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The Portal Closes: Looking Back @ GenCon

August 23rd, 2013

GenCon 2013 crowd 2Imagine 50,000 people packed into a single indoor space. Now add a 20-foot tall Cthulhu (made entirely of balloons), a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (in a top hat, no less), armies of warriors and monsters, and a roster of top sf and fantasy writers. Yes, it got crowded. But that’s GenCon.

Never mind that the Indiana Convention Center provides 500,000 square feet of sprawling indoor space. There were still times when I found it impossible to walk without bumping into someone or something.

And did I mention that there was also a motorcycle convention in town. Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up. I can only imagine what it must have seemed like to the residents of Indianapolis, seeing their city overrun with bikers and mythological beasts (there’s a high-concept Hollywood film in there somewhere). Indeed, it must have seemed as if a trans-dimensional portal had opened.

I was in town as part of the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, a large writing convention that coexists within the sprawling wonder of GenCon. Its panels, readings, and workshops often attract standing-room crowds, and the attending writers provide a fine cross-section of the field.

Larry Dixon and Matt O'DwyerThe Symposium kicked off with a Wednesday dinner, where I shared a table with writer Brandie Tarvin, editor W. H. Horner, and up-and-coming novelists Jeffery Brooks and Matthew O’Dwyer (both MFA candidates at Seton Hill University). Along the way, we were joined by Larry Dixon, who contributed to the digital effects on Lord of the Rings and collaborated with his wife Mercedes Lackey on a number of terrific fantasy novels.

the writing process according to Oscar WildeThe next morning W. H. Horner and I launched Fiction Fundamentals, three days of workshops covering the essentials of genre writing. The sessions explored writing as a process rather than a product, looking at how the experience of reading a novel (moving page-by-page from beginning to the conclusion) has little in common with the act of writing one. The graphic on the left illustrates this difference, showing how the manuscript for one of Oscar Wilde’s plays progressed circuitously from concept to finished work – passing through a series of handwritten and typing-pool drafts along the way.

I also did a couple of readings, one featuring selections from Visions and This Way to Egress, the other centering on an abridged version of “The Fourth Sign” from Paul Genesse’s The Crimson Pact. I did both readings from memory, a form of delivery that harkens back to the roots of storytelling (think Homer or the Beowulf poet).

The Crinson PactI particularly enjoyed presenting “The Fourth Sign.” It’s a rather subversive story, one that gradually removes the wall between reader and story. It opens with a few references to the reader’s world and builds from there, drawing the reader in until it becomes clear that he or she has been a character in the story all along, and that the act of reading the story (or attending the reading) is actually the story itself.

It was fun watching the audience as they sensed everything coming together, and having the story memorized helped me keep the performance in synch with their dawning realizations. You can read Paul Genesse review of the reading (and the convention) at his blog.

I also took part in panels on Steampunk (where Jennifer Brozek, Paul Genesse, and Sara Hans talked about ways in which Victorian-age science fiction can reflect 21st-century inclusivity) and Hard SF (where Wesley Chu and Jason Sanford urged beginning writers not to get bogged down doing research). I may go into more detail on these topics in future blogs, but right now I sense the portal is closing. I need to get out while I can.

Till next time, I’ll see you between the pages.

Scop on!

Image Credits:

GenCon Crowd by Mike Olson Spirit of the Blank.

Larry Dixon and Matt O’Dwyer by Lawrence C. Connolly.

The Writing Process According to Oscar Wilde by Lawrence C. Connolly.

Lawrence C. Connolly, Karen Bovenmyer, Paul Genesse, Patrick Tracy, Stephanie M. Lorée, and George Strayton at the Crimson Pact reading. Photo by Tammy Lyn Genesse.