Ethan Gilsdorf is the celebrated geek author of the very awesome book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. It’s the sort of book that, if you’re a lifelong geek like me, you can’t put down. The book chronicles Ethan’s life as a young geek, his escape from his roots, and then his return. From Tolkien to tabletop roleplaying, from Boston to New Zealand, the book is a pitch-perfect account of one geek’s journey in a very, very wide world.
I met Ethan earlier this year at PAX:East, where we sat on a panel together. At that point, his book was just in hardcover: but lo! It has landed in paperback!
So, in celebration this great book going paperback, I asked Ethan to do an interview for us here at GeekMom. And since he’s done quite a few interviews, I didn’t want it to be the same dull questions as usual. So we delved a little deeper into the depths of geekdom to tease out some unusual answers.
Hark! There is more, indeed.
In addition to the interview, Ethan is also giving away 5 signed copies of his book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks to our readers.
How do you win this coveted book, you ask? Ethan, among other things, is also a poet. So I thought it’d be cool if you could give us a verse or two. Be it a free verse, a limerick, a sonnet, a haiku, or a villanelle, on the geeky subject of your choosing (think “An Ode to Harry Potter” or the “Ballad of Bilbo”). Just put your entries in the comments below and we’ll choose the best five entries by Friday!
Good luck, and geek on!
Ethan Gilsdorf Answers GeekMom’s Curious Questions
GeekMom: You’re playing D&D. Your first character choice?
Ethan Gilsdorf: First, a caveat: I come from the dark ages of AD&D, back when we covered our holy texts (the Monster Manual, et al) with brown shopping bag paper and we didn’t have funky classes like Avenger, Invoker, or College Professor, or races like Minotaur, Shardmind, or SpongeBob. No siree! We walked to wizard school through 3 feet of snow and we didn’t have d20s, only d2s and d3s. But to the question: I have always preferred the sneakier, tree-huggier classes like ranger or thief. As far as races, I go hobbit (ooops, silly me, I mean “halfling”) or half-elf. I guess I have a schizophrenic Aragorn … no … Bilbo! fetish. I like the idea of stealth rather than brawn, and I really dig the dark-and-stormy loner types with haunted bloodlines.
GM: The Hobbit movie. Is it going to happen? Your thoughts on PJ vs. Del Toro, and what is in store for the franchise?
EG: The news on this darned movie changes daily. Now that GDT is out, at least those who worried he’d Hellboy it up too much or front-load it with too much action and creatures and special effects, should be breathing a sigh of relief. GDT is a wonderful director, don’t get me wrong. But there’s some solace in knowing that PJ will be at the helm (at least that’s the last news) and the visual and directorial style will be consistent with LOTR. Now the bigger question is whether The Hobbit will be filmed in New Zealand or not, due to, first, labor/union issues, and now tax break issues, and whether Warner Bros. will want to make a film in a country where the actors threatened to strike. There have been huge rallies in NZ to keep the film there. As I write this, Warners is reportedly headed to NZ to meet with PJ’s company Wingnut Films to move the production offshore. (Weirdly, Facebook pulled a “Keep the Hobbit film shoot in New Zealand” page after it got 10,000 fans — is Facebook in cahoots with Time/Warner?). Tempers are flaring and folks are upset. It’s unfortunate, but since everyone involved stands to make a crapload of money, the film will get made, if not in NZ then the UK or Eastern Europe. (Editor’s note: the film will officially be made in NZ.)
GM: Do you think giving your child a geeky name (Zelda, Frodo, Superman) is a good thing, or a bad thing? Are parents setting their kids up for a geeky upbringing, or will this overt geek indoctrination end up backfiring?
EG: Will naming your spawn Arwen, Neo, Buffy or Leia condemn them to endless torment? I doubt it. There’s already a trend for crazy non-geek mash-up names that seem equally ridiculous, i.e., Breckin? Chance? Maxigan? Attica? Not much goofier than Samwise. Besides, by the time your babies are in high school, Lord of the Rings will be required reading, and they’ll be able to study French, Latin and Na’vi.
