Something Really Amazing: A Letter to the Women of The Selection Series

This is the latest in my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my life as a fangirl. If you have a character you’d like to write a letter to, click here for details about The Fan Mail Project!

selection-series

Source: bookishbarrister.wordpress.com

To the women of the Selection series:

You stand out. Young Adult fiction is an ever-expanding genre, and many series have been created over the last handful of years about a brave girl who fights a corrupt government—and has to choose between two very different but very attractive male suitors as she does so. Even in stories that are about things other than fallen societies and uprisings, there seems to be a trend in many Young Adult novels: The girl stands alone. Yes, there might be female family members who are important to the main heroine or one close female friend or mentor. However, the central female character is often a loner or a girl who’s much closer to the young men around her than other young women.

Thank you for being part of a different kind of story.

I spent the summer I turned 26 reading nothing but Young Adult books in an attempt to prove that this genre isn’t something to put down, but is instead filled with beautiful works of literature to be cherished by readers of all genders and generations. That’s when I discovered The Selection, The Elite, and The One. More than any other books I read that summer, those stayed with me, and it was because of you, the women of this world. Yes, this series had sweeping romance, action, and sociopolitical commentary. But it also had something I’d never seen before in a Young Adult series: a plethora of female characters who are incredibly different but come to support, forgive, protect, and genuinely love each other.

So often women are taught to compare themselves to other women and to see themselves as competition—especially competition for male attention and affection. And, at first, that’s the world many of you were thrust into—selected to compete for the hand and heart of Prince Maxon. You were expected to see each other as enemies, to immediately judge each other and judge yourselves in comparison to each other, and to put each other down in an attempt to build yourselves up. And some of you (I’m looking at you, Celeste.) did exactly that for far too long.

But some of you immediately chose to defy expectations and become friends. Thank you, America and Marlee, for showing everyone who picks up these books that—even when put in an environment that is created to pit women against each other—friendships can blossom. You never had ulterior motives with each other or gossiped behind each other’s backs. Instead, the two of you represent the best of what female friendship can be: warm, supportive, and life-changing. America, your desperate attempt to save Marlee from being beaten was one of the most moving moments in the entire series. It was a testament to the things women will do to help one another and protect one another. And it was beautiful to see in The Heir that yours became a lifelong friendship, the kind so many women find but so few pieces of media celebrate.

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New Year, New Notes

Happy Belated New Year, fellow nerds! Thanks for your patience as NGN has experienced a brief, unplanned hiatus to kick off 2016. Hopefully the content I have planned for the next few months will be worth the wait!

Because NGN essentially started as the fulfillment of a New Year’s resolution, I like to use the New Year’s holiday each year to take stock of this site and think about how I can improve the experience for all of you who visit it. With that in mind, there are some fun things I want to set in motion for the coming year, as well as some information about returning features and—of course—my book!

Let’s start with the book, shall we? I’ve thought long and hard about my proposed February 1 deadline for letters, and I’ve decided to extend it to give us all just a little more time to finish (or start!) writing. Therefore, the official deadline for letters for The Fan Mail Project will now be February 29, 2016, at 11 p.m. EST. As you might have noticed, I’ve also tweaked the book’s tentative title because “Fan Mail” on its own was starting to feel a little too generic. As always, if you have any questions at all about this project or need any kind of encouragement, don’t hesitate to comment here, tweet me (@nerdygirlnotes), or send me an email. And finished letters can be emailed to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com.

There are plenty of awesome female characters still waiting to have letters written about them: any of the Gilmore Girls, Dana Scully, Peggy Carter, etc. And in case anyone was wondering, you can write to a group of female characters, too. I’ve already received letters to the women of Jane the Virgin, Once Upon a Time, and Call the Midwife, and I’m planning to write my own group letter to share with you soon.

The Fan Mail Project is developing into something special, and I’d love for anyone who wants to be a part of it to be represented in this book. So please don’t forget to share information about this project with your friends and fellow fangirls/fanboys. Even if you don’t feel you’re able to contribute, one tweet or Tumblr post about it can go a long way!

