Tag Archives: Chuck Gannon

Self-Insertion

Every time I see this phrase, I feel like it’s a little dirty.

“Oh, go self-insert!” 

Yeah. Sometimes my brain is a 14 yo boy (although admittedly my 15 and 16 yo girls would make a sailor blush at times. Dinner conversations are frequently… interesting.) Anyway, I was talking about writing, not sex. Although….

Robert Heinlein famously said about writing to do it in private and wash your hands afterward, a clear parallel to a much more intimate act. If we follow that line of thought through, we come up with writing being a pleasurable act for the author (we’ll leave the other side of the equation out of it for a moment) which seems reasonable, because why else would we inflict this kind of effort and angst on ourselves? So yes, in a sense we the writers are, ah, F*&ing ourselves. It’s all a mindf*&k, though.

But does that make the main characters of our books a self-insertion? The more common, less literary term would be Mary Sue (or Marty Stu), which is outlined by TVTropes (here be dragons, or at least TymeEaters).

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.

She has an unusual and dramatic Back Story. The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their True Companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting; if any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal. She has some sort of especially close relationship to the author’s favorite canon character — their love interest, illegitimate child, never-before-mentioned sister, etc. Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.

The problem is that while somewhat obviously this is a deeply flawed, highly cliched character, it’s not always the case when a critic snubs a book for containing a self-insertion. A Mary Sue lacks a growth arc, first of all. She (or he, in the case of the Marty Stu) springs onto the scene perfect, and being practically perfect in every way, has no desire nor need to change and grow into the role the author has set them into.

Chuck Gannon has been criticized for his main character, Caine Riordan, being too skilled, and obviously a wish-fulfillment character. I can see why – Caine, in the books, is a very competent person. But I’ve also met and talked with Chuck and I know that he is a brilliant man, behind a humble approach. And I know that he has friends who can do everything Caine can, and more, so for him to write this character came naturally. Where it stretches readers beyond belief is actually in the fact being stranger than fiction department.

Our own Peter Grant caught flak for his Steve Maxwell character being a ‘golden boy’ who could make no wrong moves. Peter thoughtfully considered the criticisms, and added flaws to Steve, but thankfully he didn’t break his hero in the process. It took me a while to put a finger on what I liked about Steve, but it finally clicked in a recent conversation about favorite superheroes, and why so many of us like that other Steve, Captain America.

Captain America (I unequivocally reject the Hydra version) is a nice guy. He’s a superhero, yes, but he’s also a guy you feel like you could sit and have a cup of coffee with, telling stories, and that he’d get up to go rescue a kitten, and it wouldn’t come across as too-good-to-be-true, he’s just that nice a guy.

Coming back to the pleasuring oneself aspect of authorship, yes, simply writing a character we could insert ourselves into ,and escape the humdrum world into a more perfect place would be a masturbatory experience. However, I’d like to think that ideally, writing is more akin to a shared pleasure experience. We’re not creating a book we’ll be taking to bed, after all. No, we dress it up, straighten the seam on it’s stockings, and watch it sashay out the door… and waltz into the arms of a reader. That is the goal of writers who are publishing. A two-way street of mutual enjoyment.

I’ll not take this too much further… just know that if I can write something that makes my readers happy, it makes me happy. So yes, I am inserting some of myself into my work. And writing a heroic main character who wins through the obstacles placed into his path, growing and developing into a better person as he does so? My fans like that kind of thing. So do I. I don’t like dark, brooding characters for whom nothing ever goes right, and the universe is out to get them. I’m sure there are readers out there who do. Hopefully they can find the writer for them, because I’m not the one.

Writing is perhaps the ultimate mindf%$k. Was it good for you? Because it was good for me…

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, characterization, WRITING: ART

So much for fairness

I know I’m late but it’s with good reason. I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours debating whether or not to write this particular post. I finally decided that I would because it points out yet again how so many of the so-called reviewers (and all too many vocal writers) are putting their politically correct spin on what is “good” or “bad” when it comes to books. Maybe part of the reason this resonates so much with me is I’m about to finish my first science fiction novel. Part of it is definitely because the reviewer’s bias is showing. But a big part is because I’m tired of people thinking we, as readers, have to be hit over the head with a “message” that advances their own agenda.

