Gaming with Strangers (Deep South Con 50)

I’d just come from a panel and I was making my way to the autograph table to see which authors had signed up for a time slot. A woman stood in the middle of the walkway with the top of a game box in her hand.

“Want to play a game of Munchkin?” she asked me. 
I’ve wanted to get more into gaming for years. But my gaming history is next to non-existent (let’s not count Candyland and Monopoly when the power went out as a kid). I’ve watched the gaming tables at comic shops, and peeked into gaming rooms at conventions, but I’m always afraid to ask to join a game. I don’t want to burden those already playing by my novice status. 
Last year at Clarion West one of my classmates, Erik David Even, brought some amazing games with him to the workshop (check out Letters from Whitechapel!). And because most of the other people in our group hadn’t played the games before either, I felt more confident in giving it a try. And the games were so much fun. Erik was a patient and fun game master, and it’s due to my positive experiences gaming at Clarion West that when a complete stranger asked me if I’d like to play a game at a convention I said yes.
The woman motioned me over to a table in the middle of the atrium. I walked over and introduced myself to two other players sorting out cards. Within a few minutes a guy walked up and asked if he could join in. And just a minute later a very tall man in a cape and with a double red light saber asked if he could join as well. His name badge read “Count Dooku.” 
The young guy, Sam, and Count Dooku had both played Munchkin many times before. Myself and another girl were complete newbs, and the woman who had recruited me and her husband had played a few times. 
But after the cards were sorted, we realized that half of the deck of cards was missing. There was no way we could play the game without the treasure cards. 
Another group of people sat playing a game at a table near us. It was one of those conquer the map type games that I associate with seasoned players. The Munchkin recruiter went over and asked if they happened to have a game of Munchkin with them. A man with a long white beard pulled three small boxes out of his backpack and brought them to our table – a full set. 
We started playing, using pennies for level markers. I became a bard with a spring-mounted magnificent hat. I listened at the door, kicked the door down, and once I even went looking for trouble. 

My hand early on in the game of Munchkin at DSC50

Count Dooku helped me with each of my turns, and after a while I started to get the hang of the game. He made quippy jokes and transitioned from someone physically intimidating to a really fun person to hang out with.

If I had been watching from across the room, I think I would have mistaken our laid back game for a group of seasoned players. And that would have kept me from approaching and asking to join.

“My name is Count Dooku. Don’t worry, I never strike an unarmed opponent,” he had said when he first sat down.

Then he handed me a lightsaber and smiled. “Here, hold this.”

The next time I’m at a convention, I’m going to ask to join a game. I know I’ll be able to learn how to arm myself as I go.

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Deep South Con 50: Novel Workshop

Deep South Con 50 didn’t officially start until Friday, but for myself and my fellow novel workshop participants, our convention experience started Thursday night with a lecture by editor Lou Anders of Pyr Books. 

Lou’s talk, “Using a Character-Based Screenwriting Formula for Novel Writing,” was fantastic. I had listened to his talk about using screenwriting on the Writing Excuses podcast, but his lecture at the workshop was more in-depth. At the end of his presentation, I felt like I had learned completely new elements of screenplay storytelling that I had not encountered in my graduate classes or in my readings. I’d highly recommend the podcast, and if you have a chance to attend one of Lou’s screenwriting lectures don’t pass it up. 
After Lou’s lecture, the entire workshop group walked across the street to the public library to hear Gregory Benford’s talk. The admission tickets were $10 to the event, but as workshop participants our tickets were comped (free!). 
Once Gregory Benford’s talk ended, most of the workshop participants headed over to the con suite in the hotel for free beers and snacks. I wound up talking to some of my fellow local writers, like Louise Herring-Jones. We’d met a time or two at the SF Writers and Cake Appreciation Society critique group, but Deep South Con was the first time we really got to sit down and get to know each other. I also got a chance to meet one of my Deep South Con novel workshop group mates,  April Steed, whose novel has an amazing thematic idea. I can’t wait to see what she does with it. And I spent a few minutes geeking out about belly dancing with Julia Mandala, who performed with Ravenar during the opening ceremonies. 
Friday the novel workshop split into two groups. Each one was led by a professional editor. My group was helmed by Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books, and the other by Lou Anders of Pyr. Each group had eight workshop participants who had each submitted up to the first 5,000 words of their novel and up to a 5 page synopsis of the rest of the book. We started our critiques at 10AM, and went until 4PM with a short break for lunch. 
This was my first time in a novel workshop, and my first time attempting to write a novel. It was really instructive to read my workshopmates’ stories and hear everyone’s critiques. One common piece of advice – slow down. Novels are much longer than short stories; you’ve got tons of time. Really get us into the scene by specific description and mood-setting.
As far as my personal novel submission and critiques, it was extremely helpful to me to hear my fellow writers’ suggestions on my main character’s motivation and for world building. As a first-time novel writer, this early feedback has given me the confidence and direction I need to continue writing a first draft. 
Scott Hancock, who won the Deep South Con 50 short story contest, was in my group. He made the most amazing critique packets I have ever seen. 

