Monday, September 8, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 1 vs. Broncos

Quick summary:

Colts show signature lackluster start before deciding it's actually time to play football. A furious comeback ensues, but such comebacks do not dwell in the House of Elway.

Another bad start. What do the Colts have to do to get motivated to play well in the first and second quarters? Should the scoreboard say "Away Team 50, Home Team 0" when they run out of the tunnel for home games? The absolutely awful starts are nothing new and neither are the comebacks. Andrew Luck's ability to rally the team is pretty cool until you consider that he has to do it every freaking game.

That said, at least they showed some moxie. They could've cashed it in early on this one, given up, and watched the Broncos roll to a 40-3 win or something like that. Instead, the team caught a few breaks in the second half and put in a superior effort on offense and defense. Even though they start about as well as my old 2003 Pontiac Grand Am, at least the Colts refuse to give up.

The running backs. Not much production in the ground game, though a lot of that is due to the "let's fall behind immediately and make it interesting in the end" strategy the Colts insist on perpetuating. Some fans will say Ahmad Bradshaw was fantastic and Trent Richardson was crap. Hate to break it to you, but neither back was particularly wonderful in the ground game. Both showed some flashes in the passing game, though, with Bradshaw hauling in 5 passes for 70 yards. Richardson had 3 catches for 31 yards.

So many weapons! Andrew Luck has so many weapons! Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen (who had a really nice game and a big TD grab), Donte Moncrief, GRIFFNATION, Ahmad Bradshaw, Trent Richardson!* But what good is a loaded gun when your hands are tied and it's lying on the ground? Or the defense is coming up the middle to kill you?

With the offensive line, it's like everyone is Hawkeye (cheap shot, I know)

Cornering it. I thought the corners played well. Sure, Greg Toler got flagged a few times, but the Colts corners showed some aggressiveness. That's about the only way to really slow down an offense like Denver's. The unit had a chance at a couple of interceptions early in the game. They've got to capitalize on those chances. Vontae Davis and Darius Butler were solid as well.

LaWorthless. I think I could've scrapped with Julius Thomas and provided better coverage than LaRon Landry, even if that meant tackling him before the ball was thrown and picking up an illegal contact penalty. It's like Landry looked across the line of scrimmage, realized Thomas was already having a good day, and then said, "Sure, go ahead. Have a touchdown. It's on me."

The QB sneak. I think this was a case of Andrew Luck trying to pull a fast one on the defense, but it was pretty clear the Broncos were stacking up the middle to combat the sneak on fourth and goal. I was shocked Luck didn't check out of it. The whistle was also a bit quick on the "handoff" to Ahmad Bradshaw, but based on the doomed nature of the play, it's probably for the best.

GRIFFNATION's punt return. You know the one I'm talking about. The one where Griff Whalen was clearly down twice and yet managed to return a punt for a touchdown. Imagine, if you will, a world in which scoring plays weren't automatically reviewed and John Fox had already used his challenges. Imagine this, and then smile at what could've been.

Reggie's back. In my preview post on the Colts' season, I said I'd have to see Reggie catch eight balls for 100+ yards before declaring him back. Nine catches for 98 yards is close enough for me. He had a scary moment after slipping awkwardly on the turf but appeared to be all right. Great to see No. 87 back.

Interior decorating. Inside line play was pretty rough for most of the night. I think most of us expected that. Luck still has that tendency to hold onto the ball a little too long sometimes, which certainly doesn't help. The makeshift trio of AQ Shipley, Jack Mewhort, and Hugh Thornton didn't do much to allay fears about the line play.

Solid bookends. On the plus side, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus held down the edges fairly well. Castonzo had a tough assignment against DeMarcus Ware but did a good job overall. After a brutal preseason, Cherilus settled down and protected Luck well.

So many blown opportunities. Missed interceptions, dropped passes, an oh-so-close fumble recovery, missed tackles, and poor red zone efficiency made it extremely hard for the Colts to hang around. They managed to make it interesting, but some killer screw-ups--particularly the failure to recover the fumble and the inability to tackle Montee Ball in a critical first-and-goal situation--really hurt. The fumble came on what ended up being the game-winning drive. If the Colts recover it, things work out differently. Even then, if they could've held Denver to a field goal on that drive, they only need three points to tie things up at the end of the game.

The! It was fun to see the Colts recover an onside kick at a critical moment. It wasn't so much fun watching the drive end in an interception after a pass bounced off of Coby Fleener's hands.

