Dragoncon 2019 AAR — Vacation Mode Engaged Edition

This year’s Dragoncon was a weird one for me. Not because it was my second year there, but because I was only there for two days. I had reasons for scheduling things like this, but the primary one was money.

If you didn’t know, Dragoncon is very expensive to attend. Not because of the convention, but because of how the hotels respond to the con. I’ve seen a mad dash for hotels in the past (I remember when Libertycon was at the tiny hotel before the Choo Choo and just how much fun it was trying to get a room there. The hotels around Dragoncon take it to a whole new level and thus, has earned the nickname “The Hunger Games Room Hunt”. Because really, you’re trying to get a room at a host hotel for Dragon? May the odds be in your favor.

However, the con staff of Dragoncon did an awesome job again this year, and despite over 85,000 people showing up, everything seemed to run smoothly. Granted, I was only there for Sunday and Monday, but it still seemed like everything went well. My check in on Sunday morning, including getting my room and my badge, took a total combined time of maybe 20 minutes. Perhaps there is something to arriving on Wednesday morning after all? I might try it one of these years.

THURSDAY: So girlfriend and I rode down to Chattanooga to begin the vacation. It was here where a lot of my pictures on Instagram were shot from. You see, I was using the lake house as a writing retreat of sorts, and boy did I get some writing done on my portion of the Sha’Daa: Zombie Part novella collection. I also was able to work some of “The Gods Anointed” short story, which has been a work in progress spanning 7 years. Eventually this anthology will come out. The drive was smooth and we were joined by my good friend Jasmine, who lived nearby. This allowed the girls to go off and do whatever they wanted and I had plenty of time to myself to write. Yay! Found an amazing sushi place in town. I just wish the waitress knew what I meant when I asked for unagi. When I changed it to “eel, please” she exclaimed it was her favorite. Only complaint about the place. Otherwise, stellar food.

FRIDAY: Seriously, more writing. This was a time-consuming process. I did get to hang out at the lake a little bit and watch all the blue gills come up to the dock and investigate my feet. I’m not sure if they were expecting a snack or looking at me as if I was the snack. IT was so quiet and peaceful there, though. I need to get that NYT bestseller status to stick permanently so I can swing a place on a lake. Being away from the noise of civilization was nice. Had dinner at a local place called The Cookie Jar. The steak was decent enough but it was the desserts which earned this place its reputation. After the dessert I went ahead and bought 6 cupcakes from them. Meanwhile, I’m starting to see pictures of Dragoncon show up more and more in my Facebook and Instagram feeds and my envy begins to grow. I think it was after dinner on Friday night when it became apparent that I was excited for Dragoncon and Sunday morning couldn’t come soon enough.

SATURDAY: The day before Dragoncon. I wasn’t kidding when I say my excitement levels were triggering the Richter scale (SoCal joke, pardon me). However, I still had some writing to do, so this was done. I actively plotted some more of an upcoming novel which I’m still fishing for a title for, as well as planned the rest of my writing year out. It dawned on me that I needed to make some career choices if my writing was going to take off. Plans were made before dinner and, while at dinner with the amazingly talented author Christopher Woods (seriously, read his Fallen World stuff) and his wife, Wendy, it dawned on me that I could be a full-time writer if I pinched those pennies hard enough to make them forget the safe word. It helps knowing that Christopher was in the same boat as I am and offered some very helpful tips.

SUNDAY: Yes, milord, it’s Dragoncon Day! Well, technically, it’s now “Dragoncon Week” since most of my friends arrive on Wednesday and stay until the following Tuesday, but for me this year, Sunday was DCon Day. However, funny story time before we leave for Dragoncon (and an explanation as to why I looked like a zombie during the Cruxshadows concert later that night):

Me (lightly snoozing at 0400 because my phone is set properly to Central Time): ZZzzzZZZzzz

Girlfriend (who is awake and panicking because her alarm didn’t go off at 0500 and is running around trying to get packed): Ohmigod ohmigod we’re going to be late!

Me (beginning to wake up and checks phone): 0413… wtf? Eh. (turns over and goes back to sleep)

GF (prodding me after a bit): Hey, it’s 5:30! We need to get moving! Are you showering?

Me (cracking an eye open): it’s not 5:30. My alarm is set for 5:15.

GF (shoves her phone into my face): no, it’s 5:30. See?

Me (grabbing my cell phone off the nightstand): No, it’s 4:30. See?

GF (still in denial): No, you’re phone is wrong.

Me: Uh, did your phone switch over from Eastern to Central?

GF: it did that automatically!

Me: Why is it on Eastern still then?

