Dragoncon, Day Three

All right, let’s get this out of the way: I was warned. Wrenn told me the floor of the bathroom was wet. I just wasn’t paying attention, as I wrestled myself into my clothes on Saturday morning so I could make my first panel.
I fell. It was a bad one. Turns out I can’t do the splits anymore, not that I ever really could. My left foot shot forward, catching the toe under the wooden lip of the sink cabinet and for a moment I thought it was broken. My right foot twisted behind and under me, wrenching my knee in a direction that God never intended.
I let out an unwomanly yelp, which was coupled with the gigantic thud of my ass hitting the floor. I must have startled Keith and Wrenn something awful, because they were pounding on the door. I was in my undergarments and my ass was sopping wet from the floor, so I told them I’d be out in a moment. I hauled myself up into the toilet and assessed the damage.
Left toe: scraped and bruised. Right calf: strained and in that shocked state of numbness that says you did something spectacular to yourself, but it isn’t going to tell you what for a while.
I straightened out my leg, and my right knee let out a lightning bolt of pain that shot the entire length of my leg. It was singing “Ave Maria” off key, and I was seriously worried about my ability to walk.
However, I couldn’t spend the entire day sitting on the toilet in wet undergarments while Keith and Wrenn pounded on the door. So I quite gracefully lurched to my feet and tested the leg.
Hmm. A strange sensation. The pain did not increase much when I put weight on it, but it had a weird wobbly sensation, like at any moment it would simply snap and spill me to the floor. I tried to walk, and the first step told me this was going to be a long weekend.
I convinced Keith and Wrenn that I was okay, and retrieved spare clothing from Monstro. This is why we pack extra underwear for con, folks. I’m just saying.
So it was now twenty minutes to my panel. It is in the Westin hotel. I am in the Hilton. If you have ever been to Atlanta, you know that these hotels are approximately two and a half blocks apart. If you have ever been to Dragoncon, you know that these hotels are approximately sixty-five parsecs and a short lightyear apart. All that lay between me and my panel was the width and breadth of three major hotels, a conference center… and the annual Dragoncon Parade.
I made it. I’m not sure how. I think a wormhole opened up. I had my rolling red bag of doom, a present from my first flunky, Dana. She gave me this little bag with a front pocket and a retractable handle that has attended more conventions than most fans. This weekend, it also acted as my de facto cane, giving me something to balance and lean on as I lurched through the show.
When I emerged onto Peachtree Street (I think… aw hell, all of Atlanta’s streets are named Peachtree Something, so I’m probably safe) I found that the parade had just ended save for three evangelists protesting in the middle of the street. It seems we’re all going to hell and have to confess our sins if we wish to be saved. So far the only sin I’d committed was being clumsy on a wet bathroom floor, and I was perfectly happy to confess that if it meant I wouldn’t hurt anymore.
So I made the panel, with only seconds to spare. I lurched to my seat next to an actual doctor, whom I should have asked for a consult.
This was the Zombies in the Media panel. When I announced my panel schedule before the show, a friend who had recently been laid off from a newspaper said, “Zombies in the media? Are they in management?” I shamelessly stole this joke to start off the panel.
It’s always a little strange for me, blending my work as a journalist with my work as a novelist. Both are definitely work, but they require a completely different skill set. In this case, I was more journalist than author, discussing journalism ethics and their application (or lack thereof) in covering stories such as the so-called “zombie” attack in Florida.
This crew was more kind than most; outside of the profession, I find that journalists tend to become the proverbial whipping boy for most of society’s ills. While there was plenty of blame to toss around, I did not feel like I was the target on a dartboard, which has sometimes been the case. There was a CNN contributor there, and we had a friendly debate on the ethical use of “citizen journalist” material and how mainstream media might react in the case of a true zombocalypse. For a moment I wasn’t sure if I was at Dragoncon or the SPJ national convention, but then I remembered: zombies. Right.
After the panel, the goddamn knee still had that weird, wobbly might-give-at-any-moment feeling, and the pain was starting to swell. This was bad, because it was the start of the Great Panel Marathon: five panels in one day. I’m not sure, but it might be my record.
At this point I was starving, having eschewed breakfast in favor of actually making my panel. I had a brief hour before the next stop, so I went to the Peachtree Center food court to grab sustenance with 60,000 of my closest friends.
See, Dragoncon is located in downtown Atlanta, which has a lot of really big hotels and fancy restaurants. And then it has the Peachtree Center, a mostly-defunct shopping mall with the best food court I’ve ever seen. Indian food, Chinese, sandwiches, sushi, burgers, southwestern… you name it, it’s there. It’s also a lot cheaper than the restaurants, which I’ve spied but almost never tried. Usually my budget is, “consuite, apples and beef jerky,” with the occasional real-food supplement.
