Tag Archives: role play

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?


To Publish, or Not to Publish, That is the Rub…

back cover art for Panthology artwork by Jack KnightHaving spent quite a few months working on the Panthology it’s time to ask myself: what’s next? I’m happy to get back to reading and writing in my collaborative novels at Pan Historia, but ultimately I thrive on goals and projects that can yield tangible achievements. Writing on Pan is the most pleasurable form of exercise I know, but I still consider it exercise. It’s social, it’s fun, it’s interactive, but the end of the day it’s building things that last that I enjoy the most. Tinkering with the structure of Pan is something that gives me great satisfaction and joy as I strive to increase membership and participation by increasing the ease and functionality of the site. Of course I’m only a tinkerer when it comes to site construction but I believe that Pan reflects its users to a large degree. It’s not so much about bells and whistles and high tech apps, but about being a comfortable place to express one’s imagination. Writers just need to write, ultimately.

Perhaps that explains my mild obsession with publishing Pan Press books? I mean the logical conclusion of a writer’s work is to be published. It’s as old as the hills—or as old illuminated manuscripts anyway. To be published is to be real, genuine, accepted, legitimate. Technically it’s considered a form of publishing to post material, such as this blog, on the internet for others to read, but both you and I know it’s not what WE mean, as authors, when we say we are “published.” Even when we boast, as I have done, of my status as a “published” author deep down in my heart I want that book with pages of vellum, binding, rabbit skin glue, and black ink. This is probably why authors, as a group, are the most resistant to the idea of eBooks. It’s not quite… printed… is it? Of course it is, and I would be thrilled to be selling millions of copies of my novel in eBook format, but that will never cure my schoolboy crush on the first object of my desire: the book; either paperback or hardback.

So what is next? Besides going back to work on my own novel, a supernatural/horror adventure, I think I will prepare one of my collaborative novels, FLESH, from Pan for publication. Like the Panthology it will be a collection of writers, but this time we will bring the whole stories. It will be a challenge to edit the pieces together in order to tell each story (it will be a collection of about 4-5 stories set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned people into zombie-like killing machines). Zombies are hot items, and some of the stories are really very good with some great writers from the site. This is a piece that I feel has merit beyond the site, and can engage a larger audience of readers from hardcore zombie fans to general horror lovers. I would love to see if I can expand beyond members of the community and engage the interest of other readers for our publications. If it’s even mildly successful it opens the door for any number of such projects for any number of genres represented at Pan.

Illustration by Jack Knight


Panthology

cover art for PanthologyI’ve been gone from the blogosphere a long time. Life got a wee bit hectic (marriages, moves, family, and much much more!). But here is the most interesting (for my bloggie buddies) reason for my absence:

I have been compiling, editing, and designing Panthology: A Celebration of Ten Years of Pan Historia. I’m really proud of this second volume of Pan’s creativity. We published The Pan Historia Birthday Book in 2004, and the second anthology has been long overdue, but how wonderful to be celebrating ten full creative years online as a collaborative writing community.

Here is my preface to the piece (and I hope it whets your appetite):

Trying to explain to bemused friends what I spend so much time doing online is a challenge mostly likely ending in mystification whether they are writers or users of social networks.

Media is increasingly filled with alarm calls that the internet is destroying our minds, our children, and our ability to interact with one another. Few people dare to challenge that notion. People apologize for spending time on their computers. Studies (skewed to the bias of the researchers no doubt) show that we are all increasingly unhappy, particularly when seated at our computers.

I cannot address these concerns except to counter with my personal experience, and then present the evidence to you with this anthology of one community’s creative soul. There is at least one place on the internet where the mind is stimulated, the soul is fed, the imagination set free, and people find genuine warmth and community: Pan Historia.

The stories and excerpts that follow are eloquent testimony to that assertion. Every day for ten years I have logged into Pan eager to see what the day will bring: forays into outer space aboard a derelict spaceship; a gunfight in a dusty silver boom town; romance in medieval times; blood feuds between faery races; fan fiction; good conversation; a new recipe for the best chocolate cake; battles with slugs and snails in the garden. The possibilities are endless, and in ten years, always changing.

It is not just the writing, but the companions that you take with you along the way. Read the story “Farewell My Heart” on page 499 by KhemumRa Hatshepsut to fully discover how imagination, fiction, and reality intersect. This heartfelt piece was the end of a long
collaboration between good friends, both at Pan and in real life, due to the death of one of the writers, Meritites. “Farewell My Heart” is a tribute, an ending – a perfect example of how deeply a community like Pan can touch people’s lives.

In Clio’s blog entries: “Musings” on page 497, the writer chronicles for her friends at Pan, one of the most grueling and painful experiences of her life – because she trusts us.

Behind most of these stories is another, true life, story. Marriages have been made, friendships have grown, children have been named in honor of Pan friendships and associations, and people have found solace for their real life afflictions and troubles. Young writers have literally grown up on Pan, maturing into seasoned adults. I could write a whole book about the incredible interactions I have experienced with my friends in this community. I have been moved to tears on more than one occasion when someone has confided in me how much the site has meant to them, and how it has helped ease them through a difficult period in their life.

There is so much to Pan Historia that one anthology cannot possibly encompass it all. When the Publishers were faced with the daunting task of choosing pieces for this collection it was simply impossible to include all the great stories, writers, and friends, that have graced our virtual world in the last ten years. We simply had to do the best we could. Hopefully we captured enough to give a window into our soul. At Pan Historia we don’t just write the stories, we live them.


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.