Prose and Cons: A GenCon 2013 Report
Day One: Old Friends
The shuttle dropped us off at 8:03 a.m. The seminar started at 8:00. I walked into the convention center at the west end. The symposium was at the far east end.
I marched a city block, up an elevator and to the door of the seminar. I apologized to the ticket-taker for being late. He said it was fine and said I could go in and have a seat. That early in the morning the 200-seat room was less than a quarter full.
This was my introduction to GenCon.
My sister asked what GenCon stood for. I didn’t know but guessed it was named after the city of Lake Geneva – where once upon a time the company that created Dungeons & Dragons had their headquarters. The next day I discovered I was right! It WAS named after Lake Geneva.
GenCon is a gaming convention and features gaming industry creators, genre authors and artists, costumes, movies and classic and new games of every sort.
Role-playing, table-top, live-action, card games – even an arcade. They did not have Galaga. Thank god. If it did I would still be there. Ah, the fortunes I lost pumping quarters into that game in the early 1980s…
They had Ms. Pac-Man, too. I didn’t play that – it wouldn’t be the same without a pitcher of beer and a pizza waiting across the restaurant while “Freebird” blared from a jukebox.
41,000 people went to GenCon from August 15th through 18th this year.
Most of my first day was spent in this little room listening to writer’s symposiums. For the next three days I would listen to panels discuss career building, short fiction vs novels, creating characters, plots and storytelling, what is mystery, what is horror and what is adversity?
I learned so much and met some wonderful and friendly authors – all of them willing to share and discuss the craft with us amateurs (we amateurs … us … we …) . Some were tired (and probably hung over), but every one of them shared their experiences and gave advise. Not one was of the “that’s-MY-secret-and-I-don’t-want-the-competition” type! This is not the place for the sulking and brooding. It was a joy to attend and to meet all the wonderful, professional authors.
GenCon is not cheap and you need to go out of your way to save money. I went with some of my gamer friends. They had been there before, I had not.
We stayed at a motel near the airport – Bill (one of the gamer friends) had points to spend so the entire motel cost was free. For $50.00 we could drive to one of four pick-up points throughout the day and a bus would take us to the convention center. It had to combine some routes due to lower-than-expected participation so their schedule changed – the bus from the Wal-Mart on LaFayetteleft at 7:00, not 7:05. We made it on time that first day anyway…
But with combined routes it arrived at the convention hall at 8:00 instead of 7:40. This meant I was late for both of my 8:00 sessions on Thursday and Friday. But both days the ticket-taker welcomed me and said it was perfectly fine to go on in.
I hope the bus service did well enough to make money. It encourages me to want to return to the Con if there is an easy way to get there (shuttles ran from seven in the morning until three at night!). Since it costs the same as two days of parking downtown, if you are there for more than three days you’ve saved money. That is never a bad thing. More quarters for Galaga…
It is advised you take some food and drink. You don’t want to pass out from hunger in Hour Three of a four-hour game session. I was more practical – I did not want to spend five bucks for a bratwurst and three bucks for a bottle of Diet Coke. I loaded up on granola bars, peanuts, and bottled water. They had water fountains at the center, but the water was just colder than room temperature. If you wanted the cold stuff, either bring it yourself or shell out the coins.
I spend Day One in seminars and symposiums – from eight until five with one hour free at 11:00 and 1:00. I wish I wrote down all the authors and editors on the panels, but I didn’t think to do that until later in Day Two.
Pathfinder, the role-playing game company, gave away five of their fiction paperbacks at the end of each session to an attendee that “purchased” a ticket.
Most sessions were free and if there were seats available after all the ticket-holders went in, anyone could attend.
I won’t go into ALL the things I learned – editing your own work, speech tags, active-passive verb usage, self-publishing, maintaining professionalism, the vile adverb, dialogue usage, self-promotion and on and on. I hope you will see the results of my work as I get published haha!
At the end of each session they announced the winners of the paperback books. Attendees had to leave the room to re-queue, even if you were in that same room for the next session. I hoped I could just sit in the middle and stay there all day. Nope. I suppose it prevents some folks from staking their claim in the front row and staying there.
The ticket-taker was also the ringmaster – he walked in with a “5 Minutes Remaining” Sign, brought in the books (and presumably pulled the winners names from the ticket pool), organized the lines of participants and got coffee and drinks for the panelists. He had a few helpers but otherwise he did the leg-work for the entire 3-1/2 days.
The symposiums (writing, role-playing game design and artwork) were all in rooms whose hallways overlooked the entry to the exhibit hall and a game room (I say room – it was half a city-block long and filled with enough tables and chairs for thousands of gamers). At 9:45Thursday, they had opening ceremonies – a band, a speaker, and thousands of people talking and cheering. I do not have the best hearing even in a quiet room – twenty years of rock music and a screechy toddler have seen to that. I could barely hear what was being said – and the panelists had microphones! Fortunately, the ticket-taker closed the session room doors thereafter. Thank goodness.
On my way to the 8:00 symposium that first day I waited for the elevator to the second floor. Later I realized it was quicker to walk down the hall to the escalator. But for now I waited for the car with three custodians. One of them, taller than me, asked, “Michael? You don’t remember me, do you? We went to school together.”
He was taller than me, heavy-set and African-American. “Donnie?”
By now we were in to the elevator, “No, man, I’m just kidding.” We laughed.
“You could have been Donnie, it’s been thirty years…”
I was not interested in any of the 11:00writer’s sessions so I went down the escalator to the Exhibit Hall.
