DragonCon 2018 After Action Report
The week leading up to DragonCon was quite busy… scratch that. The *month* leading up to DragonCon was quite busy. For those of you not familiar, DragonCon is a 5-day (well, 4, officially) science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture convention held in downtown Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. It is the best convention I have ever attended. It is 85,000 of your closest friends partying 24hours a day, for 5 days over 5 hotels. It is my Superbowl, my Mardi Gras, and my New Year’s Eve all in one. It is my favorite week of the year. Yes, I said week.
See, the thing of it is that DragonCon has grown from a standard weekend convention into an entity all of its own. It is entirely fan-run and fan-organized, and so it focuses entirely on the fan experience. And the same fans come back, year after year to see their favorite stars and their chosen family members.
Several years ago, people started showing up early on Friday to see their friends and hang out before programming officially got started on Saturday. When I first started going, DragonCon was officially a Saturday-Monday convention. But more and more people showed up on Friday, and started the costuming and the party early. But then as the con got more and more popular, the tracks started scheduling programming on Friday as well. Until finally, con-goers started showing up on Thursday to hang out, etc. This prompted the phrase “Thursday is the new Friday”.
Well, fast forward to now. This year, we showed up on Wednesday to a party already in full swing. Tuesday, it seems, is the new Friday, and if that’s the case, then DragonCon runs from the Tuesday before Labor Day, through the Monday holiday itself.
Thus, DragonCon Week: my favorite week of the year.
Here’s how it went down in 2018:
“Y’all… this is WEDNESDAY!!”
One of the benefits of living close to a major metropolitan area is that it’s really easy to find a direct nonstop flight to Atlanta. My husband EZ and I boarded a plane early on Wednesday morning, and arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson just before noon. From there, it was an easy Marta trip to downtown, and a walk through pleasantly cooling rain to our hotel: The Westin Peachtree Plaza.
Every year I sing the praises of the Westin, and this year will be no different. The staff is always incredibly professional and helpful, the rooms are lovely and comfortable, and you really can’t beat the views. Though this year we stayed on a lower floor than in years past, but it’s still a good vista over the city of Atlanta.
We checked in with no problems and quickly decided to go find some food. We knew we would probably get the luscious truffled mac&cheese from Meehan’s once our friends the Wolfpack arrived, so we opted to walk over to Peachtree Center mall and check out the food court.
This year, the food court was under construction, which severely limited the available floor space for seating. HOWEVER, mad kudos to the Peachtree Center staff and to their liaison with the con, because honestly, it *felt* less full than it has in years past. They did a really great job of delineating traffic areas that were not to be blocked, and it was truly not any harder to find a seat than it was in years past… though we did opt to get take out quite a bit, due to the construction.
In any case, EZ and I had lunch, and then I asked him if he wanted to walk a 5K with me while we waited for our friends to arrive.
See, I had signed up for the RunDisney Virtual Shorts series, which is a series of 3 virtual 5K races to be done in the months of June, July, and August respectively. But August was super busy, and I hadn’t gotten my race done yet. The races can be run or walked, and while I ran the first two, I knew that walking was going to be my best bet if I wanted to get it done that day.
So, my beloved, amazing husband agreed, and we proceeded to tour all the DragonCon host hotels and refamiliarize ourselves with the ins and outs and secret (not really) passageways that lead from one hotel to the other. We also took the time to locate where badge pickup and most of my programming would be, as I was participating in four tracks this year, plus the Dragon Awards. As he said, he never would have expected that the first thing I wanted to do when I got to DragonCon was a 5K, but there you have it.
I’m full of surprises.
In the course of the 5K, we stopped by and picked up some beverages from the traditionally overpriced liquor store next to the Sheraton, as well as some room snacks from the CVS in Peachtree Center mall.
By the way, Mad Props to the staff of that CVS. As the main entrance to the food court was closed for construction, they had a steady stream of people using their store as a thoroughfare. And yet they were always pleasant and helpful, and restocked nightly to provide con goers with necessary drinks, snacks, and whatnot. Since their inception, that CVS has definitely had a positive impact on DragonCon, in my opinion.
