I’ve resurfaced from a day of deep immersion in WonderCon, which, in case you’re not familiar, is the nerdiest of all nerd weekends in Southern California. I spent the day before at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so, yeah, it was basically the most epically geeky two days ever.
WonderCon is organized by the people who put on the insanely popular and notoriously unnavigable San Diego Comic-Con. It consists of fanboys and fangirls overrunning the Anaheim Convention Center for three wonderful, exhausting days of cosplay, panels, screenings, promotional events, gaming, signings, meetups, mutual admiration, and shopping for collectibles, T-shirts, and merch, even though we don’t have any more room for them in our houses.
From what I observed, this year’s con was pleasantly well-organized. Mailing out badges in advance and scanning them at various points of entry was a great idea. I particularly enjoyed the sight of a dude in a giant cardboard Lego Legolas costume trying to reach his badge while simultaneously squeezing through the narrow scanner gate.
From a feminist perspective, I was happy to see many panels geared toward women and women’s issue on the schedule, including “Entrepreneurial Women,” “Cospositive: Cosplay with Confidence,” “Comics and Women,” “WonderCon Women of Pop Culture,” and a Friday night panel exploring how the #TimesUp movement applies to the comic book industry.
As my sister and I walked the Exhibit Hall, we were pleased to see many more women artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and vendors than in previous years. (There were still a whole lot of men, but it’s progress.) I was able to collect more than 50 business cards from women you might read about soon in No Man’s Land’s weekly Geek Goddess interview series.
I purchased a Captain Marvel T-shirt and a signed illustration of Wonder Woman by artist Leanne Huynh. I also bought my first comic book from one of the convention booths. In the past, I’ve been too intimidated to do that, so that’s progress for me personally.
We chatted with artists and exhibitors — at WonderCon you’re guaranteed to run across at least one person you’ve always wanted to meet or talk to — and spent so much time on the floor, where the air is clammy and thin, that we forgot all sense of time, not to mention basic necessities like snacking, hydrating, or taking bathroom breaks.
Eventually, we did fortify ourselves with greasy food truck fare in front of the convention center, surrounded by gender-bending Harley Quinns, twin Kylo Rens, Daeneryses, and Demigorgons.
My sister, who wore an adorable blue Tardis dress, only had to deal with two awkward and unwanted encounters with guys who lingered too long or insisted on mansplaining the finer points of “Doctor Who.”
Here’s an idea, WonderCon organizers: How about a panel titled “How Not to Be a Creeper” featuring so many geeky celebrities that fanboys won’t be able to resist attending?
For me, the highlight of this year’s event was a panel featuring Gail Simone, writer of Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and “Clean Room,” and the most recognizable woman in comics, who I Twitter stalk almost daily. Simone has worked hard to cultivate and encourage inclusiveness and representation in the industry.
Her origin story is legend. A comic book fan since childhood, she was working as a hairdresser when she began writing columns critiquing the industry, especially on its more misogynistic tropes. She was eventually approached to write for comics and the rest is history.
During the panel, Simone talked about her first job writing for “The Simpsons” comic book and how scared and inexperienced she felt. She recounted emailing her comic writer friends for advice on basic things like formats and style and how terrified she was that her employer would discover she didn’t know what she was doing.
I found this deeply encouraging because, so many of us — especially women who write or create — struggle with feeling strong enough, or smart enough, or confident enough, or adequate enough to tackle those scary new opportunities that could lead to something bigger. The fear of failure is a supervillain just waiting to deliver a demoralizing monologue.
Even sitting down to write a simple blog post some days can take a surprising amount of courage. I’m sure it’s the same for those of you who sit down to paint, or write fiction or poetry or a screenplay, or simply take some time away from daily responsibilities to do something that makes you feel fulfilled and inspired.
Gail’s advice: If you’re scared, it’s a good thing. Do it anyway. That’s when you’re going to create your best work.
When I first met Erin Gardner, I had no idea what deep and delicious layers of geekiness lurked beneath her deceptively placid demeanor.
Since then, Erin has become one of my very favorite geeks, a fellow bibliophile and lover of Ray Bradbury, and someone you can easily get lost in nerdy conversation with for hours about everything from “Beauty and the Beast,” to “Doctor Who,” to Harry Potter, to comic books, to conventions, to anime.
Nintendo and Disney were her gateway drugs into the world of fandoms and pop culture. A love of fairy tales and literature, particularly the genres of science fiction and fantasy, led her down the wonderful, winding paths of Narnia and Middle-earth, as well as the worlds of “Howl’s Moving Castle” and classics like “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
In this interview, she reminisces about the time she realized she had gone “full nerd” on a solo trip to the Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida. She also chats about her dream Disney wedding, her budding love of anime, her ample Funko Pop! collection, her “Battletoads” obsession, and her adorable dog Falkor.
As a bonus, Erin reveals the hidden treasure that is Phoenix Comic Fest and what the sweetest revenge is when you’re a girl gamer.
To those who don’t know you, you can seem kinda quiet, so I think people don’t always realize the ever deeper levels of geekiness that exist within you. Are people sometimes surprised when they figure this out about you?
I am a pretty shy person for the most part so, yes, most people are very surprised. My favorite surprise story is when I first started dating my husband and he had a picture of Deadpool as his phone’s background, and I saw it and said, “Oh, cool, Deadpool.” His jaw hit the floor. Since then it has been a wonderful geek-filled relationship.
Were you a geek child? How did you first become interested in nerd stuff?
I wouldn’t say that I was. I must have been about 7 when my grandma bought us our first Nintendo, and I loved playing it. That was definitely the gateway into me being a nerd. But I wasn’t quite as obsessed as I am now.
So, first off, I must ask you about your love of late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury because that’s something we share. How were you introduced to Bradbury’s writing and why do you enjoy it?
It is such an off-the-wall story. I was a member of paperbackswap.com, a website where you post books you are willing to “swap” with other people. All I had to do was pay the shipping cost. Then I could request a book from someone else and they would send it to me. So I would go to the library book sales, where I could get a bag of old books for $1, then post them on the website.
One of the books I grabbed was “S is for Space,” a collection of his short stories. It sat on the shelf forever, and now I am glad that no one wanted it. Then one day, my mom said something about it being a Bradbury book, and that he was a pretty well-known author. So I picked it up and started reading.
I started with the introduction: “Jules Verne was my father, H.G. Wells was my wise uncle, Edgar Allen Poe was the bat winged cousin we kept high in the back attic room. Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers were my brothers and friends. Adding, of course, that in all probability Mary Shelley was my mother. With a family like that, how else could I have turned out as I did; a writer of fantasy and most curious tales of science fiction.” — Ray Bradbury
I was hooked after that. I never thought of myself as someone into weird and unsettling stories, but I just loved every word of every story. It was so different from my normal young adult fantasy stories I was currently reading. You have also been a big influence in my love for Bradbury, like showing me his favorite booth at Clifton’s, and lending me the Bradbury books I have yet to read.
Do you have a favorite Bradbury book or short story?
This is such a hard question! I loved “The Halloween Tree.” “Fahrenheit 451” was great, too. I would have to say my favorite was still my first book of his, “S is for Space.” My favorite short story from “S is for Space” would be “Come into my Cellar,” a story about children growing mushrooms in the cellar, but these mushrooms aren’t just normal mushrooms …
Do you have any thoughts on HBO’s upcoming adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451”?
I have unrealistic expectations when it comes to my favorite books being made into movies. I would love it to be the exact same as the book. Which is impossible, I know. After “Ella Enchanted” was made into such a terrible movie adaptation, I am a little hand shy about this one. I still plan to see it though. I’m sure you will be one of the first to hear from me when I do.
Judging by your email address, you’re also a fan of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” When and how did you discover the series?
My mom had her set from junior high on the shelf, right below “S is for Space,” funny enough. I was first drawn to them because of the fantastic illustrations on the book jackets. I started reading them in Junior high, as well, also on my mother’s suggestion.
What makes it special to you?
I love that it is a fantasy-style story of the Gospel of Jesus, a retelling of how Jesus died for me because of his great love. It will always be something quite special to me.
Which is your favorite book in the series?
“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” has always been my favorite! “The Silver Chair” is a close second though. Who doesn’t love Puddleglum?
Who’s your favorite Narnian inhabitant?
There are so many good ones to choose from, Reepicheep, Eustace Scrubb (who you hate at first, but then you grow to love), and Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian inhabitant I met. However, Aslan has always been my favorite. His presence is so comforting, not to mention he is the creator of Narnia.
You’re also a fan of Lewis’ BFF, J.R.R. Tolkien. Are you more into the books or more into the movies?
For “The Hobbit,” I am more into the book. Why the heck is Legolas even in the movie? For “Lord of the Rings,” I am into both.
I saw the movies first, but I will only watch the extended editions. I read the books after, and as always, the books are better. I am part of the group of salty people who wanted Tom Bombadil in the movie, because he is so awesome. I love both the movies and the books though. They are each good in their own way.
Who’s your favorite resident of Middle-Earth and why?
My favorite in both the book and the movie is the Mouth of Sauron, (cue my love for the creepy I didn’t know I had until Bradbury brought it out). He has been Suaron’ s mouthpiece for some 60 years, learning great sorcery, and his name is remembered in no tale. He has such a small part in the story, and he is so mysterious and very creepy. So, of course, he is my favorite.
You’re quite the Disney fan, as well. This might be a difficult question, but do you remember your first Disney experience?
Disney movies started coming out more frequently when I was born and I grew up watching them, so I think my love for Disney came gradually. I think the movies were where it started. My brothers and I watched them over and over again. “Beauty and the Beast” was my go-to movie. Disney was such a big part of my childhood (and everyone else’s) that it is nostalgic to me.
Even the parks, my first trip was when I was 2, and I walked the whole day. When I was a little older, I once got lost at the park and thought I would never see my family again, but I didn’t mind the idea of living in Disneyland if I had to. I have spent every birthday at Disneyland since I was 15. My husband asked me to marry him at the wishing well. So many of my memories are at Disneyland or have to do with Disney.
You are specifically very into “Beauty and the Beast.” How old were you when you first saw it? What impression did it make on you?
It came out the year before I was born, but I couldn’t tell when the first time was. When I was tiny I am sure.
I related to Belle the most, she is still the only brunette princess, too, I think. She loves to read like me. She also feels like an outsider, which everyone relates to in some aspect. There are places where we feel we don’t fit in. The biggest one though, is don’t judge a book by its cover. Someone might look scary on the outside, but be a great person, while others might look very attractive on the outside, but a real jerk on the inside. Ahem. Gaston …
Can you sing all the words to all the songs?
I can! For the original, the Broadway version, and the remake.
Are you a fan of the live-action remake?
I am a fan of it! They incorporated aspects from the original story written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, like when she asked her father to bring her back a rose (which made my bookworm self very happy). The song the Beast sings at the end is so good, and I am a fan of her new dress. I got to see it at the El Capitan Theatre (in Hollywood).
I understand you have quite a collection of “Beauty and the Beast” merchandise. Tell me about some of the prized items you’ve amassed.
I do have a lot of things. Many are gifts from family and friends. My favorite things would be my Jim Shore figures, a life-size set of Lumiere and Cogsworth, a hand-painted sign that my brother and sister-in-law got Tim and I for our wedding. My most favorite, however, was an outfit I had growing up. It was a purple shirt with belle on it. I wore it when it was almost dress length to when it was a pretty short shirt length. I would still wear it if I could. I still have it too.
You and your husband, Tim, had an adorable Disney-themed wedding. Please tell me all about it.
It was the best day ever, obviously. I got to wear a Disney Alfred Angelo ballgown dress covered in sparkles. Surprisingly enough, I wore a dress styled after Cinderella. The Belle-style dresses just looked weird on me. All my bridesmaids were dressed like other princesses and their bouquets were made specially to match their princess.
Each table at our reception was decorated after a Disney ride. The Jungle Cruise table even had a pop gun to scare away renegade hippos. Our candy table had a Monorail driving around the edge, our cake had the rose from “Beauty and the Beast” on top, with Iron Man hiding among the rose petals falling down the side of the cake.
The men all had action figures for their boutonnieres, and a matching shirt with their superhero’s logo under their suits. Our ring bearer was Thor and the pillow with the rings was shaped like Thor’s hammer.
We had so many people help out to make the day so amazing and I am still so thankful to all of them.
Why did you choose that as the theme for your big day?
I always wanted to get married at Disneyland. My sister-in-law, Caitlin, and I once planned our perfect Disney wedding on their website, and then cried when we saw the price for the most basic wedding package. So the next best thing was having a wedding themed after one of Tim’s and my favorite places.
Harry Potter is another of your major fandoms. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
There was the crazy girl I met in junior high, who was a bigger reader then I was, and she was so in love with Harry Potter that she would wait hours outside the theater on opening night to see the newest Harry Potter movie coming out. I went with her to see one of the movies, I can’t even remember which one it was, but after that I was hooked, I went home and started reading all the books. That crazy girl, Caitlin, is now my sister-in-law and my very best friend. We still geek out over Harry Potter all the time. I love sharing that with her.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
I am a proud Slytherin! I got sorted in high school on a field trip to Warner Bros. Studios. I got to sit on the same stool from the movie, then they put the hat on my head, the hat started yelling at me because he said I thought he was ugly, then put me in Slytherin. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I recently took Tim to Warner Bros. so he could be sorted. He was put into Ravenclaw.
You actually once went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando by yourself, just ‘cause you had the opportunity. That’s so awesome! How did that happen? Tell me all about that visit.
My best friend Kristy lives out in Florida. She moved there when we were very little and it broke my heart. She is also quite the nerd. It was her wedding that weekend, and since I was out there already I stayed an extra day to see Universal, since I had never been there before. Kristy’s uncle works there so he got me a free ticket.
That was when I knew I went full nerd, by myself on the other side of the continent, going to the Wizarding World. It was such a good day, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I sent Snapchat videos to everyone back at home. Being by myself though, I got to go in all the single rider lines, so I rode most of the rides there.
Is the Orlando theme park way better than the Hollywood Wizarding World?
It is SO much better. They have it spread between two parks, so there is a ton more there. Not just Hogsmead, they have the Hogwarts Express you can ride to London, Lavender Brown comes and writes love notes to Ron while you are on the way there. Diagon Alley is so amazing! My favorite part though was when I found a pitch black alleyway. It was Knockturn Alley! I was terrified to go in, and once I went in the smell was horrible! It was so fantastic! I highly suggest going.
You’re a major bookworm in general. Do you have a preference for science fiction and fantasy? If so, why do you think that is?
I do prefer science fiction and fantasy. I think it is because in this genre you can push the limits, it is so different from reality, and that makes a wonderful escape from the real world.
What are some of your favorite book titles?
“Howls Moving Castle” By Diana Wynne Jones. “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. “The Great Good Thing” by Roderick Townley. All the Gail Carson Levine books. I could list so many more, but these are few of my favorites.
Do you have a bajillion books in your house?
I do. Haha. I just counted, I have 245 books throughout my house.
You work for a travel agent. This may be a stretch, but does this job ever intersect at all with your geek lifestyle?
It does in one way. My boss has the most amazing collection of Disney figurines. They are so beautiful. I couldn’t tell who made them though.
A couple of your other fandoms are “Doctor Who” and Star Trek. Who’s your Doctor and why?
Nine. I love Ten and Eleven, too, but Nine is my doctor. He was the one that got it started again, and he was more serious than the others and also had a dryer humor, which is my favorite humor. My favorite way to put it is like this: Nine is a tiger, serious and strong, always in charge of things. Ten is like Tigger, cute and silly, bouncing around but still getting things done. Eleven is a house cat that knocks over a vase and pretends he planned to do that all along.
Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite?
The Original Series, but Picard is my favorite captain. The new movies are a close second though. Anton Yelchin was my favorite in the movies, so I am so sad about his unexpected death.
You’ve recently gotten into the “Flash” TV series. What do you like about it?
The Flash is my favorite superhero out of both the Marvel and DC universes. The show just sucked me right in! I love all the characters, the writing is good too. Tim and I have tried to get into the other CW shows but they just aren’t as good. I still want Barry Allen and Felicity Smoak to be together. Even though I know that will never happen. I have even started reading The Flash comic books.
