I attended the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2017 writer’s conference in nearby Provo last weekend. It took place between February 16-18. The only event I’ve been to before that’s similar is Comic Con, so I couldn’t help comparing the two. Like Comic Con, there was a game room and a few artists there. There were even a few steampunk cosplayers. This event focused on novels instead of geek culture in general though, so it was less crowded. They didn’t have any big name celebrities, although I recognized some of the names.
As you’d expect from a writer’s conference held in Provo, most of the writers were LDS and most of them wrote young adult fiction. Many authors gave out free ebooks and a couple even gave out free print books making it worth the price of admission for the free books alone.
M. K. Hutchins Presentation: Research for the Fantasy Writer
The first presentation I went to was by M. K. Hutchins. (If you want to see the slides from the presentation, she’s posted them on her blog.) It was a great presentation with a lot of funny moments. One example she gave of how research can help the fantasy writer is Mary Robinette Kowal’s Jane Austen word list. She created it so her spellchecker would flag any words Jane Austen wouldn’t have used or would have spelled differently to give her Jane Austen era novel authentic vocabulary.
Even when writing about or depicting fantastic beings, research is important. Leonardo Da Vinci studied bird wings in order to draw angel’s wings. M. K. Hutchins mentioned a book in which dragon flight was based on how hot air balloons fly. When most people think of the Aztecs, we think of them as warlike, but if you do your research, you discover other aspects to their culture such as the works of the poet Nezahualcoyotl.
Some things you can personally experience, such as eating a horse radish in order to describe what it tastes like, but you can’t personally experience everything. When writing about something you don’t already know, historical reenactments, internet forums, and YouTube videos can be a good source of information. They’ll often get things rights that movies get wrong. Wikipedia can be a good source of information as well, but you should focus on human details when writing fiction, don’t bore readers with encyclopedic descriptions of things. Characters should be engaged in something. It’s boring to read about people being bored.
Urban Fantasy vs. Horror
In her presentation, M. K. Hutchins mentioned Larry Correia was a gun expert, and sure enough, on this panel he spoke of his love of guns. Someone on this panel said the only difference between urban fantasy and horror is how the characters react to the monsters: Are they scared or do they kick the monster’s ass? Larry Correia said Laurell K. Hamilton started the urban fantasy genre by being the first to combine horror and romance. Hamilton’s first book was rejected 200 times because publishers don’t like to take chances on something that’s new.
Michaelbrent Collings said another difference is horror contains a moral judgement. Good and evil are more clearly defined in horror than in urban fantasy. Characters in horror are punished for their mistakes, but usually given a chance for redemption by the end. Horror usually involves a mystery. Courtney Alameda said horror can mix with any other genre. Craig Nybo said you need to read recent books to know what cliches to avoid. There was a lot of great discussion on this panel and unfortunately my notes don’t do it justice.
Guest of Honor Interview: Dan Wells
This was a great interview. Dan Wells’ novel I Am Not a Serial Killer (Amazon link) was recently turned into a movie, so he was probably the biggest name at the convention. He said he kills people he knows in his books to help fundraising at his church. People bid for the chance to be his next victim. He’s killed his bishop, his home teacher, etc. The winners of the auction never ask him to kill other people, they want to be the one who gets killed. I think this is a great fundraising idea for any author out there.
He’s a big fan of poetry (he mentioned Keats and I believe one of the Brontes) and board games (I believe he said he has hundreds of board games). He doesn’t stick to any particular genre. Much like Stephen Sondheim’s brand is that he has no brand, some writers can get away with writing a variety of genres.
He mentioned he was a staff writer for a new BYU TV series called Extinct that will premier in April. It’s a science fiction show in which humans are extinct, but aliens bring us back to life. They didn’t have the budget for more than a certain number of actors and extras, so they had to get creative to make the show work.
This post is starting to get a bit long, so I’ll break it up into multiple parts. More coming soon.