Saturday, June 30, 2007

Summer Camp

The Northeastern Writers' Conference, or Necon, is a pretty special event. The conference is held at Roger Williams University (which I almost attended for Grad school, but alas it was not to be), giving myself and two hundred and ninety-nine writers, artists, and fans a chance to relive the glories and horrors of dormitory life. We sleep two to a room, eat our meals in the cafeteria, and attend panels in lecture halls. I attended my first Necon last year and was hooked. Being able to hang out and shop talk about writing with a group of professionals I've long admired, as well as to be able to rub shoulders with a number of up and coming writers just starting to make their bones in the field was an experience I won't forget.

I can't write about certain details of the conference, as the conference motto is "what happens at Necon, stays at Necon". This will be the twenty-seventh year that the conference is being held; why the organizers haven't sued the Las Vegas tourism bureau yet, I don't know. Suffice to say that the the conference is three hundred writers, artists and fans, and they are all staying in a college dormitory--you can fill in the blanks.

There are a few things that I think I write about without fear of reprisal; I don't think the conference omertà extends to the dealers' tables and Olympic events. My particular event is what the Neconites call Hi-Lo Jack. When I was in college we called it Setback, and my roommate and I were a formidable team, almost as formidable as my partnership with my cousin Matt. Hi-Lo Jack uses one deck of cards and has four points which the players bid on, the High, the Low, the Jack, and the Game. The High, Low and Jack are only worthwhile in the bid winners' trump suit, whereas all Game cards count for game. In totaling Game, Aces are four points, Kings three, Queens are two, the Jacks are worth a point, and tens are ten points. The game at Necon is Cutthroat, meaning that the four players are out for themselves and not partnered, and they play a version where the dealer can steal a matching bid, i.e. take a three bid away from another bidder for three and not four the way the rest of the non-dealing saps would need to.

Anyhow, I always considered myself pretty good at Setback. I'd never played it Cutthroat style, however, and I'd certainly never played Rhode Island Cutthroat Hi-Lo Jack, which left me pretty nervous, actually. Like I was afraid the Necon Police would drag me out and throw me into the bay if I didn't put up a decent showing.

Unfortunately, my nerves must have caused my already grim expression to set throughout the competition, because after I won the first round to advance to the finals I overhead one of the campers say, "What the heck is with that guy? You think maybe he could have smiled once, like when you dealt him Ace-King-Queen of hearts?"

Her companion, rightly, pointed out that there wasn't a whole lot you could do when one person got the cards, and the other three didn't.

I'm not normally unfriendly, and I'm not really shy, but there was something about playing in a tournament with a bunch of people (writers!) who knew both the rules and each other that caused me to present an unpleasant, boorish card sharp image to my fellow players, an unfeeling automaton like one of those World Series of Poker jerks who sits in reptilian repose, not even twitching as they coldly game their way through a million dollar hand.

It didn't help my likability at all when I won the finals in four hands. First to eleven wins (and you need to win by two), so I would have needed to have at least three three bids and a two bid. Not bad when you consider that the quickest you could win a game of Hi-Lo Jack is in three hands.

My fellow players were a gracious bunch, and were very kind to me after I explained that I was really not some grifter playing a short con, that it was really just nerves and social awkwardness that caused me to play like the Borg. They joked with me about it over drinks in the quad, and even clapped and cheered for me when I accepted my gold medal (although there was one fellow camper who I think was gritting her teeth at me throughout the ceremony, and I thought about the ladies' at my Mom's bingo hall when I was ten years old, how they pinched my cheeks with intense fervor on the night I won the forty dollar fill-the-card Blackout jackpot).

There actually was a gold medal, and I'm thrilled to say that it was designed and cast by none other than Gahan Wilson, whose cartoons have graced The New Yorker and Playboy among others. Mr. Wilson has created a few of my favorite cartoons ever, including my all time favorite, the caption of which is "I paint what I see, child."