Shortly after we finished our epic 5K, our friends the Wolfpack arrived. The Wolfpack consists of my coauthor, Marisa Wolf, and her entourage. In this case, her entourage consisted of her husband, Jeremy (whose last name isn’t Wolf, but he isn’t a writer or con pro of any kind, so I’m not going to tell you what it is). They got all checked in, and we decided to head down to Meehan’s for the aforementioned mac&cheese.
It was delicious as always, as were the beverages my party consumed. I rather think we might have been “that table” as we got louder and louder, especially after two of my other dearest friends arrived. Cassie&Casey hadn’t attended DragonCon in 5 years, due to real life military commitments, but this was their triumphal return. They met us at Meehan’s, and the party just kept going.
Eventually, someone (it may have been EZ, I’m not sure) kicked out the idea of a hotel bar crawl, and the rest of the group enthusiastically agreed. We paid our bill at Meehan’s, and headed down to the Hyatt bar for round 1.
At the Hyatt, we found Kevin Ikenberry and Quincy Adams, as well as our friends Danielle and Charlotte and some other folks. I think EZ’s buddy Seth joined us there as well. He joined us at some point, at any rate. We enjoyed hanging out with them for a bit, and then headed onward to the Marriott via the sky bridge.
And the Marriott was already lit. I mean, the floor wasn’t as crowded as it would become on Friday and Saturday nights, but there were legit costumes to be seen, and people to see and hang out with. Around this time, Marisa coined the phrase that would be our rallying cry for the rest of the evening: “Y’all… this is WEDNESDAY!”
Indeed. Which meant that there were many, many more days of con goodness to enjoy. We continued on from the Marriott bar to the Hilton bar, where we learned about the price of tapwater and the importance of speaking to the manager when things aren’t quite right.
By then I was done, so we headed back, and I crashed out, excited about the prospect of the 5 days ahead.
“Thursday = Recovery Day?”
One of the benefits of not drinking alcohol is that I require significantly less recovery than those who do. 😊 Thursday morning, I woke up relatively early (before 0900, I believe) and texted Marisa to see if she wanted to hit the pool with me. I like swimming as a form of exercise at a con. It’s relaxing.
She agreed, and so we went through the labyrinthine procedures required to get to the Westin rooftop pool. It’s a lovely facility, and we enjoyed a relaxing swing and chatting with some fellow pool enthusiasts for about an hour. Then it was back to the room to clean up, grab the husbands, and decide what to do next.
I’m pretty sure we headed back to the Hyatt bar for lunch. Honestly, I’m not really sure. I know we spent most of Thursday hanging out with our various friends: Cassie and Casey again, as well as Mike Massa and his wife Lorna, Griffin Barber, Rob Hampson, Philip Wholrab, and Christopher L. Smith up in Speaker’s Speakeasy, as well as Bridget and Larry Correia. We also ran into Chris Kennedy and his wife Sheelah, Mark Wandrey and his wife Joy, Jon Osborne, and Christopher Woods and his wife Wendy. Oh, and John Ringo, of course. I’m almost positive I saw all of those individuals at some point on Thursday, but it really is a blur in my memory. I just know that I was hanging out all day and it was fun. It was like the DragonCons of old, before I started doing panels and other programming.
Originally, the plan was that Thursday would be a day of recovery, but not so much for this hard-going crew. We may be too old to push it up every weekend like we did back in our 20s, but damn if we can’t push it up for one week a year. 😊
We went back to Meehan’s for dinner, and this time, they put us in the back room. Which was awesome, because we continued to be rowdy and fun. We started applauding wildly whenever our server walked into the room, and whenever new people were seated back there with us. Another rowdy table joined in, and before you know it, we were singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of our lungs.
Which, if you’re keeping track, makes this two years in a row for Queen sing-a-longs at DragonCon. 😊
After dinner, I think we went up to Speaker’s Speakeasy for more hanging out, but I don’t really remember.
I went to bed at some point. I’m not sure when.
“Friday. Game Face Time”
Friday morning started off with an 1130 panel for the Alt History track. It was a panel designed to be a track kick-off event, and I was honored to sit beside S. M. Stirling on it. I’ve met Steve before, but this year we had a number of panels together, which was a lot of fun. The man has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of a great many subjects, and he’s a real blast to talk to.
