From Austin to Arendelle: Local writer helps tell Anna and Elsa's 'Frozen' stories

·5 min read

In November of 2013, Austin’s Mari Mancusi took her preschooler to see the newest Disney movie to hit screens.

Millions of people plunged into the world of “Frozen” along with them. But for Mancusi, who’s written more than 30 books for young readers, the moment became a springboard into a different avenue of publishing.

On July 19, she and co-author Jen Calonita unveil “Frozen: Polar Nights: Cast Into Darkness” (Disney, $15.99), Mancusi’s second title in the “Frozen” universe. The pair will discuss the book July 20, virtually via BookPeople.

Writing a novel like “Polar Nights” isn’t simply penning a story featuring famous characters. It’s part of a publishing system known as intellectual property, or IP for short. An author writing IP gets hired by the company that owns the rights to the characters to write a specific story featuring those characters.

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It’s a guaranteed audience if the characters are well-known. And publishers increasingly are seeking out accomplished authors for IP work. Jason Reynolds, the national ambassador for Young People’s Literature, wrote the “Miles Morales” Spider-Man reboot. New York Times bestselling young-adult author Samira Ahmed is writing a planned five Ms. Marvel comic adventures in tandem with the new television series. There’s a lengthy roster of celebrated writers creating Star Wars IP, including Daniel José Older, Justina Ireland and Cavan Scott.

“I think (companies) realize there are stories to be told, and expanding out the universe is a great moneymaker, but you have to do it right,” Mancusi said in an interview. She’s written several series, including “Blood Coven Vampire,” “Scorched” and “Camelot Code,” as well as standalones like 2020’s “Dragon Ops.”

“You can’t just slap a ‘Frozen’ cover on something … If you tell good stories that go beyond the IP, then you’re going to build a new readership.”

Mancusi is an avowed “Disney adult” who first deepened her love for the company while working at the Disney Store in college. She’d written original books for Disney-Hyperion, the company’s independent publishing arm, and auditioned for another Disney IP book before the “Frozen” call came.

“I honestly believe part of it is because I am such a big ‘Frozen’ fan, and my editor … sees me cosplaying as Elsa or posting pictures of my daughter singing ‘Let It Go,’” Mancusi said. Her love for the film is evident on TikTok, where her video teasing “Polar Nights” has racked up more than 106,000 views.

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Her first IP title was “Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets: The Story of Iduna and Agnarr,” a prequel about Anna and Elsa’s parents. “Polar Nights” marks Mancusi’s first collaborative writing experience. Co-author Calonita is also the author of multiple series (“Royal Academy Rebels,” “Lost Legends”) and a fellow Disney devotee.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Mancusi said. “Because I am a fan, I actually care about these characters and I also care about the fandom that loves these characters as much as I do. Sometimes, their definition of what they believe the characters are may differ from what the studio sees as the characters. I feel like I’m bridging the gap in a way – taking what the fandom loves and taking what the studio wants, and trying to bring it into a coherent story that everyone can enjoy.”

Mancusi and Calonita worked with Disney editors and filmmakers to hone an approved plot outline: Elsa and Anna discover the truth behind the legend of the draugr, a fearsome creature that the sisters worry has appeared in Arendelle to create storms and steal memories.

“It’s a lot different than writing a story of my own, where if I want to veer off track halfway through, I pretty much have the freedom to do that – change the ending, whatever. Here, you have to get permission … so if I want to change something major, I have to go back and say, ‘Hey, I think this would work better’,” Mancusi said. That said, there was plenty of latitude in crafting the finished novel.

“I was surprised at the amount of freedom they gave me,” she said. “I’m a huge lore junkie, and to be able to create and build lore behind one of my favorite franchises was really a great opportunity.”

Getting Elsa and Anna’s voices exactly right on the page was also important. And Mancusi wanted to ensure that even if readers weren’t massive “Frozen” fans, they would find things to enjoy in the story, such as the theme of sisterhood.

Mancusi also has “New Dragon City,” a standalone adventure novel, coming out in October with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She loves the flexibility of writing non-IP work, but is passionate about the value of books that champion fandom.

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“A lot of people think when someone joins a fandom, it’s just a waste of time, especially kids: ‘Oh, you’re into manga, or you’re into Star Wars, or you’re into Disney, or whatever,’” she said.

But particularly over the past few years when face-to-face contact hasn’t always been possible, forging bonds and community over a shared love of characters is uplifting, she added. It can help people feel less alone, and it can fuel creative fires for conversation or fan art.

“I love these books, because they are a bridge to that kind of community and to bringing peopletogether.”

IF YOU GO: 'Frozen' at BookPeople

Mari Mancusi and co-author Jen Calonita will discuss “Frozen: Polar Nights: Cast Into Darkness”in a free virtual BookPeople event at 7 p.m. July 20. A book pre-order through BookPeopleincludes signed art bookplates. Find details and register at

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin author part of Disney universe writing Frozen books for kids