Of Mice And Men And Mary-Sues – introducing Spook.

 Day Eight

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle.

If you’ve just skipped over that bizarre mis-match of non-words and are wondering what the hell is going on, you’re probably not alone. Unless you were privileged to have had a good English teacher who went beyond the curriculum’s straight-jacket you probably have never read those words before.

But it’s a safe bet you knew immediately, whatever side of the Atlantic you are on (or indeed which hemisphere you are in) that the title reference to Of Mice And Men refers to John Steinbeck’s 75 year old classic.

Mary-Sues? We’ll come back to that shortly.

First off, some more serious matters to ponder.

No, not the 75th anniversary celebrations for Of Mice And Men. That’s actually next year anyway, and this isn’t an early tribute. Just to give you something to feel comfortable with. After all, even if you have never read any other Steinbeck classic you almost certainly know this one.

The reason we want you feeling comfortable is because we need briefly to talk agents. And even if you previously thought you were comfortable with that subject, believe me you won’t be for long. There’s going to be some interesting and forthright discussions on agents on a number of blogs over the next few weeks. This is just the warm up.

For Brit’ schoolkids, Lennie and George in Of Mice And Men have been a staple of the GCSE reading lists for a long while, and of course many students like it because it’s short and easy to read, and succumbs easily to exam analysis. For those not in the know GCSEs are the standard UK exam for 16 year olds before they leave school or continue to further education.

Not here to discuss the failing of the British exam system, or to criticise Steinbeck. Obviously there’s much more to Of Mice And Men than just the appeal of a quick read and a straight-forward story. There are hidden depths which GCSE doesn’t begin to explore.

George

In fact Of Mice And Men is a story for our times. Make Lennie and George wannabe writers trying to find their way against the Great Recession of the twenty-first century and you can be sure Curley and Slim will be agents.

Lennie

Lennie is the new writer, unskilled and desperate to throw his first draft on the Kindle, with sweet dreams of fame, celebrity and fluffy rabbits.

George is the seasoned rejection-letter collector, trying to look after Lennie and at the same time chasing that golden opportunity that will get his book before the masses and earn him the homestead he desires.

Agent Slim and Agent Curley are in the wings, wondering how they will survive the recession and the new technology. Slim’s ranching skills will soon be redundant as new machines replace horses and mules. Curly’s father’s business teeters on the edge. Will there be anything to inherit?

Slim

Agent Slim is honest. Integrity is his middle name. He cares for his authors and worries about them and their future, as well as his own. He sees the writing on the wall and knows he has to adapt to survive.

Agent Slim has just read Kris Rusch’s blog on the state of bookstores in the USA. It’s not news to him, but it will be to his authors. He’s telling all his authors to read it and get real.

Paper is already on the slippery slope, and the slide is accelerating. Everyone in the industry knows it.

Agent Curley knows it. He’s slamming his fist into that gloved hand so hard it hurts. Damn that Kris Rusch for spelling it out.

For Agent Curley, frustration is giving way to desperation. There are desperate times ahead and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Luckily for Agent Curley he has no scruples. He was brought up a bully and will forever be a bully. He only cares about himself and his future. If that means he has to bite the hand that feeds him then he will bite hard.

Time was Curley would never have given Lennie the time of day, and George would have to go begging to get Curley’s attention.  Time was…

Yeah, that was a long time ago. 2010 in fact.

For those who haven’t noticed, it’s 2011 now, and the publishing world has changed. Changed beyond all recognition.

George and Lennie don’t need Slim and Curley anymore. Sure, they’d like to have them, but they don’t need them.

But Slim and Curley still need George and Lennie. In fact, they need them more than they’ve ever needed anyone.

And while Agent Slim at least has his integrity intact and is trying his best for his authors, Agent Curley is the same nasty, cheating bully he’s always been. Only worse.

He’ll go knocking on George and Lennie’s door promising untold riches, showing them his fine gold robes to prove his past achievements. He’ll take that glove off and shake them by that vaseline softened hand, unable to put into words just how much he admires their future work. He’s gonna make them a star. Just sign here, guys, and your future is secure.

But look closely and the gold robes are actually faded, threadbare and moth-eaten. Look really closely and maybe there are no robes at all. Maybe the Emperor has no clothes anymore.

