Rebuilding a community

Leadership Lessons from Star Trek TNG
Image by Krypto via Flickr

Every group goes through 5 stages of group formation:

  1. Coming together
  2. Defining the Task
  3. Unrest
  4. Cohesion
  5. Interdependence

These stages do not always occur in the same order, and they often loop back on themselves, but the first 4 have to be completed for the community to enter the final stage: Interdependence.

1. Coming together

The first stage is the most difficult.  Starting from nothing, we have to find enough people who share a common interest in the project to make it possible.  When starting something new, there are few places to go to gather these people from.

This is why the first and the second stages form a symbiotic circle.

2. Defining the Task

As we discussed earlier, nothing brings people together like a shared dream.  The group leader needs to start defining tasks for the group to accomplish.  These tasks should be simple and doable.

The group cannot wait for members to rise up to accomplish these tasks.  The leader as well as the others who have already signed up for the task need to start work.  Nothing gathers a group like success.

3. Unrest

Unrest is natural.  I have had many people sign on the Project: Shadow Manifesto, start working with us, only to either become disillusioned by the magnitude of the tasks before us or get frustrated by my focus on what’s best for the community.

There is only one way to handle unrest when it inevitably comes.  Listen to the criticism, do your best to answer it and choose the best course of action moving forward.  If schism is inevitable, allow it to happen, but try to make appropriate compromises.

The well being of the community is more important than the ego of the leadership or existing group.  Be ready to apologize or stand your ground, which ever is the most necessary.

4. Cohesion

Cohesion is a worthy goal.  When the community sees the goal, and begins accomplish its goals, it will begin to move as a unit.  Individuals will start to see tasks that are not on the agenda, and working on their own to achieve the community’s goals.

This is the most dangerous stage of group development.  As new leaders emerge within the community, they will be tempted to set out on their own.  If the group does not understand that it is only through working together that their goals can be accomplished, it will fall apart.

5. Interdependence

If the group survives this stage, then they will begin to rely on one another, and success is within the communities grasp.  All they have to do it keep their eyes on the goal and values the group has established for itself, and keep moving forward.

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Pursuing a Dream

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I think a lot about how to find and follow our dreams.  At times, I feel like a self-help writer, and I wonder if I am really saying anything that matters.

The Problem with Self-help

American society is rooted in the idea of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and achieving impossible dreams.  We are a frontier nation, young enough to remember the struggles of our founders and frontiers men and women, but finally old enough to start grappling with some of the realities of forging a new world out of one that existed long before we got here.

Our real problem is the stories we grew up with about people who set out on their own to create a life for themselves.  It was all a lie.  None of these people did anything alone.  They only accomplished what they did with the help and support of their community.

Unfortunately, this self-made person myth infiltrated every part of our cultural psyche to the point where we have entire industries built on the lie that if you get your act together, then you will be able to do anything.  The truth is, only when we build a community around ourselves will be we able to accomplish anything.

Dreams Unify

While many of us believe we are alone in our dreams or that we have to achieve our dreams on our own, we are never really alone. Thousands of people want to write a book, or make a movie.  The trick is to find other people who share your specific dream.

Blogs and podcasts have helped a many people, but the means is not important.  What is important is the connections we make to keep our spirits up, share our knowledge, and support us through the lows and the highs.

Without a strong connection with like minded people, it is difficult to navigate the treacherous waters between us and our goal.

Never Alone

The path to our dream starts with us sharing:

  1. What do you want to accomplish?
  2. What steps do you see between where you are to where you want to be?
  3. What mistakes have you made, and what have you learned from them?
  4. What are you doing right now to achieve your goals.

When you start to share, you will find others willing to share with you their experiences.

Following your dream

Now, you need to make you steps know, continue to share your experience, and work with others to achieve your goals.

Start a Blog over at Project: Shadow, and let’s get the community together.  As a group, nothing can stand in our way!

The Time to Move On

Heat, a form of energy, is partly potential en...
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Life is not easy.  From time to time the question arises: “Is it time to move on?”

Out of energy, and the end of our rope, it feels to hard to keep going, and we ask ourselves:

“Should I just give up?”

Well, that depends on what you are thinking about giving up?

  • Should I give up on my dream?  NEVER!
  • Should I give up on my passion?  Not in a million years!
  • Should I give up on following my bliss?  Not for anything!

When we hit a low point, there is often something we do need to give up, but it isn’t any of those things.


Often, we are holding on to things so hard we are smothering them.  Our emotional attachments blind us to opportunities before our very eyes.  They allow us to feel slighted by the smallest circumstances.

I consider myself lucky that I never set out to be a “major writer.”  I can’t imagine the pressure to sell books and make everyone like what I am doing.

I write stories for me.  If anyone else likes them, that is a blessing.  I want to tell a good story, not be the next Stephen King.  I can control the quality of my stories, not the whims of the market.  It is hard for me be disappointed by the reception any of my stories gets.

I have some friends who really want to be a top shelf writer, selling hundreds of thousands if not millions of copies.  That is a difficult goal to achieve, and I see their disappointment.

False Hopes

What most people don’t understand is that a false hope is one what you have no power to accomplish.

I would love to sell millions of books, but all I can do is write the best I can, and promote them to the best of my ability. Almost anything is achievable if we set our mind to it.

Your Turn

Can you think of any other false hope?  What can we do to make our dreams more attainable?

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Feeling Alive

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Feeling alive is a big part of authentically being ourselves.  Everyone of us has something that makes us feel alive.

When I started writing this, Everything louder than Everything Else by Meatloaf from Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell came on.  I love it when serendipity lends a helping hand.

