Last week, Virginia Tech alumnus Chris Colston, formerly of USA Today, took some time out to discuss his forthcoming book, The Hokie Annual.
He discussed his departure from USA Today, how the book came about and a little bit about what the 100-plus-page Annual would offer readers when it hits shelves in July.
This week, he offers more details about the project.
Colston received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Tech in 1980.
An 11-year veteran of the Tech athletics department as editor of The Hokie Huddler, Colston has written four books on Tech football, including Frank Beamer’s autobiography Turn Up the Wick (2000).
For nearly three years at USA Today, Colston covered the NFL and NBA and won several writing awards, including first-place in the Pro Football Writers of America national writing contest.
From 1996-2005, he served as a writer and editor for USA Today Sports Weekly, where his work was mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing series.
Look for The Hokie Annual at the University Bookstore after July 4.
COLLEGIATE TIMES: How long did the reporting aspect of this process take?
COLSTON: Oh my goodness. Before the process, it was probably December 1 when I got laid off. So, you go through that initial process of saying, “Well, let me see if I can get another job with somebody.” And then you just realize, if I form my own company and do this, this could be as lucrative if not more, if all things go well.
You know how you make your January resolutions? I just decided — OK, I’m going to take a leap of faith. I’m going forward, and this is what we’re going to do. So, it started in January and we just wrapped it up and I sent the final proofs the other day.
That was five months, but you’re talking 12 hours every day — never taking a day off. That sounds grueling, but I’m telling you, this is not just a line. I loved writing about Tech football and doing this so much, I never got burnt out. You think about the 10 to 12 hours every day, driving down to Blacksburg.
Just to produce a single article, you’ve got to know your subject. You’ve got to do your background before you interview them, come up with your questions, interview them and then you’ve got to transcribe it. And then you’ve got to put it together and write it coherently, so the writing alone was a tremendous job and with the business end on top of it, you really had to multi-task.
Meeting with designers, researching and comparing prices on printers, forming a company — all these things that you don’t realize you have to do until you have to do it.
CT: Going from writing for a newspaper to writing a book, how different was your approach?
COLSTON: You know, there are so many diverse sections to the book.
When I was interviewing Bryan (Stinespring) and Coach (Frank) Beamer, I was very much by-the-book and professional. When I was doing the lead-ins to the position-by-position breakdowns, it was very reportorial and very information-driven. When I was doing player profiles, it was very much information-driven but with a light touch, and I would take my shots. If I saw an opening to be light-hearted and a little entertaining, I would take it, but it wasn’t a pervasive thing.
People aren’t reading this to see how clever Chris Colston is. They are reading this to get information on Virginia Tech football. So every time I tried to do something, it was in that vein. I tried to take a blog-approach to some of this, which is different from print… I tried to take the conversational approach.
If you and I went out for a beer and we were talking Hokie football — that was the overall tone I was trying to capture.
CT: How was the transition from one day interviewing professional basketball players at the NBA Finals to the next, coming back to Blacksburg to interview student athletes?
COLSTON: I mean… it is so different.