The Influence of Ninety-Eighty-Four on Writers Workshops
by Chris Roberts
The following first hand experience 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 what is culturally acceptable - what one can write and mostly can't 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, like any other, falls under public domain and so I will provide the real name - Eratosphere. Persons dealt with are given aliases in the spirit of fair play. 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 article..." The two site staff members dealt with, in order of appearance, will be known as Citizen Cog 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 of keen interest to him or her. The plethora of writer's 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 (I'm not talking about profanity, sexually explicit, racially charged rhetoric, vitriolic poison and the like which all can agree is despicable), 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 the grave. What follows is my experience with one such site, Eratosphere.
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 Eratosphere.
The road to truth can often be found through discourse. This is my goal. There are some basic truths to be found on Eratosphere. 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 Cog, 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, the story was locked to members, so why have it on the board at all? Third, all a person commenting (I agree there is work put into it) has to do is make a copy of it - it's not rocket science. Lastly, Eratosphere is a discussion board/ workshop that posts different genres and that's it. They don't pay money like literary magazines nor do they require exclusivity in first rights publishing as literary zines do. I owe Eratosphere 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 doesn't fit General Talk, then they need to re-work their discussion board. When Citizen Censor discovers the First Amendment, it's 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 the site. "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 didn't have writing instruments back then). It's 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 don't, thank god). Oh, right, Eratoshere is a champion of the working man/women. Can't say that I've seen any hard hitting union pieces on the site...huumm?
Lastly, I'll say that the three review thing on Eratosphere does little to improve the quality of the site. As a veteran of the Zoetrope Virtual Studio and its most famous Flame War in the winter 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. This review process directly fuels flame wars.
So, to Eratosphere goes Eratosphere, I leave you as I found you - in cyber obscurity. Seeing as the cyber tentacles eventually take hold of the real world, that makes Eratosphere inconsequential in real time and reality's time is forever.