GENCON 2011 – 7 days and a wakeup

Yes, GenCon is on its way. For the last several years, GenCon for me has been synonymous with The Writer’s Symposium – otherwise known as the four-day writer’s bootcamp convention hidden inside a gaming convention.

If you look at my “appearances” calendar in the sidebar, you’ll see I’m on a scadload of panels – but (with the exception of Thursday afternoon) I’ll be in the general vicinity, often at another panel. If you’re going to be at GenCon and wanted to pick my brain, toss me an e-mail and we’ll schedule a time.

And again, let me tell you the same things I’ve been saying at other cons:  If you want to talk to a writer, either schedule time with them (offering to buy food and beverages helps) or go to their readings.  Seriously.

And if you’re wondering if there’s really THAT much programming… well, let me give you the entire Symposium Schedule:

8 a.m.
Pick Our Brains: We’re early risers. If you are too, come get a jump on the Writer’s Symposium activities and have a chat about this and that. From publishing and writing to the weather in Chicago and vampires in Toledo, we’ll cover whatever strikes your and our proverbial fancy. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller, and horror authors Donald J. Bingle, Maurice Broaddus, and Elizabeth Vaughan

Reality in Fantasy: How much does armor really weigh? How fast can a horse run? How far can a longbow shoot? Why is it important to know these things, and how do you use them without letting reality get in the way of a great story? Learn to make your writing feel “real” even when you’re penning a fantasy story.

9 a.m.
Writing Your First Novel: No more excuses! It’s time to write that novel you keep talking about! But what does it take to move the story from your imagination to the page? Our panelists have been over that proverbial hump and are willing to give you a nudge.

Fantastic Females: Dynamic women should rule the pages of your manuscript . . . not the mousy types waiting to be tied to a railroad track. Our panelists discuss how to avoid weak clichés and over-used stereotypes, and how to craft strong, interesting ladies that advance your story.

10 a.m.
Selling Short Fiction: Selling short fiction can be a long road, especially in a marketplace with dwindling print anthologies and falling magazine sales. But short fiction is still an art worth pursuing. Our panelists discuss markets, techniques, and how penning short stories can improve your chances of publishing novels.

Plot a Novel in One Hour: You can do it! Devise a storyline that’ll take your cast of characters from prologue to epilogue and do it in just one hour! We’ll show you how, in a mere hour, you can come up with a rich plot that you can flesh out into an outline and then a novel.

11 a.m.
To Plot or Not: Is it better to write by the proverbial seat of your pants or to painstakingly outline each chapter? Both approaches to writing novels, short stories, and game material work, but is one method better? Our panelists discuss the pros and cons of plotting in advance.

The Buddy System—How to Collaborate Without Killing Your Co-Author: Some say a co-authorship is twice the work for half the credit and pay. Others say having a writing partner produces better material and makes the task more enjoyable. We’ll look at how to successfully approach a co-author project—whether a novel or game material.

Reading: Paul Genesse and Patrick Tomlinson whisk you away to lands of wonder and mystery as they read some of their latest writings. It’s the best lunchtime entertainment at Gen Con, and you can’t beat the price.

You Slay Me: Hang ‘em. Poison ‘em. Blow ‘em up. Slice ‘em to ribbons. Or just run ‘em over with a train. Our panelists discuss methods for killing characters—heroes and villains alike. They’ll cover how to time a death scene right, how to give the death meaning, what details to leave in and out, and how to decide which ones should “bite the dust.”

1 p.m.
How Not to Get Published: Writers often commit errors that thwart their chances for success and send them down a dead end rather than along the road to publication. Our panelists discuss mistakes writers make and what you can do to increase your chances of catching an editor’s eye.

Tackling Writer’s Block: Have you faced a malevolent force that prevents you from finishing your manuscript? How can you defeat the dark power that keeps your fingers motionless on the keyboard and your brain in neutral? Our panelists have battled this dreaded demon, and they’ll teach you how to best it!

2 p.m.
I’ve Finished My Novel, Now What . . .: What do you do with your finished novel? Approach an agent? A publisher? Put it on your shelf and admire the stack of papers? Start on the rewrite? We’ll look at the next steps, including how to delve into your second manuscript. After all, the true test of an author is not stopping after the first book.