GM: What are your geeky black holes? Any fandoms or pastimes you just aren’t into/don’t get/wish you could like but don’t? (Me: Dr. Who, for instance)
EG: One problem is I don’t watch TV as much as I used to, so I’ve missed a lot of the recent shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost (I know, it’s embarrassing to admit! They’re on my list to get on DVD!). And in terms of gaming, I don’t own Xbox or Wii, so I don’t have much first-person experience with the most ground-breaking games like BioShock or Gears of War. What can I say? My hand-eye was always pathetic (although I’m pretty good at old-school arcade games like Galaga and Robotron 2084). I never got into anime or manga, either (but weirdly loved “Star Blazers” as a kid). Like you, I never connected with Dr. Who, despite it airing each night on PBS between Julia Child and MacNeil/Lehrer. Those BBC special effects were just too cheesy a kid who was spoiled on ILM-quality effects. I’m too old for Joss Whedon fandom and wish I had gotten into Magic: The Gathering. But I do my best to keep up and make sure my black holes aren’t too deep. Lately, I’ve been diving into steampunk for an article I’m writing for the Boston Globe. I even attended a steampunk LARP. That was a hoot.
GM: Gilsdorf. Seems like the name has some geeky undertones. I think Gil-Galad, and dwarf. Were you just predestined?
EG: On my book tour, I’ve gotten a zillion comments from people asking me if my name is real. Yep, I say, my parents actually named me this tongue-twister “Ethan Gilsdorf.”. People wonder if it’s Elvish. Or Elvis. At the time, the name Ethan was about as rare as orc teeth. Friends in high school called me Nahte Frodslig.
GM: You spent a good amount of time away from geekery in general. Now you’re embracing it, and well, making money off of the story of your journey. Have you encountered any angry geeks in regards to your years of non-geekiness? Or have people been generally welcoming?
EG: Thankfully, people have been really welcoming. They appreciated me advocating for geek subcultures and in some cases, helping them suppress their own misgivings or hesitations about their geekery and embrace their passions entirely. Of course, rightly, some folks have been skeptical, both while I was traveling and researching the book, and then on the road speaking about Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. I’ve had to pass a “geek cred” test. (Which I usually pass. Just don’t ask me about 4th edition rules.) As for making money off my journey — ha! Who told you writers can make money at this? Honestly, thus far this has been pretty much a break even project for me (so buy the paperback!)
GM: If you could be one superhero for a day, who would it be?
EG: Awesome Teeth Guy? 401K-Man? Jesus? I was a fan of Aquaman as a kid, but his superpowers always seemed pretty lame (communicating telepathically with marine life doesn’t really help with villains ransacking Gotham City, does it?) Actually, I always liked The Thing. And The Flash. OK, I’ll go with The Flash. He is cool.
GM: If you could live in one alternate world (from movies, books, etc.) which would it be, and why?
EG: I have to say Middle-earth. I am a total, 110 percent, certifiable Tolkien geek. I want to live in the Shire and drink ale and dance and grow carrots and eat myself fat and smoke pipeweed. And go on the occasional adventure.
GM: Who’s your geek crush? (If you have one.)
EG: As a confused pre-pubescent in the 1970s, I was infatuated with Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) and her Amazonian boobs. Later, Carrie Fisher as Leia (particularly the Jabba-enslaved Leia in her bronze bikini) did it for me. Nowadays? Tina Fey. Is she a real geek? Probably not. But she looks geeky behind those glasses. I’m a sucker for nerdy librarian types.
GM: What geeky achievement are you most proud of?
EG: Other than writing Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, I’d have to say my trip to New Zealand to visit as many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations as possible, stalk Peter Jackson and sneak in to Weta Workshop was a thrill. I met some of the LOTR effects guys like Peter Lyon (who made the swords) and Gino Acevedo (who did all the prosthetic makeup) and I got to say “Hi” to Richard Taylor. I also sweet-talked my way into seeing the actual manuscripts of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (they’re in Milwaukee, of all places). I was allowed to page through some of Tolkien’s handwritten drafts and drawings like the Gate of Moria and the original map of the Lonely Mountain. I tried not to drool. You can read about these geekouts in my book.
Gilsdorf is the Somerville, Massachusetts-based author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. He also published travel, arts, and pop culture stories regularly in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor and other magazines and newspapers worldwide. His blog “Geek Pride” is seen regularly on PsychologyToday.com and he has also been a guest on talk radio and at conventions like PAX and DragonCon as a fantasy and escapism expert. He watched the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at least once a year, and he plays with his dice whenever he can. You can follow Ethan’s adventures (and read more about the book) here.