It’s just a game…right?

I’m finally able to write up some of my impressions of Gen Con, now that I’ve had a chance to recover a bit and almost finish unpacking (though I’ve got some games left over I haven’t yet tried…ah, that new “just opened the box” smell still awaits. 🙂 ). Oddly I have a bit less to report on this year than last, simply because I actually got to see less of the convention because I was involved in more writing-related business…but I’m hardly going to complain about that state of affairs, of course.

We arrived on Wednesday evening and fell into bed almost immediately after checking in (and Senavene was a real trooper while traveling, by the way. The miracle called “portable DVD player” and “Sesame Street / Super Why / Word World ” is truly spectacular if you’re driving any sort of distance with a toddler, and Clea and I highly recommend it!). This was a good thing, as this was to be the most sleep I would get for the rest of the con–one of the less desirable side effects of a busy schedule, I’m afraid. But I managed to get up and to my first panel on Thursday–it, like all of the Writers’ Symposium panels, was well structured and moderated, and I think every panelist (and of course the inimitable Jean Rabe, who set all of this up) deserves credit. Happily the panels were pretty well attended too, and we got a lot of excellent questions in both the novel plotting and the opening lines panels (and having Pat Rothfuss moderate a panel is a kick, by the way–Pat and I share the same teaching background, and his comments about turning off cell phones and techniques of allowing pauses to grow uncomfortable enough that an audience member just had to jump in and ask a question were both familiar and amusing to me. It was kind of funny listening to him dance around the subject of his own opening line (which is “not rockstar,” according to him), but we all ended up spending a good deal of time discussing our work, which is really our favorite thing to do anyway. 😉 )

I finished up with a reading along with Brad Beaulieu, with whom I also shared a few panels on other days–good guy and interesting writer, and I was glad to have the chance to hang out with him. I got to spend time with a number of interesting people, actually, including some with whom I might be doing a small side writing project–all genuinely nice people and, naturally, friends of Paul Genesse, who knows everyone on earth. Seriously. If he could just channel those resources into a push for world domination, he’d be all set. He could start with Utah, right? Afterwards we hung out with friends Shoshanna, Jerad and his nephew Dustin, and got the chance to play some Citadels (which is a really excellent game I think I’ve mentioned here before. It’s still good!) before heading to bed.

It was more panels and a signing on Friday–I admit to showing up a few minutes late to the 8 a.m. “Wicked Queens and Evil Kings” panel, for which I was duly chastised by John Helfers (my editor for The Third Sign) and Dylan Birtolo, but still managed to contribute my fair share in the end. And I got a chance to throw out some unmitigated rage towards vanity presses in the “Big on the Small Press” panel–I hope the fire and brimstone convinced the fence-sitters to back away from the Publish Americas of the world, but who knows. I wrapped up the day with some exploration of the exhibit hall and a signing with Paul–fun as always on both counts. I even ran into Joshua David McClurg-Genevese, cover artist for The Third Sign–with the print of the cover right behind him, which was kind of cool too.

Saturday brought two more panels, the first on “The Writer’s Spirit” which was touchy-feely but a nice tribute to why we do what we do, and the second on “Hunting Dragons” where I spent most of the time thanking the heavens that I taught courses in fantasy and thus could sound vaguely intelligent on the subject next to a bunch of experts. I do have a lot of dragon-like creatures in my writing, I suppose, but still…not quite the same thing. Then it was off to True Dungeon, which I’m told went better for us than it had for my wife and friends the day before who died early and often. Here the worst we got was one of our party members turned into a duck, which was not as fowl as it might have been. (Yes, I really am very sorry. Really.) Then I headed off to my Read and Critique session, where we listened and made suggestions to six aspiring writers with very different styles–and despite my friends asking me why I was doing in the summer more of what I do during the school year (I thanked them for putting it in exactly that distressingly direct way, in case you’re wondering 🙂 ), I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even though I had to leave a bit early for childcare reasons. After baby was in bed we played one of our new acquisitions, Arcana, which was pronounced a complete success…even though we could only play it once, given how tired we were.

Sunday I headed off to my final two panels on writing markets and query letters while Clea somehow checked out of the hotel by herself (I have no idea how she was able to, nor why, but I appreciated it. I made it up to her by buying her a tiara and a Bee Mario from Super Mario Galaxy, which I thought was the perfect anniversary gift!)–then once more through the exhibit hall before meeting up with our friend Justin, whom we’ve known since college and is now a big time game designer and consultant. We got to demo his new game prototype, and yeah…it’s real good. I’d say more, but then he’d have to, well, do something to me which wouldn’t be good, so I’ll let it go at that. Finally we headed home–one motel stop, next day back on the road, met up with my friend Andrew in Pittsburgh, and finally got back to NYC in time to unload everything into the house and collapse into bed.

All told it was a great time, and Gen Con really gets a lot of this right–given how many thousands of people attend (it makes Worldcon look like an intimate family gathering) it’s amazing they can keep things as organized as they do. Things weren’t perfect; some of the scheduling seems odd, particularly the insistence on only keeping the exhibit hall open until 6 when so much else is going on during the day, and our hotel wasn’t a particularly shining example of customer service (still waiting for the phone call to tell us you’re sending back the CD we left there, guys. Any day now.), but overall this was great fun as always. And the panel appearances, and general conversations with fellow authors, editors and readers of all different kinds, were worth the price of admission by themselves. Now it’s all over for another year, but I actually am looking forward to a few weeks of normalcy before I’m off to the next reading. I should just about be caught up on sleep and packing by then…