After that, we grabbed lunch, and I headed to Military Sci-Fi Writers & Creators in the Military SF Media track. This was a fun panel consisting of several talented creators, including my friend Van Allen Plexico and new friend Amy J. Murphy. I always love meeting new people.
Friday night’s dinner was… more food court? I’m not really sure. I’m pretty sure we met up with the CKP writing factory folks at the Westin Bar and hung out there for awhile. Again, I don’t really remember what all we did that night, but I know we walked around a fair bit and did a lot of hanging out and socializing.
After dinner, we headed down to the Fantasy Lit track’s new event: the Fantasy Gather. This was the brainchild of the new track director, Cisca Small, and it was a huge success. Fantasy writers came together in a ballroom with small tables to hawk books, hang out with fans and each other, and just really network and have a good time. Marisa and I bonded with the other members of our CKP family, and got to meet some new folks as well. I also got to see and give hugs to Monalisa Foster, Jody Lyn Nye and Todd McCaffrey, which was cool. It was a very well attended event that was a lot of fun. I hope the fans all gave it great feedback, so that we’ll see it return next year.
Oh! Friday might have been the day when Marisa and I went with Bridget, Brandy, and Cathy to buy corsets and fun hats. We shopped at Timeless Trends and my all-time favorite milliner, The Blonde Swan. Bridget got an amazing red and black corset that she wore on Sunday night, and she looked jaw-droppingly gorgeous in it.
There are many, many beautiful things to be acquired at DragonCon if you have the cash. It is known.
“Saturday. The Busy Day”
Saturday was my heaviest day, programming wise. I started off with “Amazons and Assassins,” which was panel about using history as inspiration for fiction. I was late, thanks to running to the wrong room in the Hyatt at first, but the other panelists were gracious about it.
From there, I headed back to the Westin for an Apocalypse Rising panel called “Alternative Apocalyptic Weapons & Armor”, which (to my initial surprise) I moderated. This was actually one of my favorite panels. We had a fairly packed house, and both panelists (Mike Massa and Michael Z. Williamson) are good friends of mine. We spent about an hour talking about improvising survival gear (not just weapons and armor…oops!) with what you have around you. The crowd was interactive and it was a really good time. Kudos to Hans Eckman for running a great show.
After that, the Mikes and I hustled back to the Hyatt for the Baen Books Travelling Roadshow and Prize Patrol. The roadshow is always an amazing time, with Toni Weisskopf, Jim Minz and the Baen crew show off new cover art and give out free books. They also announce the winner of the Readers’ Choice Award for the Year’s Best Military and Adventure Science Fiction. The finalists are chosen from short stories released throughout the previous year and collected in an anthology edited by David Afsharirad. I was honored to have my story “Family Over Blood” included this year.
And it won. 😊
I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say. I gave MadMike Williamson a hug, because I was sitting next to him, and because he was the editor of FORGED IN BLOOD, which is the National Bestselling anthology set in his Freehold Universe where “Family Over Blood” first appeared.
Then I went up, and David presented me with the plaque and prize, and I completely babbled into the mic because I couldn’t figure out what to say. Toni laughed at me and told me that was enough, and I went and sat back down. I felt foolish, but I seriously had no idea what to say.
So I blushed and went back to my seat, and enjoyed all the gorgeous art that happened next. I also enjoyed Dave Butler’s impromptu Witchy Eye singalong. And I got to talk about NOIR FATALE with Larry Correia, so that was awesome as well. The entire Roadshow was really cool, and I was a little sad when MadMike and I had to leave to go grab food before heading to a signing in the dealer room.
The signing was at The Missing Volume, the online/con bookstore owned by my friend Glennis. It was awesome to see her and her husband Tom for a few moments. Even if it was only a few minutes.
After the signing, my husband caught up with me, and we did a little shopping. We also got some food with the Wolfpack. After that, Marisa and I went up to the Marriott top floor for a reception for the Dragon Award Finalists. That was really fun, and it was awesome to hang out with my fellow finalists and some of the past winners.
Unfortunately, I had to leave *that* early, too. Because I was moderating a panel called “Temporal Temptations” for the Alternate History track. On this late-night, adults-only panel, the lovely Tamsin Silver, Marisa Wolf, and I read some naughty scenes from various time periods. We shared a lot of laughs with a really great audience, and it was an awesome time.