In other comic book related news, it seems you’re pretty obsessed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” right now. What’s that about?
I seriously don’t know, I just love everything about it! The soundtrack is amazing and all I have been listening to recently. Baby Groot is just so cute! The chemistry between Peter Quill and Drax is so funny to me. It also has my new favorite actress, Elizabeth Debicki, who is covered in gold. This is a spoiler, but I love the redemption story arc of Yondu. I hated him in the first movie, and in this one he becomes pretty awesome.
I was also super unhappy that they changed Tower of Terror to a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, but now I can’t get enough of it! It one of my favorite rides!
You’re currently wading into the wonderful waters of anime. What shows have you been watching?
I have only watched two so far, “Death Note” and “Full Metal Alchemist.”
What’s intriguing you so far about this genre of animation?
The story of these shows are so elaborate! It keeps me interested, and it is fun to see how their culture and how they tell stories are so different from how things are done here. The different mythology is really cool to me. Like learning about Shinigamis and how they work. It’s really cool.
You have an impressive collection of Funko Pops. How many do you own?
I have 161, as of right now, but that is always changing.
What are some of your favorites?
I have a Rose Tyler Pop! signed by Billie Piper, a 2015 San Diego Comic-Con Unmasked Barry Allen limited edition, worth about $170. I am pretty picky when it comes to the ones I get, so all of them are my favorite.
Where do you keep them all?
I have an Ikea cabinet that I have most of mine in, but I am in desperate need of another, they have already out grown it. The cabinet is in the room we call the Nerd Cave, where we keep most of our nerd memorabilia.
Do you collect anything else?
Just books and Pop! figures, I don’t really have space to collect anything else.
You’re also an avid video gamer. How did you get into gaming?
It started with our first Nintendo, and I just kept playing games. It helps that all my brothers were into gaming, and as the only girl in the family, spending time with my brothers meant playing video games, so I always thought it was normal for girls to play video games. I learned later that I was more of an anomaly.
What’s your experience as a girl gamer been like?
It has been good for most part. I think gaming does come more naturally to guys, so I have always had to work hard at keeping up with them. Playing online is where things are different. If I have a mic in and am talking to the other people playing, most of them think I am a 12-year-old boy, and when they do find out I am a girl some of them can get pretty vulgar. Then I beat them, and that is pretty satisfying.
I made some pretty good friends too, though, and that was fun. Now though, I play mostly with my husband, my brother Sam and his wife Caitlin, and my brother-in-law Brian. It has been fun to see more girls get into gaming now though. It has been such a guy-dominated hobby, but not anymore.
I understand you own an old-school Nintendo console just for your favorite video game of all-time, “Battletoads.” What is it about that game?
This game has been named the hardest game of all time. I have only ever made it past level three once, you literally have to memorize the entire game to beat it. My brothers and I spent hours playing it, it is a nice piece of nostalgia for me. I also love the idea of toads being totally B.A. It is such a different kind of game to play.
You’re also a big fan of the Lego games. What do you like about those?
They are just so fun! They have a mice mix of action, puzzle solving, and humor. The Harry Potter ones are my favorite, I have played them through a couple of times.
How good are you at “Call of Duty”?
Not to toot my own horn, but I am pretty good. I used to stay up till three in the morning playing it, so I have had a lot of practice.
How many hours have you spent playing “Overwatch”?
61 hours so far. We actually haven’t played much lately.
How crazy are you about “Portal”?
So crazy! The first time I played it, I put it in the console, and then emerged three days later, having beaten the game. I couldn’t stop playing it. I heard they were talking of making a movie, which would be fun to see I think. I have played it through several times since then.
You’ve discovered the joys of the Phoenix Comic-Con (now called Phoenix Comic Fest). What’s the advantage of immersing yourself in one of the smaller fan conventions?
We went in 2016. It isn’t affiliated with (San Diego) Comic-Con. So all the guests they have there aren’t contracted to be there. They come because they want to, which makes the atmosphere more comfortable I think. It wasn’t as crowded as some of bigger cons. It is in Phoenix, but the heat isn’t a problem because it is in the downtown convention center, which is huge! So everything is inside.
What were some of the highlights of your con experience?
Meeting so many “Doctor Who” actors! Billie Piper, Alex Kingston, Dan Starkey. We also got to meet Timothy Odmunson and Oded Fher, who thought he knew Tim from somewhere. Alex Kingston was my favorite to meet though, she is seriously the nicest person.
The selection of Pops there was also astounding! I found so many exclusives I was looking for, and they were cheaper then Amazon!
The best part though was when we stumbled upon an Aquaman panel. The one guy on the panel casually dropped that he was a writer for the show “Scream,” which Caitlin and I were currently obsessed with. I about died! So I found his booth the next day and got to talk to him about the show and what theories we had! It was one of the best parts of the whole weekend!
Are you planning to go back?
I would go back every year if I could. I really hope we can make it this year. The cast from “Guardians of the Galaxy” will be there, also Paige O’Hara! Plus William Shatner and Tim Curry. I would love to cosplay this time too.
What’s left on your geek bucket list?
To go to Disneyland in Paris! Maybe to go to San Diego Comic Con once. To start getting into cosplay.
To close, I must mention your adorable doggy, Falkor, just so we can include a photo of him. Tell me a little bit about this lovable real-life luck dragon.
He is crazy sometimes, but since we got our cat, Tonks, he has become the mature one. They are the best of friends. He is such a smart dog too! When he is outside and wants to come in, he knocks on the door. We didn’t teach him that, he just started doing it on his own! We just love him to pieces. I didn’t know his ears would stand up, otherwise we might have named him Ghost.
To begin, I’d like to thank you for giving women a voice to express their love of fandoms through fashion. I remember all too well the days when we had to make due with ill-fitting Star Wars T-shirts from the men’s section, or the thrift store, or our boyfriends’ closets.
Because of Her Universe and the geek fashion empire you’ve created, women have so many more options for self-expression and have been inspired to boldly and unashamedly celebrate their love of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Marvel, Studio Ghibli, and many other fandoms and franchises.
Your pioneering work in the geek fashion industry and your partnerships with Disney and Hot Topic place you in a unique position to create positive change, which is why I’m writing to you about a specific, industry-wide problem that geek fashion designers, manufacturers, and retailers need to address.
I’m talking about the fashion industry’s size problem, which makes shopping for clothes a source of frustration and discouragement for any woman who doesn’t happen to have the body of a teenager. (I’d say that’s most of us.)
Inconsistent sizing, lack of availability of plus-size products, higher prices for plus-size clothing, flimsy and unflattering fabrics and materials, and other related issues often combine to make shopping for geek clothes a fangirl’s worst nightmare.
Clearly, addressing and resolving these issues isn’t just Her Universe’s responsibility. I’m writing to you, Ms. Eckstein, because Her Universe markets itself as an inclusive fangirl fashion company and lifestyle brand that caters to a diverse spectrum of women.
Your brand prides itself on catering to women and girls of all shapes, sizes, and styles, from plus-size shoppers to kids. The company’s motto is “Fashion for Every Fangirl.” Too often, though, it seems the brand’s actual target demographic is an extremely narrow one, namely young women and juniors with a very specific body type.
My friends who wear plus-size clothing have been talking to me about their concerns for years. This Christmas, however, I had my first personal experience with the geek fashion size problem when my husband gifted me with Her Universe’s adorable, vintage-style Star Wars Endor Landscape Dress.
Since the picture of the model wearing the dress on the Her Universe website screamed “teen heroin chic” more than “40-year-old lady in a cosplay dress,” I probably should have been prepared for the fact that I couldn’t even get the zipper to close halfway on my medium-sized frock.
Now, I comfortably take a medium in every item of clothing I purchase, from T-shirts, to blouses, to dresses, so I was surprised, even shocked, and saddened that I wouldn’t be able to wear the dress to WonderCon as planned.
Around the same time, I was shopping on the Her Universe website for a gift for a family member. I found several plus-size dresses I knew she would adore, including designs from Doctor Who and Star Wars. Every time I clicked on a dress, however, I found that her specific size was out of stock. This happened over and over again, until I eventually gave up and went to another retailer’s site to find what I needed.
Now, it’s entirely possible the Endor Landscape Dress was designed for a younger, slimmer gal than me and I just didn’t realize it. And it seems geek fashion retailers have an ongoing problem with maintaining their plus-size stock, for whatever reason, be it demand or lack of supply.
But if the issue is that companies like Her Universe don’t in reality cater to a demographic of average-size women and plus-size fangirls, then the company needs to be transparent about that.
I polled my friends about their experiences shopping for geek fashion items and they all seemed to have disheartening stories that suggest this particular niche market is just as focused on youth and twiggy, anorexic beauty as the rest of the fashion industry.
By far, the biggest complaint I heard was about inconsistent sizing and labeling.
“I shouldn’t be a 3XL in a dress when I’m a large in a shirt from the same company,” said one of my friends.
Her solution? Switching from companies like Her Universe and We Love Fine to smaller outlets, like Elhoffer Design, that she feels care about her and her body.
Another friend who wears plus-size clothing recounted three failed attempts to purchase items from Her Universe, which culminated in a frustrating and overlong return process. She now has resolved to buy only shoes from the company.
Those I spoke to also described a constant struggle with thin, clingy fabrics and form-fitting cuts that are unflattering to their body types.
“See-through is not what I’m going for,” one of my friends said. “Also, I don’t want form-fitting. My fix for this is wearing men’s T-shirts instead. But it would be nice to have better options.”
Another major pain point for plus-size shoppers is the unavailability of desired clothing items, which always seem to be sold out or out of stock when they go to click and buy them.
“I think most times that I think to myself, maybe I’ll buy that, it’s sold out already,” a fellow geek shopper said.
Then there’s the fact that plus-size dresses and other clothing items tend to cost more than smaller-size items, which is just patently unfair and discriminatory. A quick glance at the Her Universe website reveals the cost of a plus-size dress can run about $10 to $15 more than the equivalent outfit in a smaller size.
The friends I polled mentioned lots of other things they’d like to see change in the geek fashion world, as well, including more dress-length options for taller fangirls and less gender-stereotyping when it comes to designs, like the over-feminized, flowery fashions that tend to be marketed to women and the edgier, artsier fashions targeted at men, for example. Why not make a wider variety of designs available to both genders and let fans decide for themselves what they want to wear?
I realize the problems I’m presenting to you won’t necessarily be easy to solve. Fangirls come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have lots of strong opinions. However, the fact that a large percentage of the female geek population isn’t being represented by companies that claim to represent them is a serious concern.
Ms. Eckstein, you’re at the forefront of the geek fashion world. If anyone can raise awareness and begin to address these issues, it’s you.
Many geeks use their passion for fandoms as a jumping off point for adventure.
This is certainly true of anglophile, Marvel movie enthusiast, dedicated con-goer, obsessive Disney visitor, and fearless traveler Christy Rooney.
I’ll admit it. This interview got a little bit long. Well, ok, a lot long. But only because I can’t resist vicariously going along on the epic adventures Christy has experienced, solo and with friends and family, while wholeheartedly pursuing her geekier interests and inclinations.
Yes, she’s visited every Disney theme park in the world … except one! Don’t worry. She’ll fill you in on all the juicy details below. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Walt’s spin-offs in Paris, Asia, and elsewhere.
She’s also made several other geeky pilgrimages abroad, instilling a healthy love of travel in her young daughter and son. She happens to be a patron saint of sorts to her friends who need cheering up in the form of photos of dreamy British men. And she’s one heck of a celebrity spotter, bumping into famous folks everywhere from the airport to IKEA.
Let’s join her — shall we? — on an adventure of a lifetime.
It seems to me that you embraced your geek identity a bit later in life, and by that I mean like in your 20s. Is that accurate?
I was in my 20s when I openly started showing my geeky side! But honestly I’ve always been a fangirl! (Cough. N’SYNC. Cough.)
How did you discover your geekier side?
As I mentioned, I’ve always been a fangirl, first with boy bands, but I’d say that my first true geek love (other than my lifelong Disney obsession) was J.R R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. After “Fellowship of the Ring” came out, I fell in love! I saw that movie in theaters seven times, and the others several times as well.
It was then that my room went from having NSYNC posters to a LOTR vibe. My dad had managed to bring home a poster big enough to cover my full-sized bed (which ended up attached to my ceiling because there was nowhere else to put it!) and I started filling my bookshelves with the trivia books, behind-the-scenes books, the movie soundtracks, and even a Galadriel doll.
It’s all been a big snowball since then, when Marvel started releasing their superhero films, I fell in love all over again! Iron Man, Loki, and Dr. Strange are some of my favorites.
So, you are a super Disney freak. I mean that in a nice way, of course. Going to the parks is a tradition for your immediate and extended family. How did that start?
I remember going to the parks once a year as a child. My entire family would pick a day and head over! This included grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins! We’re a fairly large group, but we made it happen! Now, several (at least 20) of us have season passes and go multiple times a month!
Tell me about the epic Disneyland trips you do.
Back in November, about 19 of us decided to try our hands at Disneybounding! My mom and cousin got the ball rolling, and we ended up having a great time finding our outfit pieces, and my mom made several pairs of custom ears to go with them! With that many people, we were thankful for my cousin, Cami, a school teacher, who can be decisive and get the group making plans and making them happen!
Even as I type this, we are headed to Disney tomorrow with a group of seven, which for most people may seem big, but for us is a small/normal size!
And next week, nine of us are headed to the park Disneybounding again, but all of us dressing specifically from “Tangled.” My mom is handcrafting new ears for ALL of us, and they are looking spectacular!
You’ve actually achieved the feat of visiting every Disney theme park in the world, except Shanghai. Tell me how that happened.
Haha! Owen and I were just talking about this. We’ve had passes for years, which took care of Disneyland. Then, in February of 2015, Owen had a work conference in Orlando at one of the Disney resorts. We decided that for this trip, the kids and I would join him! The timing was pretty great, because Gavin was still 2, which meant he was free.
In 2016, we had made plans to visit Owen’s Irish side of the family. And since Paris is such a short flight away, we decided to spend about four days in Paris itself before jumping over to Disneyland Paris! We had a blast!
My in-laws currently live in Japan (though they’re moving soon) and we decided to visit them over the holidays in 2017. We flew into Japan on December 22, and headed to Tokyo on the 26th. We were able to spend one day at Tokyo Disney Sea, and one day in Tokyo Disneyland.
A few days into the new year, Owen, the kids and I jumped on a plane from Tokyo to Hong Kong (because it was just SO CLOSE) and we were able to experience their park as well!
Would you briefly compare and contrast the various parks for us?
Each park is set up differently. It throws me every time!
Disney World was actually the most overwhelming for me. (It may have something to do with the fact that our kids were 2 and 4 at the time). It is MASSIVE. Everything is spread out, and it was the first time in decades that I’d needed to use a map in a Disney park. And, honestly, I hadn’t done the research I should have for the dining, Magic Bands, and a few other little aspects.
Paris’ Magic Kingdom was laid out quite a bit like ours, which was nice, and it was smaller than our park. Their second park, Walt Disney Studios, is close in proximity (like ours is) but doesn’t have as many rides or attractions. The big ride in that park is their “Ratatouille” ride. As soon as the park opened, everyone (literally everyone) rushed to get in line or try to score fast passes. Within half an hour of park opening, the line had already hit the three-hour wait time.
Tokyo’s Magic Kingdom was interesting. Instead of going through the gates and walking down Main Street, you walk through a covered … pavilion? It was almost a Main Street, but the whole thing is covered.
The day we went, it was pretty crowded, so we didn’t get to do all of the rides, but we spent a good portion of time in Fantasyland. Theirs is more condensed, while their Tomorrowland makes ours feel like a sardine can! We did get to see the Country Bear Jamboree there! And their Pirates of the Caribbean.
It’s fun to see what is consistent, and what they change on the rides. Their Teacups spin more easily, which makes for great spinning speeds! And the Haunted Mansion was great! It was still Christmas decorations, so Gavin was super happy about seeing all of his favorite “Nightmare Before Christmas” characters, but in different places, and I got asked about the various differences the WHOLE ride.
