Listen to the Podcast episode, which is simply an audio version of this post here: https://wisenotwithered.podbean.com/e/nancy-space-rocket/
Welcome to Week 9 of the Wise Not Withered Character Showcase! While each of these characters has a special place in my heart, I have to admit that this week’s character is—by a small margin—my favorite of the twenty-five. I am ecstatic to present… NANCY SPACE ROCKET!
I had lots of ideas about Nancy Space Rocket before I found someone to write her story. I knew that I wanted her to be sassy, sarcastic, and foul-mouthed, and that her story would be told mostly through emails. I changed her name to “Lady Space Rocket” temporarily, to keep the list of characters as ethnically ambiguous as I possibly could.
When I was sending the character list to the writers and illustrators last year, nobody picked this character. This is what I had as her description:
Lady Space Rocket – Age 89
She rockets through space, in her SPACE ROCKET WHEELCHAIR. She stops to eat. She stops to shit. She stops at computers to send emails to her husband, children, grandchildren, and girlfriends. She can be… Seductive in the way she talks to her husband (when she stops to shit, she can also take nude pics in the bathroom stall to send to him), supportive to her children (grown-ass adults), tender and kind to her grandkids (emotionally volatile teenagers), sarcastic and complaining to her girlfriends (some live on Earth, some in other galaxies!). She zooms around Earth, blasting evil aliens away!!
Most of the writers I had found at that point were Instagram poets, or otherwise writers that had experience with more serious topics. I feared that maybe no one would want to write her story. A couple people who were close to me even said that it might be “too much” for her to be so vulgar. Isn’t that something we as women hear a lot? We’re “too much” of something, we’re “not enough” of everything else.
An elderly woman who is firmly in touch with her sexuality, unafraid of profanity, zooming around in a SPACESHIP… Even though not everyone was on board with the idea, I knew deep down that this character was special and I knew I would eventually find the right person to write her story.
What ended up happening is that I actually started narrowing my search specifically to comedians. I wanted the story to be funny, so why not reach out to women whose profession was rooted in humor?
Not long after I narrowed my search, I found Lee Bartlett. Her standup sketch on YouTube had me in stitches:
“I have a special privilege of being allowed to go in the teacher’s lounge. ‘Cause, you know… I’m a teacher. I walk in, and this woman immediately is like, ‘Students can’t be in here!’ I work at an elementary school. I have worked at said elementary school for like, four months. Normally, I would just storm out, offended. But the microwave lives there, and that ham and cheese hot pocket was not going to heat up itself. Not that I’m above gnawing on it frozen… But no one needs to see that shit.”
When I reached out to this hilarious woman, I was overjoyed to get a positive response from her! Lee and I chatted on the phone shortly after, and boy oh boy! This insanely creative woman took my idea and ran around the galaxy with it. I gave Lee the bare-bones aforementioned description, and she crafted an entire universe (literally!) and extensive cast of characters.
Here’s the backstory that Lee came up with for Nancy:
- Born on Earth
- Moved to Moon Colonies at 12 years old, shortly after her mother passes away in a car accident.
- There was a great war over who was going to control the Moon Colonies that lasted for 3 years
- Her father fought for the winning side
- Was given a Lordship
- Changes family name from Rousset to Rockett
- Nancella Rockett is raised in a castle in the Alphabetum city of Ellium
- Nancella is a very good student, despite her smart mouth. By the time she graduates from college, she has a Master’s Degree in Political Science and speaks nineteen of the most common languages of the galaxy
- Nancella meets Rowan Rochford at her college graduation system, they almost instantly fall in love.
- At 29, they marry and Rowan adopts Nancella family name. (Which is a moon custom. Whoever is higher up in the social system gets the honor of their family name being kept. This custom has evolved and now the lower social system spouse hyphenates)
- At 33, Nancella has her first child. A boy. Two more children will follow within the next five years. A girl and another boy.
- Also within this time, Nancella’s father dies of a heart attack.
- Her father’s passing makes her and Rowan the Lord and Lady of the estate.
- Nancella took her father’s seat in the Alphabetum governing system. She is a natural diplomat and has an extremely successful (Moon Based Only) career as she raises her three children.
- At age 85, the council decides that it is time to seek new planets to expand to. When they begin to select two-people teams to conduct these search missions, Nancella insists she and Rowan be one of them.
- After 3 years of training and preparation, Nan and Rowan get into a car accident. Rowan is paralyzed from the neck down and Nan loses feeling in her legs.
- The upper council tries to cancel the Rockett mission, but Nan refuses to let them. She grew up with an entire universe all around. She has met people from every corner but has never got to experience it herself. This was her chance and she wasn’t going to lose it. She trained for this. She is ready.
