Member Spotlight: Zandera Sommers

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Author: Maibella Rhoiden, January 2016

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If you have been around TarValon.Net at all during the past year then you are sure to have seen Zandera Sommers more than once. She has been incredibly active and involved for a while now and her efforts have been noticed! In 2015 Zandera won an Amyrlin’s Award for Volunteer of the Year and Members Choice Awards for Friendliest Member and Most Welcoming Member.

Slade Winterheart describes her as “hard working, caring, and a teambuilder” while Naomi Sedai says she is a “devoted process-and-community builder who is passionate toward causes.” A visitor to the site described Zandera as “someone who doesn’t like salad.” When I think about Zandera I think of a person who is outgoing, friendly, excited, and super creative. Meeting her in person at Anni 2015, I was pleased to see that her online personality is very reflective of who she is in real life.

But what does Zandera think about herself? How would she describe herself? I asked Zandera these exact questions and she said, “The first feature that comes to mind that I feel defines me is that I’m a hardcore gamer. I’m glad people feel I work hard, but I wish I could just stay home and play video games all day. I strongly believe that there are more games already in the world than I could ever finish or exhaust in my lifetime, if I could just figure out how to collect them all and save up enough money to live on some remote island gaming all day. I also feel like ‘one of the guys’ a lot. I was a tomboy in my youth (and still am to some extent). I like shlucking around the local town, going to movies, and playing games with a crew of dudes. Calling me a ‘bro’ is one of the best compliments I can think of. Also don’t listen to the rumors--I do actually like salad… some salad. With lots of dressing.”

One of the first things I want to know when I meet a new person at TarValon.Net is how that person found the site. Zandera told me that she “joined on April 7, 2012 as a birthday gift from Kelgan al’Moranwin Sedai.” So the next time you see Kelgan Sedai be sure to blame thank him for bringing us Zandera.

The second thing I always wonder is how a person first discovered The Wheel of Time. Zandera shared how she had known about the Tower long before she ever thought to join it. She said, ”I met Naomi al’Moranwin Sedai in college. Naomi Sedai is one of the earliest members of TarValon.Net. I’m pretty sure she was a member way back when the site was still on Geocities. As such, she has been a diehard Wheel of Time fan for almost her whole life. She was very courteous not to shove her interests on me as we became friends, but just by hanging out with her all the time, I got to hear all about the Tower and her experiences with it. By the time I actually signed up for the Boards, I already had a lot of knowledge that really came in handy when first trying to fit in.”

I think Zandera and I first met in the Brandsworn thread, a thread that welcomes new members and provides a place for fun and friendship and lots of :waggle. I got to know her better when she became Mayor in August of 2014. That is where I first saw her amazing creativity shine through. As Mayor, Zandera took the Raising of a Citizen to a Novice or Recruit very seriously. She concocted individual stories for people as they were Raised, sometimes explaining how they came to the City of Tar Valon or their experiences as a Citizen. Her Raising stories were always a treat for me to read.

“I know many members who join the site can’t wait to become Aes Sedai or Gaidin. It’s not uncommon to see an excited new Citizen apply to the Tower as soon as possible. If you’ve already been a member for the Tower forever and a day, it’s easy to forget that this person--this new member--is feeling his or her excitement about the Tower for the very first time. Each new beginning is special, and it if can be managed, should be celebrated and given the attention it deserves.

“Fortunately, I have enough training in Communications to write a short story (also called ‘flavor’ or ‘flavor text’) about how a new member may have made his or her journey to the Tower. Each story is somehow reflective of either an inside joke, struggles in real life, or a metaphor of a situation in which the applicant has recently found themselves on the forums or elsewhere. I did not write stories for anyone I did not know well enough during their course of Citizenship. (If I know little about someone, it’s hard to write about them!) Also, I only felt comfortable writing for people whom I knew would not be offended by any flavor in their announcement post out of respect.

