DragonCon Day 2: or, In which I chase Lev Grossman around Atlanta

The first panel on my Sunday list was “Modern-Day Magic,” with Jim Butcher and Lev Grossman at 10 am. I was pretty excited for this; on Saturday, I had a chance to see Lev in the Delphic Oracle panel but had thought “it’s fine, I’ll see him tomorrow,” and decided to go to the Writing Track panel instead. If only I had the powers of the Delphic oracle to see into the future . . .

I left for downtown at 9:15, and made it to the con with plenty of time to spare. However, I misjudged how popular this panel would be. When I got there, it was completely full, with a “waiting” line that wrapped around the hallway. So I went to “Real History of Science-Fiction: Aliens” instead, hosted by Diane Hughes, Jaym Gates, and Michael Z. Williamson. It was a fairly casual conversation between three SF enthusiasts about their favorite aliens in fiction. They talked about how aliens represent The Other, and said that authors, when writing aliens, need to ask what the alien “wants.” It was interesting; I loved the part about how aliens are often portrayed with spikes, horns, etc., but that on Earth, it’s the prey, not the predators, that have to arm themselves that way. However, it was not ground-breaking material and my heart sank every time I heard the peals of laughter coming from the next room where Butcher and Grossman were.

Next I headed to the “Fabulous Ladies of Fantasy” panel, hosted by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Katherine Kurtz, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nancy Knight, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Lynn Abbey. I sat down with my recently-purchased Naked Juice and waited for it to begin.

Here’s where things took a bit of a turn. I checked my phone to see if Grossman had updated Facebook with any more Sunday events. He hadn’t, but then I got the bright idea to check the Decatur Book Festival website. The Decatur Book Festival is an annual independent book festival put on by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and held in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta, and it was going on the same weekend as Dragon*Con. Sure enough, Grossman was scheduled to speak there at noon. I thought about how I’d already missed out on seeing Patrick Stewart. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss my chance to meet another bald white man I admire,” I thought. So instead of staying to hear the Fabulous Ladies of Fantasy, I took off across town. (For those of you disappointed that I won’t be reviewing the Fabulous Ladies of Fantasy panel, I am dreadfully sorry; you’ll be relieved to hear that karma caught up with me, as I accidentally left without my unopened $4.75 Naked Juice which I was really looking forward to drinking.)

However, for those of you who might visit Dragon*Con in the future, I recommend checking out the DBF as well. I got to sit in on some really fun, informative, well-organized panels. The first one I went to, “What’s the Point of Book Reviews?,” was hosted by Grossman, Valerie Boyd, Kate Tuttle, Parul Kapur Hinzen, and Tray Butler. These authors, who each work as book reviewers as well, discussed whether or not they give negative reviews, if they read book blogs like this one (answer: they do!), and some of the difficulties and joys of reviewing books. They debated whether or not their job is to pass judgment on a book or instead to think of it as “a story about reading.”

Next I heard Jeff VanderMeer, interviewed by Ann VanderMeer, discuss his SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY. He spoke about all the animals that had inspired him in the past: frogs, meercats, squid, rabbits, and owls, and how the human connection with nature features heavily in his work, especially the recent trilogy. VanderMeer was laid-back, self-effacing, and very funny. I especially loved some of his stories about real-life events that inspired the SOUTHERN REACH books, including a new co-worker who asked him, “Do you want to see my strange room?” (He didn’t.) One really fun part of his presentation was getting to see various international cover images for his books.

Then I went to a panel on animals in fiction, and heard David James Poissant and Susan Coll discuss their recent books, both of which feature animals and could be loosely categorized as magical realism. Poissant’s reading of his short story “What the Wolf Wants” was incredible, and made me want to rush out and buy his book A Heaven of Animals right away. Susan Coll’s book, The Stager, also sounds delightfully creepy.

I finished my day at the DBF by hearing Lev Grossman speak about his MAGICIANS trilogy, specifically The Magician’s Land. He spoke about their relation to C.S. Lewis’s NARNIA series, saying “I loved the Chronicles of Narnia, but they had very little to say about the challenges of early middle-age.” My favorite anecdote from his panel was how, while he was working on The Magician’s Land, he was getting bored with his own story. While watching the DeNiro film Ronin, he thought about why he’d much rather be watching this movie than reading his own book. He summed it up by saying, “The Magician’s Land was bad before I made it more like Ronin.”

What I learned:

First, if I go back to Dragon*Con (which I probably will), I need to stay in one of the host hotels. Trekking back and forth across Atlanta is not conducive to an enjoyable time. Atlanta isn’t even that big, but Dragon*Con is so overwhelming that I found myself needing downtime with no place to get it without leaving the con. Having a room at the hotel would definitely help with this. Second, I need to plan my panels more carefully ahead of time. And third, the Decatur Book Festival is an awesome (and much less overwhelming) alternative for the fantasy readers among us. Really, the only concept that DBF needs to steal from Dragon*Con to meet all my needs is the costumes.


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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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3 comments

  1. “Jeff VanderMeer was laid back, self-effacing… ” I think maybe that wasn’t the real VanderMeer. Were their glowing green words on the wall behind him, by any chance?

  2. Justin Blazier /

    Nice article Kate, and I’m very jealous of your time on Dragoncon. I will some day make the pilgrimage to Atlanta for the event. Until then I will live vicariously through posts such as this.

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