What’s the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium?

Image: Gen Con Writer’s Symposium

For the past few years I’ve been taking part as a panelist at the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium. I find it to be a great deal of fun, and I always learn a lot from the other writers who are there. But it seems to be one of the best kept secrets in the science fiction and fantasy writing community. I thought I would ask fifteen year Gen Con veteran and past Writer’s Symposium Guest of Honor Anton Strout what he thinks of the Writer’s Symposium, and what he thought other folks could glean from the experience.

GeekMom Mel: So, slacker, I hear you are returning to the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium this year, after a 2-year absence.

Anton Strout: Yes, after my stint as Author Guest of Honor, someone thought it would be fun to have twins, which threw off my con attending as well as my book deadlines for a year or so. Funny how two needy little globs of globby cuteness can do that to you. I think I’m ahead of curve, however, because, I am back, baby!

GMM: How did you first hear about the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con? What made you decide to give it a shot?

AS: As a kid I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and in the back of Dragon Magazine there were always ads for Gen Con, a faraway nerd Mecca in the mystical land of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I dreamed of going, but hey, I was twelve and that wasn’t going to be happening. Cut to the mid 90s and internet times. I was in my mid-twenties and not playing D&D as much as I’d like anymore, but a friend of mine and I looked up Gen Con to see it was still going strong, so off to Mecca we went! I came for the gaming, but caught a few writing seminars going on, and after my first year there, I sold a short story to the Symposium’s then director Jean Rabe. The next year I was published and I wanted to give back as good as I got and spent the next decade or so paying it forward.

Photo: Anton Strout
Photo: Anton Strout

GMM: You are an established author with several books under your belt. A lot of people look at writers’ workshops and think they are just for newbies. What can a published author get out of an event like this?

AS: I don’t care what level you are in the writing game at: professional to wannabe, there’s always something to learn and the workshops at Gen Con are no exception. As a writer you’re always adding things to your toolbox when it comes to getting your book down, and I’ve learned from pros and newbies alike… both what to do and what not to do. Becoming a better writer is an ongoing process with no end in sight. I’ll go sit in on panels sometimes just to validate my own process or just to recharge my own writerly batteries. It’s always good to touch base with your own kind.

GMM: After going to this event for a couple years, I have witnessed (and taken part in, but let’s not go there) some crazy stuff happening behind the scenes and after hours. What is your favorite Gen Con story (you can give aliases to protect the…well, not-so-innocent)?

AS: One of my favorite evening events that happens is an all participatory roundtable reading of perhaps the most singularly awful piece of fantasy ever, The Eye of Argon. It will burn your eyes, nay, it will burn your soul. The contest of it is to get through reading a page outloud without cracking up, and the “winner” is chosen from the pool of people who do not crack. Not laughing is harder than you think. I am proud to say I won a signed by all participants print copy of Argon after delivering my reading as Christopher Walken. Video tape exists of it, but I haven’t come across it yet. Which is probably for the best…

GMM: I keep hearing people say, “Oh, Gen Con has a writers’ track?” I think you and I would agree that the Symposium is pretty fantastic–in fact, it is the first con I schedule for the year, and I plan everything else around it. What makes this event so great, in your opinion?

AS: Gen Con is a perfect blend of gamers, game designers, fantasy lovers, and writers. There is a passion in that crowd that has a lot of crossover, and the convention is still small enough that you get a fair amount of time to talk with working authors, socialize, or get your work read and critiqued. Jean Rabe really created a robust writer’s track, and when she passed the torch to Marc Tassin a few years ago, he built on her already solid foundation. There’s truly something for anyone who wants to write, be it for games or novels. Plus I’m there which is REALLY the draw of the show.

Image: Ace Books
Image: Ace Books

GMM: How have you directly benefited from the Writer’s Symposium?

AS: I think I owe much of my writing style to the wisdom I have picked up over the years both as an attendee and a panelist at Gen Con. Sold my first short story there. Then I sold my “Ben Franklin, Necromancer” story in the bar there. Have worked in over a dozen anthologies generated by Gen Con Symposium leaders… hell, they probably even helped me get my Simon Canderous series published. (No, they can NOT have a cut or all my author monies.)

GMM: Favorite Gen Con food truck?

AS: In my day we didn’t have no dang food trucks! I will say, however, that Indianapolis really gets into the swing of things. My concierge last trip was in full stormtrooper armor. Every bar or restaurant customizes their menus to fit the fantasy theme of the con, and it’s not just lip service. It’s all delicious, and you’ll find nerds on every hotel staff that are jazzed to have us there. Indy is a welcoming town. Fave food places: the Ruth Chris steakhouse, St. Elmo’s for their world famous shrimp cocktail, and the greasy spoon delight that is the Steak n’ Shake. Oh, and Palemino’s, which is a Symposium staple, really.

GMM: Any advice to newcomers of the convention, with the Writer’s Symposium or Gen Con as a whole?

AS: Remember, kids, soap and water are your friends. Use them daily. Twice daily, even….

Go through the programming online as soon as you can and start marking stuff down that you’d like to go to. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people lamenting they missed me speaking because they didn’t catch it in the program. Get it together early, try to take in as much as you can, chat up the authors and buy them many, many drinks, and leave the con exhausted. And if you see me, say hi before you buy me that drink!

Photo: Anton Strout
Photo: Anton Strout

Thank you, Anton Strout, for sharing your wisdom of Gen Con ages with us. Readers, want to learn more? Well, you can always catch up with Anton at Gen Con, attend his live recording of the Once and Future Podcast on July 30, 5-7 PM at the Writers Symposium, or visit him at his websites www.antonstrout.com and www.theonceandfuturepodcast.com!

About the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium:

The Gen Con Writer’s Symposium is one of the largest and fastest growing speculative fiction writing conferences in the world. It features over 140 hours of events, more than 80 authors and experts, and is set against the backdrop of Gen Con: The Best Four Days In Gaming!

Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available April 12, 2016.