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Diplomacy World Interview with Melinda Holley

by Phil Reynolds

Originally appearing in Diplomacy World #67



Take a large sampling of Diplomacy games and you might find her name in half of them.  Add a ton of games being run in both Rebel and Starwood, plus the BNC publication Everything and it's no wonder how Melinda "Hobby" Holley earned her nickname. To many hobbyists, though, she is still something of a mystery. Who is Melinda Holley? Diplomacy World decided to find out.


DW: Melinda, tell us a little about yourself and your family.


MH: I was born August 9, 1954, in West Palm Beach, Florida. I moved to West Virginia when I was 15 months old. Both my parents were from West Virginia. I have an older sister and a younger sister in Huntington. Since my father was the sixth of 14 children and my mother was the youngest of ten, I have numerous cousins.  I have three nieces, too. I love the mountains of West Virginia. This is a good place to live. If I had to live elsewhere, I think I'd choose North Carolina.


DW: What is your occupation?


MH: l am an office manager of a firm that sells lighting equipment. I guess we're proudest of the sports lighting. A company we represent has done lighting for the Olympics, several movies (mobile lighting technology), a lot of televised football games, and most recently it introduced a radical new lighting system for nighttime car races.


DW: Despite your extensive hobby involvement, you seem to have a reputation for being a bit of a recluse. Why do you think this is?


MH: I do have the reputation of being a recluse because I haven't participated in any cons. My appearance at DipCon this year will be my first con. Personal real life problems and conflicts basically precluded any prior participation. Hopefully, this will change.


DW: There also seems to be a fascination with what you look like. PDORA accepts bids on photos of you every year. How did this start, and what do you look like?


MH: If l tell you, then the photos won't sell! Nothing spectacular: dark hair, glasses, grey eyes. Someone (John Caruso, I think) sug­gested I offer an autographed picture of myself for POORA. The next year, he suggested I offer a few more since it was a big draw.


DW: PDORA also offers a personal horoscope by you. How did you get interested in astrology?

MH: I've been into astrology since I was 14. I had a crush on a guy who was into it. Learning about astrology didn't help me with the guy, but I got interested nonetheless. I like seeing how accurate the horoscope readings really are to people. Of course, no one sees himself or herself as others do, so it'll never be perfect.


DW: What other hobbies do you have?


MH: I like music and listen to just about anything except jazz, opera, and most country-western. Basically, though, I like rock and roll. I'll read maybe two or three books at a time (biography, history, and nonfiction; some mystery, science fiction and romance novels).


I'm also into genealogy. Because I like history so much, it's a lot of fun to track down family members. For instance, both my father's and my mother's families were split pretty much down the middle during the Civil War (half were Union supporters, half were Confederacy supporters), which made for some interesting stories.


I'm still into fantasy role-playing games, especially Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. My other main hobby is embroidery. My mother got me started on it when I was four years old. It's about the only traditionally feminine pastime she was able to drum into my hard little skull! I don't cook. I detest cleaning, but I will do laundry!


DW: Is there something you could tell us about yourself that we might find surprising?


MH: You want a surprise? I love WWF Wrestling! Beyond that, I'm not that extraordinary. I have a temper which I've learned to keep under control since childhood. Despite all the rumors, I do not have a torture chamber in my basement. I don't have a basement. It's located in my bedroom's large walk-in closet. I don’t like cats or most animals. I love chocolate, adore Mel Gibson, and am a closet romantic.


DW: How did you get into the PBM Diplomacy hobby?


MH: I got into the hobby through fantasy role-playing. I saw an ad in Aries magazine for a fantasy role-playing-by-mail game and wrote about it. Unfortunately, the person running the game was Elmer Hinton, about whom the least said, the better. The only fortunate thing was Hinton said he was also running a PBM Diplomacy game and asked if I'd like to join. I said sure, and then I went out to find the game and see what I had agreed to do.


DW: Describe your first game.


MH: My first game (82-CN) was with Hinton as GM. Talk about starting out rough.... However, I was really lucky to have Kathy Caruso (then Byrne) and Steve Courtemanche also in the game with me. I was playing Russia, Kathy played Italy, and Steve was Austria. We had a ball, and Kathy showed me the ropes.


I was awful in this game. I didn't understand many of the rules. For instance, I didn't realize I could move F Sev-Rum. I thought I had to move F Sev-Bla first before I could take Rum. Kathy told me to quit fooling around and move that fleet into Rum. Then she took me under her wing. I survived with one center.


The most fortunate aspect of the game was that Steve told me there were other people who also GM'd games. Kathy gave me a start in one of her games and passed me Steve Heinowski’s name.


DW: How many games have you played? Why so many?


MH: Ah, the big number people seem fascinated by. I've played in about 350 games total since starting in the hobby in 1982. A lot are Gunboat games. I shouldn't try to be in so many. I really overextended myself and I wasn't able to give as much attention to each game as I should have. That's one reason why I'm trying to cut back, but it's sort of like staying away from chocolate-one whiff, and I'm back again.


DW: What was your first win? How many games have you won?


MH: My first win was as Germany in a game GM'd by Don Williams. He seemed rather astonished that this was my first win.  For some reason, I had a reputation as a winning player before I even won a game! I've won just seven games. So much for a winning reputation!


