Tag Archives: Internet

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.


Why I Blog Less So I Can Write More

I have noticed that my blog postings are getting fewer and farther between – even the ‘easy’ ones where I repost already written fiction from my collaborative writing community. It’s pretty hard to maintain a good blog. Anyone that says “you need a blog” is making a suggestion that has merit, but also entails a whole butt load of work. There is the essential component of having a good idea that hasn’t been covered to death, then finding something to say abut that idea that hasn’t been said five billion other times in the exact same way, and then the craft of writing the piece. Once you’ve done that you have to do it all over again, maybe not immediately, but certainly within a timely fashion; say, once every couple of days.

For some people that process can take days right there. And if you’re an expert on something, or even just trying to be informative and give people value for their click, there is all the research that many topics entail. Oh – and you have to do all the links, the attributions, the editing, the keywords, and maybe even a nice little summary. Of course you’re trying to stand out too so you’ll grab hold of some images to pepper your writing with and catch the wandering eye and short attention span of your target audience. You need to promote your blog, post the link on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and perhaps Digg It, or Technorati it, and at the end of the day, after you’ve checked all your stats to see your traffic a whole fifteen people might have checked you out.

And if you’re like me and you’re hoping that your blog will alert people to the fun of your true love and get them curious and you find that you’re not driving any traffic there, you gotta start wondering: is it worth all this damn trouble? You have to start asking yourself “why do I blog?”. If the answer is “to advertise” than maybe it’s just not all that useful after all. The standard advice for writers and other professionals is that you have to self-promote, self-promote, self-promote, but is that incredible cacophony of sound that is the world-wide-web really doing anyone any good?

On Twitter, which I actually enjoy for more than it’s potential to advertise my wares, the majority of people that follow me are bots looking to advertise products. All the ‘in the know’ blogs by the ‘smart people’ tell you not to be a bot, but give value, but even those value-laden pundits can become overwhelming and tedious. Link after link is advertised sending you off to sites that tell you how to market, how to create great ads in Photoshop, how to sell, how to write, how to yell louder than anyone else, and it’s all just becoming noise, noise, noise. And we all know what happens next: we drown it out. We tune it out, we drop out, we find a secluded beach somewhere.

The only things that really give value in this life are the things you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about Pan Historia. I’m passionate about gardening, writing, reading good books, good games, good food, art, the people I love, and so if I don’t have the passion to tell you something interesting on this blog – I’m not going to waste my time and yours by making sure I post every few days to keep my blog on the top of the list.


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 clichĂ© 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.


Thoughts on Immortality

kingsI received a copy of a trade magazine in the mail that I used to write a regular feature for as part of my last job. My feature was also always the cover story. The new issue included the latest of these regular features, now, of course, written by my successor. To read the magazine presents a seamless tradition. There was and is no byline on this feature. To the casual observer there has been no change at all. Life goes on within and without me. Holding a copy of this magazine in my hand led to some bittersweet reflection about the footprint that we leave in life.

I am one of those vain animals that has always longed to leave my mark upon the world – some tangible proof that I was here, that I existed. Perhaps it’s not just simple vanity or a purely self-centered self-interest. I have always been captured by history, and in particular art. Beginning with the evocative fossilized remains of the first human footprints to the air-brushed (yes, air-brushed – they would blow the pigment from their mouths over the back of their hands as they pressed them to the cave wall) outlines of human hands along with graceful renderings of animals in the Lascaux caves we leave our prints on the more durable materials that compose our world.

Pharaohs and Kings had their names and idealized images carved into monumental stone so that they would live eternally in the hearts and minds of those that followed, but even the humbler of our species created marks to trace their path by. If you observe closely the stones upon which ancient stone masons worked you can see the lines of their tools etched into the stone like you can see Van Gogh’s brushstrokes on canvas, even the bristles from his paintbrushes, more tangible even than the signature. Greek potters began the cult of personal identification by beginning to mark their wares with a signature much like earlier Ancient Egyptian stonemason crews also left their ‘team’ mark on the stones.

As we advance in time artists, scientists, philosophers, and more began to leave their names more indelibly than kings and priests. Eventually even more humble people make footnotes in the history books, the images, and the remains of our various civilizations. In my research of the American West I come across hundreds of such people, moments of their lives captured in birth certificates, newspaper reports, tintypes, and inscriptions in the family bible.

Our popular culture worships celebrity and notoriety, which is sort of the dark underbelly of the shining desire to leave a tangible traceable mark upon history; a trail that can lead from one moment in time to another and allow people to make connections between the past and the present and feel the wash of history flow through them as something real and relevant. Celebrity can be a vanishing thing; here one moment and gone the moment after.

My impulse to write or make art is inextricably tied up with my desire to one of the threads of the fabric of the world. It’s a desire for a tangible immortality that transcends time or fleeting fame. I was here. I existed. Perhaps it stems from doubt about the existence of an afterlife, or perhaps it’s just natural hubris, but when I look around me at my achievements past and present there is really only one way that I feel I have made a unique contribution to the world, and that is my community site Pan Historia.

However how indelible can a web site be? I know that I have touched hundreds of people, and that I have made a difference in some of their lives that will be remembered all of their lives, but how about the future? I believe this question can be asked of the whole of the internet. It’s very nature is ephemeral and ever changing. Who tomorrow will remember communities like Pan Historia or even MySpace or Facebook? Where are the graceful strong carved lines in stone? How can I rest assured of my immortality when in a the flip of a switch all that I have worked for is gone forever with one electronic wink? Achievements on the internet seem as brief and fragile as human life itself.

