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One Last Thing...

By Steve Darlington


One of my favourite books as a child was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

In it, a boy called Milo travels to a world similar to Alice's Wonderland, where everything is terribly literal. Once there, he and his watchdog (yes, exactly), Tock, embark on a quest to rescue the two lost princesses, Rhyme and Reason. At various points along the way, when he mentions his quest, both the King of Dictopolis and the High Wizard of Digitopolis tell Milo that they have something very important to tell him about his task - but that they can only tell him it once he has returned.

So Milo goes on his journey and against all the odds rescues the two princesses and returns to a hero's welcome. As the celebrations go on around him in the streets of Dictopolis, he asks the two great men accompanying him in his carriage what it is they had to tell him about his journey. "Just this:" says the king, "that it's impossible". "Completely impossible," adds the wizard.

I feel that way about PTGPTB a lot.

For those who don't know, this is my last issue in the position of editor of the magazine "Places to Go, People to Be". Perhaps not forever, but for a good long while. It is not quite the end of my involvement with the zine; I will still be hovering around the edges and dealing with administration tasks at times. I shall probably submit the odd article, too. The day to day operations, and all content editing, however, will now lie with someone else. Mr Steve Dempsey.

The truth is, Steve has been helping me run the zine more and more for over a year now, so not only is he eminently qualified to do the job, you should barely even notice the difference. Meanwhile, technological matters will continue to be the domain of Raymond Smith, who has run them brilliantly since we began. I have no reservations whatsoever in leaving PTGPTB in their talented hands, and I know PTGPTB will only go from strength to strength under their guidance.

Why am I leaving? Partly because I plan to travel the world next year, partly because I want to concentrate on other projects, but mostly because I need a rest. Four years is a long time to run a zine. Even though I've been able to give many of my responsibilities over to Mr Dempsey, the constant nagging of administrivia and deadlines never gets any easier. And it wears you down after a while. It is a lot of hard work keeping a website going, and it's very often a thankless and bitter one as well. So why do we do it?

After four years, you'd think I'd have an answer to that.

As I write this, Issue 19 is slowly grinding its way towards publication - late, as usual, by any conventional concept of timetabling. I was up till 4am last night working out the details of a Dutch translation deal and putting the finishing touches on a Once Upon a Time article which I thankfully received at the very last minute, after the originally scheduled author disappeared on me. This weekend, I have to spend hours editing another article and play around with our new HTML so that it shows our index properly, all the while hoping that Mr Dempsey has managed to find the time to fix up his allotted portion of the not-always-as-stellar-as-we-would-wish collection of articles we have at our disposal this issue.

And these are the good times. After four years, we've finally reached a point where we don't have to beg for articles every single issue, and write them ourselves when the begging fails to provide. We're now even at a stage where we don't necessarily have to accept every article we receive, where we no longer have to pin all our hopes on authors who promise the world, and then completely disappear come their deadline, without warning, apology or even so much as a courtesy "fuck you". No more do we have to chase down promises and vapours, nor spend hours retooling bad spelling, worse grammar and incomprehensible sentences just to have enough articles to make one issue. Well, not often, anyway.

Of course, editing is never without its missed deadlines and hard slog, all in the name of making the author look as good as possible. We do the hard yards to make it all look easy, cover up all their hiccups and smooth over the delays even while we deal with our own problems, and we take the blame and make the apologies when it doesn't all come up roses. As someone once said, as an editor, the only ideas you don't get credit for are the good ones.

But the truth is, it's all worth it. Being the instrument that gets an author published, out there and being read is a pretty wonderful thing. The more inexperienced they are, and the more work it takes, the more rewarding it is. And it's a sheer joy when the articles are good, are deep, and interesting, and useful, and funny, and something that should be read by people - which you've just made happen. I'm a writer myself, so I know the amazing buzz of getting positive feedback. Nothing makes me happier than to pass on glowing comments from reader to new writer.

But that's not why I run PTGPTB.

And you know, it's important, what we do. All the work does make a difference, even if it doesn't seem like it most of the time. The net is built on volunteer work, and like any volunteer situation, it's easier to look at the big guys and join in their efforts than to carve your own path. After all, with the big guys you can have the most impact, reach the most people, and it's still your words.

But every website is, in fact, unique, as it is channelled through the singular vision of its editors. Sandy Antunes - the big cheese at RPGNet - taught me that. While joining the big guys makes sense, it robs the net of one of its most important and unique aspects - variety. On the net, everyone gets a say, and there should - there must - be a confluence of zines on it. Each tending to their own special niche, adding their own angle, in their own special way, in their own various states of delay and disrepair. Though we serve the gaming community just like all the other zines out there, we're not redundant at all - we're necessary. We offer choice and variety; we make the internet (if not the world) a more interesting place to visit. And that's important - and damn cool.

But that's not why I run PTGPTB.

So why did I start the thing in the first place? Well, as a very wise woman once told me "Nobody ever dreams of becoming an editor". I certainly didn't set out wanting to make a zine. Truth is, I was really just looking for a way to get my writing published and read, on my own terms. Which is a fancy way of saying I was too scared to submit my stuff to an editor, and thought a homepage on its won wouldn't garner enough attention. A desire for ego-stroking, professional cowardice, plus a good dose of megalomania and a small dollop of boredom - and suddenly I found myself as an editor.

And it worked. It did get my work published, my name known and my inbox full of fanmail. And it's done great things for lifting my exposure in the online community, and taught me a lot of useful skills. The two combined will be a great benefit if and when I try to work in the industry proper. But that's still not why I run PTGPTB.

The buzz of being published wore off in about three months, and the fun of having my own little beastie wore off after a year - which is why so many zines fail at these points, I'd wager. Even the thrill of professional respect got old by the second year. Once I'd finished the history and reduced my article input, there was not a lot left to do but keep cranking the wheel. We lacked the promotion and marketing skills to take us much beyond our original conception, and we lacked the manpower to increase the content or the pace. The fun bits slowly got dull and the annoying bits just became sad. It didn't help when the zine played no small role in me drooping out of my Ph.D., languishing in unemployment for months, and having no social life at all in my subsequent life-eating job.

Why did I stick at it then? Well, my co-editors helped a lot. Hell, there wouldn't have been a first issue at all if Brett hadn't encouraged my ideas from the very first, and provided the first 'non-Steve' material. Both Ray and Brett were also very good at calming me down when I went mad, and bucking me up when I got depressed and nihilistic - which, in the first year, was at least twice a week. They gently explained their problem with me being a psychotic, pompous, petty control freak, they stopped me from delegating all the difficult, boring tasks to others while keeping the fun stuff to myself, and they cheerfully put up with my moments of massive incompetence and insane leadership. And they supported me - we supported each other - as we made decisions about things we knew anything about; we all hung together as we charged ahead without having any idea what we were doing.

And then Mr Dempsey joined the team with the same dedication and support. And he arrived at just the right time, as the bile was reaching the back of my throat and I was close to throwing in the towel. With each new duty he accepted, I could keep going another issue. He absorbed the mad editor's rantings and quietly did the boring jobs that kept the wheels turning. Slowly, he also became a content editor, and just last week, he sent me his first frothingly insane (but totally justified) 'writers-are-all-scum' post. I felt so proud.

Kudos must also go to my family, who more than once had to listen to me screaming about people who failed to understand that the start of a sentence and the end of a sentence are generally expected to link together somehow in the middle, or that word processors have spell checkers now. Without them, and without my wonderful, extremely patient staff, I could never have kept doing the zine.

But that's still not the reason WHY I kept running the zine. I started the thing up out of vanity, I've kept at it (often kicking and screaming) thanks to the efforts of my fellow workers, I've enjoyed giving a voice to authors and another new aspect to the net, I'm thankful for the experience I've gained and grateful for the contacts I've made....but none of that was enough to make me keep doing it. To look around, after a long hard slog of getting the last issue out, to look around at the shattered mess of articles and posts that might one day be another issue, to think of all the long nights combing sentences with a fine toothcomb, all the interminable bullshit of delays and excuses from every person along the line, all the last minute disasters that would make it seem like we would never, ever publish another issue...none of these things I've mentioned above were enough to make me look around, thinking about all the work to come, and still roll my sleeves up and get started all over again.

What made me do that was the fans.

From almost day one, PTGPTB has received a fantastic response from our readers. Some of you have even become good friends of mine through the zine - indeed one of our editors would never have met his significant other if she hadn't been an ardent fan of PTGPTB. Many of you have gone on to write, draw or translate for us, or help out in countless other ways, most of you have been vocal, and all of you have been loyal. In return, we've kept the zine going, and we've listened to what you've said and tried to shape the zine to that. It was nicest of all, however, to see people without any complaints at all, who saw what we were doing and believed in it; often clearer and more passionately than we ever could.

I'm not telling you this, though, to flatter you all or be sentimental and maudlin. I'm telling you this out of pure self-interest. I'd like to see the zine keep going after I leave, and still be going strong when I get back. And there's only one way that can happen - and that's if you want it to happen.

I said back in Issue 2 that running the zine was like being actors who are blind and deaf - we can't see or hear any indication of what our audience thinks of us - except when they take the time to email it to us directly. Which takes some effort, and usually a lot of passion as well - to actually write down what you think and send it off, instead of just clicking onto the next webpage. Which is why we value these posts, why we try to reply to all of them, and why I've kept every single one. And why they've inspired us to keep going, and shown us how to proceed.

PTG, PTB is in your hands, guys. You're the engine that drives it and the knife that carves. You provide the readers, and the writers, and even the editors. It's always been thus, and it shall continue to be so.

So now, when you hear the news about me leaving, you shouldn't wonder if the zine will ever be the same, if quality will rise or fall, if perhaps the zine may slow down or even stop. Because all though we're pushing the buttons up front, you're the ones who are actually in control of this mad machine. You are the zine. It will stop if you stop supporting it; its quality will suffer only when you stop providing the best material - and feedback - that you can.

In the end, there is only one thing I will really miss when I leave the zine, and that's those rare posts from someone who's just stumbled onto the zine and is so impressed they can't find enough exclamation points to convey their joy. It's a very nice feeling, and it was what kept me doing the zine all those years. And I'd like some day to come back and get that feeling again. I want PTGPTB to still be here when I do.

Think you can handle that?

Steve Darlington,

Brisbane, 22/11/01

As well as all the staff, writers, helpers and reader of PTGPTB, Steve would also like to thank the following people:

  • Scribe, for great guidance in a troubling time
  • Rappar and the rest of the Frenchies, for making me feel like a king
  • Maurice, for making me global
  • Sandy, for being the best mentor I ever had
  • Andrew, for telling me how
  • Murray, for always asking the right questions
  • Steve P, for the first email
  • Patrick, for the first nitpick
  • Nick Smith, for making me feel so nice
  • Dan, for always having a comment
  • Keith, for the Gencon pin
  • Kevin, for the pancake meeting
  • James Wallis, for not beating me up (yet)
  • Gary Gygax, for the first professional support
  • David, for quoting me
  • AJ, for putting a "the" in front of my name
  • Nick McCarthy, for being mad keen
  • Dr Rotwang!, for being our first real artiste
  • Felix, for being the first to offer help
  • Roger, for the review I REALLY needed
  • Jody, for not being Scottish AT ALL

And extra special thanks, and in memoriam of, Janet, Thomas and Polo. They made the world a better place.

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