Category Archives: Pan Historia – Community Site

Panopeia Begins

I’m pretty excited about the latest developments at my collaborative writing site Pan Historia.  Traditionally Pan has always maintained a high level of privacy for its membership – it’s a place to feel safe in the maelstrom of the internet where you don’t know who is reading, who is watching, and who might make off with your most prized piece of prose.  It’s also allowed people to feel free to experiment with personas and characters that they might not otherwise feel if using their own names on a site freely available to be viewed by all. While this has always fostered a deeper sense of community with our writers and role players, as well as safety and trust, it has made it a lot harder for people new to the site to see what we’re doing and to feel like they’re welcome joining in.

A few weeks ago we decided it was simply time to open up our community daily postings to the general public (i.e. it is not necessary to be logged in or registered to the site to read these posts) to better give possible newcomers a chance to savor the flavor of the site.  Of course this led to our wonderful volunteer administrators to discuss the best ways to increase the activity on the dailies and how to make them more representative of the site as a whole.  This led to the creation of Panopeia, a new collaborative story play that happens outside the context of the rest of Pan’s novels (collaborative story lines that can include anything from two to a hundred writers working together on one theme/story), that allows people to use their creativity and their current characters.  It’s also totally open to newcomers to the site.  Of course it’s possible to read without joining Pan, but if you want to write you will have to register.

Some of our admin, staff as we call them at Pan, are portraying characters that are holding the keys to the mystery of Panopeia, which is currently taking place in an strange and supernatural hotel, in order to help guide the story, and keep all the elements straight, but otherwise the possibilities are pretty wide open.  This is a great way to get an introduction to what we do at Pan, and from there I am genuinely hopeful that people will find their way deeper into the site to enjoy all our other features and stories.  One of the greatest pleasures I have at Pan, as I stretch my writing muscles over dozens of stories, is finding new writers to interact with.  Instead of writing being a solitary lonely business at Pan it is a social one, where new lifelong friends have been made (and a few marriages too!).

As Panopeia grows and develops I’ll report more on this social experiment in writing and its impact on Pan.


My Writing Apprenticeship at Pan Historia

I earned my writing chops at Pan Historia.  Day in and day out, for more than ten years, I have logged in to my alternate self.  In the halcyon early days I am quite sure that I was averaging probably a thousand words a day easy, some days more, some days less.  The stories were numerous and varied.  I like a lot of different genres, and sometimes I found that what I liked to read was different from what I like to write.

I wrote historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt, the American West, and sometimes Rome.  I wrote science fiction, particularly beloved was the now sadly lost in time and space, “Forever is Far Too Long” (please forgive me if I slaughtered the title).  Forever was the brain child of one of my closest friends, a writer of amazing imagination and craft.  It was a real challenge not only to occupy a world created by her, but to occupy a character created by her.  I hope I rose to the occasion.  I know I surely learned a great deal.  I feel like it was a sort of apprenticeship.  I also wrote noir detective fiction with a fun bunch in our grand “Marlowe Detective Agency“.  That was an idea of brilliance, if I say so myself.  When I look at the way that people’s attention spans have shortened, even in the last ten years, it’s probably impossible to do now, but basically each episode was a complete mystery.  One person wrote the detective, and it was the detective’s job to actually solve the mystery the other writers crafted for him. Later on I moved to horror. I have never been a big fan of horror movies, but I have always enjoyed horror fiction from Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King.  I found great joy in crafting tales of dripping ickiness to disturb and creep out my readers.  I discovered I have something of an ability in creating villains that people love to hate.

For a long time I was so involved in my exploration of the American West through the eyes of Wyatt Earp and his brothers that I had great, and rather grandiose, plans for writing a fictional autobiography of his long life that was going to be so historically precise, and so magically astute as to his psychic and emotional landscape that it was going to be the final word on the subject.  The desire to take what I had learned from my near daily collaborative and role-play writing to a novel has always seemed to be a natural progression to me.  But for a long time I couldn’t get started. It seemed like I had this great idea, enough passion for the project, and yet I continued to divert myself with the small episodic posts in the collaborative environment.  The good was that I was writing everyday; the bad was that I wasn’t moving forward on my long term goal.

