School librarian, educator finds community, camaraderie in geeky adventures

It’s a special edition of The Geek Goddess Interviews here at No Man’s Land.

Today is the day I get to interview one of the most fascinating and, frankly, just freakin’ cool geeks I have ever known, and I’ve known her for quite some time, because — in the interest of full disclosure — she happens to be my little sister.

A bibliophile, librarian, educator, counselor, photographer, blogger, adventurer, comic book reader, and devoted fangirl to dozens of fandoms, Fawn Kemble presented a bit of a challenge for me when it came to the interview process.

You may notice that this is one of the series’ more lengthy (yet entertaining, if I do say so myself) reads. That’s because I know Fawn maybe a little too well and — I’d say this even if I wasn’t totally biased — she is one of those intriguing people who does, and says, and knows about, and reads, and watches, and thinks about endlessly interesting things. It was quite a task to capture her wonderfully nerdy essence. 

I’ve done my best though. Read on for musings on going to a “Hobbit” movie premiere, why libraries deserve to survive, why fangirling authors is the best, what it was like to be an original “Buffy” fan, and why midnight movies are magic, along with general pearls of wisdom like this one: “Once you bring Harry Potter into any relationship, it’s probably going to last.” 

You currently work as an elementary school librarian. That sounds awesome! What is that like?

It’s an odd blend of the quietness of books with the chaos of children, and I adore it. I spend my days reading to the younger classes, checking in and out books, and trying to help the students find books they’ll enjoy.

You were an English major in college and a high school English teacher, so obviously books and reading have played a big role in your life. How did that begin for you? How would you describe your relationship to books throughout your life?

Mum was an English teacher and dad a big reader, so books were part of my life from birth. They used to read to us even before we could read for ourselves and stories like “Wind in the Willows,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Anne of Green Gables,” and “The Hobbit” have been in my subconscious as long as I can remember.

As kids, we didn’t have TV, so we would devise adventures based on the stories we’d read; they fed our imaginations like nothing else. We would check out the maximum amount of books the library allowed and still never had enough. In junior high and high school, my insomniac self would stay up into the early hours of the morning reading whatever I could find on our parents’ bookshelves, the characters becoming like friends to me. Even now, I feel most at home when surrounded by books.

Fawn with a DeLorean from “Back to the Future.”

Have you been interested in geeky things since you were a child? What were the roots of your interest in fandoms and geek culture?

My first fandoms came from books and Disneyland (like most Southern Californians). TV and movie fandoms developed a bit later as our parents and older brothers introduced us to Monty Python, “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” Indiana Jones, “Back to the Future,” and, of course, “Star Wars.” Our childhood pets had names like Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and Skywalker. Much of our sibling language consisted of random quotes. My little brother and I shared comic books, my sister (you, Lavender, ha ha) shared her Lucasfilm Magazine.

But outside of our little family bubble, geek culture didn’t really exist when I was growing up, at least not in a positive way, so it wasn’t until junior high and high school that I found a couple other friends who would obsess over movies and books with me. The pinnacle of geekdom occurred in college with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” becoming a focal point of my friendships that included waiting in line to meet the actors at our comic book store. It was fabulous.

You have a master’s degree in biblical counseling and experience in social work. This might be stretching it a bit, but from your experience in these fields, do you find geeky interests help people connect in meaningful ways?

When I was in social work, part of my job was to mentor teenage girls who were at risk. My love for Young Adult literature and pop culture helped me connect with them quickly. I could take them to see a movie, and from that we could discuss so many aspects of life much more comfortably. There is a unique bond that comes from delving into story together. As a biblical counselor, I often end up becoming friends with former counselees and a couple of the best friendships to come out of that have been with fellow nerds. Once you bring Harry Potter into any relationship, it’s probably going to last.

Do you ever incorporate geeky subjects, concepts, or activities into your work at the library?

