The (Very) Basics of Roller Derby

As I've been mentioning for the last year or so, I'm an official with New Hampshire Roller Derby. Despite it being the fastest growing sport in the country (and possibly the world), it's still an amateur sport that most people don't know has made a resurgence (or if they do, they presume it's much like the derby of the '70s). Cue iconic picture:

Modern roller derby started as an alternative sport (think elbows and punk rock, a la Whip It) but has evolved to genuine, amateur status (amateur meaning professional without getting paid). The game has dedicated officials, a lengthy set of rules, and is a sport no matter how many sexist newspaper writers fixate on the fact that it's predominantly played by women. (And Jesus do they fixate on that. Look, they have boobs, it can't be a sport! Fuck off, skeezer.)

So here's the short of it. Each team is comprised of 14 skaters. The game (or more lovingly, the bout) is played in two halves of thirty minutes. Each half is segmented into "jams". Each team fields four blockers and one jammer per jam. The jammer wears a star on her helmet to signify that she is the point scorer. (In effect, she is the ball or the puck, but she's human and she's only wearing pads on her knees, elbows, and wrists.) The blockers comprise "the pack". At the jam starting whistle, the jammers must work their way through the pack to be eligible to score. Once they've finished this initial pass, each successive time they pass blockers, they score points (but no more than one point per blocker per lap). They can even score a point by lapping the opposing jammer if she is slow or stuck in the pack.

Where it can get difficult for spectators is that the pack is this nebulous assortment of players from both teams. They're simultaneously playing offense and defense. Sometimes this means stopping and forming odd-shaped walls. Sometimes it means sprinting like crazy. There are lots of hits (blocks) with shoulders, hips, and asses, but no clotheslines or elbows like you see on TV or in the movies (those will earn you a penalty or even get you expelled). There are still fishnets and the occasional tutu, but not as much as you saw five years ago. Now it's mostly jerseys and compression shorts. Yeah you get pink hair, piercings, and tattoos, but just because they're a little rough and tumble doesn't make them less athletic.

People like to fixate on the names (mine is Charles Dickins, in case you were curious). It's a constant conversation within the community. A lot of people are starting to give up derby names in an effort to gain respect and to be taken seriously. Others don't want to give up their names and there are myriad reasons for it. Some use it as a shield, something to allow them to have the confidence they're not allowed to have in their real lives (because they have boobs and we don't want boobs to be confident); others use it to hide from work because no one wants their kindergarten teacher showing up with a black eye after taking a stray elbow to the face); and still others keep theirs because it was part of the fun and whimsy that drew them to the sport to begin with. Again, if you think that real sports don't use pseudonyms, I direct you to Pistol Pete Maravich, Magic Johnson, his Airness, and King James and politely ask you to shut the fuck up.

Last thing in this brief lesson. There is a second helmet cover on the track. One of the blockers may be designated as a pivot. The pivot is a blocker with special privileges. The jammer may, if she chooses, remove her star helmet cover and pass it to the pivot. This causes the pivot to become the jammer. She may do this because of injury, equipment malfunction, or getting stuck in the pack. For first timers, it can add a level of "what the fuck is going on" to an already chaotic pack, but once you've seen a few bouts, the strategy starts to become more clear.

So, with that growth and maturity of the sport, the iconic picture of the '70s has now become more like this:

Knight Rider Revisited

So I've got some pretty awesome opportunities going on right now, of which I will not speak lest I jinx them. I will say that it involves rewriting two different manuscripts, which may seem horrible to the uninitiated but is really flipping awesome. I'm in serious crunch time right now and will be for a few months. If ever there was a time not to suck, this would be it.

The trick is, when I'm not writing on the official stuff, my brain keeps creating. Lately, it has been falling back on that Knight Rider post I did awhile back. I have since rewatched the pilot of the original series (and thus answered why he was called Michael Knight, something I knew as a child that but forgot as an adult). If you've never seen the original Knight Rider, you haven't missed much. It was an '80s show that is very much an '80s show. It did not endure the test of time.

The thing is, it was iconic for its time and impressionable to a young boy. Even if you haven't seen it, you've probably seen KITT, the black Trans-Am (from the original series) / Shelby GT500 (from the 2008 failed series) with the red light that flashes back and forth like a Cylon.

The 2008 show smacked of formula and made classic sci-fi mistakes that someone that doesn't normally read/write the genre would make. Specifically, the artificial intelligence of KITT and the abilities of the car were too powerful too quickly. The super-computer that can hack building security systems to watch through cameras, that can change the appearance of the car, etc etc. Put that all in the beginning and where do you have to go to challenge your protagonists? That's not power creep, that's a power skyrocket.

They did a few things right, tossed up the "man and his car" dynamic with another character. They better played the outlaw status (of course, with a lame FBI agent). Of course, they screwed up the whole two people and their car dynamic with the surly jock guy driver and daddy's-girl love-hate romance thing that was never very romantic and never actually developed their characters beyond being whiny. I really don't like the cocky jock hero. That was the biggest barrier for me to getting into Farscape. Crichton really rubbed me wrong.

