Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Imagination Unleashed - Guest Blogger Nancy Northcott

Help me welcome a long-time friend, RWA Pro member, Nancy Northcott! She'll be checking in throughout the day to chat.

How would you like to spend four days surrounded by people who love what you love, even if most other people in your life don’t? I just did that, recharging my writing batteries at Dragon*Con. The convention website describes the event as “the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film” in the country. Last year, 35,000 people attended.

Standing in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta last Thursday, I saw a couple of stormtroopers, two guys posing as William Shatner action figures [complete with life-sized Mattel toy box--Western Shatner and Shakespeare Shatner] , a group of Federation officers (circa 1967), and several superheroes. That was before we even checked into our room.

Many people find the appeal of dressing up as super-heroes and fictional characters baffling. These people generally haven’t felt the vibe in the air, the enthusiasm and creativity and joy that pervade these gatherings. The people at Dragon*Con have fun (even those of us who don’t dress up). Fun is infectious, at least for me.

Julia Cameron advocates “artist dates” to replenish the well and renew creativity. Other people speak of recharging the batteries or refilling the pitcher. No matter what we call the practice, writers need to renew our imaginations, and Dragon*Con is nothing if not a collection of people whose imaginations have free rein.

There’s a fabulous track for those inclined to create their own worlds. BelleBooks’ Nancy Knight runs it in addition to participating and always has a stellar lineup. Debra Dixon, Deborah Smith and Sandra Chastain all participated in programs I saw this year. In past years, I’ve made wonderful writing buddies there.

The weaponry demonstrations and the science track are great places to ask questions about knotty little problems in the work in progress, depending on what that work might be. People give talks at Dragon*Con because they love their subject matter, so they’re generally more than delighted to explain it to someone who cares. I once had the pleasure of holding a replica Viking sword, an experience that told me what I’d written for the hero of my first manuscript was wrong. This year, I learned about nuclear radiation, explosions, and creative ways to kill characters.

Dragon*Con is a little beyond the bounds of most people’s “normal.” For me, that’s what makes it so much fun. I step outside my regular box, think about things I don’t usually consider, and surround myself with people who’re having a great time doing their thing while letting others do theirs. I come back energized and ready to go--after I recover from sleep deprivation.

How do you recharge your batteries?


Debra Dixon said...

Nancy-- Thanks for the pictures! I never get any at DragonCon.

There is something very freeing about being with people who have confidence enough to be all-but-naked, in costume, non-in-costume, optinionated, fan-girls, fan-boys, avid unabashed readers, hard-partying and everything else you can imagine. It reminds me to have fun and not worry so much about what everyone things.

I only get the one life and I should grab every bit of it.

Helen Brenna said...

Hi, Nancy. Thanks for visiting today and bringing us such a fun topic. This looks like an awesome time!

I need to get out more, so I'm curious to see other's suggestions.

Nancy said...

Thanks for having me, y'all. Deb, I usually don't take pictures either. Knowing I was doing this blog, though, inspired me to haul the camera out more. I think the costuming is hard to believe if you haven't seen it.

This was the dh's second Dragon*Con. Last year, he seemed sort of blown away by the number of costumed con-goers. This year, he was more prepared. Our son, on the other hand, went with a costume last year, for his first Dragon*Con, and loved meeting people dressed as other characters from the same show. He just dived right on in.

Helen, I'm glad you enjoyed it. We had a great weekend, but I still haven't caught up on my sleep.

Keri Ford said...

Oh, what fun! I love dressing up in costumes. (I was a bear for halloween when I was tot and wore that costume constantly).

I recharge with sleep. I can do all the conference stuff and whatever and have fun, but if you want any words out of this girl, you need to find me a bed.

Anna Sugden said...

As a fan of autorgaph, memorabilia and collectables, Nancy, I know how much fun those gatherings can be. They're not in the same league as Dragon*Con, but have the same idea of so many like-minded souls (or folks with the same obsessions *g*) under one roof.

It never fails to amaze me how much knowledge people can have about their obsessions too. You haven't lived until you've heard two Star Wars fans debating how many rivets a genuine Star Trooper helmet should have!

My autograph and memorabilia obsession isn't nearly as intense, though I still love being able to talk about it with folks who get it!

Trish Milburn said...

Fun photos, Nancy. I LOVED Dragon*Con and am already brainstorming costumes for next year since I just did the fangirl T-shirts this year. I was in some of the writer track programs, but I also really enjoyed all the fan stuff. Went to the Firefly panels; one with Tahmoh Penikett about Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse; got my picture taken with Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Tahmoh and James Marsters (yep, Spike); went to a concert by a band called Cruxshadows that didn't even start until midnight; and just generally had a fun time.

