Get to Know the Empowering Geek Author Behind The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy
Sam Maggs is a writer who looks at the types of stories the world is missing and fills the void by writing them herself.
She's the author of two books, The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy—a handy handbook for being an empowering and happy girl geek—and Wonder Women—a book that tells the stories of 25 incredible women who made huge impacts on history. She's also written comics and tons of great articles, as well as worked as a writer for the video game company BioWare.
We love Sam Maggs' stories, and we had the honor of speaking with her not only about her books, but also about moments that inspired them, as well as about the pop culture moments that continue to empower her.
(Photo credit: Krissy Myers)
Sweety High: Tell us about your history as a writer.
Sam Maggs: I've been writing since I was a little kid. My parents were really into computers and technology so I had my first laptop when I was 11. I'm old, so this was before most kids had access to a typing machine from birth, and I'd practically only use it for word processing. I loved to create stories and all through school that's what I knew I wanted to do.
In university I got my bachelor's degree in English and my master's degree in modern literature, and then I got really burnt out on writing and decided I never wanted to do it again. As it often happens with things you're really passionate about, I took a break and ended up missing it horribly and coming back to it. That's when I starting getting into online journalism, and from there I got into writing books.
(via Quirk Books)
SH: How did you come up with the idea for The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy?
SM: I always really wanted to write the book that I wish I'd had when I was 16 years old. When I was growing up it didn't seem like there were people around who were interested in the things I was into. I was scared to tell people I liked comics and video games. I felt like no one would understand and people wouldn't think I was cool. I didn't have that sense of community.
It wasn't until I graduated university and moved away that I realized if the people I was friends with at the time didn't like who I was, I could just find new people to be friends with. With the advent of social media, suddenly we had the ability to form new communities and find our tribes at conventions and online in a way that we never had before. I really wanted to write a book for people like me who were feeling very alone or isolated or didn't know how to embrace the things that make them happy. I hope it will teach them they aren't the only ones.
SH: Why do you think that topic hasn't been covered much before in books?
SM: To be honest, it has, but with an extremely male focus. There really weren't any printed materials out there for girls and women who were into geek culture because I think it's often assumed that people who are into that stuff are primarily dudes.
Of course the case is that women have always been interested and invested in geek culture—we just haven't really traditionally felt welcome in the spaces in which geek culture was discussed. We didn't really feel like we could go into comic book stores, that we were welcome in game stores or that we could even reveal our gender on internet message boards without it becoming the primary focus of the discussion. It can make you feel uncomfortable in a lot of ways.
For a really long time there was a misconception that women weren't into nerd culture. Because of that there wasn't a lot of media created for us, with most video games, comics and movies being dude-focused, and there definitely weren't a lot of resources. I think social media started that shift. When I went to write and pitch Fangirl's Guide, I couldn't believe it didn't exist already. It seemed shocking to me, especially given how many fangirls I knew through conventions and the internet.
SH: What do you think are the most critical elements for girls in finding their own space within such a male-dominated group of interests?
SM: The very last chapter in Fangirl's Guide discusses fangirling and feminism. I was really lucky to have a publisher who was 100% on board with that message. To be honest, I think the key to being a good fangirl is being intersectional, which means fighting for equality regardless of gender or ethnicity or race or class or orientation, all across the board. We don't see a lot of representation of marginalized groups in geek culture, either in front of the page or screen or behind them as creators.
There's a real dearth of representation in the media we consume. It means we don't hear a variety of stories from a variety of people in a variety of experiences, and that makes media worse. More stories from more people only benefits all of us in the end. I think that remembering to be inclusive and welcoming in the community is really important. Support and uplift marginalized voices whenever you can and continue to be outspoken and loud on the internet.
Cultural and media criticism is also crucial to these sorts of movements. It's easy to support the status quo without analyzing the things that you watch. Everyone's faves are a little problematic, but if you're able to educate yourself and recognize what's problematic about the media you love, then you're still allowed to enjoy those things. Being able to critically analyze the media you consume and call them out when things aren't right is super important.
SH: What are the biggest things you fangirl about personally?
SM: My first big fandom was Stargate SG-1, which totally dates me. I love that show primarily because of the character Sam Carter, a woman who's not only in the military and really kicks butt but is also an astrophysicist. It was one of the first times in media I'd ever seen a girl who was more than just a one-dimensional character. Sam was so multidimensional and, I know it sounds silly now, but that was revolutionary to me.
