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!)

In Person

Posted in Events, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2014 by jaclemens

Rob (with therapy dog) and Dan (wearing Bavarian hat)

I recently watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica at my older brother’s insistence. He thought I would like it, and he was right! It’s an excellent series, and – although I came late to it – the timing was perfect for me.

At the end of March I went to see Dan and Robison Wells at Weller Book Works. Dan was back in the U.S. touring for Ruins, the finale of the Partials sequence, so I passed on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance at the University of Utah the same night to meet the brothers Wells.

Partials was inspired in part by Battlestar Galactica, and Ruins examines many of the same ramifications: what if the Partials not only look human, but are programmed to think they are human? What would happen to the offspring of a Partial and a human mating pair? War between the two sides has decimated the human population, and a faction of humans consider using the nuclear option against the Partials, condemning their own kind in the process. Humans created the Partials and bio-engineered them with certain fail safes to make them dependent on humans, so all sentient life on the planet will be eradicated  if the two sides can’t work together.

Wells was aware of the disappointing conclusion to BSG (I haven’t gotten that far yet myself, but I’ve heard the reactions) and promised to deliver a more-satisfying ending to his series. There is a payoff to the conflict, but the resolution left more to be desired. If the two peoples are to be interdependent, why do the romantic pairings split neatly down the human/Partial divide? It is a YA series, so it has the requisite love triangles. It does not have a fitting demise to the villain of the first two books, however. Her arc gives way to other monstrosities with which Kira must reckon. Ultimately only one of the geneticists who had a hand in creating the Partials survives, and that too seems unbalanced.

EJOI have finished reading the Partials sequence, but I haven’t finished watching BSG. Some of the big reveals have already been spoiled for me, but my brother isn’t to blame. He tried to warn me, but it was unavoidable. I had to go see Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) when he came to the Salt Lake Comic Con’s Fan Xperience in April! If you’re going to get spoilers, you might as well get them from the show’s star! His panel was stellar, and I was able to shake his hand the next day at his table. My brother wanted me to ask him if Deckard was a replicant, and Olmos said “Of course he was a replicant! I was the only red-blooded American in the movie [Bladerunner]!”

After I told Olmos I admired him I realized I was wearing a silly Kermit hat!

I told EJO I admired him while wearing a silly Kermit hat!

Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) was also a guest at FanX, but I missed his panel due to a scheduling conflict. Douglas didn’t miss Karl Urban watching BSG on their flight to Salt Lake City, however! Urban (Bones) claimed to be just like us as a fan, but I found that statement suspect. Urban has most recently appeared in the tv show Almost Human, in which he played a human detective with an android partner, after all.

SpinerAnd then there was Brent Spiner, who played Data, the greatest android of them all! He was pretty great at playing the crowd as well! Given the heavy emphasis on Star Trek actors at FanX, I wanted to go in a Khan costume from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Ultimately I had to settle for reading the graphic novel Star Trek: Khan, by Mike Johnson. It details how Khan came to be bio-engineered (twice) in addition to memory tampering. It reminded me of  Isolation, the point-five story in the Partials sequence. Both show how the genetically-modified warriors were trained and manipulated by their creators; both stories result in biological warfare that destroys the ecosystem and the population.

My FanX read was Infinity Blade: Redemption by Brandon Sanderson. He was a FanX guest, as was ChAIR Entertainment, the developer of the Infinity Blade games. An oversight scheduled their panels concurrently, so I only got to see Sanderson. This installment of the Infinity Blade lore tells of how the God King (Raidriar) and Siris (Ausar) came to be Deathless through – you guessed it! – the wonders of bio- engineering! I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the secret to Sanderson’s prolific writing!

The epilogue to my Fan Xperience took me back to the prologue; it was a final panel featuring Rob Wells, Brad R. Torgersen, and other local authors of dystopian literature. I read Blackout before FanX (and before Ruins, in fact). It explores what happens when a virus interacts with the developing brain of teenagers. Some of the teens (and only teens are susceptible) who have the virus manifest superhuman abilities. It’s the X-Men minus the mutated x gene! Most of the teens are unaware of their unique powers, and go about being typical teenagers. Others have been identified early and trained – as terrorists. All the typical teens are rounded up and screened for the virus, as the Army intends to fight virus-fueled fire with virus-fueled fire. It’s an interesting premise for X-Fans, and it features a fine diabolical mastermind. Establishing the story takes some of the energy out of the equation, leaving it incomplete. There will be a sequel, Dead Zone, coming this fall, and, like the Partials sequence, it has a point-five story called Going Dark. I’ve already ordered Dead Zone (war with Russia!), and may go on to download Going Dark for the additional world building. Come to our store to meet Robison Wells in person and get his new book signed when it comes out!

Knights Who Say

Posted in Fiction, New release, Promotions, Recommendations with tags , , on March 25, 2014 by jaclemens

Shattered Plains 2Words of Radiance! The second book in The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson was released on March 4th! We are featuring it in the store as our book of the month – and it made a fine birthday present for a certain Sanderson fan!

The Heralds have returned, the Knights Radiant have reformed, and the Voidbringers have summoned the Everstorm. As they converge on the Shattered Plains, so does Shallan and Szeth-son-son-Vallano. Words of Radiance wraps up a two book mini-arc (if two thousand pages can be deemed “mini”) establishing the series, and opens many more possibilities moving forward. It is a dazzling follow up to Way of Kings (which I re-read beforehand), and it bears some resemblance to Hero of Ages. Its’ ties to Warbreaker may be the strongest, however, resulting in an unplanned re-read of that supposed stand-alone novel.

In the final 60 pages there is an epic showdown that gave me such chills I had to give myself an extra day to finish my reading! I’ve read almost everything Sanderson has written, but this one blew my mind to such an extent that it has taken two weeks to form a review! I hope I get a book of The Stormlight Archive for every birthday!

Two Drawings, Three Winners

Posted in Giveaways, Promotions with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2014 by jaclemens

Congratulations to Anne Grech, winner of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, and to Tonya, who won The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic! In addition, I had a spare advance reader copy of The Bosnia List, which went to Camille. Thanks to everyone who entered, and to Penguin and Viking for letting me conduct these giveaways!

At the Bar

Posted in Giveaways, New release, Non Fiction with tags , , , , on February 25, 2014 by jaclemens

Bosnia ListIt’s fitting that The Bosnia List begins at the bar with Kenan Trebinčević and his brother, Eldin.  Reading this memoir feels like taking a seat next to them at the bar and listening to their story.  It’s a riveting account of their escape from war-torn Bosnia, told in a conversational style by Kenan with journalist Susan Shapiro.  So pull up a chair and keep the drinks flowing, because you won’t want to walk away until you hear how it ends.

The escape from persecution is a necessary part, but it’s not the whole story.  Kenan’s friends, neighbors, favorite teacher, and idolized coach all turned against him and his family when the ethnic cleansing began.  Their survival and escape from the deadly conflict is remarkable, but it is the decision to return two decades later that is staggering.  Kenan and Eldin go along with their ailing father’s desire to visit their homeland, but Kenan goes with his own agenda.  He makes a list of a dozen redresses that begins with “Confront Petra about stealing from my mother” and “Stand at Pero’s grave to make sure he’s really dead.”  This is no social visit for Kenan, who has been having involuntary revenge fantasies.  How he reconciles the items on his list provides the resolution to this tragic tale.

I was in high school when Slobodan Milošević incited Yugoslavia to tear itself apart.  I was studying Russian at the time, so I followed the developments in the news, but only through American channels.  I didn’t have a sense of what it meant on an individual level until I read The Bosnia List.  I am grateful that Lindsay Prevette at Penguin Books directed my attention to it, and that Penguin is allowing me to giveaway a copy!  The Bosnia List goes on sale today, and the giveaway goes through Friday the 28th.  Leave a comment below to enter the random drawing!