"An Angel Named Mary Sue" interview
1. How did you get the idea to write "An Angel Named Mary Sue"? How did the story develop in your mind as you wrote it? Were there different directions you considered for it, but did not take? Why did you decide to set it post-canon?
Well, keeping in mind I wrote AANMS about 2 years ago, I don't know how well I can answer this. The original story "An Angel Named Mary-Sue" was one of my first Iron Chef entries, for a "Write a Mary Sue" IC, just after I joined the old PPMB board. The original ficlet ended with the part in the kitchen - Daria realizing her sarcastic comments were actually hurting her sister. Later, I proposed my own Iron Chef on how Daria and Jane would pay for college and came up with the Trent storyline. I combined the two and voila! I don't remember much about the actual process other than it did take a long time to write- as I recall, 6 months or something like that.
When I started, I wasn't sure if Trent would live or die, and the "vote" Angel is waiting for with Trent after he ODs was an actual vote I put to the PPMB on whether or not I should kill him off. I wondered if I should have done more with the FC (doing a more complete B story arc) but decided against it at the time.
I set it post-canon because it gave me the most freedom to work with the characters. That way I didn't have to take into account things that hadn't happened yet. Post-canon is also great if you want to explore real growth in the characters. Mostly I'm lazy.
2. Which parts of Angel's philosophy/theology are a reflection of your own beliefs, and which were invented for the sake of the story?
I actually got the Ocean/Wave theory from a book by Christopher Pike, the title of which I can't recall (Remember Me, maybe?). I thought it was a really interesting idea. The Groups I made up. I long ago gave up trying to figure out the Grand Scheme of Things, as of right now I believe I don't know enough to believe in any one thing as the absolute Truth. I do believe in the hope of something Greater than myself but I'm not arrogant enough to say I know what that might possibly be.
3. Did you write this story to music? Are there any songs you think of when you read over the tale, ones that seem relevant to what's happening?
I usually do write to music and often I assign songs to what I'm writing, but not for this story. At least, not that I recall.
4. Talk a little about Daria's makeover here. Many fanfic writers have tried giving Daria a makeover, but how did you envision the problem?
Well, it was bound to happen at some point, I mean she's not going to be 45 and still wearing the same outfit. That's actually something that really irritates me about Daria, she says she dresses that way because she doesn't want to be judged by her looks, but it's exactly what she wants. And really, people will always judge you by your looks first. Humans are visual animals. She's just setting herself up for failure. In any case, I really can't see her surviving a Boston winter in that skirt.
5. How did you discover Daria, the show, and Daria fanfiction? Has your involvement in Daria fanfiction changed your life in certain ways?
I did watch the originals on MTV, but I don't remember much about how I found it. I watched a lot of MTV cartoons in high school (Aeon Flux, Liquid Television, The Maxx, The Head).
It kills me to admit it, but I found Daria fanfic through the-N's website. Ugh. From there, I found Outpost-Daria and started reading fanfic and then stumbled onto the old PPMB board. Joined in a few Iron Chefs and the rest is history.
I used to write a lot when I was younger but stopped in college (or at least stopped writing it down, I always had stories playing out in my head). Daria fanfic really made me realize how much I loved writing. In fact, it was when I was writing AANMS that I decided to take my Harry Potter idea and write it out. At the beginning, I thought it'd be a short few chapter thing, but two years later, it's turned into a full-length Book 6, 400+ pages and taken over my life. I blame Daria fandom!!! ;-)
6. What are the worst problems you face in writing fanfiction, Daria or otherwise (Harry Potter)? In writing in general? What other writing have you done, outside of fanfiction?
Staying in character, definitely. I think that's the real challenge of writing decent fanfiction, you have to work with in the framework of someone else's ideas. Other than that, most of my Daria fics are short one-sitting write-outs. I usually have the whole thing plotted out in my head before I start. My HP book however, is so long that keeping all the details and storylines straight is very difficult and requires a lot of notes and some very sharp-eyed betas. The other problem my HP story has that my Daria fics usually don't is writer's block. Since most of my Daria ficlets are one-shots, it's all done at once, which can be a nice change.
I've started a few fantasy/sci-fi stories and I have some ideas for some others. Maybe someday I'll get to them. I was forced to write some really awful poems for a college class once.
7. Of what stories that you've done are you proudest? What did you like best about them?
I think my best story idea was "Padded Walls". It just fit so well. Rereading it, it needs some polish but the idea was quite unique.
As for my favorite story, I really don't know. I love "A Broken Night", my Daria/Demartino shipper. Man, that came out of nowhere. I creeped myself out with that one. I like Tom's last line in "Reflections". I looove writing Stacy fics ("9.14.04" was pretty cool). I think I just like stories that go along in one direction and then slap you upside the head from out of the blue at the end.
8. How has your artistic talent affected your writing?
I think it's really the other way around. I drew a lot as a kid but it wasn't until I started writing fanfic that I really started drawing again (mostly Harry Potter art). There were some scenes I really wanted to see and as no one was going to do it for me, I decided to give it a go myself.
