I attended the Life The Universe & Everything (LTUE) writer’s conference in Provo, Utah this year after a few years away. There were less people this year than in years past. Although I felt safe, it’s understandable less people would want to attend an in-person convention during a pandemic. The lower attendance resulted in de facto social distancing in all the conference rooms, so there was that. Also, you were required to have either a vaccination or a negative Covid test in order to attend and most of the attendees wore masks. I only attended the first two days of LTUE (Thursday and 17th and Friday the 18th) as I had other plans on Saturday. I still attended a lot of great panels and had a lot of fun.
The first panel I attended was Writing the Trans Person. The panelists had a lot of great advice. Ravyn Evermore said being trans shouldn’t be a character’s entire identity, just part of who they are. It’s also a good idea to hire sensitivity readers to avoid unintentional offence. Michael Jensen said trans people aren’t that different from cis people and focusing too much on the ways they’re different, such as going into detail about hormone therapy, can come across as insincere. Vinn Horne pointed out there’s more than just one way to be trans and Ben Pistorius advised writers to not just focus on the pain, but to focus on the joy of being trans as well.
My next panel was Kosher and Halal Food from the Stars: Fitting Alien Food into Dietary Restrictions. The panelists discussed ways religious food restrictions can be a source of conflict in a story. Emily Martha Sorensen mentioned that fruitarians (who I’d never heard of before) eat only fruits, and the especially dedicated ones end up dying of malnutrition in order to avoid killing a plant. She also related a funny story about a Mormon missionary who offended potential converts by spitting out food once he realized it contained alcohol. The mission president later told the missionaries that while they shouldn’t knowingly consume alcohol, if the food is already in their mouth, they shouldn’t be rude by spitting it out. “If this happens to you, you swallow!”
On the Dealing with Rejection panel, Renae Kingsley said the most successful people aren’t necessarily the most talented, but the most audacious, which sounds right to me. Michael Jensen said it’s ironic that writers create characters who constantly get rejected and face adversity, but we find it difficult to deal with rejection and adversity ourselves. C.H. Lindsay, who is mostly blind, was assisted by her “seeing-eye husband” who wore a funny shirt that said “Service Human Do Not Pet”. C.R. Langille, as an editor, said he sometimes rejects great stories because they don’t fit the brand or the tone he’s going for, so writers shouldn’t take rejection personally. Likewise, if you get a bad review, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, your story just wasn’t to that particular reader’s taste.
Brian C. Hailes, the Art Guest of Honor, gave a keynote address accompanied by a slideshow featuring his art. He admitted that during his mission, he would draw pictures of sexy ladies and dragons during his personal study hour. (He did listen to the Book of Mormon on audio book while he drew, so he technically wasn’t breaking the mission rules.) When his mom found out about this, she chastised him, but he defended himself by saying, “At least they weren’t nude!” (Ironically, his slideshow was displaying some of his nude artwork while he was relating this story.)
As both a writer and an illustrator, Brian C. Hailes made a good point that drawing takes much, much longer than writing, yet children’s book illustrators get paid the same as the writers, which isn’t fair. He also said no matter how good you get, there’s always someone better for you to aspire to.
Charlie Pulsipher gave a great presentation entitled Avoiding Time Travel Traps. He began the presentation with his velociraptor impression, which was an excellent ice-breaker. The presentation went over different types of time travel with examples from various movies. Using super strings as a method of time travel was new to me. Also, while I was familiar with the grandfather paradox, I wasn’t familiar with the Polchinski paradox or the kill Hitler paradox. They’re basically the same idea as the grandfather paradox, in that going back in time prevents going back in time. In the Polchinski paradox, you fire a ball into a wormhole at such an angle that it will deflect its past self from entering the wormhole, thus keeping itself from going back in time. If you go back in time and kill Hitler, all the horrible things he did wouldn’t have happened, and thus, you’d have no reason to go back in time to kill him.
On Friday, the first panel I attended was Pandemic Apocalypse: Lessons Learned which consisted of a lot of reminiscing about the last two years. L. Palmer (who doesn’t go by her real name Laura Palmer due to Twin Peaks) tracked Covid for her job, which was interesting to hear about.
Charlie Pulsipher did his delightful velociraptor impression again at the next panel, Time after Time: Time-Travel Tropes. Jodi Jensen advised writers to include realistic details in their time travel stories and consider things such as how one would go about getting water in the past. Depending on the time period, it may not be as easy as turning on a tap. Alysia S. Knight advised writers to consider immunity and language challenges that time travelers would encounter. Eric Swedin made a good point that people view the past with rose-colored glasses and think they’d live like the one percenters if they lived in the past, when in reality, most of us would have lived in poverty.
There was a lot of good advice on the Understanding Contracts for Writers panel. L. Palmer advised writers to consider when rights will revert, what the IP rights are, and to have an entertainment lawyer look over the contract to make sure there’s nothing shady. Also, walk away from vanity presses which charge the writer money to be published. Steve Diamond advised writers to watch out for contracts which include a right of first refusal. Also, pay attention to language rights and how the author’s pay is calculated. If they don’t spell it out, they could underpay. Eric James Stone advised writers to check if they are purchasing the copyright. He said the good thing about getting a large advance is it incentivizes the publisher to market the book, which they won’t necessarily do if it’s set up to be royalty only.
Someone claimed that John Scalzi gets paid huge advances, even though his books don’t sell, because “politics”. That’s… not how the publishing business works. (If you think it does work this way, try convincing a publisher to pay you lots of money “because politics” and see how well that works out for you.)
Jodi Lynn Nye, the Writer Guest of Honor, gave the keynote speech for Friday. After a short introductory statement, she spent most of the time taking questions from the audience. One piece of advice she gave is to read your work backwards because you’ll be better able to find errors that way. You may find that you didn’t properly lead up to your ending.
The final event I attended for this year’s LTUE, was Celebrity Live RPG: Typecast with Dan Wells. Dan Wells GM’d a role-playing game called Beach Patrol (basically Bay Watch: The Game). The players included Charlie N. Holmberg, Dax Levine, Ryan Bouché, and a husband and wife who didn’t have name plates displayed. For me, this was the highlight of the conference with several laugh-out-loud moments. The game gives each player a “slow-mo moment” which they can use to automatically succeed at something without rolling their dice. Successfully picking up two people and jumping out of an exploding building, for example. Each player also got a reroll if they used their character’s catch phrase at an appropriate time. None of the players had played the game before, but it was super easy to learn and play, making me excited to try it out with my own friends.