Tokyo Disney Sea was a whole different ballpark. I could not figure out its layout! It seemed to have shortcuts, big loops, and tunnels. Some of our favorite rides were Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Aquatopia (think Autopia, but with raft-like things) and their Nemo ride. Gavin was ecstatic to find that they had an entire Atlantis area. He loved the entire area.
Hong Kong only has one park, but the shuttle bus ride into it made us feel like we were headed into Jurassic Park. It was built into an isolated area that is surrounded by greenery of all kinds that grows super tall and lush.
Hong Kong is by far the smallest of the Magic Kingdom parks. It is laid out quite a bit like ours, but condensed. I think the strangest thing about that park was how empty it was! We walked onto the Iron Man Experience ride, which is exclusive to Hong Kong, and enjoyed being able to meander the parks without bumping into big crowds.
They also had a beautiful princess garden that has themed areas for different princesses that include large moving dioramas. All four of us loved their Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars (similar to Thunder Mountain), their Lion King Show, and Mystic Manor (our equivalent would be Haunted Mansion).
What are some of your favorite international Disney theme park memories?
Riding Teacups! That may seem like an odd favorite memory, but it is the one ride that we have ridden in every Magic Kingdom thus far. It’s a Small World and Pirates were in the running, but both Small Worlds were shut down for refurbishment, much to Gavin’s dismay, and Hong Kong doesn’t have a Pirate ride.
We’ve also enjoyed just spending time together doing something we all love. And the kids love to point out the differences in the parks. Gavin has asked several times why we don’t visit the dragon anymore, and i have to remind him that the dragon lives under the Paris Castle, and not our own. Another special memory is taking the time to take a family picture in front of the different castles. They are all different, and beautiful in their own right.
Which of all the parks is your favorite?
Oh, man! I would say that Disneyland is my favorite! It’s the original Disney park, and the one I know like the back of my hand. Our park may be little compared to some of the others, but for me it truly is one of my happiest places on earth.
Which park was the most challenging to get to or visit?
I still would say that Disney World was hard, simply because of the sheer size of the parks. And the parks weren’t super close to each other, the resorts, or their Downtown Disney area. But there was some minor difficulties in the Asia parks because we don’t speak the languages and the cultures are different. But I think the great thing about the Disney parks is the fact that even when you are completely lost, there’s a friendly cast member that can help.
Which attraction is your favorite?
Ugh, so many hard questions, Lavender! My favorite ride is Peter Pan. My favorite nighttime attraction is the Electrical Parade. We were able to do both of those in the Tokyo park and I adored them! There are some differences, but let me say, their Electrical Parade was amazing. And Peter Pan was such fun! We still soar over London (which is my favorite part of the ride) and help Peter fight Hook.
Which park has the best food?
Ohhhh, that’s tough. In Tokyo we ate at The Queen of Hearts’ Banquet Hall. They had various salads, chicken dishes and some awesome desserts. In Hong Kong, they have an entire restaurant that’s all Iron Man focused. Those meals were really good too! But I think my favorite places to eat are the Blue Bayou and Rancho del Zocalo in our own Disneyland!
Which park has the best merch?
In Tokyo, it’s SO strange! It’s as though Mickey has taken a backseat … . He may be in a different car altogether! Instead of Mickey ears, backpacks, shirts, etc., they have Duffy Bear. Mickey’s face may be on the sign, but Duffy rules inside the parks. I saw purses, backpacks, popcorn holders, ears, headbands, shirts, lanyards, hats, and stuffed animals everywhere. Mickey and his gang were spotted, but those sightings were few and far between.
I think I’m drawn more to our merchandise here in the states. We have so many stores inside and throughout the parks (instead of just near the gates) and our World of Disney shop has such a varying selection. The Tokyo Disney Store outside the park was about 85% Duffy merch, which, if you’re a Duffy fan, would be awesome. But all I wanted was a Disney shirt that said “Tokyo” and they were nowhere to be found inside or out of the park.
Which park is the weirdest?
I vote Disney Sea as the weirdest. We all loved it, but it was such an odd place. They have a volcano that “erupts” at night, they have an entire East Coast lobster village in one area, and rides that have nothing to do with Disney (like Venetian Gondolas, and Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage).
So when are you going to Shanghai?
Ahhh, the elusive Shanghai. We tried to see if we could add it to our trip, but it would’ve been too hard. Not to mention the added cost of visas. We are hoping to visit the Shanghai park if we visit Owen’s parents when they move to Taiwan. So if it were to happen, it would be sometime in 2019-2020.
You and your family are avid travelers. Have you visited any other famous geek spots in your many travels?
We have! In 2014, I dragged my poor husband all over London finding places related to the BBC show “Sherlock.” We ate at Speedy’s (the restaurant right next door to the famous 221B in the show), found the hospital where he jumped off the roof, and went to the real 221B on Baker Street.
On our Ireland trip, we did a day tour that took us up into Belfast, and the bus took us to The Dark Hedges (featured on “Game of Thrones”), a very famous road that looks absolutely forbidding even in daylight!
On your very recent trip to Tokyo, you visited the Studio Ghibli store. Please tell all.
In Tokyo, Studio Ghibli is huge. I mean … HUGE. While we didn’t get to go to the museum, there was a fabulous shop near where my in-laws live. I’ve just recently been introduced to this portion of the geek world, so I’m sure a true fan would’ve appreciated it far more than I did. But there were playing cards, blankets, bath mats, stuffed toys of all shapes and sizes, luggage, finger puppets, coin banks, key chains, and so much more! It was probably what a non-Disney person feels like when they walk into World of Disney for the first time. There was a lot to take in and see.
I think it’s really cool you’re teaching your kids to be travelers at such a young age. Do they share your geek interests? What are some of your mutual and individual nerdy fascinations and activities?
My kids love traveling! They definitely share my love of all things Disney, and are excited when we get to do something new. Disney is our biggest shared interest. Gwennie has her own love of My Little Pony, and Gavin has started taking an interest in DC villains (namely ClayFace and Mr Freeze). Someday, I’ll be dragging them to conventions with me, I’m sure!
You’ve enjoyed a career as a sign language interpreter. This may be a stretch, but has that work intersected with your geek life at all?
Interpreting hasn’t really intersected with my geek life. I’ve often enjoyed watching interpreters at both conventions and Disneyland alike. I’m always in awe of them, as a lot of random topics are brought up at conventions and the panels are sometimes insane!
You are a dedicated and very successful “stalker” of celebrities (not in an illegal way). Tell me about some of your top celeb encounters.
Hahaha! I’m definitely the type of person that likes to know what is happening in my nearby environment. I think because of that, I’m a people watcher, and I’m just constantly skimming over what or who is nearby.
I’ve run into George Newbern at The Grove in L.A., Kevin McKidd at IKEA, and saw a few celebs at Disneyland before I was brave enough to approach them.
I have also gone to a play to see James Marsters and do the meet and greet, and I’ve asked questions of several people at WonderCon: Richard Armitage (swoon) Chris Hardwick, the guys from the cast of “Orphan Black” (along with a meet and greet a different year) and a meet and greet with the several “Once Upon a Time” cast members.
I’ve also been lucky when wandering at some cons. My friend Jenna and I snagged pictures with Sean Maguire for “Once Upon a Time”, and I waited patiently at D23 to get a rushed selfie with Colin O’Donoghue.
But one of my favorites was when Owen and I went to New York and saw “She Loves Me,” starring Zachary Levi. He was awesome and came out after the show to sign autographs and take pictures. I had platinum and purple hair at the time, and he told me he liked it! (It may still give me warm fuzzies just thinking about it!)
My biggest celeb failing though … Colin Farrell. I saw him at the airport when we were headed to Ireland, but Owen convinced me it wasn’t him … until it was time to board and Owen realized I was right!
I have also discovered that a great way to see celebs up close is to go to show tapings.
Tell me about some of your favorite tapings.
I’ve found that getting tickets to “The Late Late Show with James Corden” and “Jimmy Kimmel” are great ways of seeing some pretty awesome people. I’ve seen Gary Oldman, Matt Smith, Michael Fassbender, Zoe Saldana, Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Jason Alexander, and several others.
You’ve slept outside at a convention before. Tell me about that experience. Was it worth it?
Oh, man. I was not prepared for that adventure!
My cousins and I were enjoying the D23 convention, and noticed (on Friday) that several people were already in the queue for events on Saturday. Now, one of my biggest obsessions is Marvel, and they were set to have a time slot in the big Live Action panel at D23. As the day went one, my cousins and I got more worried about the line, and after dinner we made the decision to swing by Target for some blankets, then our hotel room for some overnight necessities, and head back to the convention center.
By the time we got there, there were already tons of people in line (far more prepared than we were!), and the line twisted and turned around the outside of the convention center. We were fortunate in that they let us into one of the underground halls to stay the night (I think it had something to do with crowd control).
Let me tell you, concrete is HARD … and COLD. Because we were so woefully unprepared for this, all we really had was our blankets, while people around us had chairs, blow-up pool floats, mattresses and several other things that would have made that night more palatable.
It was an odd experience, because even when 90% of the people were sleeping, the lights were all on, and Disney movies were playing on several TVs throughout the room. I remember waking up in a panic and discovering that the explosions that woke me up weren’t real, but that the movie had switched from “Moana” to a Star Wars movie while I slept. I think I counted four to five different movies that night.
In some ways, yes, it was worth it. I think D23 has grown considerably, so to see these big panels with all my favorite people it was something I had to do. And this year’s Marvel presence was EPIC! So many stars (including Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr.) graced the stage. My poor cousin probably ended up with bruises from me slapping at her in excitement.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of geek culture or fandoms?
I would love to see more merchandise made by women and for women! I have a hard time finding things I can wear because I’m taller than what people assume geek girls are, so dresses tend to be on the short side.
And I’d love a bigger selection! I love what Her Universe has accomplished, but we need more. Hot Topic is great, but only if you fall into certain fandoms. Costumes need to be made more realistic for women.
And I think we need more movies like “Wonder Woman.” While I love all my Marvel boys, I want to see a movie about Black Widow, I want more of Scarlet Witch. I’m excited about Captain Marvel!
Amongst your friends, you’re known as a sort of patron saint of dreamy British guys who might send a few pics of Hiddles or Richard Armitage to cheer someone up or wish them well. How did that start? What is it about British dudes?
I admit I have a slight (or embarrassingly large) obsession with the Brits. I’ve always loved all things British. “Pride and Prejudice” has been my favorite book for as long as I can remember. And I absolutely adore British accents.
I have just stumbled upon more and more handsome men in all of my fandoms! I think I started sending them as a joke, and it became a thing. I enjoy picking one … or several Brits to send to people on their birthdays, or just for fun, or if someone is feeling down. Sometimes I’ll send them just to see what their response will be. Your husband has been on the receiving end of a birthday collage a time or two, though this year I took it easy on him.
Since you’re a serious anglophile, I have to ask: Why are so many geeks also anglophiles?
I think geeks are also anglophiles because so many geeky characters are either portrayed as British or are portrayed by British actors. “Doctor Who” is one of the most iconic examples I think. A madman in a box, constantly saving the world, yet oddly centralized in London. Captain Picard on “Star Trek: Enterprise,” also a British actor.
And we’ve had an influx of Brits playing our superheroes. Superman, Loki, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, to name just a few. I think in the geek world, we also like to know about the people playing our favorite characters, so I tend to dive into Google to see where people are from, etc.
Wholock is one of your major obsessions. How did you discover “Doctor Who,” and what do you like about it?
Ahhhh, “Doctor Who”! I honestly can’t remember who introduced me to “Doctor Who. But I love it! It has the same kind of “out there” feel as “Buffy (the Vampire Slayer)”, another of my favorites, but takes it a step further. It’s set mostly in or around the UK, which makes me supremely happy, and I like the story of a lone Time Lord traveling through space and time to save the world over and over. I think it would be awesome to be one of his traveling companions (Rose is the best, always).
Who’s your Doctor?
The Tenth Doctor is absolutely my Doctor. David Tennant is amazing in that role, and his regeneration just about killed me.
What about “Sherlock”? Benedict Cumberbatch is obviously a favorite of yours.
I have a very strong love/hate relationship with BBC’s Sherlock. I adore the show, I love the characters, and how they interact. I LOATHE that each series is only three episodes. And I HATE that it is so long between each series (generally around two years). With the main actors becoming a bigger presence in Hollywood … Marvel, I love you, but you’re making it hard for Benedict and Martin to have time for Sherlock!
I do love Benedict Cumberbatch! I stumbled across “Sherlock” on Netflix, during the hiatus between series 1 and 2. I’m fairly certain I binged the first three episodes, then threw a mental fit when I realized there weren’t any more. Not just the “Oh, I have to wait for Netflix to get the second series,” but the “WAIT, why isn’t it showing up as having a second series? HOLD ON A MINUTE! THEY HAVEN’T EVEN BEGUN FILMING?!?!?!?” kind of mental fit.
It’s been really fun watching the actors grow and change. Benedict looks like a baby in series 1! But watching him portray Sherlock got me hooked and I spent a long time seeing what else he’d been in, and seeing if I could find a way to watch them. I also spent a lot of time forcing my friends and family to watch, just so I’d have people who could commiserate with me during the hiatus (and maybe so I could discuss each and every little thing about the show … ).
Tom Hiddleston is another favorite of yours. You’re particularly fond of Loki. You have three sentences in which to defend the Asgardian villain. Go.
Hiddles is adorable. I need more than three sentences!
Okay, Loki has been raised by Odin to be a king, though Odin had no intention of ever letting him near the throne. Odin also made Loki’s life one big lie, when Odin stole him from his home planet and never told him he was a frost giant, which, incidentally, is the big scary monstrous villain in Asgard’s bedtime stories. All Loki wanted was some attention and approval from his father and brother, but was always cast aside in favor of Thor (when it came to Odin) and the Warriors Three (when it came to Thor). In short, everything Loki did was Odin’s fault.
I’d also better make it clear that my Loki knowledge is based on the MCU, not the comic books! That’s my disclaimer!
Are you a big fan of the Marvel movies? What do you like about them?
The Marvel movies are some of my absolute favorites. I’ve always been a fan of action movies, and I’ve liked Robert Downey Jr. since “U.S. Marshals” (a random movie, I know). When Iron Man came out, I was enthralled. It was epic. And each movie has been adding to the original story ever since. This is the MCU’s 10th anniversary, and it’s shaping up to be mind-blowing.
I have loved getting to meet new characters, seeing their backstories and struggles as they try to find their places in the wonderful and scary world of superheroes. The movies are really what opened my mind to the comic part of the geek world, and I’ve loved every minute of it. This year at D23, I was so excited to see 15 of the MCU’s stars grace the stage before seeing the first clips of the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer.
You’re also a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and you’ve met some of the cast. How did you discover the series? What’s the attraction?
“Buffy” may have been my first non-movie geek venture. I started watching it when my older brother did (based on his college friends’ suggestion.) I quickly became addicted!
“Buffy” is awesome because we follow Buffy, a high school girl with a calling to rid the world of vampires and demons, go through her life trying to be as normal as possible, all while battling various creatures. Vampires have always been an interesting topic for me. (Yes, I did go through a “Twilight” phase) But hands down, the Buffy vampires are way better.
Spike is my absolute favorite vampire. EVER. He’s British (Surprise! another British character!), sarcastic, and treats Buffy as his equal. He’s really the only male character in the show (in my opinion) that never underestimates what Buffy is capable of doing. Angel, Giles, and Xander constantly doubt her, which drives me nuts.
I was able to see James Marsters (Spike) in a play a few years ago! I paid extra for the meet and greet/Q&A session, and loved every minute of it. The play was supposed to also star Juliet Landau (another leading vamp on “Buffy”) but she had a scheduling conflict and wasn’t there the night my friends and I went. But we did see one of Buffy’s college roommates in the play also. It was a really fun night, and I’m pretty sure those memories are going to stick with me.
What other fandoms are you into?
I think we’ve covered all of my major fandoms, but I do have TV shows that would fall into fandom category. “Orphan Black” was a big one! It just ended last year, wrapping up a great series. I cried during the last episode (because it was super touching, and because I always mourn when my people won’t be returning).
“Grey’s Anatomy” is another one, though that is still ongoing. “The Walking Dead” is another fandom I love! We look forward to seeing Rick’s group struggle to survive every week.
