Elyse Discher is one of my fellow reviewers at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, where she write about romance, romantic suspense, and knitting. See that cowl in her photo? she made that. She made me one too, mine is purple. Contain your jealousy.
I asked Elyse about her experiences with fandom, and here’s what she has to say about growing up isolated and then finding community:
Were you always a big reader? Was there any reading that you felt you couldn’t share?
I was always a big reader. I grew up in a house with a lot of books, and my mom was a reader, so it was just something that I naturally fell into. Somewhere around 5th grade I transitioned out of junior books and into adult books. I read all of my mom’s Michael Crichton and Kinsey Milhone books over the summer. This was also around the time I discovered Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I started reading SF/F around the time my family life was in upheaval. I was looking for escape, and the farther away I could get, the better. I became very interested in Star Wars, and I read the Timothy Zahn and Kevin J. Anderson novels voraciously.
What were you into growing up, and how have your interests changed?
As a girl in 5th or 6th grade, I absolutely would not share that I was really interested in Sci-fi. I already felt like an outsider–I was very small, I was nerdy and I was shy. I loved Star Wars and I liked Star Trek and I read some epic fantasy, but I would not bring those books to school. The idea that my peers would see me reading them was mortifying.
This was way before nerd was chic. Girls my age, in my area, were supposed to be into boys and horses and makeup, and none of that interested me at all. I also didn’t get boobs till I was almost 20, I swear. I felt like a little kid hanging around with girls who were much more savvy and developed than me. I’d rather talk about Star Trek The Next Generation than what the boys in our class were doing.
Were you able to share your interests when you were a kid, or did you feel like an outsider?
It was a very isolated experience. I had friends, and we had common interests, but even they didn’t know about my interest in sci-fi. There was no one I could talk to about it. When I hit high school, Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out and some of my friends were really interested in that too. It was really the first time I could talk to my peers about this stuff. We’d call each other immediately after each new episode to discuss. It was the first time I had an opportunity to share an interest like that with my friends.
How do you think fandom has changed with the advent of the internet?
With the internet you can reach out and find people who share the same interests you have–that was available to me as a kid. I’m sure there were message boards out there, but I was too young to really use the internet that way yet. I think the big shock for me as I got older was that there were tons of other women who were interested in these things. I had convinced myself that I was fairly unusual. I have a friend whose daughter is very into anime. I see her talking to her friends on Facebook and other social media about the anime fandoms she loves. I really wish that sense of community was available to me when I was younger because I think it would have done a lot to bolster my confidence.
That said, not being able to escape into the internet was probably beneficial too. I am sad that I felt compelled to hide my interests, but I think that if I had the forums that are available to me today, I might have used it as an excuse not to socialize int he way I needed to learn to. As an adult, I’m incredibly grateful for all the awesome people I’ve met online who I can discuss romance novels or knitting or anything with. I think for me the concept of a fandom, as an adult, is kind of like a knitting circle. We all come together to discuss a common interest and participate in it, but we wind up discussing our jobs, kids, vacations, etc. It becomes a broader social experience. It’s made me realize that I can talk to someone on the other side of the world, and they have the same basic experiences I do. It’s very affirming.
I still read sci fi and fantasy but I’ve turned to reading more romance novels and mysteries–especially historical mysteries. Smart Bitches introduced me to a community of AWESOME romance readers and writers. I also love to knit and sites like Ravelry are a God send. So is Twitter; people are awesome at offering advice.
If you want to read more by Elyse, I highly recommend her amazing, powerful essay for Smart Bitches about how reading romance helps her deal with chronic pain.