Thursday, September 6, 2018

DragonCon 2018!

I see I have not updated my blog in an entire year. Well, welcome to my annual DragonCon wrap-up post for 2018!

For those of you who are interested, my fun fantasy novel Skytown is now available as an ebook as well as paperback, and you might also like my family-friendly science-based podcast Strange Animals Podcast.

Usual warning: this will be long. I'll try not to make it too boring.

I arrived in Atlanta fairly late on Thursday night, too late to do anything except get my badge and try to get cash out of an ATM. I forgot my PIN (you know, the same number I've had for years) and by the time I remembered it, I'd been locked out of my account.

Fortunately, I had my credit card with me because other than my debit card, I had exactly one dollar in cash.

This year I stayed in a downtown hotel, a Budgetel Inn that's only a ten-minute walk from the Marriott but which has free parking and rates no higher than the Smyrna Red Roof Inn I've stayed at the last few years. It wasn't exactly a five-star hotel, but it was clean and it's not like I spent much time there anyway.

I got a decent night's sleep and was at the convention really early on Friday morning. I found the Secret Food Court and ate breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, then kicked around for a while feeling good about life, before heading to my first panel of the weekend.

Above: Atlanta early Friday morning

This year I was scheduled for my very first DragonCon panel on the podcasting track. It wasn't until Sunday, but I wanted to start off the con in that track so went to their kickoff panel. It was fun and interesting, and I introduced myself to the track director and dropped some stickers on the freebie table. I also grabbed a free lanyard advertising some company I'd never heard of, because the lanyard I'd brought had an orange background like the DragonCon volunteers and I didn't want anyone to confuse me with someone who knew what they were doing.

Next I went to a Welcome to Night Vale panel with Cecil Baldwin, Symphony Sanders, Hal Lublin, and Mark Gagliardi. It was a really funny panel that I thoroughly enjoyed even though the room was huge and I was too far back to get decent pictures.

Above: Symphony Sanders building an eight-tier castle out of water cups

After that I went to the YA in SPAAAAAACE panel, which was also interesting and funny, then headed out to a puppetry track panel, The Puppetry of MST3K. While I was waiting in line, I texted my friend Kevin of The Flopcast to see if we could figure out a time to meet later that day. We texted back and forth a few times, and then Kevin mentioned he was in line to see The Puppetry of MST3K.

I looked around. Kevin stood not ten feet away from me, but neither of us had noticed the other.

The room wasn't too full so we were able to get seats together. The panel was great, and Joel Hodgson was naturally very witty and interesting. He had Crow and Tom Servo bots with him and a couple of the people working with the new iteration of MST3K joined him too, one of whom Kevin knows. Kevin knows everyone.

It was 4pm after that panel let out and I hadn't even had lunch yet, so I said goodbye to Kevin and went to the Secret Food Court again to get a burger, fries, and a gigantic Coke because I was so thirsty. It wasn't an especially hot day but it was humid and I was sweating like crazy.

After I ate, I headed to the Sheraton for a panel at 5:30. But as I waited to get in, I remembered that I had gone to a panel very like that one the year before, or maybe 2016, and had left early because it wasn't as interesting to me as I'd hoped. I checked the schedule and decided to head to the Marriott and attend an American Sci-Fi Classics track panel about movies released in 1968. I mostly just went to have somewhere to go, but it was really funny and interesting. It was presented by the people who do Retroblasting, so they're worth checking out.

After that, same room but two decades later, I attended the Geek Year 1988 panel, which was also good and I had even seen a few of the movies they mentioned. And after that, it was back to the Sheraton, still sweating, for a panel about pirates in popular culture.

Above: Sideshow Bob Ross. Sorry the lighting is so bad.

I was tired after that, and because I'd been playing Pokemon Go, not only did my phone need charging, my phone charger also needed charging. I walked back to my hotel room and plugged both in, ate some trail mix, and lay down to rest for a bit and finish reading a murder mystery I was almost done with.

The book took longer to finish than I expected, and since I'd turned off my phone so it would charge faster, I didn't realize how late it was. I'd been planning to attend a late panel at 11:30 in the Westin, but when I turned my phone back on it was already 11:25.

I hurried, and made it to the Westin at about 11:45. But it turned out that the panel was not for me, so I left after only a few minutes and walked back to the Marriott to look at costumes and wait for the Aurelio Voltaire concert to start. I was parched but had no cash, and couldn't find anywhere open where I could get a cold drink with my card.

It took a long, long time--like seriously, at least twenty minutes--to get everyone into the ballroom who had been waiting in line. Usually I'm in line too but this year I'd planned to skip Voltaire. I'm glad I didn't, though. Even though I couldn't get as close to the stage as I wanted, I had fun and the show was great as always.

