Here’s the thing you learn as a storyteller: sometimes you have to take a leap and see where it gets you. ~Tricia Barr
To me, stories aren’t just words on a page, but whole ideas realized in my head. When I write a character, I know who they are, which made it really fun to hear Star Wars Rebels Greg Weisman share his thoughts on creating strong characters on Fangirls Going Rogue. He talked about giving the characters first and last names, histories, anything that helps shape their motivations. As he spoke, I heard affirmation of my approach on my space opera Wynde. While in the process of writing the novel, I always knew there would be more to these characters’ stories. I have a larger master plan that includes five novels in the series, stand-alone tie-in novels, numerous short stories, and artwork. Additional goals are even loftier than that, but the foundation upon which the characters are built is the most important part.
When I got to a point where I was ready to commission the first artwork, finding an artist whose art spoke to me, and would also be willing to work with an up-and-coming storyteller, was a challenge. I also had set a goal to work with a female artist. After a couple of starts, I realized the artist I really wanted – if I could dream impossibly big – was Magali Villeneuve. At first, I never considered asking her; she was too amazing. She works on Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings. I figured she was out of my league.
Then last year, a little holiday email came from Magali, who I had the privilege to interview for the Star Wars: Razor’s Edge promotional art. Meanwhile, over 2013 I had noticed that many of my male counterparts in fandom never hesitated to make requests of VIPs. My brain always turned to, “I don’t want to bother her” or “he is always so busy doing important things.” I recognize that this apprehensiveness about asking isn’t just a me problem. In a tweet last week from Lucasfilm editor Jen Heddle, she encouraged female authors to speak up if they wanted to work on Star Wars. As she noted, men have no problem doing so, as I have watched many tweet unabashedly at the franchise. It’s quite remarkable that her little invitation sparked so many reweets, favorites and responses. This week in researching J.J. Abrams for this month’s Hyperspace Theories, I noted that in his TED Talk he unabashedly admits that he is not afraid to ask for things, which in no small part has been one of the keys to his success.
So when Magali’s email arrived, something clicked. I told myself, “The worst she can say is no” and “it never hurts to ask.” If you could have seen me doing the Ewok dance in my living room when Magali said she would bring Vespa and company to life as illustrations, you would know how much I had no expectations I would get the answer “yes.”
Then came the realization that I had to take the characters in my head and relate to Magali who they were. I had a little practice from telling Star Wars artist Chris Trevas over the years while preparing the Suvudu Valentine’s Day posts. Those actually were a bit easier, though, because I had points of reference from existing Star Wars lore like the X-wing pilot uniform and Jag’s distinctive scar – and I still had to read through three books to make sure I got the details right for the Jaina and Jag first kiss image.
For my own novel’s artwork, I read most of Wynde again to find the right quotes that distilled the characters. I picked five words that I felt defined each character. I selected an actress or actor, not necessarily because they had the exact look, but more for an aura or distinct feature like eyes or hair that would give Magali a starting point. Although I’d given Wynde the elevator pitch – “It’s Star Wars fantastical epic meets Hunger Games fierce female warrior bands together with others to save the ones she loves.” – the visuals I was going for leaned more toward “Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings.” The one thing I never worried about with Magali was that she could translate the fierceness of a woman warrior and still make her beautiful without needing a shortcut like flowing hair or exposed cleavage. Vespa, Gemini, and Captain Trace Chal, all depicted in the artwork, look pretty darn beautiful in their fighting kit.
From the first sketch of Vespa, just a black and white rough, she was everything I imagined in my head.
I thought it would be fun for my readers to see what I shared with Magali Villeneuve. If you haven’t read Vespa’s story, this might encourage you to check it out. And if you have read Wynde, maybe you’ll learn something new.
The long and short of this post is, sometimes asking is the hardest thing. I will still always do so with consideration for the person I’m asking, but the lesson learned is not to let fear of rejection hold me back.
Magali Villeneuve has several projects that you should look for, including tons of gorgeous illustrations in the new Game of Thrones World of Fire and Ice and artwork in an upcoming issue of Star Wars Insider. Follow her on Twitter because you never know what awesome little gems of art you’ll find.
Brown hair, brown eyes
5’ 6” (1.68m)
Daughter to UTARA FIREHEART and DAEMYN WYNDE, sister to TERRAQ FIREHEART
Five words: prodigy, driven, reckless, courageous, compassionate
Left-handed. As a technical genius Vespa has designed an Artificial Intelligence named WISPER (Wynde Industries Symbiotic Pilot Error Reduction program) that can be moved from ship to ship in a pod. The pod is essentially iPod in size, and can be plugged into a ship directly. When WISPER is not plugged into a ship, Vespa attaches her to a leather self-forming gauntlet that she wears on her right forearm.
For artwork I want hair pulled back into braids with wisps coming out. She’s kind of a wild child so she is attempting to look pulled together and tidy, but being constantly on the go and fighting bad guys can mess with a girl’s hair style.
Black flightsuit, gold trim, hints of orange somewhere. Military boots. The namepatch on her flightsuit has been torn off. Wynde Industries Pegasus logo (from book cover) on one shoulder, the logo is red in color (rather than the gold color from the book cover).
