Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crimsonstreak II, etc.

A brief blog this morning to talk about progress on Crimsonstreak II. After receiving more than 70 pages of feedback from my chief editorial consultant, I've powered through the latest draft.

The book is now closer to 83,000 words. The original draft pushed closer to 90,000. I cut several flashbacks after realizing I didn't need many of them. The first book is definitely flashback-heavy to help introduce characters and set the scene. Now that I've established the characters, I don't need as many flashbacks.

I'm still aiming for mid-October as the submission window. The revised draft is now back to my chief editorial consultant, who will look through it and see what changed.

I wasn't satisfied with the original ending, so I changed it. I plan to write a sequel (III Crimsonstreak: The Obligatory Trilogy Bookend) and the ending better fits with how I want to approach the third book. Things get REALLY screwed up in the second book, which still lacks an official title.

Some possibilities:

II Crimsonstreak: Team Crimsonstreak
II Crimsonstreak: Still Running
II Crimsonstreak: Always Running
II Crimsonstreak: Multiple Crises of Infinite Running
Crimsonstreak 2: Return of the Kiltechs
Crimsonstreak 2: The Kiltechs Strike Back
Crimsonstreak 2: Crisis of Infinite Morties
I, Crimsonstreak 2: Episode VII: Someone Hit 'Shuffle' on the Multiverse Playlist
I, Crimsonstreak 2: A Storm of Swords
I, Crimsonstreak 2: Totally Not the Avengers
I, Crimsonstreak 2: Multiversal Boogie
I, Crimsonstreak 2: Electric Multiversal Boogaloo

Monday, September 24, 2012

Colts Observations, Week 3

Blaine Gabbert beat you. After Blaine Gabbert completed 45% of his passes for 75 yards, the Colts let him beat them with one throw. Gabbert, who was off-target and generally horrible the whole afternoon, proved that anyone can be a one-hit wonder.

Sloppy is as sloppy does. The Colts racked up 11 penalties for 106 yards. Several of them were killers. Andrew Luck's interception led to a field goal. Adam Vinatieri was off target. Maurice Jones-Drew was...Maurice Jones-Drew. And then...Cecil Shorts.

Vina-terrible. Mr. Clutch got a pass for the Chicago kick, especially after nailing the game winner last week. This week, he missed another chippie, a 36-yarder. His 37-yard kick barely made it through. When a guy's been around as long as Vinatieri--and makes as much money as Vinatieri--he has to make the easy ones. If he had--and you never know how the game will flow at certain points--the Colts would have needed a field goal to tie instead of a touchdown to win (figuring that the Colts have 20 points, the Jags don't go for two and have 23 points).

Maurice Jones-Drew. We've seen it before; the talented running back turned the Colts defense into glue. The killer was the 59-yard touchdown, but the Colts were still surrendering 5.5 yards/carry before that run. MJD ended up with 6.3 yards/carry. Jones-Drew is the only guy who's a consistent threat for the Jags...and the Colts still couldn't stop him.

Offensive coma, part II. After dominating the first half against the Vikings, the Colts went into an offensive coma. It happened again this week. They scored 14 points in the first half, but only three in the second. The Jags, by the way, scored 19 second-half points. The old adage is that teams win with their halftime adjustments...the Colts have lost that battle two weeks in a row.

Take your ball and go home, kid. Please. I like Austin Collie. I like Austin Collie A LOT, which makes it hard for me to say this as a football fan. Multiple concussions, now a knee injury. I don't think a football career with the Indianapolis Colts is in the cards for this guy. Sadly, I believe it's time for him to hang it up.

Luck's two-minute drill. As Andrew Luck develops, we continue to see how well he manages late-game and late-half situations. He got the Colts a late touchdown before halftime and engineered a field goal drive late in the fourth quarter. If the Colts had only needed a field goal at the end of the game, he would've gotten them there, too.

