Prospect-L

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Mailing List
Name: Prospect-L, P-L, PL
Date(s): June 28, 2000 - present (though it has been mostly dormant since about 2011)
Moderated:
Moderators/List Maintainers: Merry and Margie
Founder(s): Merry and Margie
Type: discussion of fanfic
Fandom: The Sentinel
Scope: slash
URL: front page; front page, archived; FAQ
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Prospect-L was a public mailing list for The Sentinel. It was founded in June 2000 by Merry and Margie, who have served as co-moderators for the list since its creation.

The list has been mostly dormant since about 2011.

Prospect-L was slash-focused but gen-friendly, and specifically encouraged fanfic discussion of all sorts.

The list was started in response to a perceived need for an open forum for TS fic discussion that included criticism as well as praise, and specifically as a alternative to SENAD. [1] [2]

The list was designed to be a place where readers could talk to each other about what they've read, rather than to give authors feedback or help them become better writers.

Unlike many mailing lists, Prospect-L had a firm rule against metadiscussion, or "discussing the discussion" -- no one was allowed to post into a discussion suggesting a better way to phrase things, or "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all", etc. The result was a community where discussions stayed on topic, without getting bogged down in endless arguments about who should be saying what, and how.

The acceptance of critical discussion at Prospect-L made many people in the fandom deeply uncomfortable, and in some corners of Sentinel fandom, Prospect-L was considered a "mean" list. For others, it was a breath of fresh air, and especially in its first few years, the list was extremely active.

In 2001, one of the list's founders said:

Only one or two people ever told us to our faces (so to speak) that the list was destined to implode, and that that was the only reason people were on it -- to watch the carnage when it happened. Train wreck stuff, you know? Both Merry and I heard that that theory was being bruited about on other lists, though. The ones who wrote to us were pretty convinced that they spoke for the majority of PL's members, all evidence of a busy list to the contrary. Oddly, they stopped telling us the list was doomed after it had been around and stable for six months or so. <g> [3]

Official Description

From the profile page:

Prospect-L is an open Sentinel Slash discussion list. This means that the bulk of our conversation will center around slash-related Sentinel topics and fiction. Discussion of gen topics and gen fiction is allowed because your Admins (Merry and Margie) are completists, but the slant of Prospect-L is slash-centric, gen-friendly. Any topic related to the television show The Sentinel is welcome. This includes discussion of the characters, the episodes, the writing, the production, the cast and crew, the fandom, etc. We also include in this any discussion or commentary on Sentinel fan fiction, at whatever level of complexity, silliness, or venting our members so desire. You're free to talk about what you liked, what you didn't like, why you liked or disliked it, trends you've noticed, what you hate, what you love, whatever. [4]
message history

Some Background

In 2012, one of the listowners, Margie, discussed the history and formation of Prospect-L. See Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Arduinna (September 2012) for more.

...in 2000, the Sentinel slash mailing list, SENAD, was having tons and tons of fights about the list culture, basically. It had gotten increasingly protective over the last couple years; you couldn't say anything negative about a story because, "What if the author never wrote another story"? Or what if somewhere out there, there was someone who might want to write a story one day, and saw that someone didn't like a story, and therefore they never wrote a story ever? And that would be terrible. And there were a bunch of us that were sitting there saying, That's kind of creepy. You're protecting this hypothetical, fragile flower of an author by silencing people who want to talk about something that actually came over on a mailing list where the mailing list rules specifically said, "This is place where you can talk about fiction." That was one of the guiding principles of the list. But the list had changed hands and the current list owner really felt very protective of authors more than readers. She figured, you know, the only thing you could ever say was, "This was great." I mean, it was actually to the point that you couldn't say on the list, "Jeez, I wish they hadn't misspelled the main character," because that was so painful and harmful and terrible to say to someone, that they spelled the main character's name wrong, that "What if they never wrote again?"

[...]

