Vote for Leigh!

Thanks to my friends Jack (who nominated me) and Rochelle (who discovered the contest) I am now a finalist for the Houston Most Valuable Blogger in the “Everything Else” category!

I'm a finalist in the Everything Else category!

So, in a strange flashback to fourth grade, I’m going to ask for your vote.  If you know people, see if they’ll vote, too!   You can vote once a day, every day until September 9th!

I’m planning to scope out the competition; I’ll let you know what I discover, or you can check it out for yourself.

http://houston.cbslocal.com/most-valuable-blogger-voting/

A Strange Ad Campaign

I went on a road trip to visit family during part of my time off, and I saw a series of strange billboards in Missouri.  In a pale imitation of my friends at Interpretation by Design, I want to share these signs with you.  They had outdoors-type people (one had a couple of hikers, another had some folks with fishing poles) and the sign said in big letters “We Promise Missouri” followed, in smaller font, with “we won’t move firewood.”

Apparently Illinois needs this message, too. The image is from the listed website.

This seems like a strange message.  My first thought, when I saw one, was that it was a series of “good neighbor” type ads.  You know, don’t move firewood, pack out my trash, or any of a variety of outdoors-related etiquette.  (Although on reflection, moving firewood seems like a low-priority behavior change.)

When I saw a second one with the same wording, I got kind of curious, enough that I started wondering who I could ask about said signs.  On the third one I noticed a website in small (for a billboard) type near the bottom.  www.stopthebeetle.info.

I went to this site and discovered that several states have this message.  It is to help prevent the spread of an invasive insect pest called the Emerald Ash Borer.  Invasive species are a big issue for me, so I can appreciate this concept.  It seems that the billboards may be a little off, though.  Somehow the background information for the concept needs to be introduced – perhaps this is something that I didn’t experience (like TV or radio ads) since I don’t live in the affected area.

I doubt that most people are weird enough to look up the website just because of the billboards, though.

Cut to the Conversation

I have one odd reading habit that I developed in childhood which remains with me to this day.  My eye is automatically drawn to the dialogue.

With all of the discussions I’ve had recently about my auditory-learning preference, I’ve noticed it more.  Plus, unlike most of my reading lately, I’m actually in the midst of a novel rather than non-fiction.  (There is less dialogue in a non-fiction book, unsurprisingly.) I must know without realizing it that I miss things, because when I caught myself this afternoon it was on the return to find out what I skipped.  In pondering why I felt the need to read the conversation twice, it hit me: because I didn’t read all the other sentences the first time.  I cut right to the conversation.

No wonder the dialogue is the first thing that I write when working on a novel!

Finding Tiny Errors

There are a few stray commas in Butterflies.  There is also one age-related problem; it should say “not quite eleven” and instead it says “not quite ten.”  I am certain that it doesn’t affect the story for most people, and the commas are really minor, but I’m noticing all the little stuff like that as I am reading it again.

I do love the story, and reacquainting myself with the characters is wonderful.  As this is my fourth time to read it, however, the critical proofreading part of my brain is getting a bit too much say.  I wish it would be quiet; I know that I can update the current version with a new one, but one wrong number and a few stray commas don’t seem like they are worth the effort.

Farmer’s Market Adventure

One pastime that I have come to appreciate more since I began writing is people watching.  I’ve learned on my visit with family that we’re really good at speculating.  “What do you think that KEEPR license plate means?  Is he a zookeeper?  A beekeeper?  Likes to fish?  It could be he thinks a lot of himself, or maybe that’s his last name!”  People watching includes elements of this, along with a simple need to observe other human beings in order to write about other human beings.

Today we went to the farmer’s market.  I am quite pleased with the tomatoes, peaches, locally made cheese and bread that my parents were kind enough to buy for me.  The farmer’s market is also a great place to people watch.  There are business people out on their weekend and moms with their kids.  There were lots and lots of people with dogs, in different shapes and sizes.  (Eli, my dog, did not go, because I know he’s not a farmer’s market-friendly type of dog.)  There were people in modern-day hippy outfits and a college student or two.  We even ran into a couple of people that we knew.

