Interview: International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club

International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club

A month ago, International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club (IGGPPC) was just going through their first round of pairing up writers (and geeks). Now, a month later, Paper Droids has had the honour of interviewing these four, very talented girls: Stewie, Farquharson, Em and Sparkles!

From our previous article, Geek Girl Pen Pals is about “two people writing letters to each other to fangirl over all things geek. By filling out a form, Leslie and Emily will match pen pals together based on age and interests. Addresses are then swapped, writing begins, and fangirling commences.”

With such an ingenious (and totally geeky) idea, here’s what the girls have to say! (Emoticons welcomed and appreciated!) ~_^

Paper Droids: How did you come up with the idea for Geek Girl Pen Pals?

Stewie: Emily and I had been joking about how we’d love to have a purpose for the sad and ever-growing pile of Sanrio and Lisa Frank stationery we’d accumulated since childhood… we’ve been unable to part with all those little cute pieces of paper and stickers! I also wanted her to send me a Curly Wurly, a candy from UK, as she lives in England and I live in Pennsylvania in the US. We made a couple of joke tweets and in 6 hours, we were live.

Farquharson: It was a spur-of-the-moment idea and we ran with it, and now we’re here and it’s awesome!

PD: How do you pair pen pals to one another? What about the location of the people who’ve signed up?

Farquharson: We split them first into US and Rest of the World (as the balance of sign-ups is about 60:40) and then break it down into our four age groups (which is how we made the House system which Stewie explains a few questions down). Then it is just a case of pairing together people with at least one interest in common. We start by matching someone from the US with someone from the ROTW first until we’re only left with US ones, then we try to match them from separate states. Oh and there is a lot of colour coding involved as well.

Em: It’s a whole lot of work to be so hands on with every single entry, but it’s super interesting to see all the things people love! My favourite part is coming across someone with a really quirky, out-there interest, and then realizing that someone else has the same answer! I love matching those ones up because you know how excited they will be to find a kindred spirit.

PD: What are the rules for signing up?

Sparkles: You have to be 13+ and have geeky interests! You also have to be a positive and friendly person. And no hate speech! We just want to help create positive friendships.

Farquharson: If you are passionate about comics, science, gaming, art, literature, television shows, crafting, writing or anything else for that matter, I’m sure you’ll find a warm welcome within the IGGPPC community.

Em: Be yourself. Obviously this is important in the literal sense to weed out creepers, but also, it’s a community where we want everyone to feel comfortable staying true to themselves. No one will judge you because of your sexuality, race, religion. You don’t have to be embarrassed by your geeky pastimes. Chances are you’ll find new friends with the same ones! We want this to be a place where you can be 100% you, and feel understood by your peers, which doesn’t often happen in day-to-day life.

PD: What is the House system? How does it work?

Stewie: The House System was a solution for the chaos that was the four of us all trying to manage a 1,000+ person community at the same time. In this fashion, we’ve pretty evenly divided the community into age groups. This way when we collect our 1,000 submissions per month for rounds of geeky pen pallery, we can divide the task evenly by each pairing within our own House.

We each lead a House: I lead House Granger (ages 13-17), Emma leads House Quinn (ages 18-24), Farquharson heads House GlaDOS (ages 25-29) and Jen heads House Organa (ages 30+). If you notice, Houses are named for a famous geek girl in geek culture: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Harley Quinn from Batman, GlaDOS from Portal and Leia Organa from Star Wars. The other cool thing is that we act as ‘Headmistress’ to our Houses and get them pumped up for things like House Competitions or any other House-centric events, while managing problems within our specific community and being the go-to person if something is not working out between two House members.

We also did it as a prop to parents of our youngest members. Our youngest House, House Granger, takes into consideration the fact that parents might not want their child involved in a mailing project with someone over 17.

PD: How many people have been involved so far and where are they located?

Sparkles: We have 1,700+ members on our online community, GeekGirlPenPals.com, nearly 2,000 likes on Facebook, 920+ followers on Tumblr, and an insanely active Twitter trending topic, #IGGPPC. There’s something posted almost every hour under that topic! We’ve had 3,000 submissions so far for matching with an International Geek Girl Pen Pal since March 19, 2013. We’ve been lucky to have some famous geek girls involved, including tweets from musician Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, famous geek girl Veronica Belmont, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, author Bonnie Burton, and a feature on the vlog of Kristina Horner, the actress from Job Hunters. We’ve now had girls signed up from over 30 countries including Australia, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, the US, Qatar… so many!