We got Fleenered! Targeted 8 times, Fleener caught 3 passes. His most memorable catches...were drops. He couldn't haul one in on the first drive, resulting in a botched field goal attempt that ended up becoming a punt. He couldn't make a tough grab on a touchdown pass; Al and Cris think he mistimed the jump. And, of course, he was good for that deflection interception, which was really, really awesome.

Peyton couldn't close. After Luck's second interception, the Broncos could've pretty much closed the door. Instead, they went three and out. I was really surprised Manning didn't pick up a first down. When Denver got the ball back after the Colts scored a touchdown, Denver went three and out again. Really couldn't believe it. I've seen No. 18 stick the knife in the other team plenty of times in similar situations.

Where's the pass rush? Aside from a couple of plays we'll call "flukes" based on the general lack of a pass rush, I don't know what the Colts will do. Things were going to be tough without Robert Mathis for 4 games. Now they'll be tough for the whole season, since Mathis tore his Achilles.

*T.Y. Hilton was not included in this lineup, as there was no evidence that he showed up in this game.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 questions (and one easy answer) about the Colts

Will Andrew Luck lift himself to elite standards? The quarterback position has been secure for more than a decade in Indianapolis (minus featuring Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky), due mostly to a certain No. 18 who now wears orange. The rift that divided Colts fans after Peyton Manning's departure has never fully healed and probably never will. Still, there's a lot to love about "the next guy," who's entering his third season under center for Indy. Andrew Luck is known for his clutch play and late-game heroics. Will he elevate his play to be "The Guy" and bring more consistency to complement his winning ways?

How much will they miss Robert Mathis? A lot. You can't replace a guy like Mathis. No matter how great Bjoern "I bring in da good stuff, coach" Werner has looked in camp and the preseason, Werner isn't Mathis. That's not the second-year player's fault, though. Simply put, no one is Robert Mathis. If the Colts can survive a four-game stretch without their premier defensive player, they'll set themselves up for a good year.

Is the secondary a primary strength? Vontae Davis got a huge contract. Greg Toler--when healthy--has shown flashes. Darius Butler is solid at the nickel. Man-to-man/press coverage should be a strength of this group. It's the back end that scares most fans. LaRon Landry delivers huge hits but commands a big salary. He's not a great cover guy. The second safety spot, anchored for years by Antoine Bethea, remains a huge question mark. It looks like veteran Mike Adams will get the start, and while he's got a terrific last name, it's hard to know what we'll get. Delano Howell, who filled in admirably last season, may not even see the field this year.

Can the offensive line keep defenders off Luck's back? This is the question. We're entering the third season of this being the question. Luck is adept at running and will make plays with his legs, but I'd prefer not to see him running for his life yet again this season. After a decade-plus of solid protection for Manning, the Colts can't get things figured out on the line. Injuries certainly play a role here, but some questionable decisions--like the big contract for Samson Satele and the team's stubborn delay in rectifying that situation--also contribute to chaos along the line. A young group will be responsible for keeping Luck's jersey clean. Will they be able to do it?

Will anyone in the AFC South challenge the Colts? It seems Indy is a lock to win the division, based on what I keep hearing. The Texans have great defensive talent but lack a top-caliber quarterback and underachieved last year. The Jacksonville Jaguars are biding their time until Blake Bortles becomes the everyday starter. The Tennessee Titans simply haven't been any fun since Jeff Fisher left. I can't predict if the Colts will run the table in the division but they're certainly capable of it.

Will Reggie be Reggie? From all indications, it seems like Reggie Wayne is back. I won't believe it until he goes off for about eight catches and 100+ yards. I certainly hope No. 87 is back in top form. The Colts looked lost without him last year until the lights came on for T.Y. Hilton. I hear analysts say Reggie's a "fringe" hall of famer. While I don't agree with that sentiment--I think he's worthy of the yellow jacket--a strong comeback would give his team a boost and help cement his legacy as one of the greats.

Will Colts fans ever get over Peyton? No doubt about it, it stings to see Peyton in orange. We're doing this for the third season, if you can believe it. He's still all over the place in commercials and NFL promos...and each time I see that orange jersey, it just feels wrong. I've made my peace with his departure, but many fans haven't. The Colts traded a jammed salary cap for youth. There's no way the team would've been able to keep Peyton and field a championship-caliber team. At the time of his release, it wasn't really clear if he'd regain his form even though everyone knew he'd do everything he could to come back. I think Colts fans took last year's Super Bowl implosion harder than Broncos fans. That's how much we love Peyton.

