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  • Marisa Wolf

DragonCon 2021


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WHEW. I have just finished yet another nap, and am still not entirely recovered from the Nerd New Year homecoming party that is DragonCon. Yes, weird year, aaaaand everyone I came into contact with really worked their behind off to make it amazing. Track Directors, volunteers, hotel staff, waitstaff – uniformly amazing. Fellow panelists? Rockstars! Attendees? Delightful!


This was my – eighth? ninth? somethingth – DragonCon, and my first in person as an attending professional. I had 14 panels, and every one of them was fantabulous. I really hope I can make this a recurring thing because 1) I really, really love DragonCon and 2) good goodness was that so much fun.


I got to hang out on 6 different tracks, and each one was So. Much. Fun. Such good panels! Such cool crowds! I can’t gush enough about them. I hope I get to go and play on Fantasy Literature, Sci Fi Literature, Young Adult Literature, Apocalypse Rising, American Sci-Fi and Fantasy Media, and Digital Media alllll next year too. They are beyond great. (Words are hard. Good thing I’m not a writer.)

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I want to give you a thorough After Action Report, but I’m googly-brained and it’s all instantly become a blur, so I will promise you instead a gif-filled recounting of panels, some moments, and a not-remotely-exhaustive-recounting of some of the awesome folks I got to hang out with.

Ready? Let’s see how I do!


Thursday:

Rolled in just in time for dinner. I missed out on Wednesday-is-the-new-Thursday, but made up for it with an amazing (overstuffed #noregerts) dinner at Ray’s in the City with a super fun crowd of my faves and waaaay too much good food.


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After that I got to hang out in the Baen suite, eyeball the assortment of excellent ARCs, catch up with more of my favorite people, and, utter highlight, meet Ben Yalow. Ben is a full on elder statesman of scifi/fantasy fandom – he’s planned countless conventions (including launching Star Trek/media conventions), known utter legends of the genre(s), and had a depthless knowledge of the history and stories of fandom. What a legend in his own right – I managed at least a quick conversation with him nearly every day of con, and it still wasn’t enough. Talking with him and Toni Weisskopf is just brilliance and insight and great stories and whew was I lucky to talk with them this weekend. Bed time was 2ish. I think. It’s already a little vague.


Friday:

It begins, for real!


The streets were not crowded, only sparse cosplays to be seen, and I met up with the ever fabulous Boy Casey and his awesome friend to deliver cosplay goodness and, most importantly, return to the Cult of Meehans Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese. Dearest friends, I love everything about DragonCon – the people especially, the lack of sleep because there’s too much awesomeness afoot to submit to sensible things like rest, the panels, the cosplay, the random encounters with friends and celebrities and friends who are becoming celebrities, the conversations that range far and further afield – and Meehan’s truffled mac and cheese with buffalo chicken is a highwater mark. It just is. Ahem, right, the con!


After I stuffed my face, I immediately ran* off for the first of my 14 panels: My First Science Fiction Book. We talked differences between genres, folks in the audience asked great questions, and alllll the books my fellow panelists wrote have landed in my TBR because they were phenomenal.


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I stayed in the area because my next panel was right next door – Deep Meanings in Fantasy and the Challenging Moments We Connect With. I got to sit next to Patricia Briggs on this one (?!?!), and while I did not fangirl, I nearly did at the end when she said what a great panel it was and how much fun she had – and it was! Honestly, if you can have the incomparable Mel Todd moderate a panel for you, ever: DO! We talked about what we do and don’t bring to our characters, why we make some of the tough choices we do, and, to quote Patricia Briggs, how "we lie to the audience to tell you bigger truths.” Did I get goosebumps? I did.


My next panel was pre-recorded (One True Pairing, a laugh fest you’ll hear more about shortly), so I ran* home for a break, crashed dinner with Toni who is endlessly delightful, and ran back out for YA and Chill, where we got to talk about all the Young Adult adaptations, the ones we wished existed, and the pros and cons of streaming series, tv shows, movies, cartoons, graphic novels, re-adaptations…so fun.


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I went to hang out at the Fantasy Gather for a bit (an amazing time, everyone should go!), chatted with awesome fans and equally awesome authors, then ran off for my 10pm panel.

This was the After-Dark panel inspired by our shenanigans on Super Geeked Up – Sinful Sci-Fi: An Improv Comedy. Room was at capacity, they had to turn about 70 more people away (?!?!), and between the fabulous audience (if you weren’t in that room, you’ve never heard the noise a space llama makes, and I don’t know if I should be happy or sad for you) and my phenomenal co-panelists, we had so much fun I definitely snorted more than once.


I wandered back to the Fantasy Gather to say goodnight to folks, then returned to the Baen suite, where I talked with and (more importantly) listened to utter geniuses and there was further hilarity. I talked Pern with the Massas! Sci Fi writers we wished we’d meet with Griffin Barber and assorted amazing folks. We hung out until 2. Or was it 3? Hours cease to matter, at DragonCon.

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Saturday:

Except, of course, for when you have a morning panel. I raced* out of the hotel early to be sure I got across the parade in time, was distracted by the parade (awesome people out being awesome!), and still slid in early enough to chat with cool folks before the panel started. The panel, you ask? My dream.