Do you collect anything?
I have an ever-growing collection of Funko Pop! figures. I need shelves, desperately. And my drawers are full of geek shirts that are so numerous, I need more space.
What’s left on your geek bucket list?
I’d love to go to Prince Edward Island and see where Anne of Green Gables grew up. I long for the Lake District in England where Elizabeth stood regally looking at the scenery. I want to see Pemberley, and Cardiff, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. I want to wing my way to New Zealand and walk where the Hobbits, and wizards, elves and men came together to form the Fellowship.
What’s your next geeky travel destination?
Our next trip takes us to Alaska, and I know movies like “White Fang” and “The Proposal” were filmed there. I’m not sure if those count. But Shanghai’s Disney park is another option that could happen in the foreseeable future.
Will you send me some pics of hot British guys? I need some cheering up. Thanks.
Delia Wenzel has always been a little obsessive when it comes to the pop culture things that she loves.
As a child, she immersed herself in the toys of the ’80s. As a grown-up, she’s wrapped herself up in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and the creepy thrills of Halloween and horror movies. She has also discovered a true talent for creating vibrant, meticulously detailed, geek-tastic nail art.
You’re going to want to check out some of her amazing designs below, inspired by fandoms such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Stephen King’s “It,” and “The Walking Dead,” along with other passions, like bibliophilia and science.
You can see even more of her stunning nail art on her Instagram account, @iamdeliasnails, where she’s captured the attention of more than 9,000 followers.
Read on to learn more about Delia’s creative inspirations, her most unusual obsession (hint: he wore a stovepipe hat), her fondest fantasy (hint: it involves custom bookshelves), as well as the other impressive hobby that keeps her busy around Halloween time.
Your Instagram page, @iamdeliasnails, has more than 9,000 followers and features your nail designs, including many wonderfully geeky styles. How and when did you begin doing nail designs?
I think I’ve always loved painting my nails and I credit it with helping me quit biting them as a child but I didn’t really get into creating nail art until about four years ago.
Did you have any professional training or are you self-taught?
I’m completely self-taught. It’s all trial and error, mostly error.
What specifically prompted you to tackle some of the geekier designs, like those inspired by Harry Potter, Star Wars, Disney, and various horror franchises?
I guess being into geeky and literary things, it was just a natural progression to want those things represented on my nails. Some of my most favorite designs have been fandom designs and it’s so fun to express my love of certain fandoms on my nails!
What do you enjoy about this geeky form of self-expression?
I enjoy being creative and have always had to have creative outlets to express myself, such as cross stitching, fluid painting, and pumpkin carving, but I love nail art because I get ten mini canvases to design and it brings my love of writing, photography, art and geekiness all together in one place. They’re great conversation starters!
What are some of your favorite designs so far?
Some my favorite designs so far have been my Patronus nails, book nails, and Tardis in space, galaxy nails.
Where do you get your inspiration and design ideas?
Most times I have no idea where my ideas come from! They just pop into my head, usually right when I’m falling asleep, ha. I have an entire wall of polish right next to my bed so that may be why. Usually when I look at a polish bottle it just tells me what it wants to be. I also gets tons of inspiration from fellow nail artists on Instagram.
What materials/equipment do you use in creating your designs?
Aside from polish, my main tools are stamping plates and a silicone mat. The stamping plates are metal plates with images engraved on them for stamping images onto the nail and the silicone mat allows me to create designs and then apply them to my nails at a later time. It’s extremely helpful for reverse stamping and messier forms of nail art such as fluid painting and drip marble designs.
Do you design professionally or just for fun?
It’s just for fun!
You have a lot of Instagram followers! How have people reacted to your designs?
The nail art community on Instagram is so collaborative and supportive! I’ve made so many amazing friends because of it. Fandom-inspired manis definitely seem to get a bigger reaction but the overall response has been incredibly positive.
You’re a huge Harry Potter fan. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s novels?
I discovered Harry Potter almost at the beginning. The second book had already come out and there was a huge buzz about them. I didn’t pay that much attention because I thought they were “kid’s books” and being 21 or 22 and in the military at the time I didn’t picture myself reading kid’s books but an Army friend adamantly recommended them so I bought the first book and the rest is history!
What do you love about them?
Everything! That’s such a tough question because it’s hard to put into words but I think what it comes down to is friendship and good triumphing over evil. And of course magic, definitely magic!
How does your love of Harry Potter manifest itself in your life?
I guess my tendency to wear Harry Potter-themed clothing is an outward manifestation of my love for Harry Potter and specifically Ravenclaw house. I sometimes support Hufflepuff, as well.
It looks as if you spend a fair amount of time at the Wizarding World in Hollywood.
Yes! I call it my home away from home. I have had passes ever since it opened so I can go as often as possible.
You’ve described yourself as “bookish.” When and how did your love of reading develop?
My love of reading started very early. As soon as I learned to read, it’s been my number one past time. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book.
What are some of your favorite genres and titles?
I read a lot of YA, but I’d say my favorite genres are fantasy and mystery. My favorite series is probably the Unwind series by Neal Shusterman. I also really loved The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Of course, Harry Potter is a big one, as well as The Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice. I’m also a huge fan of Jane Austen.
Do you hoard books? If so, where do you keep them all?
I do hoard books! I have to buy all my books because I can’t bear to part with them after I’ve read them and I keep them anywhere I find room. It’s my dream to have a full floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall personal library in my home, preferably hidden behind a secret door.
What about your interest in geeky things in general? When and how did that begin?
I think I’ve always geeked out about things even as a child. I blame my obsessive tendencies. As a kid if I really liked something I became obsessed with it, watching a movie over and over again (I still do that) and collecting things. I loved to collect My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcakes, Barbies, Garbage Pail Kids and those plastic charm necklaces, especially.
Like so many book nerds, you’re also into Doctor Who. What do you enjoy about the series?
Aside from the Doctor himself, the idea of time travel has always captivated me. I can trace that directly back to seeing “Back to the Future” when I was a kid. I was obsessed. But the fact that the Doctor is always trying to help people is something I connect with as well.
Who’s your Doctor?
Definitely the eleventh!
Did you watch the Christmas special? What did you think?
I did. It was excellent but it’s always hard to say goodbye to the Doctor.
Are you looking forward to the new season?
Yes! As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Doctor, it’s always exciting to say hello to a new Doctor. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the first female Doctor.
You’re also a ‘Stranger Things’ fan. What are your thoughts on Season 2? (SPOILER ALERT!)
I absolutely loved season 2! Most especially because seeing my dreams of Jancy become a reality was so fulfilling. I shipped Jonathan and Nancy from the very beginning. It was nice to see the dynamic between Hopper and Eleven. I really enjoyed that.
Who’s your favorite ‘Stranger Things’ character?
Oh, I’m Team Jonathan all the way!
Tell me all your thoughts on Barb.
Justice for Barb!
You seem to like the horror genre a lot. Why?
Hmm, why? I don’t know, I guess it’s just really fun to be scared!
What are some of your favorite horror films/franchises?
The Friday the 13th series and the Scream series are my all-time favorites and I really loved two new horror movies that came out last year, “It” and “Happy Deathday.” Both were just fantastic.
Tell me more about what you thought of the “It” remake?
I loved it so much, I saw it three times in the theater. It was the perfect mix of horror and heart. I even did “It” nails!
With your interest in horror, it follows naturally that you’re also one of those fascinating people who loves Halloween. Do you go all out to celebrate this best of all holidays?
I try to! I decorate fully inside and outside and usually have my costume planned out several months in advance. I’ll watch horror/Halloween movies exclusively in October and paint only Halloween-themed nails as well, but pumpkin carving is probably my favorite Halloween activity.
You’re a masterful carver of geeky jack ‘o’ lanterns. How and when did you discover this art form?
Well, carving pumpkins was always something I looked forward to as a kid, even just those triangle eyes and a smile were so exciting to me. As a teen, I discovered those pattern books you could buy at the store and I started collecting them and it really ignited my passion for carving and I started doing a pumpkin carving party every year.
I would carve between seven and 10 fresh pumpkins every year and would keep them in the bathtub full of water and in the fridge to keep them fresh for as long as possible. When I discovered foam carvable pumpkins, it changed my life. I no longer had to worry about my pumpkins rotting and could start my carving much earlier and keep them indefinitely.
Around that time I also discovered online pattern sites through my friend and fellow pumpkin carver Stephanie Patterson. There are so many sites with patterns to represent nearly every fandom.
What do you enjoy about carving? Has this become an annual tradition for you?
There’s something so satisfying about it. It’s a very zen place for me. I enjoy the act of carving as much as displaying the finished product. It’s been an annual tradition for as long as I can remember.
What are some of your favorite designs that you’ve carved so far?
That’s hard because they’re all my favorite! I’ve done a Harry Potter series, Tim Burton, classic movie monsters, Doctor Who, and so many more. I don’t think I can pick a favorite.
What materials/equipment do you use for your carvings?
Aside from the pumpkins and patterns themselves, I just use some tiny little hand saws that I’ve had since the beginning. Stephanie recommended a hot knife and that has become a big time saver but I find it difficult for small details, so I only use it for larger straight areas and stick to my saws for the details.
Tell me about the elaborate displays/display walls you’ve created over the years.
It started off so small and cute and with a different theme each year — pirates, hayride, etc., but it was always my dream to create an entire wall of pumpkins. I finally achieved that goal a few years ago. Each year it grows some more as I’m always adding more pumpkins and it brings me such joy to see them all up on display.
How do the neighbors react when they see your pumpkins all lit up?
I think they enjoy it! Most have told me they look forward to seeing it and we get a lot of drive-bys and people taking pictures so I think others enjoy it as well.
What are some of your other fandoms?
I’m not sure I’d call this a fandom but I’m obsessed with Abraham Lincoln.
Does your family share your love of “geek culture?” If so, what are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?
Yes! My kids especially share my love of geek culture and we share a love of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, “Stranger Things,” Star Wars, Tim Burton, Jim Henson and horror movies. It’s so amazing to be able to share my geekdom with my kids.
Do you collect anything?
I collect too many things. Action figures, snow globes, Halloween villages, Lincoln memorabilia, Elvis memorabilia, anything Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Day of the Dead, and Frida Kahlo. Of course, I collect books and nails polish (I have nearly 1,000 bottles) and have started on that downward spiral that is collecting Pop! figures.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of fandoms and geekdoms?
I guess seeing more female representation would be good. We need more woman creating content. More women directors, too!
Is there anything else we should know about you (life, work, hobbies, etc.)?
I was a journalist/photojournalist in the Army Reserve, I’m a crazy cat lady and I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian.
What’s the next big release you’re looking forward to (movies, TV, books, etc.)?
For movies, I’m most excited for the next “Fantastic Beasts” movie and “Avengers: Infinity War.” For TV, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the return of “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones.” My “to-read” list is incredibly long but I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in The Casquette series by Alys Arden and the next Cormoran Strike novel.
Let’s close with some favorite Harry Potter questions:
Ravenclaw with a side of Hufflepuff.
“Prisoner of Azkaban.”
Most devastating character death?
Sirius Black, but I’m still not over Tonks and Lupin, Fred, or Dobby.
Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?
Favorite magical creature?
Favorite Harry Potter item you own?
Probably my street sign from Grimmauld Place, but my wand collection and Horcrux collection are way up there, too.
Are you excited about “Fantastic Beasts 2”?
Oh yes! I’m counting the days! I cannot wait!
What’s on your Harry Potter bucket list?
Definitely to visit the studios in London, Kings Cross, Platform 9¾, and anywhere else associated with the movies and Jo’s writing spot. I definitely want to go back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando because I haven’t been since they expanded it.
We’re starting 2018 with a bang and an interview straight off my wishlist.
After Robin Epley started a little Facebook page known as Drunk Austen, she asked her friend, Bianca Hernandez, to join her as co-admin, and the rest is history.
Drunk Austen, the social media community built on a love of novelist Jane Austen, hilarious, Regency Era-themed memes, and pics of hot guys from the Austen film adaptations, with a healthy dollop of pop culture, social commentary, feminism, and inclusiveness, recently celebrated 50,000 likes on Facebook.
The Drunk Austen community hit a fever pitch of Austen-worshipping goofiness over the holidays with clever seasonal memes, Star Wars mashups, and a challenge in which followers were urged to whisper the phrase “What excellent boiled potatoes.” — a la Mr. Collins — in the midst of awkward family gatherings.
Known as “Admin b,” Bianca isn’t just a devoted Janeite with a sly sense of humor, she’s also a self-proclaimed “grade A nerd” with a passion for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, including badass Jedi Mara Jade; a skilled seamstress who crafts everything from cosplay outfits to Regency ballgowns; a bibliophile who includes “everything” on her to-read list; and a connoisseur of Star Wars-themed cocktails.
Let’s follow her to Austenland, shall we?
Tell me about the origins of the Drunk Austen social media phenomenon. How did it begin and how did you become involved?
Admin R started Drunk Austen after seeing a viral video. She started with a couple of memes, and then I sent her some of my own since I was deep in escaping adult responsibilities (like reading theory for class, looking for jobs, etc.). She added me as an admin and it’s been a journey ever since.
You’re known as “Admin b,” alongside Robin Epley, who is “Admin R.” Explain your dynamic as co-admins.
We went to j-school together, that’s how we knew each other before Drunk Austen. We’ve just tried to have fun, but learned a lot along the way. As we’ve gotten older and our followers have increased, we’ve learned a lot about how to handle a social media community. We both have our soft spots (Admin R is a “Little Women” fan, while I inundate followers with Star Wars), but in the end it always has an Austen-vibe of some kind.
Do you remember your introduction to the novels of Jane Austen?
A used book at a library book sale. The cover was awful, but it called to me. I read it when I was maybe 12 or 13, but a lot of the sharp wit went over my head. I just didn’t know a lot about the era or literature of her time.
What prompted you to become a full-fledged Janeite?
I read more of her work as I got older, but I think re-reading certain novels at certain times solidified my love. Emma, a painful character, was someone I could really relate to as I was starting college. After college I related more to Fanny at times. I think my love of the novels really peaked beyond casual interest when I was in Los Angeles for grad school and found a local Jane Austen book club. They were welcoming and made the experience of reading her works richer through discussion.
Which of her novels is your favorite and why?
Oh man, it changes. I think right now I’m really intrigued by “Persuasion.” I don’t relate to Anne, but I’m working (slowly) on a modern retelling of it because I think certain themes really translate well to today.
Why do you think her novels have endured and, indeed, flourished to the point that there’s an entire Facebook page devoted to her with thousands of followers?
Again, each time you reread her, you get something new. Besides that? I think the community can be a wonderful experience. So many people bond through this shared love, whether it’s the purists who love her work, the people who adore the hunky men in movie adaptations or the fanfiction writers, they all like a different flavor of Jane and that’s totally ok. I think Drunk Austen has tried to be really welcoming to all flavors, and there are communities that focus on one aspect, which allows people to find micro-communities that suit them.
Drunk Austen is, of course, famous for its Austen-themed memes. I feel like the memes are extremely on point lately. Thanksgiving was epic! And I love your recent Star Wars/Jane mashups. How do you come up with the perfect meme? Where do you draw your meme-spiration from?
I spend a lot of time on the internet (literally, my career involves working on social media). I see a good meme in another place and think, “Add some Darcy or a potato and we’ve got gold,” or something similar. Honestly, all of my memes are made because they make me laugh. If someone along the way is also amused then I’ve done a decent job.
The “boiled potatoes” challenge was the best thing ever. What did you think of the reaction to that?
I was shocked. I mean, I knew we had a great community, but I was so gratified to know there were other people who were down to be as goofy as I am.
Drunk Austen is more than just a social media community. It’s a public service, helping Janeites cope with awkward family gatherings or pepping depressed followers up with threads of hot guys. And there’s a hefty dose of feminism, too. Is this intentional?
Yes. At first it wasn’t, and I know we kind of grappled with stepping anywhere outside of Austen. Jane wrote about awkward families and would definitely have been a feminist. So I think we felt like if it was in the vein of her work it was still good.
I know I posted whole lot of hot man photos on a certain election night because I was in need of something, anything, to make me feel anything other than devastated. The response we got was amazing. Knowing that seeing a man with overgrown sideburns and a wet shirt brought joy to someone across the globe made me feel a little less like everything was crap.
Drunk Austen regularly navigates many Janeite controversies, such as who is the best movie Mr. Darcy or which is the best adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice”? How do you handle these hot-button issues?
We tell out followers to keep it civil when we do bring up those topics, but if we didn’t bring it up for discussion we have zero-tolerance for bashing other people’s favorites. We’re all here to love Austen, why divide ourselves over who is a more perfect Darcy?
Aside from your admin duties, you’re also involved with the Jane Austen Society of North America. Tell me about your participation in that group.
I was the Regional Co-Coordinator for my region, but recently stepped into the Secretary role. I volunteer a lot of time in making sure we have meetings that run smoothly and appeal to our members. It’s honestly just a fun way to get the local community socializing and learning together. I also started two Jane Austen book clubs that are still running (without me!) today.
You’re a self-described “book hoarder.” Were you into books as a child? How did your love of reading begin?
I was a late-reader. I was really, really shy and had undiagnosed vision issues in first and second grade, but I was too scared to speak up about not being able to see the whiteboard. My teacher at the time didn’t notice or try to intervene, just kept doling out my bad grades. My grandma was a teacher and finally realized there was something wrong. After I got glasses and a more understanding teacher, it was a love affair. I dominated library summer reading programs and always have a book or two somewhere on my person.
What are some of your all-time favorite books?
I have a book for every mood. If I need to be angry it’s Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman.” If I want to feel the magic of being young I go to Harry Potter or “Sabriel” by Garth Nix. I cannot say enough good things about Gail Carriger’s “Prudence.” Then, of course, there’s Jane Austen’s works, with “Persuasion” whisking me away every time I open it.
What are you reading now?
Tamora Pierce. I’ve put off reading her works and recently took a swordfighting class that reminded me I needed badass ladies to look up to.
What’s on your to-read pile?
Everything. I actually want to reread some classic Star Wars books in 2018, then tackle the Shakespeare plays I never got to.
On your website, you describe yourself as a “grade A nerd” who once made a reference to “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” on your business card. What was the reference?
It’s a phrase I need daily. “Don’t panic.”
Tell me your nerd origin story. When did you embrace the “geek lifestyle”?
Picture this: Junior High. Library. I was in braces AND glasses. I think those were the years where I just knew I wasn’t going to be athletic or really into punk-rock. I was just going to read all the Expanded Universe books I could get my hands on.
Drunk Austen followers can’t help but notice that you are very into Star Wars. What’s your personal Star Wars saga?
My story isn’t worthy of a crawl across the screen. A substitute teacher showed one of the films in class and I was so intrigued I bought the movies as soon as I could. The prequels were my first intro, but it was the original trilogy AND the EU books that got me hooked. I was totally in it for the badass women (lightsaber wielding ones at that!).
Tell me about your discovery of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in junior high.
Another library book sale. I stumbled on the Thrawn trilogy and was excited for more Star Wars in my life. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey into EU.
You once created your own Mara Jade Jedi costume for Star Wars Celebration. It passed approval for both Rebel Legion and Saber Guild. That’s quite an accomplishment. Please elaborate about that experience.
I always like Mara because she was a badass lady with a purple lightsaber. I’d never been to Celebration, so I threw together a cheap costume for the con. I was so thrilled by how many people recognized the character. I got back and decided to make an accurate costume that I could get approved for costume groups. I’m not thrilled with wearing a catsuit, but I do feel kind of like a badass when I wear it.
You’ve sewn many costumes for yourself, including a Hamilton-themed ball gown and other historical outfits. What do you enjoy about that?
I like sewing for fun and for my Etsy store. It’s fun to learn to make full gowns and teach yourself new skills related to that. It’s a challenge, but in the end I can feel empowered dancing in my newest creation.
What’s challenging about it?
Teaching yourself new skills and being patient about it. I look at the first projects I ever took on and then the ones I have done over the last year and see a huge difference. It takes time to get good at something.
Have you done other geeky cosplays besides Mara Jade?
Ilana from “Broad City.” Prudence from Gail Carriger’s books. Agent Carter. Doctor Aphra. Probably many, many more.
Is it my imagination or did you attend the “Last Jedi” premiere?
What are your thoughts about “The Last Jedi”?
It was like an EU book come to the big screen. It’s not my favorite movie, but I really enjoyed it and can admit it was great.
Why do you think fans are having a collective meltdown over the film?
Because tons of folks have made followings based on their theories out of “Force Awakens,” and this movie ties up so many loose ends. What do they have to talk about now? I guess just their annoyance with the movie? I’m pretty tired of the kind of weak arguments for why this movie is bad. It’s just different, and that’s fine.
You recently called out the Star Wars community for its lack of support for women. I applaud you for that. Why did you decide to say something?
When I was first really into Star Wars as a teen I had a gender-neutral screen-name because even back then it was pretty hard to be a lady-fan in that community. Now, though things have gotten a bit better, I’m just really fed up with seeing blatant sexism. The post I called out was trying to act like it wasn’t a sexist argument, but it was, period. I was on the fence about doing anything, but I can’t sit back and watch this keep happening. I can’t let another generation of lady-fans feel like they’re being attacked.
And now for a serious question: Porgs. Yes or no?
Yes. All the porgs. Especially the giant Target exclusive porg that I technically won, but never received!
You seem to be pretty into Star Wars-themed cocktails. What’s your favorite?
There’s a blue milk cocktail made by one bartender in San Francisco. I’ve had others, but his is legit because he garnishes it with peach rings.
Can you draw any parallels between Star Wars and Jane Austen?
I think we’ve done a couple Star Wars/Austen mashups before, and I think it works because Jane Austen wrote about real people and Star Wars has characters that are pretty relatable too. Luke is really naive and gets thrown into adulthood with no guidance, something a lot of Austen heroines have to face. C-3PO bears a striking resemblance to the awkward properness of Mr. Collins.
What other fandoms are you into?
I love Agent Carter, Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
What’s the next big release you’re looking foward to (movies, books, TV, etc.)?
Oh man, I feel so behind in major media right now. I think the one thing I’m actually stoked for is the new adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” just because I have no idea what they’ll do with it. Besides that I think “Black Panther” and the Han Solo movie are the only things I’ll be dragging myself to the theater to see.
What’s left on your Jane Austen bucket list?
I haven’t visited Chawton or her resting place, so I guess that’s what I’d still need to do.
One of the questions I’ve been pondering lately is why do so many geeks also happen to be anglophiles? If anyone can help me answer this, it must be you. Thoughts?
I think the UK has a rich history, a literary legacy and some powerhouse nerd communities (like Whovians). That helps.
I think a lot of it is exposure too. If you’re raised knowing only English, and there’s a whole country that has content in English, it’s easy to get into. If there’s some cool content in French, but you don’t know French, you aren’t as likely to take time to learn it or find translations if they aren’t readily available. I have a limited understanding of Spanish, so I enjoy some shows and authors, but don’t participate in communities because I’m just not fluent enough.
I think access is also a factor. Masterpiece distributes a lot of UK shows to the US and a lot of people have BBC America now.
I hereby mandate that, from now on, the role of the cool female scientist in every science-fiction movie be played by Keri Bean.
Keri, aka Twitter’s @PlanetaryKeri, has more nerd cred than anyone I’ve met.
I can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness of her educational background (studying the weather on Mars), job (at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and hobbies, which involve everyone’s favorite droid, R2-D2, and everyone’s new favorite Star Wars heroine, Rey.
At JPL in Pasadena, Keri works on Mars rovers; the Dawn, which is orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres; and other fascinating space missions. She’s also part of the lab’s outreach team, making the science accessible to the general public.
In her downtime, Keri has quite the obsession with a certain sassy, blue-and-white Astromech droid. As a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club, she and her husband built their own functioning R2 unit, which goes well with Keri’s other hobby, cosplaying as Resistance Rey with the Rebel Legion club.
And though we didn’t discuss it because it occurred after this interview, Keri was recently at the premiere of “The Last Jedi,” where she met Daisy Ridley, who signed Keri’s Porg.
You work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. It sounds like the best job ever. What do you most enjoy about it?
It absolutely is the best job ever! From the moment I was exposed to what JPL does when in high school, I knew I wanted to work there. I’ve now been working at JPL for over four years, and I still get excited to come into work every morning. I often can’t believe I work here. I think my favorite aspect is that I get to work with some of the best, brightest, and most passionate people in the world. Where else can you work on Mars rovers??
For the sake of laypeople like me, I’m going to ask you to explain some things — or maybe everything — about what you do. You’re a missions operations engineer. What does that entail?
My job is to operate spacecraft and tell them what to do. Since I have a scientific background, I focus a lot more on what’s called science operations. That means I spend a lot of time making sure as much data is taken as possible so scientists can use it to make amazing discoveries.
Currently, you’re working as a science planning and sequencing engineer for the Dawn mission. The Dawn is orbiting and exploring the dwarf planet Ceres. Could you explain your role in the mission?
So we use bits of code we call sequences to control each spacecraft. On Dawn, my prime responsibility was to work with the instrument teams to develop the sequences that would fulfill the science objectives safely. I am part of a small, four-people team that designs and executes all of the science data acquisition.
What information about Ceres has the mission yielded so far?
So, so much! Before Dawn arrived, all we had were these small fuzzy pictures of a round object. We found a large amount of evidence towards water ice, organic molecules on the surface, a transient atmosphere, and so much more! You can find out more at https://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.
You are the tactical uplink lead and mobility/instrument deployment device engineer for the Mars Explorer Rovers. What do those titles mean?
The Tactical Uplink Lead means you are in charge of the team planning the activities on Mars that particular shift. It’s a very mentally intense job because you have to remember a lot, make tough decisions, and more under a time crunch. I find it really satisfying. I get to tell a Mars rover what to do!
The latter role (we often shorten to Mob/IDD) is a downlink analysis role. After the rover drives or uses its arm, I’m one of the people that looks at the data and figures out what actually happened, did the activities complete safely, etc. It’s one of the first steps towards becoming a Mars rover driver!
That must be an exciting mission to work on! Tell me about that experience.
Opportunity, and her past twin, Spirit, were actually the first missions I worked on when I was an undergrad. I’ve been on and off the team since 2007! Both my undergrad and master’s thesis were based on data from Spirit. And now I’m a part of the Integrated Sequencing Team, and one of my responsibilities is also training people new to the mission on how to operate it. It’s a dream!
I read that you were interested in weather as a child and watched the Weather Channel a lot. What was it about the weather that fascinated you?
I wish I knew! It was an innate draw.
I also read it was the 2003 Columbia disaster that sparked your interest in space exploration. Tell me about that.
I remember being at a Texas statewide academic competition called UIL, and they brought all the students into the auditorium. They announced the space shuttle had broken up over Texas and we had a minute of silence. I remember being angry. Not at what had happened, but why didn’t I know we had a space shuttle around Earth at the moment? I knew of the ISS, but what were they doing up there?
As soon as I got home I started reading as much as I could about space. My interested really got locked in a few years later when I got to witness in person the STS-114 launch, the return to flight mission post-Columbia. I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, the following two years. Between all of that, I got the space bug hard.
You attended Texas A&M University because it enabled you to combine your love of weather and space. You studied with Dr. Mark Lemmon whose focus is weather on Mars. Please tells us, are all the movies about Mars terribly accurate?
Mostly not. But you know, they’re movies and for entertainment! I’m willing to separate fact from fiction. “The Martian” is the closest I’ve seen to accurate, although even that has flaws.
If you could tell us only one fact about the weather on Mars, what would it be?
You were able to work on several NASA missions as a student. What did you discover about yourself during this experience?
I found a couple of things. One thing was that I enjoyed astronomy as a hobby and not as a profession. I also found that I really like working with a team. A lot of my school experience was sitting in a cubicle by myself coding, and I just didn’t like the social isolation. I’m glad I got to experience spacecraft operations, as that was the balance between having a cool technical job while requiring social skills and interacting with people on a daily basis.
Are there many women working in your field?
A lot, actually! On Dawn, my manager, in the Science Operations Support Team, is a woman. Our deputy principal investigator and project scientist are women. On my JPL management side, almost all the managers up the chain are women. On MER, women rule! Up until very recently, all Tactical Uplink Leads were women for many, many years.
Right now, our lead systems engineer, lead Rover Planner (aka Mars rover driver/arm operators), and lead Mobility/IDD are all women as well. We also have more women Rover Planners than men. It’s quite often that mostly women staff the tactical team on Opportunity. I’ve seen quite a few shifts where there has only been one guy! But I also know that my experience is an anomaly, and I know many other women who tell me they’re the only women working on the team or in their job type. So while things aren’t perfect, I think there’s tremendous progress at JPL.
You’re a member of JPL’s Advisory Council for Women. How did you become involved with that? What does the council do?
So I try and help out with events that the Advisory Council for Women puts on. They have a yearly banquet (and this past year I nominated my best friend and STEM outreach extraordinaire Dr. Nicole Sharp to be the guest of honor, and she was!) and also do other events on lab.
You also do a lot of public speaking and outreach. And you’re an Internet celebrity with a big Twitter following @PlanetaryKeri. How did you get started in outreach? Why does it appeal to you?
I like people! A lot of my job is “translating” between the scientists and engineers, and that skill allows me to translate for the general public as well. I know there are so many people that want to do what I do, so I feel being public about it on social media is the best way to get people to experience what I do.
I could probably ask you about your job all day long, but I’d like to move on to another very important topic: Star Wars. You’re a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club. For those who are unfamiliar with the group, what is the purpose of the club?
The club is for those who want to build their very own Astromech!
How did you become involved with the group? Are there many female members?
I met a member who had built his own R2. I don’t know what it was, but when I saw R2 in person, I just knew I had to have my own. Luckily my husband was immediately on board, saying it looked like a fun engineering project. I wanted to wait a bit until I had a house, but then I saw all the droids in the droid builder’s room at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim and I just couldn’t wait anymore. I went home and ordered my first part that night. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many women in the club, but there are some! There’s now a group called Stardust Builders Initiative that spans over all the builder clubs (so BB-8, Mouse droids, etc.) and there’s close to 100 women or female-identifying people in the group.
You built your own R2 unit. Tell me about that process.
Oh gosh, where to begin?
It’s a long process. Most people take two to three years to build their droid. Mine was two years and a month. I had joined the forum and been reading for a good six months before I bought my first part, and that time isn’t included in that two years and one month duration.
My husband’s skills and mine complemented each other well. I took care of figuring out ordering parts, making sure they were cut/sanded/painted appropriately, etc. My husband has a background in electrical and computer engineering, so he did pretty much all of that. We still had a lot of help from friends! In fact, I have been having anyone that contributed sign the back panel of my droid.
It took a lot of nights and weekends to build. Honestly, over a year of that time was just waiting to get enough parts to actually assemble the droid. The first part we got was the dome, so we actually had our dome nearly complete in the first month of our building process. Then we had to wait a long time to get a frame, legs, and feet so we could actually assemble and stand R2 up. Once we could stand R2 up, things went pretty quickly. The last three months or so of building were pretty constant.
Once the droid is built, what do you do with him? Does the club do events? I’ve seen them at conventions and the droids are always a big hit.
I’ve only had my droid done for about six months now, so he hasn’t done a lot. We actually had a big, big push to finish because I had signed us up to troop at Legoland for their Star Wars weekend!
So we finished very late on Monday night on Memorial Day weekend, did a “soft opening” troop that Friday at a local school, then on Sunday was Legoland! It was super stressful but absolutely worth it since I got to troop as Rey with my droid there. I’ve brought my droid to JPL a few times and he is well-loved there. My husband and I want to make some more refinements before we really take him out and about more. Droids are never really done!
Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you become a fan?
My first memory of watching Star Wars was in a car on a tiny 8-inch TV screen with an attached VHS tape player as my mother drove me across the country. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was in elementary school. The copies I watched were ones my parents had recorded from on air in the ‘80s, so commercials and everything.
