Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing a Novel: The Duel with Ideas

Inspired by a post Chuck Wendig wrote earlier this week on his approach to writing a novel, I thought a little more about my own method of writing a book. Wendig is prodigious in his output (a 10,000 word day?!) and has become a rising star thanks to his excellent blog and wise use of his Twitter account (as long as you can embrace his "Wendigian language," which I suppose isn't for everyone).

So, how do I go about writing a novel?

It starts with ideas. I have them and I don't know where they come from. I only know that sometimes I'm sitting around and something pops into my head that must absolutely come out. Sometimes I fight with these ideas. These fights include swords or lightsabers and dramatic music.

I never win.

Instead, the music reaches a crescendo. The idea stands over me, taunting me. Telling me this is it, this is the end.

In this moment, I realize I'm not the epic hero I imagined myself to be. I'm an inadequate swordsman.

A coward.

The idea makes ready the killing blow. Before delivering the strike, it offers me a deal: "Write me and live."

Uncomfortable with the alternative, I cave. I make promises I hope I can keep knowing full well that this idea--the one that stands with the self-assured smile of a triumphant opponent--will absolutely own my soul until it burrows its way out of my mind and surges through my very blood. The story pours forth through a series of days. A 500 word day. A 1,000 word day. A 2,000 word day. Occasionally, I reach the heights of 3,000 words or (gasp!) 5,000+ words.

The story owns me.

That's what it feels like. That's why, non-writer friends, we can never answer the question "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer takes us to a dark place where we have met our weak, corrupted, cowardly soul--a place we do not wish to revisit unnecessarily.

Okay, okay. That's a little dramatic. Plus, it leaves out a lot of the other things you need to do in order to fulfill that blood contract with an idea. Trust me, if the act of writing simply boiled down to exorcising mind demons on the page without any additional work, writers would have it easy.

Here are a few more things I do while writing a novel:

Logline/Pitch. I tend to work well with concepts so I like to come up with a logline or pitch. It could be a simple book comparison (it's Watchmen meets The Firm) or something more conceptual (the new girl at a superhero-for-hire business teams up with a masked vigilante to uncover a conspiracy involving ray gun-toting squirrels). This helps me refine the tone of the book.

Outline. I'm not a detailed outline guy. I don't go chapter by chapter outlining key events and every single plot point. Some writers do this--that's fine. Instead, I try to figure out the progression of my story. This helps me find my themes and character beats. If I have an idea for a big "moment," it'll have its roots in the outline.

Choose an ending. I don't start a book without knowing how I'll end it. Is that ending set in stone? Of course it's not. As the book progresses, characters will start to take things over and shape the course of the narrative. The intended ending could get some tweaks or may get thrown out all together. I think of this as a road trip; I know where I'm starting and the ending tells me where I'm going. Anything can happen in between. As in an actual road trip, you have to stop to fuel up. You see a great outlet mall. You decide to stay an extra night in that quaint bed and breakfast. That's all part of the journey.

Daily writing plan. Nothing writes itself. What separates authors from people who like to write is that authors sit down and do what they need to do. Can I write 5,000 words every single day? No...I don't have time for that. Can I get 800? A thousand? As long as I have about 45 minutes or so, the answer to that is yes. Everyone's mileage will vary here, but the key is to sit down and write the darn thing.

Word count projection. I ballpark all my novels in terms of word count, but I'm not beholden to a specific one. If I plan on 80,000 words and the story ends at 79,999, no big deal. If it ends at 83,000 words, no big deal. I like to set a goal because it gives me something to aspire to.

Character sketches and world building. I can't draw worth a lick, so when I "sketch" a character out, I mean I do it in words. I often write bios of key characters and map out important events. In the case of the Crimsonstreak series, these have become part of the book in the form of appendices. These things are extras, but they help everything feel more tangible to me.

First draft, then drawer. Once the first draft is complete, I pop open a bottle of bubbly because I'm finished and never have to worry about writing more. Oh's the exact opposite. When the story reaches its conclusion, the first draft concludes. I take that draft and put it away for a week or two and try not to think about it. I don't literally throw it in a drawer (I write on a PC!), of course.

Make it suck less. First drafts stink. They're terrible. The problem is that most writers don't think that's the case. It's our "baby," right? After keeping the draft in a figurative drawer, I go back and read the whole thing. I use a Kindle keyboard for this, making notes I sometimes don't understand because the Kindle keyboard is terrible. Still, I go through and look for inconsistencies, weak characterization, and poor plot points. I may do this two or three times before I feel like I've wrangled the book.

