Seven years ago, Kentucky author Stephen Zimmer launched an event that offered the atmosphere of a convention combined with the content of a major writing conference. He titled it “Imaginarium.”
“I wanted it to be inclusive of all genres,” he says. “I wanted to embrace all types of writing so that lyricists and poets, screenwriters, and game writers felt every bit as comfortable as those who write novels and short stories.”
He adores watching people from various genres as they meet each other and network during Imaginarium’s panels and workshops. “Filmmakers and novelists think, ‘Oh, I can make a game with my characters,’ and they get together with game designers and get those creative juices flowing,” he explains.
This year’s seven-day online event offers almost 130 panels and workshops, which cover every genre from mystery and romance to steampunk and graphic novels. “The cross pollination is beneficial,” Zimmer explains. “If you’re writing a mystery and want a scare, you can learn horror elements from a great horror writer or put a little mystery into your horror writing. People learn from each other outside their box.”
What you’ll learn at Imaginarium
Among the panels and workshops at Imaginarium, attendees find titles such as “Marvel versus DC Comics,” “Everything You Want to Know about Writing but are Afraid to Ask,” “Contracts: The Good, the Bad, and the Oh, Heck, No,” and “Research is Not a Four-Letter Word.” A “Writer’s Toolbox” panel gives participants a look at the habits of professional authors – details like whether they write longhand or embrace cutting-edge novel plotting software.
Poet and author Lee Pennington will speak in 2020 on a panel about historical fiction, while science fiction and fantasy author Lee Martindale teaches a workshop titled “Writing Killer Openings” to increase a writer’s odds of selling a manuscript. Each year, attendees can learn to make a documentary, write a web series, craft a screenplay, write song lyrics, and design a video game.
Zimmer has been particularly excited about introducing writers to the genre of “Lit RPG,” or literary role-playing games. In 2020, Shadow Alley Press founder and bestselling author James A. Hunter will teach people about this relatively new genre, which blends the conventions of role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons with science fiction and fantasy fiction.
Holly Phillippe is Imaginarium’s convention manager. In 2020, she is excited to welcome Bloody Mary, New Orleans’ renown storyteller and “voodoo priestess,” along with writer Howard Scott Warshaw, the former game designer turned psychotherapist who created the Atari game E.T.
F. Paul Wilson has been a guest of honor at Imaginarium; he’s the bestselling author of the Repairman Jack series. “He represents our spirit,” Zimmer says. “He’s accessible, and he’ll take time with a brand new writer to share his insights and advice on the craft of writing.”
Richard A. Knaak, author of the Dragonlance novels, has been a featured guest, as has creative writing professor Tim Waggoner, who writes in the thriller, horror, and fantasy genres. In 2020, bestselling author Chasity Bowlin will teach a workshop on career planning for the new author, designed to teach writers how to phase out their day jobs. She’ll also teach a class on how to write historical romance in a competitive market.
Past Imaginarium speakers have also included urban fantasy and paranormal romance author Aimee Easterling, filmmaker and screenwriter Antonio Pantoja, game designer Eric Wile, author/game designer Ana Maria Selvaggio, and author/book review podcaster R.A. Mejia.
Advice for first-time attendees
For introverts attending the conference, there’s a panel on how to approach strangers and network to find mentors and opportunities. “You may find your next partner in crime,” Phillippe says. “You may find your next co-worker or screenwriter if you don’t know how to make a film of your novel. And if you have a fantasy novel and want to make it into a game, there are game designers.”
The atmosphere is comfortable, light-hearted, and celebratory. “Throughout the day, there are panels and workshops and film festival screenings,” Phillippe says. “At night, you can let your hair down and have a little fun. There’s live music and belly dancers, magic, and a game hall with all kinds of gaming.”
Many authors and vendors show up dressed as their favorite characters from speculative fiction, film, and games. Attendees are encouraged to dress up as well.
“The cosplay definitely loosens up the environment,” Zimmer says. “It’s an immersive, creative experience, an environment in which first-time writers and fans of literature and filmmakers and game designers can walk in and feel right at home alongside people who’ve written New York Times bestsellers.”
Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019.) Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart
Imaginarium at a glance
Dates: September 21-27, 2020
Cost: From $50
Location: Remote, online