I’ll start by noting that the germs for this post were planted earlier when a so-called “journalist” writing for the Guardian called out Larry Correia, putting words into Larry’s mouth that Larry never said. I’m not going to defend Larry here because he can defend himself much better, and much more entertainingly, than I can. However, it was interesting that the article, with its attack on Larry, came out around the time the Hugo slate was being narrowed down. Hmm, if I believed in coincidences — or conspiracies — I’d say someone had an agenda he was trying to further.

But what really got me going was a post by Chuck Gannon on Facebook yesterday about a negative review he’d received for his book, Fire with Fire. Gannon was more amused and bemused by the review and the commenters on his thread had a lot of fun with it. Why? Because it was obvious from the first paragraph the review was going to be a hatchet job. Curious, I followed the link provided by Gannon and then dug a little deeper. Imagine my surprise when I found that the book had been reviewed twice on the originating site, nine days apart.

The first review, posted on April 3rd, isn’t too bad. It’s clear the reviewer didn’t like the book and didn’t like the way it was written. There are complaints about comma splices even (which is funny considering the state of punctuation and grammar in most novels these days. It’s doubly funny considering Gannon is a multiple Fulbright Scholar and a lit professor.) But this wasn’t the review Gannon had linked to. I found it only because I was trying to find out just who the person was who had such a problem with the book, Gannon and the fact he wasn’t falling lockstep into line with all the rest of the lemmings racing toward the edge of the politically correct cliff.

The second review, posted on April 12th, was more in your face with the PC BS and it soon became clear a member of the glittery hoohah club had written it. It is also obvious from the third sentence that it is written by the same person as the first. Why? Because there is that comment about the questionable punctuation again. Until then, the only thing we know is that the reviewer just didn’t think Gannon’s book was “up to snuff”.  But, to give you an idea of just where the reviewer falls in the spectrum, consider this comment: Fire with Fire felt like it was included in the nominees because it’s a museum piece of a certain era of SFF,  and a concession to the angry greybeards who make up a key demographic in the Nebula voters.

Angry greybeards, huh?

Concession, huh?

Funny that. The reviewer is the one who seems angry.  I won’t go into the lack of bias in the review or reviewer, who happens to think it appropriate in reviewing the book to bring up the SFWA infighting and to hurl not so veiled insults at Gannon’s publisher, Toni Weisskopf, for not falling into step with the “right think” side.

It gets better. In a supposed review of Gannon’s book turns into an attack on Heinlein. The reviewer hates Heinlein. She doesn’t know why and muses that maybe she ought to go back into his books and try to figure it out. But she hasn’t — and probably won’t — but she hates Heinlein and that brings her back to Gannon’s book. She admits she should have seen earlier that the book was influenced by Heinlein. Why? Because of the cover. What?!? She can now tell what a book is like, what writers influenced the author, by the cover? Wow. That’s really a cool power she has, especially when you consider how often a book’s cover has absolutely nothing to do with what the book is actually about. I would have thought she might have been clued in about the book by simply looking at who the publisher happened to be. Baen. You know Baen, the “evil” epicenter of all things Correia, Ringo, Kratman, Hoyt and Torgersen.

But it appears that Baen is the bastion of gate-guarding, making sure all the kids get the hand-stamp of Heinlein on their way in the door.” 

All right, I’ve quit laughing and will try to finish this post. I don’t know what is more hysterical: the claim that Baen is gate-guarding when you consider what is coming out of the other publishing houses (Oh, wait, that’s the lockstep crap so it’s okay. Sorry. My bad.) or the fact that, with the exception of Bujold, the reviewer thinks all Baen puts out is Heinleinesque science fiction. Eric Flint and others would certainly be surprised to know they fall into the evil political spectrum that is Heinlein.

All this is, I guess, my way of saying that if you want to review a book, review the book. That was done in the first post. The blogger should have left it at that. To come back in and then attack the book because you don’t like what the publisher said and you don’t like the fact it appears to be Heinleinesque and you hate Heinlein even if you don’t know why you do — psst, could it be because all the “cool kids” have said you should and you haven’t taken time to read and think for yourself? — doesn’t help your cause. What it has done is sell more books for Gannon. Why? Because you’ve made those of us who do like Heinlein curious about what Gannon wrote. So, on behalf of all of us who like a good book that doesn’t hit us over the head with the current politically correct statement of the day, thank you.

Edited to add: Welcome everyone who has come over from Monster Hunter Nation. Thanks to Larry Correia for the link and everyone here at MGC bows down to Larry, International Lord of Hate 😉

 

 

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