Let others make it suck less. After I go through the book, I send it to some readers who make notes and tell me why I'm a terrible person. They ferret out inconsistencies that I didn't catch, identify points where the writing is unclear or weak, and analyze the plot structure. With their notes, I go through another draft.

Last pass. This is a bit of a misnomer because I will definitely have to do more revisions. However, I'll go through the book "one last time" (again while making clumsy notes on the Kindle keyboard) and try to strike out any typographical errors or other mistakes.

Submission. After a few drafts, I'm ready to submit. More revisions will likely be ahead from an agent or editor. I don't have an agent, so I can't really comment on what goes into that...I can only say that I imagine the agent will request some revisions before sending it to an editor. The editor will also likely request additional revisions. The hope is that the novel won't need significant changes, but I'm sure it varies by case.

So there you individual take on tackling a book from start to finish.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Colts Observations, Week 12

It ain't pretty...but it counts. The Colts pushed their record to 7-4 by beating the Bills. The team went into a complete second half coma on offense and defense, but had just enough to win it. The Bills had more to gain than the Colts had to lose in this game...but Indy came out on top.

Just call him "T.D." Hilton. I thought T.Y. Hilton would take a punt back one of these days. He finally did it...and added a receiving touchdown that sealed the game.

The agony and the ecstasy. Good: Tom Zbikowski getting an interception! Bad: Tom Zbikowski fighting for extra yards and fumbling during the return, said fumble recovered by Buffalo.

Stick with the run, darn it. The Colts weren't super-successful with the running game, but they gave up on it way too early against a Buffalo defense known for struggling against the run. I'd like to see Indy stay more committed especially when it appears Luck is a little "off" for the afternoon.

Insert weekly Reggie Wayne comment. That is all.

Good to see you, coach. In a nice moment at Lucas Oil Stadium, Chuck Pagano and Jim Irsay came out to wave to the crowd. The coach is set for another round of chemotherapy, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. A really, really cool moment.

Bald is beautiful. Two Colts cheerleaders shaved their heads after fans donated more than $22,000 to leukemia research. Not only were they good sports about it, they looked great.

Target acquired. This isn't about Andrew Luck's passing...this is about Luck himself. The Bills beat and battered Luck again and again. He kept getting back up, but it seemed like the protection wasn't as solid as in weeks past. The Bills had four sacks.

Pass rush returns. The Colts showed some signs of a pass rush on the defensive side of the ball. They were disruptive and hit Ryan Fitzpatrick multiple times. The Bills had a few receivers open, but pressure forced early, off-target throws.

In the buttocks, sir. The funniest moment of the game came after one of the scariest. T.Y. Hilton got clobbered during a punt return and coughed up the ball (he had to be helped off the field). On replay, it looked like he was down before the ball came out. Referee Ed "Hercules" Hochuli reviewed the play, telling the crowd, "After review, the runner's buttocks touched the ground before he lost control of the ball." Hochuli + buttocks = comedy gold.

Lucas Oil nap time. I don't know what it was, but the crowd didn't seem that enthusiastic about the game. Aside from a few cheers during the punt return and some sacks, the stadium never felt overwhelmingly loud. I couldn't tell if that's because Big Oil swallows the sound or because the crowd was suffering from post-holiday letdown.

Fleener, Davis out. Again, no Coby Fleener and no Vontae Davis. You hate to knock guys for being hurt, but Fleener was a high draft pick and Davis was a high-profile trade to fill a "need" area for the team. It's no fun when guys you expect to contribute can't help out.

C.J. Spiller. I don't want to tell Chan Gailey how to coach, but he should consider giving the ball to Spiller more steadily. The guy can ball.

Oh, and more for Chan. Again, I don't want to tell Chan Gailey how to coach, but forgoing that 51-yard field goal late in the game was stupid given the time situation. Trying to force the ball downfield before halftime was also not very basically gifted some points to the Colts.

Just a second, please. I'm not sure if Luck spiked the ball before time ran out in the first half, but I don't care. See above.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Colts Observations, Week 11

Trial by Foxborough. It's tough to win in New England unless you play for the Patriots. The Colts had to play a nearly flawless game just to stay competitive. They did not.