Finally I realized it was the project itself that was bogging me down.  My scheme was too research laden, too definitive, and too constrained by my own expectations and the structure of history.  My character, Wyatt Earp, couldn’t breathe. I simply knew too much about him, and yet too little at the same time.  My version of Wyatt Earp, the one I have now been writing for ten years, is not the same as the historical.  He’s grown into a very complex, and intelligent man, with a gift for the gab – which the real Earp never had.  I realized that I didn’t have to finish this project just because I had decided on it years before. In fact, after finally writing a version of the shootout at the OK Corral for my collaborative version on Pan, I realized that I had already written volumes on the man, and that my legacy to him was there – on the boards.

I was free to pick a different project.  Now I’m fifteen chapters and over 30,000 words into that novel, and I feel great about it.  My writing is solid (but there is always room for improvement!).  My ability to structure the novel and plot it has been aided by ten years of collaborative writing, but I’m missing the collaborative element.  With that in mind I am considering a coauthor, someone that has worked with me on this story as it existed on Pan Historia.  I’m hoping that another set of eyes will rectify the mistakes, point out the inconsistencies, and increase the liveliness.  What better way to build upon the many positive foundations that Pan Historia has provided me with?


Pan Historia Technical Update

Here is the latest news as best I know it: Pan is protected by a uninterrupted power supply (UPS) that can keep Pan’s server running even when the power goes down because it has a battery backup. It is programmed to shut Pan down automatically when battery power goes low. It seems that this battery is getting old and needs replacing, or we need a new UPS, whichever comes first, and it is shutting Pan down even though there are no power outages.

Unfortunately the man, Pandaman, with the technical expertise to determine exactly what is needed and how to program a UPS, is currently on a much needed vacation in the wilds of New Zealand with no internet access, so it’s just me doing the best that I can. Until the problem is resolved there will be frequent interruptions of service as I shut down Pan to try and work on a solution. Right now I’m running around looking for a new powerful UPS so we can get Pan back online. I was able to confirm that Pan’s status is good. There are no problems with the server itself and the backup server looks healthy too.

Please be patient and understand that any interruptions of service are far better than Pan crashing. Automatic or manual shutdown is good, crashing is BAD.

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Christmas Present, Christmas Past, Christmas Virtual

Do I scream or do I cry? It’s that time of year again. I love the holidays and I hate the holidays. Remember being a child? It was all so uncomplicated then. Santa came in the middle of the night, ate up all the cookies you left him and sucked down on the cream sherry (yes, we were that kind of household), and then left a humungous plethora of joy wrapped in silver, red, and gold paper.

Year after year it grew more complicated. The first Christmas away from home, spent in another family’s home as an outside was like a dash of cold water that sent my youthful emotions spinning into darkness. Later on changing family dynamics changed the holidays from my uncomplicated joy to harrowing nightmares that might involve drunken binges (not mine). Expanding connections and networks produced an overload of spending, responsibility, anxiety, and stress as big business pushed ever harder for us all to succumb to an orgy of consumerism at the holidays. As a single parent there were those mornings when I knew I had failed my offspring because I couldn’t afford those excessive gifts that were commonplace, it appeared, in every household but my own on Christmas morning.

Now I have a family that demands to be together, and yet collectively sighs and moans at the difficulties inherent at fulfilling the expectations of the season. I’ll be doing a little of the same, but in the middle of all the chaos and tears, there will also be hugs, and moments of genuine gladness in each other.

Now if only the holidays could be like they are at Pan Historia: full of fun and games, where gift giving may be real or virtual, but it hardly counts which because everyone is just happy to be involved. No one worries about the stresses of real life too much because it is where they come to escape such concerns. The tree is big and gaudy with plenty of love decorating it, but no needles to sweep up at the end. The food is fun, but will not make you fat or give you indigestion. And it really doesn’t matter what the holidays mean to you. We have something for everyone.

Oh, and I love our red cardinal and snow theme this year, simple and elegant.


Multidimensional Writing Experience

There is a lovely multidimensionality in starting up a new character for a collaborative writing/role play project at Pan Historia that feeds all my creative urges at once, nearly. There are two main roads into a new character: getting an idea for a character and then finding a place for them to dwell; or finding a story you really like and then finding a character to fit in. Creating a new character from scratch is the most creatively demanding because of the added dimensions of home page design. I love kitting out a new page for a new character from finding the right graphics, or creating them from scratch if one has a bit of tech savvy with a graphics program, and then designing a fun informative home page from all the different components.

Home pages are useful. I think of them as character biographies where you can get your decorating urges taken care of and impart something useful about your character in turn. My Wyatt Earp home is both western in theme and includes useful historical quotes about Wyatt from people that actually knew him. My Gabriel Oak home is less about the personality of the character but is very informative about some of my inspiration for the character. Gabriel is an interesting character inspired both from literature and from the movies. Those familiar with Thomas Hardy will recognize the source of the character’s name, and of course the face I use is from the movie version of the novel “Far From the Maddening Crowd”. I’m not a fanboy however and Gabe is his own character. In one earlier incarnation he was an artist with a supernatural angelic side living inside him. When he moved on to a different story he became a drunk, the human mask, of the Archangel Gabriel.

Of course some characters live in many different role play and collaborative stories and one home page can hardly do justice to all their diverse lives. That’s why the profile pages were originally added as a ‘room’ off the main home page. These pages include sections for each novel that a character appears in so that the owner can give a little biographical detail. The beauty of a site like Pan, though, is that with so many interactive features the creativity of the individual takes over and tools are always adapted to the needs of their owners. I don’t try and force people to use Pan the way I anticipated. Instead I’m often adapting Pan to fit in with the needs of the users.

A lot of people reserve their character biographies for the forums of the novels themselves and use the home pages as a place to show off all their awards, prizes, badges, and the little graphical gifts that people make for one another. This is probably a similar approach that many users of MySpace employ, but it’s fun nonetheless. Of course it doesn’t really help me, as a writer, when I click on their home to see more about their character, but usually I can at least some kind of sense from the avatar they have chosen to represent their character. Other people actually write out character sheets. I have never employed one of those. I like to get a general impression, and then let inspiration take its course when I’m writing. If I get too locked down on who I think a character is I find that the work become stifled and creativity shuts down.

I guess I can sum up what I’m trying to say is that using the internet and a web site like Pan Historia allows me and my fellow writers to add layers and dimensions to our writing experience, like creating images and home pages to enhance the experience. The way that any particular writer or role player chooses to implement these tools is often going to be as unique and different as the perspectives we bring to our writing and characters.


Progress on The Pan Historia Birthday Book

Work has commenced, as promised on the second Pan Historiapanphoenix-72dpi Birthday Book. The title needs a little explaining. Pan Historia is a community for collaborative and role-play writing, as well as history buffs, and a place for people with a whimsical or literary sense of fun to hang out and make friends. It’s like a non-stop costume party (which is why October is such a popular month with our members and writers). We first went live around May 2000 and were in beta forever (it seemed at the time) due to a some what rocky start and no capital investment. Our first collection of work by our writers and artists was prepared and published in time for our 3rd Panniversary (yes, we do awful plays on words at Pan) – which is held every February because our official launch date was Valentine’s Day, 2001. I think. Record keeping is not my strong suit. I forget my own name sometimes as well.

Hence the anthology was named “The Pan Historia Birthday Book” with every intention of creating a new collection each and every February. This turned out to be a laughably ambitious concept. Shortly after the publication of the first book we had a major server crash that ripped the site apart, and it took many months of hard work to re-establish trust and fun as usual. I cannot stress how amazing our members were throughout that whole ordeal. Our second effort which was to be a cookbook: it died before delivery. After that it just seemed like the idea was to be shoved to the back burner every year.