I headed back to my hotel afterwards. Since it was after 1am I'd brought a pair of drumsticks in my bag as a makeshift weapon, just in case. I never did have even a momentary problem the whole weekend, though, and after Friday night I didn't bother to bring the sticks.

I got to talking to a guy also walking back to the same hotel from the convention. I should have known when he told me I was "braver than most ladies" for walking alone that I was dealing with an asshole, but I like to assume the best about people. I told him I had a pair of drumsticks in my bag, and that the area seemed perfectly safe anyway. He agreed, then said that he hoped Atlanta didn't elect any liberals to the city council since things would go downhill fast then. I snapped, "Well, I'm a liberal," and he doubled down, insisting that violence in big cities was due to liberal policies.

You know, there was a time about two years ago that I would have just changed the subject. But NOT. FUCKING. ANYMORE. I'd just come from a concert where Voltaire had stressed acceptance and tolerance, and this rando was the opposite of everything me and millions like me find important.

So I shut him down hard. I told him, "I don't know about those cities, and I'm pretty sure you don't either. I'm from Knoxville and our crime rate is low, and we have a liberal mayor." I can't remember what all else I said, but he finally gave up--or maybe I was coming across as angry enough that he remembered I had those sticks in my bag. He was the one who changed the subject.

Fortunately, that was the only negative all weekend, and it didn't leave me with a bad feeling because I'd stood up to the guy instead of simmering in silence. Also, my cousin Molly texted me the next day that Atlanta does have a liberal city council--is, in fact, famous for it. So there, ignorant asshole guy.

I got about four hours of sleep and sprang up the next morning to greet day two of DragonCon!

I was pretty bleary and it took me a while to get breakfast. I don't like Starbucks so I went to the food court attached to the MARTA station to find a less crowded and more appealing coffee shop. Kevin told me later that the Secret Food Court was actually open on Saturday this year, and I wish I'd known.

I took my coffee and food to the Hilton to catch part of the Saturday morning cartoons being shown in the Brit Track room. I thought it would be packed, but when I came in, there were only about a dozen people scattered around the room, sipping coffee and watching the tail-end of Wallace and Gromit in stony silence.

I stayed long enough to watch one episode of the new Thunderbirds Are Go, but left when a second one started (even though it was the far superior original). I was worried that if I waited too long, I wouldn't be able to get to the Marriott for a 10am panel about Schoolhouse Rock, because the skybridges and roads are closed during the parade.

The Schoolhouse Rock panel was great! The first half was a panel discussion, including Kevin, and the second half we watched some of the shows and sang along. Kevin had come in costume, cosplaying Cloris Leachman in the 80s-era VHS release of Schoolhouse Rock, which was hilarious! It was even more hilarious when I realized how extremely hungover he was.

I still didn't get a chance to catch up with Kevin, though, because we both had to leave for our next panels. I went back to the Hilton for another podcasting track panel, this one about audio editing. I got some good tips from it, too.

After that I got lunch, sort of. I grabbed a chicken salad sandwich at CVS along with some snacks. It was horrible. Seriously, it was SO horrible. In fact, I've been blaming the pizza I had later that day on my upset stomach the next morning, but I wonder if the chicken salad was the culprit.

Anyway, once I'd choked down the sandwich I headed to the Westin for the goth music/goth scene panel I always attend. This year it was called "Goth A.D. 2018." There's a Starbucks in the Westin and I decided to get a vanilla bean frappuccino as a special treat after my disgusting lunch. Only I ordered the wrong thing. I ordered a venti vanilla frappuccino, and ended up with a gigantic coffee and caramel thing that cost me $6 and tasted nasty. I don't like coffee much. I drank it anyway, or half of it. My food choices on Saturday were not good ones.

The goth panel was awesome, as always. Immediately after that I headed to the Marriott to another American Sci-Fi Classics panel, the roll-a-panel for 1978 and 1998 movies and TV shows. Kevin was on that one too (everyone is on the roll-a-panel panels). I don't think I'd seen any of the shows it covered, but it was funny and that's all I care about.

After that I went back to the hotel long enough to take my contacts out, although I regretted taking the hour off when I checked the DragonCon schedule and realized I was missing like three panels I'd have liked to attend. But I was back at the Marriott in time for a Star Wars panel speculating about Episode IX. It was really interesting! If I have a fandom at all, it's Star Wars, although I'm only interested in the movies, not the extended universe stuff.

If you want to listen to the panel, the Skytalkers podcast recorded it and it's available for download.

