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The Road Not Taken

by Mark Berch

from Diplomacy World #63


This story has never been made public. It concerns a proposal that had the potential to radically change the tenor of the hobby in the mid-1980's and to catapult DW to heights never before seen.

 After publication of DW #39 in Spring 1985, Editor Rod Walker was exhausted. He turned over the zine to Larry Peery, the energetic publisher of Xenogogic. DW was in a perilous condition. It had very little in the way of financial resources (but plenty of outstanding sub commitments.) The staff was in somewhat of a fractious state. General Editor Kathy Byrne (now Kathy Caruso) was on very poor terms with two staff members, Fred Davis and myself. DW itself was in some amount of controversy due to the blackout of anything associated with Bruce Linsey in #39. (Bruce and Kathy were the major antagonists in the feuding of the period.)

 Even worse was the hobby climate Larry had to operate in. Starting in the summer of 1984 over charges of misconduct by Bruce Linsey in his personal and hobby activities, Diplomacy hobbyists had rapidly polarized over a variety of issues. It is difficult to describe what the hobby was like in those days. Tremendous amounts of energy were poured, not into game negotiations or hobby projects, but instead into rebuttals and fresh charges of foul play. Feud letter columns pushed aside less inflammatory fare, new zines appeared devoted to feud topics, feud-related mass mailings were sent out, activities were boycotted, mail was refused, etc. There were many people caught in the middle, and many who quit the hobby in disgust

 There seemed no way out The sides could not agree to terms for ceasefire, mediation, or arbitration. Even unrelated discussions of ideas in the hobby were colored by the Feud. Little was immune, including DW.

 In the summer of 1985, Larry determined that DW's financial situation was hopeless, and made one of the gutsiest calls ever: he cancelled all DW subs, and asked people to start all over again. As you can imagine, that stirred up all sorts of controversy. It was not clear whether DW would make it at all.

 In September 1985, I wrote Larry an extraordinary proposal, one that I felt could deal effectively with both the Great Feud and DW's current problems.

 The proposal? In brief, Kathy and her team would putout the even-numbered issues of the zine while Bruce and his team would do the odd-numbered ones. Larry would handle the money, provide continuity, etc. The tremendous energies devoted to the feud would be largely diverted into the task of topping the last issue put out by the other team. The hobby would thus gain twice – from the loss of feud energy and the gain of DW energy.

 Bruce and Kathy were both prolific writers, and each had impressive writers in their comers. Kathy had Bob Olsen, Steve Langley, Ed Wrobel and Robert Sacks, among others. Bruce could count on Fred Davis, Steve Hutton, Ron Brown (the Canadian one) and I, to name a few. Moreover, there were some writers who would write for both sides to establish their neutrality. Since each team would have six months between issues, there would be no need for rush jobs. The talent and motivation were clearly there, and competition would drive each side to excellence. Larry would be freed to concentrate on his own writing and long-range planning.

 I discussed this idea with Bruce. He was intrigued by the plan, but pessimistic that Kathy would go for it I am not sure whether the proposal was actually discussed with Kathy. Ken Peel (part of the DW management team at the time) felt Kathy would not go for it since her resentment towards Bruce was stronger than her commitment to DW. I'll never know whether that was a correct assessment. Rod Walker was opposed to the plan because he did not trust Bruce. Larry was also opposed, perhaps because he did not want to mediate the conflicts that would arise. There may also have been the feeling that Kathy could do the General Editor job herself, though at the time she was raising three kids, publishing very large issues of Kathy's Korner every month, etc.

 I pressed the proposal during October 1985, but basically got nowhere.

The outcome? The Feud intensified in late 1985 and early 1986. A mere seven months after my proposal, DW#42 carried the news of Kathy's resignation as General Editor. Larry's hopes for Kathy's continuing role in rebuilding DW were dashed. Although I have had many ups and downs over my fourteen-year association with DW, the rejection of this idea was my biggest disappointment There's no easy way to determine whether this would have worked, but I do think the hobby was and is the worse for the road not taken.