Curley isn’t George and Lennie’s future. He’s their worst nightmare.

~

Anne R Allen is running some posts on agents and scams. Be sure to read them. Starting Sunday June 19th.

Be sure also to read this recent post by Kris Rusch on agents.

Also check out this post on agents and the future of publishing.

As wannabe writers we all have our plans and hopes and dreams. The dream of our novel on the plinth in B&N or Waterstone’s. But as Steinbeck said,

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

Okay, so that was Robbie Burns, as was the opening stanza, of course. Steinbeck was paraphrasing.

But if you haven’t got your spot on the plinth reserved now then barring some miracle it just ain’t gonna happen. The plinths are getting smaller, the bookshelves in the bookstore shorter. The only bookshelf you can count on is the one in the cyber-store.

Sure, paper isn’t going to disappear overnight. There are still deals to be had, advances to be got and there’ll be a few more paper successes along the way, undoubtedly.

But now, more than at any time in history, we as writers need to exercise the greatest of care that our best laid plans do not gang aft agley.

~

Okay, serious debate over. Let’s get back to the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun regular post, which today comes from someone known only as Spook. Well, possibly her family have another name for her, bur rather like The Stig, this Spook character prefers to hide behind a mask of anonymity.

The mysterious Spook runs a blog where she posted a terrific commentary on female characters which could have (and should have!) been written for MWi. So I’ve nipped over and stolen the whole thing, and present is below in its entirety. Don’t tell her!

And yes, I know I’m two days behind with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun posts but I did warn you all before it began that it would be subject to the vagaries of West Africa’s net access and power supply. The best laid plans…

Here’s Spook:

Mary-Sues

I hate Mary-Sues. No, I don’t hate them. I despise them with every outraged fibre of my incandescently furious being!

Everybody know what a Mary-Sue is? I suspect most writerly types (or just about anyone who reads, be it fanfiction or published books) will know what they are, but here’s a little definition for anyone I’ve lost. They’re characters (both original and, in fanfiction, already present in the story) who are, for want of a better word, perfect. They’re gorgeous, they have exotic names, tattoos and birthmarks, they have earth-shatteringly awesome powers, everything they wear oozes sex appeal and they are so insanely wonderful that anyone who’s met them for more than two or three seconds would give their life for them at the drop of a hat. And they always, always, get together with a mouth-wateringly gorgeous love interest at some stage.
Oh, but the author knows they can’t risk creating a perfect  character, so they quirk things up with a heart-wrenching (*bleck*) backstory. Rape, abuse, kidnap, the death of family, friends, mentors and loved ones, unbreakable curses, amnesia and tortured thoughts of atrocities they’re sure they’re responsible for.

And angst. Immeasurable eternities of angst.

All this tragedy is supposed to make us sympathise with the character, while their awesomeness is there to encourage us to look up to and like them. However, it has the opposite effect. The character is not the independent, spirited, kick-ass heroine we want, but a weepy waily little floozie who hurls herself at the nearest male and spends most of her time collapsed and sobbing in his arms from stress and exhaustion. Gary-Stues {male Mary-Sues – less common, but just as toxic} are just as bad – their overpowered hunkiness sweeps through opposition like a hot knife through butter, reducing formerly self-reliant women to fawning doe-eyed concubines that line up to get a dose of his godliness. That is, if he’s not in the middle of a rage-fit or breakdown.

But that’s not the thing that irks me most about Sues. Cool powers, funky tattoos and wonderful physiques are not a bad thing in a character – in fact, I find bland characters to be almost as bad as over-wrought Sues – but they don’t make good stories. In original fiction, the plots can be so contrite and ridden with cliches, that it’s not much of a plot at all, just a series of exploits during which our Sue can both show off their awesomeness and have huge angst sessions. It’s very hard to worry for a character if you know they can just snap their fingers and blast the foe into a thousand tiny bits.