The packet contained a copy of Southern Fried Sci-Fi and Jambalaya Genres (a chapbook published by the Huntsville SF writers group in 2001), my workshop submission with notes in the margins, and a copy of the typed notes for all of the workshop stories. 
Scott is an amazingly friendly person and a wonderful writer. He had an account of his meeting with Dr. Von Braun published in the Deep South Con program book, but you can also read it here
At the end of the day on Friday, Toni gave a lecture on world-building which included a group exercise. We went through the rubric together – where does the energy come from? Where does the water come from? Which family member do we want to focus on? What about the arts and entertainment in this culture? And in five minutes, we’d created an interesting, layered world ripe for a story. 
Then Lou and Toni answered our questions about submitting novels to agents and/or presses. Some stray notes:
  • Don’t invest everything in one book. Set it aside/submit and move on.
  • Look in Locus Magazine at the books sold page for tips on which agents you might want to work with. 
  • Joshua at Jabberwoky – Blog: Awful Agent
  • Sometimes it takes 10-15 years of rejection head banging to learn to write to a market.
  • Slushpile – mostly B+ when you want As
  • It is worth a cut of your money for the services that publishers provide. 
Before we disbanded, we each received a copy of the essay “Style, Substance, and Other Illusions” by Gregory Benford. 
The best part of the novel writing workshop was meeting my fellow writers. I never ran out of people to talk to the entire weekend. After the panels there would invariably be a small group of workshop participants gathered in the back of the room talking, and because I’d been in the workshop I felt confident in going up and chatting with them.
In the hallways, the con suite, and at room parties, I had great conversations not just about writing, but about specific stories that we had written. Nancy S. Brandt told me what it was like to publish a genre book through a small press. Zan Oliver was a blast to hang out with in the party rooms, and she told great stories about New Orleans. And Alice and I people-watched from the balcony and talked about learning and re-learning. 
It was a wonderful, hearty dose of writer camaraderie.

Deep South Con 50: Anticipation!

This weekend is Deep South Con 50. This convention is held in a different location in the south each year. This year, it is returning to Huntsville, where the first Deep South Con was held.

I’m already very impressed with the organization and promotion of this convention. They’ve got an active Facebook page, a beautiful and often-updated website, and they’re partnering with the public library for a public lecture by one of the attending authors: Gregory Benford.

When a convention is well-organized and promoted, it makes me even more excited to attend. It bodes well for the panels and events running smoothly, and for having an all-around wonderful con experience. My hats off to the organizers.

For the past month or so, the con has had a display of science fiction books and artwork set up in the entrance to the main library downtown.

DSC 50 display at the Huntsville Madison-County Public Library

Lovely art and books in the display at the public library
Skylife, edited by Gregory Benford

Gene Wolfe’s book on display in the library

Almost all of the books are original hardcovers, and the gorgeous painting is either an original or a high-quality print. Every time I go to the library I have to stand and gawk at the treasures inside the display.

Here’s a few of the programming items I’m looking forward to:

Thursday

  • Novel Workshop lecture by Lou Anders of Pyr
  • Gregory Benford speech at public library, “The Wonderful Future That Can Still Be: Science Fiction and Current Science”
  • Beer in the consuite with novel workshop participants and teachers

Friday

  • Novel Workshop critique sessions
  • Novel Workshop lecture by Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books
  • Lois McMaster Bujold reading
  • Bellydancing workshop
Saturday
  • “Hard Fantasy” – Lou Anders, Danny Birt, ❤ Gene Wolfe <3, Lois McMaster Bujold, Tony Daniel
  • Ravenar Belly Dance performance
  • Dr. Demento live performance
Sunday
  • “Violence for Writers, with Demos of Hard, Sharp, Pointy Things”
There are dozens more amazing lectures, live music performances, and demos going on throughout the weekend. 
If you’re within driving distance of Huntsville and can take a road trip this weekend, I think this convention will be well worth the trip.