Wagoner Writes

The Website of Author J Wagoner

Thank You, Mom’s Choice Awards® (or The Saga of the Self-published)


Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – I decided to set about writing a book, something that I had never done before.

Let’s rewind a bit first. In college, I took a creative writing course and my professor was not terribly fond of anything I wrote if it was not humorous. His exact advice was to never, ever try to write something serious again. I’m really not criticizing him since he was actually great, but the writer’s voice that I had at the time just could not do serious prose.

Fast forward some years, I wrote some awful short stories and would share them with people at work. Those of us who create know that it’s what can give us purpose, what can give us meaning in the dull world of paperwork and filing. In retrospect, though, it was a cruel thing for me to do since getting through the stories must have been tortuous for them. Yet, they were always polite and always encouraging. I have since deleted those files or have lost the floppies (“kids, before there was the cloud…”).

Fast forward even more and having come to realize that I had spent too much time inhabiting the left side of my brain with my work (and believe me, I worked a lot of hours), I decided that it was time to get that book written, that dream that always remained there hovering just above and behind as I moved from here to there in my life. The act of trying to write down words was a terrible struggle as though I was just learning to speak once again. So I quit trying.

Fast forward some years once again and I suffered a couple of personal tragedies. In that darkened space that I was inhabiting, I thought of the book that had only just been a hatchling and was no where near ready for flight. Awake at a late hour, I opened the file, read what was there, and like I had been gazing into a crystal ball, saw a complete story from beginning to end. I also saw that it was to be for children and not for us cynical adults.

Over many a late night after full days of left-brain-inhabiting work, I finished the story. All throughout the process, I kept telling myself that it was not good enough, that it was not the kind of book a child would understand, that I was not the right person to tell this important story. No one read the story for months after I finished it, but it was always there in my mind and would occasionally knock on the door to my conscious thought.

Eventually, I decided that I would hate myself if I did not at least submit the book to a few agents so I did. I had read the articles – I knew that the chances of a never-been-published author getting their attention when they receive thousands of submissions was incredibly low. Just as I thought, I received the “not right for us” emails from all of them (seriously, those rejection letters were just so darn polite).

More time passed and I had the thought that I should at least look into self publishing, but I was worried about the cost. The goal: sell one book to a person not on my Christmas list, change one life. Apparently, there were no upfront costs at all with the service that I used so I figured, why the heck not have a go at it? Through my work, I am very familiar with freelancer services so I looked at editors. Thankfully, like Indiana Jones staring at a collection of cups in the last good movie of the series, I chose wisely. Then, I investigated freelance illustrators and was incredibly fortunate to have a very talented artist agree to work with me.

With all of the pieces in place, I uploaded the print version of the book, created the eBook version for the Kindle, and put it out there in this world full of books with most of them probably being better than mine, in my mind. My editor had told me that my first effort was a very good one, but I had difficulty really believing her (sorry, Carol). I asked people I did not know to give honest reviews of the book and they apparently thought it was good, but again, I thought that they were just being polite to a new author. As I began receiving really positive reviews from people who had no reason to be polite or kind, I began thinking that maybe, just maybe, I was not so bad at this writing thing. At that point, I decided that I would take the chance and submit the book to the Mom’s Choice Awards®. At the very worst, I would lose my submission fee and they would just tell me that I should keep my day job (which is pretty fulfilling as well).

This brings us to the present where I recently learned that the Mom’s Choice Awards® awarded my book a Gold Medal. This is a big deal for me. Since learning about the award, I keep thinking to myself, “Holy crap, I won a Gold Medal.”

So to wrap up the longest thank you note in modern history, thank you so very much, Mom’s Choice Awards®. Truly. You understood what I was trying to say. You understood why I felt the story was an important one to tell.

Holy crap, I won a Gold Medal.

Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

Comics Have Just Changed

I have been reading a lot of graphic novels and comics lately. A lot. A whole lot. I realize that I have arrived a little late to the Comixology party, but when I discovered that their app is one of the greatest apps ever created in that it gives us something of a cinematic experience from a comic, I was hooked. Then, I began shopping around and found amazing bargains on both Google Play Books and on Amazon (who, incidentally, now owns Comixology, but the Kindle panel zoom feature just does not compare). I took my obsession a little further by buying a larger tablet to make my reading a little easier. Finally, the best (or possibly the worst) thing happened and I discovered Marvel Unlimited which provides 15,000 comics in the Marvel Universe for a monthly or annual fee. I have a problem, and I am aware of it.

