GenCon 2001
Kelly Grosskreutz

I had the very great pleasure of attending GenCon and meeting Mike Stackpole, Tim Zahn, and Shannon Baksa (Mara Jade) on August 4. For those who donít know, GenCon is an annual role-playing convention held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although the focus is on role-playing, many other things are going on there as well. Famous actors from science fiction and fantasy were there, signing autographs. One room was entirely devoted to displaying art and giving everyone a chance to meet their artists. Itís kind of like a role-playing convention intermingled with a science fiction convention. Although a Jedi is not supposed to crave adventure and excitement, this convention had at least some elements of both.

In my case, the adventure began en route. I live about an hour from Milwaukee, so my mother and I decided to drive in for the day. We left at about 7 in the morning, and everything started out well. About a quarter of the way there, we got stuck behind a car that should not have been out on the road. Either the guy was extremely drunk, falling asleep, or thought he was playing a video game and wanted to dodge the invisible objects on the road, but he was weaving all over the place. And forget maintaining a constant speed! Luckily we were able to lose him right before getting onto the freeway.

Finding the Midwest Express Center, and a place to park along with it, ended up not being the adventure I thought it would be. I donít go to Milwaukee all that often, so am not completely familiar with driving in the downtown area. However, I had no problems doing that. Getting into the building, however, was another matter. We learned quickly just how huge the Midwest Express Center is. We walked around about 3/4 of the building before finding a door that would permit us access. That was about a 10-15 minute walk.

We finally got in, however, and got ourselves checked in and everything. We learned quickly that, roleplayer or not, the place to be was the Exhibit Hall up on the third floor. This was the room where all the booths were set up and anything related to roleplaying or science fiction/fantasy in general was being displayed and/or sold. Many of the authors and artists were also set up in this huge room.

My mom and I wandered around the Exhibit Hall for about an hour or so, just marveling at all the things and thinking about what we wanted to buy. We happened to be walking past a booth for The Game Guild, a store located in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, when I saw that the owner and some of her friends were there. The owner happens to be my favorite author from my childhood, Margaret Weis, and one of her friends was her often-coauthor Tracy Hickman. The two of them are best known for writing the first six Dragonlance novels.

To understand how wonderful this was, one has to understand some backstory here. I had been fans of theirs since I was ten. When I was twelve or so, I happened to meet Tracy Hickman, who was signing books at a Waldenbooks in one of the Milwaukee malls (also my first time ever meeting a famous person). I have never met Margaret Weis before, although I had spent ever since that time trying. Iíd attended two previous conventions to meet her and failed. Iíd shopped in The Game Guild and, although she did come in once to talk to the employee right when I was leaving, Iíd never actually spoken to her. Iíd met the then-editor of Dragon Magazine, Roger Moore who, after talking to me and knowing how much I loved Margaretís writing, mailed me a recent backissue of the magazine that had had a story of hers in it, signed and personalized by her. But I had never met her.

Until this convention. I talked to her and Tracy for a couple of minutes and had them autograph their latest book for me. That afternoon, I realized Iíd forgotten to get a picture of them, and went back and asked them if I could get a picture of them. I was thinking just getting one of them, since they were all closed in at their booth, but she invited me to come back by them and have my picture taken with them. Finally, after over ten years, one of my lifelong dreams had come true.

Anyway, after getting their autograph, we decided to head over to the Decipher booth, since it was almost time for Mike and Tim to begin their signing session. Shannon was already signing, but she would be leaving earlier because she had to attend another signing. We were a little bit early, and Iíd just said something to my mom about coming back in a few minutes when my plans changed immediately. I had just seen Mike Stackpole standing there by the table, talking to a couple of other people.

I waited politely until they were finished, then walked over to him and introduced myself. We chatted for about a minute or so, then I gave him the gift weíd brought with us. This gift actually was not from me, but from a good online friend of mine, who goes by the name Lissy. She loves to sew bears, and she had made him a Corranbear. The head and hands were flesh-colored, it was wearing a green flightsuit, and sheíd even attached a little lightsaber to his belt.