Now, let’s get back to the business of NGN. I’m hoping to have both Fangirl Thursdays and my weekly Best Thing on TV posts back in their regular rotation starting next week. I’m also pleased to announce that I’ll be writing weekly posts about Agent Carter! Starting Wednesday 1/20, be on the lookout for my Agent Carter Moment of the Week posts here at NGN.

Of course, my Once Upon a Time posts will also be returning when the show starts up again in March, and those will be joined by my weekly posts about The Americans (which also returns in March). All of this content will be supplemented by additional posts in the form of my own letters for The Fan Mail Project, posts celebrating Once Upon a Time‘s 100th episode, and a few more surprises. It’s shaping up to be another fun year here at NGN, and I hope you join us for all of it!

There’s Only One: A Letter to Sydney Bristow

This is the latest in my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my life as a fangirl. If you have a character you’d like to write a letter to, click here for details on the book of letters I’m compiling!

Sydney red hair

Source: usatoday30.usatoday.com

Dear Sydney,

When I was in high school, my friends and I were talking about our dream jobs, and one of them turned to me and asked, “Katie, you want to be a CIA agent, right?”

No, I didn’t want to be a CIA agent. But I did want to be you. I wanted to be you so badly that apparently my friends thought I wanted to follow your career path, too. But your career path was probably the only thing about you I never tried to emulate. (I think I made up for that by choosing to major in English in college like you did.) I was the only teenager I knew who owned not just one but two black pantsuits, which I often wore with turtlenecks. I wore my hair in a lot of low, sleek ponytails while I was in high school (and I continue to do so today). And I don’t think my love for coffee ice cream developed by coincidence.

High school is often the time when we desperately search for role models, for people to help us develop into the best adults we can be. I was lucky: I had inspiring teachers, I had great family members, and I had you. When other kids in my class dressed up as Lindsay Lohan for “Celebrity Dress-Up Day” during Spirit Week, I dressed up as you—not Jennifer Garner, but Sydney Britsow, complete with one of my aforementioned pantsuits. I got more than a few strange looks and there was even some snickering behind my back that day, but I didn’t care. I walked through the halls confidently—with my homemade CIA badge proudly displayed—because I was channeling you, and you walked with confidence and poise through things much worse than rooms full of judgmental teenagers. Thank you, for helping me to learn to walk with that same confidence and poise even when I wasn’t wearing a pantsuit or homemade badge.

You were a part of my life during some of my most formative years. Alias premiered when I was in eighth grade, and it ended just weeks before my high school graduation. During that time, my love for your story introduced me to fan videos and the concept of spoilers (which I gobbled up like candy). It inspired me to create notebooks full of collages with pictures from my favorite episodes and folders full of (pretty terrible) fan fiction. It brought me to the SD-1 forums, where I learned the many ways fandom can connect people from all over the world and can help us all feel a little less alone. Alias was the first TV fandom I was ever a part of, so—while I might not have followed your path to the CIA—you did end up influencing my future in a very real way. And I will forever be grateful for that.

I might be biased, but I don’t think you get enough credit, Sydney. You were so much more than just a superspy with amazing fighting skills (which is what most people say about you when you’re remembered); you were a female character who embodied the idea that strength and vulnerability aren’t mutually exclusive concepts long before it became more common in the media. And watching you show that to the world had a profound impact on me as a teenager and continues to have a profound impact on me today.

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Fangirl Thursday: We Can Do It!

As we approach the two-month countdown until the January 1 deadline for submissions for The Fan Mail Project (the book of letters to female characters that I’m compiling), I wanted to devote a little time on a Fangirl Thursday to thank all of the fangirls (and fanboys) who have sent in letters so far. Fangirl Thursday posts are usually places to share excitement, so it seems fitting for me to use this post to tell you that there’s nothing like the excitement I feel when I look into my inbox and see a new letter. (There’s also nothing like the tears I cry while reading almost every single beautiful letter, but that’s another story for another post…)

I’ve received letters to characters as varied as Scarlett O’Hara, Cristina Yang, Claire Underwood, and Hermione Granger. These letters are already painting such an amazing portrait of why female representation in the media matters—because, for as diverse as the characters have been, the people who’ve written letters to me so far are even more diverse. It’s been a true pleasure to read your stories, and it’s a true honor to be trusted with sharing this part of you with the world in a way that will make you proud to be involved with this project.

