Usual warning: This will be long. And probably pretty boring, although it's not like I'm forcing you to read it at gunpoint.
This year I was able to take Thursday and Friday off, and left for Atlanta on Wednesday after work. I got to my hotel in Smyrna around 7:30pm. I didn't try to go into Atlanta that night, just relaxed and walked to Target to buy snacks and an umbrella. I ended up with crackers, cheese slices, and a pair of gray socks with black bats on them. I forgot the umbrella, which was a shame as you will soon see.
I was too excited about DragonCon to sleep well, and when my alarm woke me at 6:30 on Thursday morning, I already felt like I was three days into con weekend and feeling ragged. But I perked up quickly when I remembered I was up early to go birdwatching with my friend Kevin!
Kevin is cohost of the fun podcast The Flopcast, which I highly recommend. We've known each other probably close to 25 years at this point but the only time we see each other is at DragonCon. Last year Kevin mentioned being kind of interested in birds, so I invited him to go birding with me before DragonCon started this year. I drove into Atlanta to pick him up, and while I was waiting for him to come down, I stopped by registration to see when it would open. To my surprise, it was already up and running, and it only took a few minutes to get my badge!
Kevin and I grabbed a quick breakfast at the coffee shop in the Sheraton, then jumped in my car and headed to the Chattahoochee River. It's not far from where I was staying--in fact, two years ago I tried to find it to do some birding but the directions I had just sent me into a subdivision. This year I had better directions.
By then, of course, it was pouring rain. Kevin had brought an umbrella but I didn't have one, remember. We sat in the car for a few minutes until the rain slacked up a little, then jumped out to see some birds!
It didn't go so well. We saw some Canada geese right off, which made me hopeful that we might also see some cormorants or grebes or maybe some ducks at least, but nope, just Canada geese. Then nothing for a long time while the rain increased and the only pair of shoes I'd brought to Atlanta got wetter and wetter. The light wasn't good so the few small birds I spotted were just silhouettes.
We kept going, and then, miraculously, we spotted an osprey! It flapped wetly across the river and landed in the top of a tree. While Kevin watched it through my spare binoculars, I tried to ID the swallows skimming over the river's surface. When one landed in a dead tree not twenty feet away, I saw it was a Northern rough-winged swallow. I was so pleased that I'm afraid I pestered Kevin to stop looking at the majestic bird of prey and instead feast his eyes on the tiny bird sitting on a twig and looking not unlike every other swallow species in the world except to the trained eye.
At that point it started thundering, the rain increased to a deluge, and we decided we'd better turn back. I was so wet by then that there was no point in trying to keep partially under Kevin's umbrella, so I just walked and got wetter and wetter. Luckily I keep a towel in my car, and in fact discovered, when we got back to the parking lot, that I had a second towel in the back too for Kevin to use. Also luckily, my hotel was really closeby, because I needed to change.
Kevin waited in the car while I ran up and changed into dry clothes--all but my shoes, which were sodden. I threw my wet clothes into the tub to dry. Then we drove back into Atlanta for DragonCon!
Official programming didn't start until Friday, but there were some things going on Thursday afternoon. Kevin left to help run the newbie walking tours, and I got some lunch, belatedly bought an umbrella at CVS, and wandered around looking at costumes. As the afternoon progressed the hotels got more and more crowded--nothing like the weekend, of course, but lots of people nevertheless. I tried to find a pair of flip-flops to buy, but the only ones I could find were hideous, cheaply made, and $10. I refused to spend that much on ugly flip-flops so I just walked around in wet and stinky shoes. Eventually they dried out, although they smell like a zombie died in them. I need new running shoes anyway.
I didn't realize immediately that I was doing my own walking tour of the convention area until I was nearly to the AmericasMart 2 building even though I knew the dealer's hall wouldn't open until the next morning. I never go to the dealer's hall anyway. What I was doing, subconsciously, was getting myself oriented. It worked, too. I only got turned around once the whole weekend, and that was early on Sunday morning when I was running on only a few hours of sleep and hadn't had coffee yet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Later that evening I met Kevin, his wife Felicity, his sister Christine, and two friends of theirs for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where I ordered goat. It was good, and I was able to mark it off my bucket list as a food I wanted to try.
