Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Queries, Queries Everywhere!

I recently finished the third and (fingers crossed) final revision of my current WIP, formerly referred to as THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL. But after a couple of contests and talking to my awesome CPs, I've come to the conclusion that my old query emphasized the wrong things. So I revised it--hopefully changing the emphasis, and now I would like, you my dear readers, to provide your awesome and invaluable feedback.

So what exactly about the old query didn't I like? Well the big ones were the entire second paragraph, which I thought put too much emphasis on Para School--which is actually only a small part of my novel, and the fact it didn't even mention Marilla, my secondary viewpoint character. The other thing is I felt my query needed to make it more clear earlier that this is not your average hero comes of age story. It's a villain origin story.

Recently a CP of mine suggested a new name, so I'm trying something new. Definitely let me know what you think of the new title as compared to the old and you know, if you have any title suggestions, feel free to suggest them. :)

New Query:

MIND TRICK, a contemporary fantasy complete at 81,000 words, is a villain origin story. It will appeal to fans of sympathetic villains like the Phantom of the Opera and Marvel’s Loki.

Chris Chappell is doomed to life as a Norm--a normal 17-year-old, that is--until his wizard father develops an amulet that grants even the most un-magical of people wizard powers. After years of being the family pariah and a second-class citizen in Para society, Chris has the power he always wanted and his father is finally proud of him.

But the amulet awakens a dark side in Chris—a desperate, ruthless need to keep his powers, no matter the consequences. When his best friend Jeremy discovers the illegal source of Chris’s abilities, Chris breaks Para Law and uses magic to alter Jeremy’s memory. No big deal… until the next time it happens. Before Chris knows it, he’s using mind control on not only Jeremy, but his siblings and even his own mother.

Chris’s girlfriend Marilla, a brilliant wizard who refuses to use her magical powers, stands as the only person between Chris and his darkest nature. Despite numerous warnings from multiples sources, she only sees the good in Chris. But when Jeremy has a magically-induced psychotic break, Marilla must break her own familial expectations and use magic to stop her boyfriend. But when fighting magic with magic, the strongest always wins. And Chris’s amulet makes him the most powerful wizard to ever live.

MIND TRICK is told from the viewpoints of Chris and Marilla. It is a standalone with series potential.

So...what do you guys think? Questions, comments, feelings or concerns?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Corran Horn: Rogue 9, Jedi, and Mary Sue

“Mary Sue” is often a term used to describe female characters in fan fiction. It generally refers to a female character who is the best, most amazing, most perfect girl ever, whose faults aren’t real faults, who everyone finds attractive and wonderful, who has extraordinary skills and talents, and somehow instantly becomes fast friends with canonical characters. (Canonical characters being characters like Harry Potter, Captain Kirk, Buffy Summers, etc. If it’s not a fan fic, then becoming fast friends with almost everyone they meet also suffices). Mary Sue’s are generally accepted to be author insertion or wish fulfillment.

More often than not critics like to use the term "Mary Sue" unnecessarily or derogatorily. Don’t get me wrong. Nine times out of ten, Mary Sues (especially in fan fiction) are annoying and poorly written. But too often critics like to level the claim of “Mary Sue” at any female character. (This is how characters like Katniss end up being described as a Mary Sue. Which makes no sense on any level.) But Mary Sue ness isn’t strictly a female character problem. And Mary Sue ness isn’t necessarily bad.

Case and Point: Corran Horn. 

1. He’s the best at everything he does. 

Corran Horn is the main protagonist of the Star Wars X-Wing books. Basically he’s introduced as a hot shot, Corellian X-Wing pilot who wants to be in Rogue Squadron. Not only does he get in, but he’s arguably the best pilot short of Wedge Antilles in the squadron. (We can bicker about Bror Jace versus Corran in status as best pilot if you want.) 

2. He has no faults. 

Now the book tries early on to contend that Corran does have faults, mainly he’s aloof and standoffish, causing the other pilots to think him a snob who thinks he’s better than everyone else. But when one of the other pilots confronts him about this, he immediately recognizes the problem and fixes it. We never actually see his standoffishness on page. 

3. Women throw themselves at him. 

Women literally throw themselves at Corran, even women who have no reason too, like Mirax Terrik. Mirax has every reason to hate Corran. Corran’s dad put her dad in jail! Corran is a former cop, and Mirax is a former smuggler (well, still a smuggler but now a smuggler for the Rebels). Other than the fact they are both Correllians and their shared antagonist history, there is no common ground between them. And let’s not even talk about how Erisi, who is described multiple times as being awesomely hot, is so attracted to Corran that’s she’s willing to make some very questionable decisions (which I will not describe here, because SPOILERS!).

