Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Star Wars Celebration V: Collect All 21! Connections

Although I didn’t land on any panels or have a booth at Star Wars Celebration V, I did have a lot of fun sharing Collect All 21! last week, even if my daughter and I had to lug my 10 copies in our carry-on bags because they pushed our shared suitcase just over the airline’s 50-pound limit.

For starters, the day we flew out of Akron-Canton, I spent the morning getting some new promotional postcards printed up for the book, since Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, had just written this incredibly nice blurb:

“Collect All 21!” is a deliciously warped nostalgia trip through Star Wars fandom. From collecting Kenner action figures to eating Star Wars birthday cakes to scribbling fan letters to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Booth shamelessly flaunts his lifelong lust for all things Star Wars. Like a tractor beam, this endearing account draws us in, and makes us reminisce about our own geeky obsessions.

I mean – WOW. If you haven’t read Ethan’s book (and here are my reasons why you should), the new paperback edition comes out Sept. 1, so why not go order it?)

A couple days later, on Aug. 11, I spent the afternoon in Clermont, Fla., hanging out at Heroes Landing and talking comics and Star Wars with Adam, The Force Among Us creator Cris Macht, and Korgi author/illustrator Christian Slade. A steady stream of customers to the store led to some book sales and a lot of Celebration V chatter, and I traded a copy of my book for Cris’ DVD, which I couldn’t pass up after noticing, “Hey, those are my OSWCC friends in that movie!”

Pre-Celebration V event at Heroes Landing in Clermont, Florida.

I was also introduced to Felix Albuerne of the Prime Time Geek program, which proved to be an awfully timely meet-up, since he called me four days later for a fun interview about my book, which he worked into this post-Star Wars Celebration edition of the show.

I already wrote an overview of Celebration Day One, but I want to stress here again how fun it was to finally meet Steve Sansweet – not because of his status as a megacollector and Lucasfilm fan liaison, but because of what his first Star Wars-related book meant to me. This is from the Collect All 21! chapter called “The Dark Times”:

Then Steve Sansweet’s “ Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible” book came out. This thing came at me out of nowhere one afternoon in a mall bookstore, and I absolutely devoured it: page after page of the toys I’d had, the toys I’d craved, and sweet God, the toys I’d never even known existed but now wanted to see. And for just the second time in my life, my eyes fell upon the image of a Blue Snaggletooth. This single picture and one-paragraph explanation of the figure’s existence, maybe more than anything else in that book, put the scent of Star Wars collecting back in my nostrils. “Collecting” even seems too antiseptic and grown-up. This nostalgia was like being little again and feeling that bone-deep desire to Collect All 21!

So, yes, it was amazingly neat watching him sign that same now-well-worn copy of his book most of two decades later. We talked for a couple minutes about journalism (he’s a former Wall Street Journal writer, and I always appreciated the interviews and research that went into Concept to Collectible, as well as Sansweet’s ability to tell the Kenner story) and about my own writing, and when he asked me to sign the copy of Collect All 21! I gave him, that was a great moment, too.

On Friday, I met up with another fellow writer and fan, Tony Pacitti, whose My Best Friend is a Wookiee – One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy memoir is set for a Sept. 18 release. Tony’s book came to me through two near-simultaneous recommendations: GeekDad Jonathan Liu sent me a personalized, signed ARC he’d picked up during his coverage of the San Diego Comic Con, and while it was in the mail, Ethan Gilsdorf sent me a link to Pacitti’s book asking if I’d seen it.

After online introductions and back-and-forth messaging, Tony and I met face-to-face:

Two guys with excellent taste in literature.

I gave him a copy of my own book, and he plowed through it after the convention and wrote up some cool reactions here. Even though we’re fans of different generations – he watched the original trilogy on VHS and came of age during the prequel era – I enjoyed his book and it’s deserving of its own dedicated review post rather than a paragraph shoehorned into this entry.

The last panel I attended on Friday was titled “Why We Love the Prequels,” and while I’ll admit I enjoyed it probably more than I was prepared to, I really went because Fanboys director Kyle Newman was there. See, awhile back, after I’d created the Collect All 21! Facebook page, I noticed one day that he was among the new “likes” – and it just sort of floored me. So just before heading to Celebration V, I sent him a note thanking him for the support and offering him a copy of the book. He had responded with a thumbs-up, so just before the panel started, while he was hanging out near the door to the room, I introduced myself, and we talked about the book for just a minute or so. (Neat moment: He said he really liked the title, and identified with it, since he’d once considered starting a company called “12 back.”) When I told him that Jim and I had stayed up late and watched Fanboys the night before the convention kicked off – mentioning one quote from the movie in particular – Kyle nodded and said something to the effect of, “Yeah. That’s it.”

The quote? “It was never about the movie. It was about all of us.”

That line came to mind a lot during Celebration V.

Advertisements

August 20, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Travel, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Character building

I haven’t created a Dungeons & Dragons character since sixth, maybe seventh grade. And I sold my only D&D book – the Fiend Folio – more than a decade ago.

But last night, as the Cavaliers totally tanked against the Celtics, I muted the TV and hunched over our family room coffee table with a couple pencils, fresh character sheets, and my brand-new Player’s Handbook (thanks, guys who bought Collect All 21 on Saturday!).