Carol Danvers As Ms. Marvel From ComicVine

When you have so many comics and graphic novel collections available, where to begin? I began researching the most critically acclaimed issues and series in recent years and Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson appears on many a list. While I have been away from the world of comics for years, even I knew that Ms. Marvel has traditionally been Carol Danvers, a blond test pilot who wore a superhero outfit that could have doubled as a swimsuit. Regardless of the ongoing commentary about her outfit over the years, she has received some of the best writing and has played a part in a number of the most powerful storylines in the Marvel Universe; therefore the character of Ms. Marvel has always been something of comic book royalty. Since I last read these comics, Carol Danvers had been encouraged to adopt the name of her mentor to become Captain Marvel thereby leaving her Ms. Marvel name available. In comics, a name is something like an Internet domain – a vacant one does not remain available for long.

Right on the cover of Ms. Marvel Vol. 1, which collects issues 1-5 of the comic, is a one-liner from ComicsAlliance.com that states, “This may be the most important comic published in 2014″ (full review here). Amazon reviews had given this volume a 4.8 out of 5. How could I resist diving in?

The new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim-American of Pakistani descent. She writes Avengers fan fiction for fun and, like many teenagers, does not feel understood by her parents who she feels are focused on old-world traditions when she wants to embrace the values of personal independence and of building friendships (if I had to be a teenager again, I would find a tall cliff…). This non-spoilery review will now skip over some stuff and will just say she gets to become Ms. Marvel, complete with the blond hair and the swimsuit costume which conflicts with the lessons of her upbringing. Eventually, she creates her own costume and superhero identity, but the Ms. Marvel moniker sticks.

Kamala Khan As Ms. Marvel from The Marvel Database

Since reading this collection, I have read so many other origin stories from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and even some independents. Yet, this current version of Ms. Marvel stays with you because it reads like a classic fairy tale which, of course, appeals to this children’s book author. A young woman longs to be something more than she is and one day, a day different from any other, she is given the opportunity. Everything about this new series is beautiful including the storytelling, the extraordinary artwork, and the moral. To be completely, completely honest, her powers are not terribly interesting to me and I found that I am likely not the target audience, but I will continue reading on since a foundation has been laid for what will likely be moving storylines to keep it in line with the tradition of the Ms. Marvel character. Marvel Comics has taken a great risk, but they have chosen to create yet another vehicle for social change. My sincere hope is that this comic, along with other forms of entertainment, will assist all of us with the acceptance and understanding of our fellow Americans. Well done.

Children’s Books That Deal with a Parent’s Depression, Part 1

Depression is a difficult illness to understand, even for an adult. These blog posts will attempt to highlight children’s books that attempt to make the topic clearer for a child who may not be able to comprehend what may be happening with a parent.

Depression is a difficult illness to understand, even for an adult. These blog posts will attempt to highlight children’s books that attempt to make the topic clearer for a child who may not be able to comprehend what may be happening with a parent.

Please note that I have not read these books unless noted. If and when I do read them, I will create separate posts with a personal review. Click on the book cover or the title to go to the Amazon product page.

Why Is Mommy So Sad

Why is Mommy Sad? A Child’s Guide to Parental Depression by Paul D. Chan, MD and illustrated by Laurie A. Faust.

Written by a medical doctor who is also an editor with the Journal of Psychiatry, the book is intended to be a read-together book for children of parents with depression. This 12-page picture book published in 2006 is intended for younger children. I could not find a Kindle or electronic version of it.

Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Your Local Independent Bookstore

Why Are You So Sad

Why Are You So Sad: A Child’s Book about Parental Depression by Beth Andrews and illustrated by Nicole Wong

Written by a family therapist, this 32-page picture book is intended for children 5 and up. According to a review on the Metapsychology Online Reviews site, “this little book will help children to start formulating their ideas about their parent’s emotional troubles” (full review on their site). I could not find a Kindle or electronic version.

Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Your Local Independent Bookstore

Can I Catch It Like a Cold

Can I Catch It Like a Cold?: Coping With a Parent’s Depression by The Centre For Addiction And Mental Health and illustrated by Joe Weissmann.

This 32-page book, intended for 5 to 8 year olds, was written by Canada’s foremost experts in the field (according to their description), and was created in partnership with The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest health sciences centre devoted to mental illness and addiction. According to the CAMH website, “Why is my parent acting this way? Will my parent get better? Is it my fault? Can I catch depression like a cold? These are among the many questions asked by children when a parent has depression” (see book’s page on CAMH website). The book has been awarded the Curriculum Services Canada’s CSC Seal. I could only find a hardcover version, but there are used copies available on Amazon.

Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Your Local Independent Bookstore

Review: The Mean Girl Who Never Speaks (The Mya Dove Case Files Book 1)

Why Is She So Mean?

