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Sunday, July 31, 2005


Continued from yesterday. Closing thoughts on the perils and pleasures of in-world author appearances...


1 - Creating an area that resembles elements from the author's novel is a nice way of bringing the audience into the spirit and feel of its world.

Especially when the hero's mother is a washing machine and the father is a mountain.

2 - It's also one way of getting the author to meet some of his own characters.

3 - But sometimes, when the author's event is so popular, whole servers temporarily go offline, taking most of the audience with them.

So for awhile, all you are left with is an author and some stragglers on a washing machine floating in non-existence.

4 - When queueing up for a virtual book signing, don't expect a "line", so much as a blob of semi-orderly confusion.

With snarky running commentary on same, from the line itself:

lilith Pendragon: I think I'm in line, but I'm not sure.

Ronin Arnaz: I'm vaguely behind some people.

Carleb Callahan: I love how in SL we work so hard to replicate many inconvenient things from real life.

Jessica Qin: Hello Mr. President, what do you think of Hilary's chances in the next elec . . . wait, wrong line.

Sansarya Caligari: See, it IS like a real life book signing-- all people in line joking self-consciously.

5 - That Cory Doctorow, he has a strange group of fans.

Imperial walkers, skate chicks, and, well, a post-impressionist iron man-- they all wants a piece of the Doctorow.

Hamlet Linden: Breakfast, you have a smiley face and two Van Goghs on you.

Breakfast Bijoux: It's been said, Hamlet. And it's been true.

Hamlet Linden: OK, just wanted to make sure you knew.

6 - "Hulk fan of magic realism! Hulk piqued by mixture of fantasy and finely-observed human drama!"

Cory Doctorow: I used to have Hulk walkie-talkies-- you spoke into his crotch and your voice came out his nipples.

7 - Sometimes, they want you to never leave.

Bakuzelas Khan: Cory, you should get an alt [character] and stay and play.

Cory Doctorow: Khan, maybe post-[EFF semi-] retirement-- right now, I'm struggling to find time to sleep and eat.

Ronin Arnaz: If he asks nice, maybe he can get an island named Craig.

8 - Even when they're not all convinced you're the thing itself.

Carleb Callahan: Cory can you prove its you?

Cory Doctorow: Sure-- ask me a Turing Test question.

Ronin Arnaz: Well, he talks like a Cory.

9 - And sometimes, you hear of future plans to write novels roughly set in the world you're in.

Cory Doctorow: Charlie [Stross] and I have plans to write a thriller about the first multimillion-dollar heist in an MMO.

10 - Signing a virtual book (before, after) is an amazing innovation.

Just be sure your author doesn't get too attached to his work.

Linden credits: Nova Linden created the awesome soundstage/auditorium, Jeska Linden provided security, crowd control, and question moderation; Pathfinder Linden assisted with terraforming and land rights; Bub Linden took some screenshots; Video Linden (as controlled by Jesse) came in and simulcast the event live on the homepage.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005


Continued from yesterday. Doctorow on open source publishing, terrorism, and the intersection between fantasy and science fiction...

Hamlet Linden: [Book club member] Random Unsung had a question about the permissions and rights for the SL edition [of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town], but I'm going to direct that question to [creator of the "official" SL edition of Someone] Falk Bergman and the other creators of the [Expo] books for after. So, onward…

Cory Doctorow: I wouldn't mind hearing the answer to that question regarding permissions and rights for the SL edition...

HL (relenting): Random Unsung says, "You've made your book available for free to anyone in SL through Hamlet's innovative contest-- but none of the contestants are making this technology available for free or for sale. When will Gutenberg come to SL?"

Cory Doctorow: Yeah, I'd be pretty disappointed if the effort that my sharing inspired didn't end up getting shared as well-- I was really hoping that the in-game book would turn out to be a template for lots of in-game books, including Gutenberg and Charlie Stross's Accelerando and a whole SL library. Now, THAT would be a legacy to leave in this place.

Falk Bergman: Random, the page scripts are secret because of the autograph function. I do not want people to send goatse pics to some poor unsuspecting avatar reading a book.

HL: I certainly hope so, too. I left it up to the creators of each prototype what kind of Creative Commons they wanted to offer to their technology, if any. But I do think Falk's is open [source], right Falk?

