Okay first off, in case you don’t know me, I’m Sharon. I blog here. Just not very often. Mostly I lurk and sometimes comment. By way of excuse I have a young child and a recent book release and just in general find it hard to get posts written on any kind of regular schedule.
On top of that, early this year a comet rocketed into my atmosphere: breast cancer. WHAM.
A very rare form (adenoid cystic carcinoma), and very treatable. But regardless, it rocked my world. Have you seen the movie SLIDING DOORS? You could actually almost classify it as SFR, with the parallel timeline plot. Anyhow, at one point in the film -- I believe it’s shortly after the heroine gets fired, goes home early, and catches her boyfriend cheating on her -- this conversation happens:
HEROINE: “Always look on the bright side of life”?
HERO: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
Nope. They don’t. And I didn’t. And for several months, going to doctors and undergoing painful and stress-inducing tests and procedures -- and just trying to get my brain around all the information and the hard decisions I had to make -- was like a second job.
I’ve been pretty open about it from the beginning, posting about the diagnosis and the events that followed on my personal Facebook page. But this is the first time I’ve discussed it publicly. I don’t think we’re meant to go into a cave at times like these. We need each other. I feel like every good wish or positive vibration sent to me during that time helped me. I am eternally grateful for all the amazing love and support, from dearest friends and relatives to writing colleagues I may have only met once, or never.
So thank you friends, and thank you universe, for adding your strength to mine and carrying me through one of the more trying periods of my life.
And now you may ask . . . What does Mary Sue have to do with all this? Nothing, probably. Or everything, possibly.
My debut novel GHOST PLANET is April's main pick for the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout book club, created by actor/producer Felicia Day. (We’ll post more about the upcoming review this weekend.) Since this was announced, the reviews are POURING in. I have to thank Felicia for that, as well as for her hilarious series THE GUILD, which kept me laughing instead of freaking out the night before my surgery.
Anyway, one thing I have seen pop up a couple times in the book club’s Goodreads discussion thread, as well as a recent, wonderful 5-star review by Vaginal Fantasy reviewer and The Sword & Laser book club co-host Veronica Belmont – is the term “Mary Sue.” My understanding of the meaning of this term is when an author writes herself into a main character in an idealized way. (See Wikepedia.) Although it also seems often to be used in reference to a character who seems too perfect. Too . . . too.
My first awareness of this concept (though not by the name "Mary Sue") came when reading the introduction to one of my favorite novels, MIDDLEMARCH, by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). The person who wrote the intro referred to the story's beautiful, intelligent heroine, and suggested the character was a stand-in for Evans herself, who was intelligent but apparently not considered physically beautiful.
The term Mary Sue has a negative connotation in most cases. In the aforementioned case I felt the intro writer was implying Evans should have been above such a thing. But I can’t help wondering – why so? For me -- and I would wager for a lot of writers -- development of authorly aspirations began with daydreaming, and with fantasies that prominently featured (drumroll) ME.
I know when I was writing GHOST PLANET, the first time I’d (1) attempted first-person point of view and (2) completed a full-length work, I found it much easier to get in Elizabeth’s head when the outside of that head resembled my own. There are resemblances between the insides of our heads as well.
Would I like to be as young and pretty as Elizabeth? You bet. As bright and determined? Heck yeah! To have a brilliant, blue-eyed Irish psychologist for a boyfriend? Are you seriously asking me that?
Does that make my heroine a “Mary Sue”? Well, yes. Probably so. Am I bothered by that? No. Not even a little.
I would venture to guess that most authors’ debuts have someone very like themselves (but better!) somewhere in the story. And thank goodness for that! The first piece of advice you get as a writer is “write what you know.” And as for idealizing that person … last time I checked we were writing romance. We WANT to read about beautiful heroines, whether that beauty be outward, like Dorothea, or only inward, like little Jane Eyre.
Personally, I think readers can handle a Mary Sue. (Case in point: Veronica’s review uses the term and still gives GHOST PLANET the top rating.) What they absolutely can’t stomach is a passive heroine, or one without faults. (And that's a whole other blog post.) I think in some cases when readers use the term Mary Sue, this is really what they mean.
Okay, your turn! What does Mary Sue mean to you? Do you think it’s a bad thing?