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l What: 15th annual sci-fi and fantasy convention.

l Where: Salt Lake City Radisson Hotel Downtown, 215 W. South Temple.

l When: Through today.

l A charity art auction at

2 p.m. today will benefit Reading for the Future Utah, which aims to help young people develop a love of reading through science fiction and fantasy.

-Long-haired nymphs, battle-hungry swordsmen, and magical forests populated by tiny, luminescent creatures.

This is the world of fantasy, and Charles Vess is one of its architects.

Yet speaking to fantasy and science-fiction enthusiasts gathered in Salt Lake City this weekend, Vess said he gets inspiration from the everyday mortals he meets. To aspiring young illustrators, he says simply:

"Listen carefully, observe well and carry a large eraser," said Vess. "You'll never get any better by thinking about it; you have to do it."

About 700 writers, artists, fans and gamers are taking part in this year's CONduit conference. Speaking about influences on his artwork, Vess said he often pores through volumes of illustrations and works from a century ago to find inspiration for his modern drawings.

His drawings appear on the covers of some of the most well-known works of the genre, and in recent years, Vess has begun illustrating children's books, such as A Circle of Cats, and has developed his own version of Snow White.

"I grew up with Disney," he said. "So they are right there in your head, and you have to beat them out of your head. . . . It's going back to artists before Disney."

Headlining the conference in addition to Vess this weekend are authors Tim Powers, L. E. Modesitt Jr., Shannon Hale and Susan J. Napier, an expert in anime, or Japanese animation.

The gathering provided a chance for fans to compete in art and writing competitions, view sci-fi classics such, as the movie "The Last Starfighter," and - of course - discuss the last movie in the "Star Wars" saga.

"Over-rendered," says Vess of the flick.

Many fans dressed up as their favorite sci-fi and fantasy characters for a masquerade contest, strapping on a pair of wings or fashioning their own suits of armor.

Jesse Schluter, 20, of Bountiful, attended for the first time this year, dressing as American animation character Samuri Jack.

"I'm here for the anime showings and the panels," he said. "All the different competitions are fun, even if you don't win anything."

Hale, of Salt Lake City, said the genre is just fun to read. Wearing a sparkling tiara, she recalled gravitating toward the world of fantasy reading rather than a bleak class reading list.

"Science fiction is a major trend among young adults," said Hale, known for her award-winning book Goose Girl.

Hale began writing at age 10. After taking a pottery class in which her instructor told her the first 100 pots were "throwaways," she decided to write 100 stories before seeking to get anything published.