FB: Yes-- everything except the pages. I did not think it to be that valuable of a creation-- as soon as html-on-prims gets here, everything [else] will be obsolete.

HL: Caliandris Pendragon asks, Why do you use so few colors in your writing? As I was trying to make clothes for Mimi [on the cover of the SL edition], I realized that you don't often talk about a specific colour for clothes.

CD: Colours-- well, for one thing it turns out that I'm slightly colour-blind. I live in a flat with a green room that I see as grey! But it's a fair cop -- I should certainly be using more colours as I write.

HL: [Audience member] Jarod Godel asks, "How do you think Someone Comes To Town stacks up or compares to Anglo-Western comic books, where magic and technology operate in conjunction all the time? Would you say your book is a good model, or extension, for the comic industry..."

CD: Jarod, I don't know much about the comics industry, apart from what I've observed on the sidelines. It's a severely screwed-up industry by all accounts. For example, if you go into a bookstore and buy the first perfect-bound edn of a new comic (say the issues 1-3 of Trasnmet that first came out), and then go to a comic store to find issue 4, chances are they don't have it and can't get it. So there's no way for people to go from being bookstore patrons of perfect-bound collections to comics-store patrons of individual monthly editions.

Regarding the sf/f crossover, I think that the conceit of sf as predictive of the future and hence different from fantasy is pretty bankrupt. Not only is any sufficiently advanced tech indistinguishable from magic, the reason to WRITE about sufficiently advanced tech is to incorporate magic into your storylines (e.g., Gibson's cyberspace). So I think that the field is ALREADY incorporating magic into its science. And vice-versa.

HL: [Audience member] Neal Stewart says, "During a conversation about Alan and Kurt's network, the 'Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse' are mentioned ('kiddie porn, terrorists, pirates, and the Mafia'). As an EFF supporter, how do you respond to this criticism of their network and similar projects like Freenet, etc.?

CD: It's pretty straightforward: we can't let the bad guys set the bar for how we limits the freedoms of the good guys: we can't punish the innocent to get at the guilty. If our litmus test for an architecture of control is, "Could this be used by the evil to do evil," then everything from the car to the kitchen knives would have to be locked away.

HL: Then again, when you're talking about full-scale terrorist attacks, that does sorta change the context, doesn't it?

CD: Nope -- it sure doesn't. We've all given up our shoes, our nail-scissors, our dignity and our Fourth Amendment rights, and it STILL hasn't stopped terrorist attacks. If creating a system of internal passports for Americans who want to cross state lines worked to prevent terrorism, then maybe you'd have a point-- but the object of terrorism is to frighten people into behaving irrationally, and to abandon their principles. If the response to terrorism is such an abandonment, then the terrorists really do win.

Concluded tomorrow...

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Friday, July 29, 2005


Continued from yesterday-- Doctorow on connectivity and human connectiveness, online subcultures, and the inevitablity of asshats...

Hamlet Linden: [Book club member] Kurtz Lawson says, "I was wondering about the significance of the access point in the empty house at the end."

Cory Doctorow: I wanted to connect the stories more explicitly, to make it clear that there was inexplicable magic at work in both the techie stuff AND the family stuff -- that no element of the story was immune to the irrational influences of the shadow world to which Alan and his family belonged.

HL: Your hero spends a tremendous amount of time trying to connect humans via wireless Internet, but the irony is, he hardly knows how to connect with them, himself!

CD: Well, that's the paradox of all social software, isn't it. We have geeks cooking up software where people are expected to explicitly enumerate their fuzzy, qualitative social relationships, which are inherently non-enumeratable. They are expected to do things like rate their friends' "sexiness" on a scale of 1-5, etc. It's like some kind of Asperger's-gone-wild thing, where people who are incapable of grasping non-explicit cues about the social world can finally force everyone else into wearing lapel-pins that set out all those fuzzy, hard-to-grasp social niceties. It's a world of Dr. Spocks who finally get to force the McCoys into giving up on irrational behavior.

Yeah -- again, the geek's paradox. A lot of science fiction people (me included) have that.


HL [continued]: I like how, as the hero gains a little more understanding of how humans actually think and feel, his own fiction starts emerging from him.

CD: That's right-- he starts to use stories as a way of trying gedanken experiments to test his hypotheses about what it means to be a person.