In this case, I opted for bourbon chicken, because it was cheap and filling. And then I tried to find a seat.
None. And when I say none, I mean NONE. In the normal world, you would not think of sitting at a mall food court table with a total stranger. At Dragoncon, such niceties evaporate. See a couple sitting at a table with three chairs? Guess what – you’re all friends now. Unfortunately, being the height of noon and all of us broke, the only spot I could find to eat my bourbon chicken was on the floor in front of a shuttered jewelry store, along with six other people.
(My friends were at the Irish pub, the bastards. If only I’d known…)
The most exciting point of the day was when I finished my chicken and had to… stand up. That’s when my knee let me know this wasn’t a simple muscle strain I could ignore. I’m not sure if the nasty little demon trapped behind my kneecap was literally jabbing me with his itty bitty pitchfork, or if he was grabbing the bundle of nerves and yanking on it with all his strength. That time it felt like the latter.
I lurched through the halls and made it to my next event: my signing.
Now, I always do a signing. I think it’s part of our responsibility. If our readers want to actually talk to us, to sit one-on-one and chat, the signing is the best time. Assuming there isn’t a line to Spain behind you, this is when we can get real face time with our readers. I don’t understand writers who hate signings. Sure, it’s a strain on the wrist, but curse me with such problems.
Unfortunately, Dragoncon is the only show where I tend to sit with the crickets chirping. It’s weird, because Dragoncon is a huge show with 60,000 people and I have a significant readership in Atlanta. I know because Facebook tells me so. Each year I sign up, and each year it’s pretty light. As in, only two or three. This year, almost none.
However, I was scheduled with Bobby Nash. It’s always nice to have a friendly face, someone to chat with while we watch Grant from Mythbusters sign approximately nine million autographs next to us. (This really impressed my son: yes, I breathed the same air as Grant.)
Bobby was not having the best of shows. All his stuff had been in his friend’s car when said car was burglarized. Some little bastard got all Bobby’s clothes, his entire stock of books and a laptop. Bobby was still coherent and sane; I’d have been alternately weeping and Hulk-smashing everything in sight.
All those books, man. His entire stock. Hundreds of dollars out of the author’s pocket, with a new book that just came out and signings pending. I can’t even imagine it. Forget making any money at the show, too. Granted, it’s hard to make your money back at Dragoncon, but it’s impossible if you don’t have anything to sell. I’d have spent the show drunk in a corner.
I had a brief break before my next stop, so I popped up to the VIP consuite. A word about these folks: wonderful. They volunteer endless hours of their time at the show to feed us guests and monitor the door so we don’t get deluged with fans and can relax for a bit. Each evening it turns into a cocktail party, and you never know who might drop by (more on that later).
The next panel was in the basement at the Hyatt, to chat about heroes in fiction. We had a good time determining the difference between heroes and anti-heroes, whether a protagonist has to be a hero, etc. Some of this stuff is just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but sometimes it kick-starts ideas you never knew you had.
Fortunately the next panel was across the hall: Stephen King’s Hollywood. This was one of my favorite panels. I expect Derek Tatum, track director for Dark Horror and Fantasy, put me on this panel because I was running my mouth off on Facebook a few months ago about Stephen King movies and what makes them good (or terrible), about the layers of meaning in King’s work, why it resonated with us in the 1980s and why it doesn’t do as much now.
So I got to say bad things about Stanley Kubrick and I got away with it; we debated the merits of Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me vs. the supernatural bugaboos and pondered the intense mythology and psychological pathos of Maximum Overdrive.
Okay, I was just kidding about that last part.
What a great audience. That was one of the best groups, with great questions and friendly debate (even when someone seriously disagreed with my take on King as an economic horror writer who has somewhat lost his way). I can gauge how engaged the audience is by the number of people who come up to talk to us after the panel is over, and we were thronged. One young lady told me that this was the first panel of the show that she wished would go on for three more hours.
(I posted: “Four of five panels: achieved. One more and I level up.”)
However, I was not free for more Kingology. I had the panel about which I was the most nervous: Heroines Among Us, starring me, about seventeen other authors and Mercedes Lackey. Our discussion was centered on strong women in fiction, which of course is one of my favorite topics.
