NYCC 2016: Fangirl Life’s Kathleen Smith on the Power of Fiction


Pic: Penguin Random House ©

Kathleen Smith is the author of The Fangirl Life: A Guide to All the Feels and Learning How to Deal, a guide to using fandom to live a happier, more authentic life.

UNBOUND WORLDS: Is this a self-help book or is it about fandom?

KATHLEEN SMITH: Absolutely both. I’m a fangirl and a licensed therapist, so I combined my two passions for this book.

UW: What are some of the thing that someone might learn from your book?

KS: The book is for people who are inspired by fiction in many different forms, and want to take that passion for story and apply it to their own lives. What is the character development that you love? What does that look like in your own life? How can you apply the things you see in your favorite characters to when you’re making big decisions in your own life?

UW: Like narrative psychology?

KS: Yes, basically. There’s a type of therapy called narrative therapy, and I’m a big fan of it.

UW: When did you begin your career in mental health, and how did you learn to apply fandom to your practice?

KS: I’ve been a therapist for about 5 years and I’ve been in grad school getting my PhD for about a million years. I’m about to finish. I love writing about therapy, and I’m a mental health journalist. I started thinking about how in psychology there are a lot of theories about how people change. When I looked at my own life, I found that I was inspired by fiction. I thought there had to be a way to combine these two into a book.

UW: Do you find that people do this anyway but maybe aren’t aware of it?

KS: Absolutely. When my friends and I want to encourage or root for each other, we ask what would so-and-so do? They’ve been in situations like this. We are always naming fictional characters and fictional situations that inspire us.

UW: I think about Carl Jung’s archetypes and wonder if these heroes are archetypes themselves.

KS: Yes, and Jung also had a concept about wearing masks, as well, and I think the same applies with fiction.

UW: There’s a stigma against mental health care. Could getting a book like this be an easier way for someone to approach the idea of getting help?

KS: I am a firm believer that everyone carries around a little bit of anxiety or stress with them. It doesn’t have to be a mental illness or very stressful situation for someone to take a look at themselves and ask how they can breathe a little bit deeper, or be more in control of their emotions and the decisions they make in life. Portraying that in a fun, fictional way makes the medicine easier to swallow, I guess!

UW: It occurred to me that there’s been stigma against fan culture as well as mental health, an women might experience more of these than even men do.

KS: Typically in our society anything that a teen girl likes is deemed less worthy. It’s what we look at to make our selves feel cooler, right? It’s ridiculous. I feel like that is changing as geek culture becomes more widely accepted. People are more familiar with the language, and I think it’s less stigmatizing.

UW: If I don’t feel like I have a problem, can I still get something out of the book?

KS: Yes. There’s career advice, stuff about building a solid romantic relationship, goal planning: things that everyone can benefit from, regardless of whether they want to work on a problem or not.