I've always been a fan of online communities, and used to be all over the virtual world of Second Life. I rented a virtual cottage, bought virtual land, built a virtual community for writers where I had an educational center that included resources for aspiring children's book writers:
With the SCBWI's blessing, I even created a virtual book with some of their basic info for newbies, and users could actually page through the book and read the contents. Keep in mind that this was BEFORE digital readers became popular.
I also created and sold virtual writing supplies and tools for people's virtual offices. This was way fun because it was sort of like programming (I used to be a programmer/analyst way back) mixed with sculpture and a lots of creativity. You basically took geometric objects and then combined and manipulated them, adding your own textures and scripts.
I made writer-themed jewelry, a portable writing desk and easel, writergeek clothing, a customizable book, laptop whose screen would display a different partly-typed manuscript each time you touched it, and so on. Some I gave away for free, some I sold through the Second Life Marketplace.
Above: One of the rooms in my Inkygirl Haven For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, where I hosted chats, helped promote other people's children's books (touching any of the book covers above in-world would take the user to the book's website as well as give out a notecard with info). Here's a shot of Inkygirl Haven from the outside:
I later built a river that ran beneath the building, with several small waterfalls and a secret underground cavern. I also set up sounds as well so that, depending on where your avatar was standing, you could hear the water, birds in the trees, etc.
The challenge, I found, was convincing children's book types outside of Second Life to learn how to use the interface well enough to be able to participate in-world. There's a steep learning curve that was a real barrier. I also found that as fun and full of creative potential as Second Life was, I very rarely ran into other kidlit/YA types in-world unless there were scheduled events.
And although there were (early on, anyway) many libraries and educational institutions who had set up buildings and sometimes entire campuses in Second Life, I never seemed to run into anyone when I visited. I always felt like I was wandering through a ghost town. Cool to look at and check out some of the exhibits, but after a while I got tired of never running into anyone.
Plus the lag was getting really, really bad. Sometimes I'd arrive in-world but not be able to do ANYTHING (I couldn't fully rez) because of the lag.
Milkwood Writers' Colony (the group now has a website called Virtual Writers, Inc.) still hosts regular events, and I drop by from time to time; SL lag varies but seems to be improving. It's a lot of fun -- sort of like dropping by your favorite coffee shop for a short writing session with friends. Check out the Virtual Writers list of interactive social events for the upcoming schedule.
I used to write during these sessions but these days I'm more likely to be illustrating in real-life while the others write. Check out the easel I created above, complete with paint stains, brushes and a rag. I didn't write the script but bought it from the SL Marketplace -- when I "wear" the easel, my avatar immediately starts going through the motions of painting. I update my virtual painting on whim.
I've also since created an artists' toolbelt and used it for some shameless promo for I'M BORED. Here's a close-up of a virtual book I had clipped to my belt along with a sketchbook and brushes:
But that brings to me to this afternoon, when I dropped by a Book Island booth I'm renting short-term to help promote my book projects. Just for fun, I browsed the list of upcoming Arts & Culture events on Second Life, and was delighted to find that the Senchai Library on Imagination Island was going to be doing a live voice reading from DOLL BONES by Holly Black, illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler!
How cool and bizarre. Here I was, in a virtual world reading about an actual voice reading in a virtual library from a real-life book that was illustrated by someone I knew (!!).
I won't be able to attend the reading (the librarians at Seanchai are very kind and let my avatar paint quietly on my easel in the corner while they do their readings) because I'll be going to a Simon & Schuster event in Toronto, but I love the idea! If you're planning to attend, by the way, note that all times listed on SL are always PST.
Anyway, you can find out more about Eliza's illustrations in DOLL BONES and her own picture book book, MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS, in the interview she did on my blog a while back.
Loved Eliza's creepy illustrations in DOLL BONES, by the way, and Holly Black's story is fantastic. Highly recommended.
But I digress...
I ended up leaving Second Life in favor of Twitter and Facebook because that's where the children's/YA writer community were hanging out, including my agent. I still love the creative potential of Second Life but now that I actually have book contracts (*gasp*), I'm having to pare down my social media time. I've also been shutting down most of my many blogs, including my Second Life blog:
I've started to gradually get vacation-type photos of my avatar reading I'M BORED in various places in Second Life. Like in Paris!
Is it worth it for writers and illustrators to check out Second Life? At this point, I'd say only if you can't help yourself, and if you have time to spare. It's not yet clear if Second Life has a longterm future, though the CEO claims they're still working on improvements.
If you're on Second Life, feel free to add me ("Inkygirl Omizu") as a friend...but be warned that I'm rarely in-world and when I am, I'm usually only online very briefly. Though who knows? Maybe we'll run into each other at a Milkwood Writer Dash or at one of the Book Island chats someday.