A SKEMERs History

Wildly Out of Date but Still Informative!

originally written in 1997, updated in 1999

SKEMERs is a unique chat-club, different from almost any on the internet, not just among the Stephen King chats. What happens is real simple: you sign up, get a confirmation letter, and you're in the club.

That's it! What makes us so unique? The way the chatting is handled. We communicate through plain ole' e-mail. What we do is write a letter (about King or whatever; we're not particular about what we talk about, but we tend to stay on the subject of SK), and we send it to our group Dictator, Michelle R. (For more info on how she became the Dictator, see Chapter 4.) Michelle then reads the newsletters, responds to nearly each individual letter, compiles the ones she receives into one big newsletter, and sends them back. She also has help from her new assistant, Brad (the Arthur to her Tick), who also responds quite often and is doing a great job in his own right.

This is quite an effort for Michelle, so there's an understandable lag between when you send out your letter, and when you'll see it in a newsletter (not real long, though -- only about a week.) Then, other people respond to your comments, and you respond back, and etc., etc., etc. It's easy to do, and the dialogue gets to be fun and informative.

There are a few rules. 1) No swearing. Use %&^$#@ if you want to cuss. 2) No truly offensive remarks. If you don't like a book or a person, fine, but keep in mind that other people do. (i.e. The Stand really *&(^@~! sucked!) Public humiliation of stuff can be found in other groups. And that's pretty much it! 

We're a laid-back, fun little obsessive group. In my humble opinion, we're the best Stephen King group in the world, internet or otherwise. So, become a member, and then come back here to find out how we all got started!

How We Came About
or, A Rose Madder Blooms

SKEMERs -- which would not end any time in the near future, if it ever did end -- began, so far as I know or can tell with two women linked up through America On-Line.

Missy Gongre and Michelle Rein created a club (then known as Rose Madder after Missy's favorite book at the time) for Stephen King fans on AOL. The idea was actually quite innovative: contributors would send letters to Missy, who would read them, comment on them, and then compile them into one big letter. Then, she would send the newsletters out to every member. At first, the task was easy; there were only six or seven members (most of which, except Luanne, have left our merry club). But from modest beginnings, big things do come.

After a few letters, Michelle decided the club needed a new name. But what? Something catchy, something that really described the concept of the group. Well, they were Stephen King fans communicating through e-mail. Stephen King E-Mailers. An acronym was culled, and SKEMERs was born.

Ostensibly a book discussion group, SKEMERs also became something of a social gathering. They still discussed King (actually quite a lot more than other SK internet groups), but they were also interested in one another. The processes of friendship via e-mail were in the works, even at the very beginning.

The basic premise of the book discussions held, though. People discussed theories, pondered why King chose to write a certain way, argued good and bad points, and (quite hilariously) pointed out typos. They talked about King gossip, rumor, and speculation: upcoming projects and past successes. From the beginning, SKEMERs was a bright, opinionated group of well-read Stephen King fans.

And they would not stay small for long.

How We Got a Web Page
or, Michael McAlcin's Great Idea

Michael McAlcin, a King fan from (of all places) Moscow, Russia, was discovered by avid SKEMER Rich DeMars fairly early on. Rich found his page, alerted him to SKEMERs, and started the snowball a-rollin'. Michael was a bit of a net-head: he'd already created his own SK-devoted page on the internet. He proposed this idea to Michelle and Missy after several letters: what if he were to take all the SKEMERs newsletters and post them on his page, allowing new members to read all the old letters right off the web. Better yet, why not create a space on the page so people browsing could join SKEMERs, thus allowing World Wide Web users SKEMERs access, not just those on AOL.

Both Missy and Michelle (who had kind of fallen into the roles of President and Vice-President of SKEMERs) wholeheartedly approved of the idea. In Michelle's words, "This is gonna be fun!"

Soon, SKEMERs: The Web Page could be found on what the search engine Yahoo! listed as the Russian Stephen King Fan Page. The major influx of members began.

How We Branched Out
or, Friends, Buddies, and Spouses

The addition of the web page was only the harbinger of bigger things to come. SKEMERs weren't content to just discuss books, they wanted to do. The idea of a real-time chat was proposed and begun. At first, the chats were confusing. Times fluctuated and only AOL members could sign up. Eventually, a set time was agreed upon, and other, non-AOL chats came into existence. These gave people the chance to say what was on their mind then, and not have to wait awhile for a response. Given this opportunity, though, SKEMERs actually stayed away from the subject of King. The real-time chats were times for people to talk about themselves and their lives; in short, they were places for people to become closer friends.

The chats weren't the only way SKEMERs connected. Several became phone-friends, and many began filling out their collections by trading with one another. Usually, no money changed hands. A story for a story, a book for a book, or some comparable happy medium. The really great thing about SKEMERs was the sense of trust and camaraderie. No one had reservations about sending stuff through the mail -- they knew it would be reciprocated. It's a rare and fine privilege to discover a group of internet friends that truly behave like friends.