Had I known about the actual medal ahead of time, I think I would have been even more nervous and loathsome, because I would really, really have wanted to win.

Here's a picture of my *ahem* Hi-Lo Jack Gold Medal:

I'll write about my adventures at the dealer tables a little later. Gripping, edge of your seat stuff, I know.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Army of Me

First up, I should let everyone know that I am not the Dan Waters who wrote the screenplay to Heathers. I have made a suitcase full of dorky mix tapes for girls in the past, but I have never stood below a girls' bedroom window holding aloft my boom box blasting songs of undying love. Well, maybe once. Three times. That's it. He wrote a script that didn't get used for Catwoman and one that did for Hudson Hawk and a bunch of other stuff and I am not him.

I'm not the Dan Waters who makes pottery, nor am I affiliated in any way with Dan Waters Auctioneers. I'm not the Dan Waters who is a poet, printer and printmaker on Martha's Vineyard. I'm not the Dan Waters who formed the Cool Waters band with his brother Greg, although I'm a little jealous of them.

I'm not the Canadian politician, but you can read all about him on Wikipedia. I'm not the track star or the pitcher (these two might actually be the same person, but I've been too lazy to check). I'm not the guy who writes software, or the Dan Waters who is the Director of Retail policy at the Financial Services Authority. I'm not the Dan Waters who is a cowboy in Fayette, Missouri and is nicknamed "Big Muddy", although my brother Mark, who is a fireman, is called Muddy by his pals at the station. Most of my nicknames are unprintable.

I'm not the Methodist pastor, the member of the Royal Asiatic Society, the guy who wrote Faces of Hong Kong or the other guy that wrote That's Life in the Big Ten, each available on

I've now gone through twenty five Google pages of Dan Waters entries, and the only one that is actually a reference for me is a listing on the NECon registration page. And me, with my grand life of accomplishment! It hardly seems fair, but I refuse to be depressed. Somewhere out there a Google hit awaits me. The real me.

In seventh grade my world was rocked when I learned that another Dan Waters had enrolled in my school. This upstart Dan Waters did not look like me or talk like me, and, frankly, did not like me. Not that I can blame him. We sort of circled each other warily, giving each other a wide berth in the rare moments we would cross paths in the dim halls of Murphy Junior High, as though we were afraid actual physical contact might annihilate us both. I would see him at the corners of my vision, talking to a mutual friend or eating from a small bag of Doritos, which happened to be my favorite brand of snack chip at the time. Was that a mocking smile on his lips as he bit into the folded over ones, my favorites? Even eye contact with Dan Waters was painful to me.

Thankfully, we ended up going to different high schools, so we only had to endure two years of each others' abhorrent company. But every so often the phone would ring and it was not me but that other Dan Waters that the girl on the other end of the line was asking for. I would wonder: is his father named Jeff Waters, like mine? Did he, like me, have a beagle mutt named Pennies that would jump up to take a piece of cheese (and sometimes, I admit, a Milk Bone) from his clenched lips? Did he read comic books and watch hours of cartoons after school like I did? Probably not, which was why the girls were calling him, and not me.

I often wondered what became of Dan Waters--maybe he is the poet, or the cowboy, or the doctor that I read about in Wisconsin. Wherever he is, I wish him well. I'm feeling a bit more self-actualized these days, and I no longer resent my many namesakes' their varied accomplishments, even if Google is kinder to them than me. We seem, over all, to be a pretty decent bunch of guys.

I finally cheated to get the Dan-o-centric Google tag I wanted, the one with the announcement of my novel sale to Hyperion on Publishers' Lunch Deluxe, by putting in "Dan Waters Generation Dead". Even then I have to go to the second page to find it. Generation Dead, by the way, is not the sequel to That's Life in the Big Ten. That's a different guy, remember.

So I eagerly click the link, feeling again the pleasant little stomach flip on reading the teaser announcing the sale, but again, disappointment looms. The link brings me to the login page for paying members of Publishers Marketplace, which I am not.

I wonder if Dan Waters is?