- “Project Retirement” is what the mission is jokingly referred to, but Nancella calls it “Project Encore” because this is her second act to her new life.
I couldn’t be happier with what Lee came up with. It’s so important that each character and story—especially an elderly person who has many years of life experience—is deeply rooted in a solid background. I love that Lee kept the concept of “Lady” Space Rocket, and even fancified Nancy’s full name to “Nancella Rockett”.
My initial idea was to have the entire story told through emails. Lee elaborated on that: in addition to emails, Nancy would also keep a “Captain’s Log”, using a speech-to-text application. She also included “Clinical Notes” from Nancy’s husband Rowan’s doctor visit, to give a bit more context about the car accident and his recovery. Lastly, Lee also included some instant messaging chats between Nancy and her friends.
I’m including the first four pages of the story: Captain’s Log #1 and #2, and Email Correspondence #1.
I absolutely love what Lee wrote for Nancy Space Rocket, and it is so clearly just the beginning.
The illustrator I found for this character was Sandy Rodríguez, whom I found on Behance. She made some really great illustrations for Nancy: one close-up of Nancy in her space suit, the inside of the space rocket showing Nancy’s messy desk, and an action shot of her rocketing through space!
Sandy and Lee both took the time to talk about themselves and the character, so without further ado, here is Sandy!
“Hi! My name is Sandy Rodríguez. I’m from Guatemala City, and I started making art since I was like… I don’t know, pretty young! I started graphic design, and I’m a self-taught illustrator, and I’m getting a Master’s in textile design.
Some of my influences are different illustrators from my country, and from other countries too. Like Lauren Alvarez, she’s Colombian. I admire her so much—her style, and her colors have really influenced me. I take Latin America as my main influence and inspiration.
The illustrations I made for Nancy Space Rocket, I really [loved] to do them! It was a pretty good experience. I love the story, it’s fun, it’s full of life. I wanted to portray that in my illustrations, and with the colors also. I hope you like the story and the illustrations—[I hope they] match what the story wants to get to the audience.
I decided to join the Wise Not Withered project because I think it’s a really cool project! With a lot of women involved. That’s what we want now, right? In our society… Really making conscious about the importance of women in all the fields. I think this project is really all about that, like I said, fun, playfulness, and everything. I hope I can work with this project in some future, and I send all of you lots of hugs and hope to get news from all of you soon. Bye!”
And here is Lee!
“Hello, yes, I am Lee Bartlett! I am a standup comedian from Phoenix, Arizona, and the author of Lady Space Rocket. From the moment I started writing this character, I absolutely fell in love with her. Nancy breaks the mold of the quiet, docile old woman. The story is set in the future: it is 2120. So I tried really hard to think of the type of person someone would be if they were the child of the children raised by my generation. And suddenly this sarcastic, strong-willed, independent woman came into form.
Creating this story was so much fun! Not only is it set in the future, but it’s set in SPACE. It was so cool to sit back and imagine where we would be in a hundred years. I ended up doing some research on space travel, and developing technology, and medical things coming into rise, and learned a lot about the amazing things being created around us right now. It was even more fun to get to incorporate these elements like moon colonies, nanobyte healing into the story. It was a really out-of-this-world experience, to say the least.
I put a lot of myself into Nancy. Not just my sassy mouth, but my resilience and tenacity too. Nancy has one of the worst things in her entire life happen to her, three months before she’s supposed to leave on this mission. But she pushes through. She doesn’t give up, nothing stops her. Not her age, not her disability, not her problems with her family… She just keeps going. And I feel like I have a little bit in me too.
Whenever I hear Nancy’s voice in my head, I picture something a little deeper in tone, and a bit raspy. She may be a Lady, but she definitely does not have a Disney princess voice by any means. As I was writing this story, I listened to a lot of lo-fi hip-hop. It’s a special genre of music that’s similar in beat to the classic hip-hop music, but a little softer in tone and a little more electronic. It adds a little bit of a sci-fi element to it, with some of the sound bites they use. And that really spoke to me as I was creating the story.
I joined this project because wise women deserve to see themselves as the main character of the story for once. They don’t always have to be the side character. They don’t have to be the main character’s mom, or grandma. They deserve to be in the spotlight too. I had an amazing time doing this project. I would absolutely do it again. The narrative of the emails and the captain’s log give this story a unique flow and experience for the reader.
I am Lee Bartlett, the author of Lady Space Rocket, and you should absolutely check it out! Not just because I poured my heart into it. It is an amazing read with a very strong female lead. And I highly recommend it! Thank you so much.”
Thanks for tuning in this week of the Wise Not Withered Character Showcase! More showcases coming on Sundays until mid-2020!