Con Report: Dragoncon 2023

Dragon Con 2023 was held Thursday, August 31st-Monday September 4th. Labor Day weekend.
A massive sprawl of an event, the con is held in five downtown Atlanta hotels as well as two
buildings of the Americas Mart complex (vendors and gaming).

That is the where and the when of Dragon Con, but the what of Dragon Con is a bit harder to
encapsulate in a few hundred words. It’s very much its own distinct beast, apart from both San
Diego ComicCon and your typical WorldCon, while containing elements of both. Because it’s
held in the same spaces every year, it has its own jargon, its own vibe. Its own cults. Yes, you
read that correctly. There are things that happen at Dragon Con that don’t happen at any other
convention. Like the parade on Saturday.

Here then, is the long and short of it, from my point of view. As always, your mileage may have

Author’s daughters – didn’t miss color guard. Photo – James Palmer

Even though the con now begins on Thursday each year, things didn’t start for me until Friday.
A three-day event is much more manageable, at least to me, than a five-day event, so I’m somewhat flexible with my schedule. I had to be exceptionally flexible this year, as my daughter is in high school color guard and they had a game Friday night. After dropping her off at school we headed down, staying at a hotel inside the perimeter and away from the hubbub of Atlanta. We took the MARTA train, Atlanta’s rapid transit system, which deposited us right in the beating heart of Dragon Con. From there it was off to the Marriott to get our badges.

This is an area where my con experience isn’t typical of most attendees. Regular attendees must walk down to the Courtland Grand and wait in line for badge pickup, as it is now called since there is no more onsite registration. Some folks complained of the long wait, but that is typical of
Dragon Con, especially when they are trying something new. I was an attending pro, so I picked up our badges in the Marriott where the guests and other pros pick up their badges, so it was a quick and easy in and out. From there we went to visit our old friends at the American Sci-Fi Classics Track.

A bit of explanation is probably in order here. The programming at Dragon Con is divided into
dozens of smaller “tracks.” There are tracks devoted to Star Wars, Star Trek, Horror, Urban
Fantasy, SF Lit, Fantasy Lit, Writing, and more. American Sci-Fi Classics is devoted to movies
and TV shows that were released before the year 2000, and is one of the funniest tracks at con. There is no such thing as a “guilty pleasure” there, but everyone knows how silly a lot of that
older stuff was and take it with a grain of salt and a mountain of sarcasm and good humor.

I added a couple of writing-related panels to my schedule for Friday, but because it took longer
to get there than we bargained I wasn’t able to make those. I’ve learned over the years it is
sometimes best to play things by ear and not plan everything out with military precision. You will only end up disappointed. I am sad I missed out on signing up for a 15-minute mentor
session with select author guests. This is something the Writer’s Track has done for the last few
years and is a great chance to ask questions or just network.

This brings me to another area where Dragon Con is a little different, although I’ve seen other
smaller cons following suit. There’s an app for that! Dragon Con has its own app where you can
view the schedule and build your own from its offerings. It also contains helpful maps and a list
of all the guests, along with what programming they are doing. It makes navigating the con much

And speaking of navigating the convention, there is a Dragon Con Newbies group that does
newbie walking tours of most of the convention’s footprint. Dragon Con can be overwhelming
for first-timers who don’t know their way around, so the Dragon Con community banded
together to make this happen.

After hanging out for a while, my wife and I grabbed lunch, jumped on the train, and made it
back to our car so we could head north again for our daughter’s game. We left at halftime with
her in tow, and returned to our hotel, there to start the process for real on Saturday morning.

A packed house for the Economics in Science Fiction panel.  Photo – James Palmer

Saturday we got down there around 9:45 with my daughter in her plague doctor cosplay. We hit
the Art Show, which is one of my favorite things to do at Dragon Con. Then I had to head
upstairs for my first panel, Economics in Science Fiction for the SF Lit track, with Griffin
Barber, Chuck Gannon, military SF writer Casey Moores, and moderator Joseph Cadotte. I
wasn’t sure how this one would turn out, but it was surprisingly well attended, with a full house
for a panel on such a dry topic.

From there it was off to a 40th anniversary He-Man panel for the Classics Track, where we
talked about the cartoon and all the various toylines. I know nothing about the new toys, but it
was fun to reminisce about this thirty-minute toy commercial from my childhood. One of the
panelists, my friend Dave West, dressed for the occasion as Prince Adam, a mashup of the late
musician Prince and He-Man’s princely alter ego.

Then I had to walk down a couple of blocks to the Westin Peachtree Hotel for Awakening the
Great Old Ones: Writing Modern Cthulhu Mythos Stories for the Horror Track. This panel
included Richard Lee Byers, my friend and fellow author Chris Jackson, Kenneth Hite, Alex
Shvartsman (returning to Dragon Con after 30 years), and Esther Friesner. I’m friends with
Esther on Facebook, but this was the first time I’ve ever paneled with her and I found her to be

After that, I and the other panelists were part of a signing showcase over in a section of the
Westin called the Overlook. Esther was the only one of us who saw any traffic, but it is the first
year for author signings in that space. I hung around long enough to catch Robert J. Sawyer as he
was arriving for a scheduled signing and got him to sign my hardcover copy of Quantum Night.
Rob is a terrific writer, a nice guy, and an intelligent speaker. I wish we could have hung out
longer, but I had another power for the Horror Track called Horror’s Heroes: Embodying
Courage in the Face of Fear. This one was with authors D.J. Bodden, Matt Dinniman, Scott
Sigler, Jessi Ann York, and the legendary Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

Then it was back to the Marriott and the Sci-Fi Classics track for When Syfy Aired Sci-Fi:
Geeky TV of the Early 2000s. Names of shows were written on a wheel. Then we spun the wheel
and talked about each show for a few minutes.

I didn’t have any panels on Sunday, so we went to the vendor halls, four entire floors including
one devoted to authors and artists. We headed there first because a lot of my friends were up
there, including former DC Comics scribe and Firestorm writer Dan Jolley. The vendor halls
were a lot of fun this year. There was a wide variety of fannish offerings, especially handmade
items, not just Funko Pops and blind boxes like some years. I always enjoy wandering through
and watching my wife and daughter browsing. This year, my wife fell in love with one particular
offering, an artist selling calendars called Effing Birds, which contained beautiful bird
illustrations along with sweary, insulting yet funny quotes. She snapped one up immediately.

After we walked through the vendor halls we went home, but I took my daughter back down
with me on the final day, Monday, because I was on one last panel that I didn’t want to miss. We
got there early enough to talk to some folks. I ran into former senior acquisitions editor for Titan
Books turned freelance editor Steve Saffel. Monday morning I ran into Steve Saffel, former
senior acquisitions editor at Titan Books turned freelance editor, and we had a nice chat. I also
got to speak with my publisher, John Hartness of Falstaff Books, right before a Kevin J.
Anderson panel entitled Five Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me, which turned out to be a
longer, more exhaustive list based on his decades as a professional writer, including a rundown
of Heinlein’s Rules of Writing. An informative and well-attended panel.

When that panel was over, I ran into writer, editor, and publisher William Joseph “Hillbilly”
Roberts of Three Ravens Publishing, and we chatted briefly. Then we saw my friend and fellow
indie author Ellie Raine, and she and my daughter had fun geeking out about How to Train Your

At 1 p.m. it was back to the Classics Track in the Marriott for Tails of Dragon Con. A comic
book writer friend of mine put together a book of the same name, all about the wonder that is
Dragon Con. All proceeds go to charity, so I submitted a story for it. We swapped stories of Dragon Cons past and talked about what makes this event so unique and special. An older lady,
sitting in the front row with her husband, talked about how their deceased son loved Dragon Con
so much that they wanted to attend in his memory. Now they love it so much that they return
every year.

Which brings me to my general thoughts about the con. The crowds were manageable this year,
with a reported 70,000 attendees. This is down from the close to 90,000 attendees pre-pandemic.
Thanks to fan input, they capped attendance this year, only selling a limited number of one-day
memberships, and not selling any memberships on-site for the first time ever. In spite of this, the
crowds on Saturday were noticeably larger. Something happened around early afternoon that
made the crowd seemingly double in size. But this is typical of Saturdays, as that is the day most
one-day attendees go to the convention.

Several people are complaining online about bad things that happened, like cars parked in
service lots having their windows smashed, and a few people staying at the Hilton getting their
rooms ransacked. But my con experience was a good one. In fact, I’m amazed that an all-
volunteer-run event of this size and magnitude goes off as well as it does. There are always
problems, especially when the con is implementing something new. But they always respond to
feedback and fix it for next year. There will always be the occasional long line for things like
badge pickup or a popular celebrity panel. Most of the grumbling I’ve seen has more to do with
the hotels or the city of Atlanta than Dragon Con itself.

So what makes Dragon Con so special? Is it the parade? Is it the millions the con has raised for
various charities over the years? Is it the cosplay?

Authors John Hartness and Kevin J. Anderson. Photo James Palmer.

Ask ten Dragon Con attendees and you’ll get ten different answers. For me, it’s that the show is a unique combo of multimedia sprawl and a nice, well-functioning literary con. The Writer’s Track, SF Lit and Fantasy Lit tracks are all tucked away together in a quiet little corner of the Hyatt. There you can meet and learn from some terrific, well-known writers. Or network after hours in the Westin Bar, and meet with acquisition editors. In addition to Yarbro and Sawyer, this year they also had Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher, David Weber, Timothy Zahn, Patricia Biggs, Jack Campbell, and others. Jody Lynn Nye and Michael Stackpole teach writing classes at
the show. I owe my writing career to the people I have met and learned from at Dragon Con.

A bit of family Cosplay. Photo James Palmer

I’ve been going to Dragon Con off and on since 1997, as an attendee, guest, and attending pro. It is my home con, my favorite con of the year, and the second con I ever attended. I don’t know what it is about this convention that brings so many people from so many fandoms, interests, and backgrounds. But I know what it means to me. It is a place to escape reality, if only for a few days. A place to call home. And that, I think is its universal appeal. I had a grand time, and I’m
already planning for next year.

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