For writers, a ‘con within a con’ at the Gen Con Writers Symposium

Posted by on Jul 17, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 0 comments

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One of the disadvantages to being at the end of the continent is that you have to be more selective about which cons you can go. I get one shot a year, so it has to pack in as much as possible. Fortunately, Gen Con fits the bill on the gaming end as well as the writing end. It feels like a secret that one of the largest genre-related writing conferences is part of the Con. Almost a ‘con within a con’. If you’re a gamer and a genre writer, there really is no better value. This year will be the 19th Gen Con Writer’s Symposium and my third as an attendee.

I think the thing that keeps me coming back is the degree of access you have to well-known, published authors. At workshops and question and answer sessions, this year you’ll run into Mercedes Lackey, Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss as well as rising authors like Saladin Ahmed and Brad Beaulieu.

My first year I went to Mike Stackpole‘s “21 days to a novel” seminar, which is what kicked my butt into gear and got me writing my first book (it took substantially longer than 21 days, however).

The following year, I spent almost the entire con at workshops, readings and seminars. I was hooked! This time around, I’ve dialed it back a notch, just so I don’t miss out on gaming, however I still have a full schedule.

I reached out to some of the writers who participate at this Gen Con event to get their impressions on what the Writer’s Symposium means to them.

If you’re an aspiring author, Symposium organizer Marc Tassin suggests checking out the 101 panels. These include seminars on writing, the business of writing and world building. He also suggests checking out the Quick Critiques to get a 10 minute feedback from a professional author on a short work.

All experience levels are represented though. “For experienced authors, I definitely recommend the Business of Writing track events on Friday. I’d also suggest they check out How to Give an Effective Reading [lead by Mary Robinette Kowal], as that should be a great seminar,” he said.

Mary said that her experience with radio theater and 20 years in puppetry are what helped her become such a great voice talent. “Suffice to say, I’ve always loved the spoken word, and audio books are like puppetry without the pain. I get to sit in a small box, and read a book aloud. Then someone gives me money. What’s not to love?”

She’s also looking forward to interacting with fans because, “seriously, it’s impossible to go to an event that’s not a fan event since we’re all in the genre because we love it. And people who are fans of my work? That’s giddily happy making.”

Fantasy author Brad Beaulieu has been attending Gen Con since around 1980. “It’s my favorite gaming convention, and now also one of my favorite writing conventions as well with the major popularity spike the Writers Symposium has been experiencing these past few years.”

Mike Stackpole has also been attending since 1980 and he actually ran workshops before the Symposium was organized. After Jean Rabe got it going, he found that he fit in well with the new program. During his workshops he says, “the one thing I love from any of them, and I see it all the time, is when the light goes on for someone. Right then you know you’ve made a difference in how they see themselves and writing, and that’s a great feeling.”

Monica Valentinelli is another long time member of the Symposium who loves to meet with readers. “For me, the entire Symposium is an ‘Oh, wow!’ moment, for the people attending (and the questions they ask) are a good litmus test of what’s happening in publishing at that time.” She finds Gen Con to be so rewarding because of the fans, who are often writers themselves.

Browncoats will be excited to know that Monica recently joined Margaret Weis Productions as the brand manager and lead writer for the Firefly RPG. They’re having a limited edition release in time for the con.

Brad will be part of a number of panels and workshops this year but, “I really get a kick out of sharing the words I’ve written, so [doing a reading is] probably what I’m most looking forward to this coming Gen Con.”

Outside of his readings and other events he said he’s interested in seeing Author Guest of Honor for 2013 Mercedes Lackey speak. “So many fans adore her and her writing. So I think I’m going to find some time to sit in on one or two of hers just to see what she’s like.”

Have dreams of being a character in a novel? You may want to track down first time attendee Wesley Chu, author of The Lives of Tao, who said he intends to have a, “’Tuckerize me, Wes’ list.”

Tuckerizing refers to naming a character in a novel after someone, usually a fan. “Who knows? You might make it on to The Rebirth of Tao!”

You may find him catching up with what’s happened with Magic over the past several years and meeting fans at his signings and readings. “Meeting fans kick ass. Not gonna lie,” he said.

To prepare for the workshops, Mike recommends that you, “bring a notebook. Take lots of notes. Ask lots of questions. Usually you can catch the teachers between sessions, so if something you heard Thursday needs clarification Friday, go for it.”

Brad suggests folks looking to improve their writing delve into their weaknesses. “If you can do that honestly, then you can tailor your panels to help address those needs, and I would strongly recommend you do.” Then when you return home, “write a short story or two that tackles your weaknesses. It’s not that big of an investment and it will pay all kinds of dividends in the future,” he said.

“To survive long-term, I feel that what matters most,” Monica said, “more than any publicity or marketing, is the work and what they want to get out of it. For that reason, I recommend attending a variety of panels and speakers to listen to a number of different perspectives.”

So, check the website, plan ahead because as Monica notes, “spaces fill up very quickly.”

This year there will be 120 hours of panels, workshops and readings, three-quarters of which are free to attend with a Gen Con badge. I hope you get a chance to take advantage of this experience, and also to see you at the Con!

Nathan HallNathan Hall is a writer living in South Florida. He’s busily pruning adjectives from his first novel while planning a second. He also enjoys home made bbq and gaming. You can follow him at his website: or on twitter @nmhall.

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