HL: [Audience member] Jarod Godel asks, "A lot of the backstory and universe in Someome Comes To Town was left open; was this done on purpose, trying to encourage fan fiction to fill in those gaps?

CD: Not to encourage fan fiction per se, but the human imagination has a lot higher polygon-count than prose could ever have. Leaving most of the world in shadow lets readers fill in very high rez pictures where you don't have the throughput in the printed page. That said, if fan fiction emerged that filled that in, I'd be mightily chuffed.

HL: [Audience member] Sansarya Caligari asks: The book makes a statement about 'difference', and I wondered if you could expand on how the concept of difference is becoming less important as we move into alternative worlds. (i.e. Second Life)?

CD: Well, I wrote about this a bunch in my second novel, Eastern Standard Tribe-- I think that the network lets us form communities with people who are socially deviant in the same way we are, and thus escape the socially normative pressures that would otherwise bring us into line. I think that that has the tendency to make us less homogenous and at the same time more accepting of others point of views because we understand that everyone can have her own message board or alt.group or MMOG where she can be as weird as she likes.

Philip Linden [from the audience]: But isn't the 'Multiple Personality Disorder' nature of these many manifestations a sort of tragedy of the commons? Don't we all lose if we can be ever more of an a**hole in our 'a**hole' avatar?

Cory Doctorow: I dunno if I understand the question -- which "many manifestations"? The different names for the characters?

PL: Many different [MMO] accounts/identities online.

Ronin Arnaz [from the audience]: I think he means like that it's a bit of a shame we build these worlds, then some of us come onto them and be asshats (griefers).

CD: Well, that's kind of like asking, "Wouldn't it be better if it only rained when we brought our umbrellas along?" I mean, sure -- it would be great if there weren't people who behaved badly on the interweb, but people do behave badly, even when they're non-anonymous, and making everyone subject to editorial oversight turns the Internet back into AOL. I think that with all bad actors, we need coping strategies that help us filter them and socially bend them. Teresa Nielsen Hayden has written brilliant moderation hacks on her blog, Making Light, about encouraging good behaviour online.

Continued tomorrow...

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Thursday, July 28, 2005


Continued from yesterday-- Doctorow on names, friends, and endings...

Hamlet Linden: [Book club member] Ronin Arnaz asks, "Why did Cory make the characters's names so ambiguous? Was it related to the geek trait of being bad at remembering names? And did the selection of when to use each name have anything to do with the character's state?"

Cory Doctorow: Well, there were a few reasons:

1. In science fiction/fantasy there's a tendency to make up awful, impossible-to-remember names, which means that readers shorthand for the names by remembering the first letter.
2. By establishing that their names were fluid and unfixed, it made it seem that they were not of this world, that the names were a badly-fitting garment donned solely to satisfy the needs of the rest of the world. The names' individual state were not really related to the emotional states of the characters.

HL: Related to that question, [Club member] Kurtz Lawson says: "I noticed that [the names are] in Alpha order. I wonder why he chose the particular letter groups."

CD: Well, that was at least a convenient way to keep them straight in my head. Plus I figured that it was the kind of utilitarian convention that a family that odd might employ. And it gave me the opportunity to play with things like naming Kurt and Krishna with the same initial letter, setting them up like rooks to the Kings.

HL: There's a point in the book where the family drama just sort of stops cold, and we spend all our time on this plan to cover Toronto in wireless Internet. Which is interesting in itself, but I remember sort of thinking, "Dude, what about the family crisis you were just having?!"

CD: Well, sure -- but that's the whole strategy of a braided story: take the reader to a point of tension and leave off, writing another thread to high tension, and leave off, taking another thread to high tension. The tension-- if this works-- becomes cumulative, and then the reader comes apart in pieces from the tension... If the writer is successful, the reader just might!

HL: I also read it as the hero's way of avoiding this family drama by throwing himself into his adopted family and their project, this high-tech project, which I think a lot of us in the Net world do.

CD: Well sure, that too-- plus he's really weird and his whole raison d'etre is being less weird, fitting in with the real world. It's why he left town in the first place.

HL: In this book and your last one, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I'm struck by the earnest intimate quality of the male friendship, between the protagonist and his best friend. They're a lot more openly emotional than how they're usually portrayed.

