Page name: fmi paul doyle [Exported view] [RSS]
2012-04-08 15:38:00
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What about the graphics reboot makes you want to update your house?

I'm trying to wait for an ET graphics reboot, as discussed on redesigning et, because I feel this website needs a gigantic visual overhaul while staying true to its basic themes. The current ET "look" was charmingly quaint in 2003, but now in 2012 looks embarrassingly outdated. Though I have zero digital art skills of my own, this place is (or has been) a virtual home for many highly talented artists and graphic designers over the years, artists who could easily provide their skills to update the look of this place. Too many of them are gone and many will return, yet I still hold to hope that one day soon all of this "talk" about the overhaul becomes an ET reality.

Why? First of all, there's the need for Elftown to appear relevant and attractive to target audiences. Secondly, we can implement updated new graphics while retaining "classic" ET graphics (like the official badges, for example), so the new look is not repellent in the eyes of long term die-hard Elftowners. Finally, this would allow ET to completely jettison any and all graphics made by various banned troublemakers, completely deleting them from the servers. Old graphics made by good users (but not used in the revamped ET) would be kept in storage and stay easily accessible for whoever wanted to use them within ET rules.

Until this graphic reboot happens, I don't really feel motivated to update a page on a site that has been slowly declining for many years. After a reboot ET may never have the intense activity it once had around 2005, but perhaps we could regain a vibrant and very dedicated artistic core? I'd like to see that.

I will do a modest update of my ET house within the next 24 hours.

What inspires you to write poetry, create art etc.?
I’m inspired by many things. Primarily they are my imagination, my family, my myriad general-knowledge interests, and a continual self-challenge to produce the very best material I’m humanly capable of achieving, without the terrible influence of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs.

I have always had a deep, vivid imagination. Even as I "grew up" this strong imagination remained. I was never a popular child, not even in my own family, and when the going got tough (and I couldn't do anything to overcome the toughness) I'd go into my own little world. Even as I matured and experienced life as an adult, this little world has remained. Fortunately I've set clear boundaries, and manage both my real-world responsibilities and my creative pursuits to the best of my ability.

For both my artwork and my writing, I’ve been deeply inspired by my being as a fan of F/SF and also as a repository of useless knowledge (heck, even that has its uses). I am both a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan, and love the first two “Alien” movies. I’m fascinated by thought-provoking and mind-bending F/SF movies and books, and could not be more bored with banal superficial everyday crap. In the end a good book depends on a solid plot, a human or humanlike protagonist, unforgettable characters who must be at least somewhat relatable to the reader, intriguing storylines and occasionally jolting situations and circumstances. I’m fascinated by flawed yet well-meaning characters who try to overcome their shortcomings and (sometimes) suffering to make a huge difference in the name of good, though they may struggle within and without, enduring prolonged darkness in the process before finally emerging into the light and staying there. I like embellishing my writing with real-life historical and pop-cultural references, but not without getting in the way of the story itself. I also like putting touches of humor into even my most “serious”-toned writing, but try to steer clear of crap like George Lucas’ JarJar Binks fiasco. Even my Pauly the Anthro-Dragon character isn’t that annoying!

I have been fascinated by dragons and similar scaly fantasy creatures for close to thirty years now, a fascination that supplanted (but not entire replaced) an intense childhood obsession for dinosaurs. To this day I wonder what would have happened if I’d followed my childhood ambition to become a world-famous paleontologist? I was sort of alone in this regard, so without support and external motivation this ambition died out on its own. I had a mostly depressing, lonely childhood but in hindsight this made my imagination more intense since I avoided self-destructive behaviors. I generally tried staying out of trouble (though I was extensively bullied for many years, again without support) though I was usually in trouble at home or about to get in trouble at home, at any given moment of my childhood. My imagination was my escape, and even now it comes in very handy. Doing artwork or writing while drinking nothing stronger than coffee is hugely more therapeutic than guzzling down a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Getting back to my childhood . . . at around the same time my paleontology dreams fizzled out, I was starting to play 1st Edition AD+D along with the “boxed” versions of Dungeons & Dragons, and certain creatures (especially the lizard men and the dragons) captured my attention. The dragons were extremely powerful, scaly and badass, and they were locked in an infernal struggle of good versus evil. I liked the idea of “good” dragons, because they were not meant to be a representation of Satan as my real-life church dictated, and they could use all that scary power for the greater good . . . and be approachable true friends as well. As a very lonely kid (even after puberty hit me with tornado force) I found this idea awesome, though I clearly understood this was just fantasy.

