First Beauty and the Beast Webmaster
Who are you?
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your interests in general.
I was born
and raised here in
I have my own family now, and I try to spend as much time with them as I can. I met my wife, Jennifer, in college. My son, Joshua, will be five years old this year, and my daughter, Olivia, will be two.
recreational interests are orienteering (I’m the mapping director in the
TV and movies don’t play nearly the role now that they did in my “formative” years. I watched many programs (lots of sci-fi) while growing up, including all the various incarnations of Star Trek, of course. But now, we don’t even have satellite or cable in our home.
What drew you to the Beauty and the Beast TV series?
I happened across B&B quite by accident, as I recall. I was in college at the time, and I saw an episode (I think it was during the second season) at my parents’ house during one of my breaks from school. I was initially struck by the visual texture of the show, and then got pulled in by the various themes.
I was an awkward young man with plenty of self-image issues, and so the themes of unconditional acceptance and a “world apart” where one could be oneself were particularly compelling to me.
For the rest of the series’ run, I tried to catch as many episodes at college as I could, which was a neat trick on an all-male campus. I had one friend who liked the show as well, and so we’d seek out TVs in dorm rooms each week to keep up on the show.
Why did you feel the need to create a site dedicated to BATB? Was it your love of the series? The need to share it with others? Something else? Did something you had seen influence you to create your own site or was it a sudden inspiration?
My memory is a bit unclear (a recurring problem with these questions, you’ll note!), but I think my motivation for creating that site had much less to do with my enthusiasm for the show than it did with my newfound enthusiasm for the fandom itself.
I had just
returned from the 1995 convention in
It is true that there weren’t any established web pages for the fandom back then, and I wish I could say that my motivations were purely for fandom’s “greater good”. But in retrospect, the fundamental reasons for creating the site were more selfish than I would ever have realized at the time!
Was this your first attempt at creating a website?
Probably. I also created a personal page or two, but I don’t recall which came first. But, I should note that I stopped learning about web pages once I got the first “Blue Bird” page up, and by no means do I consider myself a web designer. I can’t do any of the fancy stuff that is the norm on web pages these days.
Your site was established pretty early in the home computer age. Were you a computer enthusiast from the time they were available at home? Did you learn your web skills on your own, or did you have a previous background in computers?
I was not so much a computer enthusiast as simply a computer user. I had a Commodore 64 at home before college, and then had exposure to both mainframes and PC’s at college. Most of my post-college internet use was through the computer at work (gasp!), and then I finally got a computer at home.
The web design rudiments that went into the “Blue Bird” page were learned on my own from a few books and web pages on the topic.
What was the original launch date for Songs of the Blue Bird? (If it wasn't called a website back then, what was it called?)
I don’t recall the exact launch date, but it was sometime in the fall of 1995.
Why did you choose the name Songs of the Blue Bird?
I was looking for a clever title that would tie in to the series, of course, and hijacking Robert John Guttke’s episode title seemed like a good idea at the time. I probably thought that “songs” were an apt metaphor for “news” or “information” that the web site would deliver.
What was the most challenging aspect of starting your site? Of running Songs of the Blue Bird? The most gratifying?
I don’t remember any particularly challenging aspect of starting the page other than learning the basics of writing the page and working up the first draft on the home computer. But BY FAR, the most challenging aspect of running the site was finding the time to do the requisite content updates.
For the first few years, there was a section on the front page of the site that featured links to recent news items in the fandom. It was very difficult to keep that info current, and indeed, the overall maintenance needs of the site was one of the main drivers for finally “retiring” it.
The other issue with the page was finding places to host the files that would not increase my monthly ISP bill! My wife and other local B&B folks were kind enough to donate file space through the years to keep the site as low-cost as possible. Now the site is hosted through Sandy Shelton’s generosity, which I appreciate.
How often did you update the site? How did it evolve over the years?
Updates were more frequent early on (perhaps even weekly), but tapered off as current news became more scarce and my own time to do the updates got shorter (as my interests drifted to other things).
The final version of the web page that was retired is not that much different from the one that launched in 1995. The basic architecture is the same, although it ended with a few more main menu options than it had at the beginning.
I wish I had had the foresight to archive “snapshots” of the page to document the evolution, but sadly, it never occurred to me. The web page was a very “in the moment” project, and I never anticipated that I’d be answering questions about it a decade later!
When the site first opened, what did you have to offer the fans? Before you started had you already contacted several artists and authors, advertised for contributors..? Were the contributors' works there entirely by invitation or accepted when offered?
I can’t remember how it all came together, but I think that the opening content was just a collection of material that was already out in the fandom in one form or another (the fanfic from the Father’s Online Library mailing list is a good example). I thought that the site could serve as a one-stop repository or archive for mailing lists and newsletters that were around at the time, and cover current events as well.
What were your sources for gathering material for Songs of the Blue Bird, and what were your criteria for choosing material to use?
I wanted to include as much as I could, so I’m pretty sure that I didn’t impose criteria on the material that I found or that was sent to me. The time to format submissions for the web page was more limiting than anything else.
For those among us who missed the site before it was archived, tell us how you ran your "Of Love and Hope" newsletters.
When I look back at the aspects of fandom with which I’ve been involved, Of Love and Hope is the project that really makes me feel good. I see OLAH as a more significant contribution than the web page, but that’s just me.
