Anton Strout is the Ace Books author of the recently released Dead Waters, book four of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series, as well as the upcoming Alchemystic, book one of the Spellmason Chronicles. He is also responsible for over half a dozen tales for various anthologies for DAW Books.
First of all, I’d like to thank the shopkeepers here at The Night-Bazaar for letting me pitch up a stall full of my thoughts on their theme this week. I thought I’d talk a bit about what conventions mean to me on a very personal note and how they generally brought me from dabbling in writing to publication. Conventions are cool and powerful like that.
I’ve seen a variety of convention-going levels, given my day job with publisher Penguin Group and also writing the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series for Ace Books. I’ve been to dozens at this point, from Comic Con International in San Diego to World Fantasy. Depending on how each of them was run, the experiences varied from awesomely rewarding to tragically pathetic. I’ve sat on panels where I did all the heavy lifting trying to keep the audiences eyes open, had a perfect storm of stimulating conversations with my fellow panelists, and sometimes… well, I’ve felt we should have been handing folks their badge money back, despite my best efforts to keep on topic or dispense cold justice as the harsh hand of the moderator. People came to hear us, spent their time and money getting to us, so I like to be as professional as I can when I’m asked to speak or moderate. I prepare for whatever the topic at hand is and at the center of that, I try to keep in mind my own experience as an attendee myself.
Despite the fact that I now mix business with pleasure at cons, I’m always at heart an attendee. Last year I practically skipped around Comic Con International in San Diego. You couldn’t wipe the nerdy grin (and yes, drool) from my face. I’m unapologetic for my childlike glee. After all, I’ve wanted to go conventions since I came across them when I was ten. What triggered that want, you might ask?
Well, for this young boy in small town Western Mass, it was Dungeons & Dragons, of course, and a little periodical called Dragon Magazine. I found the ads within just as fascinating as the ecologies of monsters, SnarfQuest, and the adventure modules. It was there that I first saw a convention listed, one called Gen Con.
I hadn’t really thought about the concept of a convention. I mean, I was only ten. The very concept blew my mind.. There was a place I could go in far off mystical Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (which might as well have been Middle Earth as far as my 10-year old mind was concerned) where I could meet other fantasy enthusiasts?! It sounded amazing, but it was halfway across the country to me, approximately one kabillion miles away, and other than the ad in Dragon Magazine, that was all I knew about it. Just a fantastical idea. Also, there was no internet. At least not a widely public one…
Cut to 1997, with Gen Con long forgotten…I had continued playing RPGs, right up through college and beyond, always dabbling in writing at the same time, but never quite taking it seriously. One day the word floated to the surface of my mind, escaping my lips while talking to a new gaming buddy of mine. Gen Con. This time there was the Internet at my disposal.
Gen Con even had it’s own website, wonder of wonders! It was no longer in Lake Geneva, but Milwaukee (and shortly thereafter its current home, Indianapolis). The flood of my youthful desires hit me, and shortly thereafter, my friend and I made plans to go.
I went as a gamer… and was surprised to discover that around all the gaming, there was also a writer’s track of panels and workshops (which almost any genre related convention had, I later discovered). So I went to a few panels where I heard working fantasy writers talk about writing and their books. I loved what I heard, what they had to say, and the writer within me awoke like a sleeping dragon, so I had to talk to some of the panelists after, even getting the email of one of the anthologists.
A few weeks later, I emailed to thank her for all they had paneled and workshopped about, and mentioned that if I could ever submit a story, I’d love the opportunity to do so. Luckily her next anthology under deadline was coming in short on word count, so she offered me a shot, but she needed something in a week. I went mad with writing and turned in a story days later, a modern day Little Red Riding Hood story with a cursed sports hoodie set around New York University campus… and it was accepted!
My first work in print came from going to a convention and eventually gave me enough street cred with editors when I sent around full manuscript queries, so going to conventions gave me opportunities as a writer I might never have had. It I hadn’t gone, maybe I never would have rediscovered my love of writing.
Many other deals have happened since then due to connections made at cons, talks in bars at cons. Let’s face it—I’d be at a con for the sheer joy of my rampant nerdery, but even when I was just an unpublished author, I at least got to be in the presence of inspirational authors and creators to get my own creative juices flowing.
This August I’m proud to be Gen Con’s Author Guest of Honor in Indianapolis, and in many ways, I feel like my life has come full circle. My inner 10-year old is beaming. I mean, that’s not the only con you’ll find me at. There’ll be San Diego or New York Comic Con or even Authors After Dark in Philly, but Gen Con is the brass ring that truly captures that childish soul of mine, the one who loved to make up stories for playing Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a lot to be learned from going to conventions, be you a writer or not…. from the panels to the workshops, even at the bar.
Especially at the bar. If I see you there, I’ll be first to raise a glass to you…