Oh, I have a bunch of Dragon*Con photos on my blog too at -- you have to go back one post. It isn't today's.

Nancy said...

Keri, I bet the bear costume was fun! Little kids are never cuter than when they're dressed up as something they love.

Anna, you've clearly been around Star Wars fans if you know they debate such things. The 501st Stormtrooper Legion shows up in force at DragonCon. During the parade, you can look up Peachtree Street and see wave after wave of white suits coming over the hill.

Trish, you did a great job on your panels. Glad you got to see the guys. I hear the Firefly panels turned people away every time, even when the con moved them to the biggest ballroom. The con goes until the wee hours, but I usually don't. I'm impressed you went to Cruxshadows so late.

Berta said...

Dragon*Con is a huge event, while most science fiction conferences are much smaller and more intimate. After years of attending, I'm just amused and blase about the whole costuming thing, but this year, three things happened that jolted me: My 14 year old daughter went in costume and returned with big ideas for next year, I saw some dazzling steam punk costumes that made me think, "me, too - next year!" and I met Peter Beagle and went all fan girl on him.

This is a once a year thing, however, so I refill the well by watching TV. I love good shows like MadMen and the Closer, funny and well-written ones like Monk, I'm even a fan of good commercials - story telling is hard in one minute. When I'm totally braindead, I play Sims. If I'm not on deadline, I read horror, paranormal, and mysteries. Love them cozies.

Michele Hauf said...

Haven't been to Dragon Con, but next year I'm so doing Comic Con! Just have to go and be a fan. How fun! Of course, I think I'll be able to sign my books there too, so there is the added advantage.

How to recharge the well? Movies and music and lunches with friends. Just putting your mind off your current story, and letting it wander.

Joan said...


Fun photos!

I've always wanted to attend DragonCon but alas, with its close proximity to RWA National and my own limited vacation days from DDJ it hasn't happened yet.

I would love to explore the fantasy tracks i.e. elves etc. Oh, and to see Sherri Kenyon's DarkHunters come to, figuratively of course (Artemis still has their SOULS, don't you know :0 )

What did you son dress up as?

Playground Monitor said...

I started writing by writing fanfiction -- Lois and Clark fanfiction. And I went to a L&C fan gathering in Nashville about 6 years ago. There were only about 25 of us in a small motel by the airport, but we had a costume party where we had to dress as some character from the show. It was fun, fun, fun, so I can see how doing it on a larger scale could be very recharging.

I gave up fanfiction after a couple years and started writing stuff that could make money. But I still pop into my favorite L&C message board from time to time and have the entire series on DVD. Watching the show is a fun get-away as well as reading a good romance novel.

I live in Rocket City USA and we had a Star Trek convention at the Space and Rocket Center a number of years ago. Trekkies everywhere as well as Shatner and Nichelle Nichols. One female astronaut (Dr. Mae Jemison) credits the character of Uhura for making her want to be an astronaut.

Marilyn -- still imagining that parade of stormtroopers on Peachtree Street. Must Google 501st Stormtrooper Legion

Debra Dixon said...


Fan fic? There is some really interesting stuff out there.

One of my favorites was a published romance author (I knew her secret!) who did an hysterical story about Nikita and Buffy on a talk show about why they pick the wrong men.

It was a scream.

Gerri Russell said...


Thanks for the peek inside Dragon*Con. What fun. Looks like every member of my household would have a blast there for a variety of different reasons. :-)

How do I recharge? By leaving the house and going to see something--whether its the trees down the street, a museum, or a friend. It's amazing what a different environment can do for your creativity if you give yourself some freedom.

Thanks for sharing, Nancy!

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Nancy, this looks like such fun! And i imagine you have to be pretty commited to the fun in order to dress up as a favorite character and walk around like that.

What a great "fan" conference! Where is it next year? (On the off chance that i might be able to go)

And thanks for blogging with us!

EilisFlynn said...

I've always admired the drive and dedication to detail for costume at cons. It's never inspired me to do the same, but it takes guts to show up as a scantily clad super-heroine. (I went to a comic convention locally a while back, and was amused to see a woman dressed as DC Comics' Power Girl, complete with classic keyhole-cutout at the chest. This is Seattle! She had to have been COLD!)

