GEEK GIRLS: Featured Slice

Writing about and for pop culture outlets for years gave Andrea Towers a number of insights. The most significant of them aided her in gaining new perspectives on herself and the world around her. Out of that revelation came the seed of an idea. The idea grew from her new book, GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY: Real-Life Lessons from Fictional Female Characters, out in stores now! The author, Ms. Towers, took time out of her busy promotion schedule to talk with us. We discussed how the book was born, how it evolved, and what it is like to finally release it.

Andrea Towers Headshot
The author, enjoying a rare break from the four color world for a bit of black and white. (Courtesy of Andrea Towers)

In the Beginning

ComicsVerse: I understand you have been working on this book GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY for a bit of time now. When was the idea first born? What’s the process been like since?

Andrea Towers: I first got the initial idea — the one that sparked me to send a query letter to a publisher without even having an agent — back in 2016. It took a long time to get to the point where I was working on a comprehensive manuscript. Because once I finally got an agent, there were tons of revisions that happened. Mainly to the table of contents (in terms of what characters to include) and the way the chapters were styled.

I worked on the [GEEK GIRLS] on and off while I was waiting for publishers to get back to me, but I was hesitant to get deep into writing until I had an offer because a lot of feedback, while I was submitting, was super specific, and tended to lean towards whatever view each editor had. When I found my home at Sterling my editor and I sat down together. We hashed out a game plan — “self help first, pop culture second” — which honestly made things so much easier. Once I had that structure down, I found that writing this book was an easier process to tackle. It was like getting a roadmap when you’ve been previously driving around in circles trying to find a destination!

CV: How has the idea evolved and changed since you began to write the book?

Andrea: My original pitch was actually a self-help book that centered strictly on superheroes/comic characters. Even though that’s what my agent signed me with, I think we both knew that was going to change just based on the fact that being so niche had the potential to limit content. So one of the biggest overhauls I made, especially before I started going on submission, was expanding my table of contents to include a wider variety of pop culture ladies. Then pulling in characters from all over instead of just one medium. The chapters themselves were initially a lot shorter and more superficial. I used a lot more real-world examples as opposed to focusing strictly on mental health. If I look back at early chapters now, it’s like night and day compared to what ended up being finalized.

CV: Where did the title GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY come from? Obviously, you don’t intend it to be emotionally toxic. So what does the title mean to you and how do you hope it inspires others?

Andrea: My agent, actually! My working title — the one I started this project with — was something along the lines of “I Am My Own Woman: A Superhero’s Guide To Self Help” which we couldn’t use for a bunch of reasons. Aside from the fact that the book included different pop culture characters, we couldn’t really brand it as a self-help book since I’m not a psychologist. But we wanted to keep the word “geek” in the title to help inform what the book was. So we started with that as a conceit and eventually came up with a title we hoped was catchy! I fought long and hard for making sure we had a subhead attached to it — “Real-Life Lessons From Fictional Female Characters” — because I wanted people to know this was on the more serious and factual side.

It’s funny when the cover first went live on Geek & Sundry a few months ago. There was a ton of talk about the title and it took me by surprise. I guess people took it to heart, not realizing the title was more ironic. The whole point of the book is that we do cry and that our vulnerability and our struggles are what make us strong. That’s what the title really means to me. That’s what I hope other people are inspired by.

GEEK GIRLS: Trauma
An example of how GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY organizes around mental health topics. (Courtesy of Sterling Press)

The Experience of Writing GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY

CV: Just as a tease, what women (real life and fictional) did you involve? Who helped inform your perspectives in the GEEK GIRLS?

Andrea: I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to pull together a group of women who are not only diverse but also represent a variety of issues and pop culture mediums. I’ve got really well-known characters like Katniss and Buffy and B’Elanna Torres and Black Widow. I even got lesser-known characters like Ellie from the video game The Last of Us, Keyleth from Critical Role, and Penny Rolle from Bitch Planet.

As for real life women, there are contributions from some wonderful people like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Sumalee Montano and Margaret Stohl, and pop culture psychologists Andrea Letamendi and Janina Scarlet.

CV: This kind of book can obviously inspire feelings in the writer as well. How did you find yourself emotionally affected by the writing?

Andrea: It was kind of cathartic, actually. The idea for the book came at a point at my life when I was struggling with my mental health and some other personal issues. I was already using writing — primarily fanfic — and different types of media to keep my spirits up. So being able to get my emotions out while writing about what all these different characters went through allowed me to verbalize stuff that would usually stay in my head. Some characters in the book I’m personally closer to than others. Just in a sense of them having helped me through things in my past. So writing about them (especially while my life changed over the course of working on this project) was like extra rounds of therapy I didn’t have to pay for.

CV: You have a long time of working with and in entertainment. How has that kind of work at outlets like Marvel and Entertainment Weekly informed your perspective? How did it shape your approach to this material?

Andrea: The only thing better than being passionate about pop culture is being able to be passionate about pop culture professionally. Working at EW gave me the opportunity to write about a lot of things. Mostly my favorite characters/movies/shows — analytically. And having that experience really helped because that’s more or less how I wrote this book. Working at Marvel has helped me realize how you can have an impact on people no matter what you think of yourself. I’m super active and accessible on social media. Even though I work in public relations, I honestly don’t consider my job very visible because I’m not out there on the front lines. So when people reach out or come up to me and talk to me, it always makes me realize just how much people are paying attention to what you do and how you brand yourself.

GEEK GIRLS: Cover art
Snag your copy of GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY (Courtesy of Sterling Press)

End of the Creative Journey

CV: How are you sitting with GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY being done?

Andrea: I’m a big ball of nerves and anxiety. I’m also excited! It’s a strange mix. I didn’t really share the project with writing partners or my husband or my friends. Aside from small snippets when I’d get stuck and need advice, so basically, no one aside from my agent and publisher have seen this whole thing until now.

Putting something into the word that feels like your baby is slightly terrifying. Because you know it’s out of your hands and there’s nothing you can do except hope people enjoy it and take something away from it. At the end of the day, as anxious as I am about hearing what people think, I can only hope I didn’t screw something up and that I wrote something people like. But I’m honestly excited to finally have this book out there. To have people discover these characters and real-life women, even if they’re already familiar with them.

CV: For people contemplating picking this up, how would you sell them? What’s your couple of sentences “you can’t miss this!” pitch?

Andrea: GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY is look at iconic characters in fiction from a mental health perspective. How their struggles and vulnerabilities helped define them. How learning from them can help us overcome/understand our own real life struggles. There are encouraging stories from creators who have worked on these characters in books, video games, and comics, and helpful insight from psychologists. And it’s for anyone of any age, no matter how familiar you are with the world of pop culture!

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