DW: Is there one game in particular which is memorable?


MH: It was written up recently in The General. It was memorable because I stabbed Kathy Caruso for the win. I'd won other games, but this one ranks the highest. As I said, I consider Kathy to be my mentor in this game. I probably wouldn't even be playing if she hadn't steered me in the direction of reputable GM's and zines. To stab Kathy and win made me feel like I really had a handle on the game.


DW: Rebel has been host to a great many games over the years. What motivated you to begin doing it?


MH: I started Rebel in November of 1984. (Starwood began in 1987.) I saw other zines and wanted to try my hand at it. I'd talked about it for quite a while with a friend who wasn't into Diplomacy. She fInally got tired of the topic and told me either to do it or to forget about it-so I did it. I've run about 50 games since Rebel began.


DW: Besides games, Rebel featured the subzine High Inertia, a popular and entertaining letter column by the Courtemanches.


MH: High Inertia was Rebel's first subzine, and the Courtemanches (Steve and Linda) gave Rebel a balance between games and chit-chat Although Rebel is (and was from the start) a game-zine, I started Foxfire earlier this year as a subzine to give it balance again.


DW: What about your experience publishing Everything. ...?


MH: I enjoy publishing, so it's no big deal to include Everything.. .. in the roster. One big plus is that I've gotten to work with various BNC's and people I might not have had much contact with otherwise.


DW: Have you ever run any hobby services?


MH: Being publisher of Everything. ... has given me two chances to become BNC [Boardman Number Custodian]. It's been offered twice, and I have refused twice. Hey, I've seen the job-no, no, no, no, no! The only other hobby service I've done was being DW's Interview Editor for a very brief time. I was a lousy interviewer, though.


DW: You refused despite recent BNC's being criticized?


MH: I think the hobby has been blessed with BNC's who have tried to do an excellent job and had the best intentions of doing a good job. Sometimes personal real life intervenes, and it has priority. Each BNC has his or her own way of doing things. Other people will say its should be done a different way, but these people aren't doing the job.


DW: What has been your experience with hobby politics and some of the more colorful episodes in hobby history?


MH: I was an indirect participant in the so-called Great Feud. I tried awfully hard to get a BNC decision against Elmer Hinton (who, in my opinion, couldn't be kicked out of the hobby quick enough), and I had a run-in with the alleged Bad Boys of the hobby (who did leave quickly). In Hinton's case, I butted heads with him over some of his shenanigans. In the other two cases, I got into things because my friends were being attacked. I've never been known for staying out of a fight if I thought I should get into it.


DW: Have you had any pleasant surprises?


MH: There was the write-up of a game in The General by Rex Martin. He and I were both in the game. Neither of us did well, but Rex gave Rebel a nice little plug. The response was tremendous!  At its height. Rebel had 185 subbers-that's when I closed the games.


The other surprising thing was the Melinda Ann Holley Award. I was surprised so many people managed to keep their mouths shut about it! Mostly, though, I was surprised so many people thought I was worthy of having an award named after me. Of course, I was glad no one put the word "Memorial" in the name!


DW: If anything, what would you like to change about the hobby?


MH: It would be for new publishers to take a little more time to think about what they plan to do. It seems that lately a lot of zines start up and then fold within ten issues because the publishers got in over their heads. Then games have to be rehoused, etc.

DW: What do you think is the greatest problem facing the hobby?


MH: There seem to be a lot of zines folding. Some are like what I've just described, but a lot of elder zines are going, too. Kathy's Korner just announced its fold. It seems strange when someone tells me that Rebel is one of the older zines. If newer zines can't keep publishing and the elder zines drop out, those of us still publishing will be handling a lot more games if we want to keep people in the hobby.


DW: What advice would you give to prospective publishers?


MH: They need to think long and hard about the time and money they are going to invest in a zine. It might be a good idea to publish a subzine for a while to get a feel for what they're doing.


DW: How have you stayed in the hobby so long and not burn out?


MH: I just haven't lost interest in Diplomacy either as a player or as a publisher. I get almost as much enjoyment from following the games in Rebel and Starwood as I do from playing in games. I guess when the day comes that I moan and groan at putting out a zine, or I start NMRing, I'll consider dropping out. I just don't see that happening right now or in the future.


DW: What do you think will be your future in the hobby?


MH: I'd like to continue publishing Rebel and Starwood. Of course, I’ll keep publishing Everything. ...  as long as the BNC wishes me to do so. I rather like publishing. Don't get me wrong-it's a lot of work and it takes a great deal of time (in relation to the finished product), but I enjoy it I also enjoy playing, and I think I've about reached a more manageable level of games I'm in. I'd certainly like to improve my ability as a player.


DW: In closing, what do you like most and least about the hobby?


MH: What do I like the least? I guess it's the people who take themselves so seriously. It seems those people feel everybody else should genuflect towards their opinions. But I dislike that sort of character outside the hobby, too.


The thing I like most is that I've found people just as warped as (if not more than) I am! Trust me, that's something to be treasured. Actually, friends are easy to make in this hobby since we have such a diverse group, but you can find something in common with others quickly. I've been extremely fortunate to make good close friends with people I've never met!