The MFA Creative Writing program’s “Writers Return to Campus Series” presents author, blogger, and self-proclaimed geek Eric Smith ’08M on Thursday, Jan. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Commons Stein Fireplace Lounge. Cofounder of the blog Geekadelphia and the Philly Geek Awards, Smith plans to talk about geek culture and Inked, his new book that tells the story of a teenager who lives in a society plagued by a corrupt government and is marked by mandatory tattoos that determine destiny.
Smith’s previous book, The Geek’s Guide to Dating, earned an Amazon 2013 Best Book of the Year selection in Humor and was named one of PopCrush’s Best Books of 2013. His essays have been published in Bygone Bureau, Apiary, and The Head and Hand Press’ Asteroid Belt Almanac, and he also has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and ThinkGeek.
Smith, who works in social media and marketing for the publishing company Quirk Books, spoke with The Bulletin’s Jasmine Henderson ’15 about geekdom, his writing career, and his pet chinchilla.
Jasmine Henderson: What is a geek?
Eric Smith: I think the term means different things for different people. I like to think of geeks as people who take their passions seriously to the point that they become a real part of who they are and what they do, a part of their lifestyle and career. I spend a lot of time with my geeky passions, which I’ve managed to make into a career. I’m pretty obsessive about books, comics, video games, admittedly terrible movies, etc.
JH: Did you think your geeky interests could become a passion that pays your rent?
ES: Hah! I did not. I think it finally started to kick in once I moved to Philadelphia. Philly's an awesome community to geek out in. I met a lot of full-time geeks, and getting to know them helped give me that push.
JH: How has geek culture changed since your childhood, especially in relation to the mainstream?
ES: We’re definitely a lot cooler now. It’s hip to be a geek. Just look how well Marvel films are doing, breaking box-office records all over the place. It's a good time to be geeky.
JH: What interests, geeky or otherwise, have dominated your world lately?
ES: Definitely video games. It’s been rough. Dragon Age: Inquisition came out and that has basically been my life. Also weddings. I’m getting married this year, so that’s been a big part of what’s been on my mind. Pinterest, Dragon Age, Pinterest, Dragon Age, etc.
JH: When you wrote Geek’s Guide, you read other dating guides, books on etiquette, and comic books. What kind of research was needed to write Inked? How was the process of writing it different from writing Geek’s Guide?
ES:Geek’s Guide is non-fiction/humor, so a lot more research was needed for that. Inked, though, is a fictional fantasy story, so the research wasn’t as intense. I spent more time reading what I wanted to be writing. I read a lot of great young adult (YA) fantasy novels (Susan Dennard’s trilogy was a big influence and is a personal favorite) and YA romance. I revisited some of my favorite fantasy games, both video and analog. I played a lot more Magic: The Gathering than I had in recent years. And I definitely went paintballing to write a better battle scene.
JH: What is it about the YA genre that continues to appeal to people throughout adulthood?
ES: I think it’s because, deep down, everyone still has an angsty teenager who refuses to go away. And the themes that tend to be present in YA, like being yourself, going against the grain, chasing your dreams—those never get old.
JH: During an interview on a podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert said she makes it a point to dress well before she sits down to write and believes it helps her take writing seriously. Bill Corbett, in an interview on the same podcast, said he doesn’t worry about what he’s wearing at all. How do you get your best writing done?
ES: I can almost never write at home. Too many distractions. I’ll want to play video games, take my pet chinchilla, Mittens, out, watch Netflix, or get distracted by the music I’m putting on. So I generally do the cliché thing and hit up a coffeeshop.
JH: Any advice for aspiring writers?
ES: Write and don’t stop! Don’t make the mistake of talking about writing more than actually writing. If you have a great idea, don’t waste your time rambling about the concept. Dive in and explore it.