Roleplaying Games Make Better Writers: It’s often said, “Don’t let the reader hear dice rolling in your fiction.” Roleplaying games make you a better storyteller, help you create balanced, detailed characters, and provide wonderful inspiration, but too much “game” in your fiction can lead to disaster. Our panelists help you figure out where to draw the line.

3 p.m.
Stealing One Hour of Anton Strout’s Life: Gen Con’s author guest of honor, Anton Strout, will wax eloquent, field questions, and discuss his urban fantasy novels and upcoming projects. Interviewed by Elizabeth Vaughan.

Writing RPG Short Stories and Novels: The fiction that springs from games frequently ends up on bestsellers lists. Our panelists discuss the highs and lows of writing game-related fiction and offer tips for breaking into the market.

4 p.m.
The Rules of Writing: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole presents the Rules of Writing. These are the insider tips and tricks that you’d pick up in the first five years of your writing career, all presented here in an hour. Gleaned from personal experience and the experience of writers dating back to the 1930s, these tricks will cut three years out of your development as a writer.

Pick Our Brains: We’ve written short stories, novels, roleplaying game material, comic books, and more. Now, we’re ready to share our publishing secrets with you! You lead the discussion in this “anything goes” panel. Come pick our brains . . . if you dare!

5 p.m.
21 Days to a Novel: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole presents his three week program for preparing yourself to write a novel. This set of 21 exercises is broken down to give you everything from character creation to world building, practical plotting devices, dialog development and character voice creation tools. This program is a practical kick-in-the-seat-of-the-pants place to start your career.

Reading: Brad Beaulieu and Dave Gross provide dinner theater at its finest when they read to you from their latest works. Grab some food and bring it down for an amazing hour of free entertainment.

6 p.m.
Read and Critique: Have your prose critiqued by professionals.  Presenters will have three to five minutes to read their material. They will receive verbal critiques based on the “critique sandwich” method. Attendance is limited to those being critiqued. Pre-registration is required.

Reading: Elizabeth Vaughan and Stephen D. Sullivan whisk you away to distant worlds when they read excerpts from their favorite new projects. Grab some food and come on down for an hour of great entertainment.

8 a.m.
The Name Game: A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but a book title? You better have something with punch so the reader will pluck it off the shelf. And a title with zing can entice an editor or slush reader to give your story a look. A good name can also make your heroes and villains memorable and help define their character. We discuss the fine are of naming.

The Sword is Mightier: A rousing sword fight can get the reader churning through the pages of your book. But you better know how to make it feel real. Our master wordsmiths share their expertise in writing the good fight.

9 a.m.
Why Your Book Needs an Invisible Orangutan: Or a talking cat, schizophrenic robot, mind-reading halberd, god-touched skateboard . . . or an undead alien haunting your protagonist’s wine cellar. When is it a good idea to use a bizarre entity as a character or plot device in your fiction? How can a sentient sword enhance your story without making it too unbelievable or ridiculous? Our panelists offer techniques for making the absurd fit right in.

Big on the Small Press: Writers can find big opportunities to break into publishing through the small press. Learn where to go, and what it takes, to make it big in small press. Our panelists include small press publishers, editors, and writers.

10 a.m.
Urban Fantasy: The genre’s still hot, and bookstores continue to make shelf space for sky rise-dwelling vampires, private detective zombies, and Manhattanite trolls. Our panelists discuss what elements make a fantasy urban, the market for it, and tips for finding your way inside.

The “Novel” Approach to Editing: Finishing your novel isn’t enough. Now you have to edit it—polishing off the rough edges so it’s nice and shiny before you fire it off to an editor or agent. We’re “old hat” at putting the finishing touches on manuscripts, and we’re ready to dish out our sage advice.

11 a.m.
Make ‘em Squirm: Bubonic Plague? That good ol’ Spanish Inquisition? Parasites, gruesome deaths, depravity, torture, pandemics, psychopaths, cannibalistic cults . . . and those are just for starters. Our panelists discuss plot devices intended to make readers squirm. Just how uncomfortable can you make it to turn the pages? Are there lines you shouldn’t cross? Is anything off limits?