After being so thirsty the night before, I had come prepared Saturday night. I had one of those good water bottles that actually keeps things cold, and not only had I been pounding water all day, after the Star Wars panel I found a place selling beer singles that also took cards. The choice wasn't good, so I ended up with a Heinekin. I got a slice of shitty con pizza to go with it and tried to figure out how to transfer the beer to my water bottle without spilling it all over myself or dropping my pizza.

I decided to attend whatever panel was going on in the American Sci-Fi Classics room. As it happens, it was a panel about V, which I do remember watching--at least the first episodes--but have no clear memory of the show itself. But the panel was lively, the audience engaged, I laughed a lot, and I was able to complete the transfer of beer from (tall) can to water bottle. It just fit, too.

I'd texted Kevin earlier to see if he was going to see the Doubleclicks that evening, and he said sure, if I was going. After the V panel I had an hour or so to kill, so I wandered around for a while, sipping my shitty beer and getting pleasantly tipsy because I cannot hold my liquor, and ended up at the Hyatt concourse where bands play all day and night. I watched part of I:Scintilla's set before I left to get in line for the Doubleclicks.

A guy in the Marriott dressed as the Marriott

It was a while before Kevin was able to join me, but I had fun talking to a couple of people in line near me. One couple was from Knoxville too and asked me where I'd had my tattoos done. I couldn't remember, because I was drunk. (It's Vivid Tattoo, incidentally.) Another woman in line had a teeny tiny rubber duckie that someone had given her. I wanted one of the teeny rubber duckies SO BAD, but I never got one.

Above: Kevin and me. I am not entirely sober. Photo taken by the girl with the tiny duckie

Kevin finally joined me, which gave us time to actually talk and catch up until the line started moving. The Doubleclicks were playing in one of the big ballrooms this year, which hold thousands of people. They had a full light show and everything, and they were clearly delighted. They were both wearing shiny outfits that they said were new just for the show. They played a great set, including a cover of "In the Middle" that as you recall made me cry last time I heard them play it at DragonCon. But I'm in a much better place now than then, and I didn't cry.

I might have teared up a little bit.

It was a great show, not too crowded, relaxed and fun. Kevin and I were literally right up against the stage. I wanted to tell Aubrey I loved her earrings, because we were actually close enough that I'd hardly have to raise my voice, but I didn't. But I did totally love her earrings.

I headed back to the hotel after the concert, and got about five hours of sleep. I'd wanted to attend one of the new diversity track panels at 8:30, but I overslept and didn't get to the convention until after it had started, and then I decided to get breakfast first. So my first panel of day three was part of the Silk Road track, a presentation called Bento 101.


Seriously, I've been bringing my lunch ever since in a cheap $3 bento box, and I'm eating so much more healthily and enjoying it so much! I'd been eating out way too often because I was sick of sandwiches and chips, but now I throw some rice in the cooker when I get home from work (with chicken broth instead of water, and some baby carrots), and pack it in my bento box the next morning along with veggies and fruit. I've also ordered a bunch of cute and useful things to make my bento fancier--rice presses and a hardboiled egg mold shaped like a skull, and food picks and little food cups. But I don't actually need any of it to eat well.

Anyway, okay, back to DragonCon. (Hey, you know what else goes well in bento? Microwave a sweet potato for about 8 minutes, then when it's cool, cut it up and pack it in your bento box. So good.) After the bento presentation I went to the skeptics track room. I used to spend a lot more time there, but in the last few years it seems like they've been doing less fun stuff and more naval-gazing. This was a panel about Skeptoid, a podcast I used to listen regularly, and I thought it would be fun to see what was going on. It turned out to be about listener feedback, not only recorded live for a future episode, but they wanted volunteers to read listener letters. And I volunteered.

I went second, so didn't have much time to prepare--plus my letter was long and barely more than gibberish--so I don't think I did a very good job reading it. But I had fun. After that I had an hour free before the next panel I wanted to attend, so I went to a Subway and got a boring but filling lunch. I took it back to the Hyatt to see what band was playing.

It turned out to be Landloch'd, and they were fantastic! I'd only planned to stay a few minutes, but I couldn't tear myself away. When their set was over I bought two CDs and wish now that I'd gotten one of them signed, but I was in a hurry to get to my next panel and didn't think of it.

Above: Landloch'd

The next panel was "Workshop - Kickstarting Your Album." I don't have an album but I do write YA about musicians, so I figured it would be useful. Laser of the Doubleclicks was on the panel along with all four members of the Misbehavin' Maidens. I took notes, and I was writing so fast it felt like I was back in college taking notes for a final. There was just so much good information! Laser said they're writing a book about the topic too, so if you're interested, keep an eye out for that.

