Yes, it is that time of year again – National Novel Writing Month! November, when we come together, drink too much coffee, sleep too little, and write too much. Wait, there’s no such thing as writing to much. Not when on the path to GLORY (and 50,000 words)! So, to get us off to a great start, a few little graphics.
DragonCon is the largest pop culture convention in the Eastern United States, and gets bigger every year. The event is steadily growing, attendance topping 70,000 this year (2015). With more and more interest in it, I thought it might help some people to get an overview of the event if they are trying to decide to go or not (yes, you should). Below I will do my best to break down this article into facts and suggestions.
DragonCon is a huge event that takes place in five different host hotels, plus a separate space for vendors selling all kinds of merchandise. Many years ago it started in the Marriott Marquis, and that is still considered to be the core of the Con by many. The Marriott is connected by sky-bridges, also called Habitrails by Con-goers, to the Hilton Atlanta and the Hyatt Regency. A few blocks from the Hyatt is the Westin, and a similar distance from the Hilton is the
Sheraton. These five hotels have the vast majority of the events in them.
The different areas of interest are called Tracks. There are Tracks for Writers, Star Trek, Star Wars, Costuming, Science, Urban Fantasy, and many, many more. Each Track has panels, specific talks that are listed in the schedule. Panels tend to run from about 10 AM until 11:30 PM or so, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. There is additional programming Monday from 10 AM until approximately 4 in the afternoon.
DragonCon is deeply involved in charity. There is a large blood drive every year which collects thousands of units of blood and plasma, and a different charity each year. In 2015, they collected over $100,000 for Lymphoma research.
The guests at DragonCon cover an impressive range of television and movie stars, writers, artists, and performers. This year, for example, the majority of the casts of both Arrow and Flash attended, as well as Lost Girl, and even cancelled shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Warehouse 13. There are famed comic book artists and writers, best selling and mid-level novelists. The website, www.dragoncon.org is updated fairly often with additional guests as the Con approaches.
The dealers’ room, or vendor area, used to be in the host hotels, but it has far outgrown that space. This year, it was in the America’s Mart 2 Building, somewhat between the Hyatt and the Westin. The dealers took up over two floors of space, selling books, comics, artwork, costumes, props, videos, t-shirts, and much more. There’s also an art show with various comic book and fine artists, which was still in the Hilton at least this year.
Every year, in addition to all this, there are other events that take place outside the buildings. The DragonCon parade goes over several blocks, with participants divided up by section for their costumes- Stat Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Marvel and DC Comics, and other categories. The parade is a big event that they close down city streets for, and the route was about a mile long. It’s impressive to see, but also makes it damn near impossible to get to your 10 AM panels Saturday morning on time.
They also have a night at the Georgia Aquarium every year. The Aquarium is impressive by itself, but at night, filled with hordes of costumed characters, it looks amazing. There are places to sign up for this through the website.
Speaking of, you need to wear your badge and have it visible at all times. It’s what lets you in to the various hotels where the events are. Badges are available for pick up starting Thursday. In the past, badge pick up took a long time and had many problems. Over the last few years, they have streamlined the process, and the wait time has dropped from long hours to not much more than a few minutes.
Before I move on to my suggestions, I’ll deal with two questions I hear asked a lot. No, you don’t have to go in costume. A lot of people don’t. I’d guess it breaks down to something like 60% in costume, 40 % not, and that fluctuates by day and by time. I really enjoy putting together costumes for characters I like, but you absolutely don’t have to do that. As one friend of mine said, “The cosplayers need spectators!” Before I move on to the next question, let me mention one thing about the people in costume. It’s considered good manners to ask before taking pictures. I’ve never heard someone in costume say no, but still, it’s only polite. As the slogan goes at many cons, “Cosplay is not consent.”
The other thing I hear a lot of people ask about is bringing kids. There is an entire Track devoted to kids, so they are, indeed, welcome. But I’ll make a few suggestions on this front. First of all, as it gets later, especially Friday and Saturday nights, some of the costumes get a lot more interesting and a lot… smaller. Nudity isn’t allowed, but some folks come real close. As the evenings go on, I’d recommend to you keep the kids in the room. That’s not a rule, it’s a suggestion based on experience. Also, in the panels, the people coming in have paid good money to hear their favorites talk. If your child is fussy, crying, what-have-you, please, take them outside. I know you don’t want to miss the talk, but neither do the people around you.
As time has passed, each hotel has taken on its own flavor. The Sheraton, off by itself at the bottom of the hill (believe me, once you get there, you’ll know what hill) is where the Brit-Track is based. Most of your panels about Dr. Who, Monty Python, Orphan Black, and similar shows are down here. This also where one of the bigger ballrooms is, and some of the bigger parties at night are here. The Sheraton is also where you pick up your badges for the Con.