I made my case for Scarlett O’Hara and her impact on me, which I will repeat here in case you weren’t there:
I came of age before the era of Buffy and her ilk; women did not kick ass in most of my childhood fiction. I read Nancy Drew books because I liked watching Nancy solve the mystery. But I was always annoyed by Nancy, because she would get captured by the bad guys and tell them, “I heard everything you said and you’re going to jail! Now let me go!” Instead of something like, “No habla ingles.”
(This got a much bigger laugh than I deserved.)
So when I picked up Gone With the Wind, I was fascinated by Scarlett O’Hara. She was no one’s idea of a role model; she does terrible things and hurts many people in pursuit of her goals. But she was the first female character I’d ever seen who solved her own problems. Everyone else in the book just sits down, flails their hands and weeps for the olden days when their society crashes around them. Scarlett at first depends on men to protect her, but Rhett abandons her at the side of the road with two of the helpless and a newborn.
So Scarlett says “Fuck it,” in a genteel way, and saves herself. She picks up everyone around her: man, woman and child. She saves their lives, saves the family home, and she does it by whatever means necessary, in defiance of the rigidly structured world around her. The racial politics and romanticized views of the Old South were completely lost on me as a young girl, but Scarlett’s strength appealed to me in a way that no character had, or would until I saw Linda Hamilton face down the T-1000 in Terminator 2.
I wish I had taken notes during that panel, because it was marvelous. We discovered Mercedes Lackey (a great and generous lady, by the way) adores Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games series. I got to skewer Twilight with my primary complaint, not that Bella Swan is such a miserable excuse for a character, but that her relationship with Edward is a prime example of teen domestic abuse. (In fact, it fits all 15 criteria of the National Domestic Violence checklist, I read recently.)
We were thronged with people afterward. I ended up staying to talk with audience members for at least fifteen minutes, until it was just me talking to people and Mercedes Lackey signing books. I also sold a few books to folks after the panel, and you know what? That doesn’t happen all that often. It used to be that if people liked you on a panel, they’d come up and buy your book. I don’t know if they suddenly thought they were annoying us, but friends, trust me: You will never annoy a writer by giving her money.
At last! I had completed five panels in a day, and limped my gimpy ass back to the room. I hoisted my leg up on a pile of pillows, turned on DCTV. Then a funny thing happened.
I was bored.
I should have been exhausted. Little sleep, running about like a madwoman, yakking my ass off in panels and by then the knee had reached new operatic levels of pain. But by God, it was Dragoncon! It was before midnight on Saturday night and I hadn’t even taken a picture of a single costume!
So I was beyond pleased when Keith texted me that he, Wrenn and Jay were in the VIP consuite enjoying some adult beverages. Never mind that the VIP consuite was in the Hyatt and I had just left the Hyatt to travel across three hotels to reach the room. Never mind the strange 20th-century discordian sonatas my knee was singing. I popped another Vitamin I (ibuprofen to you) and hobbled back on out, through the Marriott Tsunami and returned to the Hyatt.
I have to say, I had good luck with elevators this year. I don’t think I waited more than five minutes for an elevator at any point; my first year, it was not rare to wait up to 45 minutes in the Hyatt, 20 minutes in the Marriott. I made it to the VIP consuite with little difficulty, whereupon my Three Amigos made me sit down and refused to let me get my own drinks.
This also meant Jay was in charge of supplying my alcohol. Whee! That quieted the knee into a gentle bel canto. Randal Schwartz was there – hell, Randal is always there, he’s a Dragoncon fixture and one of the smartest guys I know. Also, he never remembers me. Six years running. Next year I’m going to hide my badge so he has to guess.
So while Keith and I advised Randal on a story idea, Jay suddenly noticed who had walked in: Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite and Sean Maher. You know them better as “three of the Firefly cast.” Yes, they look just like that in real life, except Baldwin was wearing a baseball cap instead of a Jayne hat and Staite is blonde now, which doesn’t suit her as well.
Wrenn and I briefly debated the attractiveness of the actors, though there wasn’t much point in longing after Sean Maher, given that he is more likely to be attracted to Keith or Jay. Too pretty, anyway; we determined that Adam Baldwin is absolutely worth chew toy status. “Not to keep,” she said. “No, not to keep,” I said. “But to play.”
Hey. Don’t judge. The men weren’t even capable of speech in Jewel Staite’s presence. Jay later blogged in a manner that proves he’s a better writer than I: “She actually gives off soft lighting.”
Last call came too quickly, and we staggered back to the room through the Marriott Tsunami that showed absolutely no signs of receding. This was the point where my camera battery died, and I had only taken a picture or two. I would say I’m going to kill my ghost, but that would be a little counterproductive.
Oh sleep, thy blissful kiss.