And after was time for my own panel. I bolted from the Hyatt and made it to the Hilton in eight minutes flat--seven if you count the extra minute I spent trying to find a bathroom that didn't have a line out the door. I gave up finally and went to the panel room. Kevin was already there as my cheering section, and he introduced me to the moderator, Mike Faber of the ESO Network. Kevin's podcast is part of the ESO Network, and anyway we've already established that Kevin knows everyone. Kevin also knows Jay and Steve Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, who were also on the panel, along with two women I didn't get a chance to talk to. Their names were Tiffany of the North by North Quest gaming podcast and Lauren, whose podcast name I didn't catch. I feel bad about that--it's a true crime podcast, that's all I know.

The room filled up quickly. At one minute until four, I got a text from my aunt asking if I wanted to come over for dinner. I texted back to remind her that I was in Atlanta and my panel was starting in one minute. She wrote back wishing me good luck, and then it was time to start.

Public speaking doesn't bother me and I knew there was nothing I'd be asked on the panel that I couldn't answer comfortably--I mean, it's not like it was an oral exam or something--but I was still a bit nervous. When I poured myself a glass of water and raised it to drink, I realized my hand was shaking.

But the panel went well. Mike did a good job keeping things moving but relaxed, the audience asked intelligent questions, and I don't think I said or did anything too boneheaded. I made everyone laugh a couple of times.

Above from L to R: Jay Novella, Lauren, Tiffany, Mike Faber, me (Kate Shaw), and Steve Novella. Kevin took this photo, which is why it's so much better than the others.

The hour flew by. Then it was over and I had survived. I thanked Mike, talked to Kevin for a few minutes, and wrote my name and podcast on the banner behind the table. Then I headed for the next panel.

This one was about the Victorian Music Scene, part of the alternate history track. I enjoyed it, although I was also distracted by all the texts and tweets I'd received wishing me well and asking how the panel had gone. Also, Molly and I were meeting to eat after the panel and I was STARVING now that I wasn't nervous.

We decided to go to a Mexican place called the Bone Garden, which sounded amazing! I took MARTA to the Arts Center stop and met Molly, and from there we drove to the restaurant. But it took me a while to get to the MARTA station, plus the train was late, and it was Sunday evening. By the time we reached the restaurant, it had already closed.

We went to another Mexican place not too far away. It took a while to get seated, but it was really good and worth the wait. I told Molly ALL ABOUT BENTO while we waited. Then we ordered margaritas and I got tipsy, of course. Apparently most people don't get tipsy from one drink? I don't know, seems weird.

It was late when Molly dropped me back off at the convention, because in addition to taking a long time to get a table, after we ate we wanted to get ice cream but the only place open literally had a line out the door and down the sidewalk. We ended up at a gas station where we bought Klondike bars.

I wandered around for a while, looking at costumes, and ended up in the Hyatt Concourse again to see who was playing. It was Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands, not really my favorite kind of music but I stayed because the drummer was amazing! I have to write up two concerts for my drum class this semester, so I'm definitely including this one.

Above: that blur is the drummer for Crystal Bright

I really wanted to stay up and go to the Mayhayley's Grave concert at midnight. I'd seen them play in the concourse briefly--long enough to know they'd put on a great show--but I just couldn't stay awake. I left around 11:30, walked back to my hotel, and fell into bed.

When I woke, it was Monday morning, last day of DragonCon. I packed the car up, then walked to the Hilton and got breakfast at the little overpriced cafe. Then I took my caffeinated blood to the blood drive and donated. It was still early so I didn't have to wait at all. The nurse said I filled my blood bag in only eight minutes, which as you'll recall is the same amount of time it takes to walk from the Hyatt to the Hilton on Sunday afternoon during DragonCon.

There were only two panels I wanted to attend that morning, but I had to check out of my hotel first. I assumed I'd need to move my car after I checked out, but I asked if it was possible to leave my car in the parking lot for a few more hours before I left Atlanta. The lady at the desk said sure, which just made my day and saved me $20 too.

I attended my last podcasting track panel, Writing for Audio Dramas, which was interesting. Then I went back to the American Sci-Fi Classics track for one last panel, Classic Sci-Fi Court. They did this last year too and it was incredibly funny, so I was glad to see it again with different movies. Kevin was on the panel this year too. It was really funny, a great ending to my DragonCon.

Above: Judge Joe Crow presiding

Before I left, Kevin and I took a quick turn through the walk of fame to see who was still there. We saw some of the people from Sesame Street and Lou Ferrigno of The Incredible Hulk TV show, and some other folks. Then Kevin and I hugged and said goodbye, and I left DragonCon until next year.

I gave my dollar to a homeless man, if you were wondering.

I've already bought my membership to DragonCon 2019. See you next year!