“I think it is also worth mentioning that these stories connect. In many cases they are sequels to flavor written in secret, limited-access forums where there are entire additional stories, or also part of the world created through the collection of storytelling performed for Welcoming Committee events. I also collaborated with others to write some of these stories. The best example is the story written by Elyss for her mother, Ashara. However there remains a band of secret volunteers to this day, known as the Bards of Tar Valon, who have also contributed to some of these stories and intend to continue writing beautiful gems for members in the future.”

Zandera was Mayor from August 2014 to December 2015. She has also served in other positions, specifically Integration Focus Group Member (May - September 2014) and Tar Valon Times Reporter (November 2012 - May 2015). At present is the Tar Valon Times Assistant Editor (since May 2015), and she is assisting the new Mayor in getting settled. I’m sure there are pros and cons to each of these jobs, but I wondered which was Zandera’s favorite and why.

“I began [guest] contributing to the Tar Valon Times in 2012 until Stephen Gaidin suggested I should join as an official staff. At the time I didn’t even realize I could. I was working toward becoming an editor at a book publishing house. Unfortunately, that dream did not come to fruition, but as a person and with my career, I wanted to write and edit a lot. I read that members were allowed to submit articles to the Tar Valon Times and did so. After it happened more than once, Stephen Gaidin, who was Editor in Chief at the time, suggested I just join the team. So I did.

“Writing articles as a Tar Valon Times Reporter has definitely been my favorite job so far. (Yes, even more than Mayoring!) In a community where we communicate primarily through text on the forums or in chat or text, it feels like the best way I can contribute to the awesome people around me and really speak everyone’s language. What better way can we celebrate our people, traditions, and connections than to write about them? I guess written and published word is sacred to me in some sense, and the desire to be a part of that process has stayed with me even as I changed the focus of my career.”

In real life, Zandera is a paralegal. Once she became dissatisfied with her struggles to become an editor, she moved to New England and started her career afresh, working as a legal secretary up through the ranks to commercial paralegal. Fortunately, many of the communications skills she had learned transferred well into the legal field, for which she was greatly relieved. She has expressed interest in one day becoming an attorney but is satisfied trying to become the best paralegal she can at the present time. Her better half is Slade Winterhart, whom she “technically met on the Boards” but claims the computer game League of Legends truly brought them together. If you ever want to learn more about her, I’m sure she’ll be happy to tell you. She didn’t get the friendliest member award for nothing! Though she warns: “Once you start getting me talking, I am not apt to stop, so just know what you’re getting yourself into.”

When asked if Zandera had any last words she’d like to share, she said, “A friend of mine really likes ‘fun facts,’ so I’d like to leave you with a fun fact to serve as food for thought:

“In the Introductions Forum, we frequently ask members questions about themselves to get them talking. One of the most commonly asked questions is ‘what is the significance of your name on the boards?’ What is the significance of Zandera Sommers’s name?

“Well to start with my first name, Zandera is the gaming handle I’ve used since I was a tiny girl. She is also the heroine of the fantastic and terrible story of my imagined alter ego as a girl. (Terrible because it was conceived by a pre-teen’s mind and made its way into paper notebooks in fragmented pieces with all the poor writing of my uneducated youth.) So it represents my gaming and also my love of fantasy and storytelling.

“My last name is Sommers. On a basic level, this is the counterpart to ‘Winterhart,’ the last name of my husband’s name on the Boards, though I had the last name long before I met him. The real story, which you may know, starts with the little fact that you cannot have a duplicate last name of another member unless you are related by blood in real life. However, if you are married, you may share the same name. When I joined, I wanted to have Naomi Sedai’s last name but was not allowed. Then we realized we could use her previous last name! When Naomi married Kelgan, she took his last Boards name and went from Naomi Sommers to Naomi al’Moranwin. I took her previous last name when I became a member because without her, I would never have become a member of our site, and I would sorely be missing the amazing journey that is TarValon.Net. I believe it is the German word for ‘summer.’”

Personally I’m fascinated by name stories so I’m very glad Zandera chose to share these name fun facts!

Thank you to Zandera for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know her a bit better. Be sure to say hi when you see her around the boards; she is, after all, our Friendliest Member of 2015!