CD: Huh -- well, I've been in some pretty intense emotional settings with my pals, I suppose. I started a company with two friends. I went to Costa Rica and lived in the jungle with a group of eleven other people, building schoolhouses, and we were very tight (they also saved my ass when I got typhus). And of course, with EFF, I have co-workers who are also comrades in a really serious, no-fooling struggle that involves a lot of Machiavellian shenanigans and high stakes.

HL: Having finished the novel, Ronin Arnaz wonders, "What happened to Davey and Brent?" (And avert your eyes, anyone, who doesn't want to know that part of the ending!)

CD: What happened to Davey and Brent is that Alan got away from them. For now.

HL: Does that suggest a sequel?

CD: Hmmm. It's always possible but so far I feel like there are so any worlds to invent and stories to tell that i'm not all that interested in returning to the old ones.

[Ronin Arnaz, from the audience: Part 2: The Mountain's REVENGE.]

CD: I'm working on two novels right now that are totally different and Charlie Stross and I have a gentlenerds' agreement to write a book and also finish the cycle of novellas we've been banging on. I'm retiring [from staff duties at EFF] to write full-time in March '06, so I might have more time then... Maybe I'll think about sequels.

Continued tomorrow...

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Continued from yesterday-- Doctorow on inspiration, autobiography, and the strangeness of families...

Hamlet Linden: Some members of the Book Club wonder what inspired Someone Comes to Town. Actually, they wonder what kind of drugs you were on when you came up with it, but I'm guessing they're looking for tips beyond the pharmaceutical kind.

Cory Doctorow: Heh. As befits drugs, I'm pretty dull. I'm a near-teetotaller, I've given up narcotics of all kind, I eschew caffeine, and don't even partake of carbs. However, I am generally massively sleep-deprived and I have a pathological need to be connected to the Internet nearly always.

As to what inspired it, I dunno -- nothing and everything. Writing is how I figure out what's going on in my own head. I started SCTTSLT in a hotel during an Xmas holiday weekend a couple years back. Wrote 10,000 words all in one gulp. Then worked on it for 6 months, took some time off and went back to it. Got right up to the ending and realized I wasn't going to be able to finish it the way I'd planned. So I thought up a different ending and wrote it, thinking I'd have to go back and rewrite the whole book to make the ending work. And when I went back, I discovered that I'd foreshadowed the "new" ending on the very first page, written two years before, in one gush in a hotel-room. It had been there all along, but it had taken me years to find that out.

HL: Related to that, [book club member] Crackorphan Shortbread wonders what autobiographical elements helped spawned the novel.

CD: Well, there are several. I had many friends who lived in group houses in Kensington Market. And my pal Darren Atkinson is a career dumpster diver who really does get all kinds of amazing crap out of suburban Toronto dumpsters.

I had a terrible experience with the WiFi in Geneva [like a Someone character did.]

And my grandfather had nine brothers. I only knew a few of them, and once, one came to visit from Russia, and he really did look like he could nest inside my grandfather like a Matrioshka. He had lost an arm fighting with the partisan guerrillas in Poland. But apart from that, he was basically an XL to my grandfather's XXL.

HL: [Club member] Sean Gorham asks, "What's the deal with the whole 'son of a mountain and a washing machine' bit? Maybe I'm missing something obvious."

CD: It's just a way of making the story more and less real. It sets out a story that is at once absurd and fraught with peril. Plus it's cool.

HL [laughs]: It had meaning to me at the point when the hero is asked by his girlfriend to meet his family, and he's like, "Uh, well, my family is very strange." But then, we all feel that way, even if our dad isn't a mountain etc.

CD: Well sure -- I have a huge, brawling, happy, bizarre family myself. Both of my grandfathers had nine siblings who lived to adulthood. I have a great uncle who committed murder in Palestine and fled to Uruguay and founded a branch of the family in Montevideo that we've had no contact with for decades. My mother's dad grew up in a notoriously toxic part of Toronto and she and her siblings and cousins have all these weird congenital illnesses. And my grandfathers' siblings have these bizarre 1930s Yiddish nicknames that make them sound like the Marx Brothers: Nutsy, Voomy, Schmool.

HL: To me it captures that feeling of loving your family but feeling for certain the outside world will never understand it the way you do.

CD: Yeah, that's for certain. There's enough second and third marriages and so forth in my family that I don't even know which people at the weddings are actually related to me. I usually grab someone who's new to the bunch and drag them around and say, "This is my friend ________" and wait for the possibly-relative to say, "Oh, I'm Cory's third cousin's wife."