The Mean Girl Who Never Speaks (The Mya Dove Case Files Book 1) by Zuni Blue (a.k.a. Zia Black, a.k.a. Zhané White, a.k.a. Zada Green) is the first case of Detective Inspector Mya Dove, a clever six year-old who takes on mysteries in exchange for snacks. The case involves Libby Smith, a new girl who has been at the school for two weeks but does not yet have any friends. Her behavior, which other students find to be unusual, causes others to question whether or not she is mean so Mya is hired to investigate.

Quite simply, Blue’s story should be required reading for children 6 through 8, and I genuinely hope that teachers would consider adding this to their curricula. The message of the book is an important one, and Blue weaves the tale skillfully. Though it is intended for children, the structure of the story as a noir-ish mystery added to the entertainment value and reminded me of the great Encyclopedia Brown books. The author ensures that the reader sees this case through the eyes of the young detective, and we follow along with her on her journey to a place where the evidence is not making sense, just as it likely would not for someone that age. The resolution is satisfying and offers wonderful lessons for young readers.

Well done, Ms. Blue, or whoever you are!

"The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon is quite simply a beautiful read"

Love, love, love, love them

I love the Pacific Book Review for being so kind. Love, love, love them. Here is just a little of what they said:

J. Wagoner does a masterful job of keeping the tone light enough for children without pandering or watering down the message. Like any good fable, the story is accessible to all ages but filled with profound morality.

To read the full review, click on this link to go to the Pacific Book Review website. Have I mentioned that I love them?

"Packed full of morals and lessons that we all want our children to learn"

Red City Review

I still have trouble reading the reviews of my work. I am the first to admit that I am certainly no Neil Gaiman, and I will not likely ever write a children’s book half as good as his The Ocean at the End of the Lane which, in my humble opinion, is a true masterpiece (just finished it - am still in awe). I’m just trying to tell what I hope is an entertaining story that I think has an important message. That’s why I get so touched when I read a review like this 5-star one from Red City Review.


The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon is a book that, even though it is billed as a children’s book, works for all ages. It covers some heavy topics (like depression, homelessness, death, etc.) but it does it in a way that is gentle enough for children. It also helps adults remember to be understanding, compassionate, and hopeful.

You can read the full review on the Red City Review website. Thank you, Red City Review!

"Amazing, deep and thoughtful"

Some People Are So Kind

This beautiful 5-star review of The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon was posted on Amazon.com by user Heather G. I was truly touched when I read it.

Amazing, deep and thoughtful – this is a book adults and kids alike will want to read.

“The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon” by J. Wagoner with illustrations by Mar Fandos is billed as a children’s book, but it is hardly light reading….. though I might call it required reading. Aimed at ages 8 to 18 it deals with heavy points, yet those highs and lows in this short novel are handled gracefully – and make the book.

Jamie is in New Orleans with his parents for a semi vacation while his Mother attends a conference. During one of their fist exploratory ventures out, they wander into a store where Jamie meets a strange woman that looks through him and sees something special. Asking if he would like to see New Orleans the way she does, she gifts him with a blank stone with the vague instructions to put it under his pillow each night when he laid to sleep. Intrigued, 8 year old Jamie followed the lady’s direction, waking the next morning to find his blank stone was etched with the word ‘family.’ Each day the stone bore a different word and each day Jamie found himself in different situations that pulled on his heart and eventually showed him that while the world may not always be pretty or welcoming, there is always hope.

Very adult moments are found within in terms of depression, anxiety, death, mistakes and homelessness. This book is both light and deep, a heavy tome that somehow conveys more moral lessons in its brief pages that any fable you can conjure.

An absolutely beautiful read. Be prepared, you may have to answer some tough questions if your child reads this – luckily, Jamie’s parents are great examples of how to answer profound questions from an 8 year old.

Image from Sharon on Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Talking to your children about your depression

An Important, but Difficult Conversation

Trying to describe your depression to children can be quite a challenge. Children, especially the older ones, will notice those days when you are unable to hide the tears and when you need time alone to let the more difficult days pass.

Therese J. Borchard offers some great advice in an article on Psych Central. The most important point in the article, I believe, is the last one where you explain to your children that the depression can be treated and that you will begin to feel better with time.

To further explain what it means to be depressed, there is another great article from GoodTherapy.org. A child may find it difficult to understand what it means to feel that there is little hope, and the article provides some great analogies.

Image from Helga Weber on Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Hello, World!

Welcome to the website of J Wagoner. My first book, The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon, is now available for your Kindle, and as a paperback from Amazon.com. If you would prefer to support your local independent bookstore, you can see if they participate with IndieBound by clicking here. More information about the children’s book is available here.

Print Version

Kindle Version

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