Feminism, Fangirls and Life After High School: An Interview with Author Sam Maggs

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Based out of the great North of Toronto, Sam Maggs is not only a writer, but a professional fangirl. Her book Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is a simple and easy guide to the “nerd culture” world, how to get into that world, interviews with various women in the business, and it is all through feminist lens. The book is praised by people like Tamora Pierce (author of The Song of the Lioness series) and Amanda Tapping (actress, Stargate SG-1). She was named “Awesome Geek Feminist of the Year” by Women Write About Comics and featured on Space Channel’s live aftershow of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special. On top of all these titles, she is also a friend of mine, and she agreed to sit down to answer some questions for FJORD.  

The following is excerpts from my interview with Sam Maggs.

Q: Who is Sam Maggs to you?

A: Honestly, like half real and half persona I guess, which is kind of a weird thing to say. At heart I’m just a weird little introverted nerd who doesn’t really like to go outside or talk to other humans. So when I do hosting, or signings, or public stuff I kind of have to pretend to be someone I’m not. It’s actually really helpful ‘cause I’m a really firm believer in “fake it ‘till you make it,” and I think it’s good pretending to be an extrovert or good at that kind of stuff. Suddenly you become that way. And the other half is just an introverted nerd.

Q: You self-identify as a fangirl, so what are some of your favourite nerdy interests?

A: It largely depends on the week [laughs]. But my all-time first fandom was Stargate SG-1; I’ll be a Stargate fangirl for life. I’m a huge Mass Effect and Dragon Age fan – that’s my biggest video game fandom. And right now I’m in the depths of Supernatural hell, so I’ve watched like eight seasons in three and a half weeks, which is preposterous; no one should ever do that. I’ve made myself physically ill [laughs]. That’s what I’m fangirling over right now.

Q: FJORD is a high school based website and a lot of our readers are young. As a teenager, what were your experiences in terms of balancing your education and personal life/struggles?

A: I remember finding it really hard, just because there was so much work to do all the time and pressure to not only do school work, but to also do extracurricular activities. I just didn’t really have a social life for a really long time, because it was really important to me to get a scholarship. I was big into dance in high school, and I also had orchestra. But it was really hard admittedly to balance that and it didn’t really change going into university. Even in the “real world” (I hate when people say that), it’s hard to balance work and life. You’re always going to struggle with it, but you just have to make time for it because school is super important. Be comfortable with who you are, and that’s equally as important as your grades.

Q: You went into university at a young age, how was that and how did it affect you?

A: Yeah, I went to university when I was 17 and I think that I was maybe too young. Looking back on it, I went straight from high school to university to my Masters degree. [In] one way I’m glad I did that because I think that I would have found it really difficult to go back to school if I had taken a break. But, in another way I kind of regret it because I never did what a lot of other kids do and got a gap year to go travel or to sit at home and write for a year, or write a screenplay, or do stuff I never had the time to do while I was studying all the time. Part of me wishes I had done that; I’m still trying to catch up.

I feel like I missed some crucial social or personal development there. But again, it’s really good because I was done my Masters degree by time I was 22. So overall I think it depends on what you’re feeling at the time but also don’t feel pressured to go straight into university – do what you think is going to be right for you and what you want to do with your future.

Q: Going from a teenager into adulthood, what are some things no one taught you about it?

A: The one thing that I really wish I had known when I was young that I didn’t really get until I was older was that if you try to pretend that you’re someone that you’re not, it’s just going to make you miserable. I spent a really long time hiding the things that I liked, or the kind of person I was, or the fact that I was into all this nerd stuff. I spent a lot of time pretending to be someone who liked going to football games, or having a douchey boyfriend, or being straight. That was not who I was, but I was so caught up in worrying what people thought of me. It took me a long time to realize that it doesn’t [really] matter. I think a really big thing that was helpful with that was the internet and social media. With all this suddenly it was, “oh my God, if these six people who live on my floor don’t like me, who cares. A million people on the Internet are going to like me for who I am”. That made me so much happier, suddenly I could just be myself and people would like it. That’s a really hard lesson to learn, but I wish I had known that earlier.

Q: Your book Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy combines fan culture with feminism. How did that become important to you?

A: Growing up I fell into a trap that a lot of girls fall into, which is nobody’s fault – it’s just the world that we live in, which is the whole “I’m not like other girls.” I didn’t even really understand what feminism was until I got to university and even then I still found it hard to understand. It was never really clearly explained to me in a way that was that feminism means equality, which is all it means. As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve experienced in the workplace and online more examples of sexism in media and employment, it became increasingly clear to me that feminism is the touchstone in all these things. That if we want comic books we need more diverse representation on the page and behind the page. It all stems from the same issue.

I thought, why didn’t anyone ever just write it down in a super clear way. When I was 15 I could have been like “yeah obviously.” Online communities such as Tumblr has its issues obviously but for all that it can be hyper socially aware; it’s perhaps better to lean in that direction than the other direction. At least younger people are being educated online more. But I really wanted to include it in a book because for me being a fangirl and being a feminist go hand in hand, and you can’t be a good fangirl unless you’re trying to be a good feminist. We need to support the right things and the right people and move media in the right direction, or else you’re just hindering the development of good media.

Q: Why is a book like yours important for young people?

A: I think it’s just really important to have a friendly looking book explain to you that feminism is not scary or mean or bad [laughs]. It’s just a chill way to explore that sort of side of feminist media culture. Also, it just tells you to be who you are and like what you like. I think that’s the main thrust of the book in my opinion, that’s what I hope people take away from it. Be into what you’re into, and be who you are.

Q: Any last things you would like to tell high school students of today?

A: I would just say, there’s never been an easier time to do what you love. Everyone’s going to ask you if you want to be a doctor, a teacher, or a lawyer. And it’s so important to me that people realize that those are not the only things you can do with your life. There are so many things! So many creative things! So many ways to make your passion into a career. If you want to make video games just go on Twine and start making video games, or go take a class and learn to code. Or drawing, if you want to be a comic book artist start putting your drawings online. All of the work I have came out of Twitter, I put my early writing on there and my agent found me on there, literally all of my jobs have come through social media. If you want to do something, just do it and don’t let anyone tell you that because it’s creative, that it’s not a “real job” and that you need a “real job” in addition to this. It’s not true, just do what you love. It’s hard enough to find one of those “real jobs” anyway so screw it. Do what’s going to make you happy. You might be broke, but I’m broke and it’s pretty okay.

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