The Hilton, lowest on the hill of the three connected buildings, is where a lot of the big photo shoots happen on a large set of stairs out back. The Hilton lobby has a balcony around it on the second floor, and you can get a great vantage point on some of the large costumes and groups. I’ve seen a team of Spartans from the movie 300 here, as well as huge dragons and other fun stuff. It has a coffee shop.
The Marriott, center of the connected ones, is the big party. This is where you’ll see the most costumes, the most people, and where most of the early arrivals tend to gather. A lot of the big panels with the big names are here, too. The main level opens up on a soaring tower, and the lobby goes down two levels, all of which are packed with costumes, then a third that’s pretty much just an exit/entrance.. Also, for you coffee addicts, there’s a Starbucks here on the level below the main one, and a snack bar. Just to be confusing, the skybridges to the other hotels are on different levels. One skybridge also leads to the food court.
The Hyatt is the highest on the hill of the three connected ones. While the Marriott has more people and costumes, some of the cooler, if odder, stuff happens up here as the nights go on. Spontaneous dance parties, improvised clubs, and all manner of silliness happen. The Marriott seems more like a club, but the Hyatt ends up more like a clubhouse.
The Westin is a huge tower, the tallest building in the area. It’s the most recent addition to the host hotels. A lot of the Urban Fantasy track panels are in this building, from smaller talks to stars that fill the larger conference rooms. There aren’t as many parties or gatherings in this building, but that’s starting to change as time passes.
Now, on to my suggestions:
As I said above, the Con officially runs Friday through Monday. I get there early, usually Wednesday, and leave Tuesday. There is so much to see and do that even if you don’t indulge in the many, many bars in the various hotels, you are going to be exhausted by Monday. Traveling when you’re dead tired is never fun, especially not if you’re driving. Also, if you’re there Thursday, you can get your badge then, and not miss actual Con time while you’re doing that. If you can only do one or the other, I’d say leave later, but that’s up to you of course. Thursday night now has various pre-events, and an unofficial party in the Mariott lobby area. In fact, this party has now expanded, and many attendees are there Wednesday night as well.
If you do get there early, another suggestion is that you take some time and walk the hotels. Maps are nice, but don’t show you everything. Nothing replaces having actually seen things for yourself. It’s a lot easier to navigate to the panels if you at least have a basic idea where you’re going.
It doesn’t matter how carefully you plan, you will not see everything you want to. There are multiple Tracks, each with programming every hour or so. With programming that often spread out over five hotels, you just can’t be in two (or more) places at once. Know this going in, take a breath, and listen to Elsa: “Let It Go.” If you keep coming back, you just might get another shot at that panel, or at least many of the same people, next year.
You also need to pace yourself. It’s a few long days, and you will see more stuff by not getting sick than by not taking a break. You need to eat, you need to rest, and everyone else around will appreciate it if you shower at least once a day. I recommend bringing vitamins and taking them every day. Also, if you know you don’t do that well after the first drink, just stop. It’s easier on you and everyone around you.
Speaking of food, there are a lot of great places to eat in the area. There’s a large food court that is attached by yet more Habitrails to both the Hyatt and the Mariott. Even if you don’t eat there, that can be a way to get from one hotel to the other with less crowd. The food court has a lot of different places to eat. Personally, I’ve gotten rather fond of a place called Great Wraps. Despite the long lines, especially in the morning, they get the food out fast, it’s good, and they don’t skimp on the portions. My only problem with them is occasionally in the crush of the crowd, a few minor errors creep in, like sausage instead of bacon. There’s a 24-hour diner near the hotels called the Metro Diner, which has good food and a lot of karaoke. They need to work on the area people wait for tables, but again, it’s good food and a lot of it. Other places I recommend are Ted’s Montana Grill, Hsu’s Chinese and Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint. I don’t work at any of those places, don’t know anyone who does, and don’t own stock or anything. I’ve just found them to be really good. There’s also a Hard Rock Café in the area, and they have both good food and special pins and shirts for DragonCon every year.
There are several hotels in the area besides the five host hotels. The host hotels sell out really quickly. DragonCon ended on Monday. The Friday after, when I’m writing this, the Weston and the Hilton have already sold out for 2016. I haven’t stayed at one of the host hotels in a few years, and I’m quite happy with that. The host hotels are closer to the action, of course, but it’s a lot easier to get a good night’s sleep at some of the other hotels.
DragonCon can be overwhelming. They are smart enough to know this themselves. Starting on that early Thursday I keep mentioning, they have tours and talks for newcomers. Check the schedule before you go, so you can plan to go to one.