That’s kind of what the library is all about! One of my favorite authors, John Green, once said, “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to LOVE stuff, like, jump-up-and-down-in-your-chair-can’t-control-yourself LOVE it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is, ‘You like stuff,’ which is not a good insult at all, like, ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’”

One of my goals in the school library is to make it a safe space for my students to express this enthusiasm. Last year, one of the stories I read the little ones was about Spider-Man and I taught them all how to web sling. A Wonder Woman Lego Minifigure resides on my official lanyard. I’m planning on wearing my TARDIS dress to work on Halloween. I try to help the students find things they’re passionate about, whether it’s books about dinosaurs or space, fairytales or mysteries.

Funding for school libraries is being cut in many districts. Do you think libraries are still a relevant and important resource for children?

I believe that now, more than ever, libraries are important to children and adults. In a country in which our president claims any news he doesn’t like as “fake,” students need to have access to great research materials and people who can help them parse fact from fiction. In a world where so many feel disconnected or scattered, kids need to be able to sink into stories in which they become other people and experience other lives. There is a lot of research on the singular benefits to be found through reading fictional long form novels — the main one being a better development of empathy.

Many of my students come from low income households, they don’t have access to books outside of school and their parents are often so busy working hard to make ends meet that they don’t have time to take them to the city library. School libraries are often the only place where kids can pick out their very own books, not just ones that are assigned to them. I believe we should actually be putting a lot more money into school libraries.

Fawn’s collection of library swag and other pieces of nerdy merch.

Librarians tend to be pretty passionate about what they do. Do you have any fun library merch or memorabilia?

My mum and I recently went to the Los Angeles Central Library to see a friend’s play, and we spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop. That’s right, there is a library gift shop! I ended up leaving with a tote bag adorned by a book truck, saying “That’s How I Roll.” I adore it. I have a library card scarf, yellow and everything. I’ve got tons of literary toys, pins, and accessories as well that I’ve collected over the years.

Fawn in Harry Potter regalia in her classroom at Pacifica Christian High School in Santa Monica.

As an educator of high school students, did you ever work pop culture into your teaching? If so, in what ways? Did you find it useful at all as a point of entry with your students?

I did petition the principal to allow me to teach graphic novels, wrote a researched letter proving how beneficial they can be. I ended up getting at least 3 in the curriculum, including “Persepolis,” “American Born Chinese,” and “Maus.” I also have a lot of graphic novel versions of the novels I taught, or BabyLit picture books of them, that I’d bring in. My classroom walls were covered with posters featuring Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Once I actually taught my entire class while wearing my Hogwarts Snuggie on Character Day during Homecoming week. We had a book club that met in my classroom, The Booksniffers, in which we’d pretty much just geek out together. I call these students and others like them, the ones that connect on a geekier level, my nerdlings. I went to a couple of book signings and releases with students as well, which were always a blast.

Fawn with Elijah Wood — yes, Frodo Baggins! — at the L.A. premiere of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”

Your students in Santa Monica had the serious hookups when it came to nerd perks. You got to attend a preview night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and you went to the premiere of one of the “Hobbit” films. Tell me about some of those experiences.

Oh my gosh, those were such special experiences. Yeah, I had a student whose father is Peter Jackson’s casting director. They knew I was a huge Tolkien fan, so they took me to the L.A. premiere of the last “Hobbit” movie. It was surreal; Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were in England filming “Sherlock,” so I didn’t get to meet them, but I got to meet most of the hobbits, dwarves, and elves from multiple “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Fawn with Lee Pace.

Graham McTavish was there in a kilt, fabulously Scottish, hanging out with Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner. Orlando Bloom was snobby. Evangeline Lilly was classy and kind. I spent a few minutes in geeky banter with Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan as we waited for Elijah Wood to be available for a picture. Sigh. That was freaking awesome. And, oh my gosh, Lee Pace is tall and sweet and generous. I still can’t believe that I was there!

Fawn with a former student at a preview night for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Another one of my fabulous students is a roller coaster engineer and helped set up the Hippogriff ride at the L.A. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I got to go to one of the employee preview nights with him, his wife, and another former student of mine. That was great because it wasn’t very crowded so we didn’t have to wait too long in the lines. Geeky connections are the best!

You recently moved to the Antelope Valley from Los Angeles. Do you feel that living in L.A. — the entertainment capital of the world — gave you a lot of opportunities to consume and enjoy geek culture?

