How Did RTSFS Get Started?
by Laura Haywood-Cory
RTSFS was born in the summer of 1997. As Chimera, UNC's science fiction/gaming club, was in its death throes, I was collecting as much info as possible to create an online archive, so that at least the memory of fandom at UNC would survive.
I was in touch with some former Chimerans from the early to mid-1980s and one day in Larry Iversen's apartment in Raleigh we were commiserating over the death of our beloved club. All my efforts (as a UNC employee I had some latitude) to save Chimera had been rebuffed; the club was doomed. Where had we gone wrong? Each of us, Dan, Larry, myself, and our respective peer groups had left Chimera in good hands. What are these young whippersnappers coming to? Oh, how the mighty have fallen, and all that...
Then the proverbial lightbulb went on over my head: Why not start our OWN sf club? It wouldn't be tied to a particular university and thus wouldn't be subject to the inherent instability of a transient student population, and we could draw members from the entire Triangle.
Larry immediately offered to be the group's social coordinator and donated free space for the website. I contacted Dan, and he agreed to be part of it, as did my husband (then boyfriend) Paul.
An amusing side note: Larry asked us about the "C-word" (convention). As former Chimeracon managers, mine and Dan's reactions were identical: "iiIEEEeee!!!!" [sound of footsteps running, followed by door slamming shut]. End of discussion. I'll note that Dan was later the con manager for Trinoc-coN in 2001...
We grappled with names; my first suggestion (immediately rejected) was "not-Chimera." Phoenix? Too vague. Since we were all computer/web geeks, we worked amazingly hard to try to hammer out a name that matched the acronym "RTFM," but it just didn't work without being unweildy: Research Triangle Fantasy-Mongers. What exactly WAS a "fantasy-monger," anyway? We didn't know.
We eventually agreed on the descriptive but not exciting Research Triangle Science Fiction Society.
With the name settled, Paul designed a logo for us and put up the website. I created the listserv, set a meeting date for August 1997, invited friends, posted it to Usenet newsgroups, and away we went.
Dan, Larry, Paul and I were the original Benevolent Dictators of RTSFS. Our first meeting was at the New Hope Commons Barnes & Noble. It wasn't officially co-sponsored by the B&N; we just showed up en masse that evening in August and took over the cafe area.
After that first meeting, we had regular meeting space, using a conference room at the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), where Dan worked. It was central to everyone in the Triangle and relatively easy to find. A couple years ago, though, RTI changed their policy regarding non-RTI groups using their space. They started charging $60/night and requiring that the groups have liability insurance.
Ever since then, we've been a group without a home, wandering from library to library across the Triangle. I'd love for us to find regular meeting space out in RTP again, but no one seems to work for a company that would be willing to let a small non-profit group meet there (for free).
I even hooked up with the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau because they guaranteed me they could find us free space. The only "free" thing to come of that contact was my name on lots of junk mailing lists. We're still looking: If you work for a company in RTP that's willing to let us meet there for free, email me.
Anyway, back to the club history: Like I said, after that first meeting at B&N, we met regularly at RTI for a couple years. Our first meeting at RTI was "What are your top 5 speculative fiction books and why?" What came of that meeting was the RTSFS Recommended Reading List.
Our first annual RTSFS Holiday Party was in December 1997 at Dan Reid's house. I remember it being a warm, cozy event. Some local authors were in attendance as well as RTSFS regulars. It was a fun, relaxed, laid-back affair. Alas, it was SO laid-back that no one had brought a camera!
The spring of 1998 saw the beginning of another RTSFS tradition, the Spring Picnic. We picked a Saturday in late April, reserved the lovely Forest Theatre on the UNC campus, and it rained non-stop the whole day. We rescheduled it at Dan Reid's house later that summer. Again, it rained. We started joking about hiring ourselves out as "The RTSFS Rainmakers."
But at least Dan had a porch we could hide under, and the beer was plentiful. Plus, the sight of John Kessel flipping burgers made it worthwhile. This was also the year that Janice Webb fell off the porch -- not a long drop, mind you, but startling nonetheless.
