Check This Out: The Lost Celt

Happy Memorial Day! I’m back on the blog finally! And I’m not alone—I’m with the awesome A. E. (Amanda) Conran, author of the middle grade novel, The Lost Celt, which was published by Gosling Press/Goosebottom Books this past March. This book is very appropriate for a holiday like this. I’ll tell you about the giveaway for it at the end of the interview.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amanda: I’m originally from Leicestershire, England. It’s a county suddenly in the news, as you’ll know if you’re a historian or a soccer fan. (Richard III and Leicester City!)

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I moved to the Bay Area when my first child was six-weeks old. My husband had been offered a job at Industrial Light and Magic working on the new Star Wars films. It was his childhood ambition to work for Lucas. We only came for two years, but that’s what everyone says when they move here.

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I have a scar on my nose from being hit by a field hockey ball. I needed 12 stitches.

I’ve done a catch on the flying trapeze.

El Space: Wow! How did you come to write a middle grade novel about two boys—Mikey and Kyler—who think they have found a Celtic warrior in the twenty-first century?
Amanda: The Lost Celt is about how people return from war, how their return affects their families, and how we deal with this in society as a whole. It was inspired by a conversation with two emergency room doctors at a local VA Medical Center. They told me there were always more admissions in the ER on “certain nights,” when war stories or natural disasters were in the news. One friend remembered a man with red hair and beard, acting very much as I describe my Celt. My friend, who was truly worried for his patient, could not help but think he was witnessing a warrior, a Viking, in the ER. That idea, of the continuity of the potential effects of war through history, stayed with me.

There are many other factors at play in the inspiration for this story. I was fascinated by ancient history as a child. I painted tiny Roman and Celtic soldiers and visited historic sites across the UK, including walking Hadrian’s Wall. I read a lot of historical fiction, especially the works of Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, as well as Greek classics like Homer. Most of these were stories about living through, and returning from, war.

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Add to this the fact that I grew up in a small English village where there were still veterans of the First World War and the Second World War. We even had a German ex-POW still living in our village working on the farms just as he’d done when he was a prisoner. Their stories surrounded us. One great uncle survived the trenches in the First World War only to die as he returned home. He was so eager to see his family that he jumped out of the train before it stopped at the station. He was trapped between the train and the platform and died two weeks later of his injuries. My Grandma’s favorite uncle joined up for the First World War at age sixteen. He was recommended for a medal for commandeering a tank, but refused to accept it. He said he acted only out of anger, not bravery, because his friends had been killed around him.

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It’s strange, but the fact that my generation was brought up by people intimate with the effects of war did not fully strike me, however, until I came to live in America. One particular incident really hit home. My mum was visiting and we went for a meal with a group of friends my age. When we left the restaurant, my mother burst into tears. “They ordered so much food,” she said, “and they didn’t even eat it. There was more food on that table than we had for our entire family for a week during the war . . . and they didn’t even eat it.”

There was definitely a disconnect between my mother’s experience, my own upbringing, and that of my friends. I think it was this that led me to make one of my main characters a veteran of a recent war. I hadn’t planned to, but as I listened to the news, I became aware how deeply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were affecting a relatively small portion of our society. Unlike the experience of previous world wars in Europe, it struck me how large a gap there was between those who were serving and their families and those of us who were not. That did not feel right. I wanted to write a book that addressed that gap a little. Stories were not being shared, as the stories of earlier wars were shared when I was a child, or even the stories that the ancients told. I sometimes wonder whether the ancients were more willing to tell it, and accept it, how it is. Their understanding of a hero was more complex and maybe more helpful than ours today. As Grandpa says, they were all closer to war than we are.

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El Space: Mikey and Kyler play the type of videogame that a lot of my friends love to play—military strategy. Are you and/or your kids gamers? Did you have the game in mind when you first developed the book? Why or why not?
Amanda: Yes, my son really enjoys playing military strategy games, particularly Rome Total War. It was a subject of some debate/ambivalence in our household, which I reflected in Mikey’s mom’s attitudes in The Lost Celt.

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In earlier drafts Mikey played with toy soldiers. The video game only came into the story when my editor asked me to make Mikey absolutely sure he was seeing a real live Celt from the word go. Immersing Mikey in a video game world that pitched Romans against Celts was the obvious choice. I could move his focus directly from the screen to the world in front of him in the VA and make the connection very easily.

El Space: You deal with a subject I haven’t seen much in middle grade books—PTSD. Without giving spoilers, why is that important to you and/or for young readers to learn about?
Amanda: I was brought up by children of war whose parents experienced and fought in both the Second and First World Wars. I think we are only just acknowledging their experiences, how they dealt with them and how some trauma/issues may have been passed on. At the time, everyone was in the same boat and they just got on with it.

According to the VA, 7–8% of the general population will experience PTSD at some point in their life. Depending on the conflict, 11–30% of service members will experience PTSD at some point. It’s really important to recognize that most service members don’t return from war with PTSD, but it’s also important to recognize that your mental health is important and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. I don’t want to think of children or adults dealing with the after effects of trauma on their own. I think that is the key: being in a community, not alone.

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El Space: If you could go back in time to witness any event in history, which would you choose?
Amanda: I’d like to see my village before and after the Roman invasion. There’s a Roman villa on the hill above my village and, although it’s hidden underground, artifacts come up to the surface after every ploughing. I’d love to know who lived there.

El Space: What kinds of stories delight you?
Amanda: The Owl Service by Alan Garner, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, or The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo epitomize the sort of story I adore: books that resonate with a sense of place and the strength of our connection with the past, both real and mythical/magical. All the books I read as a child were like that: When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson, Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, Elidor and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and the historical fiction of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Henry Treece, and Roger Lancelyn Green.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Amanda: I’m working on two projects. The first is a middle grade based in France in World War One. The second is a historical middle grade based in a town much like San Rafael in the 1870s.

Thanks, Amanda, for being my guest!

You can find Amanda at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Lost Celt is available at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Goosebottom Books
Indiebound

But two of you will get a copy of your very own. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners to be announced on June 6.

Book covers from Goodreads. Star Wars logo from hr.wikipedia.org. Rome Total War image from gamehackstudios.com. PTSD image from talesfromthelou.wordpress.com. Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial from old.mcallen.net. First World War Memorial from oxfordhistory.org.uk. Hadrian’s wall from medievalhistories.com. Leicester City Football Club logo from ebay.co.uk. Richard III from abc.net.au.

A Shocking Revelation

With Mother’s Day having passed, I considered writing a post about moms. I’m not a mom, so I can only write about them. But rather than wax eloquent here about the joys of having a great mom, I called my mom on Mother’s Day to experience the joy, rather than write about it. (We live far away from each other and could only communicate by phone.) So, you won’t get the eloquent waxing on that subject. Sorry to disappoint.

But this brings up something I’ve struggled with lately: how much to reveal about myself on this blog. As I’ve mentioned before, L. Marie is a pen name. That’s why I avoid posting photos of myself. Photos would defeat the purpose of a pen name. (There is a reason for the need for a pen name, which will be revealed at some point.)

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We live in a culture where revealing the day-to-day minutiae of one’s life to strangers online is the norm. But I struggle with that, not just because of the pen name. I’m a shy person. I have trouble introducing myself to people in person, let alone online. So I’m always amazed at how much people reveal about themselves, especially on social media outlets like YouTube. I’ve seen vlogs about the contents of YouTubers’ bedrooms, refrigerators, purses, iPads, and TV screens.

I’m also amazed at what’s done for the sake of entertainment on YouTube—another way to reveal information about oneself. The other day, I clicked on one of my YouTube subscriptions to find a video of two guys playing a Russian Roulette-type game involving electric shocks. You can buy this game on Amazon, I later discovered. But I clicked away from the YouTube video before the game began. The thought of watching someone take an electric shock quite frankly horrified me.