If the thrill is gone then its time to take it back

I know that I will never be politically correct And I don’t give a damn about my lack of etiquette As far as I’m concerned the world could still be flat And if the thrill is gone then its time to take it back If the thrill is gone then its time to take it back Who am i? Why am I here? Forget the questions someone get me another beer

It is so easy to get caught up in the big questions.  We get distracted from living in the search for purpose and meaning.  I know what you are thinking, didn’t say that we want meaning and purpose?  that those are prerequisites for happiness?

Yes!  But we will never find those things by sitting around trying to figure out what they are.

It is more important to live authentically than to be able to describe who you are in words.

It is more important to follow your bliss than to sit around trying to figure out why you are here?

While those are important questions, the answers are learned through action, and not thought.

You gotta learn to dance

Whats the meaning of life? Whats the meaning of it all? You gotta learn to dance Before you learn to crawl You gotta learn to dance Before you learn to crawl

I experience by bliss and live in passion most profoundly when I:

  • Am telling stories.
  • Attending conventions.
  • Listening to music.
  • Dancing.
  • Watching movies and series that matter to me.

I didn’t figure this out by sitting around and thinking about, but through doing it.

I started DMing AD&D in middle school.  I loved telling stories so much that I wrote my first novel in 8th grade, my second by 12th.  My third and fourth about 2 years apart.  I never would have learned how much I loved to tell stories if it wasn’t for AD&D and Vampire: The Masquerade.

I am mortally afraid of public speaking.  I never would have started this blog and our podcasts if Shore Leave hadn’t put me on a GLBT in Fandom panel, forcing me to do it.  I enjoyed it, and starting blogging and podcasting shortly there after.

The lesson is:  We discover our passions by doing things that make us feel alive.

If you are curious about something, try it.  If you enjoy it, keep doing it.

Army of the Night

So sign up, all you raw recruits Throw away those designer suits You got your weapons cocked, your targets in your sights There’s a party raging, somewhere in the world You gotta serve your country, gotta service your girl You’re all enlisted in the army of the night

Consider this your draft notice!  Somewhere, someone is doing something that will enrich your life to a degree you cannot even imagine.

  • Find it
  • Figure out what about it you love
  • Discover your passion
  • Find ways to do more of it

Take it from someone who knows.  Authentic living is better than any other high.

I aint in it for…

And I ain’t in it for the power And I ain’t in it for my health I ain’t in it for the glory of anything at all And I sure ain’t in it for the wealth But I’m in it ‘til it’s over And I just can’t stop If you want to get it done, you have to do it yourself And I like my music like I like my life Everything louder than everything else

Always remember what you are doing it for.  It isn’t money or power or fame.  It is because your heart beats to the rhythm of that drum, and you have to keep the party going.

Life is for the living!  If we are not alive, we need to find that spark and ignite it again!

Acting our Age

They say I’m wild and I’m reckless I should be acting my age I’m an impressionable child In a tumultuous world And they say I’m at a difficult stage

But it seems to me to the contrary Of all the crap they’re gonna put on the page That a wasted youth is better by far Then a wise and productive old age

I really truly believe that if we follow our bliss and live our passions, we have actually set ourselves in accord with the cosmos.  We are doing what we are here on this earth to do.

Everything in life is a challenge.  Are we going to move forward or move back.  If moving forward requires us to sell out who we are at our very core, then that is the wrong path.

A youthful spirit and a mature intellect are the most valuable tool we could have in life.  Don’t let anyone take them from you, and NEVER give them up!

The three I admire most…

If you want my views of history Then there’s something you should know The three men I admire most Are Curly, Larry, Moe Don’t worry about the future Sooner or later it’s the past If they say the thrill is gone then its time to take it back If the thrill is gone then its time to take it back

Now that you have discovered your passion, see if you can find a couple people who make a living doing that and study how they do it.  Establish a plan, and work toward achieving it.

Everything louder than everything else

Now is the time to just sing along!

So sign up, all you raw recruits Throw away those two bit suits You got your weapons cocked, your targets in your sights There's a party raging, somewhere in the world You gotta serve your country, gotta service your girl Youre all inducted in the army of the night And I aint in it for the power And I aint in it for my health I aint in it for the glory of anything at all And I sure aint in it for the wealth But Im in it til its over And I just cant stop If you want to get it done, you got to fight for yourself And I like my music like I like my life Everything louder than everything else

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Giving up what you love

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There comes a time when we have to give up on what we love.  The trick is giving up on the right things.

The Time has passed

I miss fanzines.

When I first got involved in fandom, I built a large collection of fanzines.  I got to know the editors by name, and knew I would love the zines certain editors put out, and not others.  Now, with the exception of slash zines, the remainder of fanfiction has gone online.

The days of the zine are behind us, but their might be a new way to take the form into the future.

Look toward the new

Instead of trapping ourselves in the thought of what could be brought back, ask yourself how you can reinvent it, and move forward on that.

What have you decided to give up on?

And what can you reinvent it into?

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Being a part of something special makes you special

An example of a social network diagram.
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Community is a base essential.  Even loners like to pride themselves on being part of a proud tradition of mavericks.  We all want to belong.  The question is: Belong to what?

There are two schools of thought:

  1. Belong to something popular
  2. Belong to something meaningful

Often, we feel like we have to choose one or the other.

Belonging to something Popular

The easiest choice to make to sign up for what your friends are doing.  I read a lot of blogs that discuss techniques bloggers can use to create this sort of peer pressure among your readers to bring their friends in.  The whole Web 2.0 phenomenon centered around this idea.

  • All my friends are on My Space, so I should be on My Space
  • Now the majority of my friends are on Facebook, I suppose I should join that.
  • Wow, all these people I want to keep up with are on Twitter.  I guess I need to join that

On and on it goes.  Each of these sites give us metrics to make us feel popular: Friends/Followers/Subscribers.

The problem with fame is that the more you have (real or imagined) the more you want.  It is a drug.  Social acceptance is the souls most addictive narcotic.  Like with any addiction.  Our priorities start changing.

