GEN CON – The Con That Doesn’t Sleep

I didn’t know what I had said yes to when my author friend, Christine Nielson, asked me to come to Gen Con. She had been going for a few years and I knew she always had a good time, so I said yes without thinking.

View this post on Instagram

#gencon19 Boothmates!

A post shared by Candace J Thomas (@candacejthomas) on

I had done very little research on what this con really was, I just figured it was comparable to any comic con I had participated in. I mean, it’s a con, right? I was warned it was a gaming con, so I thought video games. I put some serious thought into how to make this con special. What I didn’t realize was that this con was already special.

Gen Con, in my own words, is a gamer’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

People flock to the center of the US, being seductively called by the river sirens, for the chance to play games, and ONLY games, for four continuous days. There was no celebrity draws, no movie releases, no photo ops (besides the cosplay girls- shielded from view might I add), only gamers EVERYWHERE. Rows and rows of tables and chairs cluttered with games: new ones, kickstarters, card games, board games, RPGs, dice games, you name it. JUST GAMES! There were tournaments happening in C Hall (a room the size of the room where they hid the arc of the covenant) for Magic the Gathering and Pokemon and who even knows what?! I was flabbergasted.

Being an author there felt rather special, but also really out-of-place. This con was not about books, but the celebration of creativity. And that’s what made the con special to me. Everyone I spoke to was so genuinely themselves.

This con let you be you without judgment. I tweeted snippets of what I saw and experienced (find on Twitter @cjtwrites). Many gamers are introverted, yet here they felt comfortable being with other introverts. The con sold out with a reported 70,000 attending (Indy Star Link). I was impressed.

Card stacking metropolis

And even though the Exhibition Hall closed at six, the con didn’t stop . . . at all. The arcade and retro console rooms didn’t close until midnight. The tourneys ran through the night. Hotel lobbies and even the Indiana Convention Center was continually packed with gamers playing until the morning.

So….. my brother happens to be one of the best players in the world at Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. He would kill it here.

As much as I love playing games, I’m not a gamer, not anymore. There are some things that I unintentionally gave up when I dedicated my time to being an author, and unfortunately, games was one of them. Here though, I got a chance to forget about story building and remember the seeds that started my epic journey. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was fourteen, playing with my older brother and his high school friends. This was a huge foundation for my character development, world building, and my imagination.

I just won Gen Con . . . I even blushed.

But honestly, I didn’t feel complete until I found the retro video game console room and completely flipped out when I saw the ColecoVision. I made a serious impression on the guys running the room. (Nick and Kyle – I’m looking at you!) Here I found my nerd and my people, and spent hours playing Coleco, NES, the PS2, and Sega Dreamcast, because sadly, their Genesis didn’t have a cord. Here is where I found my Gen Con heart.

It was good for me to get away from my bubble and experience a con away from those I know; to meet people I would never have met before; and have the freedom of being nerdy without reservation. It was rejuvenating to my soul and healthy for me to remember my roots, and that fun and refreshing it is to just play games.

Let’s Be Authors! – Making It at FanX 2018

My panel: The Rise and Fall of Sega. Had a good crowd and a great discussion.

I had a discussion years ago, actually on a road trip to Portland with my author gal pals, about when someone “Makes It” in this business of writing. What is the threshold? I mean, I’m sure that once you need a personal assistant or a publicist to do things for you, you have definitely “Made It” in some way or another. Just having enough to pay your car payment each month is a huge accomplishment. It’s a hard classification, because my internal view of being an author is not what is reflected in the external view to the reader.

So the idea of “Making It” is difficult. And as I really thought about it, it’s only important to one person. . . That’s me.

In all these years of being an author, I’ve never really felt that I “Made It.” I’ve taught classes and been on panels at different writing conferences, with really, really cool people too, by the way. But I didn’t feel successful, I kinda felt like I was a cool kid, but not a success. My audience is not my peers, so writing conferences are not the best place to sell books or engage with your audience. Online sales are difficult to judge, because I have no engagement what so ever. It’s all just numbers, not people. My books are very buried in the doldrums of Amazon, and only with promotion do my books get any attention.

Booth set up, Christine and Conor being cool.