Now, I’m not debating anyone’s right to buy this game or show it on a YouTube channel or even to watch someone else play the game. But this video brought up something I need to reconcile.

I’ve read the Hunger Games books and watched three of the movies. Now, the premise of the books and movies involves more than people using a party game to administer electric shocks. Young people in this world are expected to kill other young people in gladiator-style games. So if I can watch that, then why am I so horrified by two guys doing something that will cause one or the other pain?

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Probably because they’re not actors who are paid to pretend they’re some else, while being supported by a huge special effects budget. So while my mind tells me the movie scenes aren’t “real” (thus cushioning the effect), there is no cushion for real life.

Still, you might argue, how much of YouTube is “real life”? Some vlogs, like reality TV, have a “scripted” feel to them, since the participants know that the camera stands before them, and they can edit out mistakes.

I’m not here to debate that issue. I’m here because the video I clicked off caused me to think deeply about what I watch. (See? You and I both learned something about me.) While I know they were playing a game, the experience reminded me that real life can be messy and scary at times, and beautiful and sacred at others. Some images stay with you for life.

That’s why I’d rather not watch two people waiting to see who gets an electric shock. I want to see or read something that makes me feel good about life. Like this blog post from Penny over at Life on the Cutoff or this post from Andy over at City Jackdaw.

How about you? Has something caught your breath in a good way lately? Please share it!

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Woman with bag from svtrainingconnect.com. Hunger Games movie logo from pop-break.com.

Getting Back to Your Roots

IMG_3329¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Or at least it is on the day I’m writing this post. So, I hope by the time you read this, that you had a good one.

If you follow this blog, you know I don’t usually post more than once a week, except on special occasions. So the fact that you’re here means you want to know who won the time travel series by Zetta Elliott. (Go here, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Though I mentioned other giveaways at the end of the interview, due to unforeseen circumstances, those will take place at another time. But I didn’t want to delay this giveaway until then.)

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Before I get to the giveaway, I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately: roots. Though I chose the photo at the beginning of this post, it is not a hint that I plan to dye my hair, though I consider doing so from time to time. And getting back to your roots is not an allusion to the Elder Scrolls videogame series or to this:

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I’m actually talking about artistic, spiritual, or cultural roots—whatever it is that takes you back what’s important, especially if it reminds you of who you are or what you love.

I mentioned in a previous blog that writing had become frustrating. It involved lots of spinning wheels and long sessions of staring at the computer screen, followed by a sigh and a retreat to YouTube to watch a video (or seven). So I decided to return to my roots by reading the book that inspired me when I was eight years old. Here it is.

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I’ve mentioned this book a number of times on this blog. Rereading this book reminds me of the kind of story I loved as a kid and still gravitate toward. But if I were to parse this further, I would add that I love the hero’s journey model, which Joseph Campbell discussed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

I’ve noticed that some writers (some, not all) nowadays have steered away from that model, deeming it old-fashioned in an age where antiheroes rule. But Meg Murry’s quest to find her dad never gets old to me. She reminds me that girls can be heroes. (Not that I doubted that truth.:-) ) I love her family dynamics, and find her belief that she’s nothing special very relatable. I felt that way as a kid. Honestly, I feel that way as an adult sometimes. The fact that her opponent is very powerful—the ultimate evil, actually—while Meg has no discernible power (that she knows of)—makes her an unlikely hero. It also adds high stakes to her journey. Her story inspires me to up my game with my heroine’s story.

The old saying, “You can’t go home again” isn’t always true. Sometimes you need to. Remember what Mufasa in The Lion King told his son Simba? Need a reminder?

What are your roots? Maybe for you those roots are your cultural heritage—a reminder of your family history and how it has shaped your life. Or maybe it is a return to a writing style you’ve loved, but let it go for some reason. Do you think maybe it’s time you returned?