It was fairly late when we left the restaurant, and after some more walking around I decided reluctantly that I was too tired to stay up for the Ego Likeness show at 10:30pm. I went back to the hotel room instead and got less sleep than I needed but more sleep than the night before.
I've written over 1,000 words and DragonCon hasn't even officially started!
I woke on Friday headachey and tired. I should mention that I'm still getting over the con crud I picked up at WorldCon in Finland a few weeks before. It was a mild cold, but it settled in my chest and chest colds are so hard to get rid of. I skipped the 8:30am panel I'd been thinking of attending and got breakfast instead, coffee and an egg mcmuffin type thing at Dunkin Donuts. And a cruller.
The first panel I attended was "Dollars & Sense: The Business of YA," which was interesting and made me feel I was using my DragonCon time wisely. After that I rushed to get to the "How to Fight Like a Woman" panel/swordfighting demonstration. Every year I try to get to a swordfighting demonstration and every year the room fills up before I can reach it, but this year I made it in! It. Was. AWESOME! If I was half my age and didn't already have 500 hobbies, I'd want to take it up.
After that I attended a panel about the pop culture of 1987, which was a lot of fun, then a Skeptics Track panel called "Weird Mysteries: Applying Science to the Paranormal." That turned out to be a presentation by Ben Radford, whose presentations I've enjoyed at DragonCon before. This one was good too.
By the time it was over, it was 3:30 pm. I'd grabbed a piece of pizza earlier (Papa John’s, made in a big truck behind the Marriott and carried to various kiosks throughout the con; still $6 a slice!), but I was hungry again so got a bottle of that Naked drink that's orange and made partly of carrots. I love that stuff. Then I found a bathroom that was reasonably uncrowded and put my contacts in, brushed my hair, and basically made myself presentable, because after that I went to the "Goth: Heart of Darkness" panel. In past years this has been called something like "State of the Goth Music Scene" or some such. It had a slightly different focus this year, but it was still goth musicians, including Aurelio Voltaire, Rogue of the Cruxshadows, and members of a few other bands, and moderated by DJ Ichabod of the Out ov the Coffin podcast, whose voice I love. I honestly don't care who's on the panel or the precise topics they cover, it's just great to listen to people discuss music I enjoy.
After that I went to an 80s cartoon singalong, where they played the opening credits to a ton of cartoons, many of which I'd never even heard of--but they did have Star Blazers, which made me happy. The presenter commented on a lot of them and she was really funny--I think her name was Renee, but I'm bad with names so I could be wrong. I think she said she was a co-director of the animation track.
It was 8pm by then. At 9pm GLANK! was playing. I wasn't sure I wanted to go, but I thought it would be interesting and I might be able to use it for a paper for my drum class this semester.
Well, I'm now a GLANK! fan. They're a percussion group something like Stomp or Blue Man Group. Members are anonymous, dressed in cleanroom suits, and play a mixture of traditional and found percussion instruments. They also have a couple of other instruments--I saw an upright bass and a guitar, but it's all subtle and mostly just all about the hitting things with sticks. The crowd wasn't as big as I'd expected and not really hot at first. I was having a blast the whole time, but things really heated up when they started audience participation. They passed out shakers to those of us in the front of the dance floor, and later did some fun and somewhat complicated clapping (that kept people from clapping on 1 and 3--seriously, people, don't clap on 1 and 3. Just don't. Please.).
They had a short intermission partway through their set where members of the group came down to take selfies with audience members. I don't usually participate in that kind of thing because I hate taking selfies, but one member joined me and I didn't want to be a jerk so I got a picture of us. And I was having a lot of fun, so it's actually great to have a picture of me and a member of the band even though I look like I'm possessed by demons.
The show finished at eleven. I was thirsty and sweaty from dancing and hungry again, so I grabbed another piece of pizza and a beer. I needed a beer because I was going to see THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.
Now obviously they didn't really lock the doors and make people pay to get out. But that was the vibe. DragonCon matched donations up to $100,000 this year for the Georgia Special Olympics, and tracks were also collecting money for Hurricane Harvey relief. So there was a panel member sitting outside the room with a donation bucket, and as people left they could donate if they liked, and they got a card and/or a button.
