Last September, in the Editorial for DargonZine 16-3, I mentioned that two of our veteran writers had taken temporary sabbaticals, bequeathing several partially-completed stories to be finished up by others. The first of those stories appeared in our most recent issue, wherein Rich Niro completed Victor Cardoso’s “Touching Ol”.
We open this issue with the second such story, P. Atchley’s “Sweet Healing”, which I had the pleasure of taking from first draft through publication. This being only the second story I’ve had printed in DargonZine in the past ten years, I haven’t had much occasion to talk about myself, so perhaps a little self-indulgence is forgivable.
You might well think that being editor as well as a contributing writer would be an easily abused conflict of interest, and I’d have to agree. During my initial four years as editor of FSFnet, DargonZine’s predecessor, I managed to author eight Dargon stories, four non-Dargon stories, eight “featured author” columns, and seven other articles. That was partly to ensure that we had enough material to keep the nascent magazine in print, but I must admit that I probably took advantage of the fact that I was also the editor. Like every writer, I look back at my early works and cringe at the flaws I see.
In those early days, I proofread every submission and gave suggestions and corrections to contributors, but there was no peer review. Although I had founded FSFnet to get feedback from other writers on my work, I rarely had anyone else look at my stories before I distributed them in issues.
It wasn’t until I turned the reins of DargonZine over to Dafydd (whom I’ll return to in just a moment) that he asked all Dargon Project writers to participate in the review process, so that the effort of critiquing forthcoming stories wasn’t solely on the shoulders of the editor. More importantly, writers began talking to and learning from one another, whereas under my own leadership all communication had been between each writer and the editor. With much more feedback and many more viewpoints represented, the quality of DargonZine’s stories rapidly improved. Furthermore, the increased contact fostered a real sense of community in the group, and many lasting friendships have been made at our annual Writers’ Summits.
Thus, when I returned to DargonZine after six years’ absence, things had changed quite a bit. Now, even my stories had to go through several rounds of peer review, and that dramatically changed how I approached my writing. I began concentrating on quality rather than quantity, and I had much the same experience as every other Dargon Project writer: it can be very difficult to consider everyone’s criticism, but in the end my stories have been far better for it, and I’ve learned a lot. Unlike my prolific early days, “Sweet Healing” will be only my fifth story to appear in DargonZine in eleven years, and just my second story in the ten years since I resumed editing the zine. So now, with the exception of these Editorials, DargonZine is no longer my personal publishing house.
This issue concludes with the second chapter of Dafydd’s “Talisman Ten”, which provides an interesting counterpoint. Dafydd was, as I mentioned above, the editor of DargonZine for those six years when I was away.
I can’t say to what extent peer review contributed to this fact, but during those six years as editor, Dafydd printed only one of his own stories. That’s simply astounding when you consider that he is by far our most prolific author, having printed eleven stories in less than two years before he became editor, plus an unbelievable forty-five stories in the decade since he stopped putting out the zine.
The vast majority of those stories are, of course, the Talisman novella, of which “Talisman Ten 2″ is the penultimate chapter. When it finally concludes in our next issue, Talisman will comprise thirty-eight chapters and over 235,000 words; it will have taken us over five years to print; and it will be an order of magnitude larger than any other single work that DargonZine has ever produced.
Talisman is indeed a truly colossal achievement, and it all comes to its exciting finale in our next DargonZine issue, due out around the end of April.