And if you haven’t sent in a letter yet (or you want to send in more), there’s still plenty of time to write! If you’re having trouble settling on a character to write about, here’s a shortlist of much-loved female characters still missing from Fan Mail right now:
• Lorelai/Rory/Emily Gilmore (Gilmore Girls)
• Dana Scully (The X-Files)
• Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
• Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
• Sarah Walker (Chuck)
• Peggy Carter (Agent Carter)
• Sydney Bristow (Alias—but don’t worry, I’ll be rectifying this one myself soon)
• Arya/Sansa/Brienne/Daenerys/Cersei/etc. (Game of Thrones)
• Zoe/Inara/Kaylee/River (Firefly)
• Natasha Romanoff (Marvel comics/movies)
• Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter)
• Regina/Snow/Red/Belle/etc. (Once Upon a Time) (I’ve gotten a couple of letters to Emma so far but could always use more!)

If you’re looking for inspiration, maybe that list can help you get started, but that’s by no means a comprehensive list of characters worth writing about. Choose a character whose story moves you to write—which character do you think of when you need confidence, or when you feel lonely, or when you want to believe things are going to turn out okay? Which character has been a part of your life for so long that you don’t know who you are independent of their influence? Which character helped you navigate the rough waters of high school, or college, or parenthood? That’s who you should write to. And take it from someone who knows—the letter you’re most proud of might be one you never planned to write.

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Don’t Stop Believing: A Letter to Rachel Berry

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter (or letters) of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

Source: glee.wikia.com

Source: glee.wikia.com

Dear Rachel,

When I first started watching Glee in 2009, I was struck by more than a few similarities to my own high school experience, which had ended three years before. I had been a theater kid, a member of my school’s show choir, and far from what anyone would call popular in high school. But the thing I related to the most was a line you said in the eighth episode of that first season:

I want everything too much.

In you, Rachel, I found a reflection of the ambition I often keep hidden in the deepest part of my heart, because too often I’m afraid to tell people how much I want my dreams to come true. What if they laugh at me? What if they tell me I’m not good enough? What if they think I’m ungrateful with what I already have for wanting more?

You didn’t care. You owned your big personality, your big dreams, and your big plans for achieving those dreams. Confidence radiated from you like sunlight, inspiring others to be their best just to keep up with your glow. And what was so important about your confidence was that it wasn’t delusional. Your theatrical personality and your over-the-top methods for getting what you want were things characters and the audience were supposed to laugh at or roll their eyes at, but your belief in yourself wasn’t a joke. And for a young woman who still—now a decade removed from high school—wishes she had your confidence, that matters immensely.

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Live Your Dream: A Letter to Rapunzel

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling (tentatively titled Fan Mail), and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

tangled

Dear Rapunzel,

You came into my life when I was well past the age when girls typically want to be Disney princesses. I was 22 years old, a recent college graduate, and a member of the “working world” of adults. I thought I didn’t have any use for fairytales anymore. Sure, I’d be entertained by the them, but I tried to tell myself that I couldn’t be inspired in any profound way by them now that I was “all grown up.”

Thank you for showing me I was wrong.

Thank you for bringing magic back into my life. The moment I saw you and Flynn Rider on that boat, surrounded by floating lanterns, something changed in me—or, more accurately, something changed back. I’d spent too long trying to push down the part of me that looked at the world with wonder and wanted to believe in dreams coming true—because I thought that would make me look immature to the rest of the “adult” world. But in that magical cinematic moment, I let myself feel like a little kid again. I felt my heart open up in that moment to the idea that this kind of story might still have the power to change my life for the better—not just by connecting me to my past, but by giving me hope for my future.