I lasted 45 minutes. I've seen the holiday special before and didn't feel the need to see the whole thing again. Besides, beer makes me sleepy.
Next day was Saturday, and I set my alarm for 6:30 am again to make sure I was at the convention well before the parade traffic. I started the day at an 8:30 am panel, "Classic Sci-Fi Court," where panelists make a case that a particular bad movie is not as bad as it's said to be. Kevin was on that panel and defended Howard the Duck, a terrible, terrible movie. The panel was a lot of fun and a good way to start the day. Immediately after that one was a roll-a-panel in the same room. Kevin was on the panel of that one too--he was on eleven panels in all, in fact. The roll-a-panel has a big 20-sided die and every face is a different movie released in a specific year, in this case either 1982 or 1992. Someone from the audience rolls the die, and panelists have two minutes to discuss the movie. It's really fun.
Above: the Classic Sci-Fi Court, with Kevin (standing in the green shirt) begging us to not be too harsh on Howard the Duck
After that I went to the Bill Corbett Show, a panel where Bill Corbett has some hilarious guests and basically just makes everyone laugh until they're sick. His guests were Cecil Baldwin of Welcome to Night Vale, comedian Joseph Scrimshaw, and voice actor and comedian Hal Lublin. It was incredibly good, and sweet too. That was something I noticed over and over this whole weekend, in fact: various panelists and presenters mentioning either obliquely or outright that we're going through a hard time right now in our country and the world, and it's okay to seek comfort in the things we love.
There were other panels I wanted to attend after that, but I was starving. I wandered around trying to figure out what I could eat besides pizza, and ran into Kevin. We ended up getting pizza together after all, but as Kevin pointed out, even bad pizza is pretty good. After he left for his next panel, I got a vanilla frappuccino at Starbucks (the only drink at Starbucks worth having) and wandered around for a while, looking at costumes.
Then I remembered I really wanted to get a GLANK! shirt, so I went to the Marriott where all the bands have their merch tables. Sometimes it can be hard to catch someone at a particular table, since band members want to go around and have fun too, not just sit at their table all day, plus of course they usually have multiple performances. But I was lucky and a woman with her sparkly hair in two ponytails was at the table. And the first thing she said was, "Hey, you were at our show last night! I danced with you!" It turns out she was the performer who'd approached me at intermission for a selfie, and she was really awesome! We talked for a few minutes and I told her how much I'd enjoyed the show and that I'd been telling everyone about it. She asked if I was coming to their next performance that evening and I said I'd try. I bought a shirt (I’m wearing it now, in fact) and she gave me a sticker and a pin.
After that I went to the Animation track again for the Schoolhouse Rock singalong. Basically they just put the DVD of Schoolhouse Rock shorts on shuffle and everyone sang along. When "I’m Just a Bill" started, a cosplayer dressed in a Bill costume showed up and joined us, dancing along with the song. It was epic. And it's eerie how I know so many of those shorts word-perfect.
I got more pizza and did more wandering around. I wish now I'd gone to see The Pyrate Queen play at seven, but I missed my opportunity. I joined Kevin and Felicity in line for the big Gonzaroo Comedy and Music show at eight. We were in line quite a while and talked with the people around us, which was fun. I shared out some of my fun-sized Hershey bars and one of the other guys had some Hot Tamales cinnamon candy he shared too. We were close to the front of the line and got really good seats, and I forgot to take any pictures.
After Gonzaroo ended, it was ten till eleven and almost time for the Voltaire concert. I was glad it was at eleven this year instead of midnight. I skated in right before it started and wormed my way as close to the stage as I could.
He started his set with the same breakup song from his new album that he started last year's set with. I hate that song. Fucking. Hate. It. I even remember thinking that if he kept playing slow sad songs I'd leave early. But after that he played "Vampire Club" and "Brains" and basically put on a high-octane, incredibly fun show--probably the best show I've ever seen out of the six or seven times I've seen him live.
