Remembering Racheal

Here you go. I may have went on a bit long about the prophecy issue.

-Racheal

I always check my emails as they come through, but I leave them marked unread if I need to get back to them. This particular one has been sitting there for a couple days now, demanding my attention as I try to avoid going back to read it. For some reason, it was impossibly hard to reopen the email, to know it was the last time I would have the opportunity to do so.

Racheal had been working with me and our fellow FANgirl contributor Kay on a series of posts discussing the role of the Hapan culture in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Like anything Racheal wrote for FANgirl, she tackled it with focus and determination. She researched her topic, she communicated her schedule, and she turned in a polished product. That’s one of the reasons I liked working with her.  For a twenty-five year old woman, Racheal was remarkably poised and mature.

Her love of Star Wars led Racheal to writing fan fiction, where she also found her own real life love story that she shared in her Valentine’s Day post. Over the years, I watched her passion for characters and storytelling evolve and blossom. She told the stories of her imagination, studied the tales in the Star Wars books, interacted in fandom discussions, and along the way learned to be a better writer and confident person. Recently, in addition to blogging, Racheal had been working on her own original fiction. We had talked about her works-in-progress a bit, and I just had this sense that she would reach her goal of being published one day.

What always impressed me most about Racheal was that she blogged about what was important to her, and not just to make herself important. In her own words:

Without Leia, Jaina and Mara, the Star Wars universe wouldn’t have captivated me nearly as much. Here were woman who weren’t defined by the men in their lives, who could make sound decisions without the approval of another person.

Unfortunately, especially with the loss of Mara, the EU lacks the necessary diversity of heroes and heroines. It’s not a numbers game. It’s a characterization game. While Leia’s character hasn’t suffered nearly as much as her daughter’s has, there’s a definite lack of their involvement.

It’s about balance. Balance between genders. Balance between characters.

Our culture is dominated with male-dominant stories with poor female support cast and horrible examples of female heroines. The only way to fix this problem is to push for change.

Not only did Racheal discuss the importance of balance in the portrayal of female characters, but she also tackled the treatment of women in gaming. While these topics can put bloggers in the aim of harsh sentiments, everyone who knew Racheal liked and respected her. She always managed to stay above the fandom fray and petty squabbles. There were two reasons for this – one, she didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing and kept her eye on what she was doing, and two, while she disagreed with peoples’ opinions she never disrespected the person behind that opinion.

After writing two great pieces on The Old Republic video game at FANgirl, Racheal had an open door to write for my blog. She continued to work diligently to establish her own site, The Galactic Drift. It wasn’t necessarily the easiest way to become a recognized blogger in the fandom, but I think it was important to her goals for her future. She recently had updated her website into WordPress and used Twitter, Facebook, and fandom messageboards to cultivate relationships. All of this took considerable time and effort. For those not familiar with blogging, an administrator might spend 24-32 hours a week answering emails, participating in discussions, reviewing the latest news, drafting posts, editing, formatting, and performing basic site maintenance.

In late April, Racheal had approached me about an article she was mulling over – Family Trumps Distance: How Excluding the Fels from Apocalypse Goes Against Star Wars’s Use of Family. She asked if I would host it on FANgirl. I was happy to help get her point out. The crux of her post was that family is at the heart of Star Wars. The members of the Lomin Ale Cantina are like one big family built around a shared loved of Star Wars, and Racheal had gained numerous friends there.

Asking Racheal to be on my Star Wars EU panel at GeekGirlCon wasn’t a difficult decision. At the time, I figured the hardest thing would be to get enough Star Wars fans to travel to Seattle when we were right up against Celebration VI in Orlando. When I sent Racheal the email, she answered almost immediately:

Thank you very much for the opportunity. I accept. The panel sounds like a great chance to spread the message about the good female characters in Star Wars.

As it turns out, a large group of the Cantina family will be making the trek to GeekGirlCon – many of us eager to give our longtime fandom friends their first hug. Unfortunately now we’ll also be shedding a tear or two for a friend lost. We’re working on an appropriate way to incorporate Racheal into the panel and to keep her memory alive. Kay created a banner for the Cantina, incorporating NASA imagery in keeping with the name of Racheal’s site. Kay was also working with Racheal on a new series about the Fel family, and hopefully another fan can step in to keep that discussion going. Joanne and Mary have made suggestions for GeekGirlCon, including leaving an open seat at the panel table. Mary pointed out that Racheal often used lilies in her stories. We’ll brainstorm from there. Had it been another fangirl we were mourning no doubt Racheal would have been one of the planners.