By that time I knew I was a halfway decent writer (and even then I liked to doodle), so I began developing a few non-D+D dragon characters who would exist in the “real” world, to serve as imperfect sentinels for Good and champions of the unjustly downtrodden. One of them has gone through several incarnations and a name change, but has remained the same basic character since 1987 and is an integral part of my in-progress Telkar Chronicles novel sequence. An older, unacceptably humanoid-looking version got a 2000's reboot with a goofy, eccentric personality but fierce intelligence and fighting skills, and became Elftown’s very own “Pauly the Anthro-Dragon.” (By the way, P-the-AD will NOT be directly mentioned in the novel sequence!)

My own artwork is secondary to my writing, and is currently on hiatus (besides one or two quick Novel Two sketches meant for personal reference) until the first draft of Novel Two is completed to my satisfaction. I’ve yet to break into digital art and have never taken any art classes. 95% of all my drawings come straight from my imagination, and I try to minimize using references. For example, that incomplete Pauly the Anthro-Dragon “convention badge” pic came straight from my mind, except for his hand which is simply mine with scales, little claws and some extra hand muscle added. I held my left hand up and drew what I saw, then inked like crazy (with my raised hand now rested, by the way). I do realize that if I do eventually get a Fine Arts college degree I will have to use references like crazy (and speed up my output, already!) But until that happens, this is how I do artwork. And boy oh boy do I have a lot to learn! But priorities relegate my art to secondary status to my writing, which in turn is secondary to my real life employment.

I completely avoid anything that would unnecessarily (and perhaps illegally) alter the creative process. I don't smoke, don't do any kind of currently illegal drugs, very rarely drink, and don't even bother with five-hour energy supplements. Normally, the strongest beverage I drink is hot fresh green tea, and lots of it. I also try to remain somewhat physically active and try to seem younger than 38 years old without being fake. My personal real-life supervising style has me moving around a lot and I seldom take elevators. Staying reasonably physically healthy has direct benefit on my creative process, and I’m glad to have done that. Being healthy, and enjoying the health of my wife and son, is also an inspiration on my creative process.

Sorry if I went overboard with this answer to your simple question. Hopefully this interview doesn’t crash the Elftown server.

Do you intend to pursue masters or doctorate degrees in the fine arts?
Right now my own dreams for a college degree are deferred in favor of my twelve year old son's college plans. I can live with that. If I do get somewhere with my writing and become independently wealthy in the process (not selling myself out either, by the way, even if it came to lucrative movie deals based on my “Telkar Chronicles” novels), I will take care of my family, put away a LOT of money into retirement (though I’d probably never fully retire if I was writing and doing artwork for the rest of my life!) , get a decent but not too decadent home with a practical and slightly badass studio, live frugally bt not too anal-retentively, and then apply for art school. My vanity is vanity, and because it is vanity, the vanity can wait until the most important things in life (my son’s future college education prime among them) are resolved.

I’d deeply love to get that Fine arts degree, especially since the reality I don’t have a college degree still hurts, nearly twenty years after I went to college. I probably wouldn’t seek a masters or doctrate degree in Fine Arts, because unless those advanced degrees are truly relevant to a chosen profession (being a lawyer, doctor or college professor for example) then it’s just ego-wanking for the pure sake of ego-wanking. An additional History bachelor’s degree would be nice, and logical given my deep general interest in History, but anything beyond that would most likely be expensive narcissism.

For the time being, until I do become a wealthy (and respected) writer, I’m content with my current day job (night job, actually) being a casino table games floor supervisor. My family depends on my income, I need the real-world experience interacting with the public to balance my introverted creative ambition, and even though money’s tight I’m probably making more money tan I would be if I’d graduated with an English or a History major, as I attempted in my two 1990s collegiate stints.

