Dragon*Con September 2-5, 2005 - Final Report by Jennifer Liang
posted at Dragonmount.com
Robert Jordan was the Guest of Honor for Dragon*Con 2005, which was recently held in Atlanta, Georgia. For the last five years I have had the honor of serving as the Director of Wheel of Time programming at this convention. Though Robert Jordan was a guest of the convention in 1996, this is the first time he has attended while I’ve been associated with it. We also had cover artist Darrell K. Sweet, Teresa Patterson, co-author of the Guide, and Les and Ernst Dabel, producers of the New Spring graphic novel as guests.
Thursday is not officially part of the convention. However, so many people have become Dragon*Con savvy over the last few years and realized that early arrival is the way to go, that it might as well be. Thursday afternoon was spent hanging our new flags in the Kennesaw conference room of the Hyatt and meeting all the WoT fans coming from out of town. I had dinner that night with the Dragonmount group, which turned into a big gossip session. (“Remember that crazy chick that used to post back in 1999…”) That night I split my time between the TarValon.net Pants Free Party and a group of noisy, drunk WoT fans in the tenth floor lounge of the Marriott. We were there until the hotel staff asked us to leave.
Remember the tenth floor. It pops up frequently.
The convention officially began at 1 PM on Friday. I ran the Opening Ceremonies, which was a recap of the last five years and some introductions. Turn out was better than I expected, since Robert Jordan had his first signing at the same time. It was followed by our “New Spring” discussion group.
Our big event for the day was a reading from Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan. I had been told that it would be a reading from “Embers Falling on Dry Grass”, the prologue that has been available for a few months in the New Spring paperback. However, Jordan surprised us by reading a section from somewhere in the middle of the book, which was a Mat POV. There are spoiler descriptions of the scene already posted on different sites, so I won’t say more than that. Afterwards, he took questions from the audience.
Friday night we hosted a banquet at a nearby restaurant with Robert Jordan, his wife Harriet MacDougall, Darrell Sweet and his wife Janet. It was great dinner and I’m sorry that the layout of the room prevented everyone from being as close to our guests as they would have liked. However, we were able to give everyone a few minutes with them after dessert was served, which I hope was satisfactory.
Afterwards, it was time for the Dragonmount Mead Party, hosted by long time DM members Scott, Nina and Jaime. This was located on the tenth floor of the Marriott, and stayed open late, as no one kicked us out this time. We passed around Mardi gras beads in honor of our friends who couldn’t be there because of Hurricane Katrina. You can see them in various pictures all weekend.
Saturday kicked off bright and early with the fourth annual Dragon*Con parade. Once again, I marched as the Amyrlin Seat. We had several Tinkers, a group of Asha’man, a Seanchan woman, Mat Cauthon, the Daughter Heir of Andor and dozens of Aes Sedai. We marched from Woodruff Park to the Marriott by way of Atlanta’s legendary Peachtree Street. The highlight was marching past the Hyatt and seeing Robert Jordan and his wife sitting on the planters clapping and cheering for us. It was one of those beautiful, rare moments that stays with you forever.
Afterwards, we held a discussion group on the misunderstood cultures from the series, such as the Seanchan.
The next big event was the formal interview with Robert Jordan, conducted by Dragonmount’s own Shannan Lieb (Serinia Latar, Head of the Gray Ajah). I’m currently trying to get a copy of the video Dragon*Con made of this event and permission to post it online. However, in the meantime, the good people at Theoryland.com made their own tape and have put a transcript online here. http://p079.ezboard.com/ftheorylandfrm30.showMessage?topicID=1.topic This was notable as the first time I have ever had people lining up outside a room for an event I put on at Dragon*Con. There were about three hundred people patiently standing in the lobby of the Hyatt waiting for Tech Ops to finish turning the room over to us. It was something I had to get used to quickly that weekend.
After that we had the fifth annual Wheel of Time Costume Contest, with celebrity judges Teresa Patterson, Harriet MacDougall and Robert Jordan. We had our largest turnout yet for this event, with over twenty contestants and several hundred people in attendance. The winner of the Master category was Melissa Craib and Ben Gunderson for their portrayal of a Green sister and her Warder. I forget the name of the winner of the Novice category, but the costume was a Keeper raised from the Brown Ajah. Other notable costumes include a member of the Deathwatch Guard, Elayne Trakand, two Myrrdraal and several Mat Cauthons. It was an excellent year for costumes.
