Freelance Knight

Experiencing Your First Convention – Guest Post by Cathy Shouse

Experiencing Your First Convention – Guest Post by Cathy Shouse

Experiencing Your First Convention – Guest Post by Cathy Shouse

Do you remember the first game or geek convention you attended? Still have hints of the feelings of anticipation, the nervousness, and the excitement leading up to it? How did it change your view of the geek community? How did it change your life as a freelancer? Cathy Shouse is a friend of my wife and me from the Writers’ Bloc Friday lunches at Taylor University. She is a freelance writer who can pull you into the moment with her. Grab your favorite beverage. Sit back. Enjoy a vicarious vacation to the northern midwest US where she and her daughter come face-to-face with nerdiness…and come away with a new community and creative inspiration.

My teen came home from school and said one of her favorite authors, Rainbow Rowell, had tweeted she was going to a conference called NerdCon. “I want to go,” she said.

“It’s in Minneapolis,” she said. “It’ll be a road trip. I need driving hours.” She had her driving permit and required 50 hours of driving to get the full license. Did I mention we live in east central Indiana?

Cathy and Katelyn Shouse

Cathy and Katelyn Shouse

My weakness for all things literary, road trips, and spending time with a teen growing up too fast kicked in. The seed had been planted.  She found out mega-author John Green would be there and his brother Hank was running it. How bad could it be with just those three, plus there were tons more names we’d almost heard of.

Without telling her, I bought us each a $100 ticket. Taking the chance it would sell out while we were “thinking” was too big a risk. That amount didn’t seem a high price to make both our dreams come true. I booked a room in an expensive hotel, the host venue, to be closer to the other nerds. By mapquest, it was a nine-hour trip, something we’d never done before—especially girls-only. We tried to coax her dad, the accountant into it, but no dice.

We were half-way in and I was still thinking of reasons we should get out, asking people how hard it was to drive in Minneapolis. Wondering if it was worth skipping a day of school. All the time, our excitement was building, a secret only we shared. My nervous side kept looking for a drop-dead reason not to do it.

Then I went to my writing group and an experienced conference-goer said what a great idea it was, how much we’d love it. He shared the secret handshake, or the known rules, as it were. The experience would be intense, he said. Drink plenty of water. Use hand sanitizer liberally. Forget about sleep. Most importantly: “Aim for one shower a day and two meals and you’ll be fine.”

The drive was uneventful, except for that wild, high-traffic turn in Chicago when it hit me I should have pried her from the seat an hour ago. We hit Minneapolis around 10 pm, with no traffic at all.

The end result, in a nutshell? We drove many hours, only to find ourselves right at home, among “our people.” Yes, Rainbow was amazing and so was John—we call them by their first names now. But seeing them interact with one another, on panels, during presentations and other stuff? Those exchanges felt new and different. They had never happened exactly that way and never would again.

The people at the conference were some of the most talented I’ve ever watched interact for three days. Going to events together, seeing them several times in such short a time? It was magic. There were serious discussions about story, and goofy stuff only nerds could appreciate. Unfortunately, to “get it,” you really had to be there, mostly.

There was the heated mock debate between two famous author teams with three members apiece. They persuaded us which is the better way to get dressed: Starting by putting both socks on and then shoes, or not? It was called the sock-sock, shoe-shoe vs the sock-shoe, sock-shoe and was a hoot. The arguments for and against were truly elegant, sometimes indignant, and made you realize how wonderful language, and our ability to communicate on any topic, really is. It was a conglomeration of people, many of whom I would never have thought to go see if they hadn’t been there.

The audience, collectively, did a countdown to the beginning of a play, “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” performed by the New York Neo-Futurists. The countdown was done as a group, making Roman Numerals with our hands held up high to create the “I”’s and “V”’s. Think: the Village People acting out YMCA, gone rogue.

Once during a longish pause between acts, someone on stage led the audience in “singing” the waiting music from Jeopardy. You know which one I mean. Well, we all knew it too and spontaneously burst into song. With an auditorium full of people, that was one of the best ways to feel not so alone in the world of sports fanatics and anti-intellectualism we live in. It showed that having everything scripted isn’t required.

One night the presenters shared their writings from their high school days. We had a T-shirt created in honor of David Nadelberg’s. Others played the game Superfight, with its inventor, Darrin Ross, on stage. Players drew cards with superpowers that pitted them against one another, that inspired amazing exchange of intellect.

We hated to leave, but we took a lot away with us. We’ve looked up the books of the presenters, our new “friends.” The podcast by the “Welcome to Night Vale” cast, many of whom were at NerdCon: Stories, entertained us on the road home. My teen read the book of it when it was released.

This week, we went to a talk by Lev Grossman, author of “The Magicians” trilogy and Time magazine writer, because he came to Indianapolis. We “met” him at NerdCon. We would likely not have made the trek into the city if our Minneapolis adventure hadn’t opened us up to all the possibilities around us, both near and far.

I’m not sure when we’ll be finished with the NerdCon experience, there are so many people to explore and consider from the event. My go-to blogger now is John Scalzi, someone I never would have given a chance because he doesn’t write in “my genre.”

If I find myself needing inspiration or encouragement, all I have to do is flip through the incredibly talented people in the program manual. Or celebrate how my daughter came home and wrote an entire novel in November.

The entire experience made being a self-proclaimed nerd, and proud of it, seem cool. It taught me that “stories matter” and all stories are important, especially our own, that only we can tell. We must be brave and do the work.


Cathy is a journalist published in Family Fun magazine and has been awarded a Midwest Writers Workshop fellowship in fiction.  Follow Cathy and Katelyn on their further adventures on Twitter.