Interview With an Author: Wil Wheaton

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Wil Wheaton and his annotated memoir, Just A Geek
Author Wil Wheaton and his annotated memoir, Just A Geek

Wil Wheaton is a highly acclaimed producer, narrator, and actor who has appeared in dozens of films and TV series. Most recently, he played a fictionalized version of himself on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, one of the most highly rated and watched sitcoms of the last decade. An accomplished voice actor, Wil has lent his talents to animated series including Family Guy, Teen Titans, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. His audiobook narration of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and was one of Goodreads’ 10 Best Narrator and Audiobook Pairings of All Time. He has also lent his voice to titles by John Scalzi, Randall Monroe, Andy Weir, and Joe Hill. When he isn’t acting, narrating, or podcasting, Wil is writing. A lot. He lives in Los Angeles with his badass, irrepressible wife Anne, one rescued dog, one cat, and four vintage arcade cabinets. Wil’s latest book is Still Just a Geek and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What inspired you to create an annotated edition of Just a Geek rather than a revised edition or writing something completely new?

It wasn’t my idea, and I can’t take credit for its inception. That credit goes to David Pomerico at Morrow, who asked me if I would look at the manuscript for the first time in nearly 20 years, and annotate it with the knowledge and experience I’ve had since then.

The annotated version sort of is the revised edition meets the Criterion edition. If we did it right, the annotations allow the reader to experience the revision process with me in an intimate, conversational style.

What was your process for working on Still Just a Geek? Did you move through Just a Geek as published or did you jump around in the text addressing certain chapters as you felt like taking them on? Or did you have a different method?

I started at the beginning and went all the way through, skipping the hardest parts (think of Pee Wee Herman and the snakes in the burning pet shop in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure). Then I went back and did it again several times, working on a different hard part each time. (Still skipping past the snakes) Then I had to take several months off because it was so emotional and challenging to revisit some deeply painful times in my life. When I did the last couple of passes, I jumped around as I began to see where different bits that were separated by a hundred pages or more were actually related. (Then I brought out all the snakes and collapsed on the sidewalk.)

Star Trek, as a franchise and cultural phenomenon, is making its way through its fifth decade. Do you have a favorite incarnation of Star Trek (series, movies, or something else)?

For me, this is one of those “Do you have a favorite child” questions. Choosing one to be my favorite would diminish the others that I also love, for their own reasons, and it’s moot anyway because my favorite Star Trek series tends to be the one I’m watching at the moment. So I'll say this: The original series will always be deeply special to me because it's what I first saw. TNG, obviously, is my family so it's much more than "a Star Trek series" for me. The current shows are all wonderful for different reasons, and each one does its own special thing for me. For the last few months, I've been deep into Strange New Worlds for Ready Room and I love it in a way I haven't loved Star Trek since the original series. I'm so excited for fans to experience it.

Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how Star Trek, both overall and specifically The Next Generation, have become so ingrained in western culture and continue to be beloved by legions of fans?

In 1966, the world was awful in ways that parallel our world today in so many ways, it sometimes feels like we’ve made no progress at all: racial injustice, the threat of nuclear war, social and financial inequality. Star Trek arrived and said that there was a better world available to us if we were willing to do the work to get there. We needed that message and that hope. Marginalized people needed that visibility. We needed to be reminded that there was so much which united us because of our diversity, finding divisions was a choice. An entire generation of people grew up wanting to make that world a reality, and their kids grew up watching Next Generation with them for the same reason. In 2022, we find ourselves facing all those threats, during a pandemic, an attempted coup, the deliberate choice to ignore climate change, and rising fascism. If ever there was a time we needed Star Trek to inspire and unite us again, it’s now.

Is there a particular episode or entry that you believe best represents Star Trek?

