Every few issues, it seems, I have to write an editorial in observance of some particular measurement of DargonZine’s longevity. While this is going to be yet another of those occasions, I think this, like our 12th anniversary issue that we started 1997 with, is a major milestone that’s well worth celebrating. But I should say “milestones”, since in this issue we celebrate two separate but equally-significant achievements.
The first event I want to draw your attention to is that this is our 100th issue. Doesn’t sound like much? Well, consider that in order to get there we’ve averaged eight issues per year for the last twelve and a half years! That’s several generations in Internet-years. In fact, we have writers on staff who were only three years old when FSFnet (DargonZine’s predecessor magazine) was founded! There aren’t many electronic magazines which can claim to have such a long history on the Internet — in fact, there aren’t any! We take great pride in the fact that we are by far the longest-running electronic magazine on the ‘net.
The second event we are celebrating today is the publication of our 200th Dargon-specific story (bear in mind that much of the content in FSFnet wasn’t Dargon stories at all, but reviews, critiques, and other non-Dargon material). The official 200th story is the first part of Jim Owens’ three-part story “Pudlong and the Beanstalk”. I think it’s appropriate that this honor fall to Jim, since he was with the project back during its inception in 1984-5, and he provided some of the better stories during the early years of FSFnet.
When I spoke to Jim about highlighting him in this editorial, his response was to talk about how he felt that his writing had matured through his participation in the project. He wrote:
Here is an excerpt from “Ornate Love”, FSFNet 8-1, July 1987:
All night and most of the next day it rained. The river grew too high to use, and water cascaded down the cliff face where they had been digging lime. All there was to do was to sit inside and talk. They talked of steel, and how to make it, and of metal, and of wood, of rock, and gold, and commerce, and politics, and of as many topics as they could find to discuss. Levy found in Sarah a companion who was as interested in life as he was, and who, for a woman growing up in an isolated place, was surprisingly well versed in human nature.
Here is an excerpt from “Pudlong and the Beanstalk”, written July 1997:
“My master has instructed me to build a fire in the hut for him tonight, so he might do some scrivening,” he hesitated, “and to stay warm, of course.” Levy glanced quickly at Bren. It had been blisteringly hot that afternoon, and the heat would last until morning. They said nothing as the youngster continued. “I wonder if I might have some coals to start it with.”
After a moment Levy nodded. “Of course. Take your wood inside. I’ll get a potsherd to carry the coals in.” The novice nodded and re-hefted his load, while Levy levered himself up and stepped over to the wagon. He returned a moment later with the potsherd and stooped by the fire.
“Why should we care if the old man is scrivening?” Bren asked dourly.
“I don’t suppose it’s any business of ours,” Levy replied carefully. As he straightened, he and Bren exchanged a meaningful glance, then Levy slowly carried the coals to the hut.
“So what does this show?” you may ask. In the first section, written when Dargon was young and I was less experienced, I created an excellent opportunity to show the character and personalities of the individuals in the story, by showing their emotions and expressions, their inflections and reactions. Instead I chose to “skip ahead” in the story by merely summarizing the character of Sarah. In the later story, written almost a decade later, I took the time to show the interactions, the interplay, the action-reaction that occurs in a relationship, even a casual one. By showing intent, attitude, and character instead of merely describing it, I produced a richer, more subtle story.
The growth of the Dargon Project has also been one of relationship, of action-reaction. My skill level has improved, but ‘Pudlong’ would not be the story it is today if it weren’t for the reactions to it given by the other writers in the list. Their honest critiques and comments shaped and molded the story, changing it from a raw offering into a polished piece of prose. In the same way Dargon, through the constant, earnest interaction of the writers and editors, has grown and improved into the product you are reading today.
Jim draws a parallel between the his growth as a writer and the growth of the community of writers who write for DargonZine. I definitely agree that we have learned a lot along the way, and today DargonZine is a much more mature and polished magazine than FSFnet ever was.
Over the years the quality of our stories have ranged from puerile to professional, and throughout it all we’ve tried to learn from our mistakes. But the thing which really has helped us grow has been continually increasing how much we communicate with one another. Dafydd, during his tenure as editor, instituted a peer-review process which had never existed in FSFnet. That enabled us to critique one anothers’ works-in-progress and provide more input and ideas during the fashioning of a story. We’ve discussed our stories and debated our opinions about what makes a story “good”, and come to some noteworthy conclusions that we have shared with one another. Our Web site has enabled us to share ideas and information more readily, and recently we’ve started having annual writers’ Summits in order to exchange ideas face-to-face and get to know one another better.
Over the years, the writers have exploited new Internet-based technologies to increase how much we communicate with one another, and through that have established lasting friendships. These relationships, and the productive learning about writing which has come from them, is what has kept DargonZine alive for a dozen years, producing a hundred issues and several hundreds of stories.
With that kind of momentum, you can expect us to continue cranking ‘em out for a good long time to come!