In any event . . . my son has first collegiate priority, if I do not financially succeed with my writing. As his father, it would be unconscionable for me to put my own education priorities ahead of his own if the money is severely limited.

As a writer do you ever run into writer's block? If so, how do you resolve it?
I do periodically get writer's block. Frequently it will happen when I have the full story ideas and plot ready to be written, but part of my brain refuses to cooperate, that part which really fine-tunes my focus and highly improves the dialogue. If I'm overtired (or suffering from a minor winter bug or something similar)I'll sleep it off feeling guilty I didn't get enough quality writing done. Sometimes all the caffeine and energy foods in the world won't help me regain focus when I'm that tired. (I don't use five-hour energy drinks, drink alcohol or use illegal drugs to find "inspiration", by the way.) It's frustrating as hell to write when you'd like to, but you're too tired to continue, but ultimately it's wiser to listen to what your own body's trying to tell you, rather than risk greater health complications down the road.

If I'm otherwise healthy and alert but still feeling "artistic" I'll either start reading, doodling or immerse myself in any of several genre-related art websites. If I'm not feeling "artistic" I'll putter around and do whatever needs to be done in real life, and hopefully I'll be more vigorous when I return to the project. in any event, I will not neglect the attention of my wife or son. They are more important to me than any piece of writing or artwork could ever be. One fun night with my wife can be immensely rewarding, for both our relationship as well as both the quality and quantity of writing, in the following days.

When I can neither write nor draw effectively, I'll start to quietly panic if I can't find an immediate outside cause for the lack of focus. This is nearly always caused by temporary burnout, generally exacerbated by unrealistically challenging self-demands or self-imposed "deadlines" that come and go. When this happens, the block will continue indefinitely until a lot of heavy-duty rest and relaxation and I spend some quality time with my family. It has to happen for the better of my physical and mental health, and it does happen from time to time, maybe once or twice a year. Vacations are golden!

What do is it you mostly do on Elftown?
I am nowhere near as active as I once was on Elftown (when I was a Master Patroller, busy entering various ET art/writing contests, floating around, occasionally trolling, often visiting friends, and unintentionally being a pain in the ass . . . I was such an internet newbie back then, and boy oh boy did it show a lot of times!

Currently I log in once or twice a day for a few minutes, usually nostalgic for the past and a bit dismayed at just how quiet Elftown seems to have become over the past few years. I send far fewer messages and comments than I did in the past. But I do have my moments, even now. Sometimes 7 years will melt away, and I'll be once again helping chase off troublemakers from ET. Sometimes my old passions will kick up again though nowadays I'll usually show restraint and patience I badly lacked 7-8 years ago. Currently, my "cause"---and it's hardly a big "cause"---is trying to get redesigning et beyond being a pretty little discussion that's given lip service but no action at all (thereby upsetting some people who really and truly do care about this website)!

I do find a saddening constant happening . . . I chat a lot more often with ET friends I've had since 2004, on Facebook rather than Elftown. I strongly sense I'm not alone in this regard. How lame is that? I really wish this website would update to 2012 (adaptability to mobile devices, and so forth), streamlining immensely with dropdown menus and so on, while staying true to its original spirit. I'd love to see this place have a 1930s Art Deco-ish look, but I'm probably in the minority, though it's not too preposterous having Art Deco elves and Art Deco dwarves and Art Deco ducks. (OK, only joking about the ducks, unless there's something I'm missing out on here!)

If a revamp does happen, and this place does get the graphics overhaul it desperately needs, expect me to be entering contests like crazy, as I used to. I really wish ET leadership would demonstrate it is receptive to the concerns of its membership, and make the changes that really ought to be done to make Elftown an exciting, constructive website again. (Not pointing any fingers, by the way . . .!)

How did you end up on Elftown?
I joined Elftown in 12 June 2003, having found a constructive, creative online refuge to help me through the emotional pain caused by the last few days of my mother’s life as she slowly lost her 22-year battle to multiple sclerosis (MS). I’d only gotten my first PC computer a few months’ prior, and was still very much a clueless newbie using ***GASP*** dialup-up AOL. (I rest my case about being a clueless newbie!)