Fairytales aren’t just for little kids or even little-kids-at-heart. They’re for all of us. They teach all of us, but only if we’re open to it. And with my heart newly opened to the possibility of learning from your journey, I discovered you had so much to teach me. And the things you taught me I could never have understood as a little girl. I might have liked your hair and sang your songs, but I wouldn’t have needed you as a child. I needed you as I became an adult—and I still need you now.

We’re all stuck in towers. Sometimes other people put us there, sheltering us from the world and keeping us from experiencing life for any number of reasons. But there are also many times when we keep ourselves locked in our own tower. Sometimes we’re our own Mother Gothel, and we need to find the courage to be you instead.

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Fangirl Thursday: Nerdy Girl Housekeeping Notes

With the fall TV season right around the corner (Look for a post new week breaking down the shows I’ll be watching!), it feels like the right time to get a couple of general housekeeping notes out of the way. This season is going to bring about some changes in how things run around here at NGN, so let’s get down to business!

First, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who’ve sent in letters so far for the book I’m working on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve been moved to tears while reading most of the letters sent my way so far. Your enthusiasm, your honesty, and your vulnerability are all incredibly inspiring, and I can’t wait to share these letters with the world.

With that being said, it’s not too late to start writing a letter (or more letters). The deadline for submissions is January 1, 2016, so keep (or start) writing! Remember, letters can be sent to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com, and if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to ask me in this post’s comments, on Twitter, or via email.

I plan to keep posting my own letters here, too—and that leads me to my next order of business. The posting schedule here at NGN is going to be a little different from what you’re used to starting in a few weeks.

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Finding Faith: A Letter to Jamie Sullivan

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Dear Jamie,

I was 13 when I first saw A Walk to Remember on a snowy Sunday afternoon with my two best friends. Life isn’t easy for a 13-year-old girl. I was caught between desperately wanting to be “cool” and knowing in my gut that I could never really fit in with the “cool” kids. I was starting to ask the big questions about myself, my future, and my faith. Needless to say, you came into my life exactly when I needed you the most.

You were the rare breed of teenage character who genuinely didn’t care what other people thought of them. When you told Landon that, you didn’t say it to impress him or to make yourself look cool or better than your peers. Popularity simply wasn’t something that made you lose sleep at night like it is for so many teenagers—myself included at the time. Of course, you had bigger things to worry about (that pesky “dying of cancer” thing), but there was more to your place in “self-exile territory” than that.

When it comes to your character, Jamie, everything is a matter of faith. And you had enough faith in yourself and your principles to know that you were living the right life for you—regardless of what other people thought of it. The impact that had on 13-year-old me was immediate and intense. You weren’t naïve; you knew people made fun of your modesty, your interest in astronomy, and your religious beliefs. But you also knew something it would have taken me a lot longer to learn without your example: What mattered wasn’t what other people said; it was what you believed. So thank you for showing me that the coolest thing you can be is yourself—even if other people make fun of you for it or don’t understand it at the time.

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Choosing to See the Best: A Letter to Emma Swan

This is my newest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com

JENNIFER MORRISON

Dear Emma,

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about a lot of characters over the years, but you’re the one I’ve written about the most. Writing about you pushes me to be more vulnerable, more honest, and more open—even when it’s terrifying. You’ve made me a braver writer, which has made me a better writer. And somewhere along the way—as I started writing all those posts and essays about your journey on Once Upon a Time—I started becoming a braver and better person, too.

Writing about you demands bravery that matches your own. But one of the things I love most about you is that your courage runs so much deeper than vanquishing villains and traveling to unknown realms. Breaking the Dark Curse at the end of Season One wasn’t accomplished because you fought a dragon. It happened because you were brave enough to finally believe you could truly love someone and have them truly love you, too. I don’t face too many dragons in my everyday life, but I do know what it’s like to be afraid to open your heart to people. So thank you for giving me an example of bravery I can relate to.