Let him go. While the chances of getting a touchdown at the end were slim, you still had a chance. I was astounded that the Colts were actively pursuing Cecil Shorts after it was clear he was bound for the end zone. If they stop him short, the Jags run out the clock and hit an easy field goal. If he scores the TD, there's a (very) slim chance of making a comeback.

He's their best running option. Andrew Luck is the Colts' second leading rusher, averaging 8.0 yards/carry. He also has the team's longest run of the season (19 yards). I'd say the running game needs work.

Off target. Luck didn't seem quite as "locked in" as last week, missing a couple throws that could've been big. Receivers also had some unfortunate drops (I recall Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen specifically).

T.Y. Hilton. I thought the rookie looked good. He's shifty and has good speed. I was particularly impressed by a punt return that covered 32 yards before being called back on a penalty.

And the flag goes to... Vontae Davis, testing the limits of the officials or just feeling particularly handsy, ended up with a couple killer flags. This guy needs to get better.

Injuries. Samson Satele, Vontae Davis, and Austin Collie all left the game with injuries. The Colts had second stringers out on Jacksonville's game-winning touchdown. As I've said before, the Colts stack up okay (just okay) with other teams when it comes to front line players. When you start getting into second and third stringers, there's just not much depth.

Always look on the bright side of life. The Colts are 1-2. The Titans and Jags are 1-2. Hey! They Colts are tied for second place in the AFC South! And...look! The Patriots are 1-2, too!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Colts Observations, Week 2

Already half as good as last year: Wins were at a premium last season after more than a decade of consistent winning. After two games, the Colts already have as many wins as they had in 16 games during the previous year. We may not see a lot of them, so this one was a biggie. Since we're obsessed with comparing Andrew Luck to Peyton Manning, #18 didn't get the first win of his rookie campaign until the fifth game, when the Colts played Ryan Leaf and the San Diego Chargers.

Someone switched off the Turnover Machine. After giving the ball away five times last week, the Colts didn't have a single turnover in this one. Even though they played relatively mistake-free from that standpoint, they barely won the game, reminding us all (again) how thin their margin of error is for each and every game.

The neck beard is the source of his power. Luck's numbers weren't eye-popping--20 of 31 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns--but they were good enough. He seemed much more comfortable at home and showed the decision-making ability that had scouts frothing at the mouth. Last week, he was clean shaven and turned the ball over four times (three interceptions, a fumble), so I guess we'll have to live with the neck beard.

Running. Always running. Luck has the uncanny ability--much like Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees--to sense pressure. The kid moves well in the pocket, sidestepping defenders and turning surefire sacks into throwaways or completions. We also saw his scrambling ability this week, especially early in the game. Luck was the Colts' second leading rusher (that's not saying much) with 4 carries for 21 yards. He'll need to show that elusiveness all year because...

...the line can't hold. It's a good thing Luck has otherworldly elusiveness. Otherwise, he would've been sacked several times. Like last week, pressure came from everywhere--blindside, weakside, strongside, middle--and the line couldn't open up any holes in the defense.

Balancing act. The Colts led early and didn't fall behind this week, which means they had better balance in play selection. Luck threw the ball 31 times; the Colts ran the ball 30 times. That's a much better ratio for a rookie passer.

So conservative that I'm fairly sure Mike Pence was calling the plays. My biggest gripe with the Colts was their second half offensive coma. After a great drive to start the second half (impeded by Indy penalties and helped by Minnesota penalties), the Colts went ultra-conservative. The offensive bonanza included three straight three-and-outs and four punts. I'm not saying Luck should be out there chucking it downfield every play, but it truly felt like the Colts were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. If you're going to build the monster, you have to feed the monster and keep pushing.

Percy Harvin. The Colts had no answer for him--although few teams do. He didn't exactly kill them, but he was several notches above just being "pesky."

Settle for the field goal, eh? Luck has been terrific in the two-minute drill. I liked that he wasn't satisfied merely with getting a late field goal in the first half; when he saw an opening, he took it...and delivered a sweet pass to Reggie Wayne for the touchdown. Huge play.

Special Team Hero #1. Adam Vinatieri rebounded from last week, when he missed a "gimme." He knocked in field goals from 26 and 45 yards before knocking through a 53-yarder with typical Vinatieri clutch-osity.

Special Team Hero #2. Pat McAfee had an excellent game. His booming kick from his own end zone (combined with a penalty of course) got the Colts out of a jam. McAfee averaged more than 53 yards a punt.

Donnie Avery Express. We didn't see much from Donnie Avery in the preseason, and we didn't see much from him last week. Against the Vikings, Avery excelled, catching 9 balls for 111 yards. He even threw in a couple runs. While Luck leaned heavily on Reggie Wayne last week, he looked to Avery against the Vikings.

Big mistake. Luck's reliance on avoiding pressure caught the Colts in a critical moment when he tried to evade a couple Vikings defenders before getting dropped for a huge loss. It was one of those plays that simply can't happen, setting the stage for the Vikings' game-tying score by completely changing field position.

31 seconds to freedom. Two games into his NFL career, Luck already has a signature moment. After the Colts gave up a late score with 31 seconds to go, Luck--armed with two timeouts--got the team in field goal position with back-to-back 20-yard completions to Donnie Avery and the ageless Reggie Wayne. Adam Vinatieri nailed a 53-yard field goal (Cash. Money.) to seal it with a kick.

Canadian Edge. Jerrell Freeman continues to make the most of his playing time. Starting in place of injured Pat Angerer, Freeman finished with 13 tackles (6 solo), a forced fumble, and a sack. Not bad for a guy from the Canadian Football League.

One, two, three, four...Pressure! The Colts defense sacked Christian Ponder four times and flushed him from the pocket on several occasions. This was by no means a flawless game (the Vikings aren't very good, it appears), but I saw some positive things from the defense.

Not all wine and roses. Thanks to offensive ineptitude, the defense clearly lost focus in the second half. The Colts gave up touchdowns on back-to-back drives after limiting Minnesota to two field goals the rest of the way. One TD was a fluke--a deflection on fourth down--but the D looked out of gas on the game-tying drive.

Wrap and tackle, son. Wrap and tackle. Sergio Brown had the Vikings dead-to-rights on a punt return. He tried to blow up the returner and bounced right off him. Wrap and tackle, son.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ten Things I've Learning from Broadcast Writing

For almost a decade (and it pains me to admit that for multiple reasons), I've worked in TV news. I started out as a writer and eventually became a TV news producer. During that time I wrote a lot of scripts.

A lot.

Some of them were good; some of them were not.

I'm currently teaching a semester of Writing News for Broadcast at my alma mater, Franklin College. It's making for a busy semester--I'm working full-time (now in the web department at my TV station), teaching, and also trying to jam in some writing. When I discussed my busy schedule with my publisher (I'm expecting to turn in a Crimsonstreak sequel in mid-October), she said I should do a blog post on what broadcast writing has taught me about writing in general.

Let's go.

Short. Broadcast copy is short. The words are smaller, the sentences are less complex, and a story has to hold the audience's attention for just a few seconds. I end up doing this in a lot of my novels, using short sentences and phrases to get ideas across. This comes in handy during action scenes.

Simple. The story is short--and the concepts have to be simple. This doesn't mean you cover stories that only a three year old can understand; it does mean you have to cover your stories so that they are simple to understand. Overly complex ideas and concepts will go right over the head of your audience.

Conversational. TV writing is designed to be conversational. Sure, it often devolves too much into "news speak," but generally, you should write like you talk. This is actually very helpful when it comes to writing dialogue. You get a sense of how people talk.

Visual. TV is a visual medium. There's an old adage of "see dog, say dog" (or "see monkey, say monkey" depending on your preference)--which means that you need to write with visuals in mind. I visualize my TV news stories by thinking about what video I have...and when I'm writing fiction, I'm thinking about what images I can work with.

Sounds tell the story. A team scores a touchdown but no one cheers. A building implodes without a "kaboom." A band plays to a silent soundtrack. The natural sound in our world (NAT sound in TV terms) is key for making a story come to life. Stories that lack this element feel hollow. In addition, a story is better when people tell it instead of a reporter. TV isn't just a visual medium; it's an auditory one as well. I try to keep this in mind when writing scenes.

Trimming the fat. TV news scripts are lean--or at least they should be. The best ones contain only critical information--you leave out things that just aren't important. I have a tendency to overwrite, jamming too much information into news copy. For the most part I've got it under control, although sometimes I do get sidetracked.

Deadline-driven. If you've ever worked in journalism, you know deadlines are king. In TV news, your day is a never-ending series of micro deadlines. I'm used to writing under pressure, which means revision deadlines are a piece of cake. Trust me, I'll take that over "we have 30 seconds till air, where's the script?" any day.

Information overload. This differs from trimming the fat--I swear. When you write science fiction and fantasy like I do, sometimes the rules of the world change. It's important to avoid "assaulting" your audience with these changes and overwhelming them with this information. Instead, as you would in a news script, you have to deliver this information in baby steps.

Destroy cliches. I'm guilty of using cliches, but I do my best to avoid them. That doesn't mean they never slip into my writing. I'm very attuned to them--and know things like "completely destroyed" and "fled on foot" are bad news. Ugh.

Just say it, baby! The real trick to writing for TV news is to read your scripts aloud. You'll hear how things hit the ear and notice when something doesn't seem right, such as an awkward phrase or alliteration that your anchor will never pull off in a million tries. I do this with my novels as well. I won't say I read the entirety of every book aloud, but I do read a lot of my prose to help smooth it out, especially in problematic sections.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Colts Reflections, Week 1

Good Luck: The kid doesn't get rattled, has great pocket presence, and knows what he's doing out there. Bonus points for the drive before halftime in which he got the team in field goal range.

Bad Luck: The Colts left points out on the field. The end zone interception was a killer. Luck threw two other picks (one on a really, really nice play from Tim Jennings) and also fumbled. Overall, Luck had four turnovers--and with such a slim margin of error, those things can't happen.

Reggie, resurrected: It was a pleasure watching Reggie Wayne dominate out on the field. While many think of him as "the guy after Marvin," Reggie's a tremendous receiver in his own right. The Colts did their rookie QB a big favor by re-signing #87. Let's hope that's one guy who will retire a Colt.

Worse than a work in progress: The offensive line needs a lot of work. One starter was missing and another left the game with a concussion. Luck endured three sacks and took several hits. He's got a quick release and bounces back well, but the Colts can't afford to have him under pressure all season. Sadly, I think he will be.

Road to nowhere: Not much running room for the Colts either. Donald Brown had a few nice runs, but that was about it. It's hard to gauge how effective they'll be given that they fell behind early and had to throw a lot. Let's just say I don't have a rosy outlook on things.

Two-drive special: For two magical drives, the Colts defense and the Bears' offensive ineptitude made Indy look like a force to be reckoned with. It didn't last. The Bears found their groove, Dwight Freeney got hurt, and the Colts couldn't stop Chicago's passing attack.

Keep your eye on the ball: Donald Brown was, in the words of Dan Dierdorf, "a textbook example" of looking downfield before catching the ball. It happened twice--again we defer to Dierdorf, who called both examples "blatant." The first one probably hurt the most, as it looked like Brown had plenty of room to showcase his breakaway speed.

Tim Freaking Jennings: I remember a game--it's a 2008 game against Green Bay--in which Tim Jennings had a handful of penalties (four) and was generally horrible. I carry this memory of Jennings with his very impressive play came as quite a surprise. Tim Freaking Jennings.

So close: I don't think the result would've been different if the Colts had made a few plays, but the score may have been closer. Antoine Bethea had the chance to end a scoring threat, but couldn't hang onto the ball. Colts defensive backs had opportunities to intercept Cutler, but couldn't pull it off. I think we'll see a lot of this during the season.

Almost special: Again, the Colts dominated the first five minutes of the game. This even extended to special teams when Joe Lefeged downed two of Pat McAfee's punts inside the five. So that went well. Of course, LaVon Brazill's fumble wiped out most of the good. Again, the result of the game would've been the same if not for Brazill's fumble, but it only made things worse.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Neil Diamond's "Comin-A-Yeah-Ha" Football Preview

How will this football season shake out?

Only Neil Diamond knows.

I've taken ten of his greatest songs and given them an NFL spin ahead of Sunday's games.

The Player: Kevin Kolb
The Song: Forever in Blue Jeans
The Applicable Lyrics: Money talks/But it don't sing and dance/and it don't walk
The Translation: As an untested backup, Kolb cashed in with a five-year contract worth $65 million. The Cardinals got...maximum suckitude. So maximum, in fact, that John Skelton supplanted Kolb as the starter. It'll be a saga out west with these two, but it sounds like Skelton's the guy. Kolb is just...overpaid...and he'll be standing on the sidelines. Probably not in blue jeans, though.

The Team: Houston Texans
The Song: Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon
The Applicable Lyrics: It's up to you/Girl, you'll be a woman soon
The Translation: It's time for our annual installment of put up or shut up for the Houston Texans. They're loaded with talent, they play in a weak division, and the Mighty Colts are no longer the Mighty Colts. There are no excuses for the Texans. Stop being the whiny little girl who wants to be good and become the woman you're supposed to be. Okay, that was awkward.

The Player: Tim Tebow
The Song: Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show
The Applicable Lyrics: Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies/And everyone goes 'cause everyone knows Brother Love's Show
The Translation: The football may not be much fun to watch at MetLife stadium, but the ongoing saga of Tebow-Mania and how it affects/distracts/destroys Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan should have a little something for everyone.

The Team: New York Giants
The Song: Song Sung Blue
The Applicable Lyrics: Song sung blue/Everybody knows one/Song sung blue/Every garden grows one
The Translation: It's one game. It's okay. So you won't go undefeated. New England went undefeated that one season...and then you stopped that. You played with house money last year. Everyone loses sometime. Chin up, chin up, Defending Super Bowl Champions.

The Player: Robert Griffin III
The Song: He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother
The Applicable Lyrics:And the load/Doesn't weigh me down at all/He ain't heavy, he's my brother
The Translation: RG3 will put the Washington Redskins on his shoulders, bringing a jaw-dropping skill set and incredible athleticism to DC. He'll do it with a smile. He won't let the burden of resurrecting this proud franchise get him down.

The Player: Alex Smith
The Song: Love on the Rocks
The Applicable Lyrics: Love on the rocks, ain't no big surprise/Just pour me a drink and I'll tell you some lies
The Translation: Fans and pundits will continue to haunt Alex Smith, who could throw for 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns and STILL be considered a failure. His team even entered the Manning Sweepstakes before begrudgingly signing Smith to a new deal. He'll be on the rocks all year.

The Team: Green Bay Packers
The Song: Sweet Caroline
The Applicable Lyrics: Good times never seemed so good/I've been inclined/To believe they never would
The Translation: The Packers can score, but can their defense do enough? We know their offense is a finely tuned machine. Basically, they should win the whole thing.

The Player: Tom Brady
The Song: Red, Red Wine
The Applicable Lyrics: Red, red wine/Go to my head/Make me forget that I/
Still need her so
The Translation: Tom Brady would like to forget the Super Bowl when Peyton Manning's little brother kept him from winning yet another Lombardi Trophy (on Peyton's turf, mind you, in the House that Peyton Built). Who am I kidding, though? Tom Terrific won't let that whole Super Bowl letdown thing get to him.

His three Super Bowl rings consoled him.