The last panel of the night (starting at 0100, if you’re keeping track – I told you Saturday was busy!) was a really interesting panel on the decadence of Weimar Berlin. Very cool discussion, and I got to hang out with Steve Stirling again, so that was fun.
And after that, I fell exhausted into bed. My husband, on the other hand, went out. And stayed out till 0600. He’s awesome. 😊
“Sunday – The Dragon Awards”
Sunday morning, I woke up and headed across the street to Pittypat’s Porch to enjoy the annual Baen Brunch. I got to hang out with Jim Minz and David Boop, as well as Marisa, Griffin, Bridget, Chris… and just a bunch of my Baen family. I also had the honor of meeting Toni’s gentleman caller, who we’re calling “Handsome Devil”. The food was delicious, as always, and it was a really great time.
After that, I headed back to my room and changed, then met up with some of my CKP family in the Hyatt bar. We hung out there until it was time to go to the Dragon Awards in the Hyatt. The Dragon Awards were a lovely ceremony, MCed by the masterful Chuck Gannon. Though I didn’t win, I was super psyched to congratulate Sarah A. Hoyt and Kevin J. Anderson for their win with UNCHARTED.
Afterwards, I got to chat with Laurell K. Hamilton and her husband Jon for a bit. They’re a super cool couple, and she sent me an amazing story for NOIR FATALE, so it was good to catch up with them and their awesome assistant, Shawn.
But then I had to head over to another panel on the fine distinctions between Magic, Psychics, and Superpowers. Another really cool discussion, with an engaged audience and some very cool panelists.
From there, I headed down to the Four Horsemen Universe panel, moderated by my buddy Speaker. This was a fun panel where we got to talk about how Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy took a cool military SF idea and turned it into an unstoppable phenomenon. That was a blast. We had a great time talking about the universe and showing off cover art, and then we all headed upstairs for the Corsets&Kilts party. Chris Kennedy decided to sponsor the party this year, and it was the standard rip-roaring good time.
And then it was time to head to Cruxshadows. It had been five years since I last jammed at that concert with my friends Cassie and Casey, and it was really great to be there beside them once again. At 0100 on Monday morning, the concert is always the harbinger of the end of the Con, but it’s also one last chance to really turn things up and (as Marisa would say) RAGE!
And then we had Waffle House, and then went to bed.
“Monday – The Last Tomorrow”
Despite Cruxhadows being the harbinger of the end, I actually had two more events on Monday. The first was an Apocalypse Rising survival Q&A panel. It was lightly attended, but still a lot of fun. Then I had a signing with John Ringo at Glennis’s at 1500. That was good, because I had an opportunity to chat with John about our upcoming collaboration with Chris Smith: GUNPOWDER AND EMBERS. It should be out sometime in the Fall of 2019, I believe, so that’s exciting!
Afterwards, all that was left was to pack out of our room, have a last really fun lunch with Griffin Barber and Doc, and head up to Speaker’s to say a last few goodbyes before heading to the airport in the afternoon.
Our flight home was delayed until quite late at night, and when we did get home, I fell, exhausted and happy, into bed.
This was the best DragonCon I’ve had in years. And here’s why (in no particular order)
1. Arriving on Wednesday gave us two days of old-school just hanging out before programming started, which was ideal. It was like the way I used to do con, before I got the opportunity to sit on panels.
2. Cassie and Casey were there! I have missed them so much, and it was so fantastic to party with them once again.
3. Our group was big enough and diverse enough (and adult enough!!) that we could split up into multiple pairings and go and do the things we wanted to do without anyone getting butthurt. Which was great.
4. The traffic flow was fantastic. I can’t remember ever feeling totally crowded as I have in the past.
5. The programming was phenomenal. Special thanks go to the Alternate History, Fantasy Literature, Sci Fi Literature, Apocalypse Rising, and Military Sci-Fi Media tracks for all of their hard work. Thank you so much for letting me be part of your program. I hope you were happy with what you got. 😊
As always, we’ll be back next year, unless The Day Job™ has dramatic plans for our family. But until then, remember, you gotta keep DragonCon in your heart. 😉