While Racheal’s acceptance to the panel was completely professional, I always had the sneaking suspicion she did a little happy dance. I had sent her husband an email as soon as I had seen his post on her blog, and his quick reply expressed his gratitude for the excitement the panel had brought to her life. I’ll admit until I read his response the truth of Racheal’s death hadn’t really hit me.

I don’t cry a lot. There’s no crying in baseball, dancing, or horse showing. A few weeks ago I took a horseshoe to the face – black-eye worthy – and didn’t cry. That’s kind of how I roll. This weekend I cried a few times, then got mad before tears returned. Here’s where I put my engineer’s hat on, just for a second. Racheal was killed when another driver failed to yield to a stop sign.  My job as a transportation engineer is to design the safest roads and intersections possible.  Even with all the experience and technology available to engineering professionals, we cannot make people obey stop or yield controls. Like the message in the Star Wars movies reminds us, we all have the freedom to choose. At times those choices, when made poorly, end with horrific results. Failure-to-yield crashes are the worst kind, and often avoidable. In this case, apparently the driver dropped a drink and became distracted. Think of Racheal next time you’re in a hurry or distracted in a vehicle, and always remember RED means STOP, now not later.

One of the ways I remembered Racheal today was to go back through some of her writing, in discussions, fan fiction, and her blog posts. Racheal was always competitive; she could be counted on to enter challenges, especially if it ended with a prize – I have sent her multiple prize packages from the Cantina challenges. Racheal had entered the most recent fanfic challenge with a short missing scene that made the ending of Apocalypse a little more fulfilling for fans of Jaina and Jag. I read it today and smiled. I also went to see Brave on Sunday afternoon, and couldn’t help but think that Racheal would have enjoyed Merida and her story about family.

Racheal captioned this image “Yep, that’s the one I wanted him to sign.” Dark Tide introduced Jag Fel, a character who inspired the screenname FelsGoddess.

When Racheal’s husband spoke of her very “special gift,” that was her copy of the Mercy Kill ARC, which Del Rey had very generously offered to the panelists at GeekGirlCon. Aaron Allston was one of Racheal’s favorite Star Wars authors. A couple weeks ago she attended Origins and had the chance to meet him. She had sent me a quick message to pass along a hello from him. From what she told me, those couple of days listening to Timothy Zahn read the first three chapters of Scoundrels, Aaron Allston lecture on strong writing, and her Dream Team (Zahn, Stackpole, and Allston) talk about writing some of her favorite Star Wars books were a special time for her.

I think one of the reasons many people aspire to be storytellers is that the story, especially if as impactful as Star Wars or The Hunger Games, can change people, make their lives better, and in some way that makes the storyteller immortal. Racheal’s journey to telling her great stories might have ended, but that doesn’t mean she hadn’t already impacted people’s lives for the better. Her words will live on. She existed as part of the courageous movement of fans across the internet who asked for equal opportunities for female characters and their fans.  Racheal may not have had the chance to read Mercy Kill, but it was exactly the type of story she had been hoping for. She had expressed to me on several occasions recently how excited she was for the future of her favorite books.

Racheal’s last words on the roles for female characters aren’t yet posted. In the next week or two, I will find the courage to put the last bit of polish on our discussion of Hapan women. Racheal had firm opinions on and high hopes for Tenel Ka and Allana.

I thought though I’d leave today’s reflection with her bio for the GeekGirlCon panel. I asked Racheal to use her imagination and have fun. This ended up being the template the other panelists followed:

When not working on a deadline, Racheal Ambrose chases down Sith Inquisitors and Bounty Hunters in Star Wars The Old Republic. She works as a freelance writer and book reviewer for a variety of websites and local publications and is working on original fiction. She runs the blog, The Galactic Drift, which covers Star Wars, heroines, news, SWTOR, and other geek topics. She lives in Indiana with her husband and pets. To the horror of collectors, she tends to remove action figures from their packaging so she can set up the figures according to movie and scene. The only safe ones are Jaina and Jacen Solo, who rest in front of the Darth Vader FX lightsaber atop a full bookcase.

Favorite Character to play in SWTOR: Jedi Knight
Lightsaber color: Purple
Favorite SWEU book: Tie between Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham and Outcast by Aaron Allston
Most worn accessory: Her Universe Imperial and Rebel Alliance logo earrings
Childhood lucky item: Die-cast Millennium Falcon
Preferred weapon in the Hunger Games arena: throwing knives and matches

From one fan inspired by the magic of Jaina Solo and Jagged Fel to another – Clear skies, Racheal.

