Let's Talk about Figment

I'm lying in bed after a long, hard day of work. As I gaze at this blog, I realize that I started working on this post back on October 7, right after Figment announced it was closing down. I titled this post, "Let's talk about Figment," added a screenshot, and that was about it. I don't think I knew what to say. 

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When I don't know what to say, I start at the beginning. My old screenwriting teachers always said start with the action, and maybe that's why my beginnings have never been good. A decade later, it still feels like my best beginning was written at fifteen when I started a book with "All was quiet until the white dragon vomited soot and flames across the hall." 

That book was written before I started sharing work online. It was also the beginning of my online work. I wrote Serango my freshman or sophomore year of high school, and I printed off the pages, punched them into a binder, and it was passed around a larger friend circle. Enough people enjoyed the fantasy that when my aunt offered me use of her Apple website account, I took her up on the offer. That Apple site, a program which Apple has long since abandoned and no longer exists, was the beginning of sharing work online. The platform functioned similarly to Squarespace, with formatting done offline.

I posted my novel in chapters, and because I did not know to fear... Because I was a braver person then, I printed off one of those advertisement sheets where you can tear off a phone number, like for dog-sitters or selling used furniture, except I put my website's address. I posted this sheet on the communal cork-board at my high school so that everyone who wanted to read my novel could do it. 

I don't think I did that out of any arrogance. I think it was simply a naive lack of fear. I think I thought my writing was good. Considering that enough people read the first Serango, it was not bad. Even with a decade of distance, I look at those early pages and see a lot to admire, if a had habit of chronic overwriting. (The second book in that series, however, was a hot disaster and I don't think I knew it). 

Anyway, I posted on that cork-board because I did not feel there was a place for me as things stood. I mean no offense to my high school. NCS, a small D.C. private school, had a literary society, but it seemed that everyone sat around sharing short, literary fiction. I didn't doubt that I couldn't write that stuff, but... I never wanted to write short fiction. What was the point? I read novels. I wanted to write novels. 

Better yet, I wanted novels with dragons and heists and mysteriously gendered chemists. I wanted to make up the world. I wanted armies battling over gold. God, why would I want to write about couples divorcing and fighting in kitchens? (I mean, to be fair, I guess The Princess and the Fox Demon is partly a divorce novel, but it has shapeshifters, and shamans, and a battle with a volcano. I think you get the point.) 

What I mean to say is that, I was never interested in short literary fiction, and that alone was what I could discuss in real life in school. The internet, however, was a different story. People online seemed to be crazy for mythological creatures, smooching, and horrible jokes. People online seemed to like genre fiction. At that time, I did not know what it was called, but I knew what I liked to write. 

I fumbled around with my own website for a time, but by the time I went off to college, it was a thing of the past. I have a copy of the school newspaper with an article where I was interviewed, and I believe there is a screenshot of the website. That's all I have. 

My freshman year, I wrote novels, but did not share them, and I believe it was my second year when I discovered Figment. 

The website had been around by the time I found it. I participated in a writing day contest at my university, and if you participated, you got a free dinner with a speaker. I submitted a piece of creative nonfiction. I got my dinner. The speaker was one of the founders of Figment, Dana Goodyear, and I remember her talking about founding a website to share writing after being inspired by cellphone novels in Japan. I knew about cellphone novels, and I liked the idea of sharing my work online. 

I was not very good. I banged out a few projects for Figment, like The Mori Hero, but my overwriting habit completely wrecked my hopes of a following. It took me a long time to learn that there was a way to write and catch people's attention, to sustain that attention, and that you could not take a million words when a few would do.  I cannot begin to express how important this was for me. 

I discovered short fiction, flash fiction, and attention to word count made me a better writer. I started winning contests. Just as I began to hit a stride and actually get followers, Figment absorbed another website. The historian in me, as biased as she is concerning Figment, sees this as a turning point. The influx of new users were not used to Figment's culture. They were writers more so than readers, and this made building a reading audience harder than it had been before. Users demanded reading exchanges, which is okay, except that it became exhausting and unrewarding. That said, I loved working on the science fiction serial, Void Inc, and the short story "The Madness of Crown Prince Sazaki," both of which I still find wonderful. I almost don't believe I wrote them. 

