Monday, September 26, 2016

A Science Guy’s Almanac. Coaching Memories (continued) - Baseball

A Science Guy’s Almanac. Year 2. September 26, 2016
Coaching Memories (continued) - Baseball

I coached football, baseball, track & field, and soccer during my twenty-three years at Monte Vista High in Spring Valley, California. Today, the focus is “America’s pastime”—baseball.

I played baseball from Little League through college at San Diego State University. Depending on the year, I was an average to superior player in most aspects of the game.

My best baseball season as a player was my final year in Pony League when I was finishing 8th grade. I hit something like .440 with five home runs. I pitched a no-hitter and a perfect game.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I did very well in the school track meet in 8th grade. 8th grade was the apex of my personal athletic career.

This preface has nothing to do with coaching. It provides background information for. . . Actually, it’s probably unnecessary. But, since I’ve already written it, it’s staying.

I accepted the JV Baseball head-coaching job because it sounded like fun. That's me in the header photo pointing to the outfield. Hmmm. I don't remember ever looking that thin . . .

We had tryouts. The players looked okay. The season began.
  • Within days, my best two players were promoted to varsity. Things went downhill fast after that. We ended up with a single “W” in our record. We played people close, but we lacked both hitting and pitching to hold a lead.
  • One of my players was a flashy shortstop. He’d been an All-Star in Pony League. He had excellent range, but his throws to first were always made side arm or lower.
  • I explained that, while he might get people out at the JV level, he’d never succeed on the varsity because it took his throws too long to get to first base. He never changed. He never played varsity. I suspect his dad had coached him all the way up to high school and allowed him to mimic Gary Templeton. “Tempy” did throw side arm often—but he had a very strong arm.

I felt the sorriest for my “only” pitcher. I’m pretty sure the varsity coach left him down with me because I had no other viable options. He’s the only JV pitcher that year that pitched more than three innings in any game. My “other” pitchers had given up so many runs by their third inning of work it was a merciful act on my part to remove them from the mound.

I didn’t coach baseball again for seven or eight years.

One January morning before school, the principal came to me and said he’d heard I’d coached baseball before. He asked if I wanted to give the varsity baseball job a try.

It seems that the head coach from the previous two seasons had been selling off school equipment in the off-season and pocketing the money. I decided to give it a try. 

I met the team for the first time during their final winter league game. We started practice a week after that.

Pundits were predicting the Monarchs to "successful" in the Grossmont League. I had a pretty good pitcher and one of the leading hitters in the league returning. Several other players showed good potential. As you can see in the article from The Daily Californian above, I was optimistic.

Things went along fine until we played our first league game. We were up by three going into the bottom of the last inning. They loaded the bases with two outs. The last runner was the result of a horrific play by our third baseman—our “best” hitter.
  • Long story short, our number two pitcher hung a pitch. The hitter drilled it over a 15-foot tall chain link fence into the tennis courts that bordered the baseball field.
  • We did not win a league game after that loss. The All-League pitcher ended up with an ERA over four. The leading hitter finished the season hitting under .220.
  • At least once a week, other biology teachers and I sat around and re-arranged my lineup for the game the next day. To not avail.

Final anecdote.

I’m coaching third base in a tournament game. Standing in front of me is a senior who was playing varsity for the first time. It’s a close game. I signal the batter to squeeze bunt.

Since the runner on third can’t see the signs because of the angles involved, we had a verbal cue. If I said, “Head’s up, number 15” (or whatever the runner’s jersey number was) to the runner, that meant we were bunting and he was to take off for home plate at the pitcher’s first move. If I said, “Heads-up, Gibson,” (using the player’s last name) that meant nothing. I used this version a lot. By the way, Gibson wasn’t the last name of the runner on third in this story.

The pitch is thrown. The batter lays down a perfect bunt. They throw the batter out a first. The runner is standing on 3rd base. He had not made any move toward home plate.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I hit a double and took third on the overthrow,” he answered.

It was that kind of year.
It was also the last year I coached any sport at any school.

Do you think there might be a correlation 
between those two statements?

Next Almanac: Coaching memories continued – Track and Field

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor
My website is:

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer: Updated Thoughts on Book Covers

Updated Thoughts on Book Covers

I’ve done blogs on the importance of a book’s cover in the past.
You can’t tell a book by its cover, but the cover can convince you to buy it! (8/5/14), Closing the Cover (8/12/14) and It Takes a Strong Back and Spine To Be a Winning Cover (8/26/14)

All three of those have valuable information. This blog is more hot fudge on the sundae than it is changing any of the ice cream flavors in the sundae.

I have several “go to” pre-readers/idea fountains that see all my stories WAY before they’re close to publication. They also see my ideas for covers.

I have a creative mind—most of the time—and a relatively good eye for graphic composition. But, sometimes my mind gets locked into the literal.

 Book covers don’t live in the literal.

Below is a collage of several ideas for my next Phil Mamba detective novel, The 5th Page. Oldest to most recent ideas are clockwise from top left.

