Another year is drawing to a close for us here at Dargonzine. It wasn’t our best year in terms of production, with only four published issues to show for it (though we may try to get another one out in December). It was a big year of change for us, with both a turnover of leadership and a lot of reflection on what we were about. This brought us to some realizations and ultimately to a fairly major change.
Ornoth has posted enough about our history in these editorials that I won’t go into a lot of detail (but if you want the detail, go to A Brief History of Dargon on the About DargonZine page). The zine has been around for 25 years, having started as FSFNet: a magazine that included articles and reviews alongside works of fantasy and science fiction. The Dargon Project, a group of writers creating stories in Dargon’s shared world, began a year later. For two more years, Dargon stories shared space with non-Dargon stories. Then FSFnet became Dargonzine, and only published stories from the shared world.
Along the way, something interesting happened. A peer review process developed. It was, I think, necessary in a shared world to preview each other’s stories before publication to avoid conflicts (which didn’t always work, I’m told), but it became more than that, as the writers began to help improve one another’s writing. That is something that stayed with the project, and became part of our vision: “Aspiring writers helping to improve one another’s writing, and having fun doing it.” This went on for a long time. Writers joined the group, wrote Dargon stories, reviewed each other’s writing, and had fun doing it. Some stayed for a short time, and some for a long time.
Over the past several years, though, we’ve developed a problem. The number of active writers is shrinking. We’ve always had writers leave, but there have also always been new writers to replace them. So, what happened to our new writers? Were they not joining? No, we had plenty of people sign up and join the group. The problem was that they weren’t being published. In fact, since I joined in 2002, only two new writers have actually been published. I’m one of them. The other one just left the group. And very few of those who did join even submitted a draft story for review.
So, what’s going on? It took a long time for us to realize it. The Dargon Project actually has two goals: to write in the shared world of Dargon, for our own enjoyment, and to help aspiring writers. For a long time, those goals worked hand-in-hand. Two things changed over time, too slowly for anyone to notice. The first is that the shared world, which was originally almost a blank slate, has developed a vast and complicated history. While (we think) that is a part of its appeal, it is a daunting task for a new writer to go learn that history, or at least enough of it to write a story. This challenge was compounded by the second change that occurred: the quality of the writing improved. While that may sound obvious, given that we were *trying* to improve our writing, or even arrogant, it’s certainly true. Read some of the early issues, and you will almost certainly see what I mean.
We finally recognized that our new writers were faced with a double hurdle: the shared world and the writing quality. What were we to do? Lose the shared world and become just another generic fantasy zine? Certainly an option, but not one that sat well with most of us. Lower our standards for writing quality in the zine? Kind of hard to credibly say that we want to improve each other’s writing if the quality of the zine goes down. We decided another solution was required.
Dargonzine, as the publication vehicle for stories set in our shared world, will continue, with no reduction in our standards. But to both help new writers become acclimated, and to be able to offer help to aspiring writers who may not want to write Dargon stories, we have created the Dargon Project Writers’ Workshop, or DPWW for short. What is the DPWW? That will be answered in detail in a large FAQ that I am going to finish up over the next week or so. In brief, though, it is a (non-published) forum for aspiring writers to join and submit their work for peer review. This will be done without the constraint of the shared world (even non-fantasy fiction is welcome) and without an eye toward getting the story printed in the zine, so the feedback should be more geared toward the needs of each writer. There will be no charge to join, only the expectation that members will be open to feedback and willing to review each other’s work. It’s our hope that some of the writers from the Workshop will come write for DargonZine, but that is not required. For more info, go the the Dargon Project Writers Workshop. There is a (very) abbreviated FAQ there at the moment, along with some other features.
Okay, enough about the DPWW for now. This issue brings you two stories. The first is an offering of mine called “A Father’s Gift”, which I hope you enjoy. The second is the penultimate chapter of Nick Wansbutter’s Great Houses War.