Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LTUE 30: Non-intersecting Orbits

by Deren Hansen

Two weeks ago the thirtieth incarnation of Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE), the BYU symposium on science fiction that has morphed into the largest (and least expensive) writing conference in Utah, convened. This year the conference was held at UVU to handle the crowd.

I always find conferences like this a bit frustrating at the structural level: at best you can only participate in about a third of what's going on. But what they don't mention in the brochure is that there's as much going on in the dealers’ room and in the halls and lobbies as in the sessions proper.

This year I had to officially give up trying to attend every session that sounded interesting because I participated as a presenter.

I learned several things from being the one at the front of the room:
  • There are a surprisingly large number of people who don't simply tolerate but actually have an appetite for abstraction at 9:00 am.
  • No green room is large enough when Larry Correia and Robert Defendi are holding forth on military history.
  • Hydration is critical if you have to speak for more than a few minutes
  • There are an awful lot of professional writers within the orbit of the Wasatch front (LTUE 30 had nearly 150 guest, panelists, and presenters)
  • There are even more people who have the constitution and stamina to be pleasant on the third day of a conference that runs at least three sessions for twelve hours a day—with no meal breaks.
  • Brandon Sanderson is a Martian.
I suppose that last bullet point requires a bit more explanation.

First, let me state, for the record, that Brandon is charming person—generous and gracious with fans and aspiring writers alike. In our few interactions, he's been the very model of how a writer should behave in public. If you've never seen Brandon at a signing or on a panel, you should go simply to learn from the way he handles himself in public.

Brandon was one of the people I hoped to meet at LTUE 30. Other than the excellent panel with Tracy Hickman, Dave Farland, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Brandon, I never saw him at the conference—which wasn't a surpirse: Brandon is a busy man. Brandon's Writing Excuses partners, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinett Kowal are also busy people (something I confirmed in brief conversations with Howard and Mary).

But as with the Tango, where it takes two, part of the reason I missed Brandon is because I was busy, too.

Largely because Brandon is practically a Utah county neighbor, I anticipated that we might someday strike up a professional relationship. At one signing, for example, I joked that I was there as part of a cunning plan to score a guest spot on his podcast in two years.

What I realized during the conference is that I'd made the same mistake as the owner of a local franchise who thinks he should pal around with the CEO of a major corporation because they both run a business.

Brandon and I currently have non-intersecting orbits. He already has his slate full of professional relationships. So do I.

During one of the battles of the Civil War, a subordinate rode up to General Grant, gave his report, and then asked if the general was worried about what the confederate general might do. "No," replied General Grant, "I'm worried about what I'm going to do."

I'll bet you didn't expect the second best piece of networking advice to come from the Civil War.

The corollary to last week’s post sharing the best networking advice ever is that the way to cultivate professional relationships is to worry about what I’m going to do not what Brandon or anyone else might be up to.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.


Julie Daines said...

Thanks Daren, I loved LTUE. This was my first year there and I can guarantee it won't be my last. I loved it!

Scott said...

Bob Defendi was in my old writers group. He has a way of filling a room, and I don't just mean physically.

What I want to know is, how useful is this conference for those of us who don't usually write sci-fi?

Danielle Paige said...

I write fantasy and for me it was still amazing. But then, fantasy is very similar to sci fi.
There were a few other genre specific panals there and some general writing panals that even writers of nonfiction could enjoy.

Deren Hansen said...


If Utah county is within a reasonable driving radius from your home and/or you have inexpensive accommodations in the area, LTUE would be worth your while. While speculative fiction provides the context, much of the writing advice applies across the board.

If attending requires major expenses on your part you'll probably get a better return on your money elsewhere.

The benefit and weakness of LTUE is that it is student/volunteer run. That, coupled with its historic focus on speculative fiction, means the conference is heavily weighted toward authors. There were a few editors, like Kirk Shaw from Covenant, from regional publishers. Stacy Whitman was the only New York editor who attended. And to the best of my knowledge there were no agents at the conference.

Bottom line: LTUE is a great venue for connecting with Utah-area writers and authors. But there are better conferences if you're shopping a manuscript and/or want to connect with other industry professionals.