Yeah, in L.A., geek culture is everywhere. I still end up driving down to go to The Last Bookstore, see a play, or get together with friends at one of our favorite book-lined bars we like to call The Harry Potter Bar. Since I fangirl authors like others fangirl boybands, L.A. was the perfect location. I’ve met or been to readings by Ray Bradbury (RIP), Nick Hornby, John Green (three times so far), and Neil Gaiman (twice).

Fawn with best-selling young adult author John Green.

You’ve been a comic book reader since childhood. How were you introduced to comics? What were some of your formative titles?

My little brother, Josh, and I used to walk to the comic book store and spend our allowances on comic books. He collected “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” and “Generation X.” I collected “Ren and Stimpy.” Though we were fans of both Marvel and DC (my Wonder Woman action figure was my first), we were both fascinated by the new smaller labels like Image and Vertigo. We were captured by the art of Todd McFarlane in “Spawn,” Sam Keith in “The Maxx,” and Jeff Smith in “Bone.” My comic obsession was sealed when my oldest brother, Greg, introduced me to Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s brilliant works with “The Sandman” and my all-time favorite, “Death.”

What was your experience like as a girl who read comics?

When I was younger, I didn’t even realize being a girl into comics was weird because I was kind of used to being weird anyway. Walking into the shop with my brother provided a buffer. It wasn’t until I was in college and I started to find my own comic shops sans brother that I realized how intimidating it can be as a woman. The first time I opened a pull-and-hold account for my monthly comics at a local shop in L.A., the guy treated me so badly, like I didn’t know what I was talking about, that I almost gave up on it. I usually avoid online conversations in comics forums because it’s just not worth dealing with the misogyny there. On a more positive note, there are a lot of pretty badass women working or fangirling in the comic world now who are speaking out more on behalf of the female fan.

What comic books do you read now? Why has that passion persisted for you?

I’m more into comics collected in graphic novel form these days because I just don’t have the time to collect weeklies anymore. I’m in the middle of reading the “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” series, and am going through the “Fables” series. Anything Gaiman/McKean still holds my heart (their “Black Orchid” is stunning). I started a small collection of Batman titles (“Hush” being my favorite).

I think my passion has persisted because comics depict archetypes in a way that never gets old, and the blend of words with art profoundly speaks to our humanity. While I do enjoy the typical tights and capes titles, I also have a small collection of more literary/artistic works. Artists and writers like Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware, Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang, Art Spiegelman and Craig Thompson, Adrian Tomine and Vera Brosgol, Lucy Knisley and Brian K. Vaughan inspire and challenge me through their compelling stories and original art.

You’re a Whovian. How were you introduced to that series?

Back when David Tennant was just starting out as the Tenth Doctor, I had a student who was a huge fanboy of the entire series, going back to the originals. I wanted to watch the new show, but didn’t want to go into it blind. So, I asked that wonderful nerdling of mine to make me a list of the integral episodes for all previous nine doctors, like he was giving me homework. So that was my start, before I would let myself watch the revitalized “Doctor Who,” I studied up by seeing a couple episodes from each previous doctor in order to get the continuity right. Then I started with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor in its entirety before Tennant’s Number Ten.

Who’s your Doctor?

Nine was my first, and I adore Eccleston’s Doctor, but I’ll always be a Ten girl. Tennant was just brilliant.

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?

I am! Because I moved a bit these past couple of years, I fell behind on my “Doctor Who” viewing, so I’m actually just now working my way through Capaldi’s seasons. I need to catch up so I’ll be ready for Jodie Whittaker! I really wanted them to choose a woman of color, so Whittaker wasn’t my first choice, but I’m so excited that they’re finally going to have a female doctor so am hopeful.

Fawn with former students, enjoying a sneak peek at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

You’re also a Harry Potter fan. How and why were you first drawn to J.K. Rowling’s series?

I’m not sure I really remember when or how I got into Harry Potter. I think I started when the second book came out when I was in college? I’d heard that the first book was good but only after the second one was published, so I probably had to catch up. It was kind of cool, because not everyone was into them yet, there were no movies and no merchandise, so you had to come up with your own vision of characters and Hogwarts. I was drawn to them because I’ve always been a huge fantasy geek, and she had created this entire world of hidden magic that was enchanting, dangerous, and thrilling. I’m still addicted.