To her family, friends and loved ones – May the Force be with you. Please know you are in our thoughts and prayers.

9 comments to Remembering Racheal

  • […] UPDATE #2: Tricia has written a longer post remembering Rachael. […]

    • Mary

      Thank you, Tricia, for this wonderful tribute to Racheal.

      I, too, went to see “Brave” after hearing of Racheal’s death. As I entered the theater, it occurred to me that Racheal might have been doing the same thing on Saturday night, if she’d had the chance. I’m also pretty sure she would have approved of Merida and clan.

      She accomplished so much in her short life. I wish she could have stayed in our midst a great deal longer, but we can take solace in her recent happiness: with her husband, canines, and family; moving her strong voice forward through writing; taking great delight in accepting a chair at your panel discussion; seeing, hearing, and meeting her author-heroes; letting an explosion of ideas flow into the future that she will sadly never see.

      It is up to the rest of us, fan-and-geek girls of Racheal’s acquaintance and strangers alike, to take up her causes. The young “FelsGoddess” grew to find she had a strong voice as Racheal Ambrose-Stinson of The Galactic Drift and beyond. Perhaps that was the only life-task assigned to her by the Universe. If so, she achieved it with time to spare.

      I like to think of her now as a shining star among the galaxies she once dreamed about. That way, no matter where all of her friends are, we can look up on a clear night and wave to her.

  • Allie Walker

    I’m proud to say that Racheal and her husband have been close friends to my husband and me for the last 4 years. I’m still in disbelief that she’s gone.

    Over the last few days, I’ve been finding and reading the blogs about her by her friends all over the internet, and it’s so amazing that she has touched so many people’s lives. You couldn’t talk to her once without being won over by her personality and humor; she was simply an amazing person. I met her through her husband, whom I worked with at the time, and after one night of chatting about Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and random other things, my husband and I knew we would all be friends.

    Racheal was extraordinarily talented, kind, funny, honest, ambitious, and loyal. She listened to me when I needed a friend, read books and discussed them with me, wrote beautiful prose and shared with me, shared recipes and stories with me, and never asked for anything in return. She was so giving and loving, and I’m so grateful I got to know her for a little while. Her enthusiasm for Star Wars (and life in general) was contagious.

    She texted me when she received the invitation to the GeekGirlCon panel; she was so excited and proud to be chosen. I wasn’t with her in person, so I didn’t see, but I think she did a little happy dance as well :)

    I don’t really know what else to say, except that I just wanted to share a little more about her, and to say how overwhelming it is to see all the blogs and comments from her online friends. Thank you.

  • David Dodd

    I am Racheal’s uncle (her mother’s brother) Thank you so much for your kind words. You did a great job describing her! Racheal was genuine in everything she did. Those that never knew her can see her in her writing. She was always quick to smile, and quick with a comeback.
    Our entire family was looking forward to her trip to GeekGirlCon. I have to admit that I only generally followed her writing. Her husband Joao, her brother Tyler, and her sister Sarah are the other true Star Wars fans in the family. I loved seeing her come into her own though.
    Seeing all of the posts about her doesn’t bring her back to us, but it does help us to know that there are so many people that she touched. please let us know about anything that is done to honor her at GeekGirlCon.
    She was laid to rest today beside her favorite grandpa. It is all so wrong, but we had the small comfort that they’re together again.
    Thank you very much for remembering Racheal, and taking time to read the ramblings of a broken hearted uncle.

    Uncle David

  • She will be missed. Your words for her are beautiful. I had just found her blog and had been enjoying her perspective so much. She was a great writer and a genuine person.

  • Brenda Ambrose

    Thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers. We feel them all. Racheal loved creating and giving her characters life. She was always striving to better her craft and worked hard to make her dreams come true. Her passing has left an unfillable void in our lives. Thank you all for supporting Racheal and helping make her dreams come true.

    Racheal’s mother

  • Alexandra

    I read quite a bit of Racheal’s work as FelsGoddess over on http://www.fanfiction.net and it was awesome. I’m so sorry that she’s gone, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to her friends and family. I was a fellow writer on ff.net but never had any communication with her, through review or otherwise.

    I hope Racheal knows that her work is appreciated and loved and will remain so.

    -wipes tear away- I’m off to post a review.

  • […] Universe novels and contributed to the Hapan and Fel roundtables. And of course we all miss Racheal and her positive voice here and at her own blog. FANgirl also featured several guest posts– with […]

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