Three and Out

Posted in Non Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2016 by jaclemens

three and outKnowing Rich Rodriguez is a good guy who never lost his team – no matter how many games they lost – makes it more difficult to hold him in disdain. Plenty of the problems that dogged him at Michigan were outside of his control, and some he could have addressed were outside his perception. I admit I was one of those longtime fans who was glad to see him go, and pleased when he was replaced by a “real Michigan Man,” Brady Hoke. When Hoke was replaced by Jim Harbaugh – who is among the detractors named in this book – I was ecstatic to be present in the stadium for his debut, a loss to Utah, just like Rich Rod’s.

imageRodriguez is now coaching Arizona, so Utah has the opportunity to beat him annually (Arizona put Utah away in double overtime last year). He’s the guy on the opposite sideline, so it would be easy not to like him. But his players did, and I do like them. Mike Martin and Taylor Lewan were teammates on the Tennessee Titans for a couple of years; Martin is now lining up with Brandon Graham in Philadelphia. Denard Robinson and Patrick Omameh are playing together in Jacksonville along with Chad Henne, the quarterback that Rodriguez struggled to find a replacement for until Robinson emerged from backup to repeat Offensive Player of the Week and Heisman hopeful. Unlike some of the QBs before him (Ryan Mallett, Steve Threet), Robinson did not transfer from Michigan when there was a coaching change, although he did try to meet with athletic director Dave Brandon to voice his support of Rodriguez (he wasn’t given the chance).

Those players who remained loyal to Michigan produced for Hoke in 2011, beating Notre Dame and Ohio State to go 11-2 (they lost to Michigan State and Iowa), and beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Greg Mattison returned as defensive coordinator under Hoke, and the defense improved from 107th to 6th in scoring defense. Same players giving their all, different scheme, better results. Hoke was Big Ten Coach of the Year, and Michigan was back. As the roster changed the results regressed each year of Hoke’s four year tenure, sliding back to a 5-7 season without a bowl game. Hoke was replaced, and now coaches in the PAC-12 as Oregon’s defensive coordinator.

Harbaugh was also a PAC-12 coach at Stanford before taking over the San Francisco 49ers. He returned to the college ranks and his alma mater after the 2014 season. Harbaugh retained Mattison as defensive line coach, but brought in D.J. Durkin as defensive coordinator. Tyrone Wheatley, a former star running back, joined the staff as running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. came along as a tight end recruit, and was coached by Harbaugh’s son Jay.

Michigan lost the opener at Utah, shut out BYU at home, suffered a fluke loss to Michigan State, and got thumped by Ohio State to finish the year 10-3. The only loss I accepted was the first one, but routing Florida in the Citrus Bowl helped the progression from 2015 to 2016. Harbaugh’s first quarterback, Jake Rudock, is now a Detroit Lion, along with his center, Graham Glasgow. Harbaugh has not yet named his starter for 2016, but it won’t be long now!

Led Astray

Posted in Events, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2015 by jaclemens

imageI was not one of the fans led astray by schedule mix ups on the Salt Lake Comic Con app, but then I couldn’t get it to open a majority of the time. Users overloaded both the app and the website on Friday, so that’s a tech enhancement request for next year’s conventions. As for this year’s RFID wristbands, I made sure I picked mine up and activated it in advance. Upon entering the press entrance Thursday morning, I gave the registration line a sidelong smirk and went straight to the scanning station – which was not yet operational. The volunteers fidgeted with it fruitlessly, and, after waiting an acceptable amount of time, I asked if we could simply use another station to scan our bands. I explained that we were all there for the opening press conference, but this volunteer didn’t know where that was held. I told him it was in the ballroom on the other end of the Salt Palace, where many scanners were set up, and he let us through. When I left later that day, I asked another volunteer if I was supposed to scan out – seemed like a sensible way to keep track of the number of people in the building at any given time – but she didn’t know. When the website was functional, it stated that scanning in and out was necessary.

imageThe press conference was less of a production this year. Gone were the TARDIS entrance, the live painting, and the Make-A-Wish kids. For a convention promoting #EPIC, the press conference really wasn’t. The celebrity guests weren’t prepared to be introduced all at once, and shuffled on stage holding coffee cups and rubbing their eyes in the lights. Except for the exceptional Marina Sirtis, who wandered out onto the stage without a proper introduction. She announced her guest narrating with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall the next two nights (following the Michael Lewis event), and Dan Farr shared an anecdote about Sirtis (a repeat guest) talking up Salt Lake to the manager of Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell, guests who appeared later in the convention. I did not have any questions for the assembled guests, but I did snap a photo of someone in a Carnage suit interviewing Richard Hatch.

imageFriday I started my panel-going with a session on how to get your novel published. The aforementioned Richard Hatch was on the panel, and I jotted down the scant tips he was able to mention before the Winner twins took over. Somehow their story of being dyslexic-but-adorable twelve-year-old twin girls didn’t seem applicable to my publishing pursuits. On my way to the Salt Palace that morning I listened to a Writing Excuses podcast on how to be a good panelist and a great moderator; it’s episode 37 from season 10, and should be mandatory listening for the writing panels. I found myself no closer to getting published, but I was able to find a cosplayer (Bioshock) to pose with this fall’s book from Tachyon Publications: Led Astray, the best of Kelley Armstrong. I also found out that Steve Diamond, who lives in my neighborhood, is also an author! He was promoting his book Residue in the large booth with Kevin J. Anderson.

Animaniacs welcome the press to Salt Lake Comic Con 2015.

Animaniacs welcome the press to Salt Lake Comic Con 2015.

My next panel was exponentially more entertaining, as Maurice LaMarche joined Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and Rob Paulsen from the Animaniacs! LaMarche is the voice talent behind The Brain, Yosemite Sam, Morbo, Kif, and Calculon (Futurama), and the Lexus commercials. Harnell is the voice of Wakko and dozens of video game characters. Paulsen is Yakko and Pinky, as well as Donatello. MacNeille, who is the most versatile according to the others, is the voice of Dot, Hello Nurse, Babs Bunny, Daisy Duck, Agnes Skinner from The Simpsons, Mom from Futurama, and many more. Their panel was opposite Sean Astin (voice of Raphael), making me doubly glad I saw him at Fantasy Con last year. The synergy between the four actors was amazing, as they repeatedly set one another up to shine. I missed nearly all of the best sound bites, but I was overjoyed to get a recording of LaMarche talking about the Pinky and the Brain Christmas Special, which is one of our family’s traditions on Christmas Eve!

Flash Boys

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by jaclemens

Kicked off Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 with Flash Boys.

Not these: image This: image

imageAuthor Michael Lewis was the featured guest for the Sam Rich lecture, sponsored by the Hinckley Institute of Politics. I was invited to sell books at the event, which precluded me from attending the first day of Comic Con. I attended the press conference that morning at the Salt Palace, went to work, and returned to Abravanel Hall for the event with Lewis. I was sorely tempted to slip back to the press entrance at the Salt Palace during the interim between set up and doors open, but I stuck it out.

Lewis spoke on the start of his writing career and his earlier books, such as Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood and The Blind Side. I had eight titles for sale that evening, the most popular being The Big Short, subject of the upcoming film starring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and recurring FanX guest Karen Gillan!

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

Posted in Events, Fiction, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by jaclemens

IMG_0764“Babilar was starting to grow on me,” David comments in Firefight, a book that is growing on me. Babilar, short for Babylon Restored, is what they call Manhattan after it has been flooded by They Might Be Giants an Epic called Regalia. Only the tops of the skyscrapers now stick up above the waterline, and the denizens of Babilar live on the rooftops. They survive at the whim of Regalia, but they are sustained by the strange glowing fruit that inexplicably grows inside the upper floors of the buildings, courtesy of a mysterious force known as Dawnslight. A former judge, Regalia rules Babylon Restored with her own brand of law and order, just as Steelheart ruled Newcago. Now that Steelheart has been deposed, Regalia sends other Epics to draw the Reckoners out of Newcago. The Reckoners are accustomed to moving from one base of operations to the next, but David isn’t. He’s never been out of Newcago, and Babilar is completely outside his comfort zone. But Firefight is there, and she and David have unfinished business.

FullSizeRenderI was excited to find out how David and Firefight would resolve their differences; I was not expecting the introduction of Newton, Obliteration, and Regalia as the main threats (although I did manage to collect all three cards). Brandon Sanderson is a world builder at heart, so he takes us on a little journey to see another transfigured city, how another Epic despot does things, and how the residents react differently. The change of scenery is effective as progression for the characters, and introduces a new cell of Reckoners. Firefight is the titular character, but she’s not front and center in the story. She is deserving of the marquee, though. When she is Firefight she is spectacular, and, when she is content to be Megan around David, the interaction is authentic. My expectations were met in that regard, but Sanderson didn’t stop there! All of his foreshadowing was brought out by the eerie neon glow of Babilar as he continues to build toward Calamity, the conclusion to the Reckoners series.

At the Seams

Posted in Events, Promotions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2014 by jaclemens

Big Hero 6Like Disney’s Big Hero 6, Salt Lake Comic Con is bursting at the seams! Organizers were scrambling to find more scotch tape to seal the leaks on the first day of the second annual convention, as enthusiasm overflowed the registration lines. Fans who missed out on the excitement while waiting in line for hours have been offered recompense. Intake was more efficient on Friday, but fire marshals had to bar the doors a few times on Saturday as the ranks swelled upwards of 90,000 fans! More of the Salt Palace was utilized this year, but Salt Lake Comic Con broke the attendance record once again, with more than 120,000 attending between Thursday the 4th and Saturday the 6th.

Comic Con experienced some growing pains in its second year, but it also made some improvements to the layout. Artists’ Alley was moved to the front of the Expo Hall, immediately inside the main entrance. The booths were color-coded this year, although the aisles were not all completely color-coordinated. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was better than the shunted to the side and scrambled set up from FanX, according to AZ Powergirl at booth Green 14. The Celebrity Signing area was moved around the corner to be closer to the Photo Ops area, which brought the Kid Con area forward. The orientation of the ballrooms was also changed from east-facing to north- and south-facing.

Craig Parker

Craig Parker interviews; over his shoulder, Veronica Taylor (voice of Ash Ketchum in the Pokemon cartoons) poses with a fan.

The Celebrity Kick Off Press Conference was held in the South Ballroom on Thursday morning. Lou Ferrigno welcomed us to Comic Con, then more guests emerged from a TARDIS onto the stage. As they were introduced one at a time, the ambidextrous artist Rob Prior completed a painting of the Joker in under fifteen minutes. The painting was given to one of the Wish Kids on the stage, and Manu Bennett pledged his first thousand dollars in earnings to another Wish Kid’s family before challenging the other celebrities to do likewise. At the conclusion of the press conference the Wish Kids got their own parade while the celebrities were made available for interviews.

When asked if he had a rebuttal to Jed Brophy’s aggrandized impersonation of an elf strutting the stage at Fantasy Con, Craig Parker (Haldir in The Lord of the Rings) responded that he had shown Brophy “the way of the elves” the weekend before coming to Salt Lake. Parker talked about having replica action figures, and said he knew he had made it as an actor when Lego issued a figure of Haldir! Parker was irrepressible in his spotlight panel that evening, sitting on the table to answer questions. At one point he held the microphone between his upraised knees so he could gesture with his hands while speaking. He mused about the blonde Russian girls who were offered Coke and Levis in exchange for the hair that went into making wigs for the elves (which beats the yak-hair wigs and beards the dwarfs wear!).

all fine

A cosplayer posing with my advance copy of Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine (Tachyon).

Cary Elwes made the day of a lot of fans in his panel that afternoon. When a woman pronounced him her first Hollywood crush, he gave her a hug. Asked about his favorite sound he answered with his daughter’s laugh, and was declared both a sweetheart and a cutie pie. The real highlight of the Q&A came when a wheelchair-bound fan asked Elwes to perform the scene from The Princess Bride where the Man in Black (Westley) enters a battle of wits with Vizzini. Elwes needed help remembering his lines, but the fan had the Sicilian down pat! Elwes said that he loves this town, and hopes to be invited back for more episodes of Granite Flats. He was a hit, and took ample opportunities to promote his upcoming book, As You Wish. He may have missed his best opportunity, however, which would have been the press conference with all the Wish Kids present.

Sam Witwer rounded out the first day’s panels for me. Witwer played “Crashdown” on Battlestar Galactica and provided the voices of Starkiller in the Force Unleashed video game and Darth Maul in the Clone Wars animated series. Witwer knows his Star Wars chronology, and gave us his blueprint for introducing someone to the Star Wars trilogies out of numerical order, which preserves the overwhelming surprise of seeing it for the first time. Following his plan gives the original trilogy its full impact, while also making the prequels more enjoyable. That is a true Jedi mind trick, courtesy of a Sith apprentice!

 

Fine Fellows

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2014 by jaclemens

Oh my! Did I just photobomb Sean Astin and J.A. Clemens?

Oh my! Did I just photobomb Sean Astin with a member of the press?

Salt Lake Comic Con is about to begin, and I’m still savoring Fantasy Con! It has been a whirlwind couple of months since I met these two fine fellows, Sean Astin and Billy Boyd! Astin is appearing in The Strain, based on the books by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. He can also be heard on Vox Populi, a weekly radio program, and as the voice of Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Billy Boyd is working on a new album with his band Beecake, and can be heard singing on the trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies! I was able to hear him sing “The Steward of Gondor” live during a panel (he sounded fantastic), and fortunate enough to meet both actors afterward.

Astin and Boyd are great together, and gracious to a tee. While Astin waited for an interview on camera, he turned to my friend Ryan to ask about his wife and children (who were in town, but not present that evening). Astin brought his own family to Salt Lake, something he never does on the convention circuit. However, his positive experiences filming Forever Strong and The Freemason in Utah showed him that Salt Lake City is an exceptional place. He may not have had as much vacation time with his family as he would have liked that holiday weekend, but he never ceased to be accommodating. I caught up to him as he was about to leave the room, and, after our meeting, he returned to a table for more group interviews.

At the conclusion of his spotlight panel on Saturday afternoon, Astin refused to allow the line of waiting questions be dismissed. Instead he went into a speed round, where each fan asked their question in one sequential string as he took notes. Then he answered all of the questions together, and no one went away disappointed. At Fantasy Con’s end, Astin was the last remaining special guest still at his table greeting fans and signing autographs. Sean Astin is a consummate professional.

Billy BoydBy way of comparison, Billy Boyd is a sheer delight. He brings out the conviviality in Astin (and everyone in the room, for that matter). Boyd said that being back with Astin and John Rhys-Davies helped him recall stories from their time working together, and he laughed heartily as he shared them. He also had kind words for his visit to Utah, noting the ambiance of dining alfresco and exploring the city on light rail. Waking up in a different time zone, he especially appreciated the bracing sound of bagpipes in the morning!

Boyd had the unenviable time slot of 10 am on Saturday for his spotlight, but was utterly charming nevertheless (once his “best friend” brought him a coffee). He demurred when asked to sing again, explaining that he sounded more like Rhys-Davies at that hour! Boyd did discuss performing with Beecake, and there was a genuine outpouring of enthusiasm for a tour date in Salt Lake City! If you haven’t watched the videos for “Please Stay” or “The Clown” you are missing out!

When I spoke with Boyd, I asked him about his employment as a print finisher in the guild. Over the course of seven years in the business he bound editions of both The Lord of the Rings and Master and Commander before appearing in the cinematic versions. As it was the eve of our Independence Day, I asked for his opinion on the referendum for Scotland’s independence (to be heard on the 18th of this month). Boyd said he had given it careful consideration and favors independence. Then he lightened the moment with a beatific smile and said “Maybe I’ll have apple pie!”

Behind the Curtain

Posted in Events, New release, Recommendations with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2014 by jaclemens

Howard and Mary blindside Dan with an award while Brandon looks on at Westercon.

My FantasyCon experience began in the same way as FanX: with a booksigning by Dan Wells! In this case it was not at Wellers, but at Westercon (Wellers was onsite). My press pass allowed me to enter the FantasyCon floor early, get the lay of the land, then cross the street for the launch party of Shadows Beneath: A Writing Excuses Anthology. All four authors from Writing Excuses were guests at Westercon, so I was able to meet Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler for the first time.

The anthology collects the transcripts of the podcasts (both brainstorming and critiquing), the first drafts, and all the edits that went into the final version of each story. Sanderson also included his own analysis of the process, as well as notes from his own writing group. This is the entire process, warts and all. Four seasoned authors go beyond giving advice: they reveal the challenges each faced, and the exact tools of the trade they used to surmount said challenges. The final versions of the stories alone are worth the price, but the glimpse behind the curtain is priceless. (Incidentally, Dan managed to wear a cloak through multiple international airports without anyone asking for a glimpse of what he had under it!)

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