Villains as Heroes: Can your main character be something far less than a knight in shining armor? There’s something alluring about a “bad boy,” and if carefully executed, you can make the star of your tale downright dirty. We provide insight into how to handle the anti-protagonist. 

Reading: Steven Saus and Marc Tassin bring their stories to life at this afternoon reading. Bring your lunch and enjoy an hour of mystery, adventure, and excitement in a picnic for the mind.

Fictional Food: Real spacemen don’t eat grilled cheese! Little details help make your fiction real and add depth to your characters. Fictional food can also reveal important information about the climate and culture you are crafting. Learn how to make up food and diets that are exotic but still believable.

1 p.m.
The Structure of Scenes: Well structured scenes make for compelling story telling. How can you construct powerful scenes for a novel or short story? And how do you string scenes together to create a vivid and stirring piece of writing? Learn everything you need to know about the art of structuring scenes.

Love Between the Sheets (of paper): Chaste or steamy, romance can help drive your story, enrich your plot, and make your characters more complex. But writing an effective romance is a challenge. And just how far should you . . . or your characters . . . go?

2 p.m.
Resourceful Writers: Writing is largely a solitary endeavor, but there’s a world of resources, organizations, and web sites to keep you company. Our panelists discuss some of their favorite resources . . . places they turn to when looking for literary guidance.

Sharing Worlds and Work for Hire: For many authors, “shared world” fiction is their ticket into the publishing world. Work-for-hire projects can even land you on bestsellers’ lists. How do you find the work? Just what constitutes work-for-hire? And what are the good, bad, and ugly aspects of it?

3 p.m.
Taking Aim: Writing Military Fiction: It takes work and research to get it right, but the rewards can be well-crafted tales that propel you onto the bookshelves. Moderator Bill Fawcett has best-selling military-books under his proverbial belt. Come and learn from an expert.

Sword and Sorcery: It’s alive and well on the bookstore shelves, but sword and sorcery has evolved through the decades. What makes a modern sword and sorcery tale sing? What can you do to make your book fit into the genre without being clichéd or “old hat?” And who’s publishing sword and sorcery today?

4 p.m.
Writing a Successful Series: Series and serial presentations have, since the dawn of storytelling, dominated entertainment. New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole guides you through the intricacies of designing a series from the ground up, with special emphasis on techniques designed to maximize in the new era betokened by digital publishing. E also discusses ways to build mysteries and suspense into your work, to keep readers coming back again and again.

Pick Our Brains: We’ve been in the business a while, have lots of novels and short stories to our credit, and we specialize in fantasy and science fiction. Spend an hour chatting with us and we’ll share some of our coveted “trade secrets.” Matt Forbeck, Tobias Buckell, Wes Nicholson

5 p.m.
Plotting: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole unravels the mysteries of creating compelling plots. A novel is a huge undertaking, written over weeks or months, and the plot has to hold it all together. From creating an outline to maintaining flexibility, this seminar gives you the insider knowledge that will separate you from all of your peers.

Reading: Donald J. Bingle and Tobias Buckell transport you with their magical prose in an hour of readings. Bring your meal and kick back for some of the best dinner entertainment at the con.

6 p.m.
Read and Critique: Have your prose critiqued by professionals.  Presenters will have three to five minutes to read their material. They will receive verbal critiques based on the “critique sandwich” method. Attendance is limited to those being critiqued. Pre-registration is required.

Write and Critique: You’ve been to our workshops and seminars, listened to our august advice, and taken copious notes. Now try to apply it! We’ll give you an assignment, a little time to complete it, and critique your efforts. Attendance is limited, and pre-registration is required.

8 a.m.
Writing Right—Dialog and Dialects: Whatchu wanna learn ‘bout writing conversations? There’s a right method for capturing dialects and slang without making your readers strain their brains in an effort to fathom what you mean. Learn the techniques for adding flavor and a smidgen of grammatical incorrectness.

Setting as Character: Where you set your tale can be as important as the characters you populate it with. Crafting a vivid setting that is integral to your plot is an art. Our panelists will discuss how they paint their backdrops and offer suggestions about how you can bring your own settings to life.

9 a.m.
Worldbuilding—Geography: A fantasy tale is made more believable when the world it is set in is well thought out and has a measure of logic. Our worldbuilding experts share their techniques for engineering countries—and even entire planets—that will make your story breathe.