Speaking of planning, the crowds there are really, really big. There is half an hour between most panels, and you’ll need most of it to get from one place to another. There are crowds everywhere. The food court, the coffee shops, especially the skybridges, all get really crowded. There are several ATMs in the area. By late Saturday, they will pretty much all be empty.
The businesses in the area are smart. They bump their prices up during that weekend. The parking lots get especially pricey. Now, if you don’t care about the price, that’s fine. Personally, I have discovered that Atlanta has a great public transportation system, and that garages in other areas of the city don’t jump their prices.
Like you’d expect, all the hotels have elevators. It’s a huge crowd, and more and more people in wheelchairs and scooters are attending. Both because the elevators can have really long wait times, and because there are folks that actually need them, I’d suggest checking out the escalators or even the stairs.
Speaking of stairs, there’s a lot of walking. Five hotels, the space between them, and hunting up food covers a lot of ground. Good shoes and being in at least half-way decent shape before you go are good ideas.
I’ve been to DragonCon several times. Every year, at least part of one day if not more, it has rained. At this point, I’d say count on it happening. Unless you’re staying in one of the three connected hotels, and not going to any panels in the Westin and/or Sheraton, plan for dealing with rain at least a little.
All of these are suggestions based on my own experiences. You certainly don’t need to do any of them to enjoy DragonCon. I think they make things easier, but maybe that’s me. And if you’ve been, and found a really good idea that I’ve missed, feel free to add it in the comments below.
I Could Do That – what does that really say about us (as fans and as #authors)? Is it different for #art than it is for #writing?
I Could Do That – A discussion on what it really means when someone says that, how we define art, what creates value in art (e.g. based on the individual audience member?), and how much the art can (or should) be separated from the artist/context and also can (or should) the art be separated from what the piece was meant to communicate?
Would definitely be curious to see what writer-colleagues would say. Is it the same for the written word? Is it easier to separate books and stories from those four words? Or more difficult because “everyone has a story to tell?”
Fun graphic from BegoJohnson. I think I’m Michael Pollan, with a hint of Joyce Maynard. 😉 What’s your poison?
Found this on Pinterest. This graph really does capture much of my process. Though there probably needs to be a little 2% sliver that is “Playing with dogs” and I definitely would lose 1/2 of the “discouraged napping” to “checking social media over and over and over.”
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time, or the tools, to write,” is a quote I’ve seen attributed to Stephen King. Whether it’s his or not, I think it’s a great, and very accurate, quote. There are a lot of reasons for a writer to be an active reader, including researching the genre you’re writing in, and seeking inspiration, either of the “I wish I’d written that,” kind or the “Ok, if THAT got published, there’s hope for me,” type.
I aim for at least 100 books a year. I’ve managed that every year since I started keeping track in 1997 except once, and that one was well over 80 at least. I’m not saying that to boast, it’s just to show that I have a pretty big field to draw on.
So, in no particular order, here are my five best reads from 2014:
Hyperion by Dan Simmons: I got pointed at this one from a group I belong to on Goodreads. The group is called “Dragons and Jetpacks,” and if you’re a fan of sci fi and/or fantasy at all, I really recommend giving them a shot. Anyway, the book. To me, Hyperion seemed like a science fiction version of the Canterbury Tales. Seven travelers are going to see the Shrike, a powerful alien being that is beyond man’s comprehension. All of their lives have been touched on by the Shrike in some way or another. What I loved about it was that each character had a different kind of story, and the style of writing changed accordingly. There was a noir-ish PI, a space action hero, a desperate father, and several others, and the writing shifted to fit each genre. I thought it showed that Dan Simmons has a lot of talent, and I really enjoyed it.
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King: I don’t share the bias that some seem to have of turning on popular writers. I think King is a master, and shows it well in this book. This book is a sequel to The Shining, set many years later (about as many as have passed in the real world between the two books, I believe). There are well fleshed out characters and some truly creepy goings-on. This was definitely a case where the hero didn’t live happily ever after. Jack, the kid from The Shining, has had a rough life since then. Just as he’s getting himself together, he gets pulled into a new and dangerous threat. Jack is a very flawed character, but he reads well, and the villains here are really eerie. I thought this was a well written story, and, while I wouldn’t have said The Shining needed a sequel, this worked really damn well.
The Red Knight by Miles Cameron: I admit to being a bit burned out on fantasy series. There are just too many and a lot of them seem to echo each other. But, this one was suggested to me, and I gave it a read. I’m really, really glad I did. This is the start of an epic fantasy series that’s actually worthy of the word “epic.” It has some amazing characters, and the writer knows arms and armor really well. There are some very realistic battle scenes, and some fantastic ideas. Magic, combat, mystery, they are all here. This was one of my few five star reviews. I give those out rarely, but this one got one. The story focuses on a mercenary company led by an enigmatic figure. They become committed to defending a remote keep from a huge force of wild creatures, led by an amazingly powerful creature. The twists and turns are great. While it is book one of a series, it can easily be read by itself. The fact that this is Cameron’s debut novel is just astounding to me, although that appears to be a pen name for an established author.