Will the defense finally dominate? The Colts were embarrassed by Kansas City before a miraculous comeback and were subsequently beaten to a pulp by New England. They showed flashes last year of being an elite defense...or at least a top 10 one. This needs to be the year everything comes together. There are no more excuses about new schemes or players who are unfamiliar with each other. Chuck Pagano is a defensive-minded coach. Let's see some pride from the unit.

Will Richardson prove his worth? You can't write about the Colts without mentioning Trent Richardson. The target of a major trade last season, Richardson is in the crosshairs. His blitz pickups are pretty good. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can...well...he's supposed to be able to run the football. It would be great to see him elevate his game. Let's face it, a strong running game (or at least the threat of it) would make life a lot easier for everyone on the team.

How can the Colts slow down the Broncos' offense? Amphetamines.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Do you have any books with a girl superhero?"

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to speak to some students at my old elementary school.

I talked to kids enrolled in Northeastern Elementary's (Fountain City, Indiana) summer enrichment program about writing and publishing. I found it challenging for a couple reasons. First, the students ranged in age from kindergarten to sixth grade. That's a pretty big age range. Second, I wasn't sure how much kids would care about the writing and publishing process.

I had to fill an hour...and I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. I put together a brief presentation and hoped we'd be able to fill the rest of the time with questions from the kids.

They came through in a big way, thank goodness.

They were (mostly) spellbound

I told the students I went to Northeastern and graduated from the high school in 1999. The room where I made the presentation was the art room--yes, the same art room where I attended art class in elementary school. I stressed to them the importance of reading. I didn't want them to see me as "big shot author" because that's a horrible way to talk to people and I don't even remotely qualify as a "big shot author." I simply like to write and I've devoted more and more time and energy to it over the years. I mentioned some of my favorite books as a kid: I am a Puppy; There's a Monster at the End of This Book; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; and My Teacher is an Alien.

When I'm actively working on something, I try to write about 10 pages a day. I brought a typed manuscript that was 2,000 words as a visual aid. Then I showed them a 50,000 word manuscript--one of the early (and frankly awful) versions of I, Crimsonstreak. Next, I held up a 95,000 word manuscript of I, Crimsonstreak that's very close to the finished version. And, of course, I had a paperback copy of the book to show them the final product.

They were inquisitive. They wanted to know about my writing routine, how I came up with my ideas, and how long it took to write a book. The answers vary from writer to writer, but I shared my experience with them. They had more questions.

One really stuck with me.

"Do you have any books with a girl superhero?"

To tell you the truth, I didn't expect to get that question from the class. I managed not to hesitate too much. I explained to her that the main character in my book is a guy and that his mother and girlfriend play major roles. One of the things my publisher liked about the book is that my female characters weren't props or damsels in distress, even if they weren't the main protagonist.

How do you explain that to a little girl in an elementary school? Does she care that the publisher thought the females in my book are good "side" characters? Of course she doesn't. She wants a superhero book with a protagonist that she can relate to, and that book isn't I, Crimsonstreak.

I've heard the comments about DC's failed attempts to get Wonder Woman on the big screen and grumbling about the lack of a Captain Marvel movie, but I haven't given these things enough thought. Let's face it, The Avengers is primarily a boys' club (and I love the movie and what Marvel has done with its cinematic universe). You've got Black Widow and Maria Hill, but that's about it. Shouldn't there be a movie girls can look up to and say, "I wanna be Captain Marvel," just like boys can see Captain America and say, "I wanna be Cap"?

I'm a guy, okay? I like explosions and sports and I love seeing the Hulk throw Loki around like a ragdoll. My sense of humor borders on the psychotic at times, and I joke about a wide range of topics. But the more I think about, the more I realize there has to be something out there other than dollhouses or Barbie's pink car. This stuff is important, even though I lack the eloquence to say exactly why.

Then again, I don't really need eloquence in this case. I see that little girl, raising her hand and politely asking, "Do you have any books with a girl superhero?"

After talking briefly about Crimsonstreak,, I remembered to tell her that one of my unpublished novels features a female superhero who controls fire. Her response?

"When you get that one published, I want to read it."

They thanked me...but really, I should thank them

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

First draft complete!

I finished the first draft of The Exclusive yesterday afternoon! I ended up with about 82,000 words. I imagine I'll add 2,000-3,000 words in the next draft to clean up a few things related to the ending. I'm now in the same place I was about a month ago, when I blogged about what I wanted to write next.

Yep, exact same situation right now. The Exclusive gets shelved for a while--probably three weeks to a month--before I start going back through it. I'll come up with a revision plan and work on improving the book during its first revision. After that, it will go off to Beta Reader Supreme for both a bigger-picture look and a proofread. After that, more revisions.

My thoughts on the process of writing a first draft via Twitter:I've started the querying process on one of my novels. I haven't seriously queried a novel in a very long time. In my next blog post, I'll write a little about why it's taken so long for me to query projects. I'm sure it'll be a thrill.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Updates and some events

It's been pretty quiet in the writing world lately. I'm polishing, polishing, polishing the "untitled space station novel."

I've also been working very hard on a new project called The Exclusive. The genre--paranormal suspense--isn't exactly in my comfort zone, but it also deals with a paranormal event and the TV news business, so I can definitely handle the finer points of the latter. I got a little messy with defining my pseudo-religious "magic" system, so I certainly have some work to do when I hit revisions.

I'm about 73,000 words into it, which means I'm rounding third and heading for home on this novel. I'm fully aware that the book is a bit of a narrative mess at the moment. When I finish the first draft, I'll leave it alone for about a month, make some revisions to tie everything together, and send it off to Beta Reader Supreme.

A brutal Indiana winter meant a lot of writing time but little time to get out among the people. Thankfully, I was able to make it to a couple events recently.

That Book Place in Madison, Ind., holds its annual Authors Fair in March. I attended the event as an author for the first time. The place is usually jam-packed during this event, but the Milton-Madison Bridge linking Indiana to Kentucky was closed this year and you could definitely tell. It's still nice to meet a few people and mingle with other authors.

I went to Hanover College this weekend for the school's annual Geek-a-Thon. It's basically a small comic-con, and this year's theme was the very Crimsonstreak-friendly "DC vs. Marvel."

My wife made this lovely gift basket, which was available in a silent auction for charity.

We met several students and had a nice time hanging out with some of the other guests. Attendance was generally light, but I think it was worth the trip down there.

Between the two events, I made a few sales, met a lot of great people, and mingled with some author friends I haven't seen in a while. All worth it, in my book.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crimsonstreaking in Madison... and eventually at Hanover College

I took my Crimsonstreaking act to Madison, Indiana, this weekend for the Fourth Annual Authors Fair presented by That Book Place.

I've been to the event before and it's usually pretty busy. Last-minute construction on the Milton-Madison Bridge certainly didn't help with foot traffic. I sold a few books, but the best part was talking to other authors and swapping stories.

A couple of big comic book fans also interviewed me...and things got awkward (in a good way!). They were excited that I'd written a superhero novel and had lots of questions about the book. Both of the interviewers decided to sit (or stand, more accurately) in on the interview until we realized it wasn't working very well. It's the same reason I loathe three-man booths in sports. Anyway, we dumped out of the interview and I did a one-on-one with one of the hosts. Both guys were good sports about the whole thing.

We're not done Crimsonstreaking in southern Indiana! On March 29 and (maybe) March 30, I'll be down at Hanover College for Geek-a-Thon, their version of Comic Con. They'll have panels, movies, games, and plenty of activities. Since the theme is "Marvel vs. DC," it's certainly an appropriate forum for Crimsonstreak and company.

Helmet courtesy Stuart Thaman

Thanks to all who put the event together. I'd also like everyone to know that my wife indeed got to eat at Frisch's Big Boy. She ordered the patty melt. She was very excited about that.

Friday, March 7, 2014

So, what's next?

You tell 'em, Franco.

Before yesterday, I had something to work on.

I had to get III Crimsonstreak in shape. I had to do a significant overhaul of my other work-in-progress--we'll just call it the space station book for now.

I've sent III Crimsonstreak off to my publisher. My current work-in-progress is about as polished as it's going to get.

I'm now in that gray area. I have to decide what to work on next. Do I finish an abandoned work-in-progress written when my writing was in its infancy? Do I return to the half-finished book I was working on before I decided I'd better get III Crimsonstreak and my WIP whipped into shape? Do I start something new?

This is always the hardest thing for me to decide. I haven't been doing the daily grind of 2,000 for a few weeks because I've devoted my energy to re-reading and rewriting two books that needed a lot of work. Now that those two projects are essentially done, I need to decide what to work on next.

Here are some possibilities:

The Exclusive: I've written about 45,000 words on this one--meaning it's about halfway done. It starts out as a crime story featuring a journalist before turning into a paranormal/supernatural mystery. I like the concept and I have the story outlined. If I work on it for a month or two, I'll probably have a first draft ready to go.