Proud as I am of my personal achievements I do feel like I am rushing headlong to the abyss, and I don’t know what is on the other side. Desperately I crave the book that I can cradle in my hand, put on my shelf, and know that it will be here after I am gone. Books burn, degrade, rot, or get recycled, but surely one such tome can survive the ravages of cruel time to carry my name long after I am gone? Some future person will happen upon it on a dusty shelf in an obscure second-hand bookstore, a throwback to a gentler slower past, and there will be my name, my words, and it will be as if I still live.


Quick Comcast Update:

My local technician arrived within the time alloted and was great. I don’t know yet if his fix solved the problem but he did find that I was receiving too strong of a signal. He gave me his personal number so I could follow up with him and asked me to keep a log if the problem reoccurred so he would have sufficient data to troubleshoot. Really nice guy.

I’m also impressed that Comcast monitors the social media. I received a good comment on my blogger post and via Twitter so that I could contact someone to help me further. I will only do that if I need to as I’m satisfied with my local technician at this point.


Comcast Rant

It started so well.

I had never used a cable company for my internet services before so I was very pleasantly surprised when Comcast immediately sent around a tech with a cable modem for my cave in the woods (more about that in another blog). It’s quite a hike and in other parts of the country I doubt I would even have internet service in such a situation. My new modem was installed in minutes. The setup with my static IP and my Linksys Router didn’t go quite as smoothly but it wasn’t Comcast’s fault and I got a charming woman on the line for tech support that though not able to help me was incredibly friendly and professional. When I did figure out the problem and called her back to have my IP reset (yes, I was part of the problem) I got the same woman and she quickly had me up and running.

For those of you new to my blog let me tell you that I pay for business high speed internet and a static IP because I host my own server for my web site www.panhistoria.com and while I’m not Facebook or even one millionth of the size of Facebook I have a loyal and vocal customer base. Without the funds to run a mirror server if my internet is down my web site is down. I have to maintain a Yahoo group just to make sure that my membership can be informed if there is a power outage or any other disruption of service. When my site is down I’m just like that cat on the hot tin roof or even me barefoot on black tarmac when the mercury hits the nineties and I left my shoes in the car. It’s not a pretty sight.

Three days ago I started having problems. People were having times when the site was running extra slow to the point of timing out. At first I was unaware as I was navigating the site fine, and my Twitter and ICQ messaging software was functioning just fine. Suddenly people started dropping off the server. Disaster! Then I found I was unable to browse the internet. I get on the horn to Comcast pronto. Only I have a little problem – due to my move and all the organizational issues of setting up in a new location I’m out of minutes – my call is going to cost me 45 cents a minute. Not a serious problem because of my priorities, which is to get my site back up, but it does mean I don’t want my time wasted.

I could rant about automated answering systems at big companies, but why bother? You have all been there. Choose the wrong option and you’re caught in a cycle of spiraling despair as you get routed to the wrong place again and again. Finally I get somebody in tech support. I assume, since I had to punch in my zip code time in and time again, that they are in my area. That was my second mistake. My first mistake was still having a Vermont cell phone number. They wanted to route me to Vermont.

“No, I moved. I live in California but I kept my cell phone.”

“So you’re not at the computer that is having the problem?”

“Yes, I am at the computer that is having the problem. I have a cell phone.”

“You’re in Vermont?”

“No, I’m in California; I have a Vermont cell phone number.”

“Can I please have the phone number that is associated with the account?”

“This is the phone number associated with the account. I don’t have another number, just this one. This is my only phone, I don’t have another.”

“So you’re not at the computer associated with the account. Can you get to the computer?”

Ok, you get the gist of this conversation.

Now just before I finally got this genius on the line the automated message had informed me that there was a higher than normal volume of calls due to interruptions of service in my area. This was satisfying to me and I assumed that was all I needed to know but I just wanted this guy to confirm it – only he was in Denver and knew nothing about the status of service in California and apparently had no way of knowing.

Oh, and he couldn’t help me because he was home tech support not business tech but could he just take some notes? I was begging him to transfer me to the right line because it was costing me 45 cents a minute and he just kept scribbling and asking me the same questions over and over. Finally he was ready to transfer me to the correct tech support line, but first he said:

“Would you like our digital voice services?”

Bear in mind he’d already had me on the line for 15 minutes at this point. He would have been in danger of his life if he’d been in physical proximity.

“No, and I don’t want to hear about them as it’s costing me 45 cents a minute to talk to you. Please transfer me to tech support.”

“But if you had our digital voice services you could…”

I think I was rude at this point in the conversation.

The next guy insisted there wasn’t any problem in my area and it had to be my modem and scheduled me for a Sunday after 5pm appointment.

So Sunday I sat around and waited at the appointed hour. My connection had been good all day, but the tech guy didn’t turn up. At 6:15pm just when I was wondering if I should call and find out where he was my connection dropped again.

I called.

“Oh yes, we recalled him because the outage is actually in your area and not you at all. It went down at 6:15pm. It can take them up to 4 hours to fix the problem. I’m sorry he didn’t call you to let you know he wasn’t coming.”

Wow – it was them after all! At last something concrete!

At 7pm I got a call.

“This is Comcast; we’re sorry that we’re running so behind but is it ok if our technician comes this late?”

“Uh, sure, but I thought he had been recalled?”

“I know nothing about that sir.”

At 7:30pm another call:

“We’re running two hours behind can we reschedule for tomorrow morning?”

“But the last call said he was on his way?”

“They recalled him. It was the wrong technician.”

Now I’m waiting again.

I’ll let you know how that goes.