Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What is Acktorek?

In short, it's a word I made up off the top of my head that has no etymology whatsoever. πŸ˜‰

In all seriousness, though, it is (obviously) something very important to the Acktorek series.

Initially, it was a species, but then I decided to call the species Zambina (another word I'm not sure where it came from, except for maybe an subconscious twisting of Zamboni) and Acktorek instead became a company.

What kind of company? Well, to get to that, let's have a (made up) history lesson.

Note: Most of this isn't actually in the book, just in my worldbuilding notes, so it's bonus info. 😊

Caelan Macaulay, a scientist from the world of Ebraria, invented world traveling devices. Through these devices, he gained contact with scientists from Aglion (the homeworld of Acktorek main guy Mitchell Banks), and the technology made huge leaps. Within about 16 years, the devices became available to those who could afford it, which quickly caused immigration issues, along with space/time continuum issues. The Ebrarian government placed restrictions on world travel, but damage had already been done.

Affected worlds got together and formed the Council of Worlds to determine how to handle this growing problem. It resulted in the foundation of Acktorek, and the permanence of the Council of Worlds. Both institutions are somewhat independent of each other, but yet work closely together. A little more on that when I get to how I actually came up with Acktorek.

Initially, Acktorek focused on repairing damage directly caused by world travel. Within a few decades, they began getting requests for assistance on issues not directly related to world travel, which prompted a major expansion of Acktorek's services. This expansion caused a huge influx of immigrants into Ebraria turning it into a city world that's a melting pot of species and cultures.

Acktorek has a four-year training program (which is their primary program) that typically takes students of high school age. They also have an accelerated program that takes only one year but is harder to get into. Also, they have more specialized training, and everyone is required to do some form of continuing education.

Okay, history lesson over.

So what does Acktorek do? Well, think of it this way: put the Jedi Order and Team Flash into a blender with a heaping spoonful of Doctor Who and a dash of the Wood Between the Worlds, mix it up really well, and you've got Acktorek.

First off, this isn't a parallel world story. TBH, parallel worlds only make sense if you don't think about it too hard. Like, usually so many things are so different, yet the same people got married at the same times and had babies at the same time for enough generations for you to have a doppelgΓ€nger? So while I do enjoy stories with alternate realities/parallel universes, I prefer the more traditional fantasy concept of other worlds...even when said worlds have technological advancements and world travel is done by technology rather than by magic.

The portal technology is somewhat similar to the technology Team Flash uses to go to parallel universes, etc. though I actually came up with mine before I started watching The Flash. And as for the sorts of situations they help with, it's also similar both to the sorts of situations dealt with on The Flash and on Doctor Who. Weird science incidents, invasions of alien-like creatures, supervillains, honestly, the imagination's the limit.

But the primary inspiration for Acktorek actually comes from the Jedi Order. I'm most familiar with the workings of the Order from Jude Watson's books, and I started there and discarded the things I didn't want (like the no attachments rule, and taking small children to train). There's also nothing like the Force, but there are species with abilities such as telekinesis and telepathy, as well as there being empaths, though I don't delve deeply into all of that in book one. (Yeah, I know it's minus so many iconic things about the Jedi, but it was still my jumping-off point, and it's not like I could copy it.) But the main way that they're like the Jedi is that their whole purpose is to serve and help others. People ask for their help, and they send agents out to do it.

How do they work with the Council of Worlds? Well, I haven't gotten too deep into it, but it's similar to the Order. Actually, it's somewhere in between the old Jedi Order and Luke's Jedi Order (Legends). Basically, not as much a slave to the government as the old Order, but not quite as independent as Luke's Order. (Though he did move them off of Coruscant because the GA oversight was getting overbearing, assigning them government observers and keeping them from helping where people really needed help. But I digress.) Acktorek does have to keep accountable to the Council of Worlds, but they don't have to run operations through them. (That would get ridiculous really fast. But I haven't exactly worked out how they get their funding either.) 

When it comes down to it, I think of Acktorek agents as something like Jedi without the Force (and unfortunately without lightsabers) who travel to other worlds to help instead of to other planets. And with more specialized divisions. (Not that there aren't any divisions within the Jedi Order, but they're not emphasized much in the media I've seen.)

So that's a snapshot of Acktorek, and a (probably very vague) idea of what you can expect from the series. But hey, go ahead and check out these worldbuilding boards. 😊

Monday, September 14, 2020

Acktorek Cover Reveal!

The cover is finally here!!!

This is my favorite of all the covers I've made so far, and I'm super excited about it. I can't wait to be able to hold the book in my hands. 😊

But before I give you the cover, here's the book description:

Which would you choose—save your sister or save the world? 

Emma Edsel’s first priority has always been protecting her blind sister Carla. So when Carla begins to develop science-defying abilities that threaten her life, Emma will stop at nothing to save her. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks help from Mitchell, the new boy at school who seems to know much more about it than he will admit. 

After his last mission went horribly awry, Mitchell Banks is relieved to have a simple task: seal a small, accidental portal between Earth and other worlds in the multiverse. He didn’t count on his growing feelings for Emma—and the dangerous levels of dimension energy contaminating Carla. 