My breaking point came when I was promoting Shine Like Thunder.  At one point, I was “participating” in 19 separate social networks on a weekly basis, and 7 more every other week.  Add that to my blogging, podcasting, and I didn’t have any time left to write…  You know, the reason I started this mess to begin with.  I had contact with a lot more people, but made few friends. I was hooked on the drug.  I fed the addiction while letting my passions wither.

Belonging to something Meaningful

All I really want, and I think all any of us really want is the sense that we are a part of something meaningful.

A meaningful community feeds us with enthusiasm and purpose.  That is the cost of popularity.

My favorite band, Kiss, and my favorite show on TV right now, Glee, understand this.  They preach and practice the celebration of difference.  We need to do that too!

Personal Checklist

I realized that in my personal life I need to ask myself some basic questions:

  1. What am I doing that fills my life with a sense of purpose and meaning?
  2. How can I better connect with people to make friends and not just followers.

Social Checklist

And on a broader field:

  1. How can I push the social networks I belong to work together better?
  2. How can I be more social and less promotional and vain?
  3. What can I do to fill my own life with more meaning and purpose?

I am still working on answers to these questions, and I am sure I missed quite a few that should be on the list.  What did I miss?  Do you have any suggestions?

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Wicked Little Town (Why am I here?)

Usually, we I get into the place I find myself today, people think I am putting down the physical location I am in.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I find myself living in a place as foreign to me as a fish exploring outer space.  I don't just mean this actual town.  I mean my personal, professional, spiritual, and imaginal lives.  I have entered a domain that is no longer governed by my five senses and everything I have ever learned, thought or believed is useless.

Personal Life

Eric at the Natural History museum in Carson CityI swore to myself that I would never move back to Poplar Bluff, but here I am.  There are many versions of the story.

  • In one, I am victim of circumstance.  Not entirely, but this was not in the plan.
  • In two, I am a good Samaritan.  Not really, I am a little too selfish for that to be true.
  • In three, I am afraid to move.  I lost nearly everything once, now I am afraid to loose my family too.
  • In four, I am afraid I don't know who and what I want anymore.  This one is probably closest to being true.

A couple years ago, when my grandfather died, my sister (who I trust, admire, and love more than anything) sat me down and gave me an ultimatum:  "You have tried to be a writer for a long time now.  How much longer are you going to do this before you give it up and get a real job."

It broke my heart, and in many ways my soul.  All I have ever wanted to be was a writer... well storyteller.  She was right, up until that time, I had not found anyone who liked anything I ever wrote.  My prospects as a writer were slim to none.

I remember that day clearly.  That was the day I sacrificed my personal life to make my dreams come true.  I started worked 12 to 18 hour days writing and learning:

  • how to blog
  • the ins and outs of the software
  • how to podcast
  • how to pretend not to be the shy, sensitive artist, and how to be an entrepreneur.

As my former life lay bleeding at my feet, I turned my back, hoping to achieve my dreams and make my family proud.

Professional Life

Eric happy with bookMy professional life is a juggling act.

I blog for three sites.

I record 9 podcasts a week in 5 series.

I am planning out a new novel in a new setting.

I promote 3 already published works.

I run a Blog and Podcast Network.

I am developing a Table Top role playing game based in the settings I created.

I am a community manager.

I am dashPunk Media's tech support and code monkey.

I am not looking for sympathy.  I enjoy most of what I do for work, and not a day goes by when a reader/listener doesn't remind me why I do what I do.  The problem is, I am having trouble remembering why I do it.

I can definitely say:

  • I am not in this for the money (though it would be nice).
  • I am not in this for the fame (frankly the little that I have freaks me out).
  • I am not in this for my ego (I get too much hate mail for that)

I love to tell stories because I like to connect with others.  There is a certain magic that happens when I discuss one of my stories with a fan, or talk about someone else's story.  Stories are the way we share those unspeakable things with each other.  They are the way we connect on a deep level.  That is what is missing:

Where are the connections?

I am fortunate to have made connections with a few of you, but not nearly to the level I would like, and not nearly in the way I would like.

The Internet is by its very nature impersonal.  It is hard to meet and connect to new people in a real way.

We talk on twitter, email, every now and again through IM, but these are all dry and empty communications platforms, not community platforms.  What I am wanting to make is an honest to God community on the web.  Facebook is great for the people I already know, and twitter is great for sharing ideas and links, but what I want is an interconnected hub where we can meet greet, and share.  Getting to know each other, and helping each other out., Reddit, Drupal, and Ning

I looked at every social tool I can find, and I have yet to find the one that will do what I am looking for.  They all have their pros and cons, but the hard truth is, I really don't have the time and energy to learn all of these systems.  What I want is a one stop shop.

I am not sure what happened to Chris Pirillo's idea for a simple community version of Drupal, every time I go to the site it is down.  I suppose he abandoned it.

This might be a problem that is not solvable.

The Dream App

I like Ning, and the features they offer, they have all of the basics:

  • Branding & Visual Design Freedom
  • Unique Member Profiles
  • Moderation & Privacy
  • Invitations & Search Engine Optimization
  • Latest Activity
  • Custom Text & Widgets
  • RSS Feeds In and RSS Out
  • Photos Feature & Branded Photo Slideshows
  • Video Feature & Branded Video Players
  • Chat
  • Groups
  • Discussion Forum
  • Blogs for Every Member
  • Events

That is the bare minimum for a network, but it really should have a few more things.