Also, in fanfiction especially, the presence of Sues tends to do horrible things to the canon. It’s bad enough in their own world, but at least there the other characters are little better than cardboard cutouts are are unlikely to know any better. But in fanfiction, the wonderful, colourful people we know, love and root for, are subjected to the worst sort of torture. Their personalities are stripped away, leaving blank puppets that are utterly defenceless before the sparkly evil of the Almighty Mary-Sue. Harry is helpless without them, Kirk’s eyes pop out of his sockets as his years of hard-won skills are surpassed in seconds, and Aragorn and Legolas are lowered to the level of squabbling over who loves them more. The reader is left horror-struck as their beloved story crumbles to piles of fluffy crap, punctuated here and there with a badly written sex scene or another display of the Sue’s deity-status abilities. The story we love is gone, and we are instead left blundering through this awful, predictable ordeal whereby every one of the story’s key events is squooshed beneath a mountain of glittery crap.

Oh Boromir, I am so sorry you had to come back from the death to endure an eternity thanking the Sue for saving your wretched arse while they stomp all over your city and watch as your people gaze up at her in puppy-dog adoration. So, so sorry.
And the worst part? It’s all so easily avoidable.
As if Sues themselves don’t stick out like neon-painted toxic sludge monsters, there are a bajillion-and-three “litmus tests” out there that can help you spot Mary-Sues and warn you about their draining effect on a story. Here’s the one I use, and I cannot possibly tell how useful it has been in helping me rescue one of my characters from Gary-Stu-ness, and placing a protective barrier between the rest of his story and a truly toxic fate: The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test – Springhole.net
However, there is one thing that Sue-fics are good for. Sporking. These guys are the best of the bunch at turning an odyssey of agony into a non-stop LOL-fest: “Deleterius” Community – LiveJournal
Warning: bring tissues. You’ll laugh until your brain dribbles out of your nose.
In the meantime, may the Supreme Spork keep you and your stories all safe from the dreaded Suethor.
– Spook the Sporker
Well, if you got lost near the end, join the club.
Needless to say the images selected are of my choice, not Spook’s. I just saw a blatant opportunity to slot in some top totty pics to try win back some kudos from our male readers who have been giving me dubious glances ever since I confessed to using conditioner and reading chicklit in recent past posts. Oh yeah, and thanks Sibel for grassing me up about the pink high heels at Stansted Airport!
Of course the Sherlock’s among you will have spotted some clues to Spook’s real identity.  Arse not ass slipped out there, so clearly an Old Worlder. Female, of course: only a girl could object to fawning doe-eyed concubines!
JOKING! Honest!
In fact Ms Spook is going for the low-identity approach for a very good reason. She’s yet another of the TNG upstarts threatening to steal our crown. That’s The Next Generation to you really out-of-touch lot in the far corner.
Yep, Ms Spook is yet another teen writer sharing her talents on the MWi platform.
MWi is, after all, the place where future stars are showcased.
The only known photgraph of her is reproduced just there on the right, above. Clearly too much botox over the left eye, but once you leave your fifteenth birthday behind you get desperate to hang on to your youthful looks and will  try anything. Just ask Simon Cowell.
Yep. Just sixteen and already writing blog posts as if she were resident ghost-writer for Patricia Cornwell, Karin Slaughter and Stephen King.
Scary stuff. No wonder she’s called Spook!
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  1. Aww, I’m flattered! And how do you know about the botox! xD

    Slippery agents eh? I be keeping my eyes out for those if I ever go hunting one … having read Mice and Men (though not for GCSE admittedly), I will watch out for the Curleys. By “watch out for”, I mean bludgeon them with a spade if they try anything 😉

    Nice article, and thanks again for featuring me! I’m positively crimson with blushing at the moment xD

    • Thanks for joining us. Ms Spook. At some stage you’ll have to reveal what the hell a sporker is!

      No surprise you haven’t read Of Mice & Men for CGSE at your school. I suspect the exam board your school uses has slightly more demanding expectations. Which is no reflection on Steinbeck, Just on some exam boards’ treatment of a great book…

      I can think of a few agents that could do with spade bludgeoning. In fact, that might make an interesting side-story for one of my future books.

      • Of course I will! I shall reveal all the secrets of sporking in later posts, if you would like me to. Just to warn, I’m a Grammar Nazi and more besides, so I may come round to that occasionally if I got off topic xD

    • Miriam
    • June 18th, 2011

    Mwah ha ha ha, I knows her real name! *prolonged evil laugh* And I has photographses ….