I don’t, and that’s one of the reasons Star Trek is so special and beloved. Everyone has a favorite episode. Everyone has an episode or a character who means something to them, personally, so I think we have to accept Star Trek as a whole. But I’m going to tell you about the TNG episode that is most important to me, personally: "Tapestry". Q gives Picard the choice to relive a moment Picard regrets, so Picard can make a different choice. Picard accepts it, and his whole life changes. Instead of becoming captain, he becomes an officer of absolutely no distinction. Because he changed one thing, Picard says, it unraveled the tapestry of his life, leaving something unrecognizable behind. He had to accept this choice, and learn to accept the ways it changed him, for good and for ill. I have literally written a book about that exact experience in my own life. (It’s currently a best seller!) "Tapestry" reminds us that our lives are complicated and delicate, that we have to take the good with the bad, learn from our mistakes and regrets, and show up every day. I lived with so much pain for my entire life, and I didn’t know how to heal it. So I tried to pluck that thread out by abusing alcohol, and the entire thing nearly collapsed. I got my second chance, quit drinking, and thought about "Tapestry" all the time while I was doing the work I had been avoiding. I’m still healing, and there are still parts of my personal tapestry I don’t like to look at, but like Picard’s artificial heart, they are a fundamental part of me.

You’ve done a lot of different types of work (actor, audio-book narrator, blogger, writer, host, to name a few). Is there something you haven’t done yet but are hoping to have the opportunity to try?

I'd love to get this novel I've been working on for a few years across the finish line. Telling my story in Still Just A Geek was and is meaningful to me, and I’m grateful for all of this, but I still want to tell a character’s story, so I can make things up.

You mention several times in the book that 2022’s Wil Wheaton is a markedly different person from the person you were when you wrote Just a Geek. If you had the chance, is there something you would tell your past self?

I can’t tell him anything specific, because it would wreck the timeline, but I want him to know that it’s going to be okay. I want younger me to know that he's enough. That he isn't the failure that his father makes him believe he is. Keep doing what you’re doing, and eventually, it’s going to be wonderful.

If you had the chance to ask the Wil Wheaton from 2042 a question or tell him something, what would it be?

Does 2022 me get to hear the answer? If yes, my question is: do the fascists completely take over? Because it sure seems like they’re about to take over. Just let me know if I need to start looking at real estate in another country.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

My phone charger, and a glass of water that I really should have taken back into the kitchen a few days ago.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

In no particular order:
Stephen King
John Scalzi
Kurt Vonnegut
James Baldwin
Joan Didion

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Anything by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

No. My dad didn’t pay any attention to anything I did, and my mother encouraged me to read anything I wanted to read.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

I don’t know if it counts as faking, but I hated Great Expectations so much in 9th grade, I skimmed it. 

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I couldn’t tell you the name, but I know that I picked up more than one paranormal/occult/supernatural paperback off the spinning rack at the drug store when I was a kid, based entirely on the cover.

Is there a book that changed your life?

My friend gave me a book called Trapped In The Mirror about adult children of narcissists. I started reading it, expecting to see my mother. It only took a few pages for me to see my father. I remember reading it. I was sitting on a bench in a park on the Westside, waiting for Anne to meet me, and I was maybe a dozen pages in when I realized “Oh my god this is exactly my dad,” and that allowed me to consider that all this stuff I’d internalized about myself, all this toxic and hurtful stuff had nothing to do with me, and had everything to do with him. That moment, and that book, started me down a path toward recognizing my childhood trauma so I could begin the hard work of healing it.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

I find the whole idea of evangelism so off-putting, I want to reframe: is there a book that meant so much to me, I’d share it with another person, in the hopes it meant something similar to them?
There was a book my great aunt gave me called Let’s Go To The Moon. It was published by National Geographic for kids in the 70s, about the Apollo program. That book inspired my imagination and provoked all kinds of questions for me when I started reading it around 6 or 7 years old. The thing that stayed with me was the reminder that we could do amazing things when we worked together, that science was even better than magic because it was real. If there was something today that would inspire the same thing in my nephew’s generation, I’d buy them by the case and give them out...which, I realize, is evangelism. I’m going to work on this.

Book cover for Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir
Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir
Wheaton, Wil