After some initial stumbling and bumbling around, and after my computer had been hacked at least once or twice by crap floating around AOL chat rooms, I discovered Frankly I was not in the best frame of mind at the time. I left some stupid comments here and there despite liking the website a lot, and even trolled a little bit (Again, my mind wasn’t in the right place . . . ) As I went through the pain of slowly losing my mother to a horrendous disease I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (her type of MS was an extremely severe “progressive” variety) I picked up a pencil and started drawing a picture, the first real picture I’d drawn since 1991, of a pair of dragons peacefully celebrating life in their own fashion. The execution wasn’t that great, but the emotions were reasonably well conveyed, and (most important) I felt a big weight lifted if only for a few minutes at a time. I decided to open an Elfwood page, not too discouraged by my extreme artistic rust because there seemed to be galleries full of hideous bug-eyed no-nosed Anime faces traced onto lined paper. Compared to that, my early stuff looked good!

Thorough Elfwood, I discovered Elftown. It was in its early stages and not user-friendly at all. However, there did seem to be a vibrant core of artists and writers and artistic people, many of whom were approachable and sometimes up to chat. Because of that, I forgave the early Elftown’s severe technical limitations and made a few friends, including my longest-term ET friend [Nocturnaliss]. I had no idea what I was doing on Elftown, and it took me some time to stick with the right people including [Nocturnaliss].

Mom continued getting worse and worse, and had a couple false alarms where she nearly died but didn’t. I broke down a few times. My wife was tied up with her own job and our very young son, and wasn’t always around to comfort me. Several people online, [Nocturnaliss] included, helped me through my pain. On 30 June 2003, my mother finally passed away after a 22-year struggle with MS, at age 58. I didn’t hear the news until after the fact, because I was using AOL dial-up to access Elftown. Ironically, I was also finishing the “celebration of life” dragon picture.

The next week (between her passing and her burial) fostered a disorienting, awful feeling while I was out from work on bereavement leave. I found myself withdrawing from my wife and son, and the only things that seemed to keep me from having a complete breakdown were my new drawings (I started a second pic during that week), my on-again off-again first novel-in-progress (which I finally finished in 2005), and some of the people I was meeting on Elftown. These weren’t the cheap, fake people from sleazy websites (I had to reassure my wife) but real people, people who were mostly fellow amateur artists and writers. Thankfully I also started warming back up to my wife and son before my mother’s burial.

People might think, “Why in the heck did you waste time on the Internet when you should have been constantly visiting family?” Well, it’s because of what I just mentioned. Also, my "original" family isn’t exactly the warmest and most close-knit family. We can only take so much of each other, many times (though things have gotten somewhat better over the last few years). I had to take care of myself, and if I didn’t have some kind of safe tangible fantasy escape who knows what might have happened? For the first time in my adult life I had a very strong temptation to turn to alcohol to help ease my sorrows. Being online, working on the first novel and doing my early awkward attempts at drawing kept me from going down that stupid self-destructive alcoholic path. I’m not religious (though I am a spiritual person) but I truly did thank God for allowing me a constructive if imperfect temporary escape from reality when I needed it the most. Elftown was key.

That is how I discovered Elftown. With a few exceptions (when I have voluntarily temporarily left Elftown) I have been on ET nearly continuously since 12 June 2003. I’m nowhere near as active as I used to be, but I still log in nearly every day. For those who were wondering why I was so fiercely passionate about ET in the past, and adamant that it remains an art e-community long after Elfwood sort of faded into obscurity . . . now you know why! ET helped me through some very real inner suffering, and helped me pull myself together. If that isn’t good reason, then I don’t know what is.

I can see from your badges that you have participated quite a bit on Elftown. What are your reasons for participating in contests, festivals and events on Elftown?
Almost all of my Elftown badge activity is from 2004-07. In the early days, the contests were one of the best places to socialize with fellow ET’ers (since many of the other features didn’t work quite as easily as they do now) and people really did turn out to enter those contests. It’s easy to access the Elftown contest archives from previous years, and see the vast variety of entries by people, regardless of their overall experience or skill. What mattered the most is how lots of people had good fun participating in those contests. There were the occasional disagreements and squabbles (particularly when someone posted stolen artwork) but other than that, there was this really harmonious feeling that made Elftown a great online place, even if the technical aspects of the website weren’t entirely up to snuff yet. Elftown was all about the people who really made it float—the artists, the writers, the photographers, the RPG’ers and fans and all of the artsy people who made ET a very happening place, far more happening than many websites with better graphics and visual presentation.