While you think about that, I’ll move on to the winner of A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Sibson!

Congrats, Laura!:-) Please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

Hair photo from beautyskincarenatural.blogspot.com. A Wrinkle in Time covers from Goodreads.

What Do You See?

What do you see in the photo below? (This is not a trick question.)

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When I asked two people that question, both said, “Two trees.” One added, “One with pink leaves, one with white leaves,” for extra credit points, I guess.

Now look.

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It is one tree, or at least two that became so interrelated as saplings, that they are now one tree. Changes your perspective a bit, doesn’t it?

You’re probably waiting for me to correlate this image with diversity—the fact that we’re all different, yet we’re part of the same “tree”—humanity (humani-tree, I guess). When I began this post, I thought I was going to do that. But something else more obvious struck me: I walked by that same tree year after year, and never noticed that what I thought was one tree is really two until last week.

Observant much? Yep. That’s me. But sometimes, I get smacked in the face with something that’s always been there, waiting for me to finally take notice. Like a beautiful sunrise or a sunset I’ve been too busy to stop and admire.

Life surprises us in delightful ways, occasionally. Which is good, because lately, I’ve had enough of the bad surprises, like when I learned that a teen I know has to deal with cancer yet again—this time a much more aggressive phase, or when I heard of the sudden death of a friend’s mom. And there were other surprises that sent me reeling in the last few weeks. Even writing has been frustrating.

The blows we take in life can change our perspective too—toward the good or the bad. The choice is ours, of course. Unfortunately, I haven’t always chosen a good perspective. I struggled with that recently. Lately, I’ve felt like cracked clay. But breath-catching moments, like when I finally noticed the tree above, also are soul-sculpting moments. What do I mean by that? Moments when I feel my soul expand like clay taking shape on a potter’s wheel. In those moments, I’m reminded that beauty still exists in the world. And good surprises.

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So, yeah, in the midst of a sobering week, I celebrated the fact that this tree surprised me. I also celebrated my birthday last week. Because I posted an author interview (and arranged for others), I didn’t post my usual birthday giveaway. But rest assured—there will be surprise giveaways in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of craft projects I’ve been working on in my spare time to unwind after a hard week—making doll furniture and crocheting friendly looking dragons (a change from the T-Rexes I had to crochet for a kid’s party weeks ago; patterns for fiercer looking dragons are not free, however). To make the doll sofa (it is about 7″ wide and 5″ tall), I watched a tutorial on a great YouTube channel—My Froggy Stuff. The sofa was made out of cardboard and a fabric remnant that I paid $1.49 for at Michaels. The pillows were made out of felt (39 cents at Michaels). The dragon came from a pattern that can be found here.

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How have you been surprised in a good way lately?

Clay on the wheel image from somewhere on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads

It’s always great when friends introduce you to their friends, especially if those friends are authors. Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann, I learned about Zetta Elliott, an educator with a Ph.D. in American Studies from NYU, who also is a playwright. Awesome, right? And she’s written several books for children, including Bird, her award-winning picture book. Zetta is a hybrid author—one who has been traditionally published and indie published. She’s here because of her young adult time travel series, the first two of which are A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.

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After I chat with Zetta, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway. So for now, grab a cup of coffee or tea and hang out with us. We won’t bite. Much.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Zetta: I’m an immigrant [from Canada]. I’m a Scorpio. I’m middle-aged (43). I’m a medieval geek.

El Space: How did you get started writing speculative fiction books for children and teens?
Zetta: I guess the seed was the fantasy fiction I read as a child—mostly British, entirely white. Ducks believe the first creature they see at birth is their mother and they pattern themselves after that creature. Well, I read so much fantasy fiction about faeries and dragons and wizards that it wasn’t hard for me to “go there” when I started writing for kids in 2000. That was my imprint and it took a long time for me to hybridize those Western conventions so that the genre worked for me and my young readers of color.