  • Twitter integration:  (Using the Existing API)
    • Group Tweet-like functionality that would allow members see each other's updates in one place, as well as post to the feature, and have the feature post on to Twitter.  Members would also be able to start new groups with a quick and easy set up process.
    • Tweetizen-like functionality that would allow for topic communities, and a great example of group tweeting, but it is limited to 10 people in a group, that limit would have to be removed, and members would have to be able to join without having to be added.
  • intergation: The ability to display and share information to and from in the network.
  • GoodReads integration: The ability to display and share information to and from GoodReads in the network.
  • integration:  The ability to display and share information to and from, including a network playlist, and individual ones for the groups.
  • Social Bookmarking integration: I really have no favorites here, but it would be great to share, collect, rate, and organize links.
  • Full integration with other photo sharing sites.
  • Bookmarklet to easily share videos, pictures and links into the network
  • Groups should have the option of having their own blogs.
  • Member blog posts should have the option of which groups they are posted to.
  • Easy Zine creation and distribution.
    • Members should be able to start, accept submissions, edit, and publish their own zines individually or in groups.
  • A desktop app that makes all of these features little more than a click away for those members who are interested in it.  Something like TweetDeck.

I know I am probably forgetting a lot of things.  If you can think of anything that your dream network should have, please leave a comment.  Maybe we can find a couple developers who can help us take BuddyPress, Ning, or Drupal to this level of functionality.

Yes We Can

Paint the White House Balck- George Clinton

It all starts now.  With Obama as President, and increased control of the House and the Senate by the Dems, this is the time to act, but they can only get us so far.

This was a major victory in the Culture Wars, but there is still a lot to do.  We have to reclaim soul of America from those who would divide rather than unite, debase humanity rather than celebrate it, and those who embrace hate and reject love.

In many ways, we have been granted a cosmic do-over.  The people are activated, and starting to believe that anything is possible again.  This optimism is what makes us our best.

Cynicism and calculated posturing have been embraced by our culture, and we need to take this as our opportunity to stand up against the darkness and reclaim the positive forward thinking that make us great.

Everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religion, class, gender, or orientation is made equal and capable of doing the things they set their minds to.  We lost this idea, as a nation and as a  world.  You can see it clearly in our popular entertainment.

We need to harness this moment, and look to the future.

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Fan Works and Creative Commons

In Reply to my post "Dream of a Fandom Economy," Clive from Fan Cinema Today wrote:

It's an interesting idea, but it takes such efforts out of the realm of fan production, making them more akin to independent contractors. Would a studio license out its intellectual property if the money was right? Could a franchise survive an avalanche of sub-direct-to-DVD product if people were asked to pay for it? Perhaps, but if money is involved, then they’re pro productions, regardless of how qualified the cast and crew may or may not be. Professional work is measured on a very different scale by studios and viewers (not to mention unions), so if someone holding the purse strings is saying ‘no,’ they likely have their reasons, whether it’s that the franchise is too valuable, or that even high-end amateur work just isn’t pro enough.

Not that many studios threaten to sue anymore, although it does happen from time to time. Lucasfilm fired off a Cease and Desist order to The Dark Redemption in 1999, so you won't see them buying that one any time soon! Meanwhile, Shane Felux, who made Revelations in 2005, won the Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge the following year when he made Pitching Lucas; the result of that is that Lucasfilm owns the rights to it for the next 10 years--it's part of the contract that all nominees in the contest have to sign.

You can read about both these stories in-depth in my upcoming fan film book, Homemade Hollywood, which incidentally, goes into the topic of whether studios should buy or license fan works as well (to be honest, that first paragraph at the top of my reply was cut-and-pasted direct from my manuscript!)

Originally posted as acomment by fanfilmbook on dashPunk using Disqus.

I am not sure that it would move these productions from the realm of Fan Works to the realm of professional work. What I am proposing is a reinvention of both the models of Production and the relationship of copyright to fandom.

Toward A Creative Commons Franchise

Creative Commons License

If a writer or company truly wanted to leverage their fanbase, they would license their content under a Creavite Commons or similar license.  Such a license would spell out in simple, human readable terms what the fans are allowed to do with the copyrighted work(s) in question.  For my books, I use a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.  This means others may modify my works so long as they give me attribution, share the work under the same license, and do so in a noncommercial way.

Licenses like this are important for both the copyright holders and the fans.  What would this offer the copyright holder?

  • They empower their fans to give them free promotion through derivative fan works.
  • They allow their fanbase to become more involved with their property which will allow they to become more involved and deeper connected to the original work.
  • By allowing their fans to produce derivative works, they are able to fill in the gaps between releases at no cost to them.
  • They increase their footprint which will help them to convert more casual readers/viewers into fans.  An increased fanbase will increase sales.
  • With fans providing them free advertising, they will be able to focus their efforts more on content than marketing.

Fans would benefit from this approach nearly as much as the copyright holder.

Star Trek and Fandom

After Star Trek was canceled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry allowed fanfiction to thrive.  In reality, he probably saw no future for the series, and saw no reason to enforce his copyright, but whatever his reasons, the flowering of fanfiction reinforced the love fans felt for the series.  It also kept these fans activated until the animated series premiered in 1973, and again from the end of the animated series in 1974 until the first movie in 1979.

Fanfiction filled the gaps between releases of official content, and played a large roll in growing the fanbase of the series so the movies and subsequent series were even possible.  Fanfiction continued to serve this function until the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991.  In the years following his death, the studio reminded fans what precarious footing they had as Paramount began sueing fan publications and fan sites for copyright infringement.  I know many people who were sued for simply continuing activities they had been allowed under the gentleman's agreement.

As a result of these prosecutions, and the decreasing quality of the show as it suffered from a lack of vision and leadership in the absence of Roddenberry, the fanbase began to dissolve.  Ratings fell, and attendance in the theaters fell with it.

The Status Quo

Now, all fanfilm and fanfiction exist with this same legal sword of Damoclese hanging over them.  New gentleman's agreements have been brokered, or studios have simply stopped suing over fans' infringement of copyright, but there is nothing ensuring that they will not begin again.