GF (after a momentary examination of her phone): Oh, are you f***ing kidding me?

Me (laughing): well, since I’m awake now, wouldn’t hurt to get an early start for Dragon.

Turns out this was a good thing, because it took us far longer to get ready than planned, but we were definitely out the door and on the road to Dragoncon at precisely 0600 CENTRAL time as planned.

We roll into Dragoncon at 0930 EASTERN (I only abused this joke a few dozen times during the day… I’m a bad man, I know) and within 20 minutes we had both the room and the con badges. I ran over to the Sharp Pointy Things booth in the Dealer’s Hall to sign my life away. Michael Z. Williamson had bookplates for me to sign for the upcoming anthology, Freehold: Resistance (Baen Books). You would think that signing 600 bookplates wouldn’t be difficult, but after about 300 I was beat. I don’t know how guys like David Weber or George R. R. Martin do it. I somehow found the strength to finish all 600 (it was dire, dire I tell you!) and my stomach not-so-gently reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since the previous night’s Mexican. Keeping the Latin theme in mind, I went down to the underground food court and hit my favorite cubano place in Atlanta (okay, I’m certain there are others out there, but this is the one I know of and really, really enjoy). A quick bite to eat, and then I finally have a bit of free time to explore the con!

The costumes and cosplayers were on point this year. I saw some costumes that were simply outstanding, some that made me go “hmm… not bad”, and a few that made me blush. I’m guessing, from what I heard, I should be thankful I missed the Bunny Hutch Party in the Marriott. With free time, I swung up to my frined Rob “Speaker to Lab Animals” Hampson to say hi. However, he was out at a panel (I should have checked the Dragoncon App on my phone) but I did get to see Cubby’s Handler and his newborn daughter, as well as Evil Penguin and… someone else? I know there was someone else there, but I didn’t catch his name. Oh well. It happens at Dragon, you know? You meet someone and promptly forget because you get introduced to 500 other people moments later.

From here I ran down to give blood. I didn’t get to last year because my schedule was crazy, but since I didn’t have any panels except for the Dragon Award Ceremony at 5:30 that night, I was able to donate. They got my blood type and asked me to donate plasma as well. It took about an hour but hey, I wasn’t busy. So I did my duty and gave both blood and plasma, and got a cookie. Woohoo! The things I do for cookies.

Back up to the room for a few minutes to get cleaned up… awww, who am I kidding? I wanted to see more of the con! So instead of dressing up nice like everyone else at the awards ceremony, I rocked my checkered shorts and “I Drink Because I Know Things” t-shirt. I was able to check out the art room a bit but I couldn’t find anything by Derek Vukusich. I picked up a painting by him last year and I fell in love with his work. I was then informed that a lot of the artists were over in the Dealer’s Hall. Well, crap. I did not have enough time to run through the gauntlet and make it back in time for the Dragon Awards, so I decided I would just hit it up on Monday.

To the Dragon Awards ceremony!

As expected, David Weber won the Dragon Award for Best Military SF or Fantasy novel with “Uncompromising Honor”. I gave him some grief over how that award looked good with him, but it would look better on my mantle. His retort? “Maybe… but I think it’ll look better still with its siblings at my house.”

Bravo, sir. I walked into that one. 😀

Secondary side note: I’ve seen Brandon Sanderson from a distance twice now but never got to meet him. This trend continued this year. I will get a chance to be properly introduced, one year.

After the awards I was hungry again so I joined NYT bestselling author/editor and radio personality Gary Poole for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Ever been someplace with someone who seemed to know everyone? That was dinner with Gary. It seemed like everyone knew him, and ever the consummate professional, Gary was gracious to everyone who spoke with him. He handled it a lot better than I could have. I’m still learning how to deal with things like this.

After dinner I had some time to kill but didn’t know what to do. GF had a meeting with the Cruxshadows fairies in preparation of their concert, so I had a lot of alone time. I found someone selling “Buckets of Booze” in the Hyatt basement (authorized hotel vendor, not some shady looking dude in a trenchcoat and fedora, I promise) and gave it a try. Considering I drank the whole thing, muttered “I don’t taste the alcohol”, then realized that walking was not really possible at that time, meant they did an excellent job of mixing the drink. Since I couldn’t walk and decided standing in one place was a great idea, I found myself standing around with some girl who also seemed a bit wasted on the red drink. I think she was standing with me as a sort of “protective shield” because a few guys looked over at us and it seemed they wanted to approach her but saw my natural RBF and her proximity to me decided against it. Eh, I’ll run interference for someone if they need it. No issues there. Eventually we made our way into the concert where I met back up with the GF and Bun Bun.