I'd been on the list at that point for like four years and I was still heavily involved in Sentinel fandom, and I wanted to be able to talk about stories, and I wanted to see other people talking about stories. So we actually, quote-unquote "broke the list." We made a second list called Prospect-L, which looking back on, is like, Why was this such a huge deal? But it actually was a really huge deal, and people kept fighting about this in Sentinel fandom for about a year. People would just, report back to SENAD about the terrible, horrible, mean things being said on Prospect-L. Which mostly weren't, and the worst of the offenders was actually from SENAD who signed on under a pseud and just trolled us. And we knew they were trolling us because we tracked their IP address. It's like, We know who you are. Really, seriously; "Here's your IP address, you see this? We know who you are." But that actually started a short wave of mailing lists that allowed for open critical discussion of stories. It was actually really refreshing. The first, the first month of Prospect-L generated, I think, like four or five thousand posts... which was amazing. It was absolutely amazing. People were talking. The first weekend ... We had thought that maybe twenty people would join, because we figured that's how many people were so cranky and bitter. Well, seriously. I mean, because people didn't break fandoms like this, you didn't do it. People stuck to the main list even if they hated it because that's what you do, you stick to your fandom. And we had, like, a hundred people join in the first twenty-four hours, and we were like, Wow, this is ... People might actually talk for a week. This is amazing! And in the first weekend we had like, 700 posts, and then for the first few weeks it was ... It was, like, 200 posts a day, which—. It was crazy. It was crazy at the time. And that, of course, just made people really angry. But there was this huge ... It was that busy because people actually, really needed a place to talk. People had been silenced for a long time, and it was really stifling— the notion that you just couldn't say what you thought because, you know, someone's feelings might get hurt.

Full FAQ

Prospect-L FAQ

Welcome to your regularly scheduled broadcast of the Prospect-L Frequently Asked Questions list. We attempted to make this brief and concise, but failed utterly, in the interest of full disclosure.

1. What is Prospect-L?

Prospect-L is an open Sentinel Slash discussion list. This means that the bulk of our conversation will center around slash-related Sentinel topics and fiction. Discussion of gen topics and gen fiction is allowed because your Admins are completists, but the slant of Prospect-L is slash-centric, gen-friendly.

Any topic related to the television show The Sentinel is welcome. This includes discussion of the characters, the episodes, the writing, the production, the cast and crew, the fandom, etc. We also include in this any discussion or commentary on Sentinel fan fiction, at whatever level of complexity, silliness, or venting our members so desire. You're free to talk about what you liked, what you didn't like, why you liked or disliked it, trends you've noticed, what you hate, what you love, whatever. And you can discuss it to whatever degree you want, from a casual "I loved/hated/liked/disliked/didn't care for/didn't read that new story that dropped today on JoeSentinelFictionList" to an in-depth critique.

Our basic philosophy: Limiting discussion topics in a discussion group tends to limit discussion. People get nervous about posting, they get quiet, and really cool things fail to get said.

We feel that allowing people to discuss only those stories whose writers approve of such discussion is inherently limiting, and accords to the writers a degree of control over readers' activities that is unprecedented in reality. We also feel that fanfic discussion should be part of overall discussion of The Sentinel, rather than something subversive that must be kept separate (like your crazy old aunt in the attic).

2. Aha! This is why some folks call you guys the Mean List!

Well, yes.

3. Does this mean I can finally tell Jane Q. Fanwriter that she sucks like a Hoover and should be drummed out of the fandom?

Well, no.

You can say Jane Q. Fanwriter's *fiction* sucks like a Hoover, though, if you like. If that's your honest opinion, no one is going to stop you from expressing it, least of all the Admins. We're also not going to stop anybody from disagreeing with you. Basic rule of thumb: Don't insult anything that might conceivably insult you back. Works of fiction, in our experience, rarely make a fuss about how maligned they are.

4. So what does Prospect-L do that other lists don't do?

Prospect-L arose from a perceived need on the part of the Admins and many others for a truly open forum for the slash-related discussion of The Sentinel and of the slash fan fiction based on the show.

At the time of its creation, though gen lists with more liberal policies existed, other slash lists within the fandom restricted discussion of fiction according to the preferences of the writers. In other words, a writer could forbid discussion of her writing on those lists if she chose to.

This is not the case on Prospect-L. Here, all Sentinel fan fiction is fair game for discussion; permission from the writer is not required.

One of the basic ideas behind Prospect-L is that readers are as vital to fandom as writers, and in fact, that most writers *are* also readers. Therefore, to limit readers in the scope of their discussions is damaging to the fandom as a whole.