4. He’s a freaking Jedi. 

To top this all off, we learn eventually (minor spoiler, sorry) that Corran comes from a Jedi family! That he is, in fact, a Jedi (or rather a potential Jedi…he does become a Jedi at one point. In the book appropriately called I, Jedi). So not only does Corran have Wedge (a canonical character) wanting him to stay in his squadron because Corran is a great pilot, now he has Luke Skywalker himself knocking at his door, begging (yes, practically begging) him to become a Jedi. 

5. Arguably an author stand in.

Corran is described as brown haired, green-eyed, thin, and short. In fact, Wookiepedia attributes the height 1.67 meters to him which makes Corran not even 5’5”. I’ve met Michael Stackpole, the writer of the X-Wing books. I don’t know his height but for a guy he’s short. He’s undoubtedly not as thin as he used to be, but for a man his age, he’s thinner than you might expect. He possibly has blue eyes instead of green. But I think it’s not a far stretch to read Corran’s description and think “huh, this could just as easily be describing Michael Stackpole at Corran’s age.” 

So what does it mean? Is this a bad thing? 

Corran Horn is my favorite original-to-the-Expanded-Universe Star Wars character. So I think it’s safe to say I don’t think Corran being a Mary Sue is a bad thing. 

Some of you might be reeling and thinking “What? You like Corran better than Mara Jade?” And the answer is yes, I do. Mara Jade is undoubtedly the best character the Star Wars Expanded Universe ever produced, but that doesn’t make her my favorite. I’m much too partial to the flyboys of the Rogue Squadron, who can liberate an entire planet by themselves and never seem to die no matter the odds. 

"But doesn't Corran's Mary Sue-ness make him a lesser character somehow?" some of you may ask. You could probably argue this, and there are times in the series when I wish a few things would be expanded upon that are not. But these things are not (in my opinion) a problem with Corran's character. They're a problem with Michael Stackpole's writing style. (His writing style is not bad! It's just that there are a few situations where I wish he might spend a little more time on the emotional implications.) 

Corran is a rockstar. He's always going to be a rockstar. But you know what? This is freaking Star Wars. Star Wars is nothing if not a wish fulfillment fantasy. Our three main characters are practically the archetypes of wish fulfillment: the young farm boy with a great destiny, the sassy princess who needs to be saved but is also far more capable than the others, and the lovable rogue who will be redeemed by the story. Corran gives us a fourth type of wish fulfillment--one that perhaps many of us identify with more. Corran's the guy who's late to the Rebellion, late to the party, because he spent the years of the original trilogy on the Corellian police force (CorSec). But even though he missed the initial boat, he's still vitally needed. He's the hardworking guy, who just wants to do his job to the best of his ability, and turns out that he's incredibly needed and destined for even more.

There is nothing wrong with wish fulfillment. It's part of the reason why we read stories, so that for a few moments we can feel like an ace pilot that even Luke Skywalker himself wants at his side. There is nothing wrong with the occasional character that is awesome in every way, because that is the sort of character we wish we were.

So the next time you read a story and want to throw it away in disgust because a character seems like a Mary Sue, stop and remember Corran Horn. Are you enjoying the story? Yes? Then there is nothing wrong with it!

Now if it hampers you're enjoyment fine, but really, ultimately, most stories come down to a simple question: Did I enjoy it? If the answer is yes, then forget about tropes and cliches. Just go with it and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Writing and the Star Wars EU

To say my writing has been greatly influenced by the Star Wars Expanded Universe is probably the understatement of the century.

Now looking at my current WIPs list, this might be hard to see based off of the vague explanations and descriptions. If anything, SPIRIT RIDDLED is more of a fantastical X-Men (though I only recently realized this). THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is basically Harry Potter from Voldemort's perspective. THE EVERGLOW CONSPIRACY is more of a cross of epic fantasy and a dystopian novel. And my other three projects which are all in their early stages won't strike anyone as having been heavily influenced by Star Wars. So I wouldn't be surprised if any of you are scratching your heads and thinking "What? Mandy's writing has been influenced by the EU?"

Note I didn't say my ideas were influenced by the EU. What I mean is my writing style: how I craft words, create plots, and describe characters. 

I started writing seriously* in the sixth grade, and what you have to understand about sixth grade Mandy is that she only read Star Wars books.

That year I read Star Wars exclusively. I started with the Thrawn Trilogy in the fifth grade and slowly consumed the entire EU. Sixth grade was also the year The Phantom Menace came out and the EU opened up to the years right around that movie as well. (The EU originally only contained stories that took place after A New Hope). 

Star Wars was BIG. It was still socially acceptable (since the prequels hadn't destroyed it), and I applied the same level of fanaticism to the Rogue Squadron that most girls my age applied to boy bands. So while everyone else knew the names of everyone in N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys, I could have told you how many kills each member of the Rogue Squadron had. 