The Exhibit Hall contained hawkers of role-playing and board games, books, clothing, DVDs, artwork, booksellers and publishers. The larger companies – Paizo, Fantasy Flight and Mayfair among others – had rows of tables with games set up for one-hour play exhibits. If they had room, you could sit and play for free. If it piqued your interest, you could pay for a full session in one of the gaming rooms. Of course, you could buy the game, take it home and play all you want. The game is available in our kiosk for only …
I entered one end and hugged the wall. At the far end a yellow banner read “Clearance Books” – ah! I must check that out at my 1:00break.
A booth sold game dice – several did, this was the first one I saw – and I bought a set of polyhedron of my own. This was one of my four goals for the Con.
If you don’t know what polyhedron dice are … BOY are you reading the wrong blog. Dice aren’t just six-sided squares anymore – there are also dice with four sides, eight, ten, twelve, twenty and even thirty and one hundred. I need more dice like I need more blood sugar, but it is GenCon. I HAD to have a set of dice from GenCon. I asked the salesman if I could get my money back if these things roll crappy. “I’m just kidding, thanks.” He laughed and bid me a good day.
There were dice specifically packaged from GenCon, but they looked like ordinary dice in a GenCon box. Meh… If they had GenCon 2013 etched on them I’d be interested.
A few booths later I saw a vendor selling large-sized dice. I bought a 20-sider and percentile dice each the size of a golf ball for my daughter to have. Will this help her leave MY dice alone? Of course not. But these ARE hers. They were purple – her favorite color. Goal Two was complete.
At the back of the Exhibit Hall I checked the time on my cell phone. It was 11:30. My next writing panel started in thirty minutes.
I realized I was in front of the Guest of Honor autograph booth. Twenty feet away from me at the end of a common-feeder bank-like line maze was Peter Davidson and Walter Koenig signing autographs and posing for photos. There were ten people in line. I was eleventh.
I asked an usher if I could get both to sign autographs or did I have to re-queue? She said to tell the main usher I wanted both and he would take care of me. He asked the first four people in the line “Davidson? Davidson?” and a few raised their hands.
“Koenig? Who’s here for Walter Koenig?” The rest raised their hands.
When it was my turn I asked, “Both?”
“Okay, you’ll get the next one that’s free and then come back here to me and you’ll be next when the other one’s free.”
He waved me to Peter Davidson. I knew him as Tristen Farnon from “All Creatures Great and Small” in 1979. My mother loved that show. A few years later he was the fifth actor to play Dr. Who (oh shut up you Cushing completists – you know what I mean). While he signed a photo for another attendee I talked to his assistant. “Can I get him to sign two photos (they had a stack of several photos I could choose)?”
“Yes, of course.”
I shook Davidson’s hand and told him how much I enjoyed his work at Tristen and the Doctor.
“Thank you.” He autographed the photos, one for me, one for my sister (Goal Three).
“I especially enjoy your commentary on the Doctor Who DVDs, they are wonderful to hear and your sense of humor really came through.”
“At first they didn’t want us to do it. All we did was giggle and make fun of the other actors. But the fans loved it so they kept it.”
I said I wished I could have seen him in Spamalot. I saw a production in St. Louis and I knew he was a Python fan from his DVD comments.
“Oh yes, it was tremendous fun, I was glad to be part of it.”
An usher dressed as the Brigadier took our photo and I shook Davidson’s hand again and thanked him.
I went back to the usher and some seconds later I was face to face with Walter Koenig.
Chekov from Star Trek (the original show) and Bester from Babylon5, a show I have never seen (no comments! Just get over it!). He also had roles in Mannix, the Virginian, Columbo, all kinds of great 70s shows.
I hope he was feeling well. He looked feeble. He was hunched and spoke in a whisper. I thanked him for his great work and I appreciated his signing my photo (he also had several prints available to sign). “Thank you, sure…” To be frank, it was disappointing compared to the energy of Davidson. But Koenig was pleasant and appreciative and I was thrilled to meet him! Walter Koenig!! Maybe he was sick; maybe that is just his way… that’s okay. Walter Koenig! My first Star Trek star! Heehee!
His assistant took our picture. He looked perky and energetic in the photo.
Goal Four. I was done! If I had to go home right now … I’d be happy!
Happier than I was a 5:00. All my symposiums, sessions and panels were done. I called my sister. She was to pick me up for dinner and take me to the motel.
She was sick that morning, could we have dinner tomorrow night?
Of course, I said. No worries, you just get some sleep and feel better. Big brother loves you!
I called Bill. He gave me a key to his van, so I told him I will take the bus to the Wal-Mart and drive to the motel. When he gets on the bus, call me and I will pick him up.
I still don’t quite know what happened, but that afternoon Bill went back to the motel and had to take a taxi in to the convention center. He signed up for a game at seven. There was no van to drive back from the drop-off point.
Lisa, the other gamer who drove to the Con with her daughter and a mutual friend Anna, wasn’t done until 9:00 that night. I wasn’t going to wait that long.
The bus dropped me and others at the far end of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I called a taxi from the nearby Staples which took fifteen minutes to get there. It was such a beautiful sunny day I didn’t mind waiting outside. The next morning my head, face and arms were sunburned as I waited for the taxi.
Am I the only person who goes to GenCon and get a tan?
The taxi drove to the motel; I ate a gyro at a nearby restaurant, walked back to the motel and went to bed.
Bill came in just before mid-night. He woke me but I fell back asleep quickly.
And the evening and the morning were the first day…
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry