Who We Are (2 of 3): Helen
I want to tell you a story. I kinda want it to be an origin story. I was thinking it would begin like this:
When I was fifteen or so, I was going to be an architect. My high school had a pretty good graphic arts program, and I took Mechanical Drawing and then Architectural Drawing — slanted tables, T-squares, triangles, the whole bit. I was a pretty good draftsman, if I do say so myself. What I was not good at was designing a house, when we got to a project where we had to invent something new rather than faithfully copying something that already existed. At age fifteen or sixteen, it did not occur to me that I wasn’t very good at this because no one had taught me how. Or that maybe it was a skill you developed over time, with practice. I thought it was something that you just had in you, like telling stories.
I missed the fact that telling stories — if you want to be good at it — is also something that most people have to practice a lot, probably because by the time I was discovering that I was not a natural born architect, I had been writing stories for most of my life. I also was editor of my high school literary magazine, which meant that most of my friends had been writing for most of their lives, too. We would meet weekly at someone’s house to read a handful of submissions, discuss them, and vote. At the end of the year, we’d enlist one of the school newspaper editors to help us lay it out, then print and bind it ourselves.
But back to me in the drafting room, my hopes of being the next Frank Lloyd Wright dashed. I remind you that this is not an ending; it is a beginning. Because the graphic arts teacher walked over to me one day and said, “I want to ask you a question.” Sure, I said. What is it?
It wasn’t about drafting. It was about whether I wanted to run the school’s offset printing press.
That was how I acquired firsthand experience of how books came into being. It took more than an author bent over a desk dreaming up grand ideas; there was a whole art to creating the physical artifacts that I treasured so much. And I realized that what we were doing with our little lit mag was a microcosm of the whole publishing industry. And I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, this time for real.
There’s another story I want to tell, though. This one’s more like a bridge between the place where the last story left off (with me about to go to college, get a lit degree, and start a career in trade publishing) and where I am now.
Soon after I arrived at college, my best friend from high school introduced me to a text-based online game, a descendant of DikuMUD to be exact. If you have any experience with MUDs, you can probably imagine the all-nighters that followed.
But there was more to this than getting addicted to a game. This was a game you could change. The DikuMUD license was remarkably open — in many ways a precursor to the Creative Commons model that we want to encourage with AE. The best MUDs would allow players to create their own areas, objects, and creatures within the game. And once I got the taste of world building, I naturally wanted more. I even started a project to write a MUD-like game from scratch. It was going to be great. We were going to transcend the boundaries of the genre. And we were going push the boundaries of the licensing model, too — we were going to make it Free Software it under the terms of the GPL.
What happened to that dream of creating the best text-based game you’ve ever seen during a time when the World Wide Web was ascendant and when one of the main developers was learning Java in her spare time is a story for another day, but the point is that we did release something. We put it under the GPL. And via what was then called the Open Source Development Network (OSDN), I found what was a very special Web site in that time and virtual space. (Not Slashdot; the one whose color scheme is based on #006699, “the color of community.”) That was where Duff and I first crossed paths.
The last story, and the last beginning I want to tell you about, happened a couple of months ago when Duff asked a simple question: Does anyone have a Kickstarter invite?
He gave no further details about the project, but having known Duff and his creative output for years, it took me about two seconds to reply, “Whatever you have planned, I want in on it.”
At the time, I was only thinking about my personal Kickstarter account standing ready to pledge to whatever he had in the works, but then he came back with: It’s a new science fiction magazine, one that’s going to fill the need that currently exists for a professional science fiction market in Canada. And we’re looking for a third person for our editorial board. Someone with a love for literature, a willingness to do something just because it's awesome and, ideally, a little experience with the messy underbelly of the publishing industry. Know anyone?
I thought: Hey, I’ve been an editor. I’ve shepherded books from manuscript to the bookstore. I’ve managed publication schedules and hired freelancers. I’ve been a proofreader and copyeditor. I’ve written style guides. I know how to publish in print, where you have to get it right the first time, and in digital format, where you have to be flexible. So I said, “It sounds intriguing. What’s this thing called?”
He told me: AE - The Canadian Science Fiction Review. Our logo is going to feature Æ as a ligature.
And I said: