I attended my first DRAGON*CON in Atlanta, 29-Aug-2008 through 01-Sep-2008.
This event is huge. I only made it to 3 of the hotels (the Hyatt Regency, the Marriot, and the Hilton).
I arrived the day before it started to pick up my badge (and the 128-page pocket program), 30 minutes before the badge line opened. I'd estimate there were about 400 people in line in front of me. An hour and a half later, badge and program in hand, I noticed the line had grown to about 1,000 people. Dragon*Con attracts perhaps 30,000 rabid SF/F fans of all ages.
Dragon*Con offered 40+ tracks of programming. I primarily attended the Writers Track (31 hours of sessions for writers), but I also managed to take in a few Space track and Science track sessions, plus a couple of sessions from the Main track. Sessions were scheduled non-stop starting at 10 A.M. and running through 11 P.M. One session started at 10:00 P.M. Sunday and lasted 5.5 hours; I only attended the first hour!
Keywords for the event: Huge, Impressive, Insane.
Many people seemed to be there solely for the costumes, which included Impressive and Insane efforts. Thursday, perhaps 1 out of 50 were in costume. Friday, the first official Dragon*Con day, it rose to 1 out of 10. Saturday (which includes a huge parade with a number of downtown Atlanta streets blocked off), perhaps 1 in 4. Saturday night, 1 in 2, although there were fewer attendees then (perhaps 10,000). I must admit that my numbers may be skewed; I wasn't always certain if the person was in costume or simply always dressed like that. Sunday, the ratio was still 1 in 4 or so, until late Sunday night when I attended the Mad Scientist's Ball.
I did not recognize many, likely most costumes. I think I've led a sheltered life. The most common costume component for women was a corset (heaving bosoms abounded); for men, it may have been a kilt. There was an impressive number of weapons on display; I'm amazed that many of these made it past the police. I had no problem with the huge, futuristic Gatling guns bolted onto the arms of some of the mercenaries, but a lot of swords and battle axes looked deadly. Many of the costumes were worn by coordinated groups (Ghostbusters, Fantastic Four, stormtroopers, Hammer's Slammers, X-men, others) and any of these dropped into a practiced pose if you aimed a camera or cell phone at them. I learned that my cell phone camera is very poor.
The Mad Scientist's Ball: The Singing Tesla Coils (presented by ArcAttack) were incredibly impressive. Check out the video at http://www.arcattack.com/ and dozens of related videos on utube. However, realize that the videos are not one tenth as impressive as seeing four-foot tesla coils making stereo music with six-foot lightning displays, in stereo, in a standing-room-only crowd of 250 fans screaming in appreciation.
Whew. By the way, maybe 75% of that crowd was in costume, although I did see at least one person (besides myself) in "dress casual." Yes, I felt distinctly out-of-place. But I loved it.
I attended these especially notable sessions (as solely judged by how many notes I took):
- How to Write a Story in One Hour
- To Be SF, or Not To Be SF
- If a book can be either techno-thriller or SF, it'll sell more books as the techno-thriller.
- The Secret to Selling Your Fiction
- Write short stories first
- Enter contests
- Don't write the sequel until the first book sells - write a different stand-alone book.
- If it would make a great movie, write the screenplay first, then novelize it.
- What Editors Want From You
- Panelists included Claire Eddy and Liz Gorinsky from TOR, Jennifer Heddle from Pocket, others
- Story must engage reader within 2 to 5 pages. For some editors, you get more like 2 to 5 sentences.
- TOR still accepts over-the-transom submissions, but they get 1000-2000 submissions per month, and they publish 400 books per year, some of which are re-issues. 99% of submissions are rejected.
- Claire Eddy reads a few random sentences, and expects every such sentence to advance the plot, or develop a character, or serve a similar valuable purpose.
- Never, ever, quote your story in the cover letter.
- Interpreting What Editors Say They Want From You
- Panelists included Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe), Toni Weisskopf (Baen), Paul Stevens (TOR), others
- Paul Stevens wants no more than a 3 or 4 page synopsis; Toni Weisskopf wants a 4 to 10 page synopsis.
- Goal, Motivation, & Conflict (by Debra Dixon)
- Give your protagonist a choice between sucky and suckier (and choices have consequences).
- Characters should have differences in ethics, backgrounds, goals, agendas.
- Commercial fiction is about hope for change.
- Conflict tests your characters, enables them to grow, and prepares them to overcome the antagonist in the finale.
- Your pitch should convey what your protagonist wants, why she wants it, and the hurdles she must overcome.
- What Every Writer Should Know
- More novels get published than short stories!
- Start submitting at the top (quality of credits counts for a lot)
- Kiss Him, or Kill Him?
- There were 6 panelists, of which I found Laurell K. Hamilton the most entertaining and enlightening.
- Don't let your heroines be men in women's bodies
- LKH said, "A pitch meeting is not about reality; you're selling your book." And, "My grammar sucks."
- And, "Sex is different on paper. Less foreplay, more communication."
- Now, That's Funny
- Developing Exciting Secondary Characters
Dragon*Con was a very worthwhile experience; I've already purchased my ticket for next year.