As you know, the Black Idol story arc which began in our last issue has been nearly two years in the making. Everyone involved in the arc has put forth a tremendous effort to make it happen, and this month I’d like to tell you the story of one of the arc writers who appears in this issue.
Rich Durbin joined the Dargon Project in January 2003, just three months before the Black Idol story was outlined at our Austin writers’ gathering. Rich actually didn’t attend that meeting, and thus didn’t think that he would be involved with the Black Idol at all.
However, by December, the arc was facing a major crisis. Two authors had left the project: the ones who were responsible for the arc’s first two stories, which related the history of the Black Idol. Rich’s project mentor had picked up the broken pieces and begun drafting an ambitious replacement, but hadn’t gotten anywhere with it. Rich began working with her, but it soon became apparent that she wasn’t going to be able to complete the stories. She too left the project shortly thereafter, leaving Rich — a new writer — to write both the idol’s early history, and the story of the abandoned settlement that brought the storyline up to Dargon’s present-day.
So eight months after we’d begun the arc, it had lost three of its original writers, and the entire first portion of the arc was in shambles. Worse yet, all the people who were writing events that took place later in the timeline were angry because they had been forced to change their downstream stories every time the authorship of the first two stories changed hands.
With everyone’s emotions running high, Rich agreed to write the introductory stories himself. He set aside the story he’d begun with his mentor, and agreed to write a new story that produced the outcomes that were dictated by other stories which had already been written. It was like working backwards, trying to create a jigsaw puzzle piece that matched the ones around it. He had to produce his story under incredible pressure and within a very short time, despite having never printed a Dargonzine story before!
Three months later, he gave us the first drafts of “End of the Line”, which concludes in this issue. Rich responded to the pressure and produced not just a fine first story from a new writer, but also put the entire Black Idol effort back on track. Although there’s been many heroic efforts in the creation of the Black Idol, his is one that stands out as the most critical to the arc’s success, and we all owe him a great deal of thanks for his contribution to this massive collaboration. Without his effort, we would not be printing Black Idol stories today.
Rich isn’t our typical new writer, however. In a sense, he’s not new at all, having written one story for FSFnet during a brief stint with us way back in 1987. However, very few of our readers will remember back eighteen years ago, so I think a bit of an introduction is warranted.
In 1987, when university mainframes were the only computers attached to large networks, Rich was attending Miami University (of Ohio). His roommate, who worked in the computer center, set up an account for him, and Rich began reading several of the electronic magazines that originated at the University of Maine, such as the “Nutworks” humor zine, and DargonZine’s predecessor, FSFnet.
Glenn Sixbury’s “Destiny of Tara n’ha Sansela” storyline particularly intrigued Rich, and when Glenn left the project, he joined the Dargon Project to try and continue it. The one story he published, “Two Journeys”, appeared in FSFnet 7-5. Looking back on it, Rich writes, “For such a short story, I am amazed at the relatively large impact it had on Dargon. The main character, Tara, was featured in a number of stories. Captain Koren was mentioned first by someone else, but I was the one who decided he was captain of the town guard rather than a ship’s captain.”
When Rich graduated, he lost network access. After a few years, he opted to serve in the US Navy on a guided missile frigate, where he began a career in computer work that continued into his civilian life back in Ohio.
Here’s how Rich says he rediscovered DargonZine:
In the fall of 2000, while unpacking some old boxes, I ran across my old notes from ’87. I had started to build a Dargon database on greenbar paper, much like what became the Online Glossary. Out of idle curiosity I googled “Dargon”, and was quite surprised that it still existed. I read most of the “About Dargon” and “About Dargonzine” pages that night, and poked around the rest of the site. I decided then that I wanted to get involved again. In reading the Writers’ FAQ I was struck by this line: “Ideally, you should read all the back issues, but we realize that’s expecting a little much”. I felt that if I were serious about this, then reading the archive wasn’t “too much”. So I read the archive, but didn’t contact the magazine until I had completed my reading. I think that took me about eighteen months.
Rich finally rejoined DargonZine in January 2003, but things are very different today from the old days of FSFnet.
Back when I first wrote for FSFnet, the process was pretty informal: write a story, send it to the editor. It would get a cursory proofreading, then it would be published. It wasn’t “anything goes”, but it was close. You can tell the FSFnet writers were not paying too much attention to the rules of milieu.
Today it’s very structured, with submitting stories to the writers’ list and multiple rounds of critiques. Presently the stories are much more technically sound. Stories are grammatically correct, structured well, and logic holes are closed.
And how difficult was it picking up the Black Idol story arc and writing “End of the Line”?
The hardest part about writing “End of the Line” was developing the premise, particularly in that I had to end it essentially as described in the subsequent stories: a mountain hamlet in ruins with a dead body in a cottage, and a nearby statue. I was pondering this when I finally arrived at the idea of a wizard kidnapping a villager. Once I had the motivations worked out, I was ready to go.
Now, with his first stories in print and his Black Idol committment behind him, Rich has begun work on subsequent pieces. One is called “Out With a Bang”, a story about an alchemist whose knowledge exceeds his wisdom. He is also in the process of outlining a series of stories about a former Dargon town guard and a sailor, with a working title of “Coin of the Realm”.
We’re delighted to have Rich back with the project, and indebted to him for coming through with the first two stories of the ongoing Black Idol story arc. We hope that you enjoy his work.