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El Space: What inspired you to write a time travel series? Which time period, if any, would you travel to if you could?
Zetta: Learning about Weeksville inspired me to write Wish and Crossroads. I was still new to Brooklyn, and when I learned about the historic free Black community—second largest in the U.S. prior to the Civil War—I knew I wanted to make that history relevant to teens. I was writing my dissertation on racial violence and also wanted young readers to know that wasn’t limited to the South, so the novels became an opportunity to talk about domestic terrorism and the NYC Draft Riots.

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Weeksville in Brooklyn (New York)

Life was pretty rough for women in the past, so I don’t know if I’d want to trade this era for another. I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt as a child, though, so if I had some type of perfect immunity that’s probably where I’d go.

El Space: In a recent Huffington Post article, you stated, “Self-publishing is, for me, an act of radical self care—and self-love.” Could you unpack that a little for us?
Zetta: Audre Lorde once wrote that self-care is political warfare because it is an act of resistance. When you live in a society that is committed to destroying and/or denigrating Black people—and Black women in particular—then choosing to be gentle with yourself means a lot. It means you reject all the messages you’re receiving about your worth. Self-love insists that you are worthy and deserving of care and kindness and compassion. Black women do a lot for others but we don’t always remember to make ourselves a priority. Then add publishing to the mix and you’ve got an industry dominated by white women that largely excludes Black women. When I self-publish, I’m pushing back against the implicit message that my work doesn’t matter to them. It matters to me and it matters to the members of my community, so I don’t need to look outside myself and my community for permission to tell my tales.

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El Space: How has mentoring been a help to you as a writer? How do you mentor others through your books or through the college classes you teach?
Zetta: I generally think of mentoring as a sustained, long-term relationship and I don’t really provide that to any one person. I’m an educator and so my students can call on my anytime, and some do long after they’ve graduated or grown up. I’m happy to provide whatever advice I can to aspiring writers and I get lots of email queries about self-publishing. I see hundreds of kids every year and I try to embody possibility for the one hour I’m in their school. I never saw or met an author when I was a kid, so I let them know that I’m not some special person from far away—I’m a member of their community. Anyone can be a writer if they choose to be—my high school English teacher told me that in Grade 9, and that changed the course of my life.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently? Why?
Zetta: I don’t think I’ve gotten any advice recently. I’m always learning about myself as a writer and I try to keep learning about the publishing industry so I know what I’m up against! My friend Maya Gonzalez always says, “The revolution is now!” and that reminds me not to wait for change, but to be the change instead.

El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Zetta: Octavia Butler blew my mind with Kindred and I admire Jamaica Kincaid a lot. I like writers who take chances. Gayl Jones has had a challenging life but her first novel Corregidora is a Black feminist classic and stands the test of time. James Baldwin inspires me because he was an activist and author, and his books didn’t generally improve as he aged, but he kept writing what he felt compelled to write.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Zetta: I’m hoping to publish The Ghosts in the Castle next month, which is Book #3 in my City Kids series. Next I have to finish The Return, which is the sequel to The Deep and Book #3 in my “freaks and geeks” trilogy. And then I hope to start my Black girl Viking novel, The Ring—if I can find a way to get over to Sweden to do some research!

Thanks, Zetta, for being my guest!

You can find Zetta at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads are available at these fine establishments:

Amazon (Wish) (Crossroads)
Barnes and Noble (Wish) (Crossroads)
Indiebound (Wish) (Crossroads)

But one of you will win a copy of both books! Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 6 (because I have other giveaways coming).

Author photo courtesy of the author. Book covers from Goodreads. Weeksville photo from creativetime.org. Self-love image from veenakaur.com. Dragon from fanpop.com. Indie image from michaeljholley.com.

Guest Post: Chosen for Greatness

Whoowee! I can relax in this here comfy chair, since Charles Yallowitz is guest posting today. Please take it away, Charles, while I have something cool to drink and put my feet up.

