From 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' to geek blogger

Actor and author Wil Wheaton discusses moving beyond the Wesley Crusher character he made famous.

How successfully can an actor playing a geek on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” move to being a true geek on the Internet? Actor and writer Wil Wheaton is known for playing Wesley Crusher, Starfleet ensign for many years on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He also starred in the motion picture “Stand By Me.” He’s now a blogger and author of his second book, “Just A Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the pursuit of life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise.”

He took a break from blogging to chat about his acting career, his attempts to distance himself from Ensign Crusher in the public’s eyes, his new role as an author and his Website, WilWheaton.net.

Q: It’s shocking to me that many people were critical of your role as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Why do you think that happened?

Wil: I think that Wesley Crusher reflected a lot of things that geeks don’t like about themselves. We tend to be too smart for our own good; when we were kids, very, very precocious – extremely uncool. We never got the girl. We wanted to be Picard, but we were Wesley. For some people, it made them very uncomfortable to be reminded what they were all the time. For other people, it reminded them that Wesley was doing what they wanted to do. They wanted to be on the Enterprise.

Later, I determined that the people who were really, really cruel – like the Usenet weenies – really are a statistically insignificant number of people. And I know, just over the years from people who’ve e-mailed me at my web site and people who I’ve talked to since I started going to Star Trek conventions again in last five years, that there are so many more people who really enjoyed everything about the show, including my performance, including the character.

Q: For instance?

Wil: I got an e-mail yesterday from a girl and the subject line said, “Wesley Crusher saved my life.” I thought, “Oh, man. I don’t need this.” But I read anyway. It was this amazing, amazing story from this girl who lived in a really lousy situation with really screwed up siblings. She decided one day to watch Star Trek – was not a science fiction fan and knew nothing about it – but watched Wesley and saw how motivated he was and how driven he was. The first episode she saw, she told me, was where Wesley doesn’t get into Starfleet Academy the first time because he fails the entrance test. Wesley vows to just keep going. He’s gonna go back and try next year. If he doesn’t get in, he’ll try the year after that. We know, one way or the other, this kid is going to get into the Starfleet Academy and nothing is going to dissuade him from it. He’s focused, he knows what he wants, and he knows what he has to do to get it.

She told me she grabbed onto that and held on long enough to be pulled out of a really bad situation, what could have been a dead end for her. She’s in graduate school now. Went on to get an engineering degree. Halfway through her engineering degree she realized she wanted to be a writer and came out to LA. She told me she realized it wasn’t Wesley’s being an engineering guy that she thought was great. It was Wesley’s dedication to doing the right thing and solving problems and being goal oriented and she was really inspired by that.

Q: Your Website is WilWheaton.net. How long has it been up and what do you do on the site?

Wil: It started in 2000 and we just had our fourth birthday.

Q: You’ve got audio blogs, the photo blog, information about “Just A Geek.” Take us on the visual journey through the site and some of the tools you use.

Wil: The centerpiece of the entire thing is my blog, powered by MovableType.org. I’m running 2.661 with a few vital hacks worked into the actual executable. I use PHP to do a whole bunch of server side includes and super minimal browser identification. My MoBlog (photo blog) is powered by Buzznet.com. For my audioblogs, I was using software created by the AudBlog team. They were bought by Blogger so it’s actually called AudioBlogger now. I tell people all the time that TypePad is a fantastic way to run a blog site. LiveJournal.com’s great, too, and so is Blogger. It just depends on what the individual wants to do.

Q: I love LiveJournal. There’s a big role-playing Theatrical Muse community where you can take on personas.

Wil: There’s a couple of Wil Wheaton communities on LiveJournal. Somebody at WilWeatonFans at LiveJournal wrote a phenomenally kind editorial. Not many people give me crap anymore. It’s like one out of 1,000 people now. And I think it’s probably the same guy behind a proxy. It’s really changed. I hear from a lot of people that they like my Website. They relate to something I’ve talked about.

Q: This may be an embarrassing question, so we’ll see how truthful you are. How many hours a day do you spend at your computer, Wil?

Wil: About eight, because I work there. I write, I’m tuning up the site. I don’t really read newspapers or watch television. I get most of my news online. There are blogs that I read. Where most people go to the office to go to work, well, I go to the office to work – it’s just on the other side of my house.

Q: Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

Wil: Yes. I have an agreement with O’Reilly to do a book on Web design. It’s going to be a book on design philosophy, how to use tools to put together a personal Website.

Q: I really like the flow, the style and the formatting of “Just a Geek.” Because you used real-time writing, inserted with blog entries for perspective – it made it so interesting to read.

Wil: Stephen King said you have to write for your ideal reader. He wrote in “On Writing” how you have to get rid of unnecessary words and not use a passive voice and be really focused and writing quickly and to the point and letting your audience fill in details that aren’t important to you but might be important to them in terms of their minds eye. My first draft of “Just A Geek” was dreadful. But as soon as I figured out what the book was about, I could keep going. I wanted to keep the very simple and direct conversational style so the reader hopefully feels like they are sitting down and listening to me tell stories about what’s going on. A want to be David Sedaris when I grow up – except not gay and living in Paris. I want to make other people feel what I feel when I listen to his books.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an author when you were growing up?

Wil: When I was a kid, I loved English and I loved writing. After “Stand By Me,” all the interviewers always asked, “Are you a writer like Gordy?” I thought, “Geez, maybe I should be a writer like Gordy.” So I wrote a lot of stories for my family. I did a lot of “You know it would be cool if this thing happened,” and then I’d write about it. Today, that’s still how I do things.
But then once I finished “Stand By Me” and went straight into “Star Trek,” I really believed the hype. I believed that I would be the next big thing because that’s what people were telling me. I’ve since learned that that’s what they tell everyone! So I focused exclusively on being an actor to the complete exclusion of everything else in my life. When I was 20 or 21, I started writing in a journal and I realize that I was being really confessional and owning up to a lot of things I had done that I regretted. It was like the “Diary of Regret.” I set aside and I never picked it up again until after I started WilWheaken.net and I had been blogging for awhile and I realized that I had taken eight years off and I kind of picked up again where left off in terms of what I was writing about and what I was feeling.

Q: That’s exactly what a blog is.

To read Wheaton’s blog, visit WilWheaton.net. His two books, “Just A Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the pursuit of life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise” and “Dancing Barefoot,” published by O’Reilly, are available at all bookstores and excerpted at www.oreilly.com/catalog/jag. He’ll be keynote speaking at ApacheCon Nov. 13-17 and reading his book at the Gnomedex Convention Oct. 1.

For more conversation with Wil Wheaton, the full interview will broadcast Saturday, September 18 at 11 a.m. on KLAY 1180 AM and will be available at WebTalkRadio.com.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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