5. Are there any limits to this freedom of discussion, this wild bacchanalia of conversation you promise us?

In the interests of full disclosure -- yes. We're a little off-the-wall, but we don't claim to be an anarchy. Our basic philosophy doesn't mean there are no rules. It just means the rules are a little bit different than you may be used to. See "The Rules" at the end of this FAQ.

We're also pretty firm on the whole "on topic" thing. On-topic means The Sentinel. That's pretty much it. No other shows/fandoms (unless you're talking about a crossover), no "what's your favorite book?", etc. And if you do post about another show, and you spoil that show for someone, we will come down on you so fast your head will spin. Seriously. DO NOT SPOIL SHOWS OR MOVIES FOR PEOPLE.

6. Is Prospect-L an active list?

Pretty active, in spurts. The crazy insane mad activity of our first few months has settled down to a reasonable, fairly steady rate. We also have a digest option, if that should prove too much for you.

7. Is anybody in charge around here?

Yes. That would be us -- Margie and Merry, Co-Admins for Prospect-L. Don't call us "mom", lest we be forced to harm you severely.

You can reach Margie at [redacted], and Merry at [redacted]. We also jointly answer to [redacted].

8. Do I need to send in an age statement?

Nope. Prospect-L is an adult list. Members are required to be at or over the age of majority for their region in order to remain subscribed to Prospect-L. Remaining subscribed to Prospect-L after receiving this FAQ will be seen as a statement that you are aware of this rule and meet this criterion for membership.

9. Do I need to write an Ob-Prospect [5] if I send an off-topic post?

No. In fact, we insist that you don't. Off-topic posts, if you have to send them, should be short and sweet and not extended by adding story bits at the end. All replies to off-topic posts should be sent privately.

10. Can I send my new TS story to Prospect-L?

No again. There are two fantastic fiction-only lists (SXF and TLAD) that you can use to post your fiction. Subscription info is here:

SXF: [redacted]

TLAD: [redacted]

11. Is there anything else I should know?

Only that during an early vote, and in a fit of abject strangeness, several members of Prospect-L chose Cthulhu (sometimes referred to as "the Great Squid") as List Mascot. Those members are very weird. Try not to make direct eye contact with them if at all possible.

Oh, and you might want to know what the rules are.

THE RULES:

Rule the First: The axing of a thread is the business of the Admins only, and will occur very rarely. The List Admins have no intention of stopping any conversation unless it has turned into an ad hominem attack or a metadiscussion - discussion of the value of discussion.

The following are our two most important rules, so we're gonna be VERY SPECIFIC:

Rule the Second: No metadiscussion. This means we do not allow discussion about what we should discuss, whether we should discuss, or how we should discuss. In our experience, discussion of how people *should* discuss stories in public is the kiss of death for the actual, real discussion of said stories. Therefore, we do not and will not allow metadiscussion on Prospect-L.

To clarify, a few examples of story discussion:

Good: "How can you not like stories by Writer X? Are you nuts?"

Good: "What makes you like this story/a story or not like it?"

Good: "You're so wrong I don't even know where to start."

Good: "HA! As if!"

(Note that the above examples pertain directly to fiction and the poster's opinions about fiction, rather than to the *discussion* of fiction.)

And then there's metadiscussion...

Bad: "You shouldn't be so negative -- can't you find anything *nice* to say?"

Bad: "We shouldn't be so hard/soft on writers because they're _________."

Bad: "Criticism should only be constructive."

(Note that the above examples all pertain directly to the *way* people discuss fiction, rather than to fiction itself.)

Metadiscussion also includes discussing the conversation itself, instead of the conversational topic:

Bad: "I'm entitled to an opinion."

Bad: "The list's rules let me say this."

Bad: "You can't say that, it's against the list rules."

(Note that the above examples are all about justifying a post's existence, rather than contributing to the actual conversation at hand.)

This is not a comprehensive list of all comments that may fall under the heading of metadiscussion; rather, it's just a few examples to give those who are confused some idea of what metadiscussion actually is.

In instances of confusion about what is or is not metadiscussion, the List Admins will make the final decision.

Furthermore, anyone who tries to stop discussion by saying "you have a delete key, use it if you don't like a story" will be tossed to the rest of the list while the Admins sit back with snacks to watch the destruction.

Rule the Third: No ad hominem attacks. An ad hominem attack is marked by an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made in the debate.

Examples:

Good: "That story sucked!"

Bad: "YOU suck!"

Good: "You're wrong!"

