Spotlight On: Sam Maggs, Author of “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy”

You might be familiar with Sam Maggs through her writing – as Associate Editor of The Mary Sue, as a games writer for The National Post or through her contributions to Chicks Dig GamingOr, perhaps you’re more acquainted with her on-air personality – as host of the Cineplex Pre-Show or as a pop culture commentator on 102.1 The Edge. Either way, I think we can all agree…Sam Maggs might be one of the coolest people ever.

Ever.

Named “Awesome Geek Feminist of the Year“, Sam’s work deals primarily with “geek” culture but she also tackles what it’s like being a female in this typically male-dominated world. In her newest book, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Girl Geeks, she guides fellow fangirls through everything they need to know about “living the geek life”. It’s equal parts fun and inspiration, encouraging young people – especially young women – to pursue their interests with abandon and to live as their most authentic selves. Reading the book feels like a riveting conversation with a fascinating new friend.

We were lucky enough to get some of our burning questions answered by Sam herself. Check out our newest installment of Get Pop-Cultured Month below!

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Q: “I am a geek girl and I am a feminist” is the first thing we read on the back cover of your new book. First, can you define ‘geek’ for us in your terms?  And second, at what point did you begin to ignore the negative stereotypes that so often surround the word, and embrace it for yourself?

A geek (or a fangirl!) is anyone who loves things passionately and without apology. I lived as a “closet” nerd for a really long time, afraid of what people would think of me or of being judged. But, I realized that pretending to be someone I’m not wasn’t a very fun way to live, and I wasn’t making real relationships or friendships hiding behind a façade. It took me until my early 20s, but one day I realized that if the people I’d been surrounding myself with didn’t like who I really was, then forget them – there are millions of other people out there in real life and online who would be more than happy to welcome me into their circles. And I was right – and I’ve been happier ever since! There are such amazing communities of fangirls online, and I’ve met so many amazing people through our shared fandoms, including some of my best friends.

Q: You define several different types of “Geek Girls”, from the Potterheads – Harry Potter geeks, of course – to Trekkies, and Marvelites, and give a shout out to over a dozen more geek girl fandoms. Can you place yourself in one of these categories, or feel particularly aligned with one over another?

I don’t think any fangirl belongs to just one group! We all have nuanced and varied interests. I’m a hardcore Whedonite and Potterhead and a huge Mass Effect fan (though I’m not sure that fandom has a name, to be honest). My first fandom was Stargate SG-1 and my OTP will forever be Sam Carter and Jack O’Neill.

Q: Was there a particular moment that you decided you needed to write your book and get your advice out there to your fellow girl geeks?

I really wanted to write the book that I wish I’d had when I was 15 years old and scared and alone and just getting into this world. But I also wanted it to be accessible for people of all ages, so hopefully everyone can get something out of it. I know, in particular, the chapter on feminism would have been great for me to read earlier, because I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what feminism is and about how to try to be a good feminist.

Q: Now that you’re the one giving the advice, and providing a role model for marginalized geek girls out there, who was your fangirl inspiration and role model growing up? Did you have one?

Amanda Tapping has been a huge inspiration to me – she played Sam Carter on Stargate SG-1, and was the first to show me that a woman can not only be a tough military Major, but also a super-intelligent astrophysicist, and that was mind-blowing for me (you don’t often see multi-faceted women in media like that). She’s gone on to be a creator and a director and a huge champion of women in sci-fi, and that’s amazing. I look up to Felicia Day a lot as an awesome geeky woman blazing her own trail in this world….and that’s inspirational.

Sam Maggs Book CoverQ: How did you turn your fandom and geek girl-ness, into a career?

When I started writing online, I just wanted to write about the things that I cared about and that I knew about – and I’ve been a geek girl my whole life, so naturally that’s what I wanted to put out there! I was just consistent with my writing and my self-promotion and networking on social media, and I was fortunate that lots of people found my work through Twitter. The Mary Sue found me that way, as did my literary agent, and even my publisher! I’m a big proponent of using social media to connect with likeminded folks and to proliferate your work. Don’t be shy, you have something important to add to the conversation!

Q: What advice would you give for students and fellow geeks who would want to follow in your footsteps?

I think I stole this from somewhere, but I always say the only difference between writers and people who say they want to be writers is just doing the writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer! It’s always going to be difficult to start, and your first pieces are always going to be bad (my first pieces are still available online and they’re terrible.) But the more you do it, the more you get into a routine, the less scary it gets, and the easier it gets, and the better you get. Just force yourself to do the work. That’s the most important thing.

Q: You have an MA in Victorian Literature, how has that degree played into your current career? What advice would you give students or recent grads out there who may not be going in the same direction as the degree they received?

I’ve always been a voracious reader and a writer, but University helped me to learn how to organize my thoughts and how to research well. My MA was in Sensation Fiction, a very specific type of literature published in England in the 1860s, about scandalous women who would commit arson, bigamy, murder, and more. The stories were published serially (weekly or monthly), and were huge cult sensations at the time. I examined how the contemporary world led to the creation of that type of fiction; what was happening with women’s issues in the 1860s that this literature became so popular? Why did the advent of train travel increase sales? In that way, my MA was actually kind of similar to what I do now; I look at serialized fiction (like TV and comics) and examine how our world influences what we see in the media – like why we don’t have a Black Widow movie yet, darn it! I feel that University degrees can really teach you how to be disciplined, and can prove to yourself that you’re capable of accomplishing something difficult. Even if what you want to do is vastly different than what you did your degree in, at least you have something that says, “I’m hella smart and responsible,” and you can use that to your advantage in any field.

Q: Okay, you’re an editor for The Mary Sue, a writer for the National Post, your videos are featured all over the interwebs, and now you’re a published author, what’s next for you?

More writing and more filming, I hope! I’ll keep you posted on Twitter, @SamMaggs!

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She’s the ultimate Fangirl and the ultimate inspiration for doing what you love! Be sure to share this Q&A with your friends and stop by your Barnes & Noble campus bookstore to pick up a copy of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

Keep up with the rest of our interviews with some “Get Pop-Cultured” superstars!

Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl of DC Comics

Brian K. Vaughan, author of Saga

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