PD: What are you hoping to achieve with this project?

Stewie: I feel like we’ve already achieved it, but in fact it’s an ongoing achievement. We were initially looking to connect with girls from across the planet with similar interests and travel vicariously through them, learning about all sorts of new cultures while connecting on the fan girl level. Since its inception, it’s had explosive growth and we’ve really developed a positive and encouraging community of girls, who almost feel like a family.

Girls are on the forums sharing positive stories, life experiences, looking for a high five or sharing a digital hug. And the project is really the bridge of online to offline. With pen pals, you send a letter. With our House Competitions, some of the games involved donating clothes to charity or cans of food to a homeless shelter. With our IGGPPC Theatre, girls have live watch-alongs of geek shows and movies like Firefly or Disney Pixar movies and chat about it in live time in our chat room. With our Meet Ups, the IGGPPC members can meet in real life and share a fun moment in real life, while scoring some fun IGGPPC swag like pins or postcards! It could just go anywhere and we know the lift off has happened, so we’re on the spaceship seeing where the ride will take us.

Farquharson: I actually couldn’t have put it better than that, so yeah, what she said.

Em: Every single day when I jump online, something has changed or we’ve come up with exciting new ideas. It’s the highlight of my day waking up and checking our staff Facebook chats. Since we are all on different time zones IGGPPC is running behind the scenes 24 hours a day. Constant improvements and expansions is what we are all about! IGGPPC never sleep!

PD: What is the most incredible story from pen pals pairing thus far?

Stewie: I can think of one in particular. We had accidentally matched two girls who were best friends from childhood and had moved away. They used to play pirates together in the park, and somehow we had matched them. We received an email saying we had matched best friends of 15 years, and Emily and I just went… WHOA. This is some serious geek girl soul mate matching… it’s much more than friendship, it’s just amazing!

Farquharson: I think that the incredible story is the whole thing. Every day I am blown away by this magnificent community of women who have come together over the space of six weeks! The friendships that have formed, and the initiative and creativity that just radiates from them as a collective is just amazing. There are a few traveling journal projects already in place, craft, candy and art exchanges, video blogs and the Artsy Fartsy project to name a few of the other projects that have arisen in a matter of weeks and that’s on top of just regular paired up penpallery! It flummoxes me regularly that all this came from a tweet about a Curly Wurly. It’s madness, but I am loving every minute of it!

PD: How did you become friends?

Stewie: The four of us have been friends on Twitter and in the blogosphere through this whole project. Our side projects were all aware of the others’ side projects, i.e. my blog (DarlingStewie.com), Emily’s Etsy (House of the Fickle Queen), Emma’s blog (LickMyCupcakes.com), and Jen’s blog (SparkleGirlJen.BlogSpot.com) — we all spoke on the Interwebz fairly often, exchanging witty banter the way everyone does — in 140 characters or less. Thank God for Twitter!

PD: What are your favourite fandoms and why?

Stewie: My favourite fandoms are Sailor Moon, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Bob’s Burgers, Charles Addams and Pewdie Pie!

Farquharson: The list of things is extensive but off the top of my head: Twin Peaks, Archer, Portal, Johnny The Homicidal Maniac and Point Horror Books, because they are all weird and twisted in their own way.

Em: Back to the Future! I’m a huggeeee fan of anything BTTF. That and dinosaurs. Everything about them, but particularly Dino-riders, the sweet ’80s/’90s toys/comics/TV show. I collect the figurines, have a DVD of the show, and quote it often… haha.

Sparkles: The X-Men universe, Supernatural, My Little Pony, and Veronica Mars all top my list! I collect Pop! Vinyl figures and have a weakness for blind boxed figures as well.

PD: When is the next sign-up and how do you determine this?

Sparkles: Sign-ups have been regulated to cut down on the large amount of emails and questions we’d get about it. Geeks from around the world were knocking on our door with torches in hand, shouting ‘WHEN IS THE NEXT ROUND?’ So now to make things simpler: Rounds start on the 15th of every month and last two weeks… unless they fill up before then.

That wraps up our awesome interview! Thank you, geek girls, for sharing your fandoms and the inner workings of International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club. We’re going to pay very close attention to this great community, and wish you the best of luck with all your endeavours. 🙂

For more information, don’t forget to check out International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club’s website: geekgirlpenpals.ning.com

A Hufflepuff at heart and a brunch lover, Tina loves to read, write and meander through bookstores. From her first encounter with Sailor Moon, she's been a geek ever since. Waffles and glomping everywhere!