Nerd Culture

Felicia Day on Pet Names, Creativity, and Toxic Fan Culture

Felicia Day: Actress, author, hedgehog muse.
Felicia Day: Actress, author, hedgehog muse. Christina Ganolfo
Nerds are the new normies.

It was hip to be square in the ’80s, but the weirdos are having a renaissance in the 21st century. Comic books and d20s used to be secret knowledge passed down from one dork to another. Now, the Infinity Gauntlet is a household name and your Realtor plays Dungeons & Dragons in her spare time.

And Felicia Day is the face of this sea change.

The actress has the kind of career nerds dream of. She’s appeared on beloved television programs like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and Adventure Time, and embodied quirky characters on Supernatural and The Magicians. Day has raised the profile for online creators with her web series, The Guild, and became a New York Times bestselling author in 2016 with her memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost).

She’s penned another book called Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity. In anticipation of her appearance at Changing Hands in Tempe on Tuesday, October 1, for a meet-and-greet book signing, Day was game to hop on the phone and talk to us about her new book, strange fan tributes, and her thoughts on toxic fan culture.

Phoenix New Times: In the introduction to Embrace Your Weird, you mentioned meeting a fan who said they named their hedgehog after you. What’s that like?

Felicia Day: I’ve had a lot of pets named after me over the years, but the hedgehog really puts it over the top. I felt like I really made it at that point.

Does it feel weird that people name their pets after you?

I mean, there are human babies named after my characters, like Charlie from Supernatural. People have tattooed my face on their legs. So a hedgehog isn’t weird. For some reason, it’s delightful.

What compelled you to write a book about creativity?

I really felt motivated after releasing my memoir, You're Never Weird on the Internet. I was getting a lot of feedback from people who said that I helped them start creating things and also got encouraged to get help for their anxiety and depression — which is something I was quite transparent about in the book. And because I heard this feedback and realized, “Oh, my story can help people’s lives,” I wanted to do more of this. So this book is kind of my giving the keys to the audience and having this book be about them versus my memoir being about me. It’s an interactive workbook that’s funny and fun, but hopefully, by the end of the journey, it’ll encourage people to be themselves.

As someone who works in multiple mediums, did writing this book make you reflect on your own creative processes? Did it make you examine how you generate ideas?

Oh, for sure! I think everything that we make changes us a little bit as creators. This book … sometimes it was very easy to write, and sometimes it was very difficult. I was taking these concepts that kind of rule a lot of our lives, like procrastination, and anxiety and trying to frame them in a funny way that also made people think about their own lives in a different way. So it was a challenge every step of the way. As a result of writing this book, I have a much easier time now getting myself into creativity, whereas before I had a lot of blocks, um, blocking me. While I was copy-editing the book, I would highlight a word or a line and say, "Hey, that’s exactly what I needed to hear right now."

One thing that really struck me about the book was how you do a great job of demystifying the creative process. You break down the idea that being creative and weird is some hard-to-achieve thing. It really makes a case for the accessibility of art.

Yeah, that’s the thing — there’s this idea that creators are a different kind of person than regular people. And I wanted to break that barrier down and just encourage everyone to create. I think creativity is important to incorporate in your life for your well-being and your happiness. And it’s something we all do, on some level. So why not do more of it and in a way that makes you feel more joyful about life?

In the book, you mentioned you used to collect teapots when you were younger. I gotta know: why? What’s the appeal there?

The appeal was that I loved Victorian fiction. I just loved Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice — any kind of Victoriana, I was obsessed with it. Who knows what spurs us, but I certainly would love to put on a corset any day of the week. I still have it in me.

Over the last decade, there’s been a really welcome broadening of geek culture where it’s become more inclusive. Women, people of color, and queer voices are more present than ever before. But there’s also been this countervailing force of toxic fandom, of people who are territorial and ugly about their passions. As someone who’s so deeply immersed in fan culture and geek pursuits and presents a model for fandom as something positive and healthy, how do you feel about this divide?

There’s always a slippery slope to entitlement. Especially when we’re in a world where people just throw away other people’s creativity easily because we’re just inundated with it all the time. So we have to be more ruthless and less empathetic — it’s not like before when we had less to choose from, so we had more time to absorb the totality of something we consume. Now, we just kinda take it and throw it away immediately to move on to the next one. And so we don’t think that there’s really a person behind that piece of creativity, that struggles, that spent years on it. And maybe it’s really important to them. And the fact that just because you love something and you fantasize about it and immerse yourself in it, it doesn’t mean that you have ownership over it. You’re consuming somebody’s point of view.

When you’re talking about geeks, we’re really drawn to world-building. And because of that, because we’re all immersed in the rules of that world, we all feel entitled to the stories in it. The great thing is that anyone can write fan fiction or do fan art, but you have to let the creators be the people who spearhead those worlds—otherwise we’re just creating a toxic environment.

Felicia Day is scheduled to do a meet-and-greet on Tuesday, October 1, at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. Tickets are $18.38 and include a copy of the book. Tickets can be purchased in advance via Changing Hands.
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Ashley Naftule