What is the History of the Pens?
In the heyday of Sime~Gen fandom there were many options for getting one's work seen by other fans, but by the late 90's those options had all but vanished. The last remaining old school fanzine, Ambrov Zeor, folded in 1996 shortly before the fandom went online. A Companion in Zeor (CZ), another fanzine, was technically still in operation but had not put out an issue since 1994. Plans to bring out new issues of CZ on the Internet were painfully slow to coalesce. It was forbidden to post fiction to the simegen-l listserv that was the lifeblood of the fandom. About the only thing an author could do was privately email their work to their friends.
At the same time, a growing push for "professionalism" in official Sime~Gen fan fiction was creating a stifling atmosphere for fan writers. The intention was to foster quality and consistency by requiring fan authors to clear their outlines with the original authors, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, before writing and to edit the work to their spec as well. However, the many hoops to jump through and the sometimes harsh criticism of outlines and drafts by the JL's had the unintentional effect of frustrating many fan authors to a creative standstill.
During these same years, Sime~Gen fandom was becoming Sime~Gen Inc., demanding that all fans move their websites to Simegen.com or find themselves unlinked to and unacknowledged. Sime~Gen Inc. worked to associate itself with professional authors, to create a dividing line between pro and amateur authors within the fandom, and encouraged amateurs to "learn from the pros" and work to become published. It seemed there was no Sime~Gen in Sime~Gen fandom anymore, and no room for silliness, creativity for its own sake, or simple fannish exuberance.
The Secret Pens was originally conceived as a private venue for Sime~Gen fan fiction and other fan works that would foster and support fannish enthusiasm and creativity in all of its diverse and many-headed glory. The idea was bandied about among various friends in email and chat, but did not come to fruition until October of 1999 when the Pens website was founded by a combination of named and pseudonymous contributors. It was housed on an AOL account to which all contributors held the password. Select readers were invited on a word-of-mouth basis. Its existence was intended to be a secret but within days of its debut, one of the contributors had already spilled the beans to Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah. The Pens' existence became, therefore, an act of defiance. To this day the Secret Pens stands as an alternative to the official Sime~Gen fandom. It has its own domain name and runs on its own server. Its existence has not been officially recognized.
Since the Pens was founded, many positive changes have taken place on simegen-l and in the official fandom. Sime~Gen Inc. has its own mailing list now, reducing the burden of unrelated business talk on the fannish simegen-l. The JL's are willing to answer more questions about background and canon on the List. A Companion in Zeor (CZ) has posted online issues, including some applying retroactively to materials collected from the 1997-98 era, and has loosened its restrictions to allow the posting of serialized novels. And fans newly arrived to the fandom find plenty of opportunities for entertainment and participation.
Some of this may have happened anyway. We like to think it was triggered by the presence of genuine competition, and a little breathing room given for fans to rediscover their enthusiasm for Sime~Gen -- here on the Secret Pens!