Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Studicus Selects 2014

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2014 picks):

Studicus Selects 2013
Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005

The year Indiana Out-Hothed Hoth. We've had cold winters in Indiana. We've had snowy winters in Indiana. We've had mild winters in Indiana. We rarely, however, have winters in which you can't tell your home from Echo Base on Hoth. It was pure misery in 2014, with county travel restrictions all across the state and all the snow and ice you'd ever want to see in your life. I spent three days away from home in a hotel room close to work because of the weather.

I could've used a tauntaun (although it would've died because of the extreme cold) or a snowspeeder (although we were have trouble adapting them to the cold). I think I speak for everyone when I say it's something we don't want to see ever again. On the plus side, it spawned fun Facebook updates like this:

"Good to be home for the first time since early Sunday morning. Passed three tauntauns and four AT-AT walkers on the way back. Let me tell you, the turn lane to Echo Base was a MESS. Nearly rammed an Imperial probe droid."

Least effective good luck charm, NFL Playoffs category. I thought the horsehead hat would help the Indianapolis Colts against the New England Patriots. It didn't. I thought dusting off my old Colts Peyton Manning jersey would help the Denver Broncos beat the Seattle Seahawks. It didn't.

So this category is actually a push. They both stunk.

Least comfortable head decoration, Authors Fair category. I donned a Viking helmet for a few minutes at the Madison Authors Fair. It belonged to a cool author named Stu Thaman.

Best meeting with local chieftains, Iowa category. I made my first-ever trip to Iowa this year. It's the birthplace of my father-in-law and Anne was also born there. I got to see her grandparents and extended family. Iowa reminded me a lot of my hometown in Williamsburg, Ind. We saw a lot of gravel roads, farmland, small businesses, and small towns. Cell phone reception was predictably horrible.

Still, I had a great time seeing where my father-in-law came from. He needed back surgery this year, and this was the last big trip he was able to make before the surgery. I split driving duties with my brother-in-law, Tom.

Favorite international curling squad, Olympics category. The Olympics were back this year! I'm a sucker for the Winter Games. Curling remains my favorite sport to watch, although I'll sit through just about anything. My wife LOVED the skip of Norway's curling team. I thought he looked like a villain from an 80s action movie:
Biggest laugh, "intimidating Uncle Matt" category. My nephew Luke (and niece Elise) love playing "Monkey in the Middle" (when I was a kid, it was called keep-away, but whatever) when I visit. I laugh every time I think about a memorable encounter Luke and I had during a game over the summer. Here's a Facebook entry from June 7, 2014:
"Best part of the day: playing keep keep-away with my niece Elise and nephew Luke. While I was in the middle, I played some 'pressure D' on Luke and got right in his face. He couldn't throw around or over after a few seconds, he ran into the garage and closed the door. Smart kid."

Saddest passage, aquatic frog category. Sadly, our little frog died over the summer. Prince was part of our household for five years. He was a little aquatic frog. You wouldn't think a little pet like that would have much personality, but Prince had a ton of it. He swam to the edge of his tank and watched Colts football games with me (and sometimes movies). I think he was attracted to the flashing lights on the TV.

Anne took very good care of the little guy, but he was sick at the end and eventually passed away. He gave us a lot of good stories to tell, and I'll never forget him. Emptying out his tank and putting it away was one of the worst moments of the year, and our home feels like it's missing something without him.

Writing year in review. 2014 ended up being a very productive writing year. From an events standpoint, I went to my old elementary school to talk to a gifted and talented class about writing. The kids were very gracious. I also attended the Authors Fair in Madison and the Geek-A-Thon event at Hanover College. I probably need to do some more book signings!