Crazy About Pern! Aaaaaaaa. A passionate audience, equally passionate panelists, and we only scratched the surface of what we wanted to talk about. Anne McCaffrey’s genius, complicated characters, gorgeous dragons and their beautiful bond with their riders, emotional payoff…whew, that was a fun one. (To be fair, they were all fun ones. DC track directors are geniuses, across the board)


After that I hunched over my packed lunch like Gollum before the next panel, One True Pairing! Ridiculous Ships at their Best – a live version of utter shenanigans. We found love between Spock and Captain Marvel, Aloy and Storm, and rebooted my three dads with the Mandalorian, Clint Barton, and Agent Coulson raising Grogu. Much laughing, all deserved. So fun!

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Next was It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine…), which was also (surprise!) full of utter shenanigans. Moderated by Robert “Speaker” Hampson, attended by me, Doug Burbey, and Mike Massa (they are all masters of the apocalypse, and I’m sure that’s a good thing), and populated by an audience with a fine grasp of the ridiculous, it was deeply fun. Kaiju cats are 100% going to win, btw.


Crashed another big dinner (the fabulous Wandreys were there!) and had yet more mac and cheese (and some whiskey, and talked some potential-new-projects/sequels/wheeee with excellent authors), before having to hurry out.


This was the day I ran* back and forth between the Hyatt/Marriott/Westin/Marriott/Westin, so then it was time to get back to the Marriott for Thrills & Chills in YA. Horror, suspense, tension, excitement – what works, and how much is too much in YA? We had a great conversation, reminded ourselves that teenagers absolutely get exposed to the roughest parts of life, and that the critical piece is hope. No grimdark nihilism in YA, please. (It’s not my fave anywhere, truly, but especially not for young adults.)


Back to the Westin! Aliens vs. Zombies: The Return! We did this last year for Virtual DragonCon, and had way too much fun. It was even better in person, not just because Doug Burbey attended to heckle us. I heard a rumor they’re going to try and move the panel to After Dark next year…I’m not saying it’s my fault, but let’s say it would be a happy ending all around if that happens.

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Chatted with incredible folks until an absolutely absurd hour and went to sleep close to 4? Maybe? I don’t know. Time stopped working appropriately.


Sunday:

Thankfully Sunday didn’t start officially for me until 1. I talked to some folks with 10:00 am panels (yeeeeikes), and while of course they were great, sounds like they started a little sleepily. We were ready by 1 though, and had a ton of fun digging into YA Tropes and how to use them. Do you have a favorite trope? I have a ton (found family! Cinnamon rolls! Assassins with hearts of gold!), and discovered even more I love during our conversations. Also my TBR list grew…again. Some more.

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Next up, Dames, Damsels, & Dynamite. Mel Todd (my awesome friend with 29 amazing books, check her outttttt) came to watch the panel, and the fabulous moderator (and incidentally the brilliant Director of the track) immediately appointed her to join us. Rightly so – we had some really great conversations covering the range of the patriarchy, female leads, the problems we make for ourselves, and ways to describe women that don’t result in them breasting boobily down the stairs.

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My last panel of the day, Science Fantasy, was such a good time I wish I could have had two more hours with my fellow panelists and the insightful questions from the audience. Science Fantasy might be a little bit of a beast to market, but I love it. Star Wars. Firefly. The Rowan! What isn’t there to love? Also, as pointed out by moderator extraordinaire Jim Minz and SFF legend Ben Yalow, the genres of science fiction didn’t start off separate. The blending of them back together is entirely natural. More Science Fantasy, please!


I took a spin through the dealer hall with Mel Todd and had dinner (three guesses what I ate and honestly the first two don’t count) with her and Doug Burbey of Bad Ash Publishing, and we talked books, panels, writing, costumes, shenanigans…the usual. The best.


The rest of the night was a chill hang out night, eyes on the Masquerade, more great stories from Ben, and nearly everyone went home at a decent-ish hour…but yet I managed to talk to friends until after 3? Again? Because time just jumps forward when you’re not paying attention?


Monday:

One more panel! YA: What We’re Reading. Friends, my TBR list is OUT. OF. CONTROL.

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It’s bad. Real bad. So bad. But also: amaaaaaaaazing.


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There are so many great books out there. I want time to read them all. I would, ideally, like to write more of them. How do I fit all this into the same amount of day?


A puzzle for future me.


After my last panel I started the last round of goodbyes, plotting future projects, more goodbyes, and, oh yeah, packing. Overall I had an amazing time. I missed some of my usual crew (y’all, when Kacey is back next year I’m going to lose my miiiiiiiind), and there’s never enough time to spend as much time with everyone as I want, but I got in some great time with amazing people and it was all wonderful.


So, yes, we had DragonCon. But what about second DragonCon?

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Alas, not until next year. Love you awesome nerds.


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*these are all the same caveat – I did not race, nor run, as I had a semi-healed broken toe that grew more and more dramatic throughout the weekend. I lumbered, I limped, but I got there. Dang toe.



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