  • The black/white cover is literal in the extreme. A copy machine is a main character in the book. It gives too much away.
  • The gumshoe silhouette version is less literal but too much like the Mixer Murder cover. This Mamba story is enough different that it earns a different feel for the cover.
  • A series of injustices are integral to the plot, hence blind justice being directed by a wraith. I liked it. Many of those I showed it to, not so much.
  • The clown cover pays homage to an idiosyncrasy of Phil Mamba. It was fun to get the “little steel balls” and the holes where I wanted them. However, clowns are polarizing, so the clown didn’t make the cut.
  • Black cover with lists and burnt paper. How many pieces of paper do you see? Way too literal.
  • Manzanita off-ramp sign with embellishments was fun to do with Photoshop. Those who looked at it with less invested than I had invested in it agreed that it’s too pastoral. I sent this idea to a professional cover artist. His “take” was much edgier. The idea ended up being too literal. Phil Maxey is the artist at His response to my idea was excellent and his prices are excellent. I recommend him!

The pre-reader/idea fountain that I “go to” most frequently is a former student of mine. She is an editor in her own right, and I’m lucky she’s willing to do as much with me as she does.

She mentioned that she likes covers with photos on them. Concurrently, Sherry Frazier, publicist extraordinaire, provided more insight. What you see below is where I am now.

This cover image is enough related to the story that I’m happy. It’s also edgy and mysterious—two most excellent traits for the cover of a mystery novel. It may not be the final cover, but it will be a finalist.

Feelings about this cover range from okay to OKAY! None of my pre-readers/idea fountains dislike it. Winner, winner, parking lot in the dark dinner.

Don’t be shy about asking for input on your book’s cover. After all, people are going to by more copies of your book than you are—I least I hope so.

My take away from this:
For a book cover, literal might be nice, but it won’t suffice.

Next blog: What do you get for a review you paid for?

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:

My website is:


Monday, September 12, 2016

A Science Guy’s Almanac. Coaching Freshman Football – The 2nd half

L-R. Top Row: Rookie Teacher, Kazooing Santa Pig, The Mummy, Basal Cell Carcinoma Eye.
Middle Row: Pig Farmer, Portrait by Cindy Lin, Portrait by Carol Mak, Baseball Coaching.
Bottom Row: Detective with Squints. Pig Collection. First Publication.
A Science Guy’s Almanac. Year 2. September 12, 2016
Coaching Freshman Football – The 2nd half

I never had a desire to be a varsity head coach. I ended up in that role for baseball and boys soccer. Those are stories for future blogs. My first head coaching assignment was Head Freshmen Football Coach. That was the last year I coached football.

Before you get the wrong impression, it wasn’t the coaching experience that led to my leaving football coaching. In the summer of 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, an overhaul of the property tax system. The result of that vote was significantly less money to local schools from local tax money.

Prior to 1978, when a full-time teacher coached a sanctioned sport as one of the positions approved by the district, (s)he got a teaching period for the coaching assignment.
  • An aside: I put (s)he in automatically. However, in the 1970s there were very few women coaches. There were very few girls’ sports teams: swimming and tennis are the only two I remember. The direct correlation between the small number of sports and the equally small number of coaches was uncanny.

Prop 13 passed in June of 1978. The next day, a special school board meeting rescinded all coaching periods. Most of the coaches in the school district stopped coaching—some temporarily, others for good. While I never coached football or track again, I did coach baseball and soccer.

Being head frosh coach wasn’t that much different than being an assistant frosh coach. Oh, I was now responsible for calling the offensive plays, minimizing locker room antics, and a couple of other things, but for the most part, once the season got rolling, coaching was just coaching.

Monte Vista’s football program had a storied history—one horror story after another. In the first 15 years, no varsity football team made the playoffs. I doubt if there were more than 3 or 4 winning seasons during that run. For perspective: My freshman year, 1964-65, we won one game. That made the headlines in the 1965 yearbook. 

In 1966, the varsity team won the first league game in Monte Vista's history. Prior to that momentous event, we were zero-39 in league play. The 1966 team had some serious studs--two All-CIF first-teamers and one 2nd teamer. They made me, as the quarterback, look VERY good.

The 1977 frosh team ended up winning the freshmen league title. We were 5-3 overall. I refused to get thrown in the showers after our last win because I had to coach the varsity defense only a couple of hours later.

While I didn’t know I’d never coach football again, I’m glad I did what I did during our last frosh practice.

I was 27-years-old at this time. In my last tackle football game, I’d ruptured the disk between my L5 and sacrum. That problem had been “fixed” by fusing my L5 vertebra to my sacrum.

I’d told the team when we started the season that if we finished the year with a .500 or better record, I would suit up for the final practice. Seem like a good idea in September. As of the last practice, the worse record we could have had was 4-4, so the idea did motivate the troops.

On Wednesday, I went to Doc Headtke, the resident equipment curmudgeon/faux parent/great helper to coaches. I asked for a set of equipment.