Pose: Going for heroic, compound bow in left hand down at her side and gauntlet visible on right arm
A theme of the series is nature versus technology. Vespa is shown wielding a high-tech bow and arrow; Nix Moonrider (her mentor) is shown posing with a naturally made carved wooden bow and arrow. Eventually Vespa will transition over the book series to using both types.
The top image is an Asian-American actress Lexa Doig that captures the look I’d like with Vespa, especially the eyes. The lower image is actress Sophia Bush. I’ve always thought her images capture the feel of Vespa in the way she poses, looks at the camera. This image in particular is what I see Vespa’s hair like if it were down, which it will be in one of the illustrations.
“Our modeler is pretty weak compared to yours, but it looks like I’m going to have to stay above this system until we’re almost on top of the island. I’m seeing some softer vectors in quadrant Tarah-Bravo-Three?”
“That’s too close,” Ransom protested. “Slip across, not slice down.”
Iko relayed the assessment to Iana. In reply she said, “If you go by the book.”
Ransom stiffened. “Tell that noob I’ve flown over two hundred of these runs. I know what I’m talking about.”
Iko held up his hand in a calming gesture. “We’ve got a lot of experience in the room trying to help you.”
“Then help me –” The pilot grunted and warning alarms could be heard chirping in the Suerov’s cockpit. “Carter, I told you to turn that shig off, it’s giving me a brainache. Adjust power seventeen percent in Engine One. Throttling back to compensate.”
Neither of them said a word as he guided her through the kitchen and out the back door. “You got a mighty big mouth for such a little girl.”
“Seriously?” Vespa’s fist popped to her hip. “I’m the one doing you the favor here, remember?”
“You’re doing your job. Acai says so.” Chauncy bent over to snatch a small toolbox from the ground. “Lots of spare parts in the shed around the side.”
“You’re not exactly giving me much incentive to actually do it,” she said, crossing her arms.
“How about, so you can stay.”
“Stay here? With whookahs like you?” Vespa pointed her nose in the air. “Back home I live in a mansion. I could call my father –”
“Now, wait. Wait a minute.” Chauncy clutched the toolbox to his body. “You can’t just go deciding to not do something this… this important.”
“Sure I can.” She lowered the tilt of her chin slightly and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Come on. It’s not like doing nothing could make the situation any worse for me.”
“But you fix things. That’s what you do.”
“Maybe. But I sure screw up a lot of things, too.” Her candor put Chauncy at a loss for words. He opened his mouth a time or two, then shut it. Vespa wouldn’t leave him or the village stranded with a bunch of hooligans itching to enjoy a good spar with no way to do so, but she wasn’t about to tell the old curmudgeon that. “I’ll think about it – under one condition.”
“Next time Uevo’s oven goes out, you let her borrow yours.”
“Now I can’t be going and letting everyone use my stuff when theirs gets broken. How do you think I make my living out here?”
“I’m not talking everyone. Just one person.”
Chauncy shifted from foot to foot, then finally sighed. “Fine, it’s a deal.” He shoved the box toward Vespa. “I got paying customers to attend to.”
*Includes all three characters from first trio (Vespa/Badge/Nix) relayed from Vespa’s best friend’s Point of View
Vespa target-locked on someone quickly. Gemini assumed she had spotted the admiral already, or possibly Daemyn, but when she followed Vespa’s stare it ended at two men who obviously weren’t like any of the others. The pair cut imposing figures. The dark-skinned man with the strange ecru attire had just finished greeting Lyssa, before introducing her to the handsome man with the facial tattoo. The first man’s black eyes flicked up the staircase, and not even introductions to a woman as beautiful as Lyssa Shrine kept his counterpart’s ice-blue eyes from following a couple of heartbeats later.
Clearly they knew Vespa, and a sideways glance confirmed it. Gemini caught the corner of Vespa’s mouth tick upward, and then any hint of it was gone.
Vespa started down the stairs. When the two young women reached the bottom, the tattooed man was waiting for them.
“Badge,” Vespa said, “I’d like you to meet my best friend Gemini.”
Badge’s eyes lingered on Vespa, but when he finally greeted Gemini he gave her his full attention. He bowed formally. “It is my honor.”
The dark man joined them. “Do I receive the honor, as well?”
Vespa’s lips drew thin. “Gemini, Attaché Moonrider –”
“Guardian, actually.” Moonrider offered a bow not quite as deep as Badge’s.
Vespa leaned over to Gemini. “He’s the one who kicked my ass.”
“I see. Then the pleasure is all mine, Guardian Moonrider.” Gemini couldn’t help her conspiratorial grin as she stepped forward, catching him by the arm. “Care to give me any pointers?”
“Send a message to my dad. Tell him I’m trying.”
She tipped her head. The plan had been finalized, back-checked, and passed the go/no-go. Vespa took four more long strides backwards.
“Message sent. May I now inquire as to the plan?”
“Run, jump, and hit that vent tube.”
“While its simplicity has merits, the odds of success –”
“They’re just numbers, Wisper.”
Tricia Barr’s novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library’s successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena’s Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.