ANYWAY, so me being me, I think I can do it better. ALSO, my mind is in super-duper creative mode, and while I do not have time to write fan fiction, I do have a blog where I can tickle my fancy for the time being. So settle in for a more of Joseph L. Selby's Knight Rider (2012).

Major Michael Long (Idris Elba) is a decorated Army special forces/airborne ranger detached to Knight Industries as a test driver and military consultant as part of the KITT development program under contract by the Department of Defense. As an operator of the KITT platform (a hummer in its first iteration), his call sign is White Knight. Once the team goes independent, his call sign changes to Black Knight. I'm not sure how this will play, what with television race politics, but mostly it has to do with the car, going to the black car (of indeterminate make--I don't feel compelled to adhere to the original Trans Am; there's advertising money to be made here, so do what's best for the show's budget).

Wilton Knight (William Daniels) is the founder of Knight Industries, one of the country's leading arms manufacturers. In his old age, he's focusing on saving lives rather than taking them, working on technology to save soldiers' lives rather than take them. The company is going in the opposite direction. He considers the KITT program to be his final legacy. He is assassinated when the technology is stolen.

Eleanor Knight (China Chow) is Wilton's only child and director of Knight Industries' fastest-growing division. She oversees contracting with the CIA and military. Her relationship with her father is strained. She does not share his vision of the future of the company. She has a worse relationship with Michael, who has a poor opinion of contractors and the contracting industry.

Yi Bo (Jerry Shea) is the team's linguist and computer programmer. He works on integrating voice command and voice actuation software with Vik's prototype KITT design. He and Vik do not get along. He think's Vik is immature and doesn't like his practical jokes (such as Vik installing a Cylon voice as the default program voice). He is also a Chinese spy. He tries to steal the KITT technology, but doesn't know Vik is working in a secret partition. The version of the software he steals is obsolete and non-functional. He pursues the team, trying to finish his original assignment.

Vik Singh (Vik Sahay) is the team's computer intelligence designer. He is the geek's geek. All your nerd humor has an easy access point here. Relax on the cliches, though. Yes he's single, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to act around women. He just finds computers more interesting. He's an overprotective father obsessing over his greatest creation, which gets in the way of life. This obsession is what prevents Bo from getting a complete version of KITT and what saves Navi's life.

Anand Patel (Sachin Bhatt) is the chief engineer responsible for integrating the KITT systems into military transports. He is inadvertently killed when Bo steals the software.

Navi Patel (Navi Rawat) is Anand's wife and partner. She specializes in advanced combustion engines and propulsion systems. She is wounded but not killed during Bo's theft. She takes the KITT software from Vik as they escape the burning warehouse. She installs it in the care that becomes the show's KITT-mobile. She is responsible for the upkeep and performance of the car, making any mechanical improvements. (Ejector seats! You remember this? David Hasselhoff flying up on top of a 20-foot wall and jumping down the other side and landing without bending at the knees. Oh '80s, you so crazy.)

Knight Industries Turing Transport / KITT (Zachary Levi) It's inevitable that KITT will eventually have a voice. In its first appearance, KITT is a white hummer. The red light is installed only as a point of reference for test-course observation. Vik originally installs a Cylon voice (as much for me as the classic nerd shout out). Eventually the computer creates its own voice as its begins to display genuine artificial intelligence. This is a feature that allows the car to evolve over the course of the show and adds an air of unpredictability, as these commands are not being programmed by the team.

Special Agent Connor "CC" Campbell (Tahmoh Penikett) is a retired Marine lieutenant and current field officer in the Washington, DC, bureau. He has a stellar track record and an investigative mind. He is assigned to retrieve the KITT technology and apprehend the criminals responsible for the espionage. He's not so single minded as to be oblivious to the clues that show a more complicated conspiracy, but he's also not so morally gray to overlook that the KITT team ran instead of coming to the authorities.

Supervising Agent Glen Larson (Richard Schiff) is Agent Campbell's direct supervisor. He may be corrupt but there's no evidence and he makes no direct overtures that suggest one way or the other. He takes an active role in the investigation, making sure to remain informed in all matters.

Probationary Agent Francis Elliott (Fran Kranz) is a young but genius computer expert that Agent Campbell recruits to aid in his pursuit. Where Campbell does the field work, Francis tracks the group digitally, trying to target the various GPS and network connectivity made by the KITT software.

Zhang Li (Bruce Locke) is Bo's handler and leader of the espionage group trying to steal the KITT technology. He is also the Chinese representative at the United Nations and has diplomatic immunity. Agent Campbell wants to have the State Department expel him, but Agent Larson insists the evidence isn't convincing. He wants a more solid case before they approach the State Department so they don't tip their hand.

In season 2, Army CID gets tired of waiting for the FBI to crack the case and this introduces new characters that I have not cast here.

