The Year in Review—2016

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For some years, there are no words.

Perhaps you can relate. Twenty-sixteen definitely has had its ups and downs with project losses and gains, illness in the family, graduations, etc. And at the end of the year, I find myself striving to write anything. This wordless state is a bit scary for me. I’d love to be in a fulsome state of writing right now. But some things can’t be forced, I guess.

One Christmas gift that inspires me is this (click on Christmas gift to find out more about this book):

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And this tea is insanely good!

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Early in the new year, I’ll do a giveaway of Christmas gift inspirations like the ones above. In the meantime, I hope 2017 is good to you. What are your hopes for the coming year?

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My new Jane Austen quote journal. We will spend lots of time together in the new year.

Barbie Made to Move™ photos and other photos by L. Marie.

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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.

Sheer Delight

What do you find delightful? A couple of weeks ago a friend told me what delighted her: the Disney Fairies movies.

“You should watch them,” she suggested.

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I wasn’t too keen on the idea, believing that only girls three to six would take an interest in them. I couldn’t help recalling some of the Barbie videos I sat through multiple times while babysitting a little girl. (She insisted on watching the same movie over and over.)

Anyway, my friend talked me into watching Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast—a 2014 film she’d watched with her daughter. It’s part of the fairies series that centers on Tinker Bell, the character from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan/Peter and Wendy, who became iconic because of the 1953 Disney movie, Peter Pan, and her place as Disney’s mascot. But there are other fairies as well.

Having seen the play and read the book, I can say categorically that Tinker Bell was never one of my favorite characters, though she is way more interesting than Wendy. My interest, however, wanes in stories where one person is jealous of another person because they both want to be loved by the same person. So the thought of watching a series where jealous Tinker Bell is the main character failed to fill me with delight. But because I trust this friend’s opinion, I bit the bullet.

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She was right. Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast was delightful. I also realized that I’d fallen into the jaded adult trap with my presumption that I would fail to find enjoyment in a product intended for three- to six-year-old children. And I call myself a writer of books for children? Shame on me for trying to avoid a product many kids (and parents) love.

The title of the movie is a bit of a misnomer, since another character figures heavily in the action. (And I don’t mean Peter Pan.) But since this post is not a movie review per se, I’ll move on to why it delighted me.

Delight is one of those subjective terms that are hard to quantify. After watching the above film and another—Tinker Bell, the 2008 origin story of Tinker Bell—I tried to figure out why I was so taken with these Disney Fairies movies. The animation? The idea of fairies taking care of plants and animals or inventing labor-saving gadgets? The world building in general? Probably a combination of all three. Whenever I feel stressed, as I have lately, watching a show or movie with lots of beautiful forests and flowers; cuddly, friendly animals; and well-rounded characters who blow it badly and have to make good relaxes me. But I’m especially delighted in the premise that a fairy is born because of a sound of delight—the first time a baby laughs. Little world-building details like that help ensure that I’ll be pleased with the result.

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Fairy tales/folk tales have always delighted me. Journeying through a book or a movie to a world where dragons or fairies exist always makes me giddy. Even if horrible things happen, the whimsy of the world keeps me glued to the pages or to the screen.

Another film I find extremely delightful is Iron Monkey, a 1993 film directed by Yuen Wo Ping. I have the Quentin Tarantino Presents version on DVD. This is a Robin Hood-kind of story—a fictional account from the childhood of a real person: Wong Fei-hung, a martial artist and physician. Obviously this film is very different from the Disney Fairies. 🙂 But it has a similarity in that it is the fantastical story of an iconic character and one in the making. I appreciate the beauty and skill of the fight choreography. Martial artists defy gravity as they battle each other. And the Iron Monkey’s determination to help the oppressed poor makes me cheer. (Warning to any newbies: this film is violent. If you are unused to martial arts films from China, you might skip this one. I grew up watching these films.)

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I don’t expect everyone to share my delight. But I’m sure something delights you. If so, what? While you think about that, I hope this post by Penny O’Neill over at the Life on the Cutoff blog delights you as it delighted me: https://lifeonthecutoff.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/an-occurrence/

Then feel free to come back and walk among the flowers in the garden where I live.

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Iron Monkey image from qavobrae.livejournal.com. Yu Rong Guang as Iron Monkey from movies.film-cine.com. Tinker Bell posters from aceshowbiz.com and tclnews.blogspot.com. Disney fairies from fanpop. Pixie Hollow image from disneysonlineworlds.com. Flower photos by L. Marie.