As Clive pointed out, "Lucasfilm fired off a Cease and Desist order to The Dark Redemption in 1999, so you won't see them buying that one any time soon! Meanwhile, Shane Felux, who made Revelations in 2005..."  What is stopping them from sending out the Cease and Desist orders again?  Nothing but the feeling that it is presently not in their best interests.

The Moral Argument

The financial argument for adopting Creative Commons or similar licenses are clear, but I think there is also a moral argument as well.  In my post, Fanfiction and Culture, I take the creative commons argument to its extreme:

Most of what we consider classics today were written by people who wrote in a setting they did not create with characters created by others, in other words, FANFICTION! All primal storytelling is fanfiction, telling retelling, embellishing and adding to that characters and setting that the storyteller enjoyed. This is the art of a story teller. Virtually every folktale and myth falls into this category (read the rest here).

This is the cultural cycle stories used to flow through.  What enrages me most about popular media is how often they use terms like myth, mythology, mythos, legend, and saga to describe their works, while simultaneously keeping them from entering the cultural cycle real myths do.

Copyright holder have a responsibility to culture to allow their ideas to follow the natural flow tales historically took and Creative Commons is a way for them to do this while maintaining their right to be the sole content creator allowed to make money off their ideas.

Creative Commons and the Fan Economy

What I proposed in "Dream of a Fan Economy" was that copyright holders should either purchase or license the best fanfilms and fanfiction and release it in a way so that both the original copyright holder and the producer of the fan work can both profit.

It is too easy for any franchise to become bogged down by group think, and if they infused fresh ideas from the fan community into their official releases they could discover new avenues they had never realized were their before.  Many franchises utilize rooms full of writers to crank out content for them.  It is strange to me that any company would turn down any possible source of revenue.

Dream vs Reality

I am not as naive as I might sound right now.  I do not expect any established franchise to adopt the model I am proposing, but that does not mean that I do not see it as something future franchises might use.

I put my money where my mouth is.  My books, Liquid Sky and Shine Like Thunder are both released under just such a license, and I know if I saw a fan work I loved I would try to bring it into the fold to reward its producer for their great work.

As media becomes increasingly fractured, new business models have to rise up to fill the void left behind by the failing studios and publishers of today.  I am not sure this is exactly the right model, but it is a proposal in the right direction.

I am curious what you think.  How could a copyright holder set up a viable, symbiotic relationship with their fans?  We need to find a path ourselves, because the big boys are not even looking.  Before you comment, read Clive's brilliant piece at Fan Cinema Today in response to my previous post

Homophobia, Misogyny and Bias in Culture and Fandom

You know what? I love fandom a lot. It's given me so many things--friendships, delight, Story and story and stories until I'm positively surfeited, meta and analysis and exegesis, a wider sensitivity to issues that I never would have even thought of had I been left to my own self-centered devices, and probably a dozen more things that I can't even think of because I'm only on my second cup of coffee this morning. ...

But look. Can you lay off announcing your posts with things like "It's time for some [schoolname]faggotry"? And stop talking about one character going to sex another up as "rape" (or "raep" as some would have it)? And maybe lay off calling everything "gay" or "ghei" (written_in_blue)?

This has been a huge problem in culture and especially in the fandom/gaming community. Not too long ago, Brian and I had to kick a couple guys from a group in an online game for saying repeatedly that they wanted to go rape an instance. To make matter worse, we could not get them to understand why that phrase was totally unacceptable. After a long, fruitless debate, we just added the individuals to our ignore lists.

Once, when I was playing a female toon, a player mock raped me after defeating me in PVP. He sent me tells filled with graphic and violent imagery, and when I reported him to the GMs, his guild attacked me, each sending me similar lurid tells.

Fanfiction has become infected with these images to the point where I am not sure where to go to find my fanfic anymore.

The blame for this comes down to people like me tolerating this sort of hate speech in our causal acquaintances and friends for too long. Something we never would have done if people where saying, that is so "N-word," or "Let's linch X."

I hate to be PC, and I am not saying that we fight for an absolute ban on the use of "That's so gay," even though I think we have to crack down on it, and stop the use the word rape in any way that could ever be perceived as positive.

On P:SI #249 “OMG A White Namic,” I used the phrase, "That is so Gay," about a pink pedal powered tank that fires hot dogs (DV!CE), because it is. As a gay man, I have to say, that is the gayest thing I have ever seen, but I would never use the phrase to mean something was bad.

Other than turning it around on people, it is helpful to use the word or phrase in a correct way.

It is time for us to get past the hate and get back to what fans do best. Celebrate the things we love.

Print Faggot

Dream of a Fandom Economy

The internet has opened the doors to many new economic models the would never have been possible without the collaborative powers of millions of people working separately in the fields they are passionate about. Fan Culture has disproportionately benefited from this. It is easier to create and distribute fanworks than it has ever been, but the monetization of these works is still taboo, and I am forced to ask myself, Why? The internet has allowed people to create and share brilliant fan fiction and films with the community, and yet these creators reap little more than promotional benefit from their work. Something is wrong with the system, and more than anything else, it is the antiquated attitudes of the copyright holders that prevents them from harnessing their legions of fans for mutual benefit.

Star Wars Revelations Official Poster Star Wars Revelations Official Poster

If I worked for DC Comics, I would snatch up Elseworlds and release it in a way that we could both profit from, or if I worked for Lucas Films I would pick up Star Wars: Revelations, Dark Redemption, and Reign of the Fallen.

It boggles my mind how many companies want to hold to their existing business models rather than reaching out to find new ways to make money.

Many of the fan trailers and music videos are far better than the official ones. So what does the company do? They send a DMC take down instead of licensing the fan content and using it instead.

"Pride goes before a fall," and these people are have more pride in crap than they do desire to produce content.

Creative Commons

This seems to me to be the best use of the creative commons license. Allow fans to do anything they want with a work except make money and pick up the best content to be released for profit.