Above: the only picture I took at the show, very blurrrrry
I didn't stay after that, just headed back to the hotel, but I had to shave my legs and bring my journal up to date and find my phone that I'd somehow dropped into my pile of dirty clothes, so it was after two before I actually got to bed.
Oh, and remember those wet clothes in the bathtub from Thursday morning? They still weren't dry. Not only that, I'd managed (don’t ask) to drop a sock in the toilet so I had to wash it and its mate, and they weren't dry yet either. That left me short two pairs of socks, and I'd only brought three. Fortunately I had the new pair I'd bought at Target.
The towels in my car weren't dry either, and they were starting to stink of mildew. In fact, Saturday afternoon out of desperation I'd spread the towels on the roof of my car while it was in the parking garage. I figured if someone stole them, they weren't exactly my good towels. That helped a lot--they were mostly dry by the time I'd returned to the car after midnight--but the car still smelled sour.
I got a decent night's sleep and woke up feeling a whole lot better than I had for the last two mornings. In fact, I think I turned a corner that night in my cold (although as I type this I'm coughing my head off so who knows). I made it to the Sunday morning 10am Reel Crime panel with Bill Corbett, Frank Conniff, and Trace Beaulieu but only by skipping coffee. It was worth it, though.
I grabbed Starbucks and raced to the next panel I had on my schedule, which I thought was going to be about movie musicals. But when I got there, just after it started because for some reason I got turned around and couldn't find the room, it turned out to be about musical theater. As I wrote in my journal later, "Opera or GTFO." I don’t care about musical theater. I left and sat down against a wall, grimly choking down as much of the shitty Starbucks coffee as I could stand, along with some aspirin for the headache I'd developed while trying to find the right room.
While I waited for the caffeine and aspirin to work its magic, I scrolled through the DragonCon schedule app to see what else was going on that might interest me. I decided to head to a panel called "DIY Musician: Touring with The Pyrate Queen," which I thought might be useful when I write the sequel to my newly completed YA (it's called Kick Drum and it's about a high school girl who plays drums in a band, and my agent doesn't even have it yet so don't ask when it'll be published). Well, I wish I hadn't missed the first half of the panel because it was awesome! There weren't very many people in the audience so the panel had a low-key conversational tone. Sometimes those are the best panels of all. That's when I regretted not going to see the Pyrate Queen play the previous evening, because their only other set was at 1pm that afternoon, the same time as the "Famous Unsolved Codes" panel that I was not going to miss.
I hit the bathroom after the touring panel, and ran into the same GLANK! musician I'd talked to yesterday. She recognized me and asked if I'd made it to their 8pm show the night before. I said, "No, I really wanted to but my friends wanted me to go to the Gonzaroo show instead," and tried hard to imply that they had dragged me to Gonzaroo against my will. She looked disappointed but thanked me for my support. I felt like I'd kicked a puppy. I asked if they had another performance and she said no, but that at 1pm they had a session where they were going to talk about the instruments they used. I said I'd try to go to that one, knowing I was lying through my teeth because again, that was when the "Famous Unsolved Codes" panel was.
I will admit, I considered skipping it to see the GLANK! instruments up close. I wanted to ask how they got their bass drum sound, because I hadn't seen anything on the stage that looked like a bass drum. But I really didn't want to miss Elonka Dunin's unsolved codes panel! I enjoy her presentations every year.
Well. I enjoyed it this year too. But it was the same presentation that she gave either last year or maybe the year before. I remembered it and while I don't really regret seeing it again, I should have been more flexible in my schedule.
By the time it was over, I was starving and frantic for something that wasn't terrible pizza. I decided to walk down to the Waffle House past the Sheraton. But evidently everyone else at DragonCon had the same idea. When I got there, it was packed to the walls. I waited a few minutes, but the thought of a pile of greasy food just didn't appeal to me anyway, so I went next door to the nearly empty Subway.
The clerk at Subway seemed really intrigued by DragonCon. He asked me how long it was going on and kept pausing to watch cosplayers walk by. I got my food and sat down, appreciating the quietof the almost empty room.
