I was working for a class reunion management company in Atlanta in the fall of 1992 when we decided to replace the software we were using. I told the owner of the firm I could develop an entire application for him in a language called Business Basic, and I eventually did. But I was introduced to a 4GL tool written in Business Basic called TAOS, and in order to learn TAOS I needed a Compuserve account. So I logged into Compuserve and suddenly discovered an online world unlike anything I had ever seen before. In some ways, Compuserve at that time was even better than the Internet today, but they “improved” the service eventually and most of us left.
Still, by 1993 I was exploring personal interests outside the professional forums I needed to work with and I found my way to the Compuserve SF Literature Forum. A Compuserve Forum was very different from what we think of as a “forum” today. It was far more than just a discussion medium. There were live chat rooms, file libraries, and communities all wrapped up into one neat, seamless interface. The old, old Bulletin Board Systems that people ran off their PCs over telephone lines had evolved into sophisticated multi-topic service bureaus, and Compuserve was the king of the service bureaus.
The SF Lit Forum was a dynamic, growing place. Science fiction and fantasy authors were gradually moving away from Genie and other services and gathering on Compuserve. The process was never fully completed, because by 1995 the World Wide Web had made the Internet a much more flexible, vibrant place and the old BBS-style service bureaus failed to compete with the new environment. Compuserve was, at one time, larger than the Internet. But the Internet eventually consumed Compuserve.
Yet for a few brief years I enjoyed the online company of science fiction and fantasy fans whose only agendae were to have fun, get to know other science fiction and fantasy fans, and — for a small group of us — develop our writing skills. Like so many other people I had attempted to write a great fantasy novel series, and it wasn’t getting published. And except for a couple of near-misses, my short fiction wasn’t going anywhere, either. But the SF Lit Forum had a writer’s workshop and I thought, “What the heck? I might as well give it a try.”
But the workshop had a waiting list that kept growing. They only admitted a small number of students each month and more people signed up each month than could be accomodated. So it was inevitable that someone would address the problem by creating a secondary group. Ron Collins, Bill Cornett, and Lyn Nichols banded together to swap critiques of each other’s writing. They called themselves (informally) Writers Waiting Impatiently To Be Admitted To The Workshop — or something close to that.
Other people liked the cooperative spirit of Ron, Bill, and Lyn’s efforts and they asked to join the group. In a matter of months the IMPs became so active that the SF Lit Forum Sysops gave the group their own private forum and library (chiefly to protect the first publication rights of IMP stories). SF writer Mike Resnick agreed to mentor the group, meeting with them in a weekly chat and contributing some written tips for the library.
The IMPs developed a strict regimen of contributing to the community’s learning experience. The name evolved to Informal Association of Writers IMPatiently Waiting To Be Published. Although many IMPs went on to participate in the formal workshop (some with more success than others), the IMP experience itself was unique. It was personally gratifying to be able to work with like-minded people who really, really wanted to be published.
Like so many others of those early IMPs, my passion did eventually achieve fruition, although all the fiction work I’ve done has been as anonymous work-for-hire. I have long since been published under my own name as an essayist, mostly known for Tolkien and Middle-earth. But the lessons I learned with the IMPs have stayed with me. I even still have a few of the old IMPCritiques I wrote (and received) on archive CDs.
This essay is dedicated to my fellow IMPs, several of whom have earned worthy recognition for their work. Some of the old IMPs no longer write, and that is okay. As long as you do what makes you happy, old aspirations should not be a shadow in your life. They should be a pleasant memory.
The Compuserve IMPs provided me with many of my most pleasant online memories. They were a truly collaborative group, seeking on to help each other improve their skills. The IMPs continue to recruit new members today through the current incarnation of the SF Lit Forum. I wish all the new members of the IMPire success. But this site is devoted to the first generation IMPs I “grew up” with. We shared struggles and experiences unique to our group. Through their words in the feature articles shared on this site, I hope you feel a sense of the wonder we enjoyed as we opened our eyes upon a brand new world, a world of our own making.
Michael Martinez, Compuserve IMP
Originally published at http://imps.xenite.org/ November, 2006.
Reprinted and edited slightly with permission.