Somewhere along the way, during the time Elftown became exponentially larger, things started to sour up. People started trying entering contests even though their entries didn’t meet the actual contest rules, kicking up unneeded drama until their entries were taken. Also, the same few people (whether they messed with the rules or followed them to a tee) seemed to be winning an outsized number of contests, even though they were no longer necessarily the most technically skilled or most creative entrants. Many of the really good artists who’d won contests in the past and were gracious about the whole thing (like [liiga]) had left Elftown for one reason or another, and the winning entries of many of the new contests seemed questionable, even without childish resentment or jealousy clouding one’s judgment. There seemed to be a buddy-system popularity trend happening, where artistic popularity (surely the deciding factor in these contests, if cleanly run?) was replaced by friendship connections to those who helped run Elftown.

The “community” feeling was now gone. When the comments section, which had once been filled with cool comments by members with a strong sense of “community” became loaded with comments about the integrity of the contests themselves, I found myself ever less inclined to enter contests, even though the erosion in overall quality actually gave me an outside chance of winning one or two of these contests. Those of us who protested loudly about the contests’ integrity were dismissed as some drama-llamas. We may have been silenced, but the dramatic drop-off in contest entries (not wholly tied to the drop-off of Elftowners, mind you) over the next few years spoke volumes. I indefinitely boycotted all official Elftown contests, till the right changes happened. I sense things happened behind the scenes, because all of a sudden (around 2010) the contests seemed to have become much more “clean.” But the damage had been done, and not too many people were entering the contests.

With few exceptions, I have abstained from entering new ET contests. In an ideal situation my writing would stand a fair chance of winning, though I’d be under no delusions about my artwork which is secondary to my writing. I can see the newer contests are more responsibly run, and in almost every instance I see the logic to the winning entries. I would enter the newer contests if I could (even with my busy real life schedule), but I hold back for three reasons. One, I need to get my novels finished and published already, dammit! Two, I question the wisdom of entering contests on a website that’s demonstrated it won’t change with the times even though there are a lot of very good ideas discussed on redesigning et and elsewhere. I’d be happy to win a “major” official Elftown contest, but with only five or six other people entering there’s not much feeling of accomplishment. Finally, the “don’t throw good money after bad” principle can be adapted for Elftown and changed. “Don’t put too much effort into a website that’s pretty much become a ghost town, where most people who remain are generally full of apathy.” Update the visual graphics, make Elftown more accessible to mobile devices, make it more attractive to outsiders . . . and maybe more of the right people (all the artistic types I previously mentioned) will come? A successful rebirth of ET would be truly awesome.

If Elftown DOES implement the various beneficial suggestions to give ET a facelift, and the contests continue to be cleanly run with clearly-defined rules and themes that do not favor anyone, I’ll start entering them on a regular basis. I’ll put in some real effort, with each entry specifically created for that particular Elftown contest (and not something that randomly, conveniently fits the contests’ basic rules). In the meantime, I’m content to let my past art/writing contest badges tarnish like the ribbons of a grizzled, decorated old Navy sailor. When the time is right and the feeling and passion are there, I’ll be among the first to enter them provided there aren’t any real-life circumstances getting in the way.

Do the contest themes affect your wanting to enter or not enter?
Contest themes definitely affect my choice to enter. If I don't like the theme and not many other people are entering the contest, then chances are good I won't bother entering. (If plenty of other people are entering, I might enter anyway, just to try something different though I might not necessarily put my whole heart and soul into it.) On a struggling website, "themes" are needlessly restrictive. You want to get peoples' interest, not turn them away!

Once upon a time there were huge numbers of people entering the ET contests, while there were only so many staffers running the contests. On a very busy website, "themes" were good for the betterment of everyone's sanity, and made things a lot easier to manage. There was far less room for drama and second-guessing, and the contests were wrapped up in timely fashion.

