Monday, June 27, 2016

Why sidewalk cracks can seem like the Grand Canyon.

A Science Guy’s Almanac #27. Year 2. June 27, 2016
Why sidewalk cracks can seem like the Grand Canyon.

We’ve all walked on sidewalks.

Normally, there’s no problem with walking on a sidewalk. The name sidewalk describes the function of the strip of concrete.

Every now and then, there is a problem. You’re walking along, minding your own business, when
You trip and have to fight gravity to avoid face-planting right then. Embarrassed and upset with the situation, you begin to search for the offending area in the sidewalk. You expect

When you find nothing as obvious as the photo above, you alter your search parameters.

Finding nothing even remotely as obvious as even that photo, you continue your search. If you’re lucky you might find a minor variation in the sidewalk's topography.

“I don’t understand,” you mutter. “I thought for sure that there would be a hole the size of the Grand Canyon that tripped me. How can I trip on maybe a half an inch difference in height?”

The answer to that question is this.
Brains hate to waste energy. 

Your brain is very efficient. It does all it can to reduce the amount of energy you use in any task you undertake.

Watch a child learning to walk. Go ahead, click the link. It's my granddaughter. Each step is a journey into unexplored territory. Knees, when they bend, rise high as the brain ensures the foot clears the confines of the ground beneath it.

After walking for a few months, the height of the child’s knee-lifts lesson. The brain learns that most surfaces upon which we walk are not littered with tall obstacles. Expending energy to clear a non-existent object in the pathway is a waste of energy. Brains hate to waste energy.

After many years of walking, mostly on smooth surfaces, your brain has your stride down to a science. Without you requesting it, your brain determined the absolute minimum amount of clearance your toes need as they move forward in a stride. You use that stride all the time. Everything’s fine with that stride—until some slight imperfection lies in your pathway.

In general, toes have less than one-half inch clearance from the ground on each stride.

Most of you knew this without knowing you knew about this. If you’ve purchased a pair of shoes with soles thicker than your last pair, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced the above.

If you want to see the truth in that clearance height value, find a sidewalk where people are walking. This works best if there’s a curb. Lay down in the gutter with your eyes even with the sidewalk. Watch people’s feet as they walk past you. The people you observe will think you’re a derelict or feeble-minded, but you’ll see that what I’ve written here is true.

Question: How much ground clearance do most toes have?
Answer: Less than one-half an inch!
Why? Brains hate to waste energy.

The next time you trip on the sidewalk, try not to look back and see what chasm attacked you. If you find such a crater, put up a historic marker since chances are good that you’ll never have that happen again.

Next Almanac post: It’s summer. Here’s an Almanac re-run!

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Copy Edits and other types, too

Copy Edits and other types, too

The four main types are developmental editing, line editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. So what the heck is the difference?

The above statement and question open the discussion of today’s topic at The quote below, also from this source, provides the definitions I’m using for the rest of the post.

  1. Developmental (also called substantive) editing is about the big picture. This is where you’ll want to start if you’re new to editing or in the early stages of cleaning up your finished novel; that way you won’t waste time fine-tuning sections that may not make it into the final draft.
  2. Line editing focuses on the sentence or paragraph level, rather than the broad story-scope of your novel. It’s about refining sentence structure and flow to make your writing both more readable and more pleasurable to read.
  3. Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage. It’s the kind of editing you’d pull out your Chicago Manual of Style to do.
  4. Proofreading is the final step in the editing process and results in the final don’t-touch-it-again draft.

As a relatively new author-for-pay, I had no concept of what the whole process of manuscript production included. I hand-typed my master’s thesis and word-processed/edited my doctoral dissertation without outside editing. Both of those documents were considered for inclusion as exemplary documents in the year each was submitted.

I’ve also had several educational products published by supply houses. In addition, I am the co-author of a detailed AP-Biology lab manual, 
AP* Biology: Inquiry-Based Lab Investigations and Activities with Critical Thinking and Writing Skills. ISBN-10: 1413873545

Published by People’s Education in 2011, it is now out of print. I assume it's out of print since I can no longer find new copies through web searching. I did find one used copy for sale on Amazon . . . That explains the dearth of royalties.

I digress.

When I started writing fiction, my first book was accepted for publication quickly. I assumed that meant I waz a gud riter.

What I have discovered is this:
It takes more than being able to write a story to be a good writer.