What I find most amazing is that when I was going to comic conventions regularly, the crowds weren't bad ... but San Diego's 125,000 this year, and Dragon*Con's 35,000, is overwhelming! In fact, RWA's National Conference is a bit much at 2,000!

Okay, I'm with you, Helen. I've got to get out more too.

Nancy said...

Berta, you actually sat next to Peter Beagle, didn't you? The dh was blown away by sitting next to Harry Turtledove, who has a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. If you make a costume, it will be gorgeous.

Berta and I met at DragonCon, lo, those many years ago, when she gave me wardrobe advice for a character.

Michele, I've always wanted to go to Comic Con. Unfortunately, I live on the wrong coast. My favorite TV shows always do presentations, and George Lucas previewed the original Star Wars there. I hope you have a great signing there.

Nancy said...

Joan, anytime you want to do Dragon*Con, just let me know. There are several fantasy tracks--Tolkien, Pern, Wheel of Time--and lots of general fantasy costumes.

The boy went as Neji (not sure of the spelling) from an anime show called Naruto. His great joy was seeing other Naruto characters walking around.

Playground Monitor, I also started writing with fan fiction. Seeing as how Superman's lawyers are highly litigious, I also knew I could never sell it and so turned to original work. There is some great fanfic out there. For me, it was a good training ground in plot, but it didn't help so much with worldbuilding and character creation because those were already established and already known to the readership.

The Lois and Clark show was great, I thought, but I didn't like it as well after Deborah Joy Levine became less involved.

Deb, a Buffy/Nikita story boggles the mind. Putting those two on such a show must have been hilariouis!

Nancy said...

Gerri, I think your family would love it--but you'd be sewing for days to get ready!

Betina, I've never had the nerve to go in costume. Many years and a few pounds ago, I considered the original Batgirl outfit, but I'm not a gifted seamstress and had never worked with spandex. Costumes weren't as easy to come by then. The boy is certainly committed. He loved being called Neji and having people take his picture.

Dragon*Con is always in Atlanta and always over Labor Day weekend. This year, the hotels were filling up in March, so making reservations early is wise. The Marriott, where RWA was held a couple of years ago, is one of the host hotels. I hope you decide to take the plunge sometime!

Nancy said...

Eilis--I admire Power Girl's gumption. Of course, you and I know someone who once went in a costume with multiple holes in the front. Phantom Girl, remember? For those of you not comic book geeks, this costume is a white spandex unitard with bell-bottom legs and long sleeves. it features circular cutouts from the bust to the waist and down the outsides of the sleeves. Takes serious nerve to wear that one!

BTW, I also recharge by walking and by visiting museums or traveling to new places. Ideas seem to be floating around in the ether if I put myself in position to let one smack into me (sort of like neutrons, I guess--if I understood the radiation program correctly *g*).

Playground Monitor said...

Wow, you certainly know your Lois and Clark! As you said, it was good initial training in just getting a story on paper, but I had to move on to original fiction to learn how to develop a character. Lois and Clark (and Superman too) came with their GMC already established, and if you deviated too far from that, you had the diehard fans screaming that you'd gone too far. I had Clark Kent pose for a beefcake calendar to win a bet and boy howdy at the ruckus that raised. ::grin::


Michelle said...

Hi Nancy,

Dragon*Con was a blast. It certainly ignites the imagination
and awakens the creativity.

I loved seeing the Steampunk costumes. The people that wore them put jaw-dropping creativity
into them. I'm thinking it would
be pretty cool to own a pair of aviator googles. I could get a pair for my dog, Arwen. She could ride in the front seat while I drive around town. You know, I may do that for Halloween.

As for recharging the well, I think going to the movies, hiking, and walking away from the work in progress, so you can have "noodling time" stirs the crockpot of creativity. Or, at least it does for me.


Playground Monitor said...

I see you're a member of CRW. I grew up in Concord, NC but haven't lived in NC since graduating from college. #2 son is in grad school at Western Carolina, so I do get back from time to time.


Cassondra said...

Oh, as Artist Dates go, this would be a major one. Draining, as you say...but to fill my own well I often like to people watch. If I'm stuck on a manuscript I'll go sit somewhere and just watch people--their body language, what theyr'e doing, who they're with--who THEY watch...

I often get unstuck doing that.

And OH My Gosh this looks like the ultimate place to people watch. And what fun--a conference to let your inner--SOMEBODY ELSE YOU DREAM OF BEING--come out and play! I've never been. Now I wanna go!

C said...

