Albany author revels in escapism niche; latest is ‘Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry’

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ALBANY — C.M. Waggoner grew up in Rensselaer County reading Victorian novels and fantasy books.

Years later, her writing has garnered praise from authors she revered back then, including Tamora Pierce.

“That was really exciting to me. She was like my idol when I was a little kid. I read all of her books,” Waggoner said.

“Unnatural Magic,” Waggoner’s debut novel, was published in 2019 and Pierce called it, “the most unique, haunting, magical, treacherous, romantic, combative novel I’ve read in a long time.”

Waggoner’s forthcoming novel, called “The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry,” is set in the same world and follows Dellaria Wells, a con artist, occasional thief and semi-educated fire witch who is behind on her rent and takes a job protecting a wealthy woman. She quickly sets her sights on companion Winn Cynallum, and while the job sounds easy, things take a deadly turn — and the two must best an enemy who wields twisted magic.

Both books were a long time in the making.

“Starting from when I was in my pretty early teens, that’s basically all I wanted to do,” Waggoner said of her writing. She studied creative writing at SUNY Purchase and moved to China after graduating, spending seven years there, first as an English teacher, then as an editor and writer. During that time she met her husband, and they spent nearly a year traveling around southeast Asia in 2016 before moving back to Albany in 2017.

Throughout their travels, Waggoner wrote what eventually became “Unnatural Magic.”

“I grew up reading a lot of fantasy novels and I’ve always loved Victorian novels, books from England from the 1800s through the beginning of the 20th century. I just have a lot of fun with those stories and the kind of language they use. I took stuff from all these different worlds that I liked and tried to play around with those ideas. That’s where that first book came from,” Waggoner said.

Her years spent abroad also shaped the novel.

“There’s a lot of stuff in the book about people from different cultures. There’s misunderstandings between [characters] and how it feels to be in a culture that’s different from yours. I think a lot of that came out of me living in China for so long and traveling,” Waggoner said.

Before “Unnatural Magic” even hit the shelves, Waggoner was already working on “The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry.” Both books share the same setting, though the characters are all new.

“I enjoy these sort of roguish characters. Characters who maybe aren’t the best behaved, but they’re still lovable. In my experience they tend to be mostly men, so I really wanted to write a character like that who was a woman, and I had a lot of fun creating the protagonist for this book. She’s sort of a loveable scoundrel and she’s a lot of fun to write,” Waggoner said.

While this one was easier to write in some ways, simply because she was more familiar with the process, the pacing was a challenge.

“I think as a writer I love doing characterization and dialogue, but putting together a fun, fast-paced exciting plot is more of a challenge to me. So the second time around I was much more disciplined about writing an outline and keeping things a lot tighter, making sure that things were moving along. I was sort of challenging myself with things like pacing to make sure it’s a really fun experience for the reader, that there’s no draggy bits for the reader,” Waggoner said.

It paid off: The book has already received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

“With this winning ensemble adventure, Waggoner again proves her skill at crafting immersive, historically flavored fantasy,” reads the review.

“I’m a really new author and it’s felt pretty great to get that extra boost of recognition. It’s always exciting [when] someone reads the book … you wanted to write. Sometimes you think you’ve written one book but it turns out all of the readers are reading a different book, so somewhere you went a little bit astray. It’s a great feeling when the reviewer is pointing out things that you intentionally put in there,” Waggoner said.

“The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry” will be released Jan. 12, a few months after its original target of November, due to the pandemic.

“I just want it to be a fun, enjoyable kind of romp of a book. A lot of people are writing really intense political fantasy right now, which I really admire, but I’m in favor of escapism so that’s what I wrote this book to be — something that will make [readers] laugh. I tried to write something funny and fun, and something that people can enjoy,” Waggoner said.

Words of wisdom

Waggoner offered advice for aspiring authors.

“First, just finish the book. For me, if I really want to finish a book, I have to be pretty regimented about it. I’ll set myself a daily word count that I have to complete every day. Even if it’s not super huge, if you have that start chipping away at 500 words a day that makes a difference. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked by fantasizing about your future mega-bestseller.

“Then, make sure that you understand what kind of book you’re trying to write and the kind of requirements of that sort of book. Otherwise, you’re going to be trying to get a literary agent to represent something that you think is adult literary fiction and they think is a young adult novella, and it’s not going to work.”

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