Rowena's Page Her-stories History

About The Rowena Stories

Recollections by S. D. Youngren

This is a frivolous project that got out hand. I wanted to write a little series of goofy Short-Short Stories to amuse and confuse a group of a dozen or two people sharing an Apple ][ computer (with a modem). But I guess the Characters wanted to be in a series of Serio-Comic Novels for anyone who wanted them. We compromised on a long series of (mostly) light-hearted Short Stories on the World Wide Web.

The Rowena stories began on-line before the Internet was widely available, appearing on a one-line, dial-in, computer Bulletin Board System named Milliways after “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” from the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

 mw:connect 1200 baud                                                            
 ** Note: the voting segment is going to be flaky. be prepared!

                                                  (Milliways IIN shall not die.)

                     MM     MM        WW   W   WW
 Eat At . . . . . . MM.M. .M.MM . . . WW. .W. .WW . . . . . . . .
          /         MM  M M  MM       WW  W W  WW             /|
         /          MM   M   MM       WW W   W WW            / |
        /           MM   M   MM        WW     WW            /  |
       /                                                   /   |
      /__ |\/| i l l i w a y s   i i n ___________________/    |_____
      |                                                   |   /     /|
      |  Incense and innocence and nonsense.              |  /     //|
      |  Picking flowers, picket signs and picture shows. | /_____// |
      |  Caring souls and carousels and common sense.     | |=====|  |
      |  Paranoia, paradise, impassioned prose.           | |.|/  |  | 
      |  Green leaves and golden rules and governments.   | | /   | 
      |                                                   | |/    |
      |  So it goes...                                    | /

                                              (from Sojourn's End, by Mujishans)

    -*>        You are:    Empress of Entropy

An e-mail correspondent who happened to be running a serialized adventure on the out-going message of his telephone answering machine made a series of my own—posted anonymously and unrelated to my other writing projects—look like a lot of fun. This 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:

Story #1: Rowena Has A Dream

But it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. Final results from the Vote section of the board appeared at the end of the Wall, after the anonymous “scrawlings”, making even a very short story a tight fit. The story got mixed in with other comments, making it hard to tell where it started and stopped. Worse, it took up most of the allotted space. The next poster asked what it was, which scrolled the end of the story off the page. 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 discussion threads.

 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           .     
                 .                               .                 
     .    .               .             ,,,, ,,,,                  
                   ,,,,,                ,, ,,, ,, ,,,,,,,    .     
      ,    ,,,,,   ,, ,,         . ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, , ,,,     ,,,,,
     ,,,   ,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,    ,,,,, ,, ,, ,,,,,, ,,,,,,,     ,,, ,
     ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,, ,, ,,, ,,,,,,,,, ,,, ,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,
    , ,, ,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,, ,, ,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    ,,,,,,,, ,, ,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,, ,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,, ,, ,,
    ,,,, ,,,,,,,,, , ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    ,,,, ,,,,,,,,, , ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    -*>        You are:    rowena

This move also meant that the stories could be longer. Messages on Milliways could go to about 3.5K, so that was plenty of room. I decided to be a little bolder for the next one:

Story #2: Rowena Listens for the Ocean

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. 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.

Unfortunately, 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 the fifth:

Story #5: Rowena Meets Her Maker

The next complication came when I did a Title a Rowena Story question in the Vote section. There was a controversial film out at the time called Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and I made a pun:

 Title for Rowena #5?

   -- Rowena

 Present standings from 13 voters:

 7%:   1) Annie Hall.                                         - Radio Free Willy
 23%:  2) rowena flies the hydroplane,back in time for dinner - god
 23%:  3) "Rowena and Sammy Get Laid"                         - Empress of Entro
 7%:   4) Rowena eats a Payday for a new hat                  - Cheese Man
 7%:   5) Rowena goes to the zoo.                             - Kurt Meister
 7%:   6) Why Killing Parents is Not A Crime                  - /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\
 15%:  7) So                                                  - Joseph
 7%:   8) Rowena meets ANTHRAXUS (see NevEndStry)             - NIKO

So now I sort of had to write it. But Rowena didn't know anybody named Sammy, and I couldn't see her having a one-night stand. So despite myself I started framing a larger story. Not a novel really, just a series of stories with a connecting plot. Rowena got a life.

But Milliways was a small BBS with no archives, and the Rowena stories were getting not only more numerous but bigger and more involved. I started getting pestered to “do something” with them, and I wanted to try them out on a larger audience. The World Wide Web was just becoming popular and it seemed a natural new environment for Rowena, especially given the loosely-linked nature of the stories and their online beginnings. So, in early 1996, Rowena's Page made its debut. It seems my harmless little project has gotten out of control. Rowena has now been read in more than 110 countries on all seven continents, including one request for Elvis Proof from a research station in Antarctica!

A couple of notes: 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. Also, though Milliways has gone to silicon heaven now, 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).

Many people have helped me with this over the years, so my Special Thanks To: My fellow Milliwayers for their help, encouragement, and comments, especially 000, who told me to go for it, Frank, god, Electrolux 137, Radio Free Willy, Copperhead, and Lorei (and her friends) for kind remarks, and to Joseph, for being our Sysop/ringmaster. Also to the Happy Diners / friends-and-relations (Hugh & La, Harris, David, Rolf & Lynn, Dad & Jack) for lots of happy stuff plus moral support and beta-testing. For much-needed technical support and equipment, I'd also like to thank Harris and Richard. Finally, special thanks (as always) to my husband, Mark, whose general involvement in all phases has been simply staggering.
--S. D. Youngren

  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

 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.

 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!

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¯˝˛

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