My urge to try the game again has been growing over the past year, and my recent trip to PAX East and subsequent reading of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks fanned the flames. So when my friend Kato extended the invitation to take part in a small test-the-waters sort of adventure, I got a little bit psyched.

And then – oh, yes, then the all-but-unforeseeable occurred: Jenn expressed an interest in playing, too. Now, she’s a former theatre buff, so role-playing seems to me like something she always would have kind of been open to, but she was always just a little wary when I brought up the notion of hanging out with our friends and rolling d20s for a night.

I went out and picked up the Player’s Handbook on Sunday, surprised at the kind of retro-flashback thrill I got standing there at the gaming shelves and picking out my copy. Brought it home and perused it a bit, and then, after dinner, when I figured we were in for watching a recorded TV show or two, Jenn says, “Hey – I thought we were going to make our characters?”

In we dove: It was strange not using the dice-rolling method (Kato advised us that as beginners, we’re probably better served with a less random approach) to determine our ability scores, but again – penciling numbers in those spaces labeled STR, CON, DEX, INT, WIS and CHA … well, it just poked into some really, really super-dormant corners of my head in a completely enjoyable way.

We clumsily worked our way through the process of figuring in the bonuses for our races and classes (an Elven Cleric for Jenn, and me a Halfling Rogue) though with only one copy of the book, there was a lot of flipping back and forth and bookmarking with stickynotes. We wrote down our Hit Points and carefully logged our Defense Modifiers, and before we could finish, it was time to go pick up our daughter from her weekend trip, so we closed up shop for the night. Monday, then, I picked up where I’d left off, and I think I’m mostly finished. My character still lacks a name, though he’s got a sketched-out backstory in my head, and the plan is for us to send our creations to Kato to see if we’ve managed to come up with adventurers suitable for the quest ahead.

I don’t know who else will be there – Kato’s fiancee for sure, maybe some other mutual friends, possibly even my daughter, who admitted she doesn’t know what D&D is, but she’s “read that Wil Wheaton book twice and it sounds like fun.”

There’s now a date on my calendar – not too far off! – blank except for one notation in black pen: “D+D.”

Can you hear the dice?

May 4, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Games, geek, Ohio | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Epic quest: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks landed on my “I-should-check-this-out” list when fellow GeekDad writer Michael Harrison reviewed it last year. I never got around to it, though – not even after a subsequent GeekDad interview in January brought it back into the “Oh Yeah, I Really Meant to Read That” zone.

Image: EthanGilsdorf.com

Of course, I forgot all about it again until Friday night at PAX East, when Fantasy Freaks author Ethan Gilsdorf joined the GeekDad panelists to hang out for a couple hours. I enjoyed talking with him so much that I ordered a copy as soon as I got back from the convention. It arrived Thursday, April 1, and for the next two days was my “Two free minutes? Gotta read!” go-to book.

I have mentioned before that while I had a huge interest in Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games when I was in middle and high school, I never managed to find enough like-minded kids to support a gaming group. Still, I’ve always liked reading RPG reference books and gaming modules and playing with polyhedral dice, even without the Experience Points to back me up.

So as soon as I saw the graph-paper dungeon on the end-papers and Ethan’s hand-drawn fantasy map opposite the Table of Contents, I knew I was in for a good read.

And I loved this book. Part of it’s a generational thing, I’m sure. Ethan’s got a few (not many) years on me, but the cultural backdrop of his childhood – the last years of the Cold War, worries of nuclear war and the Evil Empire, the mind-blowing release of Star Wars – is a familiar one. Even though the book as a whole isn’t a coming-of-age recollection, making that connection at the beginning put me in the right frame of mind for the quest which follows. (For me, this was a bonus, but I want to note that it’s definitely not a book geared solely to the children of the 1980s, so don’t let my nostalgia for that era oversell that angle.)

What you get in Fantasy Freaks is a great story about, well, just what the subtitle says: “An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.” And it’s not a dry sort of academic journey: Ethan’s in full-on geek mode (albeit sometimes reluctantly) as he revisits the books and games and culture that shaped his teenage years and gets back into their modern counterparts. Then he checks out previously-unexplored aspects like Live Action Role-Playing, convention attendance, World of Warcraft and the real-life tourist draws of New Zealand in the wake of The Lord of the Rings.

Ethan tells the story well, both as a geek and as a journalist, letting his fandom drive the journey without dominating it, and connecting with the real-world characters he meets along the way while never fearing to ask tough questions of himself, too.

There’s a lot of cultural crossover in geekdom anymore, with comics and science fiction and fantasy and gaming all appealing to a pretty broad group of people, and I think maybe that’s why someone like me, who’s never even played a true game of D&D, can still get so much enjoyment out of a book like this.

A couple weeks back, I started reading the D&D Fourth Edition rules at the invitation of some friends who run a semi-regular game and tell me it’s casual enough that I’m welcome to join in for a session and see how it goes. And when we were at PAX, I will admit that I looked maybe a little too long at some of the dice tables…

April 9, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, geek, Travel, writing | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

PAX East lookback, part 1.