The next big event was a Q&A session with Darrell Sweet. Darrell explained the process by which the WoT covers are made and why they look the way they do. He explained that he thinks of the covers as being advertising posters for the books and are designed to catch attention. He tries to make sure that he can tell it’s a “Wheel of Time” novel you’re looking at; opposed to the covers he does for other series. He also explained that Tor frequently asks him to make changes to the art to suit the needs of the cover layout. For example, he was asked to make the figure of Perrin on the cover of Knife of Dreams shorter. As you can see by looking at the cover, if Perrin was the proper height, the text would cover part of his head. He also related an amusing story about the cover from The Dragon Reborn. The Jordans own the original, final painting that became the cover for this book. They have it hanging at the end of the hallway by the stairs. A few months after the painting was delivered, Darrell got a call from Harriet asking if he could “fix something” for her. Of course he could! What was it? Well, she could see the floating head of Ba’alzamon from the spine from her bed at night and it bothered her. Could he please remove it? So Darrell obliged and now the painting we all know as the cover for that book no longer exists.
Immediately following that, we had a Q&A session with Teresa Patterson. Teresa, as always, was a very funny, interesting lady to talk to. She spoke about some of her upcoming projects and her work as a balloon sculptor. She explained that the Guide was written with deliberate inaccuracies. One of the reoccurring themes of the series is that people don’t necessarily know all they think they do, but still have to make decisions based on what they know. They decided the book would be written from the point of view of a historian who had good, but not necessarily great information on a variety of subjects. So Jordan withheld information from her while she was writing the book, or he would tell her things, but then ask that she not include it. She said that she would love to work on another project like this again, but that was up to the publishers.
The other important event of Saturday was the first annual Gleeman’s Competition. We only had two contestants this year, so we asked them to just perform one piece from their repertoire (They were required to participate in three events: story telling, music, and hidden talent). Melissa from TarValon.net performed slight of hand tricks and Ben from Dragonmount read an original story about Gaidal Cain he had composed. There was a little bit of random performances by people in the crowd after that, and we disbanded. We’ll try this competition again next year, as I still believe there is enough talent in the WoT fandom for something like this to happen.
Sunday began quietly with a book discussion group and the fan art panel. The art panel had low turn out due to being scheduled against Robert Jordan’s final signing. However, things picked up again when we hosted a Q&A session with Robert Jordan and his wife. If you don’t know already, Harriet is the editor of the series. She is probably the only person who knows as much about the series, including background details, as he does. They are also very much in love with each other, even after all the years of living and working together. They pick on each other constantly. The big reveal of this session is that Harriet’s next project, after she is done editing the next book in the series will be to take all of Jordan’s background notes and edit them together into a complete “Wheel of Time Encyclopedia”, with the complete Old Tongue dictionary, glossary of every term that appears in the books and character and setting information. Applause broke out when she said that. You can read another partial transcript here: http://p079.ezboard.com/ftheorylandfrm30.showMessage?topicID=6.topic
Our next big event was a presentation by the Dabel brothers regarding their production of “New Spring”. They showed us previews for the next few issues and explained the collaborative process that creates the comics. First the adapter, Charles Dixon, writes a script that meets with Robert Jordan’s approval. Then the artist begins drawing sketches, which are submitted to a panel of fan consultants who check them for accuracy and the general “feel” of the series. After they are checked again by Robert Jordan, they are sent to the colorist and sent to the consultants for approval again. If everything checks out, the lettered adds the dialogue and captions and they are sent on for publication. They also announced that based on fan feedback for their first limited edition collector’s print of Mat Cauthon, they will be releasing a series of computer wallpapers featuring the characters from the main series. These are still in development, but from what I’ve seen so far, they should be excellent.
Afterwards, was our big sword form demonstration. But before we talk about it, I want to clear up a misconception. As those of you who attended know, we had to perform this in the Kennesaw room where the layout and ceiling height did not allow us to perform the full demonstration as rehearsed. Instead we had to put on a shortened version of the program. Many people mistaken believe that this is the result of “Dragon*Con screwing us over”. This is far from the case. Dragon*Con this year had several issues regarding scheduling, the biggest was the sudden cancellation of Joss Whedon after months of rumors that he wasn’t even invited to the convention. Joss WAS invited and confirmed by Universal.