Carla knows the voice in her head is evil. Manipulative. Feeding her with a strange energy she can control. She doesn’t know that she is the key to a coming global catastrophe and Mitchell’s boss will use any means possible to prevent it…including blackmailing him into murdering her.

Coming October 26!

And now...


What do you think? I really can't wait to share the book itself with you. It's definitely the one that's gotten me the closest to crying while writing, and these characters are very dear to my heart.

October 26 will be here before we know it! (And I just realized that it's the same week that season 2 of The Mandalorian premieres, so two things to be excited about!)

Check out these other reveal posts, some including interviews:

And by the way, this is my 500th blog post and the cover reveal for my 10th book, so I've got nice round numbers and two milestones. I feel like Monk would be proud. 😊

Monday, September 7, 2020

Backstory Affects Character

Another Star Wars oriented writing post this week. 😊

I've been watching Rebels with my family here lately, and before I get into the main point of the post, I just want to say how much I love this show. I mostly wanted to watch it because Ahsoka is in it, and so are Rex and Thrawn, but I didn't expect to love my space family so much. Seriously. I love all the Spectres 1-6 (haven't met Spectre-7 yet) so much...well, except maybe Spectre-3, AKA Chopper. Okay, I like Chopper in his own way, but he's certainly no Artoo. πŸ˜† It's just a really great show with great characters, and Ezra sassing Darth Vader is just about the best thing ever.

Today I want to talk about one particular member of the Ghost crew: Kanan Jarrus. More specifically, I want to contrast him with Rey and talk about how backstory does (or doesn't) affect character. (Kanan is awesome and he and Hera are so cute together, and I really need to get to the point of this post because I feel like I'm starting to go full on fangirl.)

Kanan is a Jedi who survived Order 66. He was raised and trained at the Jedi Temple, taken as a padawan by Depa Billaba after the Temple bombing, and escaped death in Order 66 on Kaller thanks to Master Billaba's sacrifice. He then had to learn to survive on his own as a young teenager in a new Empire where literally everyone and everything he's ever known is gone. He apparently (I'm getting this bit from Wookieepedia because literally the only comic I've ever read is "Union" [Luke and Mara's wedding, duh, of course I dug up that one] and I haven't read A New Dawn either) teamed up with a smuggler for awhile until he met Hera on Gorse and joined her on the Ghost, fighting against the Empire.

There have been multiple times throughout Rebels where I'm like "You can tell Kanan didn't finish his training." And just so many little things that show how his backstory has an effect on who he is as a character. I'm going to go through a couple things about Kanan that show that his backstory really had an effect on the way they wrote his character and the things he does throughout the series. (Well, part of the series. I'm only in season 3.)

Lightsaber skills. Kanan knows how to handle a lightsaber. But...he's certainly no Master Yoda. In fact, he's no Ahsoka, even. Ahsoka held up against an Inquisitor much better than Kanan did. Because Ahsoka had spent several years as a padawan, at the "Skywalker Academy" πŸ˜‰ and actually had quite a bit of combat experience. Kanan was only a padawan for a few months, and so had much less training and much less experience.

Early on, Kanan experiences much self-doubt in regards to teaching Ezra and tries to find another teacher for him. He never completed his training, and so he feels inadequate. But in the words of Ezra, "I don't want the best teacher. I want you."

Kanan's Force skills sometimes—to me, anyway—feel less refined than what we see out of the Knights and Masters. Like when he and Ezra overshot and threw Sabine over the edge of a cliff. Oops. Kanan's powerful, and he clearly has been trained, but it's not the same as a full-fledged Jedi Knight.

One of the things that stuck out the most to me about Kanan and his backstory is meeting Rex. Kanan has PTSD from Order 66. And Ahsoka knows it. I mean, duh. How could he not? But she's very adamant that Kanan trust her friend, and when Kanan meets Rex, he finds out why. Kanan has trouble interacting with and accepting clones after what he went through. He and Rex have a rather testy relationship for quite a few episodes. (I loved how Kanan called Hera to talk about how hard it was being around Rex.) And while I wanted Kanan and Rex to get along, I really appreciated the way it was handled. With Kanan's past, it shouldn't be easy for him to get used to being around a clone, and it's not.

This is still a season away for me.
I don't care. I'm putting it in anyway.

Finally, there are many little things about his personality and beliefs and the way he handles things that show how he was raised with Jedi ideals and he still believes in them, but he's been away from the Jedi, out in the world for a long time. Again, lacking the refinement you see in a Jedi Master like Obi-Wan or Yoda, but the core is still there. He knows the teachings, and he's got that selfless nature, but he's not as anti-attachment as the Jedi are supposed to be, and while he's not a volatile character by any means, he isn't as generally calm and composed as the aforesaid Jedi Masters. It's a lot of things in the nuances of his personality. And I really love how you can tell watching him that he was raised as a Jedi and is no longer a part of the Order.

"Do or do not, there is no try."
"What does that even mean? How can I do something if I don't try to do it?"
"Well, see...actually, that one always confused me too, but Master Yoda sure used to say it a lot."

