My first DragonCon changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration.
Before Labor Day weekend 2003, I had a limited social life, loving parents who were a little bit worried about my limited social life, and an ever-growing pile of unpublished manuscripts, cared for and then abandoned as meaningless to anyone but me. Now I have a husband, a fun bunch of friends with whom I love to hang out, loving parents who aren’t quite so worried anymore, a score of produced radio plays, four published short stories, a published novel and another one on the way — all because I had nothing to do during the long weekend and decided to check out DragonCon.
“Firegale at the Festival,” my short story in Gilded Dragonfly Books‘ Legends of the Dragon, Vol. 1 — a collection of stories set amid the wonderful weirdness that is DragonCon — can be read as my love letter to the event. But for the “nutshell version,” here are five things I love about DragonCon.
The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company!
Most of my life changes can be traced directly to this organization, which performs radio drama live and aired and podcasted, keeping the venerable art form alive. ARTC performs at DragonCon every year, and nearly every year it acquires new members who saw and admired at least one of its shows at the Con. I was one of them. I’ve always loved acting, but my vocal strengths are greater than my physical ones, so I thought ARTC would be perfect for me, and I would be perfect for it. I couldn’t have guessed how perfect, or anticipated that my greater contribution to the company would be as a writer.
I met my husband Matt at my first ARTC rehearsal. In 2004, when the company performed my first audio drama, The House Across the Way, I saw the work of my imagination come to mean something to more people than just myself and my family. An ARTC-connected friend also put me in touch with Nancy Knight, one of the main editors at Gilded Dragonfly Books, and my career as a published writer was launched at last; Bill Ritch, ARTC’s fearless leader, has been my “book doctor” — critic, supporter, giver of invaluable feedback — for some years now. Besides, that gang of people are fun to spend time with, and I knew it from that first rehearsal, when I learned they love the same geeky stuff that delights me. ARTC will get a “five things” blog of its own in the future.
Atlanta welcomes DragonCon!
It warms my heart to see the restaurants and other businesses around Peachtree Corners open their arms to the vast crowd of nerds with money to spend. Posters appear in their windows to invite us in, as much signs of a season as holly wreaths in December. Some stores go all out. I’m especially fond of Caribou Coffee, which welcomes us Con-goers with specialty coffees with names like “Gandalf the White” and “Jack the Pumpkin King.” (One drawback: the specialty coffees change every year, so if you fell in love with “Jack the Pumpkin King” back at DragonCon 2013, too bad; you won’t see it again.) And everywhere I go in the vicinity, I’m sure to run into a crowd of people with DragonCon badges, people who are bound to share at least some of my enthusiasms. For a few days, I can feel truly at home in the great big city.
Adults play dress-up!
We all have our own ways to display our love for our favorite elements of geek culture. My husband goes to the Con in “civilian” clothes, but sports T-shirts that declare his enjoyment of Doctor Who, Futurama, Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Charlie Brown, and the like. I go in costume, but rather than dress as a specific character, I don Renaissance clothing, in which I can imagine myself as any number of people and can express my enthusiasm for mythic fantasy literature in general. And of course we meet hordes of cosplayers who have transformed themselves into their favorite characters, from Superman and Batman to the Doctor to Princess Leia to Captain Kirk. When we read science fiction, fantasy, and comics, we get to step into the shoes of heroes and villains in larger-than-real-life adventures. At DragonCon, we can wear those shoes, and wear our passions on our sleeve — literally.
I love to talk about my favorite books and movies, but in my ordinary work-a-day world, not many people I run into have even heard of Terry Pratchett or Juliet Marillier. All that changes when I come to DragonCon, where special “tracks” are devoted to talking over sci-fi literature, fantasy literature, YA sci-fi and fantasy literature, writing, British sci-fi and fantasy, comics, animation, anime, puppetry, Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien, Joss Whedon, alternate history (a.k.a. steampunk)…. get the idea? Whatever I’m into, I can find a cool discussion of it. It’s paradise.
Normally I favor the Sci-Fi Literature, Fantasy Literature, and Writer’s Tracks, but on occasion I will take in a celebrity-led panel, and one from 2013 stands out in my memory: Kathryn Mullen and Karen Prell, the Muppeteers who performed Mokey and Red on Fraggle Rock. At first these ladies took questions as themselves, but then they brought out the Muppets in all their glory, and the audience had the privilege of seeing these inanimate bits of foam and felt take on life and breath before our eyes. My second-favorite celebrity moment has to be Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche as Pinky and the Brain performing “Who’s on First?”
One of the best reasons to scramble for a room at one of DragonCon’s host hotels is the privilege of watching DragonCon TV in your “chill-in-the-room” moments. I’ll let these clips speak for themselves:
(The gentleman dressed like Freakazoid in this last video? He’s a friend of ours, Sketch MacQuinor. Another friend, Tony, takes the lead on the rap in the second verse, which puts jerks who spout that “fake geek girl” nonsense in their place. The gent who declares, “This is frakkin’ awesome!” is Darius Washington, another of our best friends. I don’t even care for rap, but darn, that’s a cool vid.)
DragonCon 2015 begins one week from today. This year, Gilded Dragonfly Books will have a sales table in the Exhibit Hall, where our short-story anthologies and novels, including Legends of the Dragon, Vol. 1 and Atterwald, will be available for purchase and signing. Maybe I’ll see you there!