I unabashedly adored Christopher Golden’s novel, Ararat, and called it “delicious terror candy.” So needless to say, I’m excited to read its follow-up, The Pandora Room. I expect more adventure and terror on the menu. Here’s Chris to talk about something a little different, though, something adjacent to all writers, I think: how to maintain the geeky kid within even as you grow up.
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Maybe you had the world’s greatest parents, or maybe the world’s worst. Most of us fall somewhere in between, but let’s be honest—a lot of the geeks I know fell in love with books or comics or movies because they were a joyful, thrilling haven from whatever troubles might exist in the outside world. (I don’t call it the “real” world here, because to the kid I once was, the worlds of my imagination were just as real as whatever happened at school, or at home, or in the neighborhood.)
As a kid, I never found anyone who really shared my passions. My brother liked comics and monster movies, too, but his interest waned. I had the starter set for The Call of Cthulhu role-playing game but I never found anyone to play that game with me, nor did I ever have a chance to play Dungeons & Dragons (my first game was just a couple of years ago). The lack of shared interest stopped me reading comics from the age of 13 or so until I was 19 and a sophomore in college, having met roommates that helped rekindle my love for the medium and its characters. Fortunately, my love of books and monster movies never went away.
They say that when you become an adult, you’re supposed to put away childish things, but one of the common threads that binds all of us geeks is that we hardly ever bother with such “maturity,” and almost never worry about it. The reward that comes with being a grownup geek is being able to embrace the things that you love without caring what others might think. Even better, in recent years it seems that the things that we love have become the things that everyone seems to love (at least to one degree or another).
Sometimes, though, the firm embrace with which we hang onto the passionate interests of youth can mean we eschew certain lessons that are supposed to happen during childhood. Perhaps our parents didn’t teach us or maybe we simply never listened, too swept away in a video game or TV episode to pay attention to parental wisdom. The truth is that, all too often, we geeks must learn on our own, teach ourselves…be our own best parents.
It’s been my great fortune that the geeky kid I was at thirteen has grown up to make a living creating horror, fantasy, science-fiction, and mystery stories. I write comics and novels and screenplays and video games. It’s a dream come true, but like anyone else who spends his life immersed in geek culture, I’ve seen first hand that there are lots of lessons we all still need to learn. So whether you’re a fellow creator, or simply a fellow geek, here are Eight Tips for Parenting the Geek Within.
- Let the Geek Flag Fly (Without Driving Everyone Around You Insane): From a very early age, I’d be in school, irrationally excited about my peanut butter sandwich. I’d raise my hand during lunch and cry out “Whoever likes peanut butter, raise your hand!” I wanted everyone to like the things I liked. When I was in my Doc Savage stage, I wanted everyone to read Doc Savage novels (one kid did, but without much interest). As I grew older, I didn’t fly my flag quite as high, but it kept flying. So yes, absolutely, share your passion for whatever makes you geek out. Talk about Star Wars or Pokemon or comics, talk about manga or K-pop or screamo. Spread your love for Jordan Peele or Karyn Kusama or Turner Classic Movies. Weep over Game of Thrones or the return of Deadwood or season 16 of Grey’s Anatomy. But all that said, be cognizant of the people around you. Most folks will indulge your geekery even if they don’t share it, but know that just as others would be rude to cut you off too quickly or brusquely dismiss your enthusiasm, it’s equally rude and discourteous to go on ad nauseum with a soliloquy about the history and variations of the Spider-Verse with someone who really wishes you’d been succinct and finished up about twenty minutes ago. Many of us are on the spectrum and sometimes sensing how much is too much can be difficult, but you can always ask those around you. Or watch for their eyes to glaze over, and then go find the next person with whom you can share your love of any one of the thirteen doctors…or all of them!
- Celebrate the tiny successes: I wish I’d had someone teach me this when I was a kid. So much emphasis is placed on long-term goals, on what you’ll be when you grow up, on how your personal story will turn out. The grim news is that you don’t win the game of life when it’s over. Every day, every moment, presents its own opportunities for success and failure, so when you get those little successes—from finding that item you were absolutely sure you’d lost to getting a raise at work to giving someone a gift that it turns out was exactly right—you have to celebrate. I had a great moment in my career about a decade ago that my wife wanted to celebrate. She even bought champagne. I didn’t want to open that bottle; I felt jinxed somehow, that this wasn’t worth celebrating unless the end result was this huge thing that better defined success in my mind back in those days. I was an idiot. Now I celebrate the little successes along the way, and here’s why—we feel all the little failures very keenly. They cut deep. We’d be foolish not to heal some of those cuts by allowing ourselves to feel joy when we get a win.
- Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Gets Hurt: When I was a kid, Marvel published a legendary comic book special featuring the band Kiss. In that comic, there’s a character wandering through the pages wearing a t-shirt that says “Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Gets Hurt.” While I don’t necessarily believe that last part (you can still get hurt when people are playing fair but hard), the rest holds true. Comics legend Stephen R. Bissette was one of my mentors very early on and he shared a lot of hard-won wisdom with me, chief among them to understand any contract I was signing and to get everything down in writing. Fair play, friends. Be honest in your personal and business relationships, forthcoming with friends and collaborators, do the work you’re paid to do, take responsibility when you fuck up. But…play hard. Don’t let anyone make a fool of you or take advantage of your good nature. Stand up for yourself, no matter what. Obviously diplomacy is admirable, but not at the expense of your integrity or self-respect. Losing a friend or a job is nowhere near as bad as feeling resentment for the rest of your life. Play hard, play fair, nobody gets hurt.
- Look Out For One Another: This should go without saying, but sadly it can’t. In life, including geek lives, there will always be people who prey on the unwary, the innocent, the naïve. This simple credo, Look Out For One Another, covers a lot of bases. If you’re a geek at a convention and you see behavior that crosses lines, speak up or step in, bear witness, make sure those around you are safe and informed. The same goes for the rest of the world. If you know someone is a danger to others, speak up. The temptation to stay quiet, to not rock the boat, will always be there, but if your parents didn’t teach you to stand up to bullies, whether they’re bullying you or someone else, here’s your parental lesson you’ve been waiting for.
- Keep Your Hands to Yourself: Geeks come from all walks of life, and all levels of life experience, but some of us have spent less time in contact with other people, particularly those we might find exciting or attractive. Conventions are often places where hundreds or thousands of such people gather, but this point doesn’t only apply to conventions. Consent is absolute. Keep your hands to yourself. Yes, there’s a difference between the Trump and the Biden, but even the most innocent contact can be unwelcome. So even with the best of intentions, make every effort to ascertain whether or not that hug you want to give will be welcomed. Learn about consent and teach others, if you can.
- Raise Your Voice—But Lift Others, Too: Remember that little kid (me) who would raise his hand and shout “Whoever likes peanut butter, raise your hand?” It’s wonderful to share our enthusiasms with others. But don’t just celebrate your own geekeries…celebrate other fandoms, too. As my wife and I would tell our children when they were small, “Don’t yuck somebody’s yum.” Be happy that others are happy and, more importantly, know when to step aside and let them raise their hand and shout “whoever likes deviled eggs, raise your hand!” even if you’ve never tried deviled eggs, or you have and thought they were seriously nasty. This is especially true for people whose experiences and backgrounds are different from yours, and it extends into your real, day-to-day life as well. Let others speak. If those around you don’t pay attention, do what you can to amplify those different voices, passions, and interests. Be open to learning new things, new geekeries, new fandoms, and realize that our minds are often closed without us even realizing it, and they require us to want to open them.
- Honor The Kid You Were: Once upon a time, whether you were two or twelve or seventeen, you loved this show or that author or that artist. Later, you may call those things guilty pleasures and dismiss them, and you might even be tempted to sneer about them and join in when others do the same. Maybe you’re embarrassed, but this is my plea to you—don’t be. There’s a purity to those childhood emotions that you should hang onto as long as you can, forever if possible. Yes, there are limits. Some things you loved are now tainted by hindsight. I’m not talking about those things. We all have wonderful past loves, and we need to honor them. Throughout my career as a writer, certain authors have looked down their noses at my continued work-for-hire efforts, especially during times when I didn’t financially need to do those projects. But I’ll tell you something. When an editor asks if I want to write a prequel to Aliens or the novelization of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, you’re damn right I’m going to say yes. Any other answer would be an unforgivable betrayal of the kid I once was. That kid and his passions are the only reasons I have a career as a storyteller, and I’m always going to honor him. I hope you always do the same with your own younger geek self. Call them guilty pleasures if you want, but embrace them for the joy they once gave you (and maybe still do).
- No fucking spoilers: You heard me. How many times do you have to be told? If you have any respect at all for fandom, for geekery, for your own passions and those of others, you absolutely do not spoil the plots of stories for anyone else. NO SPOILERS. End of discussion.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these Eight Tips for Parenting the Geek Within. They’re just the start, of course. All of these bits of advice deserve a deeper dive, but the larger point is this—holding onto childhood passions doesn’t mean you don’t mature and learn and grow. You don’t have to “put away childish things” just because you’re no longer a child. We can all revel in the things that make us smile and get our hearts racing, all while being kind, patient, and welcoming to others. It seems simple, I know, and yet we all know that isn’t always the case.
Boy, I wish I still had my Mego Marvel action figures. My favorite was The Falcon. I liked his boots.
Whoever likes The Falcon, raise your hand!
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CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN is the New York Times bestselling author of Snowblind, Dead Ringers, Tin Men, and Of Saints and Shadows, among many other novels. With Mike Mignola, he is the co-creator of two cult favorite comic book series, Baltimore and Joe Golem: Occult Detective. Golden is also the editor of such anthologies as Seize the Night, The New Dead, and Dark Cities, and the co-host of the popular podcast Three Guys with Beards. He lives in Massachusetts.