This time, however, determination has returned, and the small press world has radically altered. Back in 2004 I had to order several boxes of books, and we never did sell every copy. This time print on demand has developed to the degree that I don’t have to take that kind of risk again. By affiliating myself with another small press I’m planning to open the work of our talented writers and artists to a wider audience and have the book available on Amazon. It should be exciting to see how our labor of love and fun does in the ‘real’ world. I have pushed the publication date to prior to December in order to take advantage of Christmas sales, but I might be too ambitious. There is a lot of work still to be done.

The deadline for entries to be included in the book closes tomorrow. After that we’ll be judging the entries so that we have the best and the book isn’t the size of Lord of the Rings. Following that is the process of editing. Thankfully we have a number of people qualified to edit who are members of the site. All in all this is a terrific project with great potential, and I can’t think of many other writing sites that give their members an opportunity to be published.


I’m Nearly Famous

I’m very pleased to be able to post that I was interviewed for another blog. Read about Pan Historia in the The National Networker blog. The folks that run that site are really friendly and I’m chuffed as all get out that they choose Pan Historia as a topic.


Research and Socializing at Pan Historia

One of the distinctive features at the Pan Historia collaborative writing site that I haven’t covered too much in my blogs is the section that we like to call the ‘Reference Library’. Back when Pan was created the theme was definitely of a library. We even used a color scheme that was vellum for interior pages and a green leather background for dust jacket style pages. Eventually the theme loosened up due to the way that the members used the site, but there are still many remnants of the library scheme remaining – like the ‘reference books’ that populate the reference section of Pan.

Reference books are a collection of bulletin boards similar in design to our ‘novels’ but devoted to the discussion of various topics, as well as the dissemination of links, books, and ideas from around the internet. They are a place to kick back with friends and talk about some of the stuff that fascinates you. For instance I am a member of Black & Blue for the discussion of true crime, crime drama, and forensics because I like to write my cop character Red King. I’m also a member of Wild West for the discussion of western history. This book is very handy. When I’m looking for info for one of my posts I might pop over there, but I often find myself posting to share something I have found that I figure will be of interest to other writers. Of course writers can also find more than just reference. We have The Writer’s Block and The Tenth Muse for discussing writing and for poetry respectively.

I recently joined in our Fleur-de-lis reference book to talk about my adventures in gardening. Theoretically I can see that on occasion, as a fiction writer, I might want to find out about a garden plant, but honestly I just joined so I could talk about my plants and hang out with other people in the community that like to garden. There are other books to talk about movies or music, or various periods in history. Our reference books round out the activities on Pan Historia in a very meaningful way: from the purely social to the scholarly, to just being a handy tool for fleshing out your fiction writing.

Not all the people that are drawn to Pan Historia as a community are fiction writers. The Reference Library is a way for them to read and discussion things that interest them, along with the games and general chit chat that is often a signature of the site’s central hub pages. It’s not really a surprise considering how many people first start browsing the internet and using it for more than email by researching a question they have or a topic they are fascinated with. The community at Pan Historia gives them a social aspect to their interests.

Top it all off with an instant messaging system and you’ll never be alone or lacking in things to do or read at Pan Historia. Of course no site is ever perfect and Pan Historia is not excluded from that rule. It’s an ongoing work of social media art as far as I’m concerned and one of the things I would like to see happen is MORE in the Reference Library. Pan also has a blog section but after several years of seeing it in action I realize that blogs, being sort of solitary, are not really the most effective method of interactive at Pan. One of the things I used to include in my blog there was my gardening adventures, but it was sort of static, and static is not what I sign on to Pan for so I moved my focus to the Fleur-de-lis reference book and I’m already have more fun because I’m getting into discussions about my passions.


Why I Love What I Do

Several times I have hit on the topic of the isolation of the writer. After all it’s pretty much just you and your word processor (or for the Luddites amongst us: typewriters or yellow lined pads and a Number 2 pencil). Of course the cliché of the lonely writer pounding on his keyboard is a myth created around the lives of previous writers. Reading an article in the recent New Yorker issue about the teaching of Creative Writing in America breaks through that stereotype to how many writers have learned as part of a group. Self-taught writers might go to local community college workshops or join a writing group on or off line. On Sundays writers join in #writechat on Twitter. The internet has, for many writers, stripped away the isolation and allows for writers to enjoy relationships with their peers and their readers directly.