In the summer of 1998 when the "X-Files" movie came out, we planned a joint movie outing with the group formerly known as Triangle Webgrrls (now TW2). We met for dinner in Raleigh then went en masse to the movie, which was playing at the new googleplex with stadium seating, the Raleigh Grande.
Eventually we decided that the Benevolent Dictatorship should give way to democracy. We settled on four elected positions: President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. Earlier, Larry had stepped down as social coordinator and Diana Keever had replaced him. Dan had likewise decided to take a more behind-the-scenes role.
Every year that we've had elections, the same three people get elected: me as President, Ron Olson as Vice President and Judy Bemis as Treasurer. The only turnaround has been in Secretary (Janice Webb, then Shannon Sudderth) and in Social Coordinator (Larry to Diana to Bobby Nichols to Diane Kurilecz).
In September of 1998 we held an overwhelmingly popular "Meet Your Local Authors" night, featuring David Drake, Mark Van Name, Elizabeth Montgomery, Paul Thompson and Graham Watkins.
Our 1998 Holiday Party was a joint affair with Trinoc-coN, and both groups were hosted by the lovely and talented Judi Fleming at her home near Apex. It was "The Feast of a Thousand Desserts" and marked the first appearance of the now-infamous Silly Gift Exchange.
In March of 1999 RTSFS hosted a networking meeting that featured as many of the local sf-type groups as I could get to come out. This was like pulling teeth -- the groups around here can't seem to get behind the concept of talking to each other and why it might be a good thing.
Anyway, with much emailing and coaxing on my part, I finally convinced a few groups to show up and talk about their organizations: CHAOS -- a now-dead Chapel Hill astronomy club, the local SCA branch, TAAS/Animazement -- NC State's anime club and convention, Trinoc-coN, and a Starfleet group from Wendell came. The USS Kitty Hawk (Raleigh's Starfleet group) and the IKV Glory Hunter (Klingon group in Durham) did not respond to the invitation.
The 1999 Spring Picnic was at Lake Crabtree. It didn't quite rain, but it was misty and overcast. We hosted another "Meet Your Local Authors" night on April 22, 1999 that featured Jodie Forrest, Allen Wold, John Kessel and Elizabeth Brownrigg. 1999's holiday party was hosted by Diana Keever at her home in Durham.
Another popular tradition started when we were still meeting at RTI -- Games Night. People would bring some of their favorite board games, and we'd break into small groups and play. This was where Matthew Twining first introduced us to a twisted little Mafia game called "Family Business." Paul and I didn't rest until we had our own copy, and we've introduced it to several friends... heh heh heh. Since that first Games Night at RTI, various club members have hosted them: Chris and Lisa Goodwin, Calvin Powers, Bobby Nichols, etc. Thank you all!
In January of 2000 a really strange thing happened. The Barnes & Noble at New Hope Commons suddenly decided they wanted a Science Fiction Readers' Group. They picked a night (second Wednesday of the month), picked the book for January ("Ender's Shadow") and only THEN did they call me and ask if I was interested in running it. Talk about odd, having a readers group dropped in your lap!
I said OK and away we went. It never really took off, I don't know why. Perhaps because RTSFS as a group already had a regular meeting schedule, or perhaps because the B&N didn't promote it enough. Our best attendance was when we had guest authors come in, but that didn't happen every month. Finally, it petered out. I think the B&N manager who was an sf fan moved on.
For 2000, we didn't have a Spring Picnic but instead had a Summer Lake Party, hosted by Shannon Sudderth at her parents' home on Kerr Lake. Amazingly, it didn't rain! During the summer, Diana Keever hosted a series of retrospectives, one weekend a month, featuring a specific decade of sf ('50s, '60s, etc.). Our 2000 Holiday Party was at Ron Olson's home in Raleigh.
Another tradition, this one started by Diane Kurilecz, is monthly outings for Dim Sum. I freely admit that I don't understand the appeal, but others obviously do. :)
And there you have it, RTSFS from inception to present. Over the years, we've had Games Nights, Movie Outings, Dinner Get-togethers, Potlucks, Cookouts, Meet Your Local Authors Nights and more. We're not just an email list; we're an active face-to-face club, too. Here's hoping it keeps growing successfully.