Now, there are a few racial topics to discuss. First, the entire "Knight Rider" team is non-white. This is intentional. One of the reasons I enjoy British television is that the racial politics aren't so obvious. The need to include or exclude an actor because of gender and ethnicity tires me. Idris Elba was the best character in Thor despite the uproar of his skin color. And he's proven he can carry the lead in Luther, which is a super awesome show that needs more episodes. I admit that China Chang has looked "less" Asian in some of her roles, and while it's horrible that's even a consideration, some network asshole will bring up the lack of white leads, so screw that guy. Take this middle ground. Navi Rawat has years of exposure on Numb3rs and other shows and Vik Sahay was a comic genius on Chuck, so hopefully the lack of white in the team won't be an issue and this will usher in an enlightened age in American TV where the color of the character doesn't matter.

Likewise the villains are Chinese. This is also intentional. Rather than having a chase-and-run scenario between the team and the feds, the fact that the team isn't in the wrong makes that chase unsustainable unless there's a third party complicating things. This is classic Scarecrow and Mrs. King espionage and we're using China instead of the Soviet Union. So anyone wanting to say that it's unfair that the Asian (non-Indian) actors are all villains needs to show me where they were complaining that Russians were always the villains in the '80s.

Which brings us to the Feds. Yes the white people are chasing the non-white people and no that wasn't intentional. It's a mix of TV race politics and a genuine desire to cast those actors in those roles. Tell me Fran Kranz wasn't the best part of the Dollhouse and you'd be lying. Who doesn't want more Richard Schiff? He's always awesome and giving him a possibly corrupt character to play just sounds like a lot of fun. So when the same network prick above asks where the white people are to play to middle America (that's what they call racists), we point to the good guys. Look! The law-abiding characters are white. Shut up and sit down. Let's tell an awesome action/espionage/adventure story with Idris Elba being awesome.

Getting Out There

I tend to talk myself out of activities that don't involve people I already know. It's a failing of my upbringing. There's a really cool organization around here called New Hampshire Sports and Social Club. I saw them out a few years ago during the "social" aspect and looked into it. Basically, you play a fun sport and then you go out to drinks with your teammates. It's a pretty cool idea and a great way to meet new people.

Except they're NEW people! New people are dangerous unless the internet is between you. So I talked myself out of it. I mentioned my interest to my friends, but we're busy adults and things never worked out. Until one day I saw a call on Twitter. We need refs for kickball.



I've reffed before (intramural basketball). I've played kickball before. I could ref kickball without the risk of being put on a team of weirdos and creeps. I wouldn't have to be rude by showing up to play and then leaving as soon as the game was over. I would be EXPECTED to leave after the game was over, A) to maintain a sense of impartiality; and B) because someone would most likely hate a call I made. I could do this!

And I did! And for the most part, it was great. I was a little caught off guard how competitive people can be. IT'S KICKBALL! But competitive they were. I did manage to go the entire season without ejecting anyone, but I came close a couple times.

Recently they started a Tuesday-night league closer to my home. They needed more players and said, hey, you've earned the right to play for free. Why don't you play. So I am. And none of my teammates are creeps or weirdos. One is a bit of a perv (meh), one is a bit awkward (meh), and one is scared of the ball (so you play kickball?), but otherwise they're all good peoples.

It's been an awesome experience. I get a little sun, a little fun, a little exercise. I kick a ball. I run around bases. I taunt the other team. I taunt my team. It's pretty refreshing.

It's good to do things other than writing.


When I was in college, everyone I knew had seen Mallrats. If I said "fuckis," I didn't have to explain what that meant. Unfortunately, the fortune teller scene from Mallrats isn't on YouTube so if you haven't seen the movie, I can't explain it to you.

Lately, I've needed to improve my fuckis. I'm querying a manuscript, and usually I'll take a little bit of time off before starting something new. (It used to be tow weeks, then one, then at least a couple days.) But, because I held off on the final draft before querying, I finished a first draft of another book. So I've been revising that one to get it in shape for sending to beta readers. There are some things getting in the way of that.

I got a new CPAP machine, and I don't think it's as effective as my old one. I'm tired more often, although it's not as bad as when I first got it.

I finished my December "busy schedule" months late (as content was turned over late, not because I'm not awesome) and unfortunately that rolled right into my summer busy season. So I'm kind of tired because there was no down time. There are also big changes going on at work, which means a lot of people making a lot of mistakes, and I have to run around with my hands in the air going, "No, no that's not right! Stop that! Stop that this instant!"

I downloaded "Towers n Trolls" to my phone. I've had bad luck with tower defense games before. None of them really held my interest. This one, despite it's pay-to-play structure after level 2, has been scratching that itch. Usually I play it until the conductor sees my pass and then I bust out the computer. But today, I played it all the way into Boston (and on the subway and during lunch). I've beaten the game already, but now I'm beating on BRUTAL! and for some reason, I'm making that effort. I don't usually need to make that effort, but this time around I am. *shrug*

It's also leading to a lot of introspection. I've mentioned that I prefer intrigue to standard adventure, but I keep writing adventure instead of intrigue. It feels like I used up all my intrigue juice writing D&D adventures, and I'm just waiting for it to rejuvenate. I gotta take a break from adventure, though. These stories are starting to feel too similar.

How's your work going? Are you writing? Because you said you were going to put more effort into writing, so you should be doing that. Chop chop, and stuff.