Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Volunteering at Dragonsteel 2023

(Guest post by K. David Murdock)

When someone asked me what the Dragonsteel convention was, I answered—honestly—that it was a convention celebrating the release of Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel. However, that was just the dictionary definition. It was that, and so much more.

The first I heard of this Sanderson themed convention was in 2022, with the release of The Lost Metal, the final installation in the Mistborn Era Two series. My friend, who lives in Idaho, had bought extra tickets which she no longer needed, and offered to sell one to me, which encouraged me to come along.

I dressed up as Wax for the release party, and I explored all the convention had to offer. There were authors, exhibits, merchants, panels, Q&A’s, signings, games, and more. I had such a wonderful time that at the end of Dragonsteel 2022 I took the opportunity to get involved as a volunteer for this year’s convention.

Dragonsteel 2023 launched at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City from November 20th to the 21st, 2023, marking the official release of Defiant, the final book in the Skyward series. The official release happened on Monday night, but there was plenty at the convention to keep even the most casual fan of Sanderson’s works engaged. There were panels on writing, art, publication, videogames, and several on Sanderson’s works and the Cosmere he created. The panels included authors, publishers, artists, literary agents, members of Sanderson’s team, podcasters, and even the big man himself. Christopher Paolini (who I met in passing and got to shake his hand) held a book signing for Murtagh, and a few other authors held signings as well.

But for those not content to sit quietly in a florescent-lit room listening to other people talk about Sanderson, there were plenty of other activities. There was an entire room dedicated to crafts, ranging from Doomslug terrariums, to Mistborn metalminds and metal vials, to handmade flight journals, to Soulcasters. “Worldhopper” meetups were organized for fans to get together to discuss the Cosmere and the stories they loved. Cosplay meetups and photoshoots were scheduled as well.

And games. Games galore. The convention game was an immersive hunt across the convention center, part scavenger hunt, part escape room style puzzle solving, themed on Defiant and the Skyward series. There were many other games almost every hour that fans could participate in. D&D one shots, TTRPGs of Mistborn and Stormlight, Witlash (Hoid meets “Quiplash”), rounds of MTG including draft and Commander, KeyForge (is that still a thing?), and Blood on the Clocktower.

In addition to all this, there was a giant hall full of exhibitors, ranging from authors and publishers and booksellers, to artists, content creators, game designers, and merchandise of all varieties (but primarily bookish and nerdy). Dice, jewelry, embroidery, leatherwork, foam Shardblades, a dueling arena with said foam Shardblades, custom coins, a VR room, fights performed by the Salt Lake City Crusaders, custom lightsabers—listing every exhibit would take up this entire post. There was even a “Hoid’s Museum,” showcasing collectibles from across the Cosmere that Hoid (presumably) had collected—and the line was so long I never got the chance to explore it!

I had a particularly fun time talking to all the authors (being an author myself) and bought more books than I probably should have. I procrastinated writing this post by reading The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Holmberg, a Utah native, published this extremely well written debut novel almost a decade ago. There is much I could say about it like its unique genre (a cozy fantasy with elements of horror and romance, with a Studio Ghibli feel) or its clever magic system, or how I passed on it a year ago only to snatch it up eagerly last week, but I will content myself with this: it is one of the best novels I have read this year, and one of my new favorites. If you like origami, forbidden magic, Howl’s Moving Castle, turn of the century London, adorable but understated romance, or any combination of the above, I highly encourage you to check out The Paper Magician.

If I had one complaint about this event, it would be that there was too much cool stuff. The Dragonsteel store was vast and full of so much epic merchandise I couldn’t decide on what to get (I eventually settled on a Tress teacup, available on the Dragonsteel merch website while supplies last, #notsponsored). So many panels and games and other events overlapped that I had to be very choosy about what I did. There just wasn’t enough time to do all things I wanted to do. That may, however, be slightly mitigated next year…

The event culminated with Brandon Sanderson getting up on stage before thousands of his fans. He spoke on liminality, and the passage from one season of life into the next. Change can be scary, and hard (isn’t that the understatement of the year?). The Cosmere is on the cusp of great change, with the ending of Mistborn Era Two last year and the end of Stormlight Era One next year. Things are about to shake up, big time.

Dragonsteel itself is changing. Sanderson is bringing more people onto his team, and commissioning authors to help him get stories out that he does not have time for, including Janci Patterson taking the reigns of the next Skyward installation, and Dan Wells taking on an entirely new Cosmere novel. Sanderson also announced a new headquarters for Dragonsteel, “somewhere” in Utah County, where the official offices, bookstore, warehouse, event rooms, etc. will be housed; it will reduce the number of visitors that go to his not-so-secret lair and personal house, as well as be the base of operations for future conventions. Fans are already calling it “Sanderland.” He announced the launch of the leatherbound Words of Radiance, coming soon on BackerKit. And he announced, to the joy of many, that Dragonsteel 2024 will be held on a weekend next year, and span three days instead of two, presumably to accommodate the huge celebration that will surround the release of Stormlight 5.

Dragonsteel 2023 is in the books. The Year of Sanderson is almost at its end. All Secret Projects have been released (have you read them all yet?). I look forward to what the future holds, yet I am also enjoying the anticipation of not knowing what is coming next. After all, Journey Before Destination.


K. David Murdock is a Utah native who spends his time writing stories, daydreaming stories, reading stories, telling stories, and occasionally eating. His first publication, “The Tower on the Shore,” a short fantasy horror story, will release on November 30th, 2023, in UVU’s speculative fiction magazine, Warp and Weave. You can follow his writing updates and inane ramblings on Instagram @kdavidmurdock.

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