While I was eating, a guy in an amazing costume walked past the windows. I don't know what it was from, and I didn't get a picture, but it was one of the big elaborate ones--probably eight feet tall including the wings. I saw him later posing in the Hilton. A guy stopped him for a picture, and then the cosplayer shuffled on, slowly because he probably couldn't see very well through the headpiece.
The Subway clerk suddenly appeared out of the Employees Only door near me, phone in hand. He rushed to the main door, but stood there staring wistfully after the cosplayer, who had passed the restaurant and was making his way down the sidewalk. The clerk had obviously been dying for a picture but wasn't fast enough. I told him if he wanted to go catch the guy I'd be happy to tell anyone who came in for a sub that he'd be back in just a minute, but he shook his head sadly and went back behind the counter.
I sat there eating the last crumbs out of my chip bag and thinking sad thoughts about people who have to work on Sundays and feeling bad about letting the GLANK! lady down too. That's how I knew I was overly stressed. My cousin Molly was out of town this weekend so she wasn't around to whisk me away from the madness of DragonCon for an hour or two, and suddenly I realized how overwhelmed I'd been. Mostly I'm used to DragonCon these days, especially now that I can find my way around without getting lost, but it was good to have a quiet moment to myself for a short time.
I took my time heading back to the convention, but I was still back by 4pm. I went to the "Creating Animated Films" panel, which I'd hoped would give basic techniques about various types of animation styles--that's what the panel description sounded like--but which turned out to be about how to become an animator. The answer to that was basically: know lots of people in the business and be easy to work with. I always wanted to be an animator, but I'll stick with writing, where at least there are official channels you can go through to break in.
Next I went to a fun panel about murder ballads, both traditional and contemporary. The panel members were the bands American MurderSong and Valentine Wolfe, both of which sound awesome and I plan to pick up some of their music along with the Pyrate Queen's. Then I went to a panel about joining a podcast network--my own podcast, StrangeAnimals Podcast, is getting popular enough that I've been approached already by one network and turned them down politely, but I did want to hear what the panelists had to say about the pros and cons of networks vs staying indie, and so forth. Unfortunately, like the animation panel, the actual panel didn't really resemble its description, so I left after half an hour and wandered around for a while. With more pizza.
Eventually I ended up in the Hyatt Concourse, where Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands was playing. The music isn't really my type but it was good and I stayed for the rest of their set. Then I stuck around for Bella Morte, who were playing afterwards. I was hoping they'd have a full band with drums, but they just did an acoustic set. I have seen bands play the concourse with full drum kits, but not in the last couple of years. I don't know if that's a new rule (too loud?) or if it's just coincidence. Either way, I was tired and decided to head back to the hotel instead of sticking around for American Murder Song's set at midnight. My wet clothes were still wet, and the socks were smelling pretty rank.
Above: one member of Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands, and some random people. There was a post in the way, okay? And mostly I was just interested in how he was playing a hi-hat and electronic bass drum along with that guitar.
In the past, I’ve never attended any of the Monday programming at DragonCon. I always just check out of my hotel and head home. But there were three panels I really wanted to see on Monday morning. Because I'd left so early on Sunday night, I actually felt remarkably well rested the next morning. I got to the convention way early, before 7:30am, and got coffee and pastries at Caribou Coffee, which is one million times better than Starbucks although that's not hard. I took my breakfast to the Marriott since the 8:30 panel I wanted to attend was there, and found a band merch table that didn't have any stuff at it. I sat there to eat my breakfast and watch sleepy-looking people wandering by.
The hotel staff were cleaning wearily. Considering that some 82,000 people were anticipated at DragonCon this year, the hotel staff do an amazing job keeping the con hotels clean. Saturday night in particular is a flat-out riot, and I barely notice when I step over puddles of vomit or passed-out partiers late Saturday night. In the mornings, the hotels are carpeted with a thin layer of glitter, feathers, sequins, and other bits of costume.
Kevin was on the 8:30 am panel, "Superhero-versary: Batgirl, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, & More." It was low-key because everyone was sleepy (except me), but a lot of fun. After that I rushed to the Hyatt for a "Future of Fantasy" panel. I was especially eager for this one because I'm starting a new writing project soon and want to choose something that will sell. It's always helpful to get an idea of what publishing trends editors and agents are seeing.
