[Orpheus]: “So get rid of the gun in the first act. If you have a gun, it better go off, sure. But if you don’t need the gun, don’t show it.” [Thebusdriver]: “Instead of a gun, I wanted more of a realization by someone.” [Orpheus]: “Physical damage or psychological?”
This snippet from a writers’ group took place online among four alumni living in New York, California, and Oregon. Twice a month they gather at a favorite haunt from their Wesleyan years, a StoryMOO created by Kit Reed, recently named resident writer by the university.
Reed set up this online environment to host her undergraduate writing classes. The topic of an article in Wesleyan (summer 2000), StoryMOO—a multiple object oriented/multiply owned and operated online environment—helped beginning writers who feared face-to-face critique. Online they felt free to offer and receive honest evaluations under the cover of screen names.
“The anonymity of StoryMOO was the difference between having classmates help you unearth your story by using hammers and chisels—real tools, helpful criticism—instead of feather dusters,” Orpheus (Nik Houser ’01) explained. “If you really want to improve your story, you want people to be honest with you.” Houser, who was a member of Reed’s first MOO class and later a course assistant, now lives in California, with several published works of short fiction to his credit. “First Kisses From Beyond the Grave” (which Kirkus Review called “howlingly funny”) has been anthologized in the The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007.
Rachel Torrance ’04 (aka thebusdriver) was the force behind the StoryMOO’s renaissance. Wanting more than her MFA program offered, she recalled StoryMOO. “Wesleyan is open-minded about what constitutes valid art; people would respond to whatever you turned in for Kit’s class.”
Tatiana Uschakow ’04 (aka vodkataco), a production manager for a New York City design company, had been seeking ways to “kickstart” her writing, from a course at the New School to an informal group with Wesleyan friends until, “Everyone got busy and it fell apart.”
Sam Bathrick ’04 (aka lionfish) was seeking ways to bolster his personal writing projects. He had spent two years in Ghana after initially traveling there on Wesleyan’s Brodigan Award, teaching writing and photography, and eventually creating a book of his students’ work, along with a scholarship program. Now involved in documentary film production based in New York (although he’s from Atlanta), he, too, was enticed by Torrance’s idea.
When Torrance approached Reed about reactivating StoryMOO, Reed was delighted. Her four former proteges agreed to “meet” every other week, posting stories and comments prior to their discussions, the protocol familiar to them from their class with Reed.
As a further perk, Reed agreed to drop in to the virtual community on a regular basis.
Says Uschakow of the rekindling of the MOO: “It’s an easy way to get together. And it’s nice that Kit pops in; it kind of makes it more official.”
Bathrick concurs on this advantage. “She has an amazing way; she doesn’t baby you? she’s somehow gentle but brutal at the same time.”
“They are funny, serious, smart, witty, and highly motivated,” says Reed. “It’s fun to see them and know that when I leave for the day, they will carry on.”