The turnover bug. Four turnovers led to 21 points for the Patriots, including two "pick six" returns. Another turnover--a fumble in Colts territory--resulted in an easy, one-play drive for the score.

That's quite a turnaround. It's 14-7, the Pats just missed a field goal. The Colts do nothing with the ball and punt. The gunner gets whistled for a false start. Julian Edelman returns a punt 68 yards for a score on the next punt. After the kickoff, Andrew Luck throws an interception to Aqib Talib, who returns it for another score. In the span of a minute, the score goes from a 14-7 Colts lead to a 21-14 deficit. BOOM. That just happened.

Gronked. No answers for the Rob Gronkowski, although apparently late-game extra point blocking is Kryptonite for his forearm.

We're in no rush. The Colts were supposed to unveil the Jerry Hughes-Dwight Freeney-Robert Mathis pass rushing package this week. It didn't matter.

Just Brady bein' Brady. It was one of those games where it was a victory when the Colts didn't give up a touchdown after Brady let loose a pass. Third and long was no challenge.

"I coulda been a contenda." The Colts came out firing on all cylinders to start the game. After the missed field goal, I thought maybe the Patriots would have to sweat a little before winning this one. That's not exactly how it played out. Still, the Colts control their own destiny with some winnable games ahead.

Reggie Wayne. He's over the 1,000-yard mark. That is all.

T.Y. Hilton. The explosive wide receiver had a big catch...and also nearly Triple Lindied his way into fumbling a punt return. Secure and advance, kid. Secure and advance.

Staying grounded. When the Colts could afford to run the ball, they ran it effectively. Unfortunately, they got down real quick-like and had to throw it almost every play.

An exercise in head scratching. Not sure about the Colts' time management at the end of the first half; seemed like a wasted opportunity to score some points. Also, with the game out of hand and the Colts unable to stop New England, the Colts punted on a fourth and four. I was shocked they didn't go for it.

Still some positives. It was miserable to watch--particularly in the second half--but the Colts showed a few things. They finally got off to a good start on the road, something they've failed to do. The offensive line opened up holes in the running game and protected Luck early. The offense also had several big-play opportunities.

Thanksgiving week ahoy!

Turkey, stuffing, family time, LESS WRITING!

Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us, and that means ultimate distractions of epic proportions (and portions).

I've picked up steam on III Crimsonstreak, writing 6,600 words this weekend. I even wrote 800 words on a Colts Sunday, which hardly ever, ever happens. The draft has now surpassed 30,000 words. Currently, Crimsonstreak is stuck in the year 1970 and hitting the superhero club scene with the second Crusading Comet. Yeah, there's a superhero club scene in the 70s. Who knew?

The second Crusading Comet is someone we don't know much about. While we never met the original Comet in the first book, we knew about him because of the appendices. The second Comet is barely mentioned...we know only that he existed because Warren III had to have a father. This storyline gives us a chance to get more insight into that fabled Kensington mindset.

Remember, they're all named Warren Kensington.

This book also includes some fun with our hero in the Old West, but the 1970 stuff is so much fun, I sense some rearranging in the future. Right now, though, it's time to power through the first draft...meaning that I'll continue to write based on my outline and not really think too much about making everything fit perfectly together while writing the story. So yeah, it's pretty much "clean up on aisle six NOW" right after completing the first draft.

I mean, III Crimsonstreak is getting even more ridiculous than either of the previous books. I have a walking castle filled with Nazi zombies and Teutonic Knights, an Old West plot involving an old mine and a cannon full of dynamite, and a fantastic reference to the Hamburglar.

In non-writing news, my wife and I watched Lincoln this weekend. This was a tremendous movie if you're into history/debate/political drama. Daniel Day-Lewis was phenomenal. You won't find big explosions or pulse-pounding, save-the-world action, but you will find a few light moments and moments of surprising intensity. Highly recommended.

Oh, and the Colts played the Patriots. It didn't end well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Random musings

I'm currently reading Atlas Shrugged because I apparently hate myself. I mean that more in terms of length than content because the book actually reads fairly well. It's just that...there's a lot of it there. Atlas Shrugged goes in the same killer paperback/doorstop category as one of George R.R. Martin's books...if I were in danger and had to choose a paperback to whack someone with, I'd pick something from A Song of Ice and Fire or the Ayn Rand book.

My wife and I have been watching the History Channel series "The Men Who Built America." Very interesting stuff; I've always found the era of the great captains of industry/robber barons fascinating. Perhaps I'm reading Atlas Shrugged because many of its themes fit with the TV series in terms of labor vs. industry and whether people who have made ungodly amounts of money should be allowed to do so.

Certainly something to think about.

On TV last night: Kingdom of Heaven. This is a terrific movie (I speak of the director's cut) with a rich, complex sense of history and characters. I missed my favorite line, which comes from Jeremy Irons as Tiberias: "That I would rather live with men than kill them is certainly why you are alive."

I did catch one of my favorite exchanges from the movie:
Balian: What is Jerusalem worth?

Saladin: Nothing. [walks away, pauses] Everything!
Hoping to catch Lincoln this weekend. My wife is certainly excited about the movie. We'll have to fight off the Twi-hards, but it'll be worth it. Thanks to the fact that my wife works Saturday and Sunday AND the Colts have a late kickoff against the Patriots, we're opting for a Sunday night showing.

My college course about writing news for broadcast is winding down. I've had a great class and have really enjoyed the experience. It's been difficult to fit everything in this semester--I work full time, write part time, and teach part time. The writing has suffered a little bit because Tuesday and Thursday nights are booked up with the class. I spend most of my weekend preparing lectures and reviewing material. Plus, there must be football.

Despite that, I'm still chipping away at III Crimsonstreak. Now at 22,000 words for the first draft, I'm hoping to get past the halfway point before revisions come back for its predecessor. Maybe I'll get there and maybe I won't.

Monday, November 12, 2012

III Crimsonstreak latest

I've been able to write about 22,000 words on III Crimsonstreak. Not bad for a couple weeks of work. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, but I kind of am; I began the first draft just a few days before the official start of NaNoWriMo. So while I'm not really participating in National Novel Writing Month, I am keeping tabs on some friends who are doing it.

III Crimsonstreak picks up where II Crimsonstreak ends. Our hero (MINOR SPOILER) gets stuck in a kind of purgatory. In III Crimsonstreak, we get him out. For reasons related to spoilery-ness in the sequel, time and space have become fractured, which gives me the opportunity to move Crimsonstreak around in different time periods. Expect some nonsensical time travel/time loop stuff.

Currently, Crimsonstreak is stuck in the Old West with some other characters who have also been displaced.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Colts Observations, Week 10

Them's the breaks, sweetheart. A fortuitous pass interference penalty. A fortuitous roughing the passer penalty. A fortuitous fumble challenge. A fortuitous upheld touchdown. A fortuitous overturned catch. The Colts certainly got some breaks this week--proving that sometimes you need some luck even when you already have Luck.

Hit 'em hard, hit 'em early. The Colts jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half. Jacksonville's drives sputtered--and they missed a field goal. This one was over early.

Tough Luck. Oh, will the Luck-related puns ever end? No. You know why? Because they're easy. Anyway, Luck showed his toughness on multiple occasions, hitting Jacksonville defensive back Dawan Landry after throwing an interception. Later, Luck got blasted while sliding. He hopped right back up, calmed down his teammates, and then shook hands with the defender in gentlemanly fashion.

Effective use of the challenge. For the first time in what seems like forever, the challenge curse of Dungy, Caldwell, and Arians seemed to go away. We shall always remember the glorious Thursday evening when the team's challenges made sense...and actually worked.

Rush, rush. Luck had two rushing touchdowns (although let's face it--the "QB sneak" was a fortuitous call). On the season, he has five rushing touchdowns. Apparently, that's a Colts QB record and puts "AL1" only one rushing touchdown behind RG3. As a team, the Colts had 138 yards. It was, again, just enough to keep the defense honest.

Reggie. That is all.

The Butler did it. Solid analysis always includes bad, predictable puns. Darius Butler had two interceptions and a recovered fumble. After a highly publicized turnover drought, Butler had three--accounting for half of the Colts' forced turnovers this season. Not bad for this week's Random Colts Player of the Game.

Like clubbing a baby sea lion. The Jaguars are bad. So, so, so bad. The score was 27-10, but it may as have been 45-10. Once Darius Butler took the interception back for a touchdown, the game was effectively over. You could even make the argument that the second Colts TD--the QB sneak--sealed the deal.

Get that man the ball. T.Y. Hilton is a dangerous, dangerous man in the open field. One of these days, he'll break off a big punt return. I liked how the Colts used him a couple times to run the ball.