Thinking in Threes—Approaching the Trilogy: Writing three books is more work than one, but it goes beyond the mere output of words. Approaching a three-book arc takes a different approach to plotting and research. In a trilogy, the bar is raised by your publisher and readers. We’ll show you how to reach it.

10 a.m.
Worldbuilding, Gods, and Magic: Crafting religions can be divine! Fabricating magic systems can be downright enchanting! It takes a significant amount of work and thought to put together the arcane aspects of a fantasy setting. Our veteran worldbuilders guide you through it.

Category 4 Brainstorm: Sometimes, ideas don’t come easy. It may take a lot of work and rumination to cull a workable idea for a story or book. We offer techniques for brainstorming and discuss the resources we turn to when our thoughts go stale.

11 a.m.
Worldbuilding—Men, Monsters, and the Creatures Between: Men, elves, and the like cannot live in isolation, and monsters don’t materialize out of nowhere. People and creatures need to fit into the world’s ecology and have a life cycle that makes sense, otherwise your readers will see your world as unrealistic and not worth reading about. Find out what makes creatures and races believable.

Confessions of a Slushie Machine: Want to find your way to the top of an editor’s slush pile? Don’t want to end up in that proverbial circular file? Take notes! Our panelists talk about what they look for when wading through the slush piles, finding the worst of the worst, and uncovering a few rare gems.

Reading: Gen Con guest of honor Anton Strout and Gregory Wilson take you on a trip to the fantastic as they read from some of their favorite pieces. Skip lunch . . . or bring it with you . . . and enjoy a snack for your mind!

What’s in a Word: The authors of The Hobbit, various Star Trek novels, and A Wizard of Earthsea created languages to make their worlds come alive. It seems easy enough . . . but how do you keep your characters from having names and discussions that look like someone slapped the keyboard? Panelists will discuss methods that authors and game designers use for creating “authentic” fictional languages and reveal their own techniques.

1 p.m.
Tension and Conflict:  How do you build tension? What’s more . . . how can you sustain it and avoid the pitfalls of not having enough in your fiction? Panelists present techniques for turning your work into a page-turner.

Make it Steamy—a Look at the Steampunk Genre: Some say it’s what the future would look like if it had come along earlier . . . say, in the Victorian era. Steampunk has been around for quite some time, but it’s risen in popularity over the past few years. Our panelists look at the genre and discuss how to get published in it.

2 p.m.
Balancing Act—the Fine Art of Creating Balanced Characters: Mr. Perfect is a pretty dull chap. Well-rounded characters—ones folks enjoy reading about—have flaws and foibles. How do you add the right amount of baggage to a hero, villain, or sidekick? How can you avoid stereotypical troubles and latch onto something sparkling and masterful?

Part-Time Writer in a Full-Time World: You have a day job. Or you’re a full-time student. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom who has kids underfoot. How can you juggle the “real world” and find time to write that novel you’ve always dreamed about? Our panelists have full-time careers and have managed to write a plethora of short fiction, novels, and trilogies. One even landed on the USA Today bestseller’s list. They’ll share their techniques for fitting it all in.

3 p.m.
Writing and Rewriting History: Historical fiction and Alternate History are hot! Want to learn how to work in these genres and make your prose sizzle? Our panelists teach you how to make your historical fiction fresh, exciting, and where to look to market it.

How I Met My Hero: Our veteran authors discuss how they crafted their favorite heroic characters, put them through the literary wringer, and managed to let them find a reasonably happy ending. It’s great fodder for helping you discover your own hero.

4 p.m.
Twenty Ways to Kill Your Novel: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole walks you through the twenty most common “first novel problems” (which plague more than just first novels) and provides a host of solutions for them. If you dread hearing someone say, “I liked your novel, but…,” this seminar is guaranteed to erase the sorts of problems that lead to just such a statement.

Trends in Terror: What’s the hottest thing going “bump in the night” right now? Are vampires still in? Are zombies taking over the urban landscape? What sort of creepies are crawling their way onto tomorrow’s bookstore shelves? And how can you find a piece of the action?

