While superhero and fantasy stories are fiction, readers can still learn real-life lessons from them. New author but familiar name Andrea Towers think she’s learned those lessons and wants to help pass them along to others.
Towers, Marvel Entertainment's Sales and Communications Associate since early 2017, is applying what she’s learned at the House of Ideas and in her entertainment journalism past for the upcoming self-help book Geek Girls Don't Cry.
Due out April 2 from Sterling, Geek Girls Don't Cry pulls from Towers' years working in a world dominated by male heroes to explore the meaning of female strength and heroism.
Towers spoke with Newsarama about this motivational approach using characters she helps shepherd on a day-to-day basis, and goes into detail about the fictional heroes (and real-life ones) that helped make this book possible.
Newsarama: Andrea, what prompted you to write Geek Girls Don't Cry?
Andrea Towers: The short answer is that writing a book is something I’ve dreamed about doing forever, but the longer answer is that the idea came at a time when I was struggling with my mental health and some situations in my personal/professional life. As I mention in the book’s introduction, I’ve always gravitated towards pop culture when I’ve needed help or an escape (as many of us do), and during those particular moments back in 2016 I kind of had a lightbulb moment about that. From there, the idea spiraled into looking at how we can use fictional characters to help understand and work through our mental health struggles.
I wanted to focus specifically on pop culture women in my book, because I feel like there’s a definite disconnect in how visible their backgrounds are as compared to male characters – and also, there are so many ladies that people don’t even know about! I wanted to give a spotlight to those stories, the well-known ones and the ones that aren’t as well known. I mean, you always hear people talking about Batman’s emotional journey, but you rarely hear people talking at length about what Supergirl went through.
Nrama: So this has been underway for some time - how did coming to work at Marvel beginning in 2017 change the lived experience you are having and connecting you with creators and fans on both sides of things?
Towers: I came from the journalism world and because I was a writer doing interviews and promoting projects, I connected mostly with creators. At Marvel, I connected with creators and fans, and it definitely made me more aware of how you can personally have an impact on people. In turn, that kind of made me more aware of how important it can be to hear and learn about someone else’s story. I’ve had people come up to me at conventions or reach out via Twitter and every time that happens, I always get taken aback at how much you can matter even if you don’t realize it.
Nrama: Your book asks 'What does it mean to be strong?'. For you, what's your answer?
Towers: Accepting your failures, vulnerabilities, and regrets, and owning them. It took me a long time to feel like I could be open about my anxieties and bad days or even the fact that I regularly go to therapy, because I was always worried I’d be seen as a downer or an attention seeker. But I eventually realized that talking about all that stuff and showing it to the world didn’t make me weak – it actually helped people to hear it.
Nrama: The book is divided into sections about overcoming different facets of life - trauma, grief, adversity, depression, isolation. How were you able to delineate all these fictional heroes and figure out where their stories would fit into the larger one you're telling?
Towers: It was a process! The table of contents went through so many revisions, even while it was being looked at by different publishers, but the single most important piece of advice I got from my editor when we started working together was “self-help first, pop culture second.” That really helped streamline everything, and once I figured out what overarching mental health struggles I could work with, it was easier to group characters together.
I had a primary list of characters I knew I wanted to include who had very defined and obvious struggles, like Katniss, Black Widow, Jessica Jones, and Buffy, but a lot of it came down to figuring out who had the strongest stories/lessons and how could I elevate those lessons with real world examples/insight? I did a lot of research to make sure that each section was well balanced and also to make sure my overall character list was as inclusive as possible, but once a full table of contents was in place, it all kind of flowed together naturally.
Nrama: Was/is there a personal touchstone hero for you in regards to this book?
Towers: Absolutely. I’d say there were two – Black Widow and Scully - and they’re my first two chapters in this book for a reason.
Scully was extremely instrumental in helping me through high school when The X-Files was airing. It was because of Gillian Anderson that I (briefly) attempted to pursue a career in medicine and pushed myself academically, and I really don’t believe I would’ve been as motivated if I didn’t have the character’s influence guiding me through my formative years.
And Black Widow has been my favorite character since pretty much forever. In her comic runs, I’ve always identified so deeply with her struggles of not quite fitting in, living with regrets, and questioning your self-worth. Watching her character grow over the years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has mirrored a lot of my professional growth, and it actually feels a little bittersweet that my book is coming out the same month as Endgame in that regard.
Nrama: This also includes interviews with writers, artists, and creators about their experience. You interviewed people professionally for years as a journalist for Entertainment Weekly and others. Who all did you speak with, and was there anyone whose answers surprised you?
Towers: One of the best things about writing this book was that I got to involve people whose relationships – personal and professional - were a product of my own hard work in the industry. It felt like a cool full circle.
I became close with Margaret Stohl while covering her first Black Widow book at EW, and I’ve known Kelly Sue DeConnick for awhile through comic work – both were gracious enough to take time out of their insanely busy schedules to talk with me. Sam Maggs is someone I’ve known and followed for years, as we’ve circled around each other in the geek community (fun fact, we share the same agent!) Same with Catrina Dennis, who has been such a strong voice for inclusivity in media, particularly when it comes to Star Wars. And Sumalee Montano, whose talent I had been a fan of for awhile but who I didn’t really get to know until she guested on an episode of Critical Role last year, is one of the kindest, most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. (Although she’s not actually interviewed, I’d be remiss if I left out Robyn Warren, founder of Geek Girls Strong and a huge advocate for mental health and wellness in the geek community. She contributed a really fun segment.)
Since the book is rooted in self-help and mental health and I’m obviously not a licensed psychologist, I also spent a lot of time talking to professionals who are prominent in the geek community – ladies like Janina Scarlet and Andrea Letamendi - as well as my friend Amy Saborsky, who I’ve known since college. I think based on who I was asking and how well I knew them, I expected most of the responses. What I was more surprised about was how open people chose to be. My disclaimer to everyone was “answer with as much or as little as you feel comfortable with” and I was honestly surprised (and humbled) that so many people shared such personal stories.
Nrama: This is billed as a self-help book for fans of pop culture. What superheroes do you think could/would benefit from this book themselves?
Towers: I’ll see if I can be more creative than listing someone who is already in the book, because there’s so many. If you’re familiar with the CW show Black Lightning, there’s a teen meta named Jennifer Pierce who recently started to see a therapist because she was trying to deal with her growing powers. She’s a lot like She-Hulk, in a way – she’s scared of losing control and what that will mean in terms of how the world sees her. I like to think that by reading about other characters who came up against their own adversities or who struggled with feeling isolated because of their gifts, she might be able to find comfort in seeing herself represented by these awesome female heroes.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with this book?
Towers: Growing up an avid reader, I always remembered when stories stuck with me or made me think, and I hope my book has a similar effect on people. I hope that people can find themselves in it, no matter who you are or what kind of life experiences you’ve had – that’s my biggest goal. I also hope I can show people that finding comfort in fictional spaces is absolutely valid and important, no matter what views people might have on the matter.
Nrama: Are you doing any signings or events related to the books release?
Towers: Yes! I’m doing a signing in Burbank, California at Emerald Knights Comics and Games on April 6th with the lovely Marisha Ray of Critical Role, who wrote my foreword. It’s actually my big launch celebration, and I’m going to the West Coast to do it! I’m also working on setting up some fun events for April/May tied to my launch that I’m not sure I can talk about yet but I’ll be posting details on Twitter hopefully soon!