Halcyon Dragon*Con Days (or Was That “Daze”)

It’s hard to believe this was my third year at Con. I can distinctly remember the night over two years ago, when I was talking with some friends about this awesome-sounding thing called Dragon*Con, and decided to drive down to Atlanta pretty much on a whim and check it out. Since then, it’s been a crazy ride. Every year’s been different, and it’s hard to say whether or not this year’s was better than last. Last year I focused on the writing; this year I focused more on the con at large.

As usual, Dragon*Con had two sides: the daytime, full of panels and readings and costumes and the Dealer’s Room and the Art Show, and the night time, full of parties and dances and even more elaborate and/or skimpier costumes. So that’s how I’ll divide the report:

Daytime

I spent most of my mornings and afternoons being fairly straight-laced and normal, attending writing panels and readings. I got to see Howard Tayler read again, and I was also particularly happy to meet Laura Anne Gilman, who I’ve conversed with on Twitter a couple of times. I heard Mur Lafferty read, and I heard a number of different editors and publishers hold forth on their favorite books that will soon hit the shelves.

I enjoyed readings, and those sort of “what’s coming soon” panels, far more than I enjoyed the panels on the actual writing process. I feel like I’ve reached a point where I know most of what’s going to be said on the process panels. Intellectually, I know how to write, thanks to writing groups, podcasts, scattered classes and panels, and my own accumulating pool of experience. So as I listened to these panels, I began answering each question in my own head, and comparing them with what the panelists said, and came away reasonably sure that I could hold forth just as expertly on pretty much every panel I attended.

That’s not to say I know as much as published authors. But sitting in on one of these panels is like sitting in on a “Basics of Writing” class: it keeps things at a pretty trite and uncomplicated level (there’s only an hour, after all), and once you’ve moved beyond that level, the panels are kind of useless.

I felt the same way about the “How to Get Published” panels. I know how to get published, I just have to do it, and the biggest step to getting published is to write more publishable stuff. It’s a fact that most of these panels tend to gloss over, even though it’s probably what most of the audience needs to hear. It’s so easy to get caught up in how to get published, or the commercial vs. self-publishing debate, that it’s easy to lose track of the actual writing.

One panelist even commented that he’s met people like that: people who go to writing panels, attend classes and workshops, but when it comes to actual writing output, they write very little. They’re utterly fascinated by the business and process of writing but don’t actually practice it. And more practice is the main thing I need right now, far more than panels or advice.

Nighttime

Ah, the interesting part of Dragon*Con, and let’s be honest, the biggest reason to go. You can get panels and readings at any con, but only one con has earned the title “Nerdy Gras.”

This year, I was determined to cosplay. Not as any character in particular; I prefer making up my own characters, which I suppose comes from being a writer. I don’t cosplay to show off my outfit-making skills (of which I have none), but I like the aspecting of transforming into a different character for a few hours. And makeup & special effects are closet hobbies of mine, so I packed some interesting clothes, a variety of prosthetic ears/horns/teeth and bodypaint, and headed out.

I hit a stumbling block when the TSA confiscated my airbrush. Airbrushed bodypaint is longer-lasting, easier to wear, and faster to apply than regular bodypaint, and as a result it’s usually what I use when I’m costuming. It wasn’t the airbrush itself that the TSA had a problem with– it was a small electric air compressor, about the size of a volleyball, which the TSA classified as “dangerous goods.” Why, I have no idea. It plugs into a wall outlet, so it’s not like it going to turn on or explode, or, um, compress anything, in the middle of a flight.

When I got to Atlanta, I recovered my ransacked luggage and a generic form note from the TSA telling me I’m not allowed to take lighters on a plane. Makes me proud to be an American, I tell you.

After a bit of fruitless raging at no one in particular, I got over it and cosplayed anyway, using cotton pads bought from a mall pharmacy in lieu of airbrush (I’m the one on the left– my cosplay isn’t that good):

On Sunday night, I skipped the bodypaint and went with vampire instead of elf-demon. Technically, I was a time-traveling vampire from an alternate reality– or at least, that was what I told everyone at the Steampunk & Time Travelers Ball.