Synopsis: TV reporter Kent Carter knows Mayor Harrison Johnson is corrupt--he just can't prove it. Damning documents disappear, witnesses suddenly change their stories, and his talkative sources in the police department don't have anything to say. When a mysterious source steps forward with proof of corruption within Johnson's administration, Kent finally gets his exclusive. He just doesn't expect his lead story to unleash hell on Earth.

Red Plague: I think this was my third attempt at a novel. I've always liked the concept, which involves the bubonic plague, Soviet-era intrigue, and time travel. I would describe it as Crichton-esque in concept (but not in execution). I'm about 37,000 words into this one, but the last time I worked on it was 2010. I tried reading through it a few months ago, and it's cringe-worthy. I can see all of my writing flaws in this earlier work. Still, I, Crimsonstreak had similar problems, and I managed to turn that into a readable book. Part of me thinks I should trunk this version and start over.

Synopsis: A man materializes at a county fair in the Midwest before collapsing, spreading a deadly new strain of bubonic plague that begins sweeping across the world. As millions die, CDC specialist Anna Manning makes a startling discovery: the disease appears to have been genetically altered in the past. The revelation dredges up painful memories of the Cold War and forces Anna to travel back in time, the fate of humanity resting on her shoulders

G-Men: I've had this concept kicking in the back of my head for a long time, and I have a rough outline. It would be a book set in the 50s about a superpowered team of government crimefighters. Basically, a special agent gets Robocopped; super-spy hijinks and Cold War intrigue ensue. Love Cold War Era stuff.

Mortimer: International Man of Taste and Intrigue: I think Mortimer P. Willoughby and the Crusading Comets deserve a book of their own. Or maybe two books. I don't know. Morty is my favorite character in the Crimsonverse. I think a standalone novel in which he recounts the adventures of the various Crusading Comets would be tons of fun. I have an outline for this one.

The problem is I have to pick something. It's a big commitment...we're talking months of work to get a first draft, revisions, that daily grind of putting out 2,000 words.

I'll have to think about it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Revisions! Revisions! Revisions!

I'm obsessively revising one of my books right now.

I'm not exactly sure which draft I'm on, but I'm definitely approaching "almost ready to submit somewhere" status. I need to work on a query letter and probably a synopsis. Oh, synopsis. How I loathe thee.

I'm by no means a great query letter writer, but I feel a lot more comfortable with queries than I do synopses. At the Midwest Writers Workshop a few years ago, I sat in on a brief workshop in which an agent described the synopsis as evil. I think the program may have been called "The Dreaded Synopsis." Pretty much everyone hates these things.

Anyhow, I took a draft of my current book and added about 7,000 words to it. After reading through it again, I think the changes work. I just need to go through and eliminate some repetitive words and smooth out a few things. That's what I'm working on right now...taking care of about 160 little notations I made on my Kindle.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

III Crimsonstreak speeds off!

Although it's much later than I intended, III Crimsonstreak is racing (via email) toward Candlemark & Gleam!

I finished the appendices this week, and the book weighs in at a meaty 102,000 words. To put that in perspective, the previous two books were about 95,000 words each (with II Crimsonstreak being slightly longer than I, Crimsonstreak in total length).

In its current, unedited form, III Crimsonstreak's main story is about 85,000 words (similar to II Crimsonstreak, which was about 84,500 words but considerably longer than the original book, which was a much briefer 72,000 words).

As for the appendices, the third book is about 17,000 words. That's more extra material than II Crimsonstreak (11,000 words) and less extra material than I, Crimsonstreak (a whopping 23,000 words). The extra length of the third book's appendices is due to a long-form magazine article and a pair of short stories.

And, just because I like to fiddle with Photoshop, here's a completely unofficial mockup of a promotional banner:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Writing update

I've been working on a fairly intensive rewrite of III Crimsonstreak using my own notes and those from a beta reader. It's almost finished and ready to submit. I have some material left to polish and I have to work on the appendices. Like II Crimsonstreak, I'll probably only write about 10,000-12,000 words of extras. For comparison, I, Crimsonstreak had significantly more extra material--in the ballpark of 20,000 words.

Once I get that finished, I'll send it off to Candlemark & Gleam. I'm submitting later than I intended, but sometimes that happens.

This will be the third and final book of the Crimsonverse series, although I may do a couple novels set in the same universe. Crimsonstreak's story, I feel, is complete.

After that's finished, I'm working on a science fiction-comedy novel that I'm really proud of. I think it has a lot of potential, but I'm keeping details under wraps for now. I don't like to do that, but I'll have to in this case. The book is ready for a good polish and revision, and then I think I'll see if I can get any bites.