5 p.m.
Characterization: Characters are king in literature and New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole brings you a toolbox full of techniques to create compelling and memorable characters. Readers read for and remember characters, and after this course, yours will be unforgettable, which will keep them coming back for more.

Reading: Lawrence Connolly and Kelly Swails offer up a feast for the mind as they read from their latest works. Stop by before heading off to dinner—or bring your dinner with you—and enjoy some of the best entertainment at Gen Con.

6 p.m.
Writing Success in the Post-Paper Era: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole—the first author to offer fiction on the iPhone/iPod Touch through Apple’s Appstore—gives you an up to date look at the digital revolution and explains how you can profit and develop your career. Mike’s watched his Internet income from writing double every year for the past three years, with the trend accelerating in 2011. If you intend to have a successful career in writing, this scouting report and practical action plan for the future is a must.

Reading: Ramsey Lundock will entertain you mightily with Dunkel Froline. Maxwell A. Drake will offer up one of his finest fantasy pieces. Stop by before the Eye of Argon session begins.

7 p.m.
Read and Critique: Have your prose critiqued by professionals.  Presenters will have three to five minutes to read their material. They will receive verbal critiques based on the “critique sandwich” method. Attendance is limited to those being critiqued. Pre-registration is required.

Eye of Argon: No, it’s not a part of the Head of Vecna.  It’s possibly the worst published piece of fantasy fiction ever written.  Thousands of gamers and fantasy/sci fi convention attendees have lol’d themselves silly just trying to read a page of Jim Theis’ purplish (or is it “scarlet emerald?”) prose out loud.  Some are unable to finish a single sentence.  Some are unable to start a single sentence.  This year, we’re going to spice things up even more!  Assigned parts?  Live action?  Interpretive dance?  Translations by babelfish?  Sequels, prequels, and parodies?  Worldwide premier of “Arm of Grignr?”  Doing the “wave?”  It’s not that I’m not telling you because it’s a surprise, it’s that we haven’t quite figured it out.  But rest easy.  We’re committed to making you laugh so hard you’ll be committed, too—or at least Diet Dr. Pepper will squirt out your nose.  Eighteen and over only, please (for bad language—not dirty, just bad, really bad).  Besides, there’s nothing that makes a GenCon event more desirable than limiting attendance.  Mrifk!

8 a.m.
Pick Our Brains: How dare you consider sleeping in on the final day of this year’s Gen Con! We bet there’re still questions whirling in your brain about worldbuilding, the publishing industry, sprucing up your manuscript, and whatnot. We’re here to provide as many answers as possible.

Care and Feeding of Your Editor: You’ve got the acceptance letter, but now what? How do you keep your editor happy and asking for future manuscripts? What can you do to make their life easier, your writing more attractive to them . . . and what can you expect from them in return?

9 a.m.
Business of Writing—the Basics: Be prepared to take notes. Now that you have your world built, your characters filled with angst, and your plot twisted, we’re going to give you more than a few tips on preparing your manuscript. We’ll also provide sage advice on catching an editor’s eye . . . in a good way.

Gender Bending—Men Writing Women and Vice Versa: We’ve brought this session back because it was so successful last year! How can a man write a female character . . . and do it well? Can a woman get in the head of a male protagonist . . . and make that character believable?

10 a.m.
Business of Writing—Agents, Query Letters, and Pitches: Writing might be an art, but there’s a side that’s all business. Do you need an agent, and how do you get one? How important is the query letter, and how do you write one? And what about pitches? We’ll offer the tools you’ll need if you want to get serious about the business of writing!

Pub-pourri: Did you miss a topic or two during the four days of Gen Con? Or maybe you still have a burning question regarding character development, crafting a magic system, complicating a plot, or approaching an editor. We’re here to stir your imaginations and answer as many questions as our brains will allow.

11 a.m.
Nothing But ‘Net: The Internet is a useful tool for research, finding writer’s resources, joining a writer’s group, and submitting internationally. But it’s also a great way to promote yourself and get your writing out there. We’ll tackle Facebook, Twitter, web pages, and software.

Genres—What Are They and How Do You Mix ‘Em? Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Romance, Paranormal, Horror . . . etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. What defines a “genre?” Which ones offer the best opportunities for finding yourself in print? And when—and how—is it okay to mix them?

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