Monday, May 28, 2012

CHEATSHEET: Please Give EURO2012 a Chance

Passion is contagious. Sure, there has to be a 'patient zero' to get the ball rolling, but if you spend time with someone who is really passionate about something, it's hard not to develop at least a little appreciation for whatever it is.

I fell in love with Harry Potter because I caught the passion from my little brother.
I fell in love with college basketball because I caught the passion from my parents.
And I fell in love with international soccer when I lived in London during the EURO2004 tournament.

In summer of 2004, Team England went deep into the tournament, losing in the 'final four' in overtime penalty kicks (that's when I first learned who David Beckham was - he's the one who kicked the turf instead of the ball). No one I spoke to that summer wanted to talk about anything other than the EUROs. Luckily for me, the English were patient enough to share their passion with me, to explain it to me so I could be excited about it, too.

After watching the various soccer tournaments over the last eight years, I think I've figured out why Americans haven't embraced this particular brand of "football":

1. The best players don't play in America. They play in Europe, which means the important games tend to happen between noon and 4pm EST, when most Americans are at work, or at ungodly hours of the morning on weekends, also not overly helpful. ESPN airs games live anyway, and also stores several of the games on their ESPN3 website so you can stream them later.

2. The best players aren't Americans. However, a handful of Americans have started trickling in to the limelight. Landon Donovan and Tim Howard have both been popular players for Everton (a team in Liverpool). And Texas's Clint Dempsey was quietly the 4th highest scorer in the English Premier League this season for Fulham (that's kind of like having the 4th most touchdowns in the SEC, not too shabby).

3. Your average American has never had someone explain the context of how some of these tournaments work (thus, the complaints about games ending in ties).

Number Three is what I'm going to try to work on here. America, we dig the Olympics, right? We like watching the best in the world, and we like watching nations compete against each other. But now hear this:

The Olympic soccer tournament will feature the world's JV teams.
The real world-class players will be playing in EURO2012 instead.
You can watch any and all of these games here.
Repeat, you can watch any and all of these games and they will be streamable at your convenience. America, we are running out of excuses.


The EURO tournament is held every 4 years, like the Olympics or the World Cup. Each country in Europe selects its best players for their team (think the USA Basketball Dream Team). In the years between tournaments, all of the national teams in Europe compete in various qualifier games until only the best 16 teams remain. These 16 teams are divided into 4 groups (Group A, B, C, and D).

This is when the tournament turns into something of a chess match. Each win is worth three points. Each tie is worth one point. The two top scoring teams from each group advance to the next round. If teams have the same number of points, they use 'who scored the most goals over the course of the group stage' as the tie-breaker. Note: Sometimes you want the tie for strategic reasons, depending on how the math works out. It can be a fun way to screw your opposition.

After the group stage, it turns into a format more recognizable to Americans: single elimination brackets, much like the NCAA tournament. No more ties. At this stage, they'll go to overtime and possibly shootouts, much like hockey to determine a winner. They'll keep going through the bracket until a single winner is crowned. By the way, the World Cup works the same way, except they have more groups during the Group Stage.


Maybe you are an American of Italian heritage and want to support Italy. Maybe you had an awesome vacation in Germany once and want to support der Deutsch. Maybe you're a huge fan of those Dragon Tattoo books and want to cheer on Sweden. Maybe you go by uniform (the Dutch wear bright orange uniforms, and Croatia wears a groovy checkerboard style). I'll probably follow team England (even tho they're kind of seen as haphazard villains), and hope against hope Cinderella Team Ireland has a good showing, Quidditch World Cup style.

Czech Republic - Goalie Petr Cech plays for European Champion team Chelsea (which plays its home games in London).
Greece - Won EURO2004, same year as Athens Olympics.
Poland - Host nation.

GROUP B **GROUP OF DEATH** (the hardest group to win)
Netherlands - Best player is Robin van Persie, most goals in English Premier League this year - came in 2nd in 2010 World Cup.
Portugal - Best player is Cristiano Ronaldo. Generally speaking, the Portuguese are a beautiful people.

Ireland - Cinderella team, great fanbase, Captain Robbie Keane plays in America for the LA Galaxy.
Italy - Mario Balotelli, he once set off fireworks in his own bathroom.
Spain - They won EURO2008, probably favorite to win it all again this year.

England - New coach and new captain, kind of scrambling to put itself together. Best player Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two games due to an altercation during qualifying games.
Ukraine - Other host nation.

Games begin June 8th. The tournament concludes July 1st. Choose your favorite European Nation and give it a chance. There are no commercial breaks. You know exactly when the matches will start and end. It's all shockingly convenient. I'm telling you, my fellow Americans, we are out of excuses. Catch EURO fever, you won't be sorry. Unless you get attached to a team and then see them lose in heartbreaking fashion. Then that will suck. But it will still be worth it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

GIVEAWAY: Signed Copies of Divergent and Insurgent

I have a copy of DIVERGENT and a copy of INSURGENT to give away, each signed by the lovely and talented Veronica Roth. I will give them BOTH away to some lucky person on MONDAY, MAY 21st. If you'd like to enter to win, just leave a comment below and tell me you feel like a winner.

I haven't finished INSURGENT yet, but here were my thoughts on DIVERGENT from last year (with minimal spoilers). It's one of my favorite books, and Veronica is one of my favorite authors. These books were signed at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville (a Chicago suburb), where more than 200 people lined up to see Miss Veronica, an even balance between middle school/high school aged kids and old people like me. Veronica read to us from chapter eight of INSURGENT, took several questions, and then probably signed her name until around midnight to accommodate the line.

Veronica appeared last week on the TV show WINDY CITY LIVE (which, here in Chicago took Oprah's old timeslot). In this clip, she provides a little insight into the story and answers questions kind of like she did at Anderson's. This is my attempt at giving you the full book signing experience.

So go ahead and comment below, must be at least 13 years old to win, contest open internationally. Random number generator will select one winner from everyone who comments (including both Blogger and Facebook). Good luck!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Get to Know Your Indiana Pacers

[Click here for Part 1 - "It's Okay to be a Pacer Fan Again"]

And now, let's make a love connection. They're more fundamentals than flash. They have one of the deepest benches in the league. They're a 3rd quarter team with a system that seems to be coming together for them at the best possible time (at least, if you believe Charles Barkley). Introducing your 2012 Indiana Pacers!

[Cue the Dating Game music]

#1 Dahntay Jones [Age 31, Guard, Duke]
* Pacer since 2009
* Says if he wasn't an NBA player, he'd probably be an investment banker.
* Al Harrington (former Pacer currently playing for the Golden State Warriors) is his cousin.
* Involved in with several charities (mostly around Memphis, where he played 2003-2007).

#2 Darren Collison [Age 24, Point Guard, UCLA]
* Pacer since 2010.
* Parents both elite track and field athletes.
* Mother represented Guyana at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
* Majored in History at UCLA.

#3 George Hill [Age 25, Guard, IUPUI]
* Pacer since the lockout ended Dec 2011.
* Grew up in Indianapolis (Broad Ripple High School).
* Senior year of high school, he led the state of Indiana in scoring.
* First player from IUPUI selected in the NBA Draft.
* Likes to play video games, his favorite being Rock Band where he prefers to be on drums. (MORE COWBELL, GEORGE!)

#6 Lance Stephenson [Age 21, Guard, Cincinnati]
* Pacer since 2010.
* Former Big East Rookie of the Year
* Graduated high school as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the state of New York.

#12 AJ Price [Age 25, Guard, UCONN]
* Pacer since 2009.
* College pretty much sucked for this guy.
* Missed the 2004-2005 season at UCONN after being diagnosed with a life-threatening Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), which led to bleeding in his brain. Underwent radiosurgery treatment and finally received full medical clearance to play again after 14 months of recovery.
* In 2006, he got in trouble for trying to sell stolen laptops and was suspended a year for violating the university code of conduct.
* Then, he tore his ACL.
* Finally, he played for UCONN until 2009 and accumulated several collegiate awards.
* Kudos to this guy for fighting back and turning things around.

#17 Louis Amundson [Age 29, Center, UNLV]
* "The ponytail guy"
* Went undrafted, worked his way through the "D" League (Development League), signed multiple short-term contracts and cut multiple times before landing on the Pacers in 2011.
* In college was a Mountain West All Academic and studied English and Philosophy.
* Currently working on a degree in Finance.

#21 David West [Age 31, Forward, Xavier]
* Pacer since the lockout ended in Dec 2011.
* Grew up a Spurs fan, favorite players were Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
* Originally drafted by New Orleans, and remains very active in New Orleans charities.
* Judges a yearly essay contest for schools during Black History Month.
* Avid boxing fan and conditions using boxing drills during the off-season.
* Unless wikipedia is lying, he plays the tuba and enjoys making mixtapes for his teammates. I choose to believe it's true.

#24 Paul George [Age 22, Guard, Fresno State]
* Pacer since 2010.
* Parents names are Paul and Paulette.
* According to his official bio, he "enjoys listening to music, playing video games, hanging out with friends, and bowling."
* Says his favorite athlete is Kobe Bryant because he works harder than anyone else to be the best.

#28 Leandro Barbosa [Age 29, Guard, Brazil]
* Pacer since he was traded from Toronto mid-season 2012 (he's BRAND NEW!).
* From Brazil. The country.
* Was the youngest player on the Brazilian National Team (at age 19) when they competed in the World Championships in Indianapolis.
* 4th Brazilian ever to play in the NBA.

#29 Jeff Pendergraph [Age 25, Forward, Arizona State]
* Pacer since 2011.
* Majored in Economics in college.
* Plays the piano.

#33 Danny Granger [Age 29, Forward, New Mexico]
* Pacer since 2005. Poor guy.
* Majored in Civil Engineering. In my imagination, he and Andrew Luck will set up weekly meetings in a secret library somewhere and proceed to think great thoughts, discuss intellectual things, and generally solve all of the world's problems. Or at least build LEGO things together.
* Played for team USA in the FIBA World Championship and won a Gold Medal.
* Made the NBA All Star Team in 2009.

#44 Kyrylo Fesenko [Age 25, Center, Ukraine]
* Pacer since 2011.
* From Ukraine.
* Nickname is "Fes"
* Enjoys reading fantasy novels and playing video games. Anyone else notice there are a lot of gamers on this roster? Are the Pacers the NBA equivalent of the BIG BANG THEORY?

#50 Tyler Hansbrough [Age 26, Forward, North Carolina]
* Pacer since 2009.
* Won an NCAA Championship with North Carolina in 2009.
* When he was in college, he was revered in an almost Tebow-esque way. You may remember him from his copious amounts of face time on ESPN.
* ACC's all time leading scorer (ranks 12th in NCAA history)
* Has a really impressive basketball resume with lots and lots of numbers on it. I'd tell you more, but statistics make me sneeze.

#55 Roy Hibbert [Age 25, Center, Georgetown]
* Pacer since 2008.
* Father is Jamaican.
* Made the NBA All Star Team in 2012.
* If Wikipedia is telling the truth, he's a a big Pokemon fan and teammates used to fire him up by saying "Power up, big fella." I really, really hope it's true.
* Was taken on at Georgetown as a "project" - read the details here. Awesome article.
* Appeared on a couple of episodes of PARKS AND RECREATION during the 2011 NBA Lockout.

Coach Frank Vogel [Age 38, Kentucky]
* Head Coach since mid-season 2010/2011.
* 2nd youngest coach in the NBA.
* Graduated from Kentucky with a degree in biology.
* Played Division III basketball for Junita college in Huntington, Pennsylvania before transferring to Kentucky.
* Was featured on David Letterman's 'Stupid Human Tricks' at age 13 where he got a basketball to spin on a toothbrush while he was brushing his teeth. (I'm furious that I could not find this clip on YouTube. COME ON, LETTERMAN!).

Pacers next game will be Saturday May 5th, 2pm EST on ESPN.

It's Okay to be a Pacer Fan Again

Two years ago, Ron Artest hit an end-of-game three point shot to win the NBA Championship for the LA Lakers and proceeded to thank his therapist during his post-game interview. I shoved my head into my couch like a manic-depressive ostrich and decided once and for all there was no such thing as karma.

Ron Artest hit a clutch 3-pointer to win a ring. As far as I was concerned, that ring should have been Reggie Miller's. That moment reminded me of all the reasons I'd divorced myself from my team and made me wonder why I still watched the NBA at all.

Funny how time is so circular - Ron's currently suspended for committing violent acts during a game, and the Pacers are playing the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. One of the first NBA games I ever saw was Pacers versus Magic. That game was in Indianapolis, and it looked like everyone in the crowd was waving brooms. My dad explained to me it was because, if the Pacers won, they'd sweep a series for the first time in team history.

That was 1994, the moment I first realized Indianapolis had an NBA team.

That's when Pacers playoff games became must-see TV because of Reggie's dramatic buzzer beaters and the rivalry with the New York Knicks. We loved spending time with those guys. They were fun, they were exciting. You had to see it for yourself, you had to be a part of the last-second experience. Sometimes I wonder if Indy fans prefer winning when it's a little unexpected.

Indianapolis is not like New York, Philadelphia, or Boston. We don't tear apart our sports stars when they underachieve, it's not our style. We're not exactly harsh on fragile psyches. We're patient with losing, so long as the team plays hard and the players are good citizens. We like to think we're pretty friendly, but there are some things we just don't tolerate. What's become known as the "Malice in the Palace" fractured our relationship with the team, and for many fans, that rift still exists.

We didn't want to be associated with that sort of thuggery. We didn't condone it, we didn't like it. We were ashamed. The 'incident' happened in 2004. By 2005, the Colts were in the midst of their first Superbowl run, with Peyton chipping vigorously at the record books and getting his name on a children's hospital. The Pacers were shoved aside because the Colts were winning and because we loved the way they represented us. Indianapolis, once known as a basketball town, invested its fan energy into football. I'd been a pretty involved Pacer fan for nearly ten years. I didn't miss them.

Last year, the Pacers made the playoffs. If they hadn't been playing the Bulls, I probably wouldn't have noticed. I didn't watch, but I heard from the Chicago folks this new team was scrappy, a bunch of overachievers. It piqued my interest enough to start checking the scores and reading articles again. That's the sort of thing an Indy fanbase loves. That's the sort of thing that just might draw us back.

Last week, I watched my first Pacer game since 2004 - the last regular season game against the Bulls. Though the Pacers had earned the #3 seed in the playoffs, the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was full of Chicago fans. It made me sad. Digging a little deeper, I found that they were having so much trouble selling playoff tickets that Colts players were giving them away.

Eight years later, the fanbase still hasn't come back. It's an entirely new team of entirely new players. I used to recognize each player's face, no need for a roster or jersey numbers. Now, I don't even know their names.

I think it's time to finally exorcise the Pacer brawl demons. It's time to move forward, to give these new guys a chance. In researching these kids, I learned something interesting - this team is kind of boring. There's no superstar, no attention seeker. They're the sort of guys who like bowling and video games and reading - who have college degrees in things like Economics and Civil Engineering. They play hard, they've kept their noses clean (for the most part).

They've been patiently waiting for us to notice.

In 2004 the Pacers betrayed the fanbase's trust. Over the last few years, it seems to me they've worked very hard to prove they want us back.

Let's give them a chance. I think these guys will be worth the risk.

[Click here for the "Get to Know Your 2012 Pacers" feature.]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Romance Writers, Basketball, and the NFL Draft

A collection of disconnected thoughts and ah-ha moments from the last weekend in April, in which Bethy attends a Romance Writers of America Conference, watches a few NBA Playoff Games, and misses the entire NFL Draft.

* If someone gives you presents, you kinda want to be their friend. RWA Chicago gave me the most incredible swag bag I've ever seen, just for showing up. Like, all I did was walk in the door and they were thrusting free stuff at me and I started to crumble under the weight of it all. As it turns out, romance writers are big on thrusting. Who knew?

(Note: There was also chocolate, but I ate that, so it's not featured in this picture.)
(Another Note: These are just SOME of the presents they gave us. Some. There were other books, including e-books, ARCs, autographed things, and also there were many desserts. And yes, you can come in 2014 if you want to.)

* The NBA Playoffs affect us all. Growing up a Pacer fan, the Chicago Bulls were public enemy number two (after the New York Knicks, of course). Still, even I was bummed out to see Derrick Rose tear up his knee. The whole city kind of deflated ("First the Blackhawks lose and now THIS!"). Even I groaned when I saw the clip on the TV in the conference hotel bar. I've reached the point where whenever I see an injury like that, I remember Robbie Hummel and immediately feel sad. And also, I was counting on the Bulls to beat Miami, so now someone else is probably going to have to do it. And it must be done.

You may think you don't care, but you're wrong. The Olympics are coming, and that Spanish basketball team has a bunch of NBA players on it, too. Do the right thing, America. Hope and pray that the likes of LeBron, Kobe, and Kevin Durrant are healthy, happy, and hungry for gold. U-S-A!

* YouTube both causes and cures insomnia. I had an hour drive home from the conference Friday night, around midnight. I worked so hard at staying alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic that by the time I got home I was wired. I then proceeded to watch Andrew Luck's Letterman appearance on YouTube. And then I fell down a dangerous spiral when YouTube suggested I take a little trip down memory lane with Peyton Manning and then Eli Manning at the same age. Awwww. I'm so happy right now. And yes, I have every intention of live-tweeting Eli's SNL appearance coming up May 5th (@BethanyRobison, catch the fever).

* Pitching to agents live and in person is fun. I attended a 2-hour "pitch" class at the RWA conference. The instructor spent the first half-hour or so telling us the components of a proper pitch, and then for the rest of the time, she let us submit example pitches for critique in front of the whole lecture. Two things on this:
  1. There are a lot of really fun ideas floating out there, just waiting to be discovered. That alone was really inspiring.
  2. When you hear lots of pitches critiqued in a short amount of time, it's so much easier to understand what works and what doesn't. I'm not sure how to explain it, but if you ever have the chance to attend something like this, it's worth it. I don't think there's a better way to learn the fundamentals.
  3. Writing a pitch isn't that hard; it's the DELIVERY part that freaks people out.
All that being said, when you're pitching one-on-one to someone, all you're really doing is having a conversation about your book. Yes, you want to be prepared. Yes, you want to make sure you hit all the main points to present your idea in the best way possible. But, this is not high school speech class and you're not being graded on whether or not you include all the required elements. I know a lot of people at the conference recommended that you write your pitch and talking points on 3 x 5 cards and just read them in the pitch session. That idea made me very uncomfortable. I pitched to an agent. I didn't read off my notes. I had a conversation with a lovely person, and it was a blast. I'd recommend you approach it like a job interview rather than a school presentation. If that makes sense.

* It's good to investigate something you know nothing about. I don't write romance. I don't even read romance. However, I am so glad I attended this conference. It was really about writing as a craft. Here are some of the topics covered:
  • Blog Book Tour Tips
  • Synopsis in 7 Sentences
  • Self-Publishing without Sacrificing Traditional Quality
  • Can This Manuscript Be Saved?
  • Transmedia Storytelling
  • Media Tips, Tricks, and Traps
  • Growing Plot from Character
  • Marketing When Time and Money Matter
  • The Author/Agent Relationship
And that's just a sampling. The point is, even if it doesn't feature your genre of choice, a well-run conference will give you more than your money's worth in takeaways, even BEYOND the bag of FREE STUFF. I'm about convinced I should try a conference in each genre, just to see what they have to offer.

* Football makes the world smaller. On Monday, Americans were skipping out of work early to watch Manchester United vs. Manchester City, battling for the English Premier League Championship. Meanwhile, my Intern is in New Zealand studying abroad, and he watched more of the NFL Draft than I did. Take from that what you will. I saw neither.

* Remember in Ratatouille when the ghost chef kept saying Anyone can cook?
I met enough people from the most diverse, fascinating backgrounds this weekend to convince me that a great artist really can come from anywhere. I met a lawyer, a radio talk-show host, a nuclear chemist, a dental hygienist, a sign painter, and a college student, just to name a few. I met people who had published nearly 50 books, people who had not yet finished their first complete manuscript. This weekend was a great reminder - you just never know where that next big thing might come from.