got me through. And I was also very self-involved. Blaize is actually pretty intuitive and aware of his faults (even if he doesn’t fix them). That’s very different from how I was.
BaS-To be fair I think most teens are still oblivious, it must be the hormones.
Cody- That’s very true! LOL
BaS-ANy real life inspirations for other characters in your book (besides Hermione)?
Cody-As I mentioned, Jimmy is based on someone from my childhood. Also, Molly (Blaize’s little sister) is loosely based on my sister. We just talked about kids being oblivious, but my sister was the exception. So hyper aware and extremely sensitive. And I pulled that into Molly. I just love her. As you noticed, Cassie is loosely based on Hermione. I think some differences will come out in book 2 (#spoileralert LOL :)). Surprisingly, Roze isn’t really based on a specific person. I just knew what I wanted her to be and gave her characteristics to match.
BaS-How nice! Does your sister know that Molly is based on her?
Cody- Hmmmm…I don’t think so, actually. That’s because Roze originally had my sister’s name in a very early draft and I ended up changing it. So she’s bitter LOL.
BaS-oh dear! Better get a new character to fix that up! JK
Cody- LOL! In the first draft, every character was named after someone I knew. Then I went back and changed them all. I think she’d be happy knowing Molly is based on her.
BaS-I’m sure she would. The next few questions are going to be a little bit about the world of TGTGtDaS, if there are spoilers just say so.
BaS-Does anyone besides the main protagonist Blaize and his friends know about the mysterious Siren?
Cody-Oh gosh. Well, I think, by the end of book one, readers strongly suspect the school knows. That’s probably obvious. But that is addressed in book 2. I just can’t say how. Yet. Mwhahahaha!
Bas-I’m gasping in shock!
Cody-Lol! I’m sensing some sarcasm? If not, um, sorry!
BaS-It’s a little bit of actual response and sarcasm lol.
Cody-Lol I just have a big mouth! And I have to be careful. For reals. I’ve been known to just blurt out horrible spoilers. That’s how I’m like Blaize.
BaS-oh dear, maybe you should troll your fans by giving outrageous unlikely events in place?
Cody-OH OK here goes: At the end of book 2, Blaize wakes up and realizes everything was just a dream!!!
BaS-Funny thing, I had suspected the Harry Potter series would end like that (spoiler, it doesn’t.) Concerning the school, the students do have access to a computer in their rooms, do some students ever use their computers to log onto social media services such as facebook and twitter? It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while lol.
Cody-If Harry Potter had ended like that, I would have thrown my books out the window!!!
BaS-Yikes, that would have killed someone!
Cody- Yeah, so there’s a good question. I don’t dive into it much. Here’s the thing: I have to give a LOT of faith to the students at Sanctuary. Given social media and everything, it would be really hard to conceal the school’s true nature. Especially with hundreds of hormonal teenagers, LOL. But I really want it to seem like, despite their differences, the students know what’s at stake if they “spill the beans.” So I assume they use social media. But they’d post only trvial things. Most, if not all, don’t want people to know they’re in a “healing” school. So they wouldn’t be posting “I’m having cleansing corn today!” LOL That’s why I don’t go into it so much. As they wouldn’t share anything relevant to the story. Does that make sense at all? I will say YouTube becomes more prominent in book 2. But that’s all I’ll say.
BaS- Oh sweet, I love YouTube!
Cody-Yeah I spend way too much time on it.
BaS-Concerning the school, it is said that students will be expelled concerning the secret being revealed; are there any families that are aware of the secret, but sent their children there for other reasons (such as bullying or harassment from a normal school)?
Cody-Oh gosh. Another great question. And one that will be addressed. So I’m trying to think how much to say. The thing is, that’s not going to be dealt with until book 3. So if I don’t answer…well, it will be a while.
BaS-Understandable, final bit of questions concerning the school; Any teachers dating each other, has a student ever been expelled for just having the worst grades, and how good are those healing hamburgers?
Cody-LOL Fun questions! Yes! Teachers are dating. In book one, two teachers hold hands at orientation. I’ve thought some about Adkins and Principal Wolcott. Maybe some details will emerge at some point. No one has been expelled for grades. Again my book takes the liberty in assuming that these kids want to be at Sanctuary so badly they will do enough to stay there…Even if it’s barely enough. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But, I think if sanctuary really existed and provided what it does, the students would REALLY REALLY want to be there. OH! LOL The food is actually based on the cafeteria at Texas Tech University. I ate lunch and dinner there every day for a year. Sometimes it was good. And sometimes it was gross. LOL I’d say the Healing Hamburgers are decent.
BaS-Oh wow, I hope none of the cafeteria workers at Texas Tech put two and two together.
Cody-I’m sure they won’t as that probably describes most cafeterias in the country.
BaS- True; considering many books are being adapted into movies and television shows, how would you feel about TGTGtDaS beng adapted into on or the other and who would be your ideal cast?
Cody-Uh that would be AMAZING. Like truly amazing, because that means people read the book and want more. That’s like the dream. THE DREAM!!! So I thought about the cast and it was really hard thinking of people who fit the characters in my eyes…until… I watched Ben Platt on the Tony’s. He’s the star in a musical called Dear Evan Hansen. And after I saw him: I realized he’s Blaize. He’s the perfect Blaize: endearing, goofy, etc.
BaS- He was also in Pitch Perfect.
Cody-Yep! I didn’t think much of him then, but his performance in Dear Evan Hansen is amazing. And I’m a singer as well so I was really surprised by his voice.
BaS-That’s good to hear, maybe they can sneak in some musical numbers.
Cody-LOL! TGTGtDaS: The Musical, I’m totally down! When Principal Wolcott reveals the true nature of the school, that would be a touching number!
BaS-it would! Just a few more questions before we finish things up.
Cody- OK shoot!
BaS-Who are your favorite authors? DId any of them provide some extra inspiration for TGTGtDaS?
Cody-Not sure, I don’t read. Kidding.
BaS- I was about to throw my laptop across the room in shock!
Cody-John Irving made me want to write. When I read A Prayer For Owen Meany, I was so touched, I decided I wanted to make people feel that way. He’s a beautiful writer. Naturally, I’m also drawn to JK Rowling. She made me bawl in book 7 so I have to give credit where credit is due. She’s also AMAZING at telling back story. I also love Neil Gaiman and his stuff. Also, while their books may not be my favorite, I’m sometimes drawn to authors by their writing style. For example, Jonathan Franzen writes some of the most amazing sentences.
BaS-Very interesting, also fun fact: both JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman have been on The Simpsons.
Cody-Really? Oh that *is* a fun fact! That’s like how you know you’ve made it: when you’re a voice on The Simpsons.
BaS-Yes, maybe one day both of us will end up animated with yellow skin.
Cody- Or I’ll just get jaundice and pretend.
BaS-haha. Finally what can we expect in the second book in TGTGtDaS? Bonus question: will we see you at Texas Teen Book Festival 2017?
Cody- Oh gosh. OK. Well, on a higher level, the book is much faster than book 1. Stuff starts hitting the fan and it never really stops. Especially as Blaize tries to decide if he wants people to know about his new power. Naturally, the Siren kicks up her efforts. How? I can’t say, but it becomes imperative that Blaize stop her. It’s really a cat and mouse game for much of book 2. Also, Blaize may or may not fall for someone. That’s all I can say. Well at this point, I will *definitely* be at the Texas Teen Book Festival. I had *such* a great time last year! It was amazing! One of the best festivals I’ve ever been to.
BaS-Yay! Hopefully I’ll be able to make it too. THank you so much for giving Books and Smizmars your time for this interview.
Cody-Awesome, I hope to see you! You are SOO very welcome! I hope it’s not the last interview as it was super fun! And I hope you have an amazing evening!
BaS-Thank you, to you as well!
That was Cody Wagner author of the YA book The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren. You can visit Cody’s website at http://www.wagner-writer.com/ and his Good Reads page at https://www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer.