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Provo-rooted sci-fi convention offers new answer to ‘Life, the Universe, & Everything’

February 14, 2019
Artwork by Jemma Young.

When it comes to fantasy and science fiction fans, the answer to life, the universe and everything is very clearly stated in Douglas Adams’ novel, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” In case you’re wondering, it’s 42, and a quick Google search will pull up a calculator verifying that fact.

Nestled along Provo’s Center Street, however, often just outside the public eye, is an alternate answer to Life, the Universe, & Everything: a long-running burgeoning writer’s symposium and think-tank of that same name.

Affectionately called LTUE, Life, the Universe, & Everything has actually been around for 37 years, and has spent the last nearly four decades offering attendees the chance to network with professionals, meet some of their favorite authors and artists and even get a leg up on creating their own path to publication, if that’s where their goals take them.

“The whole point of LTUE is to help educate people about the craft of writing and art, and creating in the science fiction and fantasy world,” said this year’s LTUE chair and committee head Erin Kearsley. “It’s for people who are interested in and want to start doing those things; for people who have been doing it for a while and want to get better; people who have no interest in writing but like to know how stuff works — they can come too.”

LTUE was created by a group of passionate Brigham Young University students hoping to hone their own abilities, but it didn’t take long for it to outgrow the campus scene.

“It’s changed and evolved a ton as it’s grown, but it’s definitely still driven by that passion and that enthusiasm for it, and also by the fact that it’s fairly unique,” Kearsley said. “Most conventions are either fan conventions or they’re very high-end professional conventions where they’re going and doing more intense workshopping and stuff. And LTUE is this fun little middle ground where it’s more welcoming to people not ready to invest $500 on a convention because they’re not that rich. … (LTUE) is about the learning — encouraging people to come be creators in the sci-fi fantasy world and to make it easy for people to come start. It’s a fun little pocket of the convention world. We’ve found our niche and we fill it well.”

A large part of what makes that niche so special is the sense of community that’s developed at LTUE.

“That’s part of our secret sauce — we know how to develop community here,” quipped Dave Doering, one of the convention’s original founders and a current trustee. “That is what creators need, is that encouragement and support mechanism. What I love about having a venue like the Provo Marriott is it has a wonderfully big lobby where you can see a bunch of attendees gather around with editors and guests in impromptu discussion: That’s exactly what I was hoping for all those years ago, a mutual respect and sharing of ideas.”

That concept is what has brought artist and comic creator Jemma Young back to LTUE for multiple years.

“One thing I really like is it’s a chance for me to go out and share a little bit about my experience and knowledge in my field, and there are not many opportunities to do that in live events,” Young said.

“The great thing about LTUE is it’s great for networking and finding like-minded people,” she continued. “If you go prepared you can usually find a job out of it if your portfolio is ready just by talking to people. That’s something I really like. … Things I have questions about, talking to other writers and artists I can find specific answers. When you’re not in a panel learning from a panel or workshop, you’re in the hall talking to people learning about their experiences and making a connection, which is something that’s really hard to do on the internet these days.”

This year’s LTUE will take place at the Marriott Center in Provo from Thursday through Saturday and will feature Guests of Honor author Kelly Barnhill and acclaimed illustrator Brett Helquist with other panelists and guests including members of the Writing Excuses podcast: Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler, author Lisa Mangum, Charlie N. Holmberg, Eric D. Snider, Aaron Johnston and J. Scott Savage, not to mention many, many more.

The event will feature panels, book signings, pitch sessions, author discussions, an art show, a banquet, readings and a film festival, with a vast schedule of events spanning all three days.

“The majority of topics include aspects of sci-fi and fantasy, but it all can apply to any genre,” Doering said. We live in the sci-fi world today. We live in a world where we’re communicating now globally and there’s an epic picture going on. Sci-fi and fantasy, from the very beginning, have been highly relevant and that’s a fundamental belief for many here in Utah. There is a bold destiny ahead here as creators and it’s not an accident. … You could find something here that may spark your whole career.”