Some SKEMERs felt the need to leap over the boundary of mail-and-phone and actually meet, the most memorable of these meetings being that of Michelle and Missy, two friends who had never seen each other. Then there was the shocker of the century when two SKEMERs (Vic, she of EEEEEEE, and Laird the Lurker) became blissfully wedded SKEMERs. These scant few personal meetings foreshadowed the First SKEMERs Conference in Bangor during August of '97 (see Chapter 5).

The font of King knowledge grew. Readers became collectors. Rich DeMars (aka the Gauntster) provided a first editions list so SK collectors would know if they were getting a good deal or not. SKEMERs jumped in with firsthand knowledge, bringing all of us up-to-date on late-breaking King news. The collective Stephen King info grew vast indeed (sort of like the Borg). And still, new friends joined everyday.

With friendship, however, comes the sharing of grief. Several of us had to face the loss of family and friends. Others dealt with personal and painful ordeals.

And then there was that head lice epidemic.

With the existence of SKEMERs, however, came support. No one had to face difficult times alone. Keeping with the spirit of friendship, this little reading group also functioned as a worldwide support group.

Early in 1996, Missy began having family and legal problems. We all tried to be there for her. Her being president complicated matters. Her home concerns took precedence over SKEMERs. After several valiant attempts to maintain leadership of the club, Missy decided to resign.

How We Got a Dictator
or, Beware Flying Licorice Whips!

Michelle, the vice-president, graciously stepped up and assumed responsibility for the newsletters. We all supported her and came to enjoy the little quirks that made her great: Her cyber licorice whips (she'd constantly *WHACK* someone playfully for almost no reason), her often hilarious comments on letters, and the later (and still ensuing) Sam Elliot insanity.

After a few letters, we decided that Michelle having total control earned her the title Dictator. She loved it, and didn't let the title go to her head (well, maybe once or twice :) ) Besides handling all the newsletter consolidating and sending herself, she also took the time to read and comment on each letter. She maintained the decency rules without being overbearing. And, on a single, memorable occasion, she acted against how she wanted to for the good of the group. (The history: a new member, knowing the rules, decided to ignore them and go on constant swearing fits. During one letter, he put down all of King's works in favor of a single book by someone else [opinions are fine, but in a Stephen King fan club, the logic of that is a little bent]. And he said of the then-upcoming novel The Regulators: "It doesn't seem scary at all, just a silly, laugh-out-loud joke." He said this based on the blurb at the back of The Green Mile. His constant insulting, pandering, and I'm-better-than-you attitude got him kicked out of SKEMERs. Michelle didn't want to do it, but she disliked him and several other members complained. That was the only incident of its kind, and SKEMERs has been up and running for two years.)

Michelle also reached out to make us known to the King community at large. She sat in on other groups' chats and mentioned SKEMERs. Later on, she teamed up with George Beahm (creator of the excellent King 'zine Phantasmagoria and author of The Stephen King Story and The Stephen King Companion), bringing the group's name to Beahm's readership. (In issue #6, SKEMERs had a full-page "advertisement", as well as a column written by Michelle on King's Princeton Conference -- and her first King meeting.)

All in a day's work for Michelle. She still considers the work she does fun. Kind of like, oh I don't know ... Stephen King.

How We Organized a Conference
or, The Roadwork Crew Takes Us to Bangor

Late in 1996, the cohesive nature of SKEMERs suggested a further step: an actual all-group meeting. The idea had been bandied about before, but never with any real follow-through plans. Now, however, the group had reached an age when such things were possible. Enlisting the help of Jan Parr, et al (termed The Roadwork Crew), SKEMERs began to plan. Where would such a meeting take place? And when?

A burst of genius suggested there was only one place: Bangor, Maine, Stephen King's hometown. After some bantering, the date was also set: The weekend of August 9th -- the high point of Maine summer.

Several of us worked out activities. There would be an It tour (visiting all the spots that that novel made famous: The Paul Bunyon statue, the Standpipe, and, of course, The Barrens), a "Drawing of the Three ... and Then Some" contest run by Rich DeMars, as a chance for all conference-goers to win rare King merchandise for the low low low entry fee of $5 per person. Meg organized the printing of SKEMERs T-shirts (complete with the logo you see on the top of this page). And Betts Bookstore offered to give SKEMERs discounts on merchandise.

Perhaps the biggest thrill is having the opportunity to meet and attend a book signing with one of our more famous SKEMERs, George Beahm. One of the best King critics (and one of the more avid fans; along with Stephen Spignesi's Stephen King Encyclopedia, Beahm's many King books make up the canon of most knowledgeable and accessible books on Mr. King.)

After nearly two years, the group SKEMERs would finally be able to meet. And from what this historian can see, it's gonna be a blast! (Full Bangor coverage by me will show up sometime after the conference.)

How We Added Another Chapter
or, Kev Is Forced at Gunpoint to Update

(April 1999)

After the con in 1997, everyone got what Michelle termed “Post-Conference Depression.” The phrase was apt: people who had been making friends over the internet for years had met, and now they would have to return home. For those who had family and friends who cared little about their King fascination, the leaving was sorrowful indeed.