So it should be of no surprise to anyone that the first story I ever tried to write was essentially a Star Wars fanfic. 

Granted, I didn't know what fanfic was at the time, and still didn't recognize it as that until after college. It's the only piece of fanfic I've ever written, and it contained all original characters with a cameo or two by Wedge Antilles. (It sort of surprises me in retrospect that more Star Wars characters didn't cameo). The story was at it's heart a military school story, about a bunch of kids in a military school (on Coruscant, so this is after the New Republic took control of Coruscant) hoping to be X-Wing pilots or Fleet Admirals one day.

I stopped writing the story because even at the tender young age of 10, I realized it was missing one critical element. A plot. (Which just goes to show that plotting has always been my writing weakness.)

So I shelved that Star Wars EU story and in my middle school years I wrote three more books: two which were fantasy novels and one which was another military school novel (but this time in an original setting). 

The two fantasy novels are really terrible. Like truly. Looking back at them, I sort of cringe and want to burn them. But when I look back at my military school novel (called PROJECT EF), that's the time I mark as me coming into my own as a writer. 

It was still not good. (I was in the eighth grade. What do you expect?) It was still highly derivative. (It's like a mix of my Star Wars novel and Ender's Game), but some of the writing isn't half bad. Not publishable by any standard, but it's the roots of good writing that has led me to where I am today. (Which granted, is still "not published" but I think is finally "publishable".)

My writing in high school took a turn for the almost exclusively epic fantasy, which is what has pretty much led me to where I am today. 

So anyway, recently, I started re-reading the X-Wing books. I want to re-read I, Jedi, which I remember fondly as one of my favorite Star Wars EU books of all time, but I wanted the full emotional impact of having seen Corran's relationship with Mirax develop over the X-Wing books. So I set aside all my other reading and picked up Star Wars X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, which I haven't read since the sixth grade.

As I was reading it, I had a revelation; my writing and reading habits (for good and for ill) can be traced directly back to the Star Wars expanded universe.

So in the next few posts we're going to talk about these things I've realized. I'm not sure all the topics I will explore but I know at least two. So look forward to me talking about (1) My Problem with Action Sequences and (2) Character Descriptions and "the Male Gaze."

*Ok, feel free to laugh at the use of the word "seriously".  (It was after all the sixth grade). What I mean is that that's when I started writing epic, long stories for myself, where I wrote at regular intervals (daily), created original characters, and started paying attention to how exactly I set up stories and the like.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Spontaneous Adventure Part 2

So what did I do on my spontaneous adventure? Well, I could describe to you exactly what I did, or you could read the posts by Paul that already do that. So click here for what we did in New Mexico and here for what we did in Moab.

Since Paul does such a great job describing what we did, I'm just going to talk about the things we did that were new to me and how I felt about them.

1. Camping

Believe it or not, but before this trip, I'd never been camping. Luckily Paul knew this and instead of throwing me in the deep end, as so many of my other friends are wont to do when I try something new, he chose a campsite with a toilet. So not quite completely roughing it, but definitely rougher than I'm used to.

I really had fun, but I could also see camping being tedious if you go with the wrong people. (I can just imagine being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a group that made me feel super socially awkward. *shudders*)

Is camping something I see myself doing a lot in the future? Probably not a ton unless I somehow end up in a group of friends that does a lot of camping. But the key here is that I don't have to be afraid of camping anymore. I've done it once. It was a lot of fun. And I would do it again.

Though next time, I would pack more appropriately. I nearly froze to death because I packed for the desert of Moab and not the cold of the Colorado Mountains. My sleeping bag was not rated for such cold! I did survive and have fun, despite the cold, but for next time, I know better. 

2. Kayaking

I spent most of my life in coastal areas of our nation, due to my dad being in the Navy, so I'm fairly
comfortable in the water. So even though kayaking was completely new to me, it didn't scare me at all and I was pretty excited. And the excitement was totally warranted. Kayaking was so much fun! Granted Paul did most of the hard work, since he was in the back and had to do the actual steering, but I totally kept up with the paddling! (Seriously, I impressed myself with my ability to paddle.)

I wish the Colorado River had more rapids (in Moab it's only a 2 at it's worst, which is like nothing), and I wish the wind hadn't been so strong (whenever we stopped paddling the wind pretty much moved us backwards!), but it was still tons of fun. I would do it again in a heartbeat and am actually planning on looking into kayaking opportunities here in New Mexico. So yes, I would definitely do this again and am even looking into doing it again without friend influence.

As you can see in Paul's posts we also did a lot of other things, including hiking, but camping and kayaking were the two new experiences to me.I had a ton of fun, and it was a nice adventure!

Have any of you guys done anything adventurous this summer?