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It was sometime soon after the merger, 2013, that Patterson held a romance writing contest on Figment. And that was when I wrote the first opening to The Princess and the Fox Demon

Fox demons could change into anything or anyone, but as the lonely places of the world vanished, they became harder to find.

Princess Asuka knew of one fox demon. She peered out over the burnt out shrine grounds. Cherry petals fell from the trees like ghost tears.

He was beautiful like a willow, but with a body that had been carefully designed for violence. She froze for a minute, struck dumb by the way his back lazily curled against the pillar, organic, with his green robes pooling around his waist, stripped off in the summer heat. He sprawled out on the deck, bored, flicking his fingers so that little violet flames leapt off his fingernails. Princess Asuka shivered—this demon couldn’t be more different from the boy she loved.

Two hours ago, her betrothed had died. She hadn’t told anyone. The boy had written her poems about spring rain, sweets, and kisses. She had known love, hopeless and riotous, and warmth and his laughter.

And she knew the disgusting old man she would have to marry if she went back to the capital alone.

“Prin-cesss,” drawled the fox demon. “What a pleasure.”

She crossed the yard, trembling, knowing the closer she got, the harder it would be to run away, to forget her rebellious madness that had told her this would be a good plan. Humans only struck deals with fox demons when they needed them to transform into a replacement, only when humans were looking for mischief and lies.

Princess Asuka desperately needed a lie.

She stared at the ground as he examined his prize, and she knew his eyes were laughing because he had proposed to her once so passionately—he had been a young demon then—and now she had come back. The back of her neck burned as he circled her, his fingers trailing over his air, and the shame nearly sent her running for the trees.

“You humans care too much about bodies,” he whispered. “You’re looking for all the wrong things.”

She sighed as his lips ghosted over her neck.

“How do you want me?”
— "The Princess and the Fox Demon," flash fiction, 2013

I didn't win. I doubt I even came close. 

But I was surprised at the level of interest the little piece received, as well as the enthusiasm. So, I turned around and expanded on the story. It evolved into my most successful online novel. I got comments. I got fans. The fans from the other projects merged onto this one, and despite the strangeness of the story, it worked. 

A day when my longform, epic sci-fi poem was featured on the homepage, which was the highest Figment glory. 

A day when my longform, epic sci-fi poem was featured on the homepage, which was the highest Figment glory. 

Figment became a home, but I was also aware of a creeping shadow over the site. Contests slowed down. Everything from updates to forum moderation ended, and I think when the website was sold to a publisher, that was when Figment as we knew it truly ended. Curation and moderation, regular and engaging contests all seemed to fall by the wayside, and I don't doubt that the site continued to grow during this phase, but I spent less time on Figment. I tried a few contests, hoping that since a publisher had bought the site that I might attract some editorial attention by wining, but I now know that was a waste of time. I shifted away from Figment and found myself focussing on P+FD. I started to publish The Hiwau and the Moon Consort as a serial. At some point, I was thrilled to be placed on the homepage and interviewed by the website. (PDF of the interview here.) That was mind-blowingly exciting. 

Sometime after that but before I finished Hiwau, I think I discovered that this phase of my writing, like that little personal site in high school, was over. I discovered some incredible writers that I'm following even now. I even made some friends. 

But unlike some of my Figment friends, I actually took down my fiction years ago. It was years ago that I copied all my comments and projects, deleted everything. And it's strange to look at it again, what mishmash of things I saved. The screenshot at the top of the page is one taken on October 7, 2017, almost two years after I removed my writing. 

I am grateful for the home I found at Figment, one of those rare places online that, for a time, felt small enough to be an intimate community, but not insignificant. I learned how to write for others, read feedback, give feedback, and grow. My conciseness (sorry about this blogpost) and confidence arose from my time on Figment. A priceless writing circle of friends. I was never one of the Figment Greats, but I am honored to have written alongside them for a time.  

 Farewell, Figment. 

Other Figment Farewells: Samantha Chaffin.  Lydia Albano



I'll leave you with a genuine Figment fossil, perfectly preserved. I found it while sifting through my old, unlabeled screenshots. It's not my most popular. It's just an E.R. Warren flash fiction fossil, circa 201?, complete with gods and jazz, under 150 words. This is what Figment taught me to do. 

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