9. What does angst means to you as a fanfic writer, and what purpose does it serve in your stories?
Comedy is hard. Honestly, I just write what pops into my head and it's usually angsty. Sometimes I find it cathartic to make characters suffer. Sometimes, looking at the character's past actions, it just seems like a logical conclusion (for example: Stacy in "Perfect" became a neurotic wife to an abusive husband. I hadn't even read it, but TAG had written something very similar as part of his story "9.0".) Angst can either make a character grow and come out stronger or illustrate the inherent weaknesses of the human psyche.
There's different kinds of angst as well. TAG writes stories where the characters have all these horrible events heaped on them to see if they'll break, dealing with the event (or events) and the aftermath. BG and Renfield have similar mental-anguish angles. I tend to do more of a single quick horrific event that shatters the characters perception of the world around them and leave it at that. It's almost like the difference between a psychological thriller and a slasher movie- both horrific, but for different reasons.
Mostly I love freaking people out.
1o. Do you ever worry about getting a message across in your stories, or do just tell the tale?
Usually, I just have a story to tell. However, in "A Broken Night" I specifically tried to work on atmospherics and my goal was for the reader to have one word in mind at the conclusion: horrific (which I think someone actually used in a review). In "June Bug", my word goal was "sweet". "To Understand" really tried to convey that you never know what other people are thinking and, from time to time, we all need to step outside ourselves and take a moment to consider, "They're not the same as me, so maybe I should think before I react." Also, that there are a lot of duality and subtleties in language so be careful in communicating. Never assume. AANMS had a bit of that theme as well. I actually had someone write to me and say they were going to try to be nicer to their sibling because of that story. I think I hoped that people would read AANMS and think, "Well, maybe it didn't happen like I thought." Everyone experiences things through their own lens and I think from time to time, we should take a step back and consider it from another view. Mostly, I just write what comes to me.
11. If you could have fan art of your work, what would be your top five picks for illustrations you'd want to see?
Anything from when the characters were younger (Jane from "The Question", Jake and Helen or Daria and Quinn from "June Bug".) I'd love to see some interpretations of the wings in AANMS. Or if someone wanted to do a series of what they thought anyone in Lawndale's wings looked like. That'd be spiffy.
12. After Angel's guest appearance in "Illusions" and the appearance of Greystar's Man in the Red Jacket in AANMS established a kind of continuity, do you anticipate any more appearances for Angel?
She showed up in "To Understand". If ever you wanted to see the development of my writing from AANMS to now (the increasing Angst Factor) compare Angel in AANMS to Angel in "To Understand". Yikes.
I may use her again.
13. "An Angel Named Mary Sue" seems to be more of a "self-insert" than a "Mary Sue" fic (in that Angel is not a "perfect" character, and does not take over the story). Is that accurate? Why did you decide to use that method of writing this fic? What problems did you foresee putting yourself in your own story, and how did you resolve them?
I think people might argue whether she took over the story or not. I love writing Mary-Sue fics. Yeah, lame but true. I think maybe because it's easy to a point, they say "write what you know". "Mary-Sue" and "self-insert" seem interchangeable to me, but yeah it was more writing my actual self into the story rather than inventing a new character based off myself.
Why? Well, sometimes I invest myself emotionally in a character and/or their world and think about what I would say to them if I could, what advice I would give them (in this and other fandoms). In this case, I came up with a story where I could talk to Daria. I didn't really foresee any problems with it story-wise, but I did worry about the reader reaction, since as we all know, Mary-Sues are not very popular. TAG actually said some lovely things about the original IC entry (as did many other people) and that was a big encouragement to write it and put it out there.
14. This fic has some parallels with "The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow", particularly the argument that Daria is responsible for much of the world she lives in. How much did that fic influence you in writing yours, if any, and what do you see as the similarities between the two fics?
I've actually never read it. Who wrote it? I'll go check it out and get back to you.
15. Why did you choose to NOT show other characters who could have been seen as parallels to Daria, like Jodie, or teachers like DeMartino or O'Neill? (It would be interesting to see the wings of either teacher, as well as Angel's reaction to those two.)
I really wanted to focus the story on Daria, and I think showing everyone's "wings" would have been too distracting. A lot of other characters were left out because there was no real need for them in the story.
16. Some of the events in your fic, including Trent's revival, the discovery of the artwork, and Daria & Quinn's growing somewhat closer, could have readers considering this fic as a "fanservice piece". How do you respond to that?
Well, the Trent survival was fanservice because I actually asked them to vote on what they wanted. Other than that, I didn't have any particular sect of fandom in mind when I wrote it. I hadn't been part of the fandom long enough to know what was popular at the time.
17. Tell us about the plot device of 'the wings'. How did you come up with this idea, how do you think it worked in your fic, and how would you change it if you could? Also, could you tell us how the readers, especially with the graphic nature of the images, received this idea? Finally, why did you choose to NOT show Helen or Jake's wings in the fic?