Continued tomorrow...

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Excerpts from Cory Doctorow's live appearance before an audience of Second Life Residents last Sunday. Background details here.

Hamlet Linden: Among the top tier 'thought leaders' of the Internet age, Cory Doctorow is an award-winning writer, a passionate digital rights advocate, and the co-editor of the mammothly popular Boing Boing blog. His latest novel, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, is a deeply moving tale of magic, love, family, and Internet connectivity. Ladies and gentlemen, furries, faeries, space warriors, and other Second Life species of indeterminate gender and classification, I'm proud to present: Cory Doctorow's avatar!

[Uproarious applause]

For those few here (and I hope it's just a few) who haven't read Someone Comes to Town yet, why not give us your brief cocktail party pitch for the story?

Cory Doctorow: Hmm-- it's not an easy book to summarize. Alan is a serial entrepreneur who moved to Toronto to get away from his family. His father is a mountain and his mother is a washing machine. He has several brothers, including one who is an island, three who nest like Russian dolls, a precognitive, and a demonic savage. When he was a teenager, he murdered the latter brother, with his other brothers cooperating. And now that brother is back form the dead, stalking them all. Alan has fallen in with a gang of anarcho-info-hippies who are using dumpster-dived hardware to build meshing WiFi repeaters in a mad bid to unwire all of Toronto, or at least the bohemian Kensington Market streets. Meanwhile, his neighbors-- a student household-- contain a girl with wings and a mean-spirited guitar player/bartender, who, it appears, may be in league with the demonic brother.

So that's it in a nutshell. A very large and n-dimensional nutshell.

HL: If someone asked me to classify Someone Comes to Town, I'd call it "high-tech magic realism". (That may be a new genre!) But how's that hit you?

CD: I think that's a good classification. I've been calling it a techie contemporary fantasy -- contemporary fantasy being the label commonly applied to magic realist fiction when written by North American popular authors instead of Marquez and his cohort.

HL: I'd say this is your most personal, heartfelt work of fiction, least it strikes me as such.

CD: Well, the most important moment I had in writing instruction was while I was at the Clarion workshop in 1992. My instructor, James Patrick Kelly, listened to my fellow students praising a story I'd written, and when they were done, he said, "Cory Doctorow, you are an a**hole. You've managed to write a completely vacuous piece utterly devoid of any emotional oomph, but with enough clever that it's convinced these people that it has merit." He told me that I needed to learn to sit down at the keyboard and open a vein.

That's what I've been trying to learn to do ever since.

Continued tomorrow...

UPDATE, 8/24: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Much more background on this interview, this blog, and the online world it's devoted to here.

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Monday, July 25, 2005


Create Second Life's new official trailer for the chance to win a bounty of Linden Dollars and an internship...

And now, a rare Linden-related posting. I've been covering Second Life's emergence as a machinima platform for some time now in New World Notes-- latest examples here and here-- and was recently asked by Linden Lab to help put together a trailer contest announcement, a kind of challenge for Residents to depict their world in a few essential minutes of finely cut footage. The Linden-created "Chinatown" video was a sharply defined take on the experience, while the current Resident-created trailer now on the homepage is a far-flung montage. I'm curious to see the kind of visions this new contest will eventually cook up.

Some of the main points from the Second Life Forum announcement:

- L$100,000 each for up to 5 team members of the winning entry
- L$50,000 to two runners-up entries (if 5 or more entrees received)
- Possibility of in-office or off-site internship for up to three members of the winning team for 3 months sometime over the next year at Linden Lab’s discretion...
- All elements (soundtrack/titles/etc.) must be incorporated in the final trailer cut due August 22, 11:59pm PDT
- To enter, e-mail [email protected]... Please provide a script or storyboard or detailed summary of your proposed trailer.

All the details here.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005


Reporting live and on the scene at a virtual book signing featuring a real author...

RenZypher Zircon live-blogged today's Cory Doctorow Book Club event over at Terra Nova, and even managed to work in a few screenshots of its coolest feature: the virtual autograph-signing process. I'm still amazed that Falk Bergman's technology worked so smoothly. Thanks to him, we now have technology in SL that enables a Resident to quite literally add a personal touch to an in-world item that already exists.

