Guest writer Amanda Green had a chance to spend some time at the LTUE symposium a few weeks ago and was eager to share her experiences with everyone. For more information about LTUE or to keep up to date with announcements and plans for next year, be sure to check out their web site, LTUE.net
Now, without further ado, here's Amanda!
Two weeks after the extravaganza of celebrity appearances, shopping and panels of FanX 2015, Utah saw another convention come and go a little further to the south. The city of Provo hosts the older and more focused "Life, The Universe and Everything: The Marion K. 'Doc' Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy" (LTUE) every February. This symposium sees a much smaller and far more focused attendance than FanX, as it relates almost entirely to the academic and craft side of fandom – the creation of writing and art within the medium. Due to its academic emphasis, students are able to attend for free, so my school ID card gave me access to everything LTUE had to offer.
Spanning a three-day period of all-day panels, special events, and "kaffeeklatches" -- smaller, more intimate gatherings with popular artists, authors, or industry professionals -- LTUE focuses on the craft of fantasy and science fiction writing and art. While conventions like FanX or the various Comic-Cons certainly have creator and craft tracks, LTUE is dedicated to education panels for writers and artists looking to further their skills. As this is an academic symposium, the panels are more like seminars than they are discussions – whether it is how to better monetize you social media presence and get your work known or how to craft an action plot, most focus on how to create, how to market, and how to work within fandom as a professional as opposed to a consumer.
This doesn’t mean that other fans aren’t welcome, or that other activities are neglected. Even if you’re not a would-be creator or a creator who is looking to hone one’s craft or learn a few new tricks, you’re more than welcome at LTUE. I saw a few cosplayers, and though they were the exception and not the rule they weren’t unwelcome because they expressed their love and craft differently from those bent over laptops and sharing their elevator pitches with each other. LTUE wants and welcomes all types of creators and fans.
There was a small dealers' room and artist alley though these are focused almost exclusively on selling books or crafts, meeting publishers and networking opportunities. Autographs are generally on a can-I-catch-you basis and never incur a charge unlike the celebrity-heavy conventions. Friday night there was even a mass signing with every artist and creator attending. This signing event was open to the public as well as the symposium attendees, so anyone in Provo could come by and get Howard Tayler, Dan Wells or pretty much anyone else to sign a book or piece of art.
As for the panels themselves, creators of all skill levels can find something relevant to their needs. My own focus was on work-life balance, tips to improve my craft and the current trend toward handling mental illness and disability in fiction and in life. I was hoping to find some new techniques to help me better balance the creative and the mundane aspects of my writing, so I could better handle my workload and personal life. I didn’t want to neglect craft totally, so I aimed at what seemed to be beginning and intermediate paneling for world-building and writing between my panels on handling the creative process.
With the first point in mind, I chose panels that stressed the writer over the writing. "Finding Your Muse" with Anna del C. Dye, Fiona Ostler, Sandra Tayler, Scott William Taylor, M. M. Todd Gallowglas was invaluable for those of us who struggle with creation and drive. These professional authors gave sound advice on managing creative energy, work load, family and sanity including the right to forgive yourself for not living up to your own expectations. "Living With Mental illness" with Bryan Beus, Bobbie Berendson W., Jenniffer Wardell and Howard Tayler was a very personal panel, as authors and artists explained coping with various health issues. It was handled very well and with great sensitivity. Sandra Tayler, who offered great advice on the "Finding Your Muse" panel was also at the forefront of "Breaking Through Blockages." She offered strategies for getting past the ever-present threat of writer’s block and continued the theme of forgiveness and continued learning through the creative process. The very important point through this was writers often believe that they need to create perfection the first time – that their first draft should be their only draft, and this simply isn’t true. Creating a written work – or a competent piece of art – means revision, editing, and sometimes even junking a project once it’s completed because it didn’t work as intended. The experience of creating it, however, is never wasted as long as you learn from it.
When attending panels that handled world-building or writing, I chose things that related to the works I wanted to complete this year. Since I write hardboiled crime with robots in it, "Flintlock Fantasy" with Mikki Kells, Dan Willis, Steven Diamond, Larry Correia and M. Todd Gallowglas was a must. It explored the ideas and complexities of guns in fantasy fiction and the modernizing of warfare, as well as how to relate that progression to magical systems. "History Matters" with Shirley Bahlman, Nancy Campbell Allen, Ben Sowards and Ann Chamberlin covered the topics of accuracy and importance of research for historical fiction and alternate histories, with a nod to the Steampunk genre. They gave advice relating to when it’s safe to go soft on the accuracy and what readers might not forgive. This was one of two panels I attended that had both artists and writers as panelists. The other was "Comic Books: Writing vs Art" with Maxwell Alexander Drake, Brittany Heiner and Howard Tayler since it directly related to working and communicating effectively with a collaborator in a work of graphic fiction. They gave great advice for would-be comic book teams and reinforced that no matter how well made the art or tight the writing is, the story has to be solid or both would fail.
However, the single blow-out panel for me was the packed, frantic and energetic "How To Build An Action Plot" with Larry Corriea and John D. Brown. This had handouts and included a lot of audience participation, much more so than the average panel. However, due to both crowd enthusiasm and the scope of this idea, the panel ran right up to the time limit. Group excitement lead to some derailment, but I hope to see the two-hour version of this on the schedule next year.
Unfortunately circumstances conspired against my attending the convention on Saturday, leaving me missing panels like "Learning From Failure", "Disabilities in Genre Fiction", and the hard choice of deciding between a kaffeeklatsch with local author Dan Wells and a panel on "Superheroes and Gender: What It Is and Why It Matters." The subject of equality in fiction and female representation is one near and dear to my heart, so it would have been a hard sell against having coffee with Dan Wells and a few other dedicated fans. The keynote with Guest of Honor Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, was also the highlight of the Saturday programming.
I will definitely be attending LTUE again next year if they continue to have paneling and guests of this quality which seems like a sure bet at this point. If you’re an aspiring creator and local to Utah (even if you’re not local to Provo), it’s worth the trip to LTUE to learn from some of the best in the craft, both locally and nationally.