The Player: Andrew Luck
The Song: I'm a Believer
The Applicable Lyrics: Then I saw him play/Now I'm a believer*
The Translation: Someone had to replace Peyton Manning, and that someone is Andrew Luck. He has the unenviable task of trying to fill the shoes of the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. Skepticism abounded when the Colts went 2-14 and fans learned that Peyton wouldn't be coming back. Now, there's a buzz around the team...and it's because Luck has looked very impressive, turning some of us into believers. We'll just have to see if that will hold for the regular season.

We'll let the guy on the left play ONLY if it's part of an "I'm not shaving till we lose" motivational stunt.

*lyrics altered because "Then I saw her face" would imply that Andrew Luck is a girl and that his neckbeard inspired confidence when it's his play that gives me some hope

The Player: Peyton Manning
The Song: Yesterday's Songs
The Applicable Lyrics: Yesterday's songs/Don't stay around long/Not much anymore
The Translation: We had some good times, Peyton. I'll never forget them. I didn't cry when the Colts let you go. You didn't cry either. Jim Irsay didn't cry. NO ONE CRIED, OKAY? Can we all agree on that? So weird to see you in orange. We hope you do well. We'll still have those good times, right? Like when you beat Brady in the AFC Championship Game or that time no one tackled Marvin and he ran all the way for a touchdown. What about that Sprint commercial with the fake mustache? That time you danced on Saturday Night Live? We'll still have those, right? RIGHT?

"I'd like to point out that you could've gone with You Don't Bring Me Flowers ("So you'd think I could learn how to tell you goodbye") or Holly Holy ("Touch a man who can't walk upright/
And that lame man, he's gonna fly") or Heartlight ("Come back again/I want you to stay next time/Cause sometimes the world ain't kind/When people get lost like you and me") or...hey, look...a Buick! And DirecTV!"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Colts set to kick off season

College football started off with a bang last weekend. Wins by Purdue and Notre Dame were impressive despite lackluster competition. They'll challenge one another on Saturday, sparking a brief but passionate split between my brother-in-law and me.

Oh, IU won, too. It sort of counts.

Now, we're ready for something even more exciting. As the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys kick off the NFL football season, I'm thinking about the Indianapolis Colts.

What a strange off-season.

Peyton Manning gone. Jeff Saturday. Dallas Clark. Joseph Addai. Gary Brackett. Melvin Bullitt.

This all seemed impossible.

I've watched the preseason games. I've seen it with my own eyes--Peyton Manning is gone. He will not line up under center this weekend. I'll watch a rookie quarterback named Andrew Luck try to fill Manning's shoes.

An impossible feat, surely.

What will we see from the Indianapolis Colts this weekend? We've got a coach who values the running game and defense, and although those principles were given their requisite lip service during the Age of Polian, everyone knew Peyton would put up 30 points and throw for 300 yards.

I don't know if the running game will be a factor this year either. The Colts have a talented group of backs, but no one is "the guy." The Colts haven't had a true force at running back since sending Edgerrin James packing.

It took two running backs to replace him.

The running game has been as bad as usual, but it's hard to say if that's because the Colts can't run or because they wanted to see how their new hot rod would handle.

I like what I've seen from Luck...but so has everyone. His preseason debut certainly qualified as "magical" (at least in preseason terms). I loved how he bounced back against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who pretty much punched him in the mouth.

Preseason is usually meaningless, but Colts fans needed to see what they saw from Andrew Luck. This is the kid who's so good, the Colts cut Peyton Manning. If he'd come out throwing passes into the turf and generally looking incompetent, it would've been an embarrassment for the franchise and Jim "the Mad Tweeter" Irsay.

They say Luck's "the guy," but we won't know until real football starts.

We won't know until Luck faces down Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears and absorbs a few hits. We won't know until he walks to the line of scrimmage, makes a few dummy calls, and hits Reggie Wayne on a comeback route.

We won't know.

It should be fun getting to that point where we do know.

I don't expect a great season from the Colts, but I can say that a 2-14 record won't be as bad as last year's 2-14 record.

This time, there's hope. That things can get better. That things will get better.