BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — “Have you heard of Sybil Ludington? She was the daughter of Col. Henry Ludington and a heroine of the American Revolutionary War who rode farther than Paul Revere to warn the people that the British were coming when she was just 16 years old, but she never got publicity out of it,” local historical fiction author Edward Wagner said. “Those are the things I love to put into my books!”
Wagner, who will be 77 in May, got his first taste of writing stories back when he was attending Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna — the town where he was born and raised. In one of his English classes, anyone who wanted to earn extra credit could write short stories. “I was always looking for extra credit,” Wagner joked. His passion for writing continued through high school.
In 1958, he obtained a degree in business at SUNY Cobleskill and enlisted in the Army. He got out in 1962 and, after a short stint at Schenectady Trustco Bank, he got a job at MVP Health Care in Schenectady in the marketing and sales department. “I started out as the guy who hands out the free samples, and by the time I finished after 20 years I had risen to the role of regional marketing manager,” Wagner said. “I was the person who went and opened up new territories and I loved it.”
He met his wife, Joan, 30 years ago this coming Memorial Day at his sister’s house in Saratoga, and it wasn’t even a setup — it was a complete coincidence. It was truly love at first sight. In December 1985 they bought a house in Clifton Park, and they were married the following May. “She said that when she met me that she knew that she was going to marry me, and it took me a day and a half to realize it; she’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Wagner said. “Still, to this day, it makes me very happy to be around her.”
Both had children from a previous marriage: his Ed Jr. and Eric, and hers Wendy, Kim, Christopher and Jennifer.
It was his wife who encouraged him to start writing books.
The first one, “The Fire That Ate the Mountain,” hit shelves in 1988; you can find it at the Clifton Park–Halfmoon Public Library. The focus was on Neanderthals and the meeting of the Neanderthal with the Cro-Magnon man and how they interacted. “I took modern man [Cro-Magnon] and brought him down from the Rift Valley in Kenya and Ethiopia, down the Nile River to the Mediterranean and then all the way around the Mediterranean to Spain. Right around Israel is where they first interacted,” Wagner said. “My grandson is on the cover — I saw him up in our apple tree one day and so I had him hide behind the limbs.
“The big problem with print, is that if you’re not well known you have to front the cost of the printing, and then after they make back the cost of printing, then they split it with you,” Wagner said. “But With Kindle E Books, you make a profit from the first book. They take a percentage on each book sold — last month I made $90, and the percentage depends on scale. They start off taking two-thirds, but the more books you sell, the less they take; I’m in the 50 percent range now.”
He has published a total of 20 books: 13 electronic and seven in print.
His inspiration for writing was James Fennimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans” and Jean Auel’s “The Clan of the Cave Bear.”
He has set his books and short stories from the time of the caveman to ancient civilizations such as Ubar to the Schenectady massacre of 1690 to Custer’s last stand to the period of his latest series, involving Pearl Harbor.
Each book is a month in the diary of a 16-year-old Hawaiian girl. He has already released “December 1941,” “January 1942” and “February 1942,” and is currently working on “March 1942.” Each title ends with “A Hawaiian Girl’s Diary.”
“I decided to focus on how the native Hawaiian population reacted to the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Wagner said. “It’s usually only told from American or Japanese point of view.”
This series has been his favorite to write. “I’m even finding out stuff about Hawaii and the United States government that I didn’t know and how we treated the native Hawaiians during World War II, as bad if not worse than the Native Japanese,” Wagner said.
He is unsure how many books will be in this series that revolves around Pearl Harbor, but it is clear that he will never stop writing. “I love putting my thoughts into words,” he said. “Pressing my own feelings about how we are all one and that family is the cornerstone of society.”