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Careless Whispers and Canadian Pon Farr: My Dragon Con 2017 Experience

Dragon Con

I just got back from the 31st annual Dragon Con, and boy is my everything tired.

For the uninitiated, Dragon Con is a huge, sprawling 4-day festival of all things science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture, held every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve attended off and on–not only as a regular fan attendee, but also as a guest and attending pro–since 1995 or thereabouts, and I can tell you it gets more big and sprawling with each passing year.

I’m not going to go into a blow by blow of each and everything I did, because honestly that’s only mildly interesting to me. What I felt the need to do, however, was just give some of my general thoughts on the show as a whole and how it relates to my journey as a fan and as a writer. It is subtitled My Dragon Con Experience, after all. Your own mileage may vary.

THIS IS MAAAAARTA!

This year marked a first for us, in that we took MARTA, the Atlanta rapid transit, down to the show for the first time. Despite being a Georgia native, and living less than 60 miles northeast of the ATL, I’d never taken MARTA before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, though, and the experience was a pleasant one. I definitely recommend it as an alternative to not only driving, downtown, but finding a place to park and paying an exorbitant fee for the privilege.

Another hassle we didn’t have to contend with was staying in a hotel, which offers many advantages to be sure, but comes with a lot of strings attached, most of them monetary. So while I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to stay later in the evening and participate in barcon–where the writers meet at a hotel bar to network and commiserate–I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with the usual jiggery-pokery of the hotels putting up ridiculous hurdles to deal with them, like not accepting cash or surprise intentionally vague fees on top of the already sky high hotel bill. Nothing’s more fun than being charged a 13.9% tax to pay for a stadium I’ll never visit being built for a sports team I have no interest in owned by a billionaire. So I was content to just take MARTA there and back for three days.

And what a busy three days it was. Even though I wasn’t on as many panels as I have been in years past. I was fine with that too, because I’ve spent many years running back and forth from panel to panel, often between hotels (and even this year we ended up visiting all five host hotels, and had panels in all but one of them). But this year I felt a little aimless wandering around, even though we could be more flexible with the schedule than usual, which was nice.

THE HIGHLIGHTS

Now, let’s talk about the stuff that was awesome. Getting to hang out with awesome people who like the same things I like and whose minds are stuffed with useless nerd trivia. Getting to shoot my mouth off on panels. Getting to meet (or reconnect with) famous science fiction writers and my colleagues in the writing field. Those are general things and almost always happen whenever I go to any con, not just Dragon Con. Some specific bits of awesomeness for me at this year’s show included:

Doing a kaiju literature panel for the Horror track with moderator Eric Asher and writers Jake Bible, Larry Correia, and David Boop, as well as noted writer and artist on IDW’s Godzilla comics Matt Frank. We had a great time talking kaiju books, movies and comics, and several people came up afterward and wanted to know how to get hold of the Monster Earth books. I gave them my card and told them how to find them, and when I checked Amazon yesterday I had sold a few copies. Not too shabby.

I’M A MENTAT

The Writer’s Track at Dragon Con started a cool new thing this year: 15 minute mentor sessions with their author guests. It’s kind of like speed dating, but for career advice. I signed up for a session with multiple award-winning Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. I interviewed Rob during his first visit to Dragon Con way back in 2008, (and interviewed him Sunday of the con this year on a panel. More on that in a bit), and he was very gracious. He gave me some good, solid advice on where to go next with my career, and called me his mentat, which was cool. Rob even appeared about ten or fifteen minutes before our session, where I was sitting outside the designated mentor room talking to successful indie military SF author Doug Dandridge, and the three of us had a very nice chat. Indie dark fantasy author, and head honcho of Falstaff Books, publisher of a novella series I’m writing, John Hartness walked over as well to tell me his editor loves the first one and gave me the (secret, for now)release date.

On Sunday, I interviewed Rob on a panel. I thought it was a decent crowd for the Sunday morning of con, especially since my friend and fellow author Van Allen Plexico was interviewing SF authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in one of the ballrooms at the exact same time.
We didn’t have time for all of my questions, but I had planned for that. Rob talked about his TV work and a Star Trek fan production he’s been involved with, as well as his writing habits and the big ideas he uses in his novels. The audio will be available as part of Van Allen Plexico’s White Rocket Podcast.

