I got back from my second GenCon last night. What a blast. Of all the many cons I go to (I’ve been to almost a dozen so far this year alone), GenCon is one of my absolute favorites, and is a con that I would attend even if I didn’t have professional reasons to be there.
First and foremost I’m a writer, so I’m going there because GenCon has a fantastic writing track for aspiring professionals. I love helping newer writers and I love meeting and hanging out with my peers. Most people think of GenCon as a gaming con, and it totally is the gaming con, but Marc Tassin does a fantastic job putting together one of the better writing tracks of any con in the business. Plus the panels tend to be dominated by people who actually write for money as opposed to college guest lecturers.
Second, I’m a mini painter and gamer nerd, so I go for the LOOT. GenCon is where you go to get all the cool new stuff, RPG books that just came out, and minis, so many glorious minis. I dropped $500 before my first panel on the first day. All mini painters know that you can’t die if you still have unpainted minis, so at this point I’m functionally immortal.
Third, actual gaming. Is there a game you want to try out? Then it is there and they’re probably doing a demo. There are games going on everywhere. I stayed up way too late every night because I was playing something. The first night one of my Baen editors ran a Pathfinder game. Then I got to participate in a Gallant play test with the guys from Dungeon Crawlers Radio. I demoed the X-Com board game, and then ended up watching a few other games just to see how they work. I wandered the Warmachine Iron Arena a few times just to look at the paint jobs. Basically there are games going on all over the place, and you can get in on them really easily.
GenCon has a really fun, goofy atmosphere. You are surrounded by 50,000 nerds gleefully enjoying themselves. If DragonCon is geek Mardi-Gras then GenCon is geek World Cup.
My publishing house has become a GenCon sponsor, and this year we presented the first annual Baen Fantasy Award. Our three finalists were all there, and I’m happy to say that in addition to being talented story tellers, they’re also really cool in person. I got to talk to each of them a bit about their work, and how that was one damned hard contest to judge. I only read the 15 finalists, but all of them were really good.
I signed, I’m not kidding, like five or six hundred books over the last few days. Most of those were just in the halls as I bumped into people, or when I would show up early for one of my panels and I’d just walk down the line and end up talking to folks. My official book signing was excellent, but I felt stupid because I thought I had a normal sized line and didn’t realize that the line went around the corner and down the hall a bit, so there I was just casually shooting the bull and taking my time without realizing others were patiently waiting. I found out later that Baen had given a literal ton of books to the con to give away in swag bags. And I’m not misusing the word literally. Baen gave out something like 1,500 books to the attendees.
I think it is a measure of a writer’s success how often they get stopped in the halls as they try to walk anywhere. It probably helps that I’m several inches taller than everybody else in the crowd and I look like James Gandolfini so I’m easy to spot, but anytime I walked anywhere I bumped into fans, many of whom didn’t even know that GenCon had a writing track because they were just there to game. So that’s a boost to the old self esteem.
Until you try to walk to lunch with Jim Butcher, and see that he gets stopped probably six or seven times for each time I was (hmm… that ratio is probably proportionate to our book sales too!). It takes half an hour for him to walk anywhere because of his legions of adoring fans, and he’s not even 6’5” so is easier to miss. Yes, I finally got to meet Butcher in person, and he is honestly one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. If anybody in this business had an excuse to have a big head, it would be him, but he’s just plain cool.
I was on like eleven panels and enjoyed all of them. The Larry Show (i.e. How to Write Action Scenes) was packed. I’d lost my notes, but I managed to talk for an hour straight on the topic without repeating myself, which tells you how much I like to babble about writing action scenes.
The volunteers who moderated and controlled the crowds were excellent. Good work, ladies. The writing track volunteers rocked.
You start to get con fatigue after a bit, and on Saturday I had 4 panels in a row. I met one of the other panelists, he introduced himself as Bill Willingham, and my tired brain didn’t make the connection to the Fables comic books. D’oh! Great guy. Ended up talking to him for a bit and it turns out that he’s also very familiar with the illustrious Hugo process.
My favorite panel moment was on the magic and technology in urban fantasy panel. I was over on the left, sitting next to an author named Maurice Broaddus. I’ve not read his stuff yet, but excellent pitch, putting the urban in urban fantasy, with Arthurian legend meets The Wire. The moderator asked him about how technology and magic interacted in his books. Maurice said that his characters were poor, so there wasn’t a lot of tech, cell phones at most, and besides “what are they going to do, text themselves out of trouble?”
And I was sitting there and thought out loud, “Oooooh… Tweetomancy!”
The authors all groan, because this is simultaneously incredibly stupid yet imminently writable, and Jim Butcher shouts, “Damn it, Correia!” and threw a cup at me from the far end of the table. So if Harry Dresden ever types #fireball to save the day, you’re welcome.
There were several authors that were there who I didn’t get to meet, but that’s the nature of a big chaotic event. Ed Greenwood and Bob Salvatore were both there, and I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, but I never crossed paths with either. Hugh Howey was there, and I’ve never read any of his books, but I wanted to shake his hand for all the fantastic work he’s done on behalf of indy authors.
There’s a game called Gallant coming out next year which is going to be Kickstartered, and when it releases I’m going to plug the hell out of it. I was in a beta test for it one night (second time I’ve tried it) and it has one of the coolest combat systems I’ve seen in a game. It is one of those looks confusing at first glance, but then you try it once and you’re like holy
crap, how come nobody has done this before? Very innovative and fun, set in a Grimm’s fairytale crossed with dark King Arthur setting. Plus I played my character like I was Danny Trejo, down to the Lady of the Lake tattooed on my chest, and most of my lines were stolen from Machete.
As a mini painter, I always feel like talented until I go to GenCon and see the really good painter’s work. Many of the studio guys will be there at the booths painting and will give advice. Okay, that doesn’t sound like much to the rest of you, but to the painters that’s pretty damned cool. Same with sculptors too, if you’re one of those people who thought painting tiny little things wasn’t challenging enough.
I’m in a golden spot as a writer in that I’ve got more work than I know what to do with. Because I’m successful on my own, and I also fly my gamer flag high, I get a lot of offers from different companies to write stuff for them. Problem is, I’ve got 14 more books under contract right now to write. Yes, it is a good problem to have. You’ve got to understand, in this business having more than a handful of books under contract at a time is pretty damned rare, but on the down side I grew up on a farm, and the idea of turning down paying work is alien to my workaholic self, but on most offers I have to say no, on others I have to ponder on it to see if I can make them work, but then there are some offers that are such freaking crazy awesome ridiculous opportunities that I’ve got to squeeze them in no matter what. I can’t give specifics, but let’s just say that this was a very productive and lucrative convention for me.
So you can see why when presented with the choice between spending thousands of dollars to fly to London to hang out with people who want me to die in a fire for three days, I stuck with my original plan of going to Indiana where I’d get loot, have fans, have game companies try to give me money, and actually have fun. .. .
If you are a gamer of any kind, a writer, or you just want to hang out with 50,000 cool people you really should check out GenCon.