PAX East relics

“Well,” as a certain hobbit once said, “I’m back.”

Total trip time, from leaving the bank on Thursday morning to pulling into our driveway last night: 84.5 hours, with more than a quarter of that time – 22 hours between Canton, Ohio and Pawtucket, R.I., and another 4.5 spent going to and from Boston on Friday and Saturday – spent sitting behind the steering wheel. Total mileage: 1,490.

And completely worth every highway minute and every white-lined mile.

After a late Thursday night hanging out with my friends and gracious hosts Aaron and Jessica, I headed into Boston late Friday morning and – after a maybe 45-minute extended detour due to my missing a massive sign reading, in effect, “BOSTON – THIS WAY” – I got to the Hynes Convention Center just after 1 p.m. and found a hugehugeHUGE entrance queue. (You will undoubtedly read elsewhere about the crowds and lines at the center – honestly, I come to expect them at things like this, so I adjust my expectations accordingly. Also, I know that a lot of people work extremely hard to organize these conventions, and they’re supposed to be fun after all.) Doors were set to open at 2 p.m.

I honestly didn’t expect that by the time I made my way up to the doors of the Main Hall that Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech venue would already be at capacity.  I mean, I knew that people would go straight there even though it wasn’t scheduled to start until 3 p.m., but I also figured maybe at some point, since they had divided the queue into “Expo Hall” and “Main Hall” lines, that someone would have established a cut-off point.

So, yeah, I was pretty disappointed, but I didn’t want to let it ruin my weekend, and besides, that’s when I ran into fellow GeekDad writer and panelist Dave Banks. While we were chatting and working our way over to the main expo hall, we caught up with two other contributors, Matt Blum and Doug Cornelius, who had also missed the keynote cut. Just after three o’clock, though, doing a little more wandering, we were passing the Main Hall doors and saw they were letting people in again, so we hopped in line. (Sadly, only Dave and I made it in,  since they cut things off again right behind us.)

See that blurry Wil Wheaton? That's the BIG screen. Actual Size Wil is the fuzzy dot BELOW that. Even from the wayback, though, he still kicked ass.

Wil was only about five minutes into his speech, so we got to take in most of it from our spots standing against the back wall, and while parts of it drew from stories he has told elsewhere, the keynote was by turns hilarious and nostalgic and heartfelt and inspiring.

A note on the convention offerings: Not being there for the video game industry displays and pre-release teasing and craziness, I was much more interested in the panels and kind off lower-key attractions like the old-school console gaming room – a working, playable Vectrex? are you KIDDING ME?!? and I wonder if anyone who sat down at the Atari 2600 actually put that E.T. cartridge in – and the American Classic Arcade Museum‘s free-play collection of games.

After the keynote, I met with my Ohio friends Paul and Wendy, and then it was time to go to dinner and establish what we believe to be the largest real-world gathering of GeekDad writers to date: With Michael Harrison and Natania Barron joining Matt and Dave and Doug and me, the bar is now set at a nice even half-dozen. I mentioned in an email to everyone this morning that it felt very much like we all had met before, even though most of us have only interacted through emails and podcasts.

We talked about a general framework for our 7 p.m. panel and wondered if anyone would show up other than to simply get off their feet for an hour. (A couple of us had peeked into the panel room earlier, and honestly, it looked awful big and seemed to have a great potential to be scarily empty.)

The six of us arrived back at that room at about 6:40 p.m., and figured the crowd in the hallway outside was lined up for something else. Ten minutes later, that line was gone, and we were looking at a fully-packed room of around 250-plus . Truthfully, this was nothing short of stunning, and I’m sure that words will utterly fail in describing how encouraging and wonderful it was, and though I know the odds are against it, if anyone who was in that audience stumbles across this blog: THANK YOU SO FREAKING MUCH!!!! Seriously – we each did a little introduction and talked about our kids and our geeklikes, and then as we started just generally talking about parenting and video games and movies and books and everything, people started raising their hands and asking questions and contributing their own experiences, and it was just a ton of fun. (Matt did a write-up at GeekDad, and Doug wrote a post for his blog, too, and both of them took photos so we know it was real.

Even with 70 minutes to fill – we had started early, since everyone was in the room anyway – the time just flew by, and there were still several hands up when we had to call it quits. Outside the room, a couple people came up to me to talk some more, and I saw other GeekDad writers having similar conversations. It’s almost three full days later and remembering it still makes me a little giddy.

Paul & Wendy had managed to get in, and they joined all of us for a post-panel trek for drinks, as did Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who, if I recall correctly, is a friend of Michael & Natania. His book has been on my to-read list for awhile, and even though it’s coming out in paperback this fall, after talking to him for awhile about writing, I couldn’t wait that long, so I ordered a copy this morning. He also bought a copy of Collect All 21!, which was an awfully nice thing to do.

We all went our separate ways once back at the convention center, since it was getting late, and while I was on my way out, I ran into Penny Arcade co-creator and PAX co-founder Mike Krahulik, capping a pretty damn fine day.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Games, geek, science fiction, Travel, Web/Tech, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

   

%d bloggers like this: