As much as the Justin Blackmon deal energized the city of Jacksonville, the selection of an uncuttable specialist in the form of punter Brian Anger deflated the city. Sheesh, Gene! The third round! You took a punter in the third round! How about another big nasty for the offensive line? How about another corner?

A punter?

It mystifies...


In Blaine Gabbert We Trust

I'm damned tired of all the criticism being thrown at Blaine Gabbert. It seems pretty fashionable for people in the national media to pile on the Jacksonville Jaguars these days. This poor idiot (Jerry Lai) couldn't even write about Jacksonville's shrewd maneuver to select Justin Blackmon without spouting the usual tired rhetoric about our attendance at the stadium (never mind that, even with the tarps on the seats, our stadium is among the largest in the league while our population ranks thirty-first among thirty-two markets).

Hey, Jerry Lai! Have you ever set foot inside Everbank? Have you ever even been to Jacksonville? We haven't had a television blackout in over two years. The Dolphins, Bengals, Chargers, Raiders and Bucs sure can't say that.

And then you have Mike Lombardi, a failed former personnel guy trading on the capital of a famous last name, who blasted Blaine Gabbert and then penned an open letter to him outlining a basis for his comments.

Here's a little context on Blaine Gabbert, and why I believe he's the player that will lead the Jaguars to the promised land in the next few years. 

Blaine was the youngest quarterback in the league. He was tossed into the fire after a truncated training camp. Jack Del Rio had no clue what he was doing at the end of his tenure here. He released David Garrard (you can't tell me that wasn't a financial decision and not a football one) and then went to Luke McCown. Then, he panicked when Luke laid that egg against the Jets. Enter the savior, who came into the situation with a shaky offensive line and a suspect receiving corps. Look, Blaine shouldn't have even been playing last year. 


David should have started the season (and I believe he would have, too, balky lower back and all) and Blaine should have been watching and learning. This should have been Blaine's first full camp. I'm not making excuses for him, but that's how I feel. He wasn't drafted to play fourteen games in his rookie season. This leads me to my next source of frustration, which is his play on the field.

Blaine has been called soft. He's been called skittish. Folks have said he flinches.

Um, it's the National Football League.

Tom Brady flinches. Brett Favre flinches. Mark Sanchez flinches.

Blaine struggled in the Cleveland game. That was the one game where I can say it looked like he was feeling phantom pressure. But, as the season progressed, he hung in there. You can see it if you watch the games. He took the shots, and he delivered a few as well. Blaine can move, and he's a load to bring down. He took a blow to the ribs on a first-down run earlier in the year, popped right back up and hung in there.

Blaine's a tough guy. He played through a broken toe on his plant foot last year. And tell me, which other quarterback is going to cuss out a linebacker like Cushing?

He made some great throws. Watch him read the coverage, step up in the pocket and zing this one. That throw he made to West in the Atlanta game was great, and so was that toss to Mike Thomas before the half in that sloppy game at Carolina.

I watched every throw he made, and there were some pretty dreadful ones, but not nearly as many as some of these football writers are saying. In fact, I counted five dropped touchdowns. Five! How much better do those stats look, Lombardi, if he's 17 touchdowns versus 11 picks (and I flat out disagree with your use of passer rating as the measuring stick in that comparison)? 

Let's look at that number. 11 picks. Peyton Manning had 28 in his rookie year. Why? Because he had the freedom to throw it around. Sorry, but under Koetter and Del Rio, Blaine didn't get that chance. His rookie numbers are bad, but so was that offensive scheme. So were the players around him. I sat twenty-five feet from Marcedes Lewis in the south end zone when he dropped an easy Gabbert touchdown in the Houston game. Every quarterback has drops, but Blaine lost five touchdowns and he never threw anybody under the bus. The guys he was throwing to were so bad that probably only Thomas will be here next year. 

Pete Prisco says that Blaine has been putting in the work. He says that Blaine has been down at the stadium, watching film and working on the things in his mechanics that will make him a better pocket passer.

That gives me a lot of confidence, but you know what else does? Blaine's the best athlete in the league at the quarterback position. As the old saying goes, you can't teach 6'4" and 233 pounds. He's got a strong enough arm to make every throw, and he runs like a deer. In that way, he reminds me of Aaron Rodgers.

The big difference there is that Rodgers had three years of time sitting behind Favre to adjust to NFL defenses.

Get the hell off of Blaine. He'll be fine. If he didn't care, I'd be worried, but he does care. That desire will push him toward a major step forward as an NFL quarterback in 2012.

And it doesn't hurt that he gets his first legitimate stud wideout to play pitch-and-catch with, either. If our line comes together and Rashad Jennings comes back healthy, Marcedes has a bounce-back year and MJD keeps running like a man possessed, this offense can put up points. I like the addition of Robinson, and Mike Thomas is really effective in the slot.

But it all comes down to our quarterback, and that makes me feel confident. I like where Blaine is going, and if you watched Jaguars football, you would feel the same damned way...



Fortunate Days...

I've been busy, which is why it's taken me almost a week to drop by and put a note in this web journal. Exciting things have been happening. I received some great news from the University of Central Florida last Thursday, and I've been busy each day working with the administrators at Florida State College on my fall schedule. I think things are falling into focus for my first year of graduate study at UCF. I'm taking a full load of courses, and I'm really excited about joining the program.

I also had a great day on Friday. I typed those two magical words at the end of the first draft of an 80,000-word novel.

The End.

I celebrated with an afternoon on the golf course, and it occurred to me there how splendid and rare it is to complete such a project. How many such afternoons does a writer have in his or her life? Even the most prolific among us might only have thirty or forty. 

That's less than half a summer. Seriously, the NBA Playoffs last longer.

I once read about a writer that reserved a special bottle of wine for that evening when a project came to completion. That's a nice glass of red every night for a month. Not too long, when you think about it...

I mention this just to say that it's important to relish those two magical words. Whether it's a 100-word drabble or a 120,000-word doorstop, enjoy the ride and take pride in bringing a story into being.

The End.

Simple, powerful words.

Now it's time to get back to work. I have a blank sheet of digital paper staring at me in the next window...    


Pat Summitt

A legend from the world of sports hung up her whistle this afternoon. Pat Summitt did more to advance the realm of women's sports in this country than any other individual in history, in my estimation. She led her players with class and dignity, and I don't think anyone will ever have as much success. Her numbers are shockingly good, and she turned the UT hoops program into the blueprint for college dominance. 

I watched her say goodbye an hour ago in her news conference, and I came away thinking two things: the world of sports just lost a giant, and the world of Alzheimer's research just gained a champion.


Spring Cleaning

Our little girl might be three years old (that makes her a very big girl--just ask her and she'll tell you), but she still manages to distribute a surprising amount of food on the various walls, doors and baseboards of our home.

We did a little sprucing up around the place last weekend and I found a pile of recent Fantasy & Science Fiction digests that I'm done with.

If you want them, shoot me an e-mail at daniel.powell@fscj.edu with your mailing address and I'll send them out. I've got the last five if anybody wants them.

First come, first served.

My wife was cleaning behind the couch and also found an almost infinite number of digital copies of my thriller novella Frozen. I say almost infinite because this title will be free for today and tomorrow only. If you pick up a copy and enjoy the story, I hope you might consider posting a brief review on the Amazon homepage... 


The Many-finned Leviathan

I pounded down the oyster trails this afternoon until I made it to the birding platform overlooking the Round Marsh. The weather is perfect today--probably one of the last coolish days before the crush of the Florida summer arrives in full. I saw the usual amazing array of wildlife, including a number of beautiful blue-tailed mole skinks. There were herons and egrets stalking prey in a robust tide, and one huge redfish that was just causing a ruckus right beneath me. This fellow was a monster, and he had a school of mud minnows on the run.

It was a pretty thrilling sight.

I often find myself out on the kayak in deep water. I used to jump off the boat and swim a little in the Intracoastal--that was until I started reading up on all the species of sharks that frequent those waters. I recall one afternoon when Jeanne and I had a pod of dolphins swim up within inches of our boats. Awesome stuff.

But at any rate, I see animals tailing around out there all the time when I'm out under the Dames Point Bridge. It can be a little intimidating when you see shadows passing just underneath you in the water. But to get into the big ones, you have to go where they live

I've seen lots of fish out there in the Round Marsh over the years, but that fellow I saw today had to take the cake. Man, makes me want to get the boat in the water. 

Instead, we're taking Lyla out for ribs, and then off to the Springing the Blues Blues Festival at JAX Beach. 

In totally unrelated news (we call that a non sequitor in rhetoric class), if you like seafood you've got to try Tobago Key's Coral Ridge Dipping Sauce. I eat this stuff almost every day. It's hot, and man is it good on a big ol' hamburger! 


Tom Crosshill's "Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes"

Tom Crosshill's fine story is an excellent example of strong contemporary science fiction. This story uses authentic characterization and fluid narrative structure to analyze the intersection of life and technology in a way that challenges the audience to consider the future. The writing is active and clear and the voice is engaging.

At the center of the story is a very real question: If this is what becoming posthuman really means, is the pursuit even worth it?

Perhaps there's just more satisfaction to be had in life by enjoying our present circumstance...


What Does it all Mean?

I ask my students to answer that question in the essays they pen for me at school. I ask every story I read to answer that question for me, rewarding me in some small way for the time and effort I put into reading it.

I'd like answers (who wouldn't?), but most often there are none. 

It's one of the trickiest things I see in the writing I encounter. Many novels deliver a fine first act. The exposition is keen, the world building is engaging and the characters are authentic. But things often fall apart, and the second and third acts are thin shells in comparison. 

I don't know why this is, but I can tell you that sustaining narrative continuity is hard for me when I'm working on a novel. The passion one has for a story in the early going can fade quickly, and it's definitely work to keep that fire going at the same level throughout the writing process.

Subsequently, many novels simply can't sustain the momentum and goodwill that they build in the first portion for the course of the entire book. I've blogged before about how much I admire Joe Hill as a stylist in the short form, but both Horns and Heart Shaped Box were disappointing because they ultimately failed to pay off the fine storytelling that was delivered early on. In the former, the plot unraveled and there was a rather clumsy insertion of a medical catastrophe that dumped the story on its head; in the latter, the chills Hill generated in those unsettling first pages never returned.

It just wasn't a very scary story after about the midway mark.

My students write many strong essays. They compose pieces that, for the most part, are eloquently phrased and nicely supported. Some of them really write well. But many (in fact, the great majority) can't write a conclusion effectively. They see the end of the essay drawing near and they abandon it, often writing trite, two-sentence summaries that fail to deliver anything resembling an actual lesson.

This is just the type of thing I'm trying to avoid in the novel I'm almost finished with (in terms of draft one--the editing never ends, it seems). I want the conclusion to have an impact. I want the ending to be memorable and to provide an answer.

And man, that can be difficult, because it's so easy sometimes just to say Hell, this is pretty good. I'm finished. 

I'm trying to ignore that voice. It's hard, but I'm putting up a decent fight. Only the readers will be able to say with any confidence whether I did a good enough job of ignoring it and putting in the work...


Shifting my Thinking...

I've spent the last few days reviewing the course catalog at UCF and thinking about the classes I'd like to take later in the year and the path of study I'll be pursuing over the next few years. I've such a different appreciation for school than I did when I was taking classes at Portland State. I always enjoyed my work there at PSU, and the professors there are top notch. But I didn't put as much thinking into the planning side of things.

This time, it's a much different experience. 

Central Florida is offering some dynamic programs, and it seems they have some great (and productive) faculty members in the literary arts. I've been reviewing faculty websites, reading course descriptions and syllabi, looking over reading lists, and projecting how these classes might fit together in a program that will (hopefully) help become a stronger writer.

Although I'll be a bit of a road warrior, it's all pretty exciting. With FSCJ's help in scheduling, I'm enrolling at full-time status. I think I'll be able, at least in this first term, to make things work in a way that won't have a huge negative impact on my daughter.

In other news, I read loads of solid short essays from my rhetoric students today (grades coming soon), wrote 1,000 words and edited another 1,000. Hot and muggy in Jacksonville, and the Jags are playing the Super Bowl champs to kick off the preseason. Welcome home, TC!


Reading Richard Laymon

I was driving my wife's Prius the other day when I looked up into the rearview and all I saw were a pair of tires and a huge dented grill. It was a scene straight out of Jeepers Creepers, only this is nothing out of the ordinary for a day on the roads out here in Northeast Florida. 

The rig (for that's what these vehicles become after a certain level of modification and elevation) pulled up alongside us and I saw that it was a lime-green monster Ford Bronco with huge rims. The whole thing was covered in mud and the driver bounced along in his seat, studying me with same level of curiosity a toddler has for a bug just before he or she decides to stomp on it.

The driver tipped me a nod and surged forward, revealing a collection of strange bumper stickers (including a shiny rendition of the stars and bars). The rig barked a cloud of smog onto us and the fellow tore off down the road like he was late for a monster Bronco show.

I tell you, there was glee in the man's driving. 

Might be a weak comparison, but that monster Bronco is a Richard Laymon novel. It's bright and audacious and shiny in places and damned fast. It's amusing and its heart is, for the most part, in a good place.

And I'm also glad that it's a rarity.

Laymon's novels aren't very well written. The man abuses sentence fragments, and his cliffhangers are all-too-often duds. He has an obsession with the word "rump," a term I really don't like. Everything is breathless, which is part of the charm (in small doses). Laymon goes from zero to sixty like that Bronco on A1A, and everyone else needs to either get out of the way or he's just going over them.

I only read his stuff about once a year. Like Tim Dorsey's gonzo stories, that's enough to fill me up. I like the stories, but I have trouble with the characters at times. In most Laymon novels, and in Midnight's Lair, which I finally finished last night (I put it down about four times, but I came back, which is something), we get a clear view of good and evil. The character lines are drawn quickly, and this is usually a direct conflict.

Only everybody in these books--and I mean everybody--shares one trait: all they ever think about, even in the most harrowing moments of their lives, is sex. Read a smattering of reviews of Laymon's works and you'll see it over and over again. Readers think he writes like a fifteen-year-old boy thinks. 

There is some of that.

Laymon presents Darcy as sexually selective in Midnight's Lair, which makes her actions toward Greg unintentionally hilarious. I mean, even as she's about to be skewered by subterranean cannibals, she's so distracted by the urge to rub her breasts on a guy she met ten minutes ago that she forgets to grab the pick axe.

Oh, and the reason she went off into the darkness in the first place was to get the pick axe.

Lynn and Brad (he's a bodybuilder, of course) are the same way. Even poor one-dimensional Carol can't have a meltdown over losing her best friend without dissolving into a sexual frenzy.

It's pretty odd, and more than a little funny to boot.

Like I said, I like Laymon's stuff in tiny doses. And he certainly understands the desires of his niche audience, as a pioneer of a certain horror aesthetic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Give one of his novels a shot for the experience, but be forewarned that some of it can get kind of silly...

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...