I know that is a radical departure from the way the industry likes to work. They would prefer to sue their fans instead of earning money from them. What a wacky world we live in. Maybe someone will wake up, and the necessary revival of Speculative Fiction will come.

Fandom, Porn, and a Culture of Dreamers.

Anki-In-The-ShadesWhen I stumbled across trobadora's The Internet is for Porn? I was initially uncomfortable with the discussion. The frank discussion of fannish sexuality is not something I am used to seeing in writing... but it is all too familiar a topic around the table over the weekends and at the cons. I am not sure why I was so uncomfortable with the subject. It is not like I have not mentioned in on the show or in conversations with others, but this direct approach, insightful comments, and probing questions made me squirm a little in my seat.

In our fannish circles, porn is very much ... normalised, for lack of a better word. It's part of the everyday landscape, and writing it or posting it is not in any way, shape or form remarkable. (Except for the "oooh, shiny!" factor, of course.) It's even an ordinary social gesture – the "bake you cookies and write you porn" aspect (The Internet is for Porn?).

That is the moment that I started squirming. Why is it normal to talk about slash without a thought about what it is we are really talking about? It is not uncommon for the conversation to get started and in the right fan circles, the participants are open about their favorites. Is this because our fan culture is more coarse, crass, or jaded than the mainstream culture?

I don't think so. While I have been accused of having an overly bright view of the fan culture, I think it is a result of the very nature of Speculative Fiction Fandom.

  1. Fans are generally liberal. It is easier to look forward when you are not tied to the past
  2. Fans truly love. They do not simply like the characters, settings, and series, they have a deep love for them.
  3. Fans are dreamers. We are not satisfied with merely watching or reading, we dream up other stories. We are constantly asking, "What if?"
  4. Fans share. We are not content with these ideas living in our head, we share them with each other

As a result of these things, it is not surprising that we ask ourselves what it would be like if two of our favorite characters hooked up, we write the story and share it with the community.

Why are we not ashamed of the sometime sexually explicit stories we tell? I am not sure. For me, it is probably because I am gay. I am used to people looking down on me for who I love. Why would I care if they found about anything else? They already think I am a pervert. I have no where else to go from there.

Now, many of you are probably going to say, "I don't even know what your talking about."

Say you're participating in one of those other fannish spaces as well, and you're (for whatever reason) writing porn in that fandom. What do you do with it? What would you feel comfortable with?

Would you feel comfortable posting it in its own fandom, even though it would not be a normal fannish activity there?

First of all I would say there is a difference between porn and erotica. I am not parsing words, there is a very real difference. I apologize for the crass language here, but it is better to be blunt than verbose:

  • Porn is fiction that contains a lot of sex for the sake of getting you off.
  • Erotica is fiction that contains a lot of sex but the story and characterizations "cannot be summed up in diagrams" to quote Stephen Moffat.

Most of the fanfiction I am talking about is erotic because it does the latter and not the former. On that note, to answer the question, I am not sure what fan communities are being discussed where the conversation of slash does not pop up from time to time.

The only time I would not feel comfortable is if there were minors in the conversation. It is not my place to introduce these kids to a discussion of sexuality they may or may not be ready for. Other than that, I am not sure what would prevent me.

What if that fandom were mostly populated by fanboys?

Well, I find popular heterosexual male sexuality to be abrasive and overly crude. It is something that should be discussed. The flirtation present in the stories is something I think most heterosexual males would be bored by. I hope I am wrong.

The types of fanfic we are talking about are:

  • slash: male/male erotic fanfic
  • femslash: female/female erotic fanfic
  • hetslash: male/female erotic fanfic
  • PWP: porn without plot

Does it really matter who you're writing for? How much, how does it matter?

I think it does. I know I am not the only one who has wondered about the relationship between Ivanova and Talia or Sirius and Lupin. These questions are unanswered in the canon, so we are left to fill in the blanks with fanfiction.

The audience matters because well written fanfic is about the characters. Whether it is slash or not, if the story is bad, then why would I take time to read it? There are some audiences that just want PWP, and I am not in that crowd.

How much of a difference would it make whether it was an explicit sex scene in a longer fic or an all-out PWP?

Just as the audience matters, so does the content. If the story is good, and the sex is integral to the plot, the better the story will be.

Would it bother you more if the porn in question were slash or het?

A lot of the slash and het I have seen is more of an odd fantasy of the writer than a story worth spending any time with.

What if it were, say, het with a dominant male character?

This is where the problem comes in. A lot of the male dominant fiction, fanfic or not, is little more than a dose of male bravado with a side order of nudity. I prefer stories about equals.

What makes Smut

I read a lot of Speculative fiction, and sex is not absent from the "mainstream" fiction. It is hard to miss it in Anne Rice, Christopher Golden, Clive Barker, Anne McCaffrey... most SF not written or inspired by Tolkien.

I think we work ourselves into fits because, as with everything, there are some people who take it too far. Nothing can be down about these people except to ignore them.

There is nothing to be embarrassed about when we are talking about sexuality or erotica. Honestly, I think this has more to do with our popular culture and its perception of us.

In Pop Culture, sex is inherently smutty. It is a tool used to sell a product. Many movie trailers have become little more than "Watch this film and see these people naked." Under those conditions, we tend to allow ourselves to see all sex as smutty. What we have to do is establish certain personal rules:

  1. Sex is natural.
  2. Sex is not a game or a contest. It is not about collecting trophies.
  3. Respect is a prerequisite. If we do not respect ourselves or our characters, it shows and it degrades everyone.
  4. Sexually explicit stories or scenes without a grounding in character and plot are porn.

Did I make you uncomfortable? I hope not. I think it is time for some frank conversation. Now let's all sing Slash Wallow.

Ayn Rand, Teacher of Voldemort

When I saw Linn and Ari Armstrong's letter to the Editor at the Grand Junction Free Press titled,  Why Harry Potter fans should read Ayn Rand, I spit out my coffee. The idea that children should be exposed to the greed praising Ayn Rand is nothing less than silly or perverse.