My own report on the event starts tomorrow. Thanks to all who came, and all who helped make it possible-- beginning of course, with Cory himself.

Update, 7/25: Someone comes to live photo blog, too: Katsushiro created a Flickr set of the event. (Hat tip: Cory)

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Friday, July 22, 2005


From Snoop Dogg and Frida Kahlo... to Cory Doctorow.

When I finally met lilith Pendragon, the creator of Cory Doctorow's avatar for his latest in-world appearance, she was putting the final touches on a tribute to Snoop Dogg that she'd just sold to a Resident named, appropriately enough, Chronic Brotherhood.

Mr. Brotherhood appears to be a happy client.

"I keep a blue flag hangin' out my backside but only on the left side," Chronic announces to us in his new Snoop Dogg persona. "Yeah, that's the Crip side. Ain't no other way to play the game the way I play. I cut so much you thought I was a DJ.

"Two, one, yeah, three," he offers in closing. "Es-en-double-oh-pee Dee-oh-double-gee."

Therefore, in other words, fo shizzle.

So lilith's Cory Doctorow joins an esteemed list of her celebrity tributes which also include Frida Kahlo and Shirley Manson of Garbage (lilith most often wears her Ms. Manson, on herself). Her Cory is so exacting, I initially assumed she'd created a custom skin of him in Photoshop. But as she tells it, she brought Doctorow into this world "just using the [default avatar creation] sliders and looking at his pic. Then I made all the clothes in Photoshop."

She did have a challenge recreating Cory's skull-hugging haircut, however.

"I tried to do his hair with prims to get the flat top, but it just looked horrid, and I'm not patient," she says. "Made a hair texture for his head, similar to how I did the corn rows for Snoop, and tweaked the hair sliders to make a little stick up in front."

lilith has been making custom avatars for just over a year now, first as a side project for her partner Pedro Pendragon, along with clothes and faerie wings, too. (Her avatar recreation of "Mimi", the magically-winged heroine of Cory's book, is suitably spot on.) With this, she's been able to carve out a fairly lucrative part-time gig for herself. "It's not a huge profit," she says, "but it's enough to pay for the land and a little extra... the last couple of months, probably [made] 20,000-50,000 Linden Dollars." She's now working a line of woman warrior avatars, for Residents looking to bring the estrogen-tinged ultaviolence.

For myself, I just finished reading Falk Berman's SL edition of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. I'll save my commentary on the book itself for Cory's appearance (other than to say it is, as hoped, insanely excellent). Happily, the actual experience of reading the virtual edition was not unpleasant. It only takes a few minutes to get past the oddness of reading a fifteen foot book in an online world, and only a few more to get used to the slight delay it takes for the text to upload and resolve, every time you turn the page. After that, as with any other printed medium, it all depends on the literary quality of the text. Like any good book or magazine short story, as you read deeper, the pages themselves seem to melt away, your surroundings fade into the background, and the world of the story falls like a scrim over your mind's eye. (Even when your "surroundings" are nothing but 3D images.)

I do, however, recommend reading the SL edition while sitting in something other than a rigid office chair. (My stiff lower back can testify to that bit.)

Lilith Pendragon's Wild Wings is in Ross (101, 128). Cory Doctorow appears in Second Life this Sunday at 2pm PDT, on a soundstage atop a mountain and a giant washing machine. Details here.

UPDATE, 7/23: The event will also be simulcast from Second Life's homepage. Just hit the "Live Video" icon tomorrow at 2pm.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005


From homelessness survivor to virtual entertainer, a hard luck musician with a story to tell streams for his supper...

It was during his two months living on the street that Frogg Marlowe had an insight about the shape of the homeless experience.

“I saw the cycle of it,” he tells me. “Can't get a job without a home. Can't get a home without a job.”

“Pariah Cycle” is the plaintive, blues and folk-inflected song he wrote from his short time without a place to call home, and the feeling he’d get from passersby who skirted past him, eyes averted. Last Friday, however, he had the attention of a capacity crowd at the Lilly Pad, an underground nightclub in Clyde, where he performed that number and other originals, sometimes accompanying himself on guitar, sometimes on a harmonica. (Short Quicktime video clip from the performance here.)