So I liked Star Wars, but it wasn’t my main obsession until recently. I mean, I always gravitated towards the droids and had a small collection of R2-D2 things and I went to the midnight premiere of the prequels. But it wasn’t until I met the R2 builder that my love really expanded. “The Force Awakens” compounded that. I connected with Rey long before the movie came out. Now I’m hooked!
You’re a member of Rebel Legion, specifically the SoCal Sunrider Base. How did you discover the Legion?
I don’t remember exactly, but I have been going to comic cons for quite some time and probably first heard of them at one. I knew about them for years, but never had a strong desire to join since I didn’t have costumes that were up to requirements. I had a lot more fun costumes, like a feminine Han Solo, R2-D2 themed Jedi outfit, etc., that aren’t what the Rebel Legion is for. I finally decided that I would get a Rey costume up to snuff and join not only to enjoy being Rey, but also to find events to take R2-D2 to as well. The R2 builders aren’t organized in that regard like the Rebel Legion and 501st are.
What requirements did you have to meet to join the group?
Since I knew I wanted to be Rey, I had to pick which Rey costume to focus on. I really like her Resistance Rey (gray vest outfit), so I focused on that one first. I read the requirements listed on the Rebel Legion website and went from there.
Resistance Rey is an amazing character. Why did you choose her?
I just really connected with Rey in a way I have never connected with a fictional character before. She has so much of my personality and we share a lot of common traits. I eventually want all of Rey’s costumes, but I started with Resistance Rey because I loved the vest!
Was it a challenge to put the costume together?
Yes, especially since I don’t sew! I’ve tried to learn many times but I just can’t seem to do it. So I had to wait for the movie to come out then find someone willing to make it to RL standards on Etsy. I picked pieces from a few different vendors, and luckily it all worked out.
A large part of Rebel Legion’s mission centers around charity and volunteer work. What are some of the events you’ve participated in?
I joined in January of this year and I’ve already done 18 events! I tried to pick more STEM-focused events since that’s what I’m passionate about. The highest profile events I’ve done were Legoland and Star Wars night at Angel Stadium. My first two troops were back to back for a STEM workshop for Girl Scouts. Another fun one was the El Centro Airshow since there were a lot of fun planes to take pictures in.
What kind of reactions do you get when you show up as Rey?
Rey is so popular, so I get a big response! I was a little worried that since this version of Rey is in so little footage in “The Force Awakens,” I wouldn’t be recognized. Luckily, I haven’t had that issue. Maybe it’s her distinctive hair that helps. Either way, I’m well received! It’s especially fun if I get to troop with a Kylo Ren and we play off of each other.
The little kids always think I actually am Rey, so I get to act a little bit and act like Rey for these kids. At my first troop, a young girl approached me asking me what my favorite food was. I said I had only ever eaten Unkar Plott’s portions, so I asked what her favorite food is. She said spaghetti. I said I had never heard of it, so what was it like? She said it was a plate of noodles. I asked what noodles were since I had never heard of them. At that point I could see the gears turning in her eyes and her blanking out so I said, “Ok, ok, I’ll look it up in the Resistance database. So cute!
When I was at Angel Stadium, I locked eyes from a distance with a small boy, maybe 3 years old? Anyway, he started sobbing and I had no idea what to do. His parents comforted him, and after a minute he bolted straight to me and wrapped himself tightly around my leg and through his sobs I heard something like, “Don’t let Kylo hurt you. I love you too much,” so I comforted him and told him the Force is strong with me and I’ll be ok. It was super touching.
Are there other characters you’d like to portray in the future?
I’m working on a few other costumes, but no other named characters besides Rey yet. I’ve got a Jedi and a Rebel Fleet Trooper costume in the works. I might do one of Jyn Erso’s because I really like her style.
Are you excited about “The Last Jedi”? It’s almost here!
I’m super excited! I’m excited to see where Rian Johnson takes us, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where Rey goes on her journey.
You once gave a talk about the Dawn mission to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Please tell me about that!
Through the R2 builders, I ended up meeting someone who works at ILM and he invited me for a tour any time I was in San Francisco. So, of course, I had to go visit as soon as possible! My husband and I took a mini vacation up there. When coordinating my visit, I asked if he thought there would be any interest in me giving a talk about Dawn while I was there, and the rest is history! I’ve now visited a couple of times and it’s really fun every time. Once I even visited Skywalker Ranch … and when checking out at their store I met Dave Filoni!
What other fandoms are you interested in?
I think it’s obvious Star Wars is my main thing now, but I also like Star Trek, “Doctor Who,” “Battlestar Galactica,” Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” and probably more I can’t remember right now. I’m not a huge comic book person, but I did like the Christian Bale “Batman” trilogy and the “Wonder Woman” movie. I used to really be into anime in high school but that faded when I went to college.
As a kid you were into Disney movies. Are you still a Disney nerd?
I’d say so. I go to Disneyland once or twice a year. I have watched a lot of the recent movies (for example, I just saw “Moana” over Thanksgiving break).
You once gave talks about Star Wars science and Dawn at Gallifrey One, the Doctor Who convention. Are you a Whovian?
A little bit! One of the things my husband and I want to do is have our R2 cosplay as a Dalek at the next Gallifrey One. Last year, I attended as Jakku/Scavenger Rey but used 4th Doctor scarf-patterned arm sleeves. That was well received.
I have to point out that there is a YouTube video in which you talk to Morgan Freeman about science. Morgan Freeman! How did that happen? Did you ever recover from it or do you still hear that magnificent voice in your head?
So the JPL media office contacted me that he would be doing an event at JPL and I had been picked to ask him a question in advance, since he wanted all questions pre-screened. So I asked him about how to do more casual outreach to reach the general audience without formal events like talks. It led to a bit of an interesting discussion. It was pretty neat. And the voice in person is just as awesome as you’d expect!
You’ve done so much professionally and personally. What is still on your career bucket list?
Well one thing I never expected to get to do is become a Rover Planner, as I thought that was mostly for robotics/computer science people. But I’ve now begun down that path, and over the next few years I’m working towards becoming one for Opportunity. So I guess there’s only crazy things left. Director of JPL? Astronaut? I don’t know! All I know is whatever I do, I’m going to have fun along the way.
What is on your geek bucket list?
I want to head to Ireland and hike Skellig Michael in my Resistance Rey outfit!
Let’s close with a few key Star Wars questions:
Is R2 the droid you were looking for?
Besides R2, obviously, who is your favorite droid?
I think next I’d pick Chopper. I love the snark. K-2SO is almost tied on that front.
If you could visit any Star Wars planet, which would it be?
Definitely Ach-To. So pretty! And Porgs!
The Han Solo spin-off. Terrible idea or should we give it a chance?
I think we should give it a chance. I trust the people working on it to make it great!
As a girl, filmmaker Marisa Stotter followed her older brother into the local comic book shop for a Magic: The Gathering tournament, and found herself browsing the shelves, igniting a spark that would grow into a full-fledged comic book habit in high school.
Years later, she would illuminate the hidden history of women’s contributions to the industry in the empowering documentary “She Makes Comics.” (Read a review here.)
The film sheds light on the achievements — not to mention the discrimination faced by — female writers, artists, fans, and creators. It also features interviews with power players in the comic book world, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Jenette Kahn, and Karen Berger.
After touring film festivals and other events around the world and winning a major award at San Diego Comic-Con, “She Makes Comics” recently made its debut on Netflix. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you should remedy that immediately. You can also view it on Amazon and iTunes.)
As a fan, I’m ecstatic that Marisa graciously agreed to discuss the making of her documentary, along with other fun and geeky subjects, including her history with Dungeons & Dragons, the “Wonder Woman” movie, her “Doctor Who”-themed short film, and “Stranger Things.”
What sparked the idea for the documentary “She Makes Comics”?
I was working with Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect! Films on a couple of comics-related documentaries, one on Chris Claremont and one on Image Comics. As those projects started to wind down, we discussed what to focus on next.
At the time (fall 2013), the Internet was abuzz with discussions about sexual harassment, discrimination, and other issues facing women in the industry. Against this background, it seemed like the right time to produce a documentary celebrating women in the comic book industry, although we also wanted to touch upon the discrimination that they face.
The seeds for the project were sewn when you were an English major at Wesleyan University. First of all, English majors rock. Second, tell me how the documentary began to take shape during this time.
I think my English education provided me with a great advantage going into the project. Although I did not specifically study comics as part of the English department’s curriculum, the critical reading and analytical skills I honed at Wesleyan proved to be useful as we studied the history of women’s contributions to comics and used that research to flesh out the arc of the documentary.
You were first introduced to the mysteries of the comic book shop by your brother, but it took you a while to jump into buying and reading comics. Tell me more about that.
Like most younger sisters, I wanted to do everything that my older brother did, and that included playing Magic: The Gathering, the card game, as a kid. A local comic book shop in my hometown hosted tournaments on Saturdays that my brother and I would participate in. I wasn’t very good at the game so I’d lose early on and kill time until my brother was ready to leave by browsing the comics rack. That’s when I first became interested in comics — I think one of the first that I picked up was a “Simpsons” comic since I recognized the characters.
What were some of your formative titles as a young girl?
I didn’t read a ton of comics as a kid, just the occasional “Simpsons” or “Archie” comics and some kid-oriented Batman comics. It was in high school that I began to read comics more regularly and developed my own personal tastes. As a freshman in high school, I read “Persepolis” and “Maus,” which really blew me away. They showed me that the medium could tell any kind of story, and they were particularly appealing to me as a student of literature. I did also get into superhero comics, but those graphic novels broadened my understanding of comic storytelling.
Are you still a comic book reader? If so, what titles are you into now?
I do still read comics, although I don’t have the time to read as much as I’d like to. I’m in a catch-up period reading some comics I missed in the past few months. I’ve been catching up on “Paper Girls” by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, which I absolutely love. And I’m catching up on Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Bitch Planet.”
What sort of research did you do before you began production on “She Makes Comics”? How much did you already know about the subject?
We were fortunate enough to have on board our creative team Karen Green, the curator of comics and graphic novels at Columbia University’s Robert Butler Memorial Library. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the medium. Karen was enormously helpful as we began researching for the project, suggesting interview subjects and particular works for us to focus on. I was already familiar with some of the people we were planning to interview, but I learned plenty more as we conducted our research.
Why aren’t people generally familiar with much of the history of women in comics presented in your doc?
Women’s contributions to comics aren’t as well-known as those of such legends as Stan Lee and Will Eisner. I think there are a lot of elements that factor into that, but perhaps the biggest reason is that comics has long been considered a medium for male readers, so it is assumed that men are the main creative forces behind them.
How did you go about making your list of interviewees? Was it a challenge to land any of the interviews for the film?
We initially had a very long “wish list” of interviewees that we then narrowed down as the film took shape. Patrick and Jordan had existing relationships with some of the people we wanted to interview from working on their previous documentaries, and Karen personally knew a number of people and facilitated getting in touch with them. We were fortunate that just about every person we contacted was interested in and excited by the project. In some cases we couldn’t overcome logistical obstacles, but we certainly made every effort to get the interviews that we felt were important for the film.
Was there one interview in particular you geeked out over?
I’m a huge fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work, and she’s a pretty big superstar in the comics world, so having the opportunity to interview her was really special. I was fortunate enough to get a duck-face photo with her, too!
You funded the film via Kickstarter. What was your crowd-funding experience like?
The “She Makes Comics” campaign was my very first experience with Kickstarter, and it was quite the wild ride. It was equal parts thrilling and stressful, given that we had a 30-day window in which to achieve our goal. I honestly had no idea what to expect at first — I wasn’t sure if the project would strike a chord with potential backers, or if there would be a backlash given the subject matter.
Fortunately, we received very positive feedback early on, and as the press began to cover the project, we saw an incredible outpouring of support. Managing the campaign, however, was a full-time job in itself. We constantly updated the campaign page with new rewards and communicated with backers on a daily basis, while we continued to spread the word about the campaign via press coverage, fan sites, and social media. I was on edge until we reached our goal, which was both an exhilarating moment and quite the relief.
You also worked with the Sequart Organization. Tell me about that organization and how were they involved with the film.
Sequart is an organization promoting comics literacy and the study of comics in academia, so it was a natural partnership given the nature of our project. Sequart had previously been involved in Respect’s other comic-related documentaries, so Patrick and Jordan had an existing relationship and had no trouble getting them on board with “She Makes Comics.”
Let’s talk about the actual documentary shoot. What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Our biggest challenge was coordinating the logistics of the interviews, since the people we wanted to interview lived all over the world. We attended several comic conventions where we were able to conduct a number of interviews in one location, but even then it was difficult to coordinate with many creators’ busy schedules.
What did you enjoy most about the shoot?
I think I had the most fun shooting at comic conventions. I love to wander around the exhibition floor at a convention and just take in the sights, particularly the creative cosplay. We shot a lot of b-roll footage of amazing female cosplayers, and I was especially excited whenever we met a young girl in a great get-up.
I love the film’s logo! Tell me about how it was created.
Our logo is courtesy of the talented Courtney Wirth, who designed it for us. We wanted the logo to evoke one of the most iconic symbols of female empowerment, Rosie the Riveter, while remaining specific to the subject of “She Makes Comics.” We loved what Courtney came up with, and in fact, I have the original artwork hanging in my apartment!
“She Makes Comics” screened at a lot of film festivals and events. Were you able to attend many of them?
I attended quite a few screenings, mostly here on the West Coast. The movie has screened all over the world, including in South Korea, Australia, and the U.K. It’s really amazing to me how She Makes Comics has managed to resonate with audiences across the globe.
What was the response to the film? Have a lot of women approached you wanting to talk about it?
The response to “She Makes Comics” was wonderfully positive and affirming. I was nervous sending the film out into the world, and I was particularly worried about our Kickstarter backers who had pledged to the project and would now be seeing the product of their support. Fortunately, I heard positive feedback from our backers as well as others who discovered the film. I was approached by many women for whom “She Makes Comics” struck a personal chord. I’m glad that the film opened up the conversation about women in the comic book industry even further.
What about the reaction from men? I was disappointed to see some pretty clueless comments from men on the IMDb website.
I’ve spoken with a lot of men who were fascinated by the documentary and came away having learned something new about the medium and its history. There will always be anonymous trolls trying to tear down a project like this, but I received very positive responses from male viewers, some of whom are fathers and art teachers trying to nurture young talent at home and in the classroom.
“She Makes Comics” won the best documentary prize at the 2015 Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival. That’s quite an achievement. How did that feel?
It was wonderful to receive recognition at such an iconic convention, and it was fitting given that so many of the stories in “She Makes Comics” have some connection to San Diego Comic-Con.
How did you land a distribution deal with Netflix? That must have been exciting. How has that changed the doc’s reception and prospects?
We initially made a distribution deal with XLRator, and they handled the rest. It’s an enormous milestone to have “She Makes Comics” available on services like Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix because the film will reach a whole new audience. We’ve seen a renewed interest in the film thanks to that exposure.
What would you ultimately like to achieve with “She Makes Comics”?
What I’m proudest of with “She Makes Comics” is that the film has become a source of inspiration for young girls whose artistic talent is emerging. I think it’s vital for them to see role models, to see the women who have come before them, so they know that creating comics is something that they can do when they grow up. That, I think, is the project’s legacy beyond telling the story of women in the comic book industry.
You also made a short film, “Tenspotting,” which is set in the “Doctor Who” fandom. That sounds amazing. Where can we see it?
Tell me more about the inspiration and making of the short.
“Tenspotting” was a fun one because it started as a joke! I was at Comic-Con the previous year having drinks at the Hyatt bar with two writer friends of mine, Emily Blake and Michael Patrick Sullivan. We kept noticing lots of “Tens” and were having a lot of fun counting them, and thus began the germ of “Tenspotting.”
Emily and Michael went on to write the script somewhat as a joke, but I told them I was interested in producing it — seriously! — and I brought it to Patrick and Jordan, who thought it would be a fun project to take on.
I’m assuming you’re a Whovian. How did you get into the series?
I’m actually not a Whovian, although I’ve seen a number of episodes. Don’t revoke my geek card!
Who’s your Doctor?
Although I’m not a big Doctor Who fan, I’m super excited about Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the next Doctor, and I plan to tune in when she debuts. I really like her as an actress, and I’m excited to see the first female Doctor.
What are your other personal fandoms? How do they manifest themselves in your life?
I’m such an equal opportunity fan — I get invested in almost everything I read or watch, but sadly I don’t have the time to be as involved in fandom as I used to. The Harry Potter fandom will always hold a special place in my heart, and I still have some great Potter fan fiction bookmarked from over a decade ago.
Is it true that while you were at Wesleyan, you were part of a secret group that played “Dungeons & Dragons”?
I wouldn’t say we were a “secret” group, but I did learn how to play D&D in college with a great group of friends. I absolutely loved it, although I think our Dungeon Master got tired of our antics derailing our progress. I’ve been meaning to join a campaign since I recently got the itch to get back into D&D.
“Stranger Things” is packed with “D&D” references. Are you a fan?
I am a big fan of “Stranger Things.” I had the greatest experience watching it for the first time. I didn’t know much about it except that it was set in the ‘80s and starred Winona Ryder. I was totally hooked on the first season, and the second season was just as good, if not better. Along with “Freaks & Geeks,” “Stranger Things” features one of my favorite portrayals of D&D campaigns in television.
I’ve heard you also really like board games. What are some of your faves?
I love Settlers of Catan, although I tend to get fairly competitive with that one. I’m also a big fan of card games like Munchkin and Bang. There are some really innovative games raising funds on Kickstarter, so I often get brand new games to test out with my friends.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture?
I think it all boils down to inclusivity and respect. There is a gatekeeper mentality in some fandoms, based on this idea that you can only be a “true fan” if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the work and have been a fan since “before it was cool.” I’m of the opinion that we should encourage new, enthusiastic fans to become involved in fandom.
I think a number of fan communities would benefit from a change in attitude towards new fans, because ultimately, we are all involved because we love the thing that is bringing us together. It doesn’t matter if you have been reading Marvel comics since the 1970s or if you started after the “Avengers” movie — we all approach fandom in different ways and from different perspectives, and to me, that is what makes these fan communities so enriching and fun to be part of.
Do you have thoughts and/or opinions on the recent success of the “Wonder Woman” movie?
I really loved “Wonder Woman” on its own, and I appreciate how it seems to have touched a whole new generation of women (and men) who are excited about the character and what she symbolizes. I think the film is a much-needed reprieve from the chaos that is 2017. It has clearly inspired and empowered women in a way that no superhero film has done in the past few years. The “no man’s land” scene in Wonder Woman was perhaps my favorite movie moment of the year; it was so breathtaking and personally gave me goosebumps.
What’s on your career bucket list? Would you like to make more documentaries and films or go in another direction?
I loved the experience of making “She Makes Comics,” but I’ve found my calling, career-wise, to be in television. As I pursue my goals in that part of the industry, I’m bringing along with me a lot of what I learned working on “She Makes Comics,” as well as my lifelong passion for inclusivity and diversity. My ultimate goal is to develop and produce television that depicts stories we don’t ordinarily see on TV, from storytellers with varied backgrounds and perspectives.
What advice would you offer to women who still may be intimidated to go into their local comic book store?
Arm yourself with knowledge! Engage with the fan community online and get some recommendations for titles you may like based on the kinds of books, movies, and TV shows you enjoy. Fortunately, there are more and more comic book shops that are warm and welcoming to new readers and want to help you find your new favorite book. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge and ask an employee to recommend some comics. It’s such an exciting world to explore!
Last weekend, we explored the burgeoning fashion trend known as DisneyBounding, in which fans put together outfits based on their favorite Disney characters or attractions.
I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t delve into another fascinating fashion trend gaining popularity with fans of the theme park.
It’s the custom Mickey ear craze, characterized by Disney enthusiasts who ditch the official mouse ear-shaped headbands and hats that can be purchased at the parks in favor of handmade creations they fashion themselves or buy from savvy crafters.
If you’ve visited a Disney theme park lately, you’ve probably spotted people sporting these custom-made pieces, which range from elegant floral arrangements to elaborate headdresses themed after favorite rides, characters, movies, or even sports teams and non-Disney properties.
You may have even wondered, “Where can I get those?”
An Etsy search for the phrase “Mickey ears” yields 46,018 results, so you can see this trend isn’t just a blip on the Disney fashion radar. (If you happen to be looking for official, Disney-made ears, you can find them here.)
I interviewed five makers of custom Mickey ears, ranging from passionate amateurs to seasoned professionals. You can read about their motivations and methods below, as well as gawk at tons of stunning photos of their clever and colorful creations.
You may even be inspired to tackle the challenge of crafting some ears for yourself, family, or friends.
According to these ear makers, it’s an excellent way to express your love of Disney, tap into your creative side, bask in the attention to detail Walt’s company is celebrated for, save a little money, or simply provide yourself with headwear that better matches your DisneyBound ensemble.
Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS
Jessica Danker, of online shop RecyclEARS, has elevated custom ear-making into an art form with elaborate creations she crafts from recycled Mickey Mouse ears.
The Nampa, Idaho, resident’s “ear hat” business was sparked by headwear she designed for a family trip to one of Disney’s Star Wars Weekends.
“I wanted something unique for characters to sign on our vacation,” Jessica said.
One of her very first designs was a Darth Maul hat, which she blocked in felt herself, instead of her current approach of using recycled ear hat blanks.
“I’ve always loved to create, and had so many ideas, but what could I personally do with all those ear hats?” she said. “Creating for others gave me an outlet for my passions, and a reason to create.”
Four and a half years and more than 400 unique designs later, Jessica’s business is booming to the point that there’s no more room to grow unless she hires an assistant and raises prices, which she is loath to do.
Jessica’s handmade ear hats can take anywhere from eight to 40 hours to fashion. The process begins with a chat with the client, followed by a design and a sketch. Jessica then preps the ear hat blanks, “removing embroidery and the binding,” or constructs the headband.
“Once they’re ready, I break down the sketch into individual pieces and cut them out in felt. Those are then painted and applied, and the binding is reattached.”
The final step is cleaning and packaging the ears for shipping. Jessica primarily works with felt, acrylic paints, and fabric adhesives.
“I go through more fine-tipped paint brushes than I can count,” she said.
Though she never formally studied art, Jessica inherited her creative inclinations from a “wildly creative and talented” aunt who taught her to sew.
“That led to a passion for creating elaborate and detailed costumes and props. I have a chronic case of ‘I-bet-I-could-do-that-itis,’ which has led to lots of trial and error experimentation.”
Jessica said her favorite designs tend to be themed after Disney attractions. These have included the Haunted Mansion, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and It’s a Small World.
“I also really enjoy working with some of the Disney classic films. My favorites quite often include modifications to the overall shape of the ear hats as well.”
A lover of all things Disney since childhood, Jessica often visited Disneyland with her parents, who had fond memories of honeymooning at the park. She now shares “the magic” with her husband and two daughters.
According to Jessica, the “driving force” behind the custom Mickey ear trend is fans’ desire to “choose and create something unique and meaningful.”
The fad has produced a demand so broad even Disney cannot possibly fill it.
“The breadth and the scope of characters created over the decades by Disney is so vast that it would be impossible for them to anticipate and create ears to satisfy the desires of all the guests at their parks,” she said.
In the future, Jessica aspires to “divide her time” between custom orders and creating stock to feature at events such as WonderCon, the D23 Expo, and Dapper Day Expo. She’d also like to branch out into Disney-themed fascinators and flat caps.
“It brings me so much joy to create something that means something special to someone.”
Susan Mitchell, ear-making matriarch
A longtime Disney fan and annual passholder, Susan Mitchell didn’t actually own a pair of Mickey Mouse ears until 2016.
After her first official ear purchase at the parks, the Palmdale, Calif., resident quickly became bored with wearing the same pair on every visit. So she bought another pair, thinking two options would be enough.
“I was wrong,” she said.
In search of a pair of ears to complement a favorite Belle shirt she planned to wear for a special lunch at Ariel’s Grotto, Susan discovered the world of custom ears sold on Etsy.
“After that trip, I had the ear-making bug,” she said. “I love themes and have found this new avenue for theme-related creativity so inspiring and satisfying.”
Indeed, Susan has become the designated ear maker for both immediate and extended family.
Her creations include a pair of Tsum Tsum ears for her granddaughter; an array of fall-themed ears featuring sunflowers, sparkly acrylic leaves, florals, and pumpkins; spider and web ears for Halloween; and custom creations for a recent family DisneyBound, featuring characters such as Marie from “The Aristocats,” Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, and Perdita from “101 Dalmations.”
Susan said she finds inspiration for her designs on Pinterest and Etsy, “but I also love to come up with new ideas. Now, when my husband and I shop, ear-shaped items seem to leap into our bags.”
When it comes to materials, she’s used felt, flannel, cotton fabric, glitter foam sheets, tulle, lace, faux fur, ribbons, leather, flowers, wire, trinkets, foam board, batting, stuffing, feathers, holiday decorations, pom poms, wooden skewers (to make a Pan flute), cup hooks (for Captain Hook’s hook), and “other things I can’t remember.”
Among the attractions of making her own ears is the “satisfaction” she derives from “attention to detail (one of the main reasons I love Disney).”
“My fingers tingle, my brain whirls, and my iPad opens when I’m inspired by the season change or an outfit that a family member has.”
For those who may be interested in following in Susan’s ear-making footsteps, she advises watching a lot of how-to videos “to ascertain the different types of ears and the different levels of perfection achieved.”
The reaction of those she creates for is payment enough for her creative labors, she said.
“I love how excited and happy my family members get about designing and wearing the ears.”
Rebecca Mettler, @earsbybecka
Inspired by a couple pairs of custom Mickey ears she purchased for her sister and herself, Rebecca Mettler transformed a hobby she indulged in during her infant son’s naps into a business.
“I loved seeing everyone’s custom ears at Disneyland and on social media so I was inspired,” she said. “I knew people sold them on shops so that’s how I decided I would sell mine.”
Rebecca specializes in simple yet elegant floral ears based on Disney characters, sports teams, and cute color combinations.
She started her shop on Mercari two months ago and has already sold about 25 pairs of ears with more orders in the pipeline. You can view her designs on her Instagram, @earsbybecka.
A lifelong Disney fan, Rebecca said her father would save money all year to treat her family to an annual Christmastime trip.
“It was our family tradition that I am now continuing to carry out with them and my own little family.”
When she began making ears, Rebecca found inspiration on Pinterest, but now dreams up her own design ideas or chats with customers to “toss ideas back and forth.”
She purchases premade headbands, then adds different colors and styles of flowers and ribbons using hot glue.
Rebecca said her ears are more affordable than the official theme park offerings, “and mine are unique.”
“I love seeing how the end result turns out. Turning a blank pair of ears into something cool!”
Dawn Branch, the “crafty one”
It may be hard to believe, but Dawn Branch never set foot inside Disneyland until she was 24.
Around the time of her first trip, she purchased her first official set of Mickey ears and also noticed and coveted the custom ears worn by other park-goers.
Dawn’s first ear creations were born out of a need to save money and to coordinate with outfits for whatever DisneyBound theme she and her friends had selected.
“Sometimes friends would ask about ears for their cosplays,” she said. “I get asked as ‘the crafty one.’”
After worrying over whether her inaugural pair of Cinderella ears would stand up to wear and tear, Dawn began purchasing packs of “generic ears” online to eliminate further structural anxiety.
Her typical materials are glue, fabric paint, and felt. She searches Pinterest and Google for ideas, “but really the stories lend themselves to design inspirations. If I’m making ears, I usually know exactly what I want already.”
Dawn said her headgear has elicited comments from Disney cast members who “like seeing the creativity other people bring” to a variation on the licensed theme park merchandise.
The beauty of fan-created ears is that they offer a more varied park experience, she said.
“I generally don’t like the park ears quite as much.”
Without custom options, “everyone will have the same ears!”
Jennifer Mitchell, “complete Disney fanatic”
Jennifer Mitchell was on one of her annual Disneyland trips when she spotted a woman exiting the security line wearing “the cutest pink and yellow mini roses on some ‘ears’ on a headband.”
Jennifer (who is no relation to Susan Mitchell) inquired about them and discovered the woman with the pink and yellow rose ears had made them herself.
“I thought, ‘Heck, I could do that,’” Jennifer said.
The Henderson, Nev., resident is a “complete Disney fanatic” who grew up in Southern California and enjoyed annual trips to Disneyland.
After her family moved to Northern California, her mother kept the tradition alive, packing her five kids into a station wagon for an annual pilgrimage that offered an escape from a stressful situation at home.
When she was 12, Jennifer began channeling her sewing skills into the creation of matching T-shirts for her family to wear to the theme park. She now visits Disneyland with her husband and their five children.
A couple of years after she spotted the woman with the custom floral ears, Jennifer decided to try her hand at making a couple pairs for herself and her daughter to wear on a special Disneyland trip they’d worked hard to save up for.
Some online research and a couple of trial attempts yielded three fine sets of ears themed after “Doctor Who,” the Haunted Mansion, and Minnie Mouse.
Jennifer began making more ears for family members and as gifts for friends.
“I’ve made Star Wars and Wall-E and Marvel themed ones. I’ve done really simple and plain, and big and sparkly!” she said.
“I even made some for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan with the ‘ring’ on the ears in a woodsy Hobbit-type style. People just love them!”
Eventually, Jennifer began earning money from her ear-making endeavors, which included a custom Princess Tiana-themed order for a customer across the country.
Jennifer and her daughter, Emma, even made a batch of about a dozen ears to give away to strangers on a Disneyland trip.
“It was an amazing, fun bonding trip for us and it was even better because we were able to make people happy with the ears we’d made for them,” Jennifer said. “It was like being part of the magic, just a little bit.”
Jennifer favors a ¼-inch metal ear-shaped headband, which she typically wraps in black ribbon. The center of the ears are made of foam, covered in fabric, and stuffed with batting to make them “a little poofy.”
She embellishes her ears in satin, cotton, fur, lace, sparkly fabric cut from clothing found at thrift stores, ribbons, beads, pearls, buttons, pieces of broken jewelry, and fabric flowers she makes herself.
Her inspiration comes mostly from “the park itself, the rides and characters, but also in whatever people like. The ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ ears were sure not Disney, but it’s fun to mix the two and show the wearers’ personality by creating a hybrid of two of their loves.”
Jennifer urges fans who are new to making ears to “make a practice pair first.”
“They’re quite inexpensive to make, so if the first ones don’t turn out just right, just try again!”
For Jennifer, the appeal of custom Mickey ears comes in the connection it creates with the theme park and other Disney fans.
“I just love Disneyland and when I make a pair for someone and they wear them in the park, it’s like a tiny piece of me gets to go! So I guess it’s selfish, too. … It’s a great and easy way to interact with other Disney fans — and I’ve even talked with folks who have made (their own ears). We share our DIY experiences and a little about ourselves. It makes a day at the park even better.”
But wait … there are more amazing custom ears below. Enjoy this gallery of gorgeous creations by the ear makers featured in this post.
Why is it that so many of the best geeks also happen to be bookworms?
Literature sparks a love of stories that expands to embrace other modes, genres, platforms, and media, and conspires to create the most intriguing personalities.
One of my very favorite bookworms just happens to embody this adventurous love of fictional narratives of all kinds. She is Caitlin Hawkins, a fellow English major who stood in my dining room one fateful evening and plotted with me to form a book club. The rest is history.
Caitlin is a passionate student of literature, working on her master’s degree in English, a book hoarder in the best sense of the phrase, a lover of mysteries and thrillers, an Agatha Christie junkie, the fiercest Harry Potter-phile you’ll ever meet, and an avid gamer who has found the imaginative realms of MMORPGs to be refreshingly liberating.
Read on for Caitlin’s deep thoughts on upcoming Agatha Christie adaptation “Murder on the Orient Express,” the co-dependent relationship between anglophiles and Netflix, tips for starting your own book club, and why you should give J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series a chance.
Have you always been a bookworm? When did you become a reader in earnest?
This is actually one of my favorite stories to tell. It involves a library near my house, my sixth grade teacher, a special cabinet of important books, and a sweet gift.
I have always loved to read—and I learned how at a very young age. I remember going as a small child with my mom and brothers to the Valencia Public Library and checking out as many books as I could. Naturally introverted and with two rambunctious brothers who were 4-plus years older than me, I found myself alone often.