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Thank you to L. Marie for helping to promote the first book of my fantasy series, Legends of Windemere: Beginning of a Hero. It’s been out since 2013, but I’ve made it permanently free to help get people into the series. All of that is beside the point since I’m here to talk about the Chosen One trope. You know that character destined to destroy an evil villain and has everything handed to him? Well, that’s the lazy way to do it. Let me explain how I did it and use poor Luke Callindor as an example. He’s the half-elven warrior you see on the cover and he’s not nearly as shiny these days.

Authors who use the Chosen One template have to be careful and avoid the trap that has people hating this thing. That trap is having the hero destined to DEFEAT the obstacle. For example, Harry Potter was destined to defeat Voldemort. There is no ambiguity there. His path is to win the fight no matter what. Chosen Ones of this school worked way back when, because people didn’t want their heroes to lose. Times have changed and people don’t always want the victory to be handed to the Chosen One.

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In Legends of Windemere, six champions have been crafted by the Destiny God to face an ancient evil. Not win, but merely face the villain. The god admits that he can only lead them to the final battle and the victory is entirely in their hands. There isn’t even a promise that they will get there in one piece or all of them will survive. In fact, it’s mentioned that the heroes will reach the final battle “in some form” and one of them has to die. So here you have multiple Chosen Ones continuing on with the knowledge that one of them doesn’t have a future beyond the big battle. That’s if they win anyway.

This addition makes the Chosen One trope more like a curse, which is how it should be from some perspectives. Luke Callindor starts the series as a young warrior looking for his first adventure. He takes beatings, nearly dies multiple times, and has his ego brutalized all in the first book. This is before he learns that he is destined for greatness. When that happens, things get even worse for him. Powerful creatures are out to kill and torture him and terrifying powers are offered to him. A Chosen One really shouldn’t step into the role and carry on like it’s a natural thing. They’re simply humans with a great story to tell and a big target on their backsides. Luke has doubts, fears, and comes close to breaking so often that a few readers have dubbed him weak. They haven’t even seen the worst that happens to him.

I think we forget the downside to being hoisted above the crowd when we read or write about Chosen Ones. Those characters are exposed and targeted because the villains always know they’re coming. Loved ones are in danger and those who aren’t chosen may become resentful enough to turn into enemies. There is no flexibility of path and they can’t think too much about the future since they are a pre-written story to some extent. All of this can create some level of anguish or distance for the character. Without that, the heroes are empty and can come off as arrogant.

matrix-bestSo, should the Chosen One trope be retired? No, because it isn’t really any different than being born with natural talent. I’ve met artists like that and it isn’t always pretty. Instead, maybe authors should make it less of an honor and more of a Sword of Damocles. Personally, I don’t think a Chosen One should reach the end of the road without baggage, scars, and being less shiny than they were at the beginning. For example, quality of movies aside, Neo in The Matrix lost a lot before he came to the end. That’s what I’m hoping to do with my champions if they win the final battle. The survivors will not be getting away clean and become symbols that being a Chosen One isn’t as great as one would think.

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Links
Legends of Windemere
Twitter
Facebook

Grab Legends of Windemere: Beginning of a Hero for Free!

New Charles Author Photo Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. Legends of Windemere is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.

Harry Potter and Voldemort from blog.wordnik.com.
Beginnings of a Hero cover courtesy of the author. Keanu Reeves as Neo from 21stcenturywire.com. Target on back from peacebringer7.wordpress.com. Comfy Chair Shopkins figure photo by L. Marie.

What Do Girls Want? I’m Not Sure

Before I get into the post, I wanted to announce that I’m still reaching out to authors as I mentioned in my last post. Expect the interviews at some point.