“It was good friends helped me make the step indoors again,” Frogg continues. “It was the back injuries that kept me off my feet. And also the back injuries that got me back into the performing arts.” A childhood pal took him in and introduced him to Second Life, and when he got here, it was cua Curie and Drift Monde who encouraged him to hook up a microphone to his computer— his friend’s hand-me down PC— so he could perform live before an audience of Second Life Residents (a medium pioneered by Astrin Few and Flaming Moe.)

“We have always had tunnels and caverns in Clyde,” cua tells me, sitting on a frog-shaped chair near the stage of his club, after hours. He’s a guy with a goatee, a slick suit, and dark sunglasses, and he’s become something like Frogg’s pro-bono manager (“I keep offering to pay him but he's told me to stop thanking him during my shows,” Marlowe demurs), assisted by Drift, who sent me the press release announcing Frogg’s first gig.

“We were going to make a sewer-themed club/shopping area here,” cua goes on, “But this area had sat empty for many months and when Frogg showed up the lily pad theme became obvious. We built it for Frogg to use.”

And though he’s made an avatar to resemble his name (if a frog could wear rockstar leather pants), his amphibian persona is something he’s had for quite awhile.

“I've actually gone by the name ‘Frogg’ for many years,” he says, grinning. “This is just the first time I got to look like one, too… I'd been ill, and had a very croaky voice and started playing around with lyrics based around ‘I’m a man named Frogg’, which is also the title of it.”

Offline, Frogg lives in a small Northwestern town renowned for its arts subculture, and he’s been doing what he can to make a name for himself as a performer. “I host an open mic with a very large community of musicians cycling thru it and they're a very talented buncha kids,” says Marlowe, “but our hometown is kind of oversaturated with good music and there’s an ever smaller number of local acts that seem to get all the gigs. So it's hard to break onto the scene. [There’s] lots of venues, but very few are open to new acts from the local musicians – mostly touring acts get the real paying gigs and the locals can count themselves lucky to get a non-paying gig. The open mic that I've been hosting is the only one that seems to have any real audience...”

But even then, it’s not the Lilly Pad.

“About seventy people tuned in to his live show on Friday,” cua Curie interjects.

“And I've NEVER had an audience that large for a show of my own material before,” Frogg says, astounded. “Here in Second Life, I've already been able to move further towards being heard in a month, than in 10 years of songwriting. So you can imagine how happy I am to have found this place.”

His folk-tinged music is quirky, odd, and sad, so I ask him if he’d accept “surreal Elliot Smith” as a shortcut description of his style.

“Seriously,” says Frogg, “every time somebody compares me to somebody else, It's somebody I've never heard of. That's how I first heard of Martin Sexton, Greg Brown, Nick Drake, and a few others I haven't been able to listen to, yet.” As he tells it, he’s lived a life relatively sheltered from pop music of the recent decades—the most contemporary artist he cites are Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkle— instead training in classical and musical theater, and some jazz vocal. “I like to say that I've long lived deep in a cave with my head firmly buried under a rock...”

“Very frog-like!”

Marlowe laughs. “The metaphor of the frog has had some other significances for me, as well. I found out that in some Native American cultures, the frog is symbolic of spiritual healing. Spiritual healing's been a big part of my path, and of my music as well.”

At the end of Friday’s show, the virtual tip jar was passed around the audience, and Frogg Marlowe found himself 9000 Linden Dollars richer.

“I turned most of it into cash through a friend,” says Frogg, “and went GROCERY SHOPPING!!!” He bought himself coffee, cheese, and veggie hotdogs— literally singing for his supper. He laughs at the thought of it. “It's been getting’ lean this year. I had a couple back injuries that keep me out of a lot of the kinds of work I used to do.”

“We are working on getting him some better equipment,” cua Curie adds. “Frogg is using a Yahoo chat mic at the moment.” After getting him an International Standard Recording Code, to copyright his music (“It was my friends pushin’ me that finally got me started trying to protect my intellectual property,” Marlowe admits), cua helped create a website for Frogg Marlowe, too, where his music can be streamed 24/7.

“I think once word spreads he'll have even larger audiences,” cua tells me.

Thanks to Frogg’s circle of musician friends, other live performers are being scheduled in SL, Jaycatt playing solo piano, and Jonny Impfondo on electric guitar.

“But [his] band prolly won't play yet,” says Frogg. “And he'll need to be in a Mature sim.”

Frogg Marlowe’s next gigs are this Friday at 7pm and another on Saturday.

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