Books were my solace. I nurtured that love through books like “Ella Enchanted” (my first favorite book I can remember), Joan Lowry Nixon’s mysteries, and the Harry Potter series. When I entered Miss H’s sixth grade class, I was already a bookworm. Her care and friendship took the spark and fanned it into a flame.
She curated a classroom library that all were welcome to, but for specific students, she had her special cabinet of her “favorite books.” These required special promises to return and take care of her books if you were to borrow them. In that special cabinet was her collection of Agatha Christie mysteries. Through that year, I made a dent in her collection, and when the time came to leave her class, Miss H gifted me with my own set of well-loved Agathas to get my own collection started.
That year of my life solidified my identity as a bookworm. I still have that Agatha Christie “starter pack” and add to it whenever I can.
You recently began your graduate studies at California State University, Northridge for your master’s in English literature. Why did you decide to pursue that?
I’ve always nurtured the dream to one day be Indiana Jones: professor, adventurer, and wearer of tweed. Completing my master’s is the first step on the road to Jonesdom.
What’s your dream career or literary aspiration?
My dream career is to be a college composition and literature professor. I love literature, and I also love the ability to have a more flexible schedule to be home with my hubby and cat. Helping others write and create something lovely is such a pleasure. Someday, I would also love to try my hand at writing my own mysteries under a pseudonym.
What are some of your favorite books of all time?
I’ll just list some of my favorite/most impactful series and standalone books:
The Great Gatsby — The catharsis in this book is so real. I also adore Fitzgerald’s beautiful language and the atmosphere of the roaring ‘20s. Keep an eye out for a Gatsby-themed 30th birthday party in the works.
Ella Enchanted — As stated above, Gail Carson Levine’s twisted fairy tale was one of my first favorite books. I read this so many times I could almost quote it verbatim. I loved her spunky Ella who was sarcastic and intelligent and didn’t quite fit the mold of a dainty little g — someone 8-year-old me could really relate to.
Harry Potter — Harry and his adventures found me through my fourth grade class, but really became a friend when my family moved to a different city in 2000. I spent my middle school years as often in Hogwarts as I did at Hillview. And I found the error in book four before they could fix it, and prior to the invention of Reddit/Tumblr. *pats self on back*
Jane Eyre — It has so many things I love. Heavily influenced by the gothic genre, a heroine who subverts expectations and goes after her dreams without being rude or abrasive (most of the time), and Michael Fassbender. Jane is an extremely important character for my nieces and future children to meet, as she seeks to always do what is right, despite extreme personal disappointment.
There are so many books that I have loved … . It’s too hard to pick!
What are you reading right now?
Right now, my graduate classes are reading “Disgrace” by J.M. Coetzee and “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. On my own, I have “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware, and “One of Us is Lying” by Karen McManus.
What’s on your to-be-read pile?
I’m a book collector as well, so there’s a lot in my to-be-read pile. On the top of the pile is “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. I totally snagged a signed copy at Barnes and Noble, even though I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it until Christmas. Directly under that is to finish Tana French’s fantastic Dublin Murder Squad Series. If you like police procedurals mixed with character driven stories, check her out. Her writing is also fantastically beautiful.
You’re a huge anglophile. Did that evolve from your love of literature?
Yes and no. While I adore J.K. Rowling, Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Tana French (shout out to my Irish writers who would be appalled to be included in this list) and of course Agatha Christie, I would chalk it up to Netflix. Without it I would be Doctor-less, “Call the Midwife”-less, and “Father Brown”-less, which would be a shame. (If you like quaint British towns, the ‘50s, mysteries, and Arthur Weasley, check out “Father Brown” mysteries. They are so fun!)
Harry Potter has played a big role in your life. How did your love of the books begin? How has this passion manifested itself in your life. I know there was a period of time when you were reading the books pretty obsessively.
I put these two questions together because the answers go hand in hand. Harry and his angst met me in a place where I needed a kindred spirit. Naturally introverted and shy, I struggled to make friends in middle school and in my new neighborhood. For two years, I lived 45 minutes from where my elementary school was and where all of my friends lived. Summers and weekends were challenging for me.
In my loneliness, I connected with the idea of having to go away to go home, just like Harry. I also connected with the female characters like Hermione and Luna who defied expectations and lived life their own way. Through JKR’s writing, I grew as a person and learned to value not only camaraderie and friendship, but those moments of solitude that can bring self-discovery.
It has been a few years since I’ve reread the series, but I look forward to sharing it with my children. My next tattoo is actually going to be the “always” quote (complete with Deathly Hallows symbol), as a statement on where my love of literature got its foothold and its staying power. After all this time? Always.
Why do you think the love of this franchise has been so enduring for readers in general?
I think a lot of people my age grew up alongside our favorite characters and dealt with many of the same issues. JKR’s masterful ability to match not only content but style to the appropriate age group allowed us to read at our level each time a new book came out. Her characters and their adventures became a sort of touchstone of our generation.
I know I wasn’t alone when viewing the final film come to a close and thinking “and now my childhood is officially over.” I cried like a baby. I saw the first one with my dad, and fittingly saw the last one with him, too. I also think that the lessons learned through the books are timeless: never give up, seek the good in ourselves and others, friendship is just as important as success, and that love always conquers evil. I’m currently collecting the illustrated editions to save for my own future children so they can go to Hogwarts as well.
You’re also an avid reader of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series. Not all Rowling fans have embraced that. What do you like about the novels?
THEY ARE SO GOOD.
No, seriously, though. J.K. Rowling is a master of pacing, which is so rare to find. I love everything she writes (I often say I would read her grocery lists), but having her delve into the realm of murder mystery is like having my two loves collide. I think the reason why people struggled with these is that it is such a departure from the Harry Potter series. The style is different, the characterization is different, and the genre is much more adult and darker.
It has all the hallmarks of gorgeous JKR descriptions, but the tone is entirely different. If you’re missing Hogwarts, these won’t help you feel any better. Strike is part film noir, part buddy comedy/romance, and all austere British fun. The caveat to this is that the first one’s final reveal is not nearly as good as the rest of them. If you’re trying them out, persevere! I loved the endings of the other two.
Are you looking forward to the TV adaptation?
I am and yet I’m not. The fact that it isn’t airing in the U.S. at the same time as UK annoys me, so I haven’t searched any out yet. (Being fair to myself, I also haven’t had time. Grad school keeps you busy!) I also firmly take the stance that the book is always better than the movie or show (hmm-hmm, Peeves). I will definitely give it a shot, but I have low expectations.
You’re also seriously into “Doctor Who.” Whenever I hang out with you, it seems a Whovian conversation breaks out. What do you love about that show?
To be fair, I think you’re the only person in our book club who isn’t into it, so they share some of the blame for this phenomenon!
“Doctor Who” is a fun show, through and through. It has moments of heartbreak and drama, and sweet moments where “just this once, everybody lives.” The show features a lot of the same themes from Harry Potter as well, especially the idea that it’s not good to dwell in isolation. The camaraderie between the Doctor and his companions is compelling, and the universe that they travel in is extremely creative.
The idea of the Doctor himself is extremely creative and also compelling — the last of his kind, doomed to wander the stars seemingly forever, and yet has a soft spot for the British Isles. The show also has a lot of history and backstory that it’s fun to be a part of. If I’m right, it’s the longest running sci-fi show ever. I think the main reason why I love it though is just that it’s fun. And David Tennant.
Who is your Doctor?
10. Forever. I have a lot of love for 9 as well, and 11 grew on me. I really loved the youthfulness and fun that David Tennant brought to the role. My husband only liked Matt Smith.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?
The ironic thing about Whovians is that the entire show is predicated on change, but the majority of us are extremely resistant to that change. I have my doubts about our new Doctor, and I have had the same ones every time he regenerates. Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor is simultaneously exciting and nerve wracking. I loved “Broadchurch,” but I got quickly irritated with her character, Beth. It will be fun to see what having the Doctor regenerate into a woman will be like for the show. I’m still holding out for a ginger, though.
It’s not hard to guess that you’re also a “Sherlock” fan. Actually, you’re a connoisseur of Sherlock Holmes in general. Why is that such a rich source of literary fascination for you?
My interest in Holmes goes back to the fact that he’s one of the world’s first and most famous detectives. He provides a sort of touchstone character for the detective genre and I will be forever thankful for that. I suppose I’m drawn to things that are intrinsically intelligent or intellectual. It’s not fun for me to put my time into mindless entertainment (like reality TV or “Angry Birds”). I’ll tell you a secret though — as the first of many hypocrisies in my geek life — I haven’t seen season 4. Don’t hate me!
Have you read all Agatha Christie’s works? You have an extensive collection of her novels, if I remember correctly.
As the highest selling mystery writer of all time, Dame Agatha has 82 detective novels in her repertoire. I own about a quarter of them. They take up a lot of space, but I’m still collecting. One day I hope to own all of them!
Do you tend to be a book hoarder in general?
Yes. I am 100% a book hoarder. My house currently has five bookcases, and that’s after I purged when we downsized in our last move. It was a difficult purge, too. I think I got rid of some dozen titles, entirely under duress!
What do you think about the two upcoming Agatha Christie adaptations, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Crooked House”?
I am extremely excited. Kenneth Branagh is going to be a fantastic Poirot! I also really enjoyed the book “Crooked House,” so it will be fun to see an adaptation of that. If I could ask for another book to be adapted, it would be really fun to see “Endless Night” on the big screen. It’s one of her later books and it’s funkier than you’d expect: very classically gothic and noir-esque.
What are some of the other fandoms you’re interested in?
Blizzard entertainment (Overwatch and World of Warcraft especially) has been a big fandom for me recently. Their characterization has been thoughtfully developed, continuing into the new OW hero and WOW expansion just announced at Blizzcon this last week. My husband and I are also into “Game of Thrones” (like everyone else on the planet, it seems) and are new to “Stranger Things.”
You’ve been known to disappear into the world of MMORPGs. Which ones do you play? What is it about those world that draws you in?
I mainly play World of Warcraft. I dabbled in Rift, Elder Scrolls, and a few others, but the community of WoW and the silly aspects of its gameplay always bring me back. There is a rich lore underpinning the WoW universe. It is building off the classic Warcraft games from the ‘90s and the MMORPG itself has been around since 2004.
The main thing for me, though, is that it’s fun! It’s fun to run around and pretend to be someone magical who goes on adventures and then log off and get back to your regular life. I suppose it goes along with my Indiana Jones dream. In WOW (and other fantasy themed MMORPGs), you get to choose a lot about your personal character, from what they look like to the abilities they have, and even which side of history they belong to. All of this adds to the wish fulfillment aspect.
I’ve played a number of different characters (a night elf rogue, a mage, an orc warrior, an adorable gnome hunter who I’m currently leveling) but I’ve always identified with the Paladin ideal. My main is a human Paladin, and as such uses the power of light to heal and protect friends and lay the smack down on evildoers. She’s so fun!
You are co-founder of a very geeky book club that’s actually managed to stay together for many years. Tell me about that.
This feels silly since you’re the other cofounder! It actually just started out as you and I wanting to keep reading and discussing literature as my undergrad years came to a close. I think the main reason it’s stayed together for so long is that we mix it up and minimize pressure. I’ve always loved that — people have come and gone and there have been months where we didn’t meet, but keeping it low key and low maintenance has kept it fun and kept it together.
You even started a blog about book clubs. Do you have any tips for someone thinking of starting a club?
I do have tips! Keep it chill. If you come at your friends with a giant list of 1,000 page books and a strict timeline, they will run screaming for the hills. My advice is to pick one or two friends who are the backbone of the group, commit to trying to keep a book club, and don’t sweat the rest. Allow people to come and go, and always welcome them back.
It also helps to come up with a theme of some sort, like only reading Oprah’s book club books or sticking to a specific best books of all time list. You can always change your themes later, but it’s a great jumping off point. I also suggest you come up with a fun way to make everyone’s voice heard. When we first started, we had everyone put their book choices in a Tupperware and chose randomly.
Now we tend to vote, but in the beginning it really helped alleviate problems with feelings being hurt and whatnot. I also suggest you give people veto power in some form. The main thing to running a successful book club is to be flexible with everything: how the discussion goes, where you hold meetings, when you meet, what you read, etc. Remember, your book club friends have lives, too.
What’s the next big upcoming release you’re looking forward to (movies, books, TV, video games, etc.?)
I am dying for the next Cormoran Strike novel. The last one ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, no spoilers, so I can’t wait. JKR hasn’t given us a release date, but told us on Twitter that it should be in 2017. Hopefully we will get it before George R.R. Martin releases “The Winds of Winter” — aka sometime this century.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of geek culture?
I sit in a potentially unpopular spot in that I like where geek culture is going. Or maybe it’s just Blizzard. WoW and Overwatch have highly inclusive characters of different races/nationalities, body types, backgrounds and personalities. I maintain super powerful female characters on both games and so, so many others. There are numerous female players, and not all of us only heal (That’s a running joke. Respect to the healers out there because I suck at it. Seriously. One time our healer mage quit and the group made me switch specs to heal on the final boss of a mythic dungeon. Needless to say, we wiped immediately.).
I feel that there is a lot more personal responsibility at stake than making generalized statements about culture as a whole. When I think about the culture or community and make judgments about the entire thing, I feel as though that takes away the responsibility of each person in said group to not be a jerk to others. On the other hand, doing so also denies those who are being awesome credit where it is due.
Gaming right now has a lot of excellent vloggers and players who promote positivity and healthy community relations (check out Tradechat on YouTube, she’s not the only one). I guess my message to the entire world, not just the gaming or bookish communities, is to just be nice to other people and we’ll all be fine. Or as John Green would say, DFTBA.
Before I let you go, I must ask you some vital Harry Potter questions:
“Prisoner of Azkaban” has always been my favorite.
Neville Longbottom. I’ve always loved the boy who almost became marked by the Dark Lord and decided to be completely awesome despite his personal difficulties. I love his character arc as well. I also have a very soft spot for Luna Lovegood and Hermione.
Proud Ravenclaw, married to a Gryffindor.
Have you visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
Yes! My hubby bought us passes last Christmas. I’ll admit, the long waits were intense but it was super fun to hold a Pygmy Puff in my hand. They’re known to sing on Boxing Day, you know.
Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?
Hmmm … probably History of Magic or Muggle Studies. The latter would probably be hilarious.
Favorite magical creature?
Pygmy Puffs. Every year, I name my fantasy football team after them.
What did you think of the “Fantastic Beasts” movie?
I was super skeptical, as the original series is so cherished, but I LOVED IT. It has so much to offer —historical background, the Roaring ‘20s, the American side of magic, and so much more. I was giddy when we left the theater.
Hands down the worst film was “Goblet of Fire.” So many people share the blame too: Mike Newell (did he read it at all, or … ?), the screenwriter (we took out an important subplot, but please enjoy 20 minutes of Harry getting chased by a dragon doing extreme property damage that’s never addressed) and most of all whoever is in charge of making sure everyone got their hair cut between films. It had some moments that I loved, (“I’ve killed Harry Potter!” – Neville), but Michael Gambon’s overbearing and angry Dumbledore was the nail in the coffin.
Most devastating character death?
I cried for Dobby and Hedwig, called out sick the next day from work for Dumbledore, but those we lost in the Battle of Hogwarts were probably the worst. I don’t think I can pick between Tonks, Lupin or Fred. I cry every time I rewatch the film.
Favorite Harry Potter item you own?
It’s a tough call because I own a lot of stuff. Last Christmas, I received a Ravenclaw sweater, two pairs of pajama pants, and two necklaces. I guess up there is my Sirius Black wand my sister-in-law brought back from Florida for me, and my Deathly Hallows leather bracelet.
“The Cursed Child.” Good idea or bad idea?
Ready for another hypocritical moment? I still haven’t read it! Anything that adds to the canon for me is so sketchy, even if it comes from JKR herself. I have this protected place in my mind of what happened and what should happen next in the story. I don’t want my ideal ruined in any way. But I really love the casting choices for Hermione. Sorry, Emma Watson, but I thought that bit of recasting from the films was excellent.
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 email@example.com.