Rowena's Page Her-stories History

More About The Rowena Stories

As I mentioned on the main About The Stories page, Rowena started in 1991 on a small single-line bulletin board system named Milliways after “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” from the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. The board has gone to silicon heaven now, but there's a Milliways IIN archive page on the web. I'm visible in the group photo from the first annual users' picnic (taken by the Milliwayer who gave me the idea for Rowena), but I won't say as whom.

 mw:connect 1200 baud                                                          

 The restaurant at the other end of the line is Milliways IIN.

 Milliways IIN shall not die.

             ,                  .                                  
            ,,                               .                  .  
           ,,               .                                      
     .   ,,      .                   .              .              
                      m  i  l  l  i  w  a  y  s                 .  
         .              .              .                .          
                   incense, innocence and nonsense           .     
                 .                               .                 
     .    .               .             ,,,, ,,,,                  
                   ,,,,,                ,, ,,, ,, ,,,,,,,    .     
      ,    ,,,,,   ,, ,,         . ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, , ,,,     ,,,,,
     ,,,   ,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,    ,,,,, ,, ,, ,,,,,, ,,,,,,,     ,,, ,
     ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,, ,, ,,, ,,,,,,,,, ,,, ,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,
    , ,, ,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,, ,, ,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
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    ,,,, ,,,,,,,,, , ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    -*>        You are:    rowena

Rowena was supposed to be a break from my “real” writing; an utter trifle, just for fun, which couldn't be taken seriously. The stories were inspired by answering machine messages, so they'd be very short and rather surreal. And I'd post them to the anonymous “Wall” section of the board so the other users wouldn't know it was me.

The first Rowena reader saw approximately this: Rowena #1. Final results from the Vote section of the board appear at the end of the Wall, after the anonymous “scrawlings”, making even a very short story a tight fit. But the story was very short, and seemed to fit just fine.

  Checking the list..             .                                            

  And your password is:    ////////

 Milliways Incense, Innocence, and Nonsense, Call #16115...

       -*> A splendid time is guaranteed for all. <*-

  Probability factor this evening:
  Two to the power of 1113110793 against and rising.

  You have not patronized this establishment since 08/12/93.

  We have many new public messages for you this evening.
  (If you'd like to try them, type [new].)

 :: Linking to Deep Thought... tricky...

 Good evening.  May I take your order, Ma'am?

 \__mw: browse 68

But it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. The story was mixed in with other comments, making it hard to tell where it started and stopped. Worse, it took up most of the alotted space. The next poster asked what it was, which scrolled the end of the story off the board. The posts asking how it ended pushed off the rest. By the time I came back to check, only the title remained.

Obviously I had to start a special account and post the stories to the regular boards. This move also meant that the stories could be a little longer. Messages on Milliways could go to about 3.5K, so there was plenty of room, or so I thought. I decided to be a little bolder for Rowena #2.

 Very well...                                                                  

  Sex: F
  Doing time: In somebody else's head.

 -*> Control-S to Pause/Space to Quit <*-

 68 : Rowena


 Where did you first hear about Milliways IIN?
 : A friend

 What is your age?
 : post-college, pre-marriage

 What is your favourite?
 : Puppies.

The third story (Haircut) went down well, but the fourth, (Cooks a Meal), ran a bit long and had to be split into two messages. I hadn't had this option on the Wall.

On the main boards it was also easier for the other users to post comments. And with a special Rowena account, I could get (and send) e-mail as Rowena's author. Some people just wanted to know which of the other regulars was behind the stories (very few got it right), but there was also some reaction to the stories themselves. Most readers liked them, although one person did say Rowena was going to Hell because her life wasn't sleazy enough. This was getting to be fun, if a bit weird.

 What is the average airspeed velocity of an unlaiden swallow?                 
 : Faster than a laden one.

 If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true,
 and help me understand?
 : Who is this really?

 What music do YOU think is played in the Elevator to Hell?
 : Muzak.  Very loud muzak.

 Why or why not?
 : Muzak.

 And, for old times' sake,

 What is a pretty nurse selling behind the shelter in the middle of 
 the roundabout?
 : Poppies.

 History you can dance to!!!!  Math with pictures!!!!!!!!
 : Literature with parents!

As I started to write more realistic stories, there got to be a problem with the surreal ones. The two types of story were too different. The “normal” stories featured a Rowena who seemed to be exercising a free will and so on, while the “weird” stories acknowledged freely that Rowena was a fictional character thought up and somewhat controlled by a “so-called Biographer” she not only knew about but with whom she even had a conversation. My husband, who has, shall we say, “conservative” tastes in art, felt that the “biographer” aspect interfered with the reader's emotional attachment to her. After some thought, I dropped that angle. The last of the weird stories was Rowena #5. Imagine my dismay when our host at red-agnes announced that he had liked the surreal stories best. Oh, well.

 Good evening.  May I take your order, Ma'am?                                  
 \__mw: bye
 Really? (y/n): yes

 A Cup Of Seagulls (v13.2)

 (any key to disconnect...)

 So long, Rowena, and thanks for all the fish.

   Mr. Kite and the Hendersons take a final bow, as Sgt.
   Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band plays a snappy farewell.

   Then, Billy Shears begins a low drumroll...

   And that is all.

   There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily
 escaped the chronicler's mind..._V6Aƒ¯˝˛

(The weirdness came back to haunt me one last time. When Haircut was written it made perfect sense for Rowena to encounter a comacidal Mr. Rogers at a Salon, and when the page first went up that was the lead story. But the longer the adventures went on, the less it fit. When it came time to assemble the stories into a novel I bit the bullet, changed Mr. Roger's character, and moved the story after Cooks A Meal.)

Very little in the stories is autobiographical per se, but I'm told that Rowena's relationship to animals is just like mine (at least one Milliwayer figured me out when Rowena got her dog). So it may not be a coincidence that a rare actual experience went into Rowena's zoo visit. The lemur fight really happened at the zoo in San Jose. We think it's the Red-Ruffed Lemurs that are in the story.

Oh—and about those lemurs? They're still there, at Happy Hollow. Years later my brother-in-law and his wife took their little boy (then age two) to Happy Hollow. The lemurs were still there, and they still screamed. (Boy, do they scream!) My little nephew (age two) stood his ground, and even tried to get them to stop. “Ssshh!” he said.

When I was first writing Rowena's adventures, I could do about one a month. As the story has developed, they've gotten longer and also harder to write. I haven't exactly stopped, though; in fact, it seems my harmless little project has gotten a bit out of control, with over eighty stories, twentyone versions of the page, and now a print volume. Red-agnes and have served over 500,000 requests for stories from more than 110 countries on all seven continents, including one request for Elvis Proof from a research station in Antarctica! A counter on the front page would read over 200,000.


— S. D. Youngren —

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