If you know who Bun Bun is, then the next section is hilarious. If you don’t, then it’s only going to be mildly amusing. I’m in line for the concert and, having discovered my legs are working once more, amd walking along to enter the concert when I suddenly hear a loud voice call out.

BB: Jason! My good friend Jason! Thank you for holding a spot in line for me!

Me (looks around, then up… and up… holy sh*t Bun Bun is big): Oh, hey BB. C’mon, let’s roll.

BB (grabs my shoulders and walks behind me): I’m a little drunk right now and am not in a place to be unsupervised. I’m going to hang with you.

Me (worried now): Man, I’m so drunk I just realized my legs are working again. I’m the last person you want to follow around.

BB: You’re more sober than me! Hey, I just wanted to let you know I really appreciate your comments about my story.

Me: Dude, your story rocked. I’m waiting for that novel now. Hey, uh… quit dry humping me. I’m not that drunk!

BB: I’m not dry humping you.

Me: I’m the big spoon, damn it. Not you!

BB: You’re funny.

Me (whispering to myself): Be the big spoon, be the big spoon…

BB: Oh hey look, more friends! (BB disappears, which is quite a feat for someone who is like 6’8″ and 350 pounds)

Me (calling out after BB): I’m the big spoon, damn it!

Girlfriend: Sure you are, big guy. Sure you are.

Opening for The Cruxshadows was a band new to me called Frenchy and the Punk. It was one of the more energetic shows I’ve ever seen and they were very good. The Punk especially was one of the more skilled guitar players I’ve ever seen, and considering the bands I’ve seen over the years, that’s saying something. Afterwards the Cruxshadows came on and rocked it, as always. I took some great pics during the concert this year. They’re up on my Instagram if you’re interested (@warpcordova on Instagram).

By the end of the concert it was 0345. At this point I’d been awake for almost 24 hours and needed some sleep. So naturally… I stayed and talked with some of the Cruxshadows fairies. Quite a few of them voted for me in the Dragon Awards, and I will be eternally grateful for their support, and I wanted to thank them. Finally made it up to my room at 0415 where I promptly crashed into the bed, hard.

MONDAY: Hah, I bet you thought I’d sleep more than 4 hours, didn’t you? Yeah, that doesn’t happen at Dragoncon. I was up and moving early because I didn’t know when check out was (Pro Tip: Check out times are listed on the inside of your hotel door) and figured I would do some packing beforehand. Up and moving-ish, I made my way back over to the Dealer’s Hall to look up some artwork. I was on a mission to buy a Derek Vukusich painting, damn it. Unfortunately, I didn’t find him, but I did discover some other prints of a new-to-me artist I snagged. Monday is the day for deals in the Dealer’s Hall, since they’re all getting ready to pack up and head out. I also found a really nice jacket from Arrow that the person who custom makes them said could be done in a Navy blue. A cosplay outfit slowly formed in my head.

Ran into Kevin Ikenberry and Dr. Charles Gannon at the Bard’s Tower hocking their books. Picked up my Peacemaker badge from Kevin and spoke a little with Charles about the awards ceremony and what it means to us. While there, someone came running up to me and asked me to sign their book. I was all set until I realized that I wasn’t in this particular book. I mention this to him and he then realized that I wasn’t David. Which David, I’ll never know.

After a long two days we officially hit the road to head back to the lake house. GF and I were both exhausted and I am very glad we decided to spend the final night of the vacation in the lake house and not in Atlanta. It would have been too much and we probably would have suffered during the drive back to reality Tuesday.

Cats were happy to see me, since their litter boxes needed cleaning. I almost wrote this up last night but I was too tired. Instead I farted around on Facebook, read a few articles that I will probably be picking apart over the next few days, and adjusted my writing board for upcoming projects.

Verdict: I love Dragoncon and had a lot of fun despite only being there for two days. I missed my friends and it’s always terrific to see them. I got to sit with Brandy Spraker, Director of Libertycon, and see Sharon Rice-Weber. Spoke with my publisher, Chris Kennedy, and spend a few minutes with fellow Dragon Award finalist Mark Wandrey. I’ll get to see the last two again later this month for the annual CKP Party, thankfully.

I’m missing names, and forgetting things (as always), but know that for everyone I got to spend time with, I cherish those moments with my friends. I hope to see you all again soon. The con staff at Dragoncon did a terrific job, as always, and though I didn’t participate on the panels I know from others that the track directors did a great job creating a bunch of literary and entertainment tracks for the fans to enjoy. Well done, Dragoncon!

Next convention coming up: FantaSci, March 20-22, 2020 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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