Bad: "You're stupid!"

(Note that the "good" examples refer only to fiction or opinions, while the "bad" examples refer to actual living people.)

In instances of confusion about what is or is not an ad hominem attack, the List Admins will make the final decision.

Rule the Fourth: You are expected to make allowances for people of different backgrounds.

Rule the Fifth: You are expected not to take offense if someone forgets to make allowances for you being of a different background.

Rule the Sixth: Flames will be handled by the Admins. The Admins read the list. Don't whine to the Admins that you've been flamed on the list - if you've been flamed, we'll know it. This means that the Admins will decide what constitutes a flame. (Be advised that we consider anything short of "You just *suck!*" to be non-flammable. Discussion is allowed. Venting is allowed, too. We like snarky people and snarky posts.)

Rule the Seventh: Don't whine to the Admins that you've been flamed in private email. The Admins neither have nor want any control over what anybody does in private email.

Rule the Eighth: This isn't actually a rule, as such; more of a Notice:

We would like to inform you that all posts to Prospect-L are completely private and will never be passed on to any non-list member. However, our powers are not that extensive (damn it). There is no practical way to enforce a rule against forwarding posts from Prospect-L to other lists or individuals, and it would be irresponsible of us to pretend otherwise. That being the case, we want to make this perfectly clear:

Prospect-L is a public list. Once you post to Prospect-L, it is entirely possible that your posts will find their way to unexpected places. Privacy is not something any Admin can promise you; anyone who says different is selling something.

-But.- If you are a member of this list, and you publicly put someone else's post on the web -- e.g, on a Livejournal, to MySpace, etc. -- and we find out about it, you're banned. No exceptions. We can't stop private forwarding to lists, individuals, or locked LJ posts, but we won't stand for publicly republishing someone else's posts.

Rule the Ninth: With regard to the forwarding of posts *to* Prospect-L from non-members or from other lists: The list member who forwards any post to Prospect-L will be held responsible for the contents of that post. This means that the head-smack for any forwarded post that violates the list rules will fall with lightning speed upon the list member who forwarded it.

Rule the Tenth: With regard to the forwarding of private email to Prospect-L without permission from the person who sent it to you: Don't do it. If you want to refer to something on-topic from your private email, feel free to paraphrase.

The Basics:

Subbing: Send an email to [redacted]

Unsubbing: Send an email to [redacted]

Posting: Send email to [redacted]

And that's it for the FAQ. If you have any other questions, please let us know. This FAQ will be posted automatically once a month by the Prospect-L list software, and can be found as a text file in the Rules & FAQ folder located at: http://www.groups.yahoo.com/Prospect-L/files/.

--Merry and Margie Admins, Prospect-L[6]

Fan Comments

August 2001 Comments About History and Purpose

Excerpts have been quoted from Prospect-L anonymously.

My best recollection of the Foul Murder of Fandom about to be committed by the creation of P-L is that it had more to do with the balkanization of the Sacred Whole--all fans needed to be on one list in order to be on the same sheet of music or something. The benefits of that were never entirely clear to me, since there are websites and stuff where people interested in united action to save the show (and other endeavors) could go and get information.
I looked through some of my older mail. (I'm an email packrat. <G>) There were a lot of upset people when P-L was announced. In fact, 3 people removed their stories from the archive.

Obviously, they thought P-L was about to do something really horrible, so that's one of the reasons this thread has tickled me so much. We've agree, you and I, that P-L really hasn't had that much of an influence on the fandom as a whole. People are still talking and writing on all sorts of TS lists; those things haven't changed.

Yes, some individuals seem to have over-reacted to nothing more than the announcement of a list where people could talk about fiction -- something they were already doing elsewhere, in irc chat rooms, lists, private email, etc. But a year-plus later, what has changed, other than the fact that some readers will never find the fiction of a handful of writers, whose work they might really like?

As an archivist, I find that kind of sad. But then, I'm just really invested in the idea that fans should be able to find the fiction they want to read, whether they joined the fandom 4 years ago or yesterday.