Back in the day when I had a Barbie (or four), I tied a cape around her and made her a superhero. This was before Supergirl action figures existed. (More on that later.) A napkin made an excellent cape. And a parachute. My Barbie also was a spy who parachuted out of trees. She knew karate and had super strength. (Interestingly enough, the latest Barbie movie is Barbie: Spy Squad.)

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My BFF and I wanted our Barbies to be empowered before we even knew the meaning of the word empowered. Now, before I go any further, this is not a Barbie-bashing post. This doll has had enough controversy in her over 50 years of existence. (By the way, a really good book about Barbie is The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone.)

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Last week, I went to Toys “R” Us with a friend and her little son, and saw a huge display case full of Barbies in various professions. She’s a doctor, a spy, a businesswoman, a pet groomer—you name it. She’s even a pizza chef.

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Barbie’s handlers want her to be a role model. Female superheroes are getting their day too. Recently I read an article about a line of DC action figures for girls (including Supergirl)—something I would have wanted when I was a kid. You can read that article here.

Getting back to Barbie-like dolls, the Elsa doll pulls in more sales than Barbie. With her ice powers and staunch determination to be herself in Frozen, Elsa seems the picture of empowerment. (You’re probably thinking of the “Let It Go” song now, aren’t you? And after months of finally getting it out of your head. Sorry.)

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Her sister Anna, however, didn’t have ice power, but was heroic in a very moving way. (Which makes her my favorite from that movie.) Awhile ago, Time and Fortune featured articles on the empowering influence of Elsa and Anna. You can read them here and here.

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Now, many channels on YouTube feature discussions about toys, and include dolls in various fanfiction scenarios. (For example, Elsa marries Jack Frost; Baby Alive becomes a superhero.) So imagine my surprise when I saw not one but several fanfiction depictions of Elsa being kidnapped and having to be rescued. And those are just the YouTube videos. You have only to Google elsa kidnapped fanfiction to find a host of stories—some rawer than others. (There are several Anna-as-the-damsel-in distress scenarios too.) So much for empowerment!

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “Anna had to save Elsa in the film.” True. And what a beautiful moment of sacrifice. But Elsa was not hand-wringing helpless. So many girls had mentioned how much they love Elsa’s ice powers and let-it-go attitude. And since many of the YouTube videos are fan-driven (many YouTubers asked fans, “What do you want to see?”), fans obviously desired to see the helpless-Elsa scenario. (I saw one of those videos just today in fact.) Many of these fans are girls.

You might think, Who cares? But as an author who is trying to provide strong heroines in books, I care. Yet I’m confused by the mixed messages. Last year, many people complained about Black Widow’s damsel-in-distress scene in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. (I was not one of the complainers.) Which leads me to believe that people want to see strong heroines ala Wonder Woman, Supergirl, etc.

The audience for Frozen, the YouTube toy videos, the non-YouTube Elsa fanfiction, and Age of Ultron differs to a degree. After all, Frozen had a very high preschool fan base (girls and boys) who probably did not see Ultron. I wrote probably, because I saw small children in the audience at the theater I attended. But there is some overlap, obviously, since Frozen grossed over a billion dollars. Many teens and adults loved Frozen, and were inspired enough to write fanfiction or request it on YouTube. But many younger kids also watch YouTube, sometimes with their parents. They make their desires known too. Based on what I’ve seen online, not only do I wonder what they want but also whether they have a different definition of empowerment.

What say you?

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I asked these girls how they defined empowerment, but they remained mum on the subject. I guess I’ll let it go.

Barbie images from ricardodemelo.blogspot.com, shoppingsquare.com.au, and pixmania.fr. Black Widow action figure from tvandfilmtoys.com. Barbie Spy Squad poster and Elsa doll from fanpop.com. Elsa and Anna dolls from disneytimes.com. Elsa with ice powers from blogs.disney.com. Photo of Popette (Moose Toys), Donatina (Moose Toys), Hello Kitty (Sanrio), and Strawberry Shortcake (Hasbro) by L. Marie.