Skin Game by Jim Butcher: I am an unapologetic fan of the Dresden Files. I love the idea of a wizard/PI in modern day Chicago. The fact that Dresden is a wise-ass, sci fi geek, and gamer, just make me enjoy the character even more. This is book 15 of the series, and while I think you could read it on it’s own, I’d really recommend reading the other books first. Harry Dresden has made a lot of bad, desperate bargains over the course of his career, and some of the debts are appalling. Mab, the Fae Queen, essentially loans Dresden out to discharge some of his debt, and one of her own. Harry gets sucked into an elaborate heist. Consider it Ocean’s Eleven with a magical frame behind it. Harry must ally with old friends and bitter enemies to steal a very powerful artefact from an even more powerful being. Butcher manages to go with the theft story but still progress all the various plot-lines that have been building in the series. I won’t spoil the twists and turns, but I had a lot of surprises and a few jaw-dropping moments. This, too, was a rare five stars from me.
As The Crow Flies by Craig Johnson: This is book eight of the Longmire series. The books came to my attention through the tv series on A&E (which they foolishly cancelled, and it was picked up by Netflix). While I would recommend reading the series in order, you don’t strictly need to for this one. Walt Longmire is the Sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming. He has a motley band of deputies under him, and his faithful dog, Dog (long story). Walt and his best friend are scouting locations for a wedding when they see a woman fall to her death, and they get swept up in the investigation. More complications arrive in the form of the FBI, a rookie Tribal Police chief, family history, and politics within the Tribal Council (Walt’s territory borders on the Cheyenne Reservation). Like most books that deal with modern Indians, there is a mixture of humor, myth, and tragedy, all of which Johnson shows very well. Walt, Vic, Henry, and the rest are really well defined characters you can’t help but root for. There’s a streak of mysticism in the books the show pretty much missed, and I think it adds a great flavor. This series has rapidly become a favorite of mine, and I think this is the best book in it.
Those are my five best, and now here are a few more books to discuss:
Biggest Let-down of the year: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve heard so much about this book, and it’s regarded as a classic by so many. I’ve read my share of classics, and enjoyed most of them. This one, not so much. This book took forever to read, and I’m a speed reader. It went on forever, taking bizarre side trips. What was included vs what was excluded was weird– characters were involved in politics, but the nature of what they actually did was vague, while we got pages of one rich guy deciding to go cut hay with the peasants. SPOILER– Even the death of the title character wasn’t enough to end this book. It kept going for a few chapters after that. I was beginning to wonder if I’d need a stake and holy water to put this book down. Sorry to fans of it, but I couldn’t stand this book.
Favored Series: In addition to the books and series mentioned above, there are several others I’m consistently enjoying. Among them:
“In Death” by JD Robb. This is a unique mix of sci fi, mystery, romance, and action. Set in the near-future of New York, Eve Dallas is a kick-ass cop who, as the series grows, surrounds herself with a growing and enjoyable cast of characters. Eve herself goes through a lot, making some advancements on her various issues. Her various support characters all have their own lives, and meet their own milestones as the series goes on. Lots of fun.
Spenser by Robert B Parker and then Ace Atkins. I read a LOT, so I don’t say things like this lightly: Spenser is my favorite series, narrowly edging out Dresden Files. Spenser is a private investigator in Boston, and he has some elements of the typical PI, but many not. He’s very well-read, an accomplished cook, and stays loyal to his lover. His supporting cast grows throughout the series, and, unlike some series, Spenser goes back to consult former clients if their specialty comes up. Also, people he’s helped and really made a difference with tend to recur, not instantly forgotten as the next book starts.
The Gentlemen Bastards by Scott Lynch. This struck me as an odd genre blend when I first heard about it. But the combination fantasy/thief con-man has really grown on me. Lynch has some nicely developed main characters with a great friendship, and his world is richly detailed. The ins and outs of the schemes are dizzying, and I almost never get them figured out ahead of time, which is rare for me. I’m eagerly (read impatiently) awaiting the next one to see what Locke Lamora gets himself into, and how he gets out of it. He actually reminds me a bit of Gail Simone’s Secret Six in one regard: he’s far from a hero, but he won’t let himself be bad enough to be an effective villain. He’s somewhere in the grey area in between.
Those are some of my high (and low) -lights of the year.
What were yours?