  • “Why?”
  • “I’m going to suit up tomorrow and practice with the kids.”
  • “You’re what?”
  • “I told them if we ended at .500 or better, I’d suit up the last practice. They will. I’m going to keep my word.”
  • He shook his head but helped me find the best of the remaining equipment.

The next day, I suited up and headed down the access road to where the frosh practiced in the outfield of the varsity baseball field. I fended off the question “When are you going in?” uncounted times while we practiced special teams—who/how, the offensive game plan, and the defensive game plan.

“Okay,” I announced. “I’ll be the tailback for fifteen plays. I’ll start on the first team offense against the first team defense. The coaches will sub people in on both sides of the ball every play. They’ll do their best to make sure you all get a chance.”

That was greeted by a mixture of groans and cheers.

The first ten plays went off smoothly. Around play number thirteen, if felt like more and more defensive people were making contact with me. They were. The other coaches were adding more players to the defense each play beginning with the tenth play.

On the last play, I called for a sweep. The quarterback pitched the ball to me. I started out around the right end. I didn’t make it to the line of scrimmage. All forty-plus players were on the field for that play. I suspect at least forty of them ended up on the pile on top of me.

In retrospect, I’m very lucky that I didn’t reinjure my back that day. I’m glad I did it, and I’d probably do it again . . . if I was 27!

Next Almanac: Coaching memories continued

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor
My website is:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Summer Reprise Series #10: Thoughts After My Longest Edit… Ever!


Summer Reprise Series #10: Thoughts After My Longest Edit… Ever!
First published November 17, 2015

I began working on my “final” edit of The 5th Page on September 28, 2015. I sent the edited manuscript back to Sherry Frazier, my publicist, on the day I completed the edit: November 3, 2015.

I worked on the manuscript at least three hours every Monday through Friday of that time. Some weekend work and some l-o-n-g days were included. It was not a fun time. It was a necessary time, but it, too, was not enough. The text in this font near the end of this post provides additional explanation of the red sentence above.

What did I learn from this experience?

1.    Make your characters come alive early in the process. I waited until after I thought I’d finished the manuscript before allowing readers insight into several of my main characters. I will not do that again.
2.   Decide if you’re going to present your story in strict chronological order early in the process. I waited until I was two weeks into the “final” edit to make that decision. As a result, it took me approximately fifteen hours to print, cut chunks from the printed text, and sequence those chunks. And even after I thought I had accomplished that task, I found chunks I had to move after the first move.
3.   Establish a timeline and add to it as you go. I waited until I went to the strict chronological plotline to do that. I found I had not allowed enough time for some sequences of events to occur—and I mean physically not enough time for airplane flights, car trips, etc.
4.   Include enough verbiage on your timeline to recognize what plot point it represents. I used letters to “number” my chunks. I dutifully placed those letters on my timeline and my revised timeline. But, when I started my last sequencing I had to continually refer to the cut out chunks of text to know what was happening at that labeled point.

At 174,000 words, this is far and away the longest book I’ve ever written. Part of my problem was that I treated this novel as a short story in my preparation. That will not happen again.

Original Bottom Line

Time spent on early planning, character development, and sequencing of events will save you a LOT of time in the end.

New thoughts.
After the original posting of this blog, I did more editing. First I had several readers indicate where they felt the story was fine as is, where the story was too wordy, and where the story was deficient.

I took all that input and went back to the “already edited” manuscript. After considering the input and finding additional places that needed help, I edited again. In addition to the “fixes,” I did a thorough grammar, extra words, etc., check as well. This edit ended up as a manuscript of about 181,000 words.

I was almost ready to send it away for prepublication review. I will use Kirkus before I put the book out with query letters or as an entry in KindleDirect or as a self-published entity.

I sent the manuscript via PDF to an office supply store in the city where my proofreader lived. They printed the 700+ pages at their end, and the proofreader picked it up at their store. I saved significant money in postage.

I got the print copy back about a month later. I went through the handwritten markings page by page, generally accepting all the proofing recommendations. In addition, I made the decision to remove parts of the book that were not essential to moving the plot forward. Some readers liked them. They were unhappy with my decision. Other readers applauded the move because “the story doesn’t drag in places now.”

Obviously, I’ve sided with the latter group of readers. I did, however, keep all the edited out text in one file. After all, you never know.

The 5th Page is still a long book. The final, final edit is 682 pages set to print in a 6x9 format. At 175,500 words, it’s still a big book, but that final count includes front and back matter. The story is around 173K.

I’ll keep you in the loop as I go through the rest of the process. I’m following the advice of super publicist, Sherry Frazier.

New Bottom Lines
  1. There is no hard and fast due date for a manuscript unless you have a publisher’s deadline to meet.
  2. Time is neither friend nor foe.
  3. Time is a tool that authors need to use to their best advantage.
  4. That might mean move faster, but it will often mean SLOW DOWN.

Next blog: Updated thoughts on book covers

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:

My website is:

Follow A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer by Email