Last blog post described some of my process in getting to where I am now with The 5th Page. To summarize
  • Sherry Frazier and I did the Developmental edit. That was time-consuming. It took me more time than it should have to grasp the purpose of the edit. The result of this edit was a much better story.
  • Line edits were next. I did these myself. Then I sent the manuscript out to Pre-readers.
  • I waited a several weeks after sending the book to the Pre-readers before I did what amounted to Copy edit on the book. I finished this edit in early April of 2015. It was the cleanest fiction manuscript I ever wrote.
  • Sherry convinced me of the need for a Proofreader edit. I talked about it in the last blog post. I paid a proofreader for her services. Suffice it to say that there was a LOT of cleaning up of the manuscript still required. I’m currently about half-way through making the corrections and changes identified by the Proofreader edit. Once I’m done inputting those changes, I’ll be ready to send the manuscript to Kirkus for a review.
The quote below is an accurate description of me before this experience.

For many writers, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading fall under a single umbrella called “being anal.” : )
The rest of the above quote is, If this is your stance, you might want to consider hiring a professional.

I now see the benefit in hiring at least one editor during the writing process. In fact, I recommend it. A professional will look at your book dispassionately. In nearly all cases, that is something only a person emotionally detached from the book can do. You and your book are most probably included in that generalization.

During the input of the proofreader’s corrections, I’m making adjustments to one sub-plot in the plot line. The adjustments make that aspect of the story more true to life. It is, therefore, a better story.

Ultimate lessons learned:
  1. I’m not nearly as technically competent when it comes to writing as I thought I was.
  2. I’ll almost always need the help of professional eyes to make my stories the best they can be.
  3. The first two learned lessons will slow down my writing process.
  4. The result of the new process will be more well-written books.

Next blog: Musing about the writing process.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

A Science Guy’s Almanac #26. Leather Football Helmets and Yellow jackets-Two more terms you don’t want in the same sentence!

A Science Guy’s Almanac #26. Year 2. June 13, 2016
Leather Football Helmets and Yellow jackets-Two more terms you don’t want in the same sentence!

My dad retired from the Navy in 1960 after twenty-two years of service. He was a Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate when he retired. There’s not a long list of job openings for a former Gunner’s Mate, regardless of rank.
My dad with his gun in the background. My family in the gun mount on "bring your family to work day." This photo was in the San Diego Evening Tribune probably around 1958.
I don’t think there’s a list of any kind for people with that skill set outside the Navy. Because of that, my dad used some of his VA benefits and went to San Diego State for a year. During that year, he earned a certificate as a Driver’s Training Instructor.

I’m not sure how he determined that loading and firing 5” shells from a 190”-long gun barrel prepared him for riding in the front seat of a driver’s training car armed with only a brake pedal. I do know that he was a memorable driver’s training teacher. But, that’s for another blog posting.

While going to school, my dad worked as the PE locker room attendant at El Cajon Valley High School (ECVHS) in El Cajon, California. Back then, he checked out equipment and towels, repaired items as necessary, and helped move old inventory out of the system.

The best “old inventory” he brought home was a dozen leather football helmets.
Assorted leather football helmets. I know we had some like the two in the left column.

For those of you too young to appreciate what I’m referring to, I direct you to a 2008 movie that starred George Clooney.

Plastic helmets had been the norm since the mid-1950s because the leather helmets were not protective to any [significant?] level. ECVHS was finally cleaning house.

Once the helmets were at our house, they became THE preferred headwear for all the neighborhood boys. We wore them all the time. Including times when it would have been better not to wear them.

Keep reading.

One day we noticed some yellow jacket wasps buzzing around the vacant lot next to my house. A cursory examination revealed a yellow jacket nest in one of the willow trees that bordered the creek that ran through the vacant lot. We immediately decided to launch pieces of ice plant into their nest. What else would you expect from ten- and eleven-year-old males wearing leather football helmets?

We hid behind a broken willow tree branch so the wasps couldn’t see us when we ducked down after launching a chunk of ice plant. We felt safe. After all, the helmets would protect us from any counterattacks by the wasps.

I suspect you can predict the outcome. I’ll let you think about it while you look at a collage of yellow jacket photos.
Upper Left: Yellow Jacket. Upper Right: STINGER. Bottom Row: The deed being done!

We were very successful at hitting the large wasp nest with our ice plant projectiles. I suspect my dad would have been proud of my aim if one of the counterattacking yellow jackets hadn’t gotten inside my helmet.

A List Of Important Facts.
  • You have to pull outward on the earflaps of a leather helmet AND THEN PULL DOWN to put it on. Taking off a leather helmet requires PULLING OUTWARD ON THE EARFLAPS and then pulling upward.
  • Yellow jackets don’t have barbed stingers. They can sting and pull the stinger out over and over until they inject ALL their venom into their target.
  • We didn’t practice the rapid removal of the leather helmets before attacking the yellow jackets.

After being stung who knows how many times, I finally managed to get the helmet off with the help of my buddies. I headed into the house. Mom put ice on my forehead where the sting sites were swelling.

I went to bed early that night. When I awoke in the morning, my face was so swollen that I couldn’t see out of either eye. The photo below isn’t me, but you get the idea. BTW: it is a boy who was stung by a yellow jacket.
Victim of Yellow Jacket Sting in the Forehead.

This is 1960. Benadryl isn’t something you pick up at the Drug Store. (See the Duncan Yo-Yo post about that term.) I know I missed school at least one day.

Because of that incident, I was sensitized to wasp/bee venom. When I stepped on a honey bee in Indiana years later, my lower leg swelled until it was the same diameter from the keen to the ankle. The ER doctor did give me an antihistamine shot and warned me to get to a hospital if I was ever stung again.

No. I don’t carry an epi-pen. I do keep Benadryl close at all times, and I know the way to the closest ER by heart.

Next Almanac post: Why sidewalk cracks can seem like the Grand Canyon.

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor
My website is:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Pre-Readers and copy Edits - Part 1

Pre-Readers and copy Edits - Part 1

Too many books, including mine, are/were published too soon.

There, I’ve said it. It was a painful lesson, but it’s true. Always true.

The rest of this blog is about my experience with my next novel, The 5th Page.

Once you think you have your book complete, you’re about halfway to the finish line.

I submitted my “completed” manuscript to my publicist, Sherry Frazier, in September of 2015. At the time, the manuscript was 321 pages and 147K words long. I was pleased with it.

Soon Sherry and I were engaged in a series of phone conversations where she read a certain number of pages and gave me ideas and directives. The goal was to flesh-out what I thought was a book, but she considered “a very good outline.”

17 pages of notes and MONTHS later, I finished the next draft. It needed another edit before it was ready for the pre readers. I finally sent a “beta reader ready” manuscript out in April. That version is over 700 pages and 181K words long.
The 5th Page "Copy Edit." Almost 3.5" of 8.5x11 inch pages. The CD is shown as a point of reference for the size.

Not everyone who agrees to be a pre reader ends up reading your manuscript.

For a variety of reasons, some pre-readers don’t finish the task. In my case, I got significant feedback from three pre-readers and bits of some quality feedback from about that many others. Four other readers provided comments of varying quality

The good news is the common threads in the feedback I got are helping tighten the book. By the time I’m ready to send it to Kirkus for a review, the manuscript will be shorter and more focused on moving the plot along.

My first novel, Traveler’s HOT LThe Time Traveler’s Resort was printed by KoehlerBooks. When I submitted the manuscript, they commented on the quality of the editing. I did work with two Koehler editors, but I didn’t really think much about what they actually did for my book and me.

I had a laissez-faire attitude about the editing process. I self-published Volume 2 of Traveler’s HOT L without anywhere near adequate editing. After it was up on Amazon, I pulled it and made over 400 corrections. That was a humbling experience.

I paid for a proofread/copy edit with this manuscript. I’ll give you details about the professional proofreader if she agrees to let me do that. She did a magnificent job and caught a gaff in the plotline that only someone with her background would have noticed.

In a nutshell, the editor gave me her parameters she requires when working on a manuscript. I emailed a PDF file of the manuscript to Office Depot. They printed the file. The proofreader picked it up.

All her edits are marked in the left margin with the number of edits on that line. The process was not long. It focused on:

  • Consistency in format of titles, places, objects
  • Grammatical issues
  • Spelling—mostly correct spelling of the wrong form (its, it’s)
  • Punctuation: commas, ellipses, hyphenation, capitalization, numbers, etc
So far, I’m averaging one page out of 15 with no marks. Oh, my!

In the next Day In The Life blog, I’ll go into more detail and briefly describe other types of edits you might consider.

Next blog: Copy Edits and other types, too!

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