However, times have changed. Elftown has a fraction the activity it had several years ago, even when you factor out all the idiots and trolls and horny Turks who actually did relocate to Elfpack and “Fake.” Specific "themes" whittle down the number of actual contest entries. Nowadays, a Halloween art contest with no theme might attract 30-35 entrants. Add a specific 'theme' that not everyone's happy with, and that number drops to an alarmingly low number. If this place was a hopping website again, and there were about 100-150 people willing to enter a Halloween contest, I'd swallow my personal dislike for a "masquerade ball" theme (for example) and try to enter it anyway, because chances would be good some of my friends and acquaintances would be entering and putting forth their best efforts. My Pauly the Anthro-Dragon character would sooner dress as a sexier version of the real-life me for Halloween (and my wife’s counterpart character Kathy the Anthro-Dragoness dressing as her), but I could definitely warm up to them dressed up in some other fashion (steampunk for example). Sometimes synergy alone breaks the ice . . . when there are more than enough people entering these contests, that is. Without the synergy, the feeling of emptiness remains.

When there aren’t enough people entering the contest to begin with, don’t bother with “themes” beyond that which preexists. I’d far rather draw trick-or-treating shenanigans rather than getting primped up for a Halloween masquerade ball. Until this place is hopping with activity again, don’t bother with additional “themes” at all. That’s just my opinion, of course.

Do you have any last comments/critiques/suggestions about Elftown?
Elftown is only as good as people want it to be, and will only be attractive and viable to outside "new blood" if they are attracted to it. This will happen if regular Elftowners are willing to stand by for changes, and those who run Elftown permit these changes to happen. I love Elftown and have never truly left it, but if fast changes don’t happen Elftown will gradually become deserted even by the standards of ghost towns. A website should never be allowed to become stagnant or stale, because people leave and often do not return.

Which changes are needed? Well there are plenty, but of immediate concern is updating Elftown’s overall visual appeal, which is now badly outdated and looking rather amateurish. If Elftown is willing to change with the times and do a graphics overhaul (using or updating the best graphics, adding new graphics, deleting ALL graphics from banned members, and keeping the rest of the old graphics in easily accessible storage for ET member use), this site will look attractive to new members. It will no longer resemble an inconvenient holdover from the 1990s, and maybe be a trendy place for the future, for the right kinds of people.

Who are the “right kinds of people,” specifically? Elftown is meant to be open to everyone (provided they abide by the rules) and I don’t have an issue with that. However, Elftown should be actively courting artists, writers, photographers, RPG’ers, gamers, genre fans, suitable nerds and geeks and dorks, and your basic “artistic people.” Provided they abide by the rules, they should be allowed more privileges and access than “hangarounds” who generally aren’t particularly interested in the whole artistic e-community thing to begin with. If hangarounds leave, no great loss because they’d probably be less bored on Elfpack or some outside sites. But when an excellent artistic person who contributed deeply to Elftown leaves, part of Elftown leaves with him or her. People are going to come and go anyway, but if we can entice the artistic people to stay interested in Elftown, then the community benefits greatly with their continued ET activity.

We’ll have to so some outside advertising on art websites (not just Elfwood anymore, obviously) and will have to rely upon word-of-mouth. If Elftown is to prosper and be a very cool website as it ought to be, then we need to overhaul the appearance, while getting back in touch with what made this website so great in its first few years of existence.

Elftown was a great website, and it really can be a great website again. Let’s make it happen before it’s too late!

What is your message to all Elftowners?
We have the power and the skills to make Elftown a better place for artistic-minded people. Let's come together and make this website a happening place again! Elftown need not be as large a site as it used to be. With the right artistic people working together, this site will become disproportionately awesome and intoxicating. We can make it happen!

And two pictures:


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2012-04-09 [Mortified Penguin]: If only that paragraph about Bob's Diner hadn't been cut out due to length...

2012-04-09 [Paul Doyle]: Mort, I blame this on George W. Bush. Obama has yet to clean up the mess on this one.

2012-04-09 [Paul Doyle]: Thanks for having me . . . in light of my verbal diarrhea, maybe this interview's wiki-name should be changed from fmi paul doyle to, TMI Paul Doyle.

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