How does your Harry Potter passion manifest itself in your life?

I have a lot of Harry Potter jewelry that I can sneak into professional outfits to have hidden geekiness. And, as an elementary school librarian, I get to introduce a whole new generation to the books! I’m like the Harry Potter pusher, like, “Hey kid, come here, I’ve got something for you … .” Ha ha ha … I also try to reread the books from time to time, have three wands (one of which a friend handmade for me), and can be found on the couch in my Hogwarts Snuggie on cold evenings.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.”

Fawn visiting 221B Baker Street in London.

You’re an unabashed anglophile and have traveled to England multiple times. Why do you think so many geeky people are anglophiles? I’m really trying to solve this mystery.

In our case, it makes sense because our mum was an English teacher, and an anglophile so we were raised into it. British television was a big percentage of our media intake and revealed a different style than American shows. I think many geeks love all things English because they don’t tend to underestimate their readers/viewers like American shows/books often do. They just assume most of their audience is educated and literate.

Obviously, this is a broad generalization and there are many exceptions on both sides. Certain types of geeky kids often end up finding safety and comfort in their English classrooms or libraries, which also tend to attract anglophiles as teachers and librarians. With such quality fandoms like “WhoLock” (“Doctor Who”/ “Sherlock”) Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” Monty Python, and “Downton Abbey,” who wouldn’t want to be an anglophile?

You’re also a huge Star Wars fan. What’s your earliest memory of the franchise? How does that obsession manifest itself in your life?

I have no earliest memory of “Star Wars;” as far as I’m aware, it was just always part of my life. Perhaps because my oldest brother was a fan long before I was born, so the story infused our home. I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw the films, I just know that the first few strains of John Williams’ score have always brought me chills.

The obsession manifests itself in both noble and embarrassing ways. I must admit, to my shame, that I was one of those fans who was so caught up in the prequel excitement that, for a moment, I didn’t realize just how bad they could be until the second or third viewing.

I did adore waiting in line outside the night before the midnight release to get tickets and good seats — I even made a couple of friends in those lines when I was at university who I still know to this day. I probably can’t go more than a couple of days without making some reference to Luca’s space opus, and spend way too much time these days rewatching “The Last Jedi” trailer. It’s been a bizarre and amazing experience to see Star Wars become such a phenomenon all over again.

You used to go to a lot of midnight movie openings. What was so fun about staying up late and hanging out on the sidewalk with a bunch of fellow fans?

There is a camaraderie that comes out when every single person is sleep deprived while waiting eagerly for the same thing. I think the best of geek culture comes out in those moments — everyone encourages each other, saves spaces, does fast food runs, and geeks out. Scoping out each other’s gear, from T-shirts to full-on cosplay, temporary tattoos to weapons and other accessories, midnight screening lines are the best place for people watching. And when you finally get into the theater, too much caffeine consumed, the lights dim, and the title credits begin to a rousing cheer, it’s a natural high that can’t be beat.

I’m very excited that you are a big fan of certain sci-fi and fantasy authors, namely Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman. You met the late Bradbury and you’ve been to Gaiman signings. What is it about those authors that you love so much?

Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman created short stories and novels that cross over between fantasy and sci-fi, two of my favorite genres. They write challenging stories that are still gorgeous, and somehow when you’re done reading them, you feel more human. They both tap into the imagination, demanding the reader expand her mind instead of merely being entertained. They both have the ability to create very realistic characters even in the most futuristic or otherworldly setting. And I think the things I love most about both Bradbury and Gaiman is their originality and beauty. My favorite book of all is Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” which captures childhood, with all its joy and melancholy, mystery and beauty.

One of Fawn’s most cherished possessions is a signed, personal letter from author Ray Bradbury and a photo taken when she met him.