Also, Larry Niven was in the audience at a couple of my panels, Significant Short Stories, and Remembering Roger Zelazny, which was very cool. Word is the Ringworld author doesn’t like doing panels, but he attends a lot of programming. It was great to see him in the audience.

Careless Whisper Guy

Dragon Con has been around long enough to have developed its own mythology if you will. And things occur there that simply do not occur at other conventions. One of these things is the Careless Whisper guy, a mysterious personage who stands around outside the Hyatt Regency somewhere and belts out Careless Whisper on his sax. I’d heard of him before, only in legend, but this year I finally saw him, in a most amazing way.

Now I won’t go into the sordid details here. What happens at Dragon Con stays at Dragon Con after all. But suffice it to say it involved an itinerant street preacher with a megaphone and no grasp of irony. It almost made up for not seeing Megan Follows. Almost. I’ll get to that next.

THE LOW LIGHTS

And now for the things that didn’t go off as well as I’d hoped. It’s Dragon Con. Them’s the breaks. You pays your money, you takes your chances. No one can possibly see and do everything there is to see and do at this sprawling event. You just plan the best you can, and hope for the best. This year was no different. The only saving grace with these things is that these failed moments are sometimes offset by something really awesome that you just lucked into, but never expected. Here then, are the things that didn’t go well.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE COSTUMES ARE ANYMORE

There’s a running joke with cosplay that if you don’t know what it is, it’s either from a video game or an anime. Well there must have been a whole lot of video games and anime at this year’s con. The costuming just felt a bit off this year, and I think this is part of the reason. I’m just getting old. This is the part where I start yelling at clouds and telling you kids to get off my lawn. The other part, of course, was the crowds. It was simply too crowded to see many of the cosplayers, even if I would have recognized what they were wearing. Evenings in the Marriott were like a mosh pit. The cool costumes I did see I was unable to get pictures of, because we were headed in opposite directions and it was too crowded to stop and snap a pic with my phone.

I CAN’T FIND PEOPLE

I’m not talking about not being able to connect with your friends. I’m talking about when you enter a room where you know someone will be and you still can’t find them. This happened to me in the vendor halls, where I had friends who had tables set up. While I saw a couple of folks I know accidentally, I didn’t see the guys I was looking for. Seriously. Where were they? I walked all over that place.

This also happened to me in the Walk of Fame. I don’t go out for the big media guests much, unless they were in something I enjoyed years ago. Such was the case this year with Canadian actress Megan Follows, who starred as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, which I think is a wonderful, timeless classic and I don’t care what you think. She was also in Silver Bullet with Corey Haim and Gary Busey, and a great episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater called “The Dwarf.” So of course I felt compelled to meet her.

No such luck. I walked all over that Marriott ballroom checking out the names hanging above each table. We saw Nathan Fillion and his huge ass line. We saw Michael Rooker, who played Yondu in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. We saw John Wesley Shipp, of both the 90’s and current Flash TV shows. But no Megan Follows.

Then two of my friends post selfies of them with her in the Walk of Fame. It’s maddening, I tell you.

But beyond that, overall the whole thing just felt a little off. Yes, it was more crowded than ever, and that’s part of it. But I think it’s because I’m older and my relationship with the con has changed, or needs to. I still love it, and I’m already planning to attend next year. But the things I get from it now are different. I’m older and wiser. No longer am I the starry-eyed waif who will fall for Dragon Con’s pelvic sorcery. I realized when I had the most fun, and it wasn’t when I was ogling costumes are even walking through the always awesome art show. It was when I was hanging out with my fellow writers, and talking about significant short stories, and the work of Roger Zelazny. So next year I want to spend more time doing that. I want to attend barcon. I want to network with writers and editors. At Dragon Con, you can do all that and more. So thanks for an awesome time, Dragon Con. See you next year.

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