I'm also a huge fan of video games, particularly Mass Effect. The original trilogy is probably my favorite video game series of all time. In terms of new things I'm fangirling about right now, I really love The Wicked + The Divine comics. I'm reading them a lot right now and I encourage other people to do so, too, because they're really fun.
(Stargate SG-1 via Gekko Film Corp.)
SH: Speaking of your other book Wonder Women, why do you think so many incredible achievements by women get glossed over in the history books?
SM: Oftentimes, accomplishments by female scientists, engineers and inventors were stolen by or attributed to their male colleagues. Sometimes you see a woman who's invented something and her colleagues think that can't be right, so they attribute it to their male supervisor, and they give him the credit. Sometimes it's more malicious.
For example there's the case of Rosalind Franklin, the first person to photograph DNA. Watson and Crick, who are in our textbooks as the discoverers of DNA, saw her photograph and published the findings first, taking credit for it. That's just one of my cases.
Alternately, there are many examples of women in history who didn't want to take credit for their accomplishments. This is particularly notable, for example, in the 19th and early 20th centuries when many black women inventors were afraid that if people found out a black woman had created their invention that white people would refuse to buy it. They wanted their inventions to be out there and didn't care about getting credit for it.
It also comes down to the fact that history is written by the victors, and for a really long time, the victors were men. That hasn't benefitted the rest of us so much. Now it's time to reclaim those stories and correct the history that was written so poorly in the first place.
(via Quirk Books)
SH: What do you think women can do today to prevent that from continuing to happen?
SM: Like I was saying before in regards to fangirls, it's about supporting and uplifting the voices of other women. Also, it's about encouraging young girls to pursue stereotypically non-feminine fields of interest from a young age. Girls can take a coding class or go to space camp—things they wouldn't necessarily think to do because they're not seen as cool and girls aren't typically encouraged to do those things. There are a lot of great movements now doing that, but it's really early in that process. If you want to go into those types of fields, go for it.
SH: When you were writing the book, was it tough to pick the 25 women you included?
SM: It was super difficult. You start off thinking that not a ton of women did groundbreaking things in science and history, but when you start digging into it, it quickly becomes apparent that there were tons and you just never hear about them. In narrowing it down to 25, it was really important for me to focus on as diverse a list of women as possible.
White men make up most of the history we learn, and as soon as I started digging in I mostly found stories of white western women. Wonder Women does have white western women in it, but it was important to me to make sure we did have voices from women of color. There are a lot of stories in Wonder Women about women from India and Japan and China. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in these stories and I really wanted that to be the case.
SH: How does writing a fangirl guide or a history book about awesome women differ from writing for games with BioWare?
SM: It's super different but also super similar. With something like Wonder Women, you're writing the narrative of these women's lives and trying to make the stories of their lives into interesting stories with a beginning, middle and end, which is exactly what writing fiction is like. It's definitely different in that Fangirl's Guide was an accumulation of knowledge I'd acquired through my entire life. With Wonder Women, I still had all these stories as a jumping off point.
When writing other fiction, like games or comics, the world is your oyster and you have to figure out what's good and what isn't from your own brain, and that's really scary! But it's really fun and really rewarding to get to be creative outside of the realms of reality when you're creating something totally different. I feel very lucky.
(Photo credit: Krissy Myers)
SH: What's the one biggest piece of advice you have for fangirls to live their best fangirl existence?
SM: Be yourself and love what you love without apology. Nobody should ever make you feel bad about who you are or what you love. Every single time, embracing that part of yourself and who you truly are will make you happier than trying to pretend to be someone you're not. Try to be as authentically you as possible and find the people out there who appreciate you for you and don't want you to be someone you're not. Be you and know what makes you happy.
SH: How about advice for writers in general?
SM: I do a lot of events and interviews and people always ask me how they can be writers. I always say the only difference between somebody who says they want to be a writer and somebody who is a writer is the writing. That's all it takes. Sit down at your computer and put some words down. That simple act makes you a writer.
It's about practicing. It's about reading a lot and putting that pen to paper. I know it's super scary—it's still scary for me every time I sit down to write, so I totally get it. The only thing that's stopping you from being a writer is doing the writing, so just go for it. The world needs your voice because nobody else has the exact same experience that you do and nobody else can bring that experience to the world like you can. It's crucial for you to get your voice and your knowledge and your vision out there.
Need more great geek stories in your life? Click HERE to read our interview with Geekerella author Ashley Poston.