Unfortunately, since it was Monday morning, there had been some shakeups on the panel and only one panelist was actually a part of the publishing field, an agent. I actually know her name but she probably doesn't want to be connected with this panel so I'll leave her anonymous. The other panelists were the moderator, an old guy who was a writer although I didn't catch his name and couldn't even see him because of where I was sitting more or less behind a post, and another guy who I don't even know who he was--someone connected with the fantasy lit track in some way, but not a publisher or anything. I guess he was just there to help make up the numbers? Anyway, the panel started well, with the agent giving a lot of really solid advice on what is selling right now and what is not.
Basically, steampunk is out no matter how good it is because it just doesn't sell so acquisitions won't buy it no matter how hard an editor fights for it. Urban fantasy is hot again, although I don't know if she meant actual urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Grimdark epic fantasy is flying high because of Game of Thrones. YA dystopian has morphed into something closer to modern cautionary tales. Retellings of any kind are easy to sell to acquisitions because they understand what they are.
So that first half of the panel was great. But then...I don't remember how exactly it happened, but the old writer guy suddenly launched a rant about the NYT book reviews. He had already shown he was totally out of touch with current trends because he kept talking about the 80s, when I guess he was still relevant in publishing. Now he started ranting about how White Dragon had only made the NYT book reviews list because McCaffrey was a woman and it was all unfair and he was hard done by whine whine bitch, on and on. I zoned out for a while and when I tuned it again he was still at it, although he'd switched to ranting about publishers who gave away or sold at a deep discount the first book in a series, which he didn’t think would work even though two seconds before he'd said it had helped George RR Martin.
The moderator didn't say anything. I know it's not always easy to be a moderator, but a simple, "Let's get back on topic. So and so, what do you think about such and such?" would have derailed the rant. But no, it just went on and on. Then the old guy said publishers were no longer putting "Hugo Award Winner" on covers because it didn't help sell books and sometimes hurt sales, because the Hugo awards were out of touch and no one went to Worldcon anyway, and that was why "we" started the Dragon Awards. (You know, the ones where every single winner this year was white and all but one winner was a man.) To my utter shock, the other guy on the panel agreed with this and said this year's Hugo slate was totally out of touch.
The only person I could really see on the panel was the agent, because of the post and other people in my way. It may be my imagination, but from her expression she wished she was anywhere else besides in that room. She didn't say anything. The moderator didn't say anything. I raised my hand because I had a lot to say, but I was behind the post and I guess no one saw my hand.
I should have left right then. But there were only five minutes left in the panel. The old guy got one last jab in after someone asked whether standalone novels were selling. He said, "No," flatly. At this the agent said that that was not the case in middle grade and young adult, where standalone novels were selling well, and then thank goodness the time was up.
If anyone knows who that old guy was on the panel, please let me know. I'd like to avoid every single project that he's connected with even tangentially in the future. I wouldn't buy a bottle of water from him if I was dying in the desert. What a fucking asshole.
Anyway, that enraged me, but fortunately it wasn't my last panel of DragonCon. I went back to the Marriott for another roll-a-panel, this one about 1977 and 1997 movies. Kevin was on that panel too. In stark contrast to the fantasy panel, everyone was happy, inclusive, intelligent, and funny. It wasn't long before I was back in a great mood even though I'd only seen two of the 20 movies listed on the die. At the end of the panel they auctioned off the dice for charity and got $20 for one and $30 for the other, which was awesome. I threw all my remaining dollars and change into the bucket too.
Then I said goodbye to Kevin and left the convention.
I didn't use the umbrella I bought once all weekend.
The minute I got home--I mean that literally; it was the very first thing I did after I walked in--I threw all my clothes in the washer and started laundry. Now my socks smell nice and I have two fresh clean towels to put in my car for next time I get rained on. And my shoes are demoted to yardwork shoes.
If you get one message out of this superlong post, it's that you should support GLANK! They are awesome. Oh, and if you’ve read this far you clearly like something about my writing, so go check out my new book! Its called Skytown and it’s available from Fox Spirit Books.
See you next year, DragonCon.