Geek Culture, Writing and Other Junk from Writer C. A. Wilke
 
The Straight Guy’s Guide to Reading The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating A Siren

The Straight Guy’s Guide to Reading The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating A Siren

This is Cody. This is not even close to the goofiest picture of him on his website. I didn’t pick that one because, well… just go look for yourself.

I know a lot of writers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bragging. No name-dropping. The reality is that I know a lot of writers because I work with multiple writing groups in Arizona and am a moderator at a local critiquing group. Most of the writers I know have not been published, and of those who have, only three actually make their livings on what they write. Of course, that does not mean that the rest of them are bad, certainly not. Most of them are pretty damn good. Some are even downright amazing.

But sometimes, I read something written by my fellow local, self-published, budding authors that is a gem as yet undiscovered by the big publishers. Sometimes, I read a piece that gives me knots in my throat (in a good way) every few pages. Sometimes, I read a piece that shows me how far I really have to go in my own journey as an author.

Cody Wagner’s debut novel The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren is one of those pieces.

I’ve known Cody for a few years through our participation in the Central Phoenix Writing Workshop and our regular Wednesday-night critiquing fests. In that time I’ve seen his writing go from pretty good to pretty awesome. I will say, though, that I kind of want to kick his ass now. See, a while ago, his attendance to our group faded and became virtually nonexistent. And when he did come, he didn’t bring any of his own content. Sure, he participated by commenting and critiquing, but we did not get to see much of anything from him. That’s not why I want to kick his ass, though. I mean, that happens; people get busy, get laid off and are just not in a place to contribute (I’m guilty of that myself), or just fall off the writing wagon.

No, my real reason for wanting to give him a swift kick in the patootie is because I had no idea that he’d gotten so damn good.

I’d read bits of TGTGTDAS (as Cody often refers to it) in our group and I knew it was good. And to show support, I wanted to read it. I had asked him for where to get an Epub version of the book and he must have had a brain fart or something because he didn’t think he had one. Well, guess what, dude? YOU DO! It’s called Smashwords. I actually got my copy from Kobo (distributed to them by Smashwords).

I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like the book. Don’t get me wrong, as I said I thought Cody was a pretty good writer, but teen-angsty YA is not really in any of my preferred genres. See, TGTGTDAS follows the story of 14-year-old Blaize (Yes, that’s the character’s name) after he has a run-in with the very Westboro Baptist-like Zimmerman’s Zealots and accidentally comes out to his very evangelically religious parents that he’s gay. His parents are clearly good people and they obviously love him, but at the urging of their pastor, Blaize is sent off to the “healing” camp/high school Sanctuary Prep.

Of course, everything that follows is the real story.

I think a part of TGTGTDAS’s success is that it has a lot of elements in common with the Harry Potter series. However, that does not mean it’s anything like a knockoff or ripoff. It’s as much a knock off as The Matrix was a knock off of the Terminator movies; both deal with AI that takes over, they just do it in very different ways. For TGTGTDAS, the world itself is pretty mundane (read muggle). There are some soft fantasy elements, but it’s not like Blaize is sent off to the Hogwarts of Arkansas or anything. Rather, the similarities are found in having a young teenage boy who is an outcast at home, is sent off to school to become something far more than his parents (aunt and uncle for Mr. Potter) ever thought of.

That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though. Where Harry Potter spreads a thin layer of allusions to gender orientation and bullying issues like a butter knife, TGTGTDAS is a more like a Ginsu steak knife cutting right to the point. TGTGDAS deals with tough issues that could not have been easy for my friend to write. As authors, we often cherry pick things from our youths to throw into our stories. I have no idea if any of the experiences Blaize has are connected to Cody’s life, but I would bet that many of the things the character goes through are not uncommon for many gay teens, boy or girl. For me personally, I  was able to relate to many of the topics in the story, simply because so much of it revolves around bullying, the story just does it from within the context of a gay community.


Overall, Cody does a fantastic job of weaving a world that is very real, very scary and very hopeful all at the same time. As I said, teen-angsty YA is not my thing but can say for sure that I am eagerly awaiting the next book.


BTW: You can find more about Cody’s adventures and his (hilarious) sense of humor at http://www.wagner-writer.com

BTW2: Cody may think this is overly high praise. He’s kind of a humble-dick. But really, I was far more impressed with the book than I expected.

BTW3: Yes, I know this isn’t really a “Straight Guy’s Guide” at all. I just thought it had an amusing symmetry.

 

 

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