Now to talk about Rey.

Rey actually has a really good characteristic moment/introduction. Scavenging the old star destroyer, going to Unkar Plutt for her portions, going back to her home in the old AT-AT, scratching another mark into the wall. It shows how alone she is, how she has no one, no friends, she's been abandoned, but she's counting the days expecting her parents to return. It sets her up as a loner who trusts no one and has no friends, who relies on herself to survive. It sets her up to be an interesting, complex character.

The problem with Rey is follow through. The only real follow through we get on this impression we get from her introduction is her desire to go back to Jakku...until Maz tells her "they're not coming back." This loner whose sum purpose in life is to survive on Jakku until her parents come back for her befriends multiple people, joins the Resistance, develops Jedi skills, and devotes herself to the selfless cause of saving the galaxy from Snoke/Kylo Ren/Palpatine with little apparent motivation.

Let's look at some of the particulars. Rey's been alone on Jakku since she was a little girl. She's not unaware of the other beings around her, but she has no relationships with any of them. But then it takes very little convincing for her to take in BB-8. Sure, she and Finn escape the stormtroopers together, but there's not really any reason for them to become attached to each other the way they do so quickly. And this is coming from a Finn/Rey shipper. She just met this guy. It doesn't take much for her to start seeing Han as a father figure, and because why? In-universe all I can come up with is that she admires his smuggling exploits. But I highly suspect it's simply because he's the main one of the Big Three in TFA and she's the protagonist. She appears to fairly quickly develop a connection with Leia and Chewie, some sort of strange connection with Kylo Ren where she's determined to bring him back to the light, she stubbornly refuses to give up on Luke, she's friends with Poe...and we're supposed to think she's always been a loner? If she struggled to accept being a part of this Resistance family, it would make sense with her backstory and be more earned. Or if we saw that she was the kind of person who befriended people/helped people regularly. Or if she was Luke or Leia's kid. But it doesn't match up.

Then there's her powers and abilities. Literally every other Force user we've ever seen in Star Wars had to be trained. Light side and dark side, Jedi, Sith, Sith Assassin, you name it. They trained. Rey doesn't get any training until Leia trains her at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker. (Luke's "three lessons" aren't real Jedi training.) Yet Rey is able to figure out how to do a Jedi mind trick without ever even having the skill modeled for her. How does she know what that is? How does she know how to levitate rocks, something Luke struggled to do with training? The most Ezra did without training was a reflexive Force push in a moment of strong emotion. And honestly, Rey can do whatever Force power the plot requires. With no training. It could have been explained if we found out she'd trained at Luke's Jedi academy before she was taken to Jakku or something like that. But instead she has magical powers that come out of nowhere.

When I'm working with a kid I'm tutoring in creative writing, the question I ask her most about her story is "why?" Why did this plot element happen? Why did this character do this thing? Why is the character invested in the story? The characters have to have motivation for the things they do, and said actions should be integral to the plot. Character arc and plot should be so closely interwoven that you can't determine which is influencing which. Rey (and nearly all the characters in the Sequel Trilogy, TBH) just feel like chess pieces being moved through a predetermined plot. Especially in TROS.

Why does Rey join the Resistance? I guess she has nothing better to do now that she's accepted her parents aren't coming back? And she's the protagonist, so she has to, I guess. Why does Rey want to become a Jedi? Because she's the protagonist and she's Force sensitive? Why does she want to bring Kylo Ren back to the light? Because they're trying to mirror the Original Trilogy? Why is she putting her life on the line constantly to save the galaxy when all she ever wanted was to survive on her own until her parents come back? We're not even given a "because I'm one of the idiots who lives in it" answer, which is, btw, my favorite answer to that type of question. πŸ˜† She doesn't grow from being someone who only looks out for herself into someone self-sacrificing. She just suddenly changes once she discovers she has information the Resistance needs.

Why did Luke want to be a Jedi? Because he wanted to be like his father. (Not his fault he didn't know his dad was actually sad murder dad Darth Vader.) Why does Kanan want to fight the Empire? They destroyed everything about his life. And actually, he doesn't want to be a part of a real war because he did that as a kid in the Clone Wars, and it was traumatizing. He agrees to join the Rebellion rather than just independently being a troublemaker because it's what Hera wants and they're "very close friends." Hera wants to fight the Empire because of what they did to her homeworld of Ryloth, and it's not enough for her to just gain freedom for Ryloth. Why did Anakin turn to the dark side? Because he kept having visions of PadmΓ© dying and his trusted mentor Palpatine convinced him that turning to the dark side was the only way he could become powerful enough to save her. Though we all know how that turned out. Why did Ahsoka help out Trace and Rafa? Because as a Jedi she was raised to be compassionate and selfless and to give aid to all who needed it. It was trained into her since she was three years old.

I really could keep on going, and maybe at some point I will write a post on how character and plot work hand in hand, but I think I'll stop now.

Let's leave it at this: Backstory should always affect character. And in plot, character, motivation, etc. you must always ask why.

Have another Kanera gif. 😍