In a sense, I feel like Dragon*Con is a big social experiment for me. The people who attend represent, in a variety of ways, a community I want to be a part of: from the professional writers on the panels, to the cosplayers who head out every night and party– but most of all, all of us geeks who spend four awesome days reveling in our geekdom. As I’ve said before, there’s a special combination of passion and independent thought that, for me, is at the heart of being a geek, and every year at Dragon*Con, I’m thoroughly immersed in it.

But because I started going to conventions only recently (Dragon*Con 2009 was my first), I don’t have the network of friends in the community that most congoers seem to have. My first year at Dragon*Con, I didn’t talk to anybody except the two people from Raleigh who I already knew. The second year at Dragon*Con, I did better– I had dinner with some professional authors, and attended some parties, but still spent a large chunk of time feeling introverted and out of place. This third year, I still felt introverted and out of place– but I cosplayed, I attended the Steampunk Ball with a few of my roommates and their friends, and interacted a little more with the larger community. Each year has been a little step forward, a little bit of progress in this weird social experiment.

But it’s a lot like my goal of being a professional writer– it’s about being patient, and playing the long game. In multiple senses of the word I’m remaking myself, redefining my identity, going through a stage that I feel like most people get past in their early 20’s. I didn’t like my first try at being an adult, so now I’m having a second try, this time as the person I want to be.

And yes, I realize that to some people, there’s an irony in dressing up in costumes and writing fantasy novels while talking about adulthood. If you’re one of those people, then conventions aren’t for you. And I kind of feel sorry for you, because you’ve let society define “adulthood” instead of doing it yourself.

Next year, Dragon*Con conflicts with the World Science Fiction Convention. It’s gonna be a tough call as to which one I go to, but Dragon*Con reminded me of one thing: among cons, it is unique. Every WorldCon is unique, too, but the business networking I can get at other cons. If WorldCon is a glass of fresh-squeezed, healthy vegetable juice, then Dragon*Con is an entire bar stocked with beer and mead and wine.

And rum, of course. Can’t forget the rum. (No worries, Captain Morgan is on it.)

My Dragon*Con Photos on Flickr

5 thoughts on “Halcyon Dragon*Con Days (or Was That “Daze”)

  1. Hi Andrew,

    This post resonated with me. As a geek who’s been going to cons since ’96, and who does have a lot of friends, AND as an introvert, I can tell you that it does get easier, but the feeling of being an outsider on the edge of the crowd doesn’t completely go away.

    For me, I learned a few social tools, especially phrases I could say in situations when my brain freezes up and I’m expected to say something. “You too,” is a good trick for replying to “have a nice day” type phrases, which usually works, unless it doesn’t, and then you come off sounding really silly. (Like if they say, “Good luck with that thing you just told me that’s really specific to you”.)

    I also found that in emergencies, just blurting out whatever uncomfortable situation I’m in often covers for things like awkward lulls in the conversation and other weird moments. i.e. I feel really awkward now, or I’m not good at social interactions, etc. Great ice breaker. Still scary. And sometimes backfires, but less often than you might think.

    Anyway, enough with the unsolicited advice out of me. It sounds like you’re on the right track. I’m really curious about your backstory of how you’re remaking yourself. That stuff fascinates me, and we introverts are actually pretty good at it.

    • Thanks, Luna! I’ve used the “you too” trick as well– and fallen victim to that trap, although I can usually substitute in “thank you” without breaking my brain. Sometimes when my brain freezes, I’ll automatically switch over to the “well, good to see you– good-bye!” routine, which works well sometimes, although not if it’s someone I’d actually like to have a longer conversation with (as is often the case).

      At some con we’ll have to get drinks and I’ll tell you the more detailed backstory. It’s largely been told in bits and pieces on the blog, although since I usually blog sober, I’ve left out the more sordid/angsty details. =)

  2. The best thing about “You too” is that a lot of people don’t expect it, especially clerks in stores, so when it succeeds, it can brighten someone’s day. 🙂

    We should absolutely get drinks and have a total story-fest.

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