It was my distinct pleasure to be able to attend the 2nd Annual NerdCon: Stories convention last weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The brainchild of Vlogbrother Hank Green and author Patrick Rothfuss, the two day conference featured over 60 special guests including authors, actors, artists, narrators, podcasters, puppeteers, librarians, comedians, directors, screenwriters, game designers, radio hosts, musicians, comic writers, and cartoonists. And us, the hundreds of attendees, from all over the country, all over the world (a group of young women who sat next to me were from Brazil!) We all gathered to discuss and celebrate the simple human thing that creates us and defines us – the story.
The conference included twice daily variety shows, panels (with topics such as “Art as Narrative”, “A Whole New World” – which was about worldbuilding – and “Storytelling in Tabletop Games”), workshops on the likes of puppetry, writing dialog, improvisation and pitching your book, etc., open mic sessions for stories, songs, improvisations, poems and more, live concerts, book signings, podcasts, and morning yoga sessions featuring Dungeons and Dragons (Friday) and YA author John Green (Saturday). There was a lot of spontaneity, a lot of enthusiasm, and a heckuva lot of great karma.
On Friday, I attended two panels: “Sotto Voce: Finding Your Voice”, moderated by poet Rives, with Wesley Chu (author), Patricia Wheeler (storyteller and podcaster) , Rachel Kann (poet) and Sandeep Parikh (actor and director), and “Self-Promotion: Getting the Word Out”, moderated by author John Scalzi, with MariNaomi (graphic novelist), Zak Sally (cartoonist), Joe DeGeorge (musician) and Saladin Ahmed (author). Both panels were fun, informative, and delightfully candid; having a diversity of disciplines in the panels allowed for many different and valuable perspectives.
It was interesting, for example, that in the “Finding Your Voice” panel, there was even a difference of opinion on what “your true voice” entailed – not that anyone disagreed with another, but that everyone came to the table with a different set of expectations and methods. After all, what is an author’s “voice” as opposed to a poet’s, or a director’s? When an artist must, by necessity, adhere to a process in order to fulfill a contract, does that mean that the “voice” is compromised? Is it necessary to have a “voice” in order to create a story? The answer to all these questions is, “It’s complicated” – and that’s not a bad thing.
At the “Self-Promotion” panel, everyone admitted (except for John Scalzi himself, which should come as no surprise to anyone who happens to follow him on social media) that they hate having to promote themselves and their work – which led to a wonderful discussion on why self-promotion, even though distasteful, is important, and how to go about it without alienating your friends, your family, and your fan base, as well as how to potentially overcome the notion that self-promotion is akin to nagging or begging. Each one of the panelists shared their own stories of self-promotion that fell flat, as well as triumphs, which often came unexpectedly. About the only thing that was the same for all of them was the conviction that word of mouth is the best promotion there is. I found it quite interesting that people established in their fields still struggle with the same questions that those of us in the trenches do!
Besides the panels, I went to all four of the variety shows, as well as a “Superfight” competition on Friday (“Superfight” is a card game about “arguing your way through ridiculous fights”) hosted by Darrin Ross, the inventor of the game, and waged between writers Mary Robinette Kowal and John Scalzi, artist Karen Hallian, and improv actor/comedian Sean Kelley, and the Saturday “Dread” session, hosted by Greg “Storm” DiConstanzao – half of the comedy musical duo, Paul and Storm – and featuring authors M. T. Anderson and Wesley Chu, and gamer chick/storyteller Katrina Ostrander (“Dread” is a storytelling RPG that uses Jenga instead of dice throws to determine success or failure).
The variety shows had, well, a variety of activities, such as featured guests telling a bit of their own personal stories, or reciting their own poems, or reading from their own works, or talking about their own struggles, as writers and as people. Sometimes, two featured guests would sit on the stage in comfy chairs and have an off the cuff conversation, one-on-one. Or a featured guest would give a presentation on philanthropy, on language, on diversity. All of those activities were great, and often thought provoking, often uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking.
But the variety shows were something else, as well – they were fun. Often humorous, such as when a row of featured guests answered rapid fire questions, like “dog or cat?”, “pie or cake?”, and “what is the best food you’ve ever eaten?” (I’m still not sure I want to know the story behind Paolo Bascigalupi’s answer for that one!) Or when established authors read works from back when they were young, and their writing was awful – a feature called Juvenilia. And then at times the variety shows were downright hilarious, such as the puppet murder mystery that was written by award winning puppeteer Liz Hara and performed by a whole slew of guests.
And sometimes, the variety shows were gut-busting wonderful, such as the lip synch battle between comic artist Blue Delliquanti, writer John Scalzi (him again? yes, him again!) and comedian/musician Paul Sabourin (the other half of Paul and Storm). We were all rolling in the aisles, figuratively. Even the sign language interpreters (who had almost reached cult status by this time) got into it. I posted the video of John Scalzi performing “Hello, I Love You” yesterday, in all his nerdy, middle-aged gooiness. But he didn’t even win the competition! That honor went to Paul Sabourin, performing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (with an assist from author and convention organizer Patrick Rothfuss) – and it was splendid.
Here it is, judge for yourself (the video was posted on YouTube by Erik Mason; the actual lip sync doesn’t start until about 1:10, but believe me, you’ll want to watch it):
But as wonderful as those panels, those special features, those variety shows were, what I enjoyed the most about NerdCon: Stories – both last year and this year – was the interaction between myself and those authors that I have “gotten to know” and admire. And this year, the interaction was absolutely glorious!
But I’ve run out of time here. I’ll tell you all about the authors I met, so stay tuned!
~ Sharon Browning