From a writing perspective, I finished and submitted III Crimsonstreak, the third and final book in the Crimsonstreak series. I finished a book called That's No Moon, which is equal parts Galaxy Quest, Jurassic Park, and National Lampoon's Vacation with a big portion of Star Wars pop culture goodness thrown in. I finished the first draft of a book called The Exclusive, a paranormal suspense novel involving a hard-driving TV news reporter who accidentally unleashes the apocalypse. Over the summer, I wrote a middle grade science fiction book adapting a story I wrote in sixth grade called The Adventures of the Taxis. In the fall, I wrote a first draft of Timey Dancer, an idea I kicked around for a few years before writing (more on that below). In December, I began work on a sequel to an unpublished superhero book called The Franchise. The sequel's working title is The Franchise: Awakening.

Needless to say, it's been a busy, busy writing year. I need to submit more work, however. Query letters and rejections are the worst, but they're part of the deal.

Most ridiculous book idea, "It Came from Facebook" category. Timey Dancer is a book about a male exotic dancer named Russ "Studicus" Chambers who gets transported to Ancient Rome. He ends up having to perform for Julius Caesar and introduces pole dancing. It's a ridiculous idea that sprang from a Facebook exchange involving my brother, a friend, and me. The other inspiration was the great "Saturday Night Live" sketch featuring Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley.

Favorite movie, Marvel Cinematic Universe category. I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's my favorite movie of the year--and it may be my favorite Marvel movie. You've got great characters, fantastic action sequences, thrilling spycraft, jarring conspiracies, and humor. The movie sent a ripple throughout the whole MCU, and helped make "Agents of SHIELD" must-watch TV. Captain America has always been among my favorite superheroes, and the movie did a phenomenal job of retaining his all-American image while he comes to grips with an ever-changing world.

Best purchase, so long cable category. We dumped AT&T Uverse service because we were sick of paying for TV. We bought a Mohu Leaf and a Roku Streaming Stick, and haven't looked back. The Leaf gives me all the Indianapolis channels while the Roku gives me access to Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services like VUDU and Target Ticket. By my calculations, we've saved $1,200 since April.

Best Christmas gift given, gray market movie category. My brothers-in-law Tom and Matt wanted the Star Wars movies without any digital enhancements or changes. I couldn't do it myself, but I found someone who'd already "despecialized" the movies. Going through some questionable gray markets, I found the movies and packaged them as the "Nothing Special Editions." I even presented them with a letter "from" George Lucas apologizing for changing Star Wars.

"You've won Christmas," Tom said after getting the gift.

I also threw in a copy for my brother.

Best Christmas gift received, childhood nostalgia category. My brother and his family bought me the Intellivision Flashback. It's a miniature "plug and play" Intellivision gaming console and it's fantastic.

The box boasts that it contains 61 games, and it certainly does. I played World Championship Baseball the other night, and it's pretty much spot-on. The console even comes with overlays for the controllers! I was so pumped about it.

Longest wait from shortest trailer, movie category. I was partially let down and partially elated when the teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The elation eventually won out over the disappointment, though it would've been great to see Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewie in there.

A tribute to Grandma Adams. We said goodbye to Grandma Adams this year. She was 89 years old, and there will never be another like her.

Grandma was never shy about giving her opinion on something. She had, as my mom liked to say, "no filter." She attended countless baseball and basketball games where she always calmly gave her opinions to the umpires and referees. One of my fondest memories is when she took my brother and I to see Transformers: The Movie and had no idea what to do with us when we started bawling over the death of Optimus Prime. I don't think she ever took us to another movie.

Grandma made the best fried potatoes and hamburgers I'll ever eat. When you went to visit her, food was mandatory. It didn't matter if you'd just eaten or were on a diet, Grandma would whip up a hamburger and fried potatoes and insist you have a Coke with it. She loved cowboy movies, old mystery shows, and Bill O'Reilly. When it came to sports, she seldom missed an Indiana Hoosiers game and kept an eye on the Cincinnati Reds. It there was a ballgame on TV, she was probably watching it.

I fondly remember Christmas Eve at Grandma's house on the old farm. I am, in fact, wearing a fleece jacket she bought me for Christmas years ago as I write this. Even though she was on a fixed income for years, she made sure everyone had some presents under the tree. I missed the McDonald's gift certificates she bought almost every year. You don't realize how grateful you are for those things until they're gone.