While I regret the need for writers to be their own publicist these days I don’t regret the moves towards uniting writers with other like-minded people or allowing writers to bridge the gap from written word to the person that is reading that word.

Last night I was logged into my community site Pan Historia and I got a wonderful example of one of the myriad reasons that I love to be involved in a collaborative writing community. One of the members came to me to ask me about whether or not I thought that women during the 19th Century in the Old West would bathe naked or whether they would wear their undergarments. I don’t believe this is a question that could be answered definitively because of the nature of the record from the Victorian Era, but the interaction was fun as we tried to determine what would make a believable historical scene. The person that instant messaged me got immediate feedback and help on what they were writing right in that moment.

When I write a fiction post for one of my collaborative role-play novels there I can get instant feedback – which I hugely enjoy. It’s not always critical feedback, but that’s ok. As writers we need to expand and grow, hone our skills, but more often than not we just want to know that other people are enjoying the tales we spin. By writing and publishing at an online community with like-minded people, both readers and writers of tales, I can interact with my readers and with my fellow writers in one fell swoop. I can get advice, I can find research sources (more on that in a later blog), and I just plain jump up and down to announce my latest effort.

Besides the feedback I get my other pleasure on the site is giving feedback to others. The excitement of logging onto Pan Historia to find a post by one of my writing partners in one of my favorite collaborative novels is akin to seeing the latest book by your favorite author showing up at the local bookstore. With some people it’s just about the pleasure of reading their stuff, but I might enjoy a more critique based relationship with other trusted writers so that we might comment on each other’s work. Another added benefit is that I might get a fresh eye to catch those typos and other errors that slipped by me even though I edit all my work before posting it online.

I know a lot of this sounds like an ad for my own site (and yes, there is an element of shameless plug here) but it’s also probably true for other writing sites that you might have heard of or be involved in. I really think that the potential that resides in the internet is all about social media, interaction, and networking, and not about static information. I actually believe that all this interaction has allowed me to be a writer in a way that I don’t think I could have managed before it. I am far too social an animal to write alone. Having my peers and readers right here at my fingertips, whether on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, or at Pan Historia, actually liberates and inspires me to write, and to write better.


Romance Returns to Pan Historia

Romance returns to collaborative fiction site Pan Historia…

Everyone loves love so why did it ever leave? It’s really a problem of gender expectations and preconceptions I think. Romance has the reputation of being a woman’s thing, and yet, hey there blokes, you all know you love romance too. I have long suspected men of being the more romantic of the species, but I digress.

My original intention in removing Romance as a genre option was to tighten up the genres we have and make sure that each and every genre was active. It seemed, in the site design, that we were spreading ourselves too thin. We once had Comedy, Role Play, and World as genre options too. Last year I did a marketing survey of the members of Pan Historia and what I discovered was that many writers at Pan, male and female, loved Romance whether they were writing there or not. I also learned that many people come to Pan just to read. So it seems that a genre’s popularity shouldn’t be purely based on number of posts per day or number of novels populating the genre.

Having discovered that people often just like to read what is on offer at Pan has changed my thinking about the site design in a lot of ways. I used to be very fervent about cleaning up novels that had gone quiet, but now I think of them more like the books at the library that don’t get checked quite as often. It doesn’t mean it’s time for them to go in the sale bin quite yet. I’m looking at ways to highlight the reading at Pan in different ways than it’s been done so far. Right now it’s all about what’s the latest, hottest, and the newest, which is pretty much how it’s done all over the net. My earlier blog posts sink under the weight of my newer ones until they’re never read again. I’d like to find some way of bucking that system at Pan so that a novel that was written two years ago can still be a popular read now, and not just data languishing in the database.

With these thoughts in mind a genre like Romance doesn’t need to meet posting quotas or worry about novels coming and going. Popularity shouldn’t solely be judged on statistics. A good love story is timeless. It can be revisited again and again.