Things I Loved about… DragonCon 2016

Another year, and another DragonCon has come and gone. The four-day celebration of all things geeky and wonderful, where everyone attending can play dress-up without shame and where waiting in line to see a favorite author, artist, or actor is made bearable by the spontaneous conversations we start with the people around us who obviously love the same things we love, has to come to an end sometime. But we’re left with the bittersweet consolation that the glorious time of year will come around again. (My husband and I have already booked our room for next year.)

Now the moment comes to take stock of the delights of this year’s DragonCon, and they are many.

Hearing Brandon Sanderson.

Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive (beginning with The Way of Kings) is, along with Django Wexler’s The Shadow Campaigns (beginning with The Thousand Names), my favorite fantasy series currently ongoing, so I was thrilled beyond words to learn Sanderson would be coming to this year’s DragonCon. I got to see him twice — once at an hour-long Q & A, and again for a reading in which he gave us all a welcome Spoiler-free taste of the third Stormlight book, Oathbringer, due to enter the world at large in the fall of 2017 (sigh…).  Meeting our heroes is always a risky proposition. They may start to talk and diminish themselves in our eyes with every word they speak, until we wish we’d been content for them to live only in our heads. I’m happy to say I came away from my distant encounter with Mr. Sanderson liking him even more than before.

He reads with such vigorous energy, his passion for the story coming through, that we can’t help but be caught up in the words and the world. Yet my favorite moment came towards the end of the reading, when he took a question about whether he thought about how readers might respond to his characters — whether, for instance, a girl might read about the magical assassin Vin from the first Mistborn trilogy and think, “I want to be her.” He answered yes, he thinks about it all the time, since he remembers the fantasy he loved as a young fan, works by Barbara Hambly, Anne McCaffrey, and Melanie Rawn, and how he saw parts of himself in them. (The joy I felt at hearing one of fantasy’s most successful male authors cite three women as influences falls squarely in the “shouldn’t-matter-but-it-does” department.) He seeks to write the sorts of books he loved and wanted to see as a reader, in the hope that he might be someone else’s Hambly, McCaffrey, or Rawn. He writes aspirational fiction. No wonder I like his work.

Now, if only Mr. Sanderson would return next year, and Django Wexler would also come, and Kate Elliott and Kate Forsyth as well, I might have the perfect DragonCon, or close to it.

Performing with the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company.

I’ve been acting with ARTC since 2004, but this year was special. The Comics Track sponsored our performance of an adaptation (by author and scriptwriter Brad Strickland) of Bill Holbrook‘s Kevin & Kell: The Great Bird Conspiracy, a story of the anthropomorphic animals of Domain (think Zootopia), where large mutant rabbit Kevin and wolf Kell make their marriage work with tolerance and understanding and their family includes Kell’s son Rudy (by her first marriage), who can’t track worth a darn despite being a wolf, and Kevin’s brainy adopted hedgehog daughter Lindesfarne. I got to play Catherine Aura, a vulture school administrator who’s a bit more than she seems; I gave her my best imperious English accent.

Shortly after the performance, my husband and I went to Artist’s Alley, where it so happened that Holbrook himself was signing and selling books. He made a point of telling me how much he enjoyed the show and all our performances, and that I got Catherine exactly right. He signed my Kevin & Kell comic and drew a little picture of Catherine as a special compliment. Praise from the author himself! That makes me glow inside.

Listening to ARTC perform my new script.

The Goblins and the Golden Rose marks the seventh audio drama I’ve written that ARTC has performed at DragonCon, its biggest venue of the year. It’s the story of a young goblin who loses her human husband to the beautiful but evil Fey Queen, an older goblin who seeks to help her win him back, and the widowed human metalworker who gets caught up in it all. Once again I experienced the delight of hearing my characters come to life in some ways I hadn’t even thought of. My work with this talented group of people has been a blessing in more ways than I can count.

ARTC has many fans who make a point of attending our DragonCon shows, and we win new fans every year. This year, some of those fans even bought copies of Atterwald and Nightmare Lullaby!

Being on a panel for the Writers Track.

Nancy Knight, head publisher of Gilded Dragonfly Books and coordinator of DragonCon’s Writers Track, gave me an opportunity to discuss “Writing YA Science Fiction and Fantasy for Today’s Savvy Readers,” along with author and map-builder Catherine Scully. We got to talk about what makes YA special (for me: optimism), how we write scary scenes, and how we choose our protagonists (for me: I ask myself, “What do I want to see, that I’m not seeing?”), among other things. I love attending panels on compelling subjects and asking questions of authors I admire, but being the one answering the questions gives me that little extra rush. It feeds my hope that one day, I just might be for some young reader what Hambly, McCaffrey, and Rawn were for Sanderson.

And everything else…

Dining. The food is always good, if a little expensive, at the restaurants around DragonCon.  I tried Gus’s Fried Chicken on a recommendation from the team at Marie, Let’s Eat.  I learned that the portions are bigger than I thought, but my husband was able to help me out in that department (he ate there before last year).  We also saw Joey Fatone at Fire of Brazil holding court.

Panel-ing. Two of my favorites this year were an American Sci-Fi Media Track discussion of CBS’s Supergirl and a presentation on the “Superhero Cartoons” of yore, led by our friend Darius Washington of the Animation Track.

Observing cosplay. Some of my favorite cosplays are ones I don’t recognize, like the woman in the ruby Renaissance gown and the mask and head-dress decked with bird-of-paradise plumage. But I believe I was most charmed by the woman dressed as Alexander Hamilton (from the musical Hamilton, of course) carrying two black cardboard tablets on which the Ten Duel Commandments were inscribed.

Shopping. I always worry I may enjoy this one a little too much, but I did manage to limit myself to three books only from Larry Smith Bookseller. The fourth Shadow Campaigns book, The Guns of Empire, is now mine.

Farewell, Dragon Con. We’ll be back.

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