Mike was delighted with his bear, and sat it next to him on the table, where he made it look like the bear was holding up a hardcover copy of I, Jedi. He showed it to Shannon and Tim, and they both liked it a great deal as well. Periodically throughout the session, Mike would show various people the bear and tell about how heíd gotten it.

Not long after Mike and Tim had joined Shannon at the table, the signing frenzy began in earnest. The three had a good turnout, with rarely a lull in the entire hour and a half time I was there. All three of them were really nice and a pleasure to talk to. They had no problems with signing my entire backpackís worth of books and comics Iíd brought for them. Since most of the items had been written by Mike, he had me move off to the side and stack them on the floor next to him so he could switch off between signing them and stuff for other people. This system seemed to work well and did not hold up traffic.

I could go on for pages with details. Since they didnít seem to mind having me hang around, I did, and I was able to talk to them quite a bit of the time. They did not neglect their other fans, however, and I donít believe anyone left there disappointed. They were always willing to listen to their fans and say a few things to them.

I did hear some tidbits about whatís going on with his writing career at the moment. Nothing has changed on the Star Wars front. Unless Del Rey calls him back, heís not going to be writing another novel anytime soon. Fortress Draconis will be the next book we see from him. I forgot to ask if it would still be in December, but I did get to see the cover artwork for it, and it looks stunning. Itís by the same artist who did the cover for Dark Glory War. For those of you who have been over to his web page and read his novelette The Cards Call Themselves, he said he has written a Merlin Bloodstone novel, and his agent is currently reading it and going to set about looking for a publisher. And there may be new Battletech on the horizon!

One other thing was said that was exciting to me on a more personal note that I just had to relate. Mike was talking to one of the people whoíd come for an autograph and, although I canít remember what exactly the two were talking about, I know Corran was involved somehow, because Mike was telling this person that I ran the Official Corran Horn Page (emphasis mine). Needless to say, that made my entire day right there. 8)

We finally moved on not long before the signing was over. We did a lot of wandering around in the afternoon. We walked past the line for R. A. Salvatore. That thing was long! He was signing at the Del Rey booth. It appeared that most of the people in line wanted him to sign books from the Forgotten Realms, but I saw plenty of copies of Vector Prime and his own fiction as well in various hands.

I was planning to get an autograph from Billy Dee Williams, who was signing in the afternoon, but changed my mind when I saw what they were charging for them. I thought $20 just for an autograph (if you bought something at the signing area it was even more) was just a tad ridiculous. My funds were somewhat on the low side as it was. Other celebrities who had been signing there that day include Richard Biggs and Julie Caitlin Brown (Dr. Franklin and NaíToth from Babylon 5), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation), the woman who plays Aphrodite from Xena, and the woman who is playing Aurra Sing in the Star Wars prequels.

Towards the end of the day we returned to the Decipher booth to check out their trivia contest. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone to the Star Wars Connections seminar being held at the same time, but I guess in some ways itís just as well that I didnít, since I still remain pretty much unspoiled about Episode II. Anyway, I didnít stay too long at the trivia, but I do remember one of the questions they asked that had been submitted by Mike Stackpole himself. "Who wrote the last chapter of I, Jedi, Michael Stackpole or Kevin J. Anderson?" Half of the people got that wrong. The rest of us except for one got out because we didnít know as much about the bounty hunters as we did other aspects of the Star Wars universe.

Overall, though, it was an enjoyable time. I am very glad I went. It went far better than I ever thought it would. I got to do a lot of things I was hoping to do, and even a couple that I thought I would never get to do or had just about given up hope of ever doing.

By the way, if you donít know the answer to the trivia question, ask yourself this. Who wrote I, Jedi?

Copyright August 5, 2001 by Kelly M. Grosskreutz.



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