However, when the rumors of his cancellation began to appear, the Programming Directors created two versions of the schedule. One that had Joss’s appearances on it and one that did not. When we made the request for a larger room for this event, our request was put on one version of the schedule, but not on the other. The mistake wasn’t realized until we were already at the convention. The room that I had been told was available for us was also booked to another group doing a light saber fight demo. When the mistake was realized, the senior Director we were working with offered to attempt to find us space elsewhere. We volunteered to take the sure thing and reworked the demo to make it fit into Kennesaw. The senior Directors at Dragon*Con have always been extremely supportive of the WoT track and sensitive to our needs. In five years, this is the first mix up like this we’ve experienced and they made every attempt to fix it onsite, before we asked them to stop.
So now that you know far more about organized nerdery than you ever wanted to know, what happened at the sword form demo? Well, instead of having a series of staged fights scripted from the descriptions in the books, my husband simply performed some of the moves based on a fan interpretation that’s been passed around the internet for years. He took requests from the audience, as well as performing a series that he had practiced. Because of the truncated program, we were able to run it twice, accommodating all the people who had lined up to see it. We also had a good discussion going of the inspirations of the forms and how they might change depending on the culture of the swordsman.
After the sword forms, it was time for the Winespring Inn party, which featured performances by Three Quarter Ale and Jawarl Belly dancing troop, both of which are staples of the Renaissance festival/convention circuit in the south east. They packed in such a tight crowd that there was no room for audience participation games like we normally do. Oh well, next time we’ll get a bigger room for this event. I kicked everyone out at midnight so I could go to bed. (Read: Help consume the leftover booze on the tenth floor until about three in the morning.)
Monday was another light day, which we needed. Our only real event was the final round of the trivia contest, which was won by Jennifer H. (I should note that this is the first year a member of Dragonmount.com has NOT won this event. Thanks Nina for spoiling our perfect record. =P) Robert Jordan was on hand to award the prize, which was a signed, personalized copy of Lord of Chaos. Harriet made fun of me for being groggy, but that’s what I get for having fun.
It was one thing to know that we would have bigger crowds that weekend than we were used to. It was another thing to actually see the crowds of people patiently lining up to see what ever it was we had planned. The convention assigned us a larger conference room this year and we filled every seat, except for events occurring during a book signing. These crowds could have quickly become overwhelming, but they weren’t. I believe this is because of the uncommon good sense and good manners of WoT fans. Generally speaking, I find that we are a more mature and educated fandom than some of the others based around TV shows or movies. So many of you helped us out, in small ways and in large. When I needed furniture moved, some guy in a Band uniform I had never seen before in my life was there to take the chairs out of my hands. When I needed raffle tickets distributed during a Q&A session, a good friend was there to do it. And when we needed to move the Jordan’s through a huge crowd of fans to get them to their next event, we had no shortage of large, burly men to help make a path for them. You guys and everyone else made sure I had fun too and I deeply appreciate that.
We got two very special, very unique compliments this weekend. The first was from Teresa Patterson. After her Q&A, we were talking a bit and she told me that she encounters a lot of fan groups for the various series that she’s written for. Most of them are full of “Oh wouldn’t it be nice if we…”. They talk about doing great things, but they don’t ever DO great things. Looking around our track room, at the gorgeous hand made flags, the women in beautiful Aes Sedai shawls and men in sexy Asha’man coats, she told me that we are a fandom that actually DOES great things. We aren’t full of idle talk, which is why she likes us so much.
The second compliment was passed onto me by Bill Fawcet, Robert Jordan’s literary agent and one of the people responsible for arranging his appearances at Dragon*Con this year. While he was out with Jordan and Harriet, Jordan mentioned that he felt “inspired” by the huge, organized turn out for Dragon*Con this year. Not only did he have signings and speaking engagements like Comic Con, but he had an entire conference room devoted entirely to dissecting and celebrating his work. So, yes, I suppose that was a little inspiring.
My personal favorite moments this year are walking in the parade and having the Jordan’s cheer for us, being given a “thank you” gift from one of the fans of the track (I still have my red hand sticker in my purse, Brian. I haven’t decided where to stick it yet.), wearing silk pjs, bunny slippers and my stole to three consecutive drinking parties , and walking with the Jordan’s while they went shopping in the Dealer’s Hall. We had a GREAT convention this year and I can’t wait until I see everyone again in 2006.
Now I’m going back to bed.