    Okay that was weird. But I’ve been writing for an hour solid and I’m feeling it. What do you expect, grammatically correct comments?

  2. Shoot. I was planning to blog on Mary Sues soon, and but now the post has already been done. Brilliantly.

    The agent/Mice and Men/Burns rant is brilliant, too. Incredibly important stuff here. EVERY writer needs to read this.

    (More Yanks than you would suspect are fans of Mr. Burns. We even have a local Rbt. Burns society right here in central CA. Mostly an excuse to eat haggis, of course :-).)

    I start my agent series tomorrow.

    • Just updated the blog to point out your post goes out tomorrow. Losing track of the celendar here in sweltering West Africa.

      These teenagers certainly know how to raise the bar for future guests. If i were Agent Slim I’d be looking for future writers like Ms Spook and Ms Del and nurturing their talents.

      I dread to think what an American haggis might look like. 🙂

    • Wow. Words cannot express how much that praise means to me coming from a professional like you. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to read this.

      Just so you know, I’m gonna stalk your blog now. You can’t get rid of me now! Mwua ha ha ha ha ha ha!

  3. Well crap on a cracker. Hope/Astra may be a Mary Sue. Maybe if readers squint they won’t notice.

    • And yes, a lot of Americans know Bobby Burns. And I personally have never addressed a haggis.

  4. Spook (SpookOfNight) :
    Neither have I … but I am now going to address the matter of stalking your book xD

    Yes! $.33 more for me. Love to hear what you think.

  5. I have actually attended a Robert Burns night myself. I am part Scottish and my mother is a certified Royal Scottish Country Dance Society teacher of Roayl Scottish Country Dance (I myself used to do Scottish Highland Dancing.).

    But enough off topic *grin* I have to admit that my schooling might suck because I have never read Of Mice and Men… in fact there are a lot of classics I haven’t read. Oh to have more time to read.

    And even more on tpopic! GO SPOOK!
    (I always knew I’d eventually out with the cool crowd, even if they do happen to be erm, um… half my age…)

    :} Elorithryn

    • One of the great things about the Kindle is how many classics are available free. Sadly Steinbeck’s works are still on the paid, and seriously over-priced.

      As for time… the nightmare of the Kindle is that there are so many great new authors coming on-stream at reasonable prices that it’s impossible to keep up, let alone find time to read them.

  6. Very informative and entertaining. The Mary Sue’s even happens in real life. Gorgeous women you’ll fall head over heals for with a twist or will twist you in the end . But don’t they make things more interesting? Great post. The first undiscernible words made me say, ” huh?” I was not my english teacher’s best student. But you explained everything well with the rest of the post that i then said, ” oh!”

    • Thanks for joining us. Yeah, Mary-Sues sure make life interesting when they’re real, and must admit a lot of fiction would be dull without them. But can see why Ms Spook is so incensed.

      A very moving father’s day tribute over on your own blog. It’s nice to be able to share private affection so publicly.

  7. Don’t know much about Mary Sues. But I do know that I love Modesty Blaise, one of the first female James Bond lookalikes. And I love Lara Croft. And Emma Peel. Is this the same sort of thing or not? Why shouldn’t we have women heroes who can do martial arts and defend themselves / attack the baddies?

    • Modesty Blaise… Now there’s some enjoyable memories. And dear Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Not of course that I’m old enough to remember such things. Must have seen the repeats…

      Most certainly Ms Spook isn’t old enough. She wasn’t even around for Purdey!

      I suspect Ms Spook would have approved of both Modesty B and Emma Peel, especially in their time, when they really were ground-breaking characters.

      As for Lara… I’m sure Ms Spook will be able to answer that one at least.

      BTW aren’t we about due some more posts over at Gerry’s Books?

      • Modesty, Emma, and Peel aren’t Mary Sues; they’re Girls With Guns–no angst in sight or weepy-waily episodes for them. This doesn’t mean they’re any more realistic than Mary Sues, just way, way less annoying.

    • Hehe, having a dad with a lot of old movie classics really makes these questions useful. I’m with Mark – these girls aren’t Mary Sues. They have personality, they look after themselves and – especially in Lara Croft’s case – they KICK ASS! And they don’t need any superawesomepowers or overly muscular males to help them.

      I hope I can clear up some of this confusion in me next post…

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