Astrolabe (18): Transmission Received with Amy Ratcliffe
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In issue 18 of Astrolabe, I caught up with A Kid's Guide to Fandom writer and Nerdist Managing Editor Amy Ratcliffe to discuss the wonderful potential of fandom for kids, and the treacherous challenges required to navigate their murky, often toxic waters.
Here, you'll find the full transcript of my interview with Amy, which reveals more information about her own path into fandom, her new book, and how she sees fandom evolving in the future.
“This was made for me.”
Aidan Moher: You’ve got a new book from RP Kids called A Kid's Guide to Fandom: Exploring Fan-Fic, Cosplay, Gaming, Podcasting, and More in the Geek World!. What can you tell me about it?
Amy Ratcliffe: A Kid's Guide to Fandom is all about helping kids learn about what fandom is and how to embrace it. Specifically transformative fandom that encourages kids to take their passion and use it to get creative and then connect with others who like the same things. Ultimately I hope the book helps kids feel more comfortable embracing the things they love and just being themselves.
AM: What’s fandom all about?
AR: Fandom comes with a million different sparkling facets, but I think, at its core, fandom is that feeling you get when you read a book, play a game, or watch a movie or series and you think, “This was made for me.” Then you meet someone else who feels the same way and you form a community within the fandom. When something about a story resonates with you in that way, it's easy to forge a connection and go all in.
AM: Why’d you decide to write a book about fandom that specifically spoke to children?
AR: I didn't learn the term “fandom” until well into adulthood, which is also when I found similarly minded folks to connect with over various fandoms. I wish I would have known about it when I was a kid—just understanding that others out there also lost it over The Dark Crystal would have been reassuring. So the idea of introducing fandom to kids really appealed to me.
AM: Can you tell me about your own experiences in fandom?
AR: I'm always surprised at how much room I have in my heart for different fandoms; my top five are always changing. But my first fandom, though I didn't know it at the time, was probably The Wheel of Time. I started reading the books in high school and quickly got invested in the world. I had to use a family friend's dial-up internet at the time but I used it to visit Wheel of Time forums and dig into the meanings of various prophecies in the books and nerd out about the Aes Sedai.
AM: How do you think fandom has changed over the years?
AR: Fandom is more accessible than ever. With pop culture becoming more mainstream, we're just exposed to more and more fictional worlds to connect with. If you start playing Minecraft, for example, about a million websites exist to help you with tips and custom builds. Some of your friends probably play too. And it's like that for everything. You can dip as much of your foot in as you want to, but the vast well of material there is... kinda overwhelming sometimes. A long way from my Wheel of Time forum days.
AM: What did you learn while writing A Kid’s Guide to Fandom?
AR: I learned so much while writing this book. First of all, it was my first middle-grade release and my first non-Star Wars book. Writing for myself versus a licensed property was a learning curve. The biggest thing, though, was realizing how much calculus parents have to do when it comes to kids. I don't have children so I reached out to friend with kids and teachers I know to really think through how to safely encourage kids to discover other kids interested in the same fandoms. It confirmed I would just worry all the time if I had children.
AM: A big matter of discussion these days is the prevalence of toxic fandoms—or at least vocal pockets of toxic fandom within larger communities. What can kids and their parents do to ensure their involvement fandom stays positive and healthy?
AR: Toxic fandom is definitely something to consider when stepping into any new fandom. Because even if it's only small groups of vocal people, it's still awful and still not acceptable. I think parents should be cognizant of that while navigating fandom spaces with their kids. It's one reason you can't just set kids loose in existing groups without some guidance. We can't pretend it doesn't exist. I really wanted to emphasize the importance of being kind to others and being open-minded, accepting, and non-judgmental in the book. I think when you're building a fandom community you can stay vigilant and create safe spaces that are welcoming to new folks, but it does mean kind of setting the tone from the beginning and not tolerating any toxic behavior (which isn't the same as someone critiquing something obviously).
AM: How do you see fandom changing in the future?
AR: It's wild to think back to the fandoms of my Wheel of Time forum days or my Battlestar Galactica LiveJournal community to now. So much has changed in the past 15 years, mostly for the better. And it will continue to evolve. Knowing that your fandoms and your communities will fluctuate is key; you have to be prepared to let go. And I think since many of us have publicly shared our fandoms with everyone through social media platforms that we may shift towards curating our fandom spaces more and celebrating and critiquing with folks we are know and are comfortable with.
AM: Thanks so much for joining me, Amy! Where can people find you and your work?
There are lots of ways to support Astrolabe and my other work. Check ‘em out!