In her books, Rand praises as virtues:

  • selfishness
  • the primacy of the individual over the community
  • the ability to ignore the suffering of others
  • the belief that, "if I want it I should have it, and no one should have the right to stand in my way."
  • certain groups should be looked down upon and shunned because we have chosen to class them as lesser beings.

These core beliefs are the beliefs of Voldemort, not Harry Potter.  The Dark Lord is the perfect embodiment of greed supporting libertarian of Rand, and I would hope any child reading her books would be able to see that.

I know there are some who have been lulled into a passive stuppor by her fiction and have not spent much time thinking about the "virtues" Rand advocated.  Her extreme brand of self-relaince to the exclusion of the needs of others is not what our children need to be exposed to.

The Defining Attribute of a Fan

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 10:  Actress Ashley E...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Eoghann Irving has posted an interesting rebuttal to my post, Fandom v The Scifi Channel, where he tackles the question What makes a fan? The critique of my position is an interesting one, and I have to say, I agree with his assertion that it sounds like I am trying to say that a fans define themselves by their interest in SF.

While there are some who have adopted the fan culture for themselves, cultural adoption is not a requirement to be a fan.

There is one hard and fast rule that separates Fans from Enthusiasts:

Fans Know Stuff

That is it.  Fans know things about the things they love and enthusiasts don’t.

Anyone can quote Star Trek or Star Wars because many of the aphorisms have gone mainstream, but a Star Wars Fan knows who Ulic Qel-Droma and Exar Kun are.  They have become such an important part of the Saga.  They recognized Asajj Ventris when she first came on the screen in the new Clone Wars film.

I am not saying that fandom is defined by obscure knowledge, but rather, a fan remembers the details and more often than not knows the minutia.

A good analogy is to look at music fandom.  Many people may like that one song, but a fan knows the lyrics, the band members, and the albums by that artist.

A fan is someone who has fallen in love with a piece of art, and seeks out more on that subject.  What I was trying to say in my last post is that a fan not only craves more, but seeks it out.

Who is a fan?

In the end then this definition works to the extent that it refutes the notion of a splintering fandom by simply stating that they were never really part of fandom in the first place. It’s a reductionist argument which simply eliminates that which doesn’t fit instead of seeking a way to acknowledge it.

And there’s something very defensive about that approach that I don’t like. It almost has the smell of “but we’re better than them” and oh I do so detest cliques (Solar Flare).

What I am talking about is not about cliques or any sense of superiority, I believe many people consider themselves fans when they truly are not.

Eoghann Irving is a fan because, like me he cares enough about this topic to post about it and event to rebut my challenge of his original premise.  That is a clear demonstration of the passion I talked about in my last post.

Since he mentioned Cliques, I have to say, every culture and subculture has its own cliques, that is as true of fandom as it is with the mainstream culture.  These do exist within fandom, but I don’t believe that they define it.

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Fandom v The Scifi Channel

fiction Eoghann Irving from Solar Flare has written a post claiming, “There’s No Such Thing as Science Fiction Fandom.”  His main point:

It would be more accurate to claim that there’s no such thing as a single unifying science fiction fandom.

I think there’s a strong case to be made that historically there used to be one. The one that formed around the pulp magazines, that essentially created WorldCon and the Hugos. Members of that fandom were at one time a pretty good example of the average science fiction fan (Solar Flare).

Is Fandom splintering?

In February, I wrote Three Types of SF Fans, in which I explored the major divisions within SF Fandom.  I do not believe that Fandom is splintering, our problem is Pop Culture exposure and a misapprehension about what fandom is.

The Source of the Problem:

  • Fans are fanatics!  They eat, drink, breathe and live SF.
  • Enthusiasts think they are fans.  They get excited by the release of an SF film, maybe play some games, but are not defined by their interest in SF.

As SF has made its flash into the Pop Culture, many new enthusiasts have been created and a few new fans.  Every flash in the pan has this effect.

We are at the point in the cycle when SF has past its peak in popularity and is falling out of favor causing the enthusiasts to stay interested in the series that turned them on, while talking trash about other SF so they can hold on to an image of coolness, the image of a fracturing fandom is born.

The Scifi Channel is to Blame

The Scifi Channel and the major studios have fed this seeming division by conflating futuristic action films and series with science fiction leaving many enthusiasts to believe that SF is synonymous with futuristic action films.

This makes it almost impossible for any non-action based series or film to have any sort of traction.

To make this point clearer, I have debated with people whether Dead like Me and Eli Stone are SF.  The group I was talking with insisted that they were not because they were not action packed...

Promoting Fan Culture

But the scale of the genre now is such that you really can’t assume that another science fiction fan will like or even be interested in what you are interested in. The sheer number of fandoms within the science fiction fan community results in a huge diversity of opinions and tastes (Solar Flare).

Our biggest problem with multiple fandoms is that fans have failed to communicate fan culture to the next generation.  We have allowed pop culture to parody and ridicule our lives without offering an alternative take for people to see.  The beauty and power of a filksing, the humor of a masquerade, or the basic comradery of a convention.

As long as we allow pop culture to define fandom, true fans will continue to find themselves pushed further and further out of the picture.  So keep the faith, and spread the word.


Filk is the culture, community, and music related to speculative fiction.  It has also in some circle become almost synonymous with parody lyrics.  Having said that, it is important to note that the definition of Filk has been a bit of a discussion topic among fans.  Groups as varied as space enthusiasts, science fiction fans, and Society for Creative Anachronism have adopted the term to describe the music they create. Filk ranges from poignant to hilarious, but for me, the music is secondary to the sense of community and fellowship among fans of the genre.  At most conventions, if you look deep in the schedule, you will find a filksing or a chaos filk on the grid late into the night.  These are the hardest of the hardcore fans and artists who gather together to celebrate the things they love.