Vinny on target. Each time Adam Vinatieri lined up to kick, I held my breath. Thankfully, he was on target this week.

Hey, we got it. Luck's good. I realize Thursday's game was the first time a national audience got to see Luck in action. Still, praise for the young quarterback bordered on "hero worship," with Mike Mayock admitting on multiple occasions that he "didn't want to talk too much" about Luck only to continue to talk about him. The poor kid's going to get the Manning Effect--we'll love him, everyone else will hate him--because the national media won't stop talking about him.

No MJD, thank you very much. The Jags' only true star, Maurice Jones-Drew, is injured. Considering he turns Colts defenders into puppies who can't tackle, I can't say I missed him very much. Jacksonville did, however. They had no running game to speak of.

Under pressure. Indy notched four sacks and could've had more. They were in Blaine Gabbert's face all game. Even though he's not 100%, Dwight Freeney seemed to regain some of his burst despite the short week. Nice cameos in the backfield by Tom Zbikowski and Antonie Bethea, too. I thought the defense played very aggressively.

Showing some mettle. Listen, I know Jacksonville is having a bad season. Still, they beat the Colts at home earlier this year. Winning on the road on a short week isn't easy...and for a young team like the Colts, it would've been very easy to lose focus. This team simply didn't let that happen against their AFC South rival.

Secondary concerns. The ballyhooed trade for Vontae Davis has been a bust because the kid can't stay healthy. Jerraud Powers is out with a foot injury. That all became a truly secondary concern when Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler had solid nights at corner.

Shorts circuit. If I were a Jags fan, about the only positive thing I could point to would be the play of Cecil Shorts III. That guy is explosive. He broke a couple of huge plays and had the Jags' only touchdown.

A little shorthanded. The Colts played this one without Samson Satele, Robert Mathis, Winston Justice, Coby Fleener, Jerraud Powers, and Vontae Davis.

At times, they seemed to lack cohesion. The offensive line play wasn't horrible for the Colts, but they had a few breakdowns and Luck paid for them. I know you're going to get beat every once in a while, but the line play didn't seem quite as sharp as in past weeks. I think that's because of some injuries along the ever-shuffling line.

Missing "the feel." Primetime NFL games usually have a feel--a sense of electricity in the air among fans and players. Perhaps it was the inevitability of the outcome or the Jacksonville fans who seemed more interested in Roger Goodell than their team, but this one seemed "flat" all the way around.

In the hunt...and it's for real. The Colts are 6-3. If they continue to play well, there is a chance that they'll finish with a record above .500 and grab a Wild Card spot. It'll be interesting to see how big those games against Houston--the teams play twice in three weeks--end up being.

Gotta clean it up. Were the Colts playing an actual NFL team instead of the cursed Jaguars, this would've been a nail-biter. The Colts gave the ball away a couple times in scoring position and were fortunate to get a couple breaks. With Foxborough looming, they have to play a cleaner game.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Colts Observations, Week 9

Two games over .500. I originally thought the Colts would be lucky to win three games this season. After seeing Luck play in the preseason, I upgraded that to five or six wins. Now they're 5-3 and knocking on the playoff door in a weak AFC. I'm impressed with how hard the team is playing...and it goes to show that having something to play for means everything.

Rookie passing record. Luck threw for 433 yards Sunday, eclipsing the single-game rookie record held by Cam Newton. Luck may have beaten that record by only a yard, but he wins the maturity game by about eight million points.

Dwayne Allen is a bad, bad man. The Colts' decision to grab a second tight end in the draft left me (and many other people) baffled. I can see why they grabbed Allen when he was available. He's fast and powerful...a great target for Luck to have.

Reggie bein' Reggie. Seven more catches for 78 more yards and a great touchdown grab for the resurgent Reggie Wayne. Most impressive? He did it this week without his magic orange gloves.

Effective ground game. Note that effective doesn't mean "great" or "dominant." The Colts ran the ball against the Dolphins in a few key situations. Delone Carter seemed particularly effective on some runs up the middle. They didn't crack 100 yards (as a team, the Colts rushed for 97 yards), but the Horseshoes ran just enough to keep the defense honest.

Two 100-yard days. Both Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton finished with more than 100 yards receiving. Hilton's day included a spectacular "go up and get it" touchdown grab (along with a dropped "gimme" touchdown); Avery's day included a terrific diving catch (along with a not-so-terrific attempt at a sideline grab in which the defense knocked the stuffing out of him).