I was lucky enough to meet Ray Bradbury in the audience of a live performance of his one-act plays. His driver (he never got a driver’s license) wheeled him to the front row of the theater in his wheelchair, a glass of red wine in his hand. During intermission, we went up to meet him. I knelt down next to him, and was finally able to thank him for the impact his writing had on my life. He was gracious, and kind, took a picture with me, and then he kissed me on my cheek. It was truly one of the best moments of my life.

Fangirling authors is the best because you finally get the opportunity to thank them for the impact their writing has had on your life.

Fawn and friends from college meet “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” stars Alyson Hannigan and Anthony Stewart Head at a comic book shop in Santa Barbara.

Let’s talk about something very important now. You mentioned that one of your first hardcore fandoms was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Tell me a little about your experiences of vintage Buffy fandom.

Ah, Buffy. When the original movie came out ages ago, the one Joss Whedon hated, I saw it in the theater with my sister and a friend at least three times. We were hooked. Even that lesser version captured our imaginations in a way few other movies had. When we found out Whedon was making it into a TV show, we were ecstatic.

The show aired while I was in college, and became a weekly gathering of my geeky friends. We’d all go to the one apartment who had cable to watch it, then debrief afterward. There was a comic book store in downtown Santa Barbara, Avalon Comics, that somehow had the hookup and had a few signings of Buffy actors back before there were so many comic conventions or other places to geek out. We were able to get signatures and Polaroid pictures with the actors who play Willow, Xander, Giles, Drusilla, and Spike.

James Marsters even let me touch his hair, and my friend, who’s a bit short, touched Anthony Stewart Head on the butt (she claims by accident!). We even went to a club in Hollywood one night to see James Marsters’ then band play. They weren’t very good, but we had a lot of fun.

Spike or Angel?

Angel for Buffy, Spike for me.

What other fandoms are you into?

Other than ones mentioned above, I’m a SuperWhoLock girl (“Supernatural,” “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock”) who’s also obsessed with all things “Hamilton,” Disneyland, classic and children’s lit, “Firefly,” Netflix Marvel, Wonder Woman, “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones” (the books), “Dirk Gently”, YA literature, and others.

Do you collect anything?

Books. Lots and lots of books. Classics, new releases, graphic novels, and children’s books mostly. I also accumulate English major/librarian accessories, as mentioned above. I have a bunch of little geeky figurines, action figures, and other nerdy tidbits scattered throughout my bookshelves.

What upcoming release (books, movies, TV, etc.) are you most looking forward to?

Netflix’s “Stranger Things” Season 2, the upcoming “Murder on the Orient Express” movie, DC’s “Justice League,” although I kinda just want to see Wonder Woman, DC’s “Doomsday Clock” comic, the follow-up to “Watchmen,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and next year “Black Panther,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2,” “Isle of Dogs,” and, on Netflix new seasons of “Jessica Jones,” “Daredevil,” “Arrested Development,” and “13 Reasons Why.”

You recently launched a blog, the cleverly titled The Awkward Spinster. It’s about your experiences as a single, Christian woman. Are there challenges to being a single geek girl? Are there benefits?

Being a single geek girl at my age can feel a bit lonely at times. Most of my friends are married, and aren’t quite as available for fangirling moments as they used to be. I can also feel like the odd one out as both a single Christian woman and a geek. I still sometimes dread going into comic book stores or online forums with which I’m not familiar because I don’t have the patience to deal with sexist men anymore.

The benefits are the geekdom creates its own community, which embraces singles a bit better than the rest of society. If you get a good group of geeks together, they are supportive, clever, funny, and encouraging. It’s awesome. Two of my best friends are single geek guys, so we often go to rooftop movies or binge-watch nerdy shows on Netflix together.

As a woman, is there anything you would like to see change in the world of geek culture and fandoms?

As awesome as geek culture can be, it is not immune to the negative sides of humanity. And, because so much of fandom life is lived online where people somehow feel more enabled to say cruel and sexist things they would never say to a woman in person, the misogyny can be overwhelming at times. In comic books and movies, women are still often depicted as the Virgin or the Whore and nothing in between — just damsels in distress and cold-hearted vixens. “Wonder Woman” was a step in the right direction, but just a step. We have a long way to go.

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who would be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email lavendervroman@gmail.com.

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