Little did the conference-goers know, 1998 would be rife with King opportunities. In January of 1998, the YMCA in Bangor sponsored a benefit auction. Several auction items included signed King books and a dinner with Stephen King himself. An added attraction were rumors that King himself would be present. (These rumors didn’t play out, however; King had made an unbreakable commitment elsewhere and could not show. And I wore my nice suspenders and everything.)

The second best part of the evening came when two of our own won the Big Prize: Dinner with the King. The SKEMERs that were there (Kev Quigley, DiAnne Vandevender, Sarah Toll, Michele Ballard, Michelle Rein, Valerie Barnes and Marty [Marty, I always forget your last name]) cheered heartily, shaking up the stiff auction crowd. We were, as always, a force to be reckoned with.

The best part of the evening was when a nun and a priest got into a bidding war over some sports item. One of the funniest moments of my life.

Later on, at l’hotel, the girls dressed Kev up as The Unabomber. Kev, showing all sorts of dignity, immediately put the picture up on his web page. Ah, SKEMERs: a classy group.

A few months later, in May, King and the rest of the Rock Bottom Remainders performed in concert at the Bangor Auditorium. Here’s something you won’t find in the concert coverage:

George Beahm, King expert and super-smart guy, got in contact with me at home before my trip up to the Bangor. When I got to town, we checked in with each other and began to do some photo-shoots for his new book Stephen King Country. That was an odd, transcendent experience for me. Before ’97, I had known Beahm as a famous writer-guy who, through his books, helped me with some important essays in high school. In ’97, I got a little closer to him at the conference. But now, in May, ’98, running around muddy graveyards or eating a burger at McDonald’s with him, we stopped being awed fan and famous guy. George Beahm became my friend. You get a lot of that with SKEMERs.

SKEMERcon ’98 (the dictator, Michelle, didn’t want me to name it, but I am, and I have a big ol’ web site, so ha) just reaffirmed what we all discovered in ’97: get a bunch of SKEMERs together and you have a lot of fun. Picture a bunch of grown men and women running around the Bangor Standpipe at midnight, Kev Quigley carrying some of the girls piggy-back (Wolf, Wolf, right here & now!) Remember when we:

had the pool beer-guzzle? went into Friendly’s and no one would serve anyone else in the minivan except Rich cause he’s suave with the ladies? saw the Apt Pupil preview? stepped in dog poop? saw a sight to behold? didn’t eat at Holiday Inn? stuffed a dozen SKEMERs into a tiny hot tub? rode all over Bangor and Kev pointed out the “Shawshank Redemption Center?”

Later on, Bag of Bones was released, and we spent some time talking about that in the letter. Michelle had to bow out for awhile due to computer malfunctions and Brad and Kev took over for some time. We discovered certain subjects do not lend well to huge group discussions (including the infamous Pig Rental incident). And we lost some of our friends, dear SKEMERs Jan Parr and Pat Norling. We will miss you both; you will continue to live in our hearts.

How We Kept in Touch
or, Some Things to Tide You Over

Late in 1998, King’s signing tour for Bag of Bones was coming back full circle. King would be signing in Bangor, Maine, at Betts Bookstore in November, and the majority of the attendants would be SKEMERs. One of the greatest things about this group is that we get all the advance info about signings, book releases, etc. When you’re a SKEMER, you’re never gonna not know about an event. It’s just a question about choosing which ones to be a part of.

At some point after SKEMERcon ’98, several SKEMERs got the brilliant idea that one con a year is not enough. Sure, the signings were great but few and far between. Thus began the rein (ha!) of the Mini-Con. The first, cochaired by TexasLiz and Sarah Toll, took place over Halloween Weekend in California, and was a rousing success. There was a costume party (dead George Denbrough, Carrie White after the blood-drop, and a leafy Jordy Verrill topped out the evening) and lots of memorable experiences. I, however, don’t remember any of them cause I wasn’t there.

Later on came the Midwest (Mid-World?) mini-con, followed soon after by the Mini Phillycon. The minis became like stepping stones across a big lake: the smaller get togethers were there to tide you over until the big mega island of the Bangor Con. Talk surfaced of a 2004 Stanley Hotel con. A Vermont speech by King brought in a few SKEMERs in early ’99 (hi Chris and Val!) Throughout all this was the newsletter, the one thing that hasn’t changed. We now number in the thousands of members, but one thing hasn’t changed. The letter brought us together in the first place. The letter will never disappear.

Long Live SKEMERs!

How We're Doing Now
or, I'm a SKEMER and I Don't Have to Explain Myself!

Well, I actually believe I cleared a lot of the now up above. Some up-to-the-minute info, though.

We’re currently planning SKEMERcon ’99 (Michelle doesn’t think it has to be named, but I do and I’m the one with the web page so ha). The dates have yet to be chosen, but when they are you will see it here first. More minicons should be sprouting up soon, and we’re holding our collective breath for a Hearts in Atlantis signing in September.

On top of all this, our dictator Michelle is getting married in September 1999 to her fiancee Jim Revelle (same initials!). In honor of that, here goes:

One sits and reads a novel
and one stands outside the door
one listens to her beating heart
and one wants that heart more
one shakes the silence all away
and one wants to renew
so join us on this blessed day
when one and one are two

...more to come, someday...