It really is nice to talk to someone else who didn't pay much attention to all the hyped up crap that got posted to lists then. Refreshing really, after reading email from that time frame.
I know that my own (as-yet-unposted) work has improved drastically because my betas offer constructive criticism rather than insincere praise. I've enjoyed lurking on P-L and listening in on the discussions here. On the whole, I've found them to be enlightening and invigorating rather than oppressive. I think the majority of critiques I have read here are very specific. If the reader didn't like a story, they explain why not and how the story could be improved. I haven't seen folks saying, "this one sucked" without providing an explanation.
I think this list *can* have a lot of power over a person who is uncertain in their abilities. To say otherwise makes me think of Brittany Spears or Madonna (in her younger days <g>) denying that dressing provocatively influences the millions of pre-teens that buy all their albums. Of course there's an influence and power there, to deny that is unrealistic. You don't have to be the New York Times to have a significant impact on someone. Celebrities and/or power figures influence people, often inadvertently, but it happens. Groups of peers or contemporaries (or whatever you want to call us) also have power over the individuals of which they are comprised. Come on, don't you remember high school? Wouldn't you have *died* if someone in your circle made fun of your outfit? Peer pressure (or influence, if you like) may diminish as we age, but it is always there to some extent.

[snipped]

I guess I would say that I rarely (if ever) see authors defending their stories on this list. Maybe those authors receiving negative reviews don't feel the need, or they're having private discussions off-list, or something, I don't know. I've never seen any rule, of course, saying that you can't, but I've always sort of been under the impression that it's just not done.

I don't doubt that it's not anyone's intention to stop others from writing. But I also don't doubt that some people do get discouraged. Because some people are more sensitive or uncertain or thin-skinned than others and some people take this kind of thing very personally.

[snipped]

Now, all that being said, I'm in no way advocating that the list be run differently than it is. We're all here voluntarily and we're free to leave if we don't like the way the list is run. Personally, I'm all for free speech and clearly, I enjoy the level of discourse or I wouldn't be here. Also, I will freely admit that there is much to be gained by criticism that is truly constructive and that my own work has benefited from it. Further, the list admins give full disclosure; if you sub here, you know that it's better not to have a thin skin. And, there are other venues for those who require a gentler hand. My only point is that it's one thing to know the nature of the list in theory, and another to be on the receiving end of some particularly "candid" criticism. Words *can* hurt some people. If this is the list where we can be perfectly honest with each other, then we should be perfectly honest about that fact as well.
I remember when posting anything but "I loved it, write more, I need a(nother) sequel was verboten in this and almost every other net-based fandom.

I call it a "lowest common denominator" attitude. If anyone could possibly read something the wrong way, then that thing could not be said. Fans would go to lengths to say nice things -- you couldn't say it was bad, or even "un-good".

It was an Orwellian attitude that paralyzed well-meaning fans, and I think it actually caused good writers to become bad ones. In older fandoms, you could see writers progress in their writing abilities. In this fandom, if you go through the archive, you can see some writers get *worse* as all they got was raves about their writing.

[snipped]

We've come a long way since that time. I think that these days, being discussed on P-L is a badge of honour (partly for survival on the battlefield <g>). I look to this list for the stories I should read, and to see if I agree or disagree with the comments. And if the story doesn't get mentioned here, then it didn't ping on anyone's radar as worth mentioning, so I can probably delete it.

Getting back to Orwell, and bringing in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: if you don't have a word for it, you can't articulate the concept. I think part of the project that is P-L is the building of a vocabulary for criticism, whether it's the "zombie fingers" concept or the implications of using fanon ideas, or the amount of realism (and what parts of Jim and Blair are essential) that's needed in an AU, and all the other things we've gotten tangled up in.

It's not new to P-L, of course. We're using building blocks that start out in literary criticism and in other fandoms. But at the time (was it only a year ago?), it was revolutionary in online fandoms.

Meta and Further Reading

References

  1. Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Arduinna (September 2012)
  2. from a fan in July 2000: "there's a new discussion list, the likes of which this fandom has never seen and has aways needed. Prospect-L, welcome at last to the universe! If, like me, you were keeping away from TS fandom because of Senad and related stupidity, this is the list for you." -- comment by Julad at yearningvoid
  3. comments by Margie at Prospect-L, quoted with permission (August 7, 2001)
  4. Source: Group Description, accessed July 1, 2010.
  5. a reference to Obsenads
  6. Source: monthly FAQ post sent to the mailing list. Posted with mod permission; email addresses redacted during posting to Fanlore. Accessed November 12, 2013. It is also publicly here: Prospect-L FAQ, Archived version