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Local sci-fi and fantasy authors reach out to fans

SANDY — There was a Jedi present at South Towne Mall in Sandy on Saturday.

Setting up shop outside of Eborn Books (strategically placed by the coffee shop and Dillards), Utah science fiction and fantasy authors L. E. Modesitt Jr., David Farland, Paul Genesse and Bryan Young set about meeting fans, signing copies of their books, and engaging in general chit chat about all things geeky.

And a Jedi was provided by the 501st legion, a Star Wars costuming organization.

During the two hours the authors spent at the meet-and-greet, the amount of people stopping by fluctuated from one person to about a dozen at any given time.

The small number of people played perfectly to each of the authors, all of whom were exceptionally open and inviting to fans and curious passersby. Genesee, in particular, was more than willing to talk to the collection of fans, like Anthony Taylor, 23, of Sandy, who stopped by to get an autographed copy of Genesee's bestselling fantasy series "Iron Dragon" (the description of which on Amazon Taylor has memorized and is more than willing to recite with a great amount of intensity and zeal).

“He’s a great guy, writes really well, his characters are really in depth and unique,” Taylor said of Genesse.

Other fans who clustered around their favorite authors shared similar feelings, as did the authors themselves.

“Being an author you spend most of your time sitting at home writing. It’s really nice to get out and be able to talk to fans and likeminded people,” Farland said of the event.

On the subject of being a sci-fi and fantasy author, they all had insightful and personal things to say.

“It was my escape,” Genesse recalls of reading "The Lord of the Rings" and other fantasy novels. Now a registered nurse at a local hospital, his work with people on death's door has really stuck to him and translates over to his writing.

For Modesitt, 20 years working jobs he “could be killed or fired from” before becoming a writer gives him a natural well of things to write about: His works often focus on social and moral challenges in his fantasy worlds that our society faces today.

Young, a filmmaker and columnist, jokingly claims he doesn't sleep in order to find time to write.

“I have to get up every morning and eat breakfast and breathe air and write,” he said.

Indeed, the passion expressed by these men when it comes to their work clears any preconceived notion that sci-fi novels are for nerds and geeks only. Farland, whose career involves writing for Lucas Arts and working on bringing an adaption of the "John Carter of Mars" series to the big screen, recalls that he got his start as a novelist when his short stories began winning national awards — including the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award “Best Novel in the English Language,” an award Farland feels a sci-fi book is best fit to win.

The very fact that it remains one of the few mediums yet to be overtaken by vampires shows that sci-fi/fantasy authors are serious about their material — though Farland does say that his newest book, "Nightingale," has been described as “'High School Musical' and 'Harry Potter' fell in love, and this is their baby.”

Being local Utah authors (in location only, as all of them have expansive fan bases), they all had vivid and exciting things to say about, as Young puts it, “The state of the Geek Union in Utah.” In fact, Young spent almost as much time talking about conventions and get-togethers as talking about his own books.

Farland comfortably went so far as to say that Utah “has the best writing community around. There’s nothing like it.” He spoke of the great number of names coming out of Utah, and that Utah has “a great community" of writers who work with new writers, reaching out to talk with and teach them.

Freeman Stevenson is a college student whose reputation survives based on the hope that fellow classemates don't find out about his Star Wars action figure collection.