Hi, Nancy!
Wow, what fun. I've always enjoyed costumed events, but I'm usually an observer these days. Early in my teaching career I spent a whole Halloween dance party standing inside a wire cage made up as a pumpkin. I peeked out, people peeked in. Great for the observer. Dancing was no fun, though.

I love pageantry events, like the Renaissance festival here in MN. It's a big one, and you get to sort of go back in time. It would be so much fun to be there in costume playing a role. I guess it comes more naturally to me to do my role-play on paper.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oops. That "c" was me. Guess that's what happens when somebody else checks his e-mail and doesn't sign out. ~Kathleen

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- It's in Atlanta, but almost every major city has a SF/F con. DragonCon is the cream of the crop. Well, Comic-Con is big. And World Con, etc. but I bet you can find something fairly close. Atlanta is worth the drive/flight. Truly.

STEAMPUNK-- Love it!! Those costumes were fabulous as were the Sweeney Todd costumes.

Nancy's pictures are fun but believe me when I tell you they are only the tip of the ice berg in terms of seeing costumes. And elaborate costumes.

Nancy said...

Marilyn, you're so right about the restrictions of fan fiction. Navigating waters strewn with other fans' opinions can be tricky. I love the beefcake calendar idea, though. *g*

My first job out of school was in Concord. I lived there for five years. It certainly has changed a lot!

Michelle--a Siberian husky in aviator goggles? You could start a trend. The steampunk (Victorian with sff sensibility, if I understand it right) costumes really were cool. And so much less daring than some . . .

Cassondra, Dragon*Con is a great place to people-watch. Some people go up to the second floor of the hotel just to have a good overview of the lobby. I think "letting your inner somebody else" come out is an excellent way to describe going in costume.

Kathleen, we love the Renaissance Festival, too. When the boy was small, before he discovered anime, he was seriously into knights and castles. We went to the RenFest almost every weekend. Now that he's older, once is enough--which is way better for our budget. *g*

Nancy said...

Debra, I slipped into the Stargate panel for a few minutes before we left on Monday morning (slipping in being impossible at other times because the panels filled and the fire marshall requires vigilance about crowds). Beau Bridges actually said he'd thought the costumes impressive at Comic Con, but they were "nothing compared to what I've seen here. Some of these are better than what we have on set." Of course, he got mega-applause for that!

The dh said he'd heard people say Comic Con is still more comics focused while Dragon*Con is more eclectic. Comic Con is certainly bigger.

There's a listing of conventions on the website for Locus magazine (I subscribe), If you scroll down the banner on the left, you'll find a link for conventions.

BTW, Michelle who's going to get goggles for Arwen is half of Gillian Summers, a writing team whose YA set at a Renaissance Fair is going gangbusters, for those who love Ren Fairs. The heroine is half elf but doesn't know it at first. To learn more, go to

Sorry I don't know how to do html links in comments.

I'm teaching a 3-hr. science fiction class this afternoon and am, as the saying goes, "not quite ready." I'll pop out for a while now and back in before class. Then I'll be gone until after class. For those who're into SF, we're discussing DUNE today.

Liza said...

Sounds like lots of fun! I would enjoy DragonCon for the people watching alone. I recharge by reading or taking a nap.

Tawny said...

Wow, Nancy this looks so fun! I love the pictures and it sounds like you were really inspired. I'd never thought of a conference as refilling the well, but you are so right. It sounds like it really refilled yours and you're jazzed, huh?

I'm looking for a new way to recharge my batteries LOL. Sleep isn't quite doing it anymore, probably becase I'm not getting enough of that. I do love movie marathons though. Comfy couch, big bowl of popcorn and the remote, along with a whole stack of movies to just vegetate through.

Nancy said...

Liza, do you ever read something and then go "yeah, but what if--?" and find yourself going in a completely new direction?

Tawny, glad you liked the pictures. I really am jazzed, yes. Especially now that I've had some sleep.

My favorite "recharge" movie, which I've seen over and over and sometimes just let play in the background while I'm noodling around, is The Thirteenth Warrior with Antonio Banderas. It's based on a Michael Crichton book, and it's very atmospheric. Probably too obscure to make the jump to Blu-Ray, though, as some of my favorite recording artists never made it to DVD.

EilisFlynn said...

Nancy, yes, I remember our mutual friend and her Phantom Girl outfit. For a split second (about 100 pounds ago), I was tempted to do an early Shadow Lass, but let's face it, wearing blue makeup gets REALLY messy! (For those of you not Legion of Super-Heroes fans, it was a fairly conservative black spandex outfit -- and the character was blue.)