The online fandom was in a real infancy in 1993. There were several compartmentalized communities, mostly tied in to subscriber services like AOL, Genie, and the like. Usenet groups were also around, but there was no regular B&B discussion there. OLAH was an attempt to facilitate a B&B fan community that would reach across all the various services to include anyone with an email address.
During most of its run, OLAH was a biweekly email digest. Submissions were emailed to my partner, Betty Christophy, who compiled the digest and added a post of her own. She sent the digest back to me, and I sent it out from my work email account (I didn’t have a home computer then). I maintained the mailing list. For a time, Betty was between email accounts, so Jean Torrance performed the editor role.
Given the “more and faster” expectation of the typical internet user today, it seems hopelessly quaint to me that anyone ever had the patience, much less the enthusiasm, for a biweekly digest. But things truly were different then. OLAH started out with about 20-30 subscribers, and ended with over 200 (I wish I could remember the real number).
A few years later, the beautybeast-tv mailing list (with a gateway to the alt.tv.beauty+beast usenet group) provided the fandom with much more real-time discussion options, and the traffic at OLAH faded away. But I’m really proud of the role that OLAH served in its heyday. It was the right project at the right time, and Betty, Jean and I had a great time with it.
How long was the site fully active before you decided to leave it in archive mode? Why did you make that decision?
I made the archive announcement in June of 2000, but the reality is that I was largely disengaged from the web site (and from the fandom) for some months before that. I just couldn’t make the time to keep it up anymore, and felt that I should make it official so that folks wouldn’t continue to visit the site expecting to find changes.
Were you always the only webmaster/owner for the site?
Yes, although (as I mentioned above) the content files were hosted by a series of helpful friends.
Did you adhere to any self-imposed set of rules or boundaries?
None that I can recall.
If you were to start over, is there anything you might do differently?
I might try harder to keep more emotional distance between me and the fandom (which was impossible the first time around, given who I was at the time). Despite the things I was doing for the fandom, I could never really find my “place” in it, and my attempts to do so were painful. It was a valuable learning opportunity, to be sure.
You've undoubtedly had numerous contacts about your site over the years. Do you still receive emails about Songs of the Blue Bird?
If the site goes down for any length of time, I might see an email or two inquiring about the site’s status, but that’s about it.
What was the most interesting response you've had? What do you consider the greatest compliment you've received? Was there one that really touched you, was memorably funny, or inspired you or affected you otherwise? Would you like to share a couple of your favorites or an interesting story or few connected to the site?
Some time after the web site was up, I received a very kind email from Guttke, who complimented me on the site, and asked about the origin of its title. Embarrassingly, I didn’t recognize his name at the time, so I went on to describe his own episode to him, as a way to explain my inspiration. He replied with a single question: “So, who wrote that episode?”
After the revelation and the requisite backpedaling, we went on to trade a nice series of emails!
Does it surprise you to know that ten years after its creation Songs of the Blue Bird is still one of the most popular BATB websites, even though it's in archive mode?
It does surprise me a bit, yes. There are many worthy sites in the fandom these days, and I applaud all the folks who devote some of their time to serving the fandom in this way. I know how time-consuming it can be!
How does it make you feel to know that you, because of your site, are responsible for so many fans in the past ten years finding their way to other BATB fans and activities - to say nothing of discovering fanfic by spending many sleepless nights glued to Father's Library?
I am humbled, because I believe in the community. The fandom itself wouldn’t have survived its own internal frictions for this long if there weren’t traits in the fans themselves that made it possible to ultimately transcend those issues. B&B fans are good folks.
Is there any advice you would give to those who might consider starting a website of their own?
I think the advice is the same for any creative venture: Find a healthy balance of passion and objectivity.
Do you still keep tabs on BATB fandom, attend conventions, pay attention to the lists, etc.?
I drop in
on the lists from time to time, but I haven’t been to a convention since 1997.
There are a very few folks in the extended fandom with whom I still correspond,
and I still see some folks in the
In RL are you a closet "beastie" or do all your friends and family members know you're a fan? How do they feel about your BATB involvement? Do they worry about your sanity?
Aside from a few pictures on the walls, it would not be apparent to anyone that I was into the show or the fandom in any meaningful way. I haven’t seen an episode in a very long time, and can’t really claim any current “BATB involvement” at all. My family and other interests has expanded to fill the space that B&B used to occupy (and then some!), but I’ll always have a lingering appreciation for the show, of course.
How did BATB affect your life?
I certainly learned a lot about myself, which has helped me in my post-fandom life journey. I met many interesting folks (both in person and “virtually”), and visited some great places. Plus, I have an appreciation for romantic dramas that makes me unique among my male peers, for which Jennifer is very thankful! ;-)
Do you see any new websites in your future, and what interests or topics would they reflect? Are you or have you been involved with any other fandoms in the same way?
There are definitely no web sites in my future, and I’m not involved in any other fandoms. I see very little TV anymore (as I mentioned), but I do keep up on SciFi’s fantastic Battlestar Galactica series, which I love.
Do you want to say something else to the readers of this interview, about yourself, BATB, the fandom?
I’ve said this before, but: THANKS to all of you, who make up the tapestry of this fandom. I appreciate your kind comments through the years, and the invitation to commune with you again now. It’s been fun!
Pictures Below: 1.
Joshua and Olivia