"The most accurate kicker in the NFL..." Listen, Adam Vinatieri is good. You can't deny that. He's not having a good season, however. He missed two more field goals against the Dolphins...and has now missed six field goals on the year. He hasn't reached Kyle Brindza (sorry, Notre Dame fans) levels of concern, but the Colts need points whenever they can get 'em.

Second-half defense? The Colts allowed only three points in the second half after surrendering 17 at halftime. At one point, I commented that it looked like they'd have to score 30 points to beat the Dolphins. In the third and fourth quarters, the Colts clamped down defensively, coming up with enough stops to keep the game from getting out of control.

Say, could we get a turnover? While the defense didn't let the Dolphins put up a bunch of yardage in the second half, they also failed to create a turnover. Given that the new scheme is supposed to feast on confusing quarterbacks and generating turnovers with aggressive play, I'm a little concerned by this.

Third down efficiency. The Colts converted on 13 of 19 third down opportunities--many of them were third-and-long situations. On repeated occasions, Luck coolly delivered first-down pass to an open receiver. The kid was absolutely on fire.

Finally hitting them deep. If there was one part of Luck's game that wasn't coming together consistently, it was the deep ball. It wasn't that he didn't have the arm to get it there, but he seemed off target. He hit Avery and Hilton on long plays...and darn near hit Hilton for another big pass. If he gets the long throws down consistently, watch out.

Freeman tackling machine deactivated. Jerrell Freeman had a quiet day (for him), credited with only two tackles. It's only noticeable because the guy averages just under a billion tackles a game.

Zero turnovers. When you talk about the offensive side of the game, this is a good thing. The Colts didn't fumble the ball or throw an interception. That helped offset a bad day from a penalty perspective (11 penalties for 91 yards). I should probably mention that there were a couple close calls from an interception standpoint.

Keep 'em busy. The Colts ran 75 plays to Miami's 58 plays. Much was made of the Dolphins go-go-go-go offensive tempo, but the Colts more than matched it.

"D" in Dolphins? Of what I'd heard about the Miami Dolphins this week, it was that they had one of the most underrated and talented defenses in the league. By the third quarter, they were gassed and running on fumes. I will say the Colts would've put up 35 points against a lesser defense. Yet, Luck still threw for 433 yards.

Vick Ballard, closer. Last week, the Ballard-Copter had liftoff, lifting the Colts to an overtime win on the road. This week, the rookie running back was more reserved (60 yards on 16 carries), but he saved his best for last: a powerful, third-down run that made sure Miami wouldn't get the ball back. When it was all said and done, Ballard--with defenders draped all over him and teammates pushing the pile as he backed himself upfield for more yards--covered 19 yards and broke Miami's back.

Inspiring words. The Colts didn't live their circumstances; they lived their vision. I don't need to write another word about that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

III Crimsonstreak Progress

After about a week of writing, I've cracked the 13,000-word mark on the third Crimsonstreak book. You see, II Crimsonstreak ends with a cliffhanger, thus necessitating the need to resolve said cliffhanger. As I prepared that book for submission, all the characters--Crimsonstreak, Jaci, Falcon Gray, etc.--got into my head.

I decided it was time to draft my next book. I started to write III Crimsonstreak: Speed Kills (the subtitle will change--sorry, John Madden fans). While it's been hard to find writing time (I work full time and teach a college class as well), I've been able to pound out 2,000 words here and 1,200 words there. I hope that being to write in these steady, little chunks will help me reach my target of 85,000 words. Like the other two books, III Crimsonstreak will feature appendices...although I don't know what kind of "extra" content I'll add.

I anticipate this will be the final adventure featuring Crimsonstreak. That can always change (we're going to see new Star Wars movies after all). The last "planned" Crimsonstreak book is actually a spinoff, Mortimer: International Man of Taste and Intrigue. That's right...everyone's favorite butler will get his own book chronicling his career with the Crusading Comet.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

30 for 30: Rocket

"What if I told you...the legend before the legend?"

I love ESPN's 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries. Even when I'm not familiar with the subject matter (or interested in it), these films find ways to be compelling and connect on a level that goes beyond sports.