But when I really feel like an author and really feel an impact of what I’m doing, is when I physically get to place a book in someone’s hands. I’m handing them an adventure, my adventure that I’ve created for them. And when I get to personalize it? It’s the best! Because I am offering a part of me in this book, a special message just for them. It’s a special feeling.

The Green Room offers the best view of dinosaurs.

FanX 2018 offers a great way to find your fan base and connect with readers one on one. It was a different experience this year than our other times at the Con Formally Known As Salt Lake Comic Con. In previous years, I had filled the booth with other authors – last year, we had NINE authors. My ideas were to give other people a chance to shine, and make back the cost of the booth, without thinking that I would profit anything. This made for a very crowded and stressful environment.

Me, with my boothmates, Ben and Christine.

This year, I decided to do things differently. I didn’t want to be stressed. I wanted to enjoy being at this con. It should be fun. So, I scaled it way down to working with only my closest and best friends in my writing circle: authors Christine Haggerty and Ben Ireland. Each of us write for a different audience, so no competition in sales, and also, we genuinely really want each other to succeed, so selling each other’s books was easy. It’s all about the reader. That is so important, the MOST important thing we did in the booth.

“Waiting for all my rabid fans to arrive.” – Christine

We got lucky booth 1203, a corner very close to the opening doors and main staircase. We set Christine and I on opposite sides of the corner and gave Ben the front corner spot (picture above), so every book had its own place to shine. We all had something new for our booth: Christine’s Middle Grade – Lucas and the House of Lies, Ben’s third in the Blacksmith Legacy – Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul, and my new poetry book – Wandering Beautiful.

“Uhura, from an alternate timeline, signing a Wandering Beautiful.” – Candace

Historically, we never sold very well on the first day. Most people were waiting to buy everything on the third day. I don’t know if it was the phase of the moon or something, but once those doors opened, people found us immediately and we started selling.

“FanX was an absolutely wonderful experience. Sharing with fans who really get a show generates an energy you can’t find anywhere else. And meeting Anna Graves was an incredible bonus. She struck me as a genuine fan, and she was wonderfully gracious.” – Ben (Photo by CB Lee)

Hands down, this was the BEST year at FanX. The crowd was amazing, we had exceptional stars (I witnessed Jason Momoa, he is real, we breathe the same air, and rotate around the same sun. . . ), but the panels were amazing. Both Ben and I got to participate on panels. My retrogaming panel went amazingly, but not as fabulously as Ben’s Voltron panel. And Christine cosplayed as her pocket pin-ups and drew quite the crowd, plus a free red top hat.

“Cute little Paige was the 60th Harley Quinn I counted at FanX and she got a free copy of Lucas and the House of Lies.” – Christine

We had fun. We were everywhere. But the best part was talking with fans, fellow creators, fellow readers, who were interested in getting to know us and know what our books were about. We were an impressive force. Many people asked about who we were, how we became a group in a booth, and other authors were anxious for a spot with us next year. I sold out of two titles as well, Ben sold out of his first title. We were not expecting to sell so much. I under-prepared for the crowd, because it’s hard to haul unsold books back. It’s discouraging. I have one, small box of books now sitting in my empty garage instead of several. I’m just still stunned and impressed.

Goofing off with Julie, who helped us Friday and Saturday.

I’ve had a few days to let things settle, but my glow has not faded. As I was driving in on Day 3 of FanX, it was a little cloudy, but the sun was peeking through little breaks, making gorgeous little spots of sun. I thought those lucky people may not even know they are in this spotlight right now.

Check out this guy, he bought Ben’s series and I totally stole a picture of it.

“Making it as an author is much like being in that spot of sun, not until it has passed can you see and recognize how truly beautiful it is.”

I felt the admiration from each person who purchased my books, and those buying my friends’ books. We all felt the energy, which brought us closer as a group. We were making a difference in their lives, even for a fraction of a moment, but it is imprinted on me forever.

“Me and the new Doctor. It was a great year.” – Candace

I feel invincible and ready for any challenge. I’m feeling creative and set to finish my book. To all my new friends that I met at this conference, thank you from ALL OF US! FanX has made me the author I had always felt I could be and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to be in that spot of sun.