International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year Flame Out
Influence of Ninety-Eighty-Four on Writers Workshops
The following investigation and first hand experiences is into the
particular practices of a single writers workshop/discussion site.
It soon morphed into my being caught up in a totalitarian cyber
land where staff members are wholly immersed into to this political
form of rule. This is especially true in what they deem culturally
acceptable what one can write and mostly cant write.
Now the practices,
secrets, control and other such mechanisms of totalitarianism dictate
a black-out on any informational dictums relative to the group. They
will sue in a second any information leaked out to the world. Given
this predilection of litigious fervor, I will address the following
issues. This is a real site I dealt with. The site named herein in is
given a pseudonym. Also, persons named are aliases. The quotes are real,
pursuant to the Fair Use Act: "Uses that advance criticism, education
or scholarship are favored-particularly when the amount copied is small."
Also, a staffer related to me, "You can quote any publicly available
information at (The Site) within the limits of the fair use act in your
" The site will be referred to as Site Zero. There
real name is so much more evocative, but this is how they choose to
The two site staff members, in order of appearance, will be known as
Citizen Obtuse and Citizen Censor.
When one surfs the web in search of a diversion and one happens to be
a writer the natural inclination is to explore what is natural. The
plethora of writers forums, discussion groups and workshops all
seem so inviting. If there is a consistency in these sites it is an
inconsistency. Rules differ, cliques are encouraged, what is allowed
to be posted (Im not talking about profanity, sexually explicit,
racially charged rhetoric, vitriolic poison and the like), the number
of reviews needed to post a story, poem and so on. If this arbitrary
rule of law continues, a spiraling down of the trash talk shows will
invade these sites and ultimately make of them inconsequential and finally
and deservingly kicked in to grave. What follows is my experience with
one such doomed site, Site Zero.
Context: I submitted one story to the fiction board and another piece
on flame wars to the general talk board. Since the latter was taboo
(censorship), the flame war was moved to fiction, where you must review
three works in order for other members to read it. So it was locked
to readers and too my short story. I addressed what is below to Site
The road to truth can often be found through discourse. This is my goal.
There are some basic truths to be found on Site Zero. I experienced
such with Citizen Censor. Should you decide to post a story, poem and
so on, you will not be allowed to delete it.
Citizen Obtuse, moderator of the fiction posts stated to me in an e-mail,
"Partly because once a piece has been commented upon, removing
the piece can be viewed as inconsiderate to those who have spent time
responding." That stance is wrong on any number of levels. First,
the work is mine period. Secondly, all a person commenting (I agree
there is work put into it) has to do is make a copy of it its
not rocket science. Thirdly and finally, Site Zero is a discussion board/
workshop that posts different genres and thats it. They dont
pay money like literary magazines nor do they require exclusivity in
first rights publishing as literary zines do. I owe Site Zero nothing.
When you post a story, poem or perhaps an opinion, be ready to have
your words/work held hostage or shuffled from genre to genre. It was
locked to other readers and therefore inaccessible, hence needed to
be taken off the site. I repeatedly asked to have my story deleted.
It took the better part of a day to do it and many e-mails. It was done
only after I intoned the word LAWYER.
My other piece posted in General Talk was considered controversial
a talk about flame wars so it was moved to Fiction and locked
down to other readers. Straight up George Orwell, 1984 style. Citizen
Censor wrote me this lame excuse, "This was an error--we just weren't
sure what this piece was." It was obviously a look into flame wars.
If that doesnt fit General Talk, then they need to re-work their
discussion board. When Citizen Censor discovers the First Amendment,
its gonna fall down on her like a lightning bolt.
Speaking of Citizen Censor, where or if you are employed is one of the
informational conditions to join Site Zero, "Anything that helps
to tell us who you are and confirm that you are the person you claim
to be is helpful to us: your name in an employer's online directory,"
Is it conditional to be employed in order to write? Plenty of unemployed
writers out there and going back to the Stone Age (they didnt
have writing instruments back then). Its simultaneously a perquisite
and badge of honor for all artists to be loafers. Ever hear of van Gogh?
Did his brother Vincent take up his paint and brushes and tell him "Get
a job you bum?" Or what if I work for the C.I.A. and cannot disclose
that I work for them (I dont, thank god). Oh, right, Site Zero
is a champion of the working man/women. Cant say that Ive
seen any hard hitting union pieces on the site
Lastly, Ill say that the three review thing on Site Zero does
little to improve the quality of the site. As a veteran of the Zoetrope
Virtual Studio and its most famous Flame War of 2004, I can say setting
an arbitrary number of reviews is nearly worthless. The person reviewing
usually picks the lowest word count, rushes through writing the review
and the result is an abstract tethering of words that reads like Kerouac
on magic mushrooms, washed down with copious amounts of Absinthe.
So, to Site Zero goes Zero, I leave you as I found you in cyber
obscurity. Seeing as the cyber tentacles eventually take hold of the
real world, that makes Site Zero inconsequential in real time and realitys
time is forever.
© Chris Roberts June 10th 2009
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