If I had the power to create my own 30 for 30, I'd focus on the Indianapolis Colts. Some people would probably think I'd go for the Manning Era--and there are certainly many compelling stories to tell from that amazing run. In fact, I expect we'll see a documentary in 15 or 20 years called The Breakup or The Divorce chronicling the rise and fall of Peyton Manning's career with the Colts.

Let someone else tell that story.

If given the chance to write or direct my own 30 for 30, I'd go back to a time before Manning, an unforgettable run by a scrappy team that refused to die. A team that came within one pass of making one of the most unlikely Super Bowl appearances in the history of the NFL.

I would tell the story of the 1995-1996 Indianapolis Colts.

This was the team that inspired my never-ending love for the Colts. For much of my life before that year, I wasn't all that interested in football. When I did root for an NFL team, I pulled for Boomer Esiason and the Cincinnati Bengals. As the years passed, the Bengals became less and less relevant.

Then the Colts got Jim Harbaugh. I loved Harbaugh. I don't know why I loved Harbaugh, but I did. I don't have to explain why and couldn't if I tried. Harbaugh was my guy. Thing is, Jimmy started out as the backup QB. The Colts acquired Craig Erickson, a move that was supposed to be a big-time one for the club. Erickson struggled. Harbaugh came off the bench to rally the team on multiple occasions.

"Captain Comeback" was born. Badgered and chased out of Chicago after a disappointing career (and a memorable tiff with coach Mike Ditka), Harbaugh seemed ready to accept life as a backup after the Erickson deal. When Erickson struggled, Harbaugh rallied the team in memorable fashion, leading the Colts to four comeback wins (at the New York Jets, at the Miami Dolphins and at home against the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots).

His comeback wasn't just in individual games--Harbaugh resuscitated his career by playing loose and living Ted Marchibroda's credo to "let 'er rip." The Colts finished the season 9-7, shocking the NFL by making the playoffs and defeating heavily-favored San Diego and Kansas City on the road.

It set the stage for an AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers--a game packed with dramatic moments made for a 30 for 30 documentary.

There was Quentin Coryatt's interception that could've ended the game. A run by Lamont Warren (backing up injured Marshall Faulk) that could've picked up a key first down to drain time off the clock. Instead, a blitzing Pittsburgh cornerback who wasn't even supposed to blitz managed to trip up Warren, forcing the Colts to punt. A blown call resulted a Pittsburgh touchdown when Kordell Stewart stepped out of bounds right in front of an official but no one saw it (except for everyone in the stands and cameras from every conceivable angle).

The Steelers scored with about a minute and a half left to take a 20-16 lead. Harbaugh and the Colts had the ball at their own 15 yard line. After picking up first downs with a few completions and a scramble, Harbaugh clocked the ball at the Pittsburgh 29 yard line with five seconds left.

One last shot at glory.

When the play came in, Harbaugh gave it to the rest of the team. "Rocket" was the call. For the football layman, it's the desperation heave. The last-gasp play. The Hail Mary. I can still see Harbaugh in my mind's eye, his hand bleeding from an injury, a prizefighter who'd gone too many rounds. He'd taken body blows, staggered back, almost been put to the mat.

He got up like he always had.

I believed. A run like this simply couldn't end. Harbaugh would rally. We called him Captain Comeback for a reason.

He took the snap and scrambled like he always did, rolling out to avoid the rush, teasing the defense with the possibility of making a play with his feet.

There would be no scramble.

Not this time; time wasn't on his side.

Harbaugh launched it toward the end zone. I watched. I waited. I hoped.

That ball hung up forever--part of me still sees it in the sky above Three Rivers, promise suspended in infinity. But what goes up must come down.

Right on Aaron Bailey's chest. He had it--and then he didn't. The ball fell to the ground, its silence deafening.

A Hail Mary, a prayer falling on deaf ears. Rocky losing to Creed by decision.

One last shot.

Harbaugh would lead the Colts to the playoffs the next year before suffering through an injury-plagued season in 1997-1998, when the Colts finished 3-13. His final comeback attempt--a game against the Minnesota Vikings--would also fall short, assuring the Colts of the first pick in the NFL Draft.

For those three seasons, Jim Harbaugh was my legend. I've never forgotten him, even though another legend rose to replace him.

They often say there was no football in Indianapolis before a young Volunteer arrived. And while he broke records and erected a football cathedral in Indianapolis, my legend came first.

"What if I told you...the legend before the legend?"