Estella said...

I recharge by putting my feet up and reading a good book.

Christie Ridgway said...

Wow! I adore Halloween, but once I had kids I stopped dressing up myself and dressed them instead. I can't really see myself going in costume to an event, but this sure looks impressive. What's the costumed/non-costumed ratio?

To And sometimes watch TV if I've been working so hard my eyes are tired. Tonight is the new episode of Bones (2 hours!) which probably qualifies as both a reading/TV watching experience since the series is based on a series of books.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Another Bandita swinging by to say HI!
Nancy, I LURVE those piccies! What a blast! No wonder you look forward to going every year.

Aunty's favorite way to replenish the "creative well" is to travel. No surprise, I know. And I'm about to do just that. We're off on our 12th cruise in less that two weeks! HOORAY! I've yet to have a BAD DAY cruising.


flchen1 said...

Hi, Nancy! Just wanted to say that those are great photos! I've never been to Dragon Con but it sure looks like fun! :)

Nancy said...

Eilis, I never actually saw the outfit worn--just pictures! Lots of people at DragonCon do full-body color. I wonder if it rubs off.

Estella, I don't think you can beat reading for relaxation. I'm always baffled by students who think reading 7 novels in a semester is a burden.

Christie, I'd guess the costumed attendees are about 1/3 at most. Debra, what do you think? The first year he went, the dh described the Dragon*Con parade as "the extroverted half of the con performing for the introverted half." That's actually a pretty good description.

In addition to the costumed contingent, you have people like me wearing what the dh calls "appropriately decorated t-shirts." That's probably more than a third. Total percentage wearing ordinary street clothes may be no more than 25%, but that's a blind guess based on nothing scientific.

I hear Bones is good, but I haven't seen it. I'm looking forward to the return of Burn Notice after the US Open.

AC, glad you like the pictures. You take the best trips. I'm always envious. :-)

Fedora, glad you like the pictures. We had a blast. Last year, I enjoyed watching the boy have fun. It's good that I did, too, because he struck off on his own more this year.

Liza said...

Nancy, yes I do tend to wonder what if...

jo robertson said...

Great post, Nancy. I'm absolutely fluxommed by the sheer SIZE of that convention -- amazing! And the costumes. I love the whole spirit of DragonCon although I know almost nothing about it. Thanks for sharing a little about the strands and characters of the con.

I recharge my batteries MUCH more simply -- I just visit with my CP's or chatter with my friends and daughters. Seems to do the trick for me!

Beth said...

Nancy, it sounds like you had a blast! What a fun way to recharge *g*

When I need to refill the well I either read or watch TV or a movie. The last time I had a refill the well day I read from the moment I woke up until the minute I went to bed *g* The next day I was raring to get back to my own writing :-)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Nancy! I'm so jealous that you got to go to DragonCon! I swear, I'm going one of these years, and by golly, I'm going in costume! I love costuming and I love Halloween and The Annual Adams Family Halloween Party is definitely a Dress affair! Grins.

Hey Marilyn/PlaygroundMonitor..I'm from NC as well and went to Mars Hill, not far from Western Carolina. Nancy, last time I went through Concord I almost didn't recognize it.

Hope you had fun with Dune today...

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Oh, as to the recharge, I got to museums, take long walks with the dogs or watch movies and read books. A lot of times for me, the recharge is needed because I've been sitting too long, so I have to get out of the house. Grins.

Nancy said...

Liza, me, too. :-)

Jo, glad you liked the post. I found my first RWA national conference overwhelming, but I'd been to DragonCon, which is much larger, and wasn't bothered by it. Strange, huh?

Beth, how fun to spend a day reading! I did that while my guys were gone one day this summer, and I just lost myself in that book.

Jeanne, you keep saying that. One of these days, you're going to have to follow through! I love museums. I warned the dh when we visited Savannah before our wedding that I'm one of those people who reads every word of every plaque of every item that interests me. He isn't one of "us" in that regard, but he copes well. :-)

Nancy said...

Unfortunately, I have to go make up a quiz for tomorrow, so I'll call it a night. Thanks so much to everyone at Riding With the Top Down for having me and to everyone who stopped by for making it such a fun day. I enjoyed it immensely.

Christine Wells said...

Nancy, what a great blog! You've made me want to go to DragonCon and I don't even write fantasy/sci-fi. There's nothing more fascinating than someone who is enthusiastic about their subject. It sounds like you had an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing. Amazing costumes, too!