Well, the idea stemmed from the screen name I picked "Angelinhel". I often think in metaphors and when I thought about it, I realized if I really did have wings, they would probably look pretty beat up. From there, I came up with the idea that everyone has "wings", a metaphor of their emotional history. At points of low self-esteem where we 'beat ourselves up' over things in our life, we tear out our own feathers. When others hurt us by words or actions, they slash our wings. When we find strength in ourselves and learn to love and forgive ourselves, we grow feathers back. If you think about some people who have suffered greatly and lose themselves in depression, no longer willing to feel anything, it's like they either ignore their wings or tear them off.
I don't recall anyone commenting specifically on the imagery, at least not to me.
As for Jake and Helen, the sad truth is I had no idea what they would have looked like. That's why I left it out.
18. Okay - the "Charles Ruttheimer, from 'Big 'Uns' magazine"-style question. (Had to be done.) You are, as stated in layman's terms, "a babe". You're also a quite intelligent woman. How does the worldview that you have as an attractive, intelligent woman in this society influence the manner in which you wrote this, as you reference your own life (if I am not mistaken) at several points in the fic? What are some of the points that you wanted to touch upon (and avoid like plague) in writing this fic, using your own experiences as reference?
Daria is so sure that if she was considered attractive, she wouldn't ever be taken seriously, which is true in some cases, but not in many others. I really wanted to show her that, yes, people will make assumptions based on the way you look (for example, some people think you have to trade brains for boobs, like there's some kind of weight limit or something) but those people aren't important. Really, your parents say it a million times, but no one that age listens: In the end, the only person whose opinion matters is your own. No matter where you go or what you do, you always have to live with yourself, so you'd better make sure you like who you are. Honestly, I don't think Daria does like who she is. At least not yet.
I didn't like myself very much when I was her age (for various reasons) and really put myself through hell trying to make other people like me by changing how I looked. When that didn't work, I finally started to believe that if I liked who I was, other people would like me, too. And for the right reasons. Really, I could see Daria falling apart the way I did in college and though I might save her the trip. There were a lot of parallels in our lives and I used that as inspiration.
I wanted to get the point across that you can only control so much of the opinions other people make about you (of course, you shouldn't dress like a hooker and expect people to assume you're a rocket scientist, but there's no reason not to enjoy the natural beauties you possess. Daria treats her attractiveness like a disease.). And in a lot of cases, you can do your damnest to create an image that causes people to make immediate assumptions, but why would you bother? Anyone who you allowed to get to know you would eventually find out about the real you anyway. Again, if you know the truth about yourself, does anyone else's opinion really matter that much? I didn't actively avoid anything, but nevertheless, I'm sure I left things out.
19. You have some really interesting moments with the (former) Fashion Club during the story; specifically Sandi and Quinn's tiny furball, and the imagery of Tiffany's mutilated wings. Could you go into greater detail on what you were doing with the FC in this fic, and what you were going for?
Mostly I used them to help Daria learn to look beyond the surface of people. She's so determined that people not judge her by her appearance, but she does it time and time again to others. I intended to do a full story arc with the Fashion Club but scrapped it.
20. You've given a very interesting version of Trent in this fic, one that almost (almost) makes up for many of the failings we've seen in him throughout the series. Why did you choose to write him this way? Why did you choose for him to attempt to commit suicide, especially in that you seem to have had him plan this out several years earlier? Do you really feel that his death would have profoundly affected Daria?
I think Trent really does love his sister and found himself acting as a stand-in parent. He probably feels some resentment at being forced to do it but also a lot of love. I think his general nature is to want to take care of others, but lacking real parents to help him develop those skills left him kind of haphazard about it. I don't think he's a bad person since he was never given any direction or motivation beyond "Do what works for right now."
Trent really is devoted to his sister and I could see him making the ultimate sacrifice for her if he had to. I didn't imagine he'd thought about committing suicide before. When I wrote it, I had intended for the insurance policy to be in case he slipped up and got back into drugs. Trent, at that time I think, would have been unsure if he could really quit for good and would want to make sure Jane would be all right if he failed again.
As for Daria, maybe not directly affect, more of a domino effect. Trent's death almost definitely would have destroyed Jane and by doing so, taken away someone Daria loved. I don't know if Daria would have killed herself over Trent's suicide (or losing Jane) but it would have dramatically altered her life.
21. In the part of the story where Daria is able to see peoples' "wings" and the damages they have as a symbol of the hardships and/or decisions in each of those peoples' lives, did you come up with that idea yourself, or was it from some other source? Also, did you have some idea of the trauma that caused Tiffany to become so emotionless, or did you just leave it up to our imaginations?
I totally made the wing idea up. I mentioned before, I often think in metaphors.
As for Tiffany, I hinted that the loss of her adoptive mother to cancer was the final straw, but I had a hazy backstory vaguely sketched out: Tiffany was born in Vietnam or somewhere similar, her parents either dead or they gave her up, being in foster homes until she was 3 or 4 finally being adopted then losing her new mother at age 11 or so. You know- a long life of upheaval and loss. Angsty stuff. She decided not to risk the pain of loss again and cut off her wings, no longer able to attach emotionally to anything.