What’s up, con lovers?
It’s been a while since I wrote of my fannish peregrinations. I’ve traveled widely in the past year, attending conventions in Toronto (Fan Expo Canada) and Portland, Maine (okay, this was a work conference, but I’m a librarian; nothing is hotter than a bunch of librarians on the prowl). I also climbed to the summit of convention going by traveling to San Diego Comic Con (check out my SDCC Modest Proposal here).
Yet my favorite convention is, and will always be, Dragon Con.
This was my ninth Dragon Con. I’ve had the privilege of writing about the experience in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. For each article, I’ve wondered what more I could say about this most venerable of science fiction conventions, and each time, I’ve surprised myself by rising to the challenge.
What was new for me in 2019? Talking to Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files, of course. Here is a snippet of our conversation.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot from fans over the years about all the trials you’ve subjected poor Harry Dresden to. What do fans complain about the most?
Oh, it varies from fan to fan. I try and make sure to hurt everybody equally.
Well, that’s the way to do it.
Yeah, it’s America, you know.
But it depends who they are as to what’s most upsetting to them. Some are upset by Susan, some by the whole relationship with Murphy, and some by other stuff.
The one I get the most is, “If anything ever happened to Mister [Harry’s cat], I will personally find you and do something horrible.” But I figure, why write escapist fiction about losing a pet? That’s a real world thing.
Harry’s voice is one of my favorites in all of fiction. How have you developed it over the years?
I just wrote him like a lower-middle-class nerd, which was what I knew. I didn’t really set out to create a voice for Dresden. When I started the first book, my goal wasn’t to write a book; it was to prove to my writing teacher [Deborah Chester] how wrong she was about the stuff she was trying to teach me.
This book was just the way I chose to do it. It was a project in line with the things she suggested I try out, one of which was to write in the first person. And I’m like, “Well, how do I do that? How do I create a voice for a character?”
And she’s like, “You know what? The first time, don’t worry about it. Just write. Pretend it’s you talking.”
So that’s what I did.
So talking to you is like talking to Dresden?
In terms of the way he uses language and inflects his sentences, probably.
A number of writers dislike fan fiction based on their work. What are your thoughts on that?
My official thought on fan fiction is that I’m not aware of any based on my work because if I were, then I might have to go vigorously defend my copyright, and it seems like that would be a foolish thing to do given that only the people who are most devoted to your work actually write fan fiction about it. I don’t want to get into a copyright fight with some kid who loves my work. I want that kid to be happy.
How did you get started doing conventions?
My first convention was one in Austin, Texas. I got invited because it was connected to the school of professional writing at the University of Oklahoma, and I had been studying there with Debbie Chester.
When they asked me, I hadn’t even had anything published yet. I had gotten a sale, but the convention was in March, and the book didn’t come out till April [his first novel, Storm Front]. I didn’t feel like I had the chops to be giving any answers, but I wound up on this panel with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Neil Gaiman, and Glen Cook.
The panel was on fantasy novels that needed a better editor, and it’s like, yeah, I want to argue with those guys about that!
Were you intimidated?
I almost made it all the way through the panel, but toward the end, Neil Gaiman leans over — I don’t know if you’ve ever met Neil Gaiman, but he’s a great guy — he leans over and is like, “Jim, you haven’t said a thing. I’m interested to hear what you have to say.”
I’m like, “You guys don’t want to know what I have to say. I’m the new guy.”
He’s like, “No, no, that’s exactly it. You’re a new author, just getting into the business, and I really want to hear what books you think needed a better editor.”
So I kinda took a deep breath, and I’m like, “Okay, the Lord of the Rings needed a better editor. It didn’t really get started until page 200, and here’s why.”
I knew you were a Lord of the Rings fan. What other books or authors do you like?
My number one author hero is Robert B. Parker. He wrote private eye novels that were the inspiration for Spenser: For Hire and other shows and TV movies. His writing is lean and beautiful. He can be poetic while still being very swift and to the point and very pulpy in his writing. His character work is outstanding.
His Spenser novels are kind of fantasy novels too because they are novels of the heroic American, the absolutely dauntless person. The world he creates is wonderful, and I keep going back to it because I keep getting more insight into what he thought about life. I’ve never read a thing he’s written that wasn’t really, really good.
On top of all that, he died at the keyboard working on a novel. Like a man. That’s how I want to go out. That’s not bad.
The sixteenth (!) Dresden Files installment, Peace Talks, is finished and will be hitting the booksellers soon. Guess who will be first in line to buy his copy?
There were other excellent guests, including David Tenant, Robert Englund, Lana Parrilla, and a cadre of Supernatural veterans: Mark Sheppard (Crowley), Kim Rhodes (Jody Mills), Ruth Connell (Rowena), DJ Qualls (Garth), and Samantha Smith (Mary Winchester). (Heartbreakingly, Mark Pellegrino–Lucifer–cancelled.) Last year’s guest roster was disappointing; the most memorable attendee was Ric Flair. This year was a return to form.
The guest I was most excited about was Zachary Levi, star of Shazam!, which is considered the best of the DCEU. It’s a sentiment I share, so I was stoked to see that Zach would be making his Dragon Con debut.
The question, though, was–the question always is–what should I get autographed?
My son works at an AMC, and when he brought home his theater’s Shazam! display after the movie’s run, we needed no further discussion.
The display is nearly as tall as Zach himself–a fact he marveled at (see what I did there?) when we lugged the beast to his signing table. It had traveled 400+ miles to stand before him, ready to be immortalized, which Zach did with gusto.
If I had to nitpick–and, as a cultural critic, of course I do–I would say Dragon Con’s website falls consistently below expectations for an event of its size. Autograph prices are not listed, as they are for most cons. Some guests aren’t advertised. This year’s new guest page layout was an improvement, but there were no longer guest bios, meaning if I wanted to refresh my memory on Rebecca Mader, I had to go to another site.
Not good, DC. Not good.
Overall, though, you won’t find a better convention experience. Staff members are friendly and knowledgeable, the five-star hotel setting is sumptuous, and Atlanta embraces Dragon Con. Hard. So get prepared–my other articles are a great start–and I’ll see you there next time.
In the meantime, enjoy these other pics!