That is the what makes Filk so magical and wonderful for me.  I love to seek out passionate people.  When someone shares something they love with others there is (more often then not) an infectious enthusiasm that fills the room.  Filksings are beautiful thing.  Humor and insight dance together as a group of strangers become one with the songs.

These are the songs of my culture.  I have never resonated with much of the folk music traditions of the United States.  Often, they are regional, or based in a religion that I do not subscribe to.  Filk takes the characters, themes, goals, and ideals that I believe in, and presents it through music that speaks to me on a very deep level.

I have never thought that I have anything but a bad singing voice, but I am not one to shy away from singing "That Real Old Time Religion," "The Rooster Song," "The Birthday Dirge," or "Holy, Holy."  These are the songs that reside within me.  They are the music to which my heart beats.  When I participate in a filksing, I feel like I am with my people and a part of a larger community.

Perhaps, I am taking this all too far, but it is important for people to find the community that they belong in, embrace it, and carry it around with them always.  When we allow ourselves to identify the culture we thrive in, we give ourselves a fertile ground in which to grow.

Most modern people suffer feelings of isolation as a result of the corporate culture that dominates the mainstream.  We have become detached and disillusioned by its shallow materialism.  To be separate from our culture is to be a part of nothing.

I felt this way for most of my childhood.  I was lucky to stumbling into the SF culture when I was about 11, for the first time in my life I found a place that I belonged.  Filk, as the music of that culture, forms a strong backbone of that culture.

I invite you to look into it and see if it speaks to you.  You might see it as nothing more than a novelty genre that is entertaining or a bizarre style, but if you are like me, you might just find a music that speaks to you on a deep level.

Sites to Check Out

Otep's "The Salvation of Music"

 A visionary speak:

I believe our performances are akin to the endeavors of the ancient Alchemists. Our goal is to take physical lead (the body & mind, flawed and inherited), and transform it into spiritual gold. Then, ultimately, generate and infect ourselves and our supporters with the great Panacea, the elixir of life, which holds the remedy for all life’s suppressions. In laymen’s terms, we believe words matter, music is holy, and art saves (Headbangers Blog).

If I could, I would quote her entire post. Their is salvation in art. Throughout the many things that I have gone through in my life, music and art have been my constant companions. Catharsis is absolutely necessary.

I have often envied musicians and painters for the power of their media to so easily connect two souls in a way that amazes me and astounds me. This is the difference between fandom and pop culture fans.

The emotional, near religious, experience that transforms people into devoted, life-long fans. We experience something that soothes a wound or that we identify with on such a deep level.

This is also the burden that anyone who considers themselves an artist has to bare. How can your art transcend the limits of words on paper, sound, or paint on canvas, and become something that is capable of carrying an unspeakable message from soul to soul. No one can plan this, it is a byproduct of listening to ones muses and riding the leopard without been eaten by it.

Costumed Unity

936212821_a9b19c882b Families that play together stay together. It is good to see families participating in costuming culture, and well, the suits are nice.


Friends and families that play together, whether they play games, music, or costuming, knit themselves into a tighter, more personally cohesive group.

There is a strange comradery that arises among people that work on costumes together, or that have set up individually and met at the convention. Last year at Shoreleave, I watched a Justice League form as strangers who dressed as different DC superheroes met and joined up.

As a former Klingon (I have not costumed in too long), I bonded with those who dressed as my fellow warriors from Klinzhai.

This is modern tribalism, and every social group does it, it is just more obvious in SF fandom. Every group as a set of acceptable hair styles, clothing, and jewelry that sets their tribe apart from the others. It is a healthy part of society, so long as we continue to accept people from other tribes as equally valid members of society.

My tribe dresses in the totemic garb of our legendary heroes and villains and enacts the struggle of light and darkness. This is the ritual and the tribal dance of the post-modern age.

(via Boing Boing here and here [thanks Bill])

Fanfiction and Culture

C.E. Dorsett Recently, I was on a board, and someone posted the question: "What do you think about fanfiction?" The questions angered up my blood, so I have to pull out my soapbox for a minute:

Fanfiction is a story that uses the characters and/or setting of an another writer to tell an original story. So we must accept that...

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Fanfiction. Virgil's Aeneid, Fanfiction. Ovid's Metamorphosis, Fanfiction. Euripides, Sophocles, All of the Greek and Roman Classics, Fanfiction! Shakespeare almost exclusively used the settings and characters of others!

Most of what we consider classics today were written by people who wrote in a setting they did not create with characters created by others, in other words, FANFICTION! All primal storytelling is fanfiction, telling retelling, embellishing and adding to that characters and setting that the storyteller enjoyed. This is the art of a story teller. Virtually every folktale and myth falls into this category.

Before the modern tyranny of the copyright holders, this was a natural function of culture. Now it is a hobby of a few select subcultures. Stories give our lives and our world meaning. For the stories to remain relevant, they have to be retold and expanded in ways that are true to the original. This is how a healthy culture grows and evolves over time. The numerous copyright extension acts have crippled our culture. Stories, characters, and whole worlds have been lost to the commons. The culture is weakened.

For example: There is no legitimate reason that Star Trek: The Original Series, should still be under copyright today, 40 years after it originally aired. If the copyright expired on the original series, then we could still have The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and the others. But who knows how many great series we lost because they did not win the lottery to be Voyager or Enterprise. Just because the copyright on the first one expired would have no effect on the copyright status of the later ones. In fact, the iron grip of Paramount may have destroyed more great series that it could ever produce. Read the The Voyage of the Star Wolf series by David Gerrold.

It is a sad comment on our society that fanfiction is so rare. That our culture has been destined to atrophy under these conditions. With the advent of Creative Commons and other ways around the tyranny of copyright, there is hope.