Thank you, also, for giving me an example of optimism I can relate to. Optimism is a part of your genetic makeup. However, heartbreak made you believe that shutting down those parts of you that wanted to hope would protect you from being hurt again. You spent so long looking over your shoulder—preparing for another disappointment—that you didn’t let yourself see potential happiness when it was right in front of you. And when you did see that potential happiness, it scared you. You feared that for every good moment, a bad one was waiting right around the corner. It was impossible for you to believe things could simply be good.

I know that fear all too well. I’ve struggled with anxiety for many years, which means I’ve spent too much time preparing for something bad to happen, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was hard for me to appreciate good moments, because I was often worrying about the potential bad moments to come. My natural instinct is to be hopeful, but as you face the disappointments that come with growing up, sometimes it feels safer to just stop hoping.

That was the state of mind I was in when I discovered Once Upon a Time. Then, I started watching your story develop, and I started writing about that development. I saw someone who was scared to hope letting herself believe in the possibility of good things. I saw someone who was often too focused on bad moments starting to accept that things can be good. I saw someone choosing to be happy, and it didn’t make her naïve or weak; it made her stronger than ever.

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Find Your Team and Get to Work: Let’s Write a Book Together!

After years of dreaming, months of planning, and days of anxiously trying to find the right words to articulate what I want to say, I have some big news to announce…

I’m writing a book! (Tentatively titled The Fan Mail Project)

I’ve known for a long time that one of the things I’ve wanted to accomplish more than anything else was to write a book about pop culture and fandom. But I struggled for a long time with the idea of what that book would look like. How could I take what I do here at NGN and turn it into something that would resonate with people enough to work as a book?

However, once I wrote my thank-you letter to Leslie Knope before the series finale of Parks and Recreation (which, in turn, made me think of the letter I wrote to Princess Leia back during NGN’s earliest days), I knew with total certainty what I was going to do: I was going to write thank-you letters to the fictional women who’ve inspired me through the years—from my childhood and teenage years through the present. I would write about the way Sydney Bristow helped me hold on to my sense of self during my challenging high school years; the way Kate Beckett helped me find the strength to accept my flaws as a young woman; and the way Emma Swan continues to teach me to believe in myself and in my ability to be happy.

But my letters would only tell one story, and doesn’t the beauty of what we experience here at NGN come from the way we all share our stories with one another when we talk about the characters who inspire and move us? NGN isn’t just a shout into the void; it’s become a place of lively, loving, and sincere conversation about the fictional characters and stories we love.

As my personal hero Leslie Knope once stated, “No one achieves anything alone.” So let’s do this together, friends. It’s my hope that this book won’t just be filled with my letters of love and thanks to the female characters who’ve shaped my life; it will be filled with letters from many fangirls (and fanboys if you want to get in on the fun, too, guys).

My goal with this book is to show the positive impact female representation in the media can have on the lives of real women and men around the world. I want to show people that it’s not “weird” or “unhealthy” to connect with the journeys of fictional characters; it’s a way for us to see reflections of our strengths and flaws in the media we consume and to grow as people by watching the growth of characters we relate to. I want to shine a light on the ways the media can change lives for the better through sharing my story and the stories of others who grew into stronger, better people because they were inspired by female characters of all kinds in all kinds of media. I want to show the world how important it is to respect the idea that loving a fictional character has helped so many of us learn to love ourselves for exactly who we are, and that’s why diverse female representation in the media matters.

Does this sound like something you might want to be a part of? Awesome! How can you contribute to this project? It’s easy! Write a thank-you note or letter to a female character who has inspired you, sharing why they’ve made such an impact on your life. The letter can be a paragraph or 5 pages or something in between; write whatever you feel comfortable sharing. And if there’s more than one character you want to write about, you can write as many letters as you’d like. The more letters I have when I’m putting this book together, the better it will be.

Letters can be sent to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com, and I’ll start accepting them whenever you have them written.

Update: If you’re still interested in submitting a letter, please email me at the address above. I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and I’m always happy to get more letters for the book! 

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