Back Alley Coffee Shops, Obituaries, and Second Floor Clubs

Small groups abound in the big, big world. Especially when we look into this, the virtual world of the internet. Writers, for example, especially those of my ilk, have a number of places to wander and hang out. Some are wide-open plazas where hundreds congregate, others are dimly lit alleys with cigarette smoke and the ever-present presence of coffee and other questionable substances.

One of the former, for example, is the Shocklines message board where established writers, almost exclusively in the horror genre, talk about current events, writing, publishing, with up and comings, newbies, fans and clingers-on, filmmakers, novelists, etc. It’s well-moderated, and if anyone gets too out of hand or full of themselves, they’re crushed underfoot.

Nestled at the end of a back alley which most pedestrians might walk past without noticing is’s little world of newsgroups and posting areas. SFF.Net is the IP on whose shoulders my own rests. They are the provider for quite a few sci-fi, fantasy and horror authors out there (sff stands for “science fiction & fantasy” after all). Anyhow, sometimes I go to the webmail to check what valid messages were eaten by their aggressive filter, and notice little obituary notes. One day I clicked one and wandered into an obit newsgroup. Newsgroups are a bit “old fashioned” (in Internet years, though only a few human years ago they were quite the rage). For the most part, message boards with their crisper formatting, better tracking of replies to a post, have taken prominence. But I like the newsgroups, they seem a little more intimate (as “intimate” as an Internet site can be). To be honest, I’ve only lurked so far. I should start poking around more, see which ones are active. Something pretty cool about wandering into a small shop and seeing who’s hanging out. On the other hand, the few patrons may turn out to be aloof to strangers. Never know until you speak up.

There are others, Faith*In*Fiction’s discussion board (there’s a link to it on f*i*f’s sidebar) is one I frequent, writers struggling with the labor of mixing their Christian faith with fiction.. Hence the name. The blog itself is maintained by Dave Long, an acquisition editor for Bethany House books. The discussion board is small and relatively new, the posts earnest and heartfelt. I have to admit, some of the threads can get awfully literary. Words I never knew are bantered around like porridge in the cafeteria of a crowded Dickensian orphanage.

Other examples exist behind the private walls of organizations like the Horror Writers Association or the SFWA. These boards, ironically, sometimes tend to be less civil, more nasty fights in them. Sort of like your own home – when away from the eyes of strangers, we feel more comfortable to be mean to our siblings, get it out of our systems in a safe environment - not a great way to be but how things sometimes are. Many members know this and grudgingly accept the handful of posters who feel it’s their job to poke their sister in the ribs to make her scream – no real reason, they just like to – and stir up the boards, safe behind the drawn shades, while others throw their arms in frustration and quit. And the world keeps turning...

In general, if there’s something you’re interested in life, in the world, there are many pockets in the Internet where folks hang out, yell, stomp. It’ll never replace finding a place to go in the real world, with the real smells of coffee. But I can’t just head into Worcester after work and have a chat with Adam Troy-Castro or Jim Moore. The latter I can chat in person once a year at Necon, the former I’ve never met, except online. Adam tends to hang out in the back alley coffee shops, and maintains his own newsgroup.

Someday I might pop in say hey, or I might not.

Time is scarce, though, isn’t it? Newsgroups, message boards, websites in general, not long ago it seems you had to join a group like the HWA or SFWA to meets others of your ilk. Ironically these and other organizations have recently made it harder to join without some credentials, while outside their walls the options for meeting other wanderers on your Road of Life have expanded such that the need for these org’s has changed. Maybe that’s good. Maybe they should become the upper-story, exclusive clubs they’ve been desiring to be. That’s not a bad thing - sometimes if you’ve made it up a rung or two you need to get inside and away from the traffic noise, as long as they’ll let you. But you do have to come out now and then, and walk on the street. Metaphorically speaking, all of this of course.

Technically I have my own newsgroup, here. Not sure how it works. Someday I might try it. Not now. I’m out of time and it’s hard enough getting the free moments for this stupid blog.

Talk to you later, I hope.


I adore back alley coffee shops.

On the 'net and in town.

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