People watching is fun and has definite applications for writing.  Now that I’m getting absorbed with Diaea once again, it will provide some good insight for developing the new Chasing characters.

A Tangent Trip

Ok, today I am not going to write about writing.  (If you’re disappointed, I’ll try to be back to normal tomorrow.)  Today I am going to have a little tangent about something that’s been bothering me more than usual lately.

“Shopping helps you live longer.”  “Smoking takes 10 years off your life.”  “Hot dogs can give you cancer.”

All of these statements are made based on scientific research.  The problem with them is that most people don’t understand the scientific method, or how experiments are done, and so they don’t take them with the necessary tablespoon of salt.  Why, you ask, should you not just believe these things outright?

It is relatively easy to prove a relationship in a study.  Proving causality is much, much harder.

Let’s take the shopping example, since it’s the least straightforward.  They compared people who were living in Taiwan, how old they are, and how much they shopped.  You can prove there is a link between older age and more shopping; fair enough.  But you can’t prove that the reason they lived longer is because they shopped.  There are lots of other variables that are involved in how long a person lives!

How about the smoking one?  Smoking takes 10 years off your life.  Ok, fair enough, but what if the person in question doesn’t smoke but gets hit by a bus?  Or maybe he smokes, but also eats nothing but bacon and mayo for his entire life?  What if our smokers are also generally unhealthy people in other ways?  Can we truly say that the 10 years they lived less is due to the cigarettes alone?  (I don’t condone smoking, by the way, but it’s an easy example.)

Unless you can eliminate all other variables (which is done in a lab but can’t be done in a study of real people) you usually can’t prove causality.

The other thing that is always left out of the media reports but I guarantee is in the study findings are these two words: “on average.” They take all the cases and average them to find their results.  Saying that the human lifespan is 80 is an average; we understand that some people won’t live that long and some live longer.  The same is true with any scientifically based study, but most people don’t realize that.

Ok, thank you for indulging my tangent about proving causality versus proving a relationship; you may now return to your regularly scheduled day.

Reading Butterflies

In order to get back into the right mindset for writing Chasing, I’m reading The Queen’s Butterflies again.

Not counting revisions and reading sections, this will be the fourth time that I’ve read it.

I wonder if I’ll have the same experience this time, where I get to the point where I can’t put it down.  I hope that I enjoy it as much as I have before!

Can I have your autograph?

Yesterday I signed my first official autograph as Leigh Townsend.  A friend of my mom’s printed The Queen’s Butterflies from the .pdf file she got from Smashwords, and she asked me to sign the first page.  It was cool, and also somewhat anxiety-inducing.

I discovered one important thing, though: I need more practice signing “Townsend” before I autograph any more books.  It’s a pseudonym, after all, and as such it is not a name I’ve had the necessity to sign on a regular basis.  So I plan to sign it a couple of times a day until I build the muscle memory.

Here’s hoping I’ll one day need that practice!

Making words from random letters

I like words, which I think you probably know about me already.  The human mind likes to find patterns, even where none exist, so I know that I am not the only word-liking human that takes random letters and tries to assemble them into a coherent word.

This is especially true of license plates.  It doesn’t help that I grew up in a vanity-plate-loving state, where many times the random letters aren’t really random at all.  My plate on my first car was “CRITR 98” and I don’t think it takes much to figure out what word it’s supposed to be.  A woman my mom knew got a plate with an error to her request.  She’d asked for “IM A 10” (which was really funny to those of us who knew her) and she ended up with “I MA 10” which is also kind of funny.

Today I was noticing that license plates no longer have three randomly assigned letters followed by three randomly assigned numbers.  My plate has a jumble of letters and numbers, which is probably why I can’t ever manage to remember it.  When I do see a plate with multiple letters on it, I still try to create words. This is not just exclusive to license plates, though.  Any random letter combination starts to try to arrange itself and add letters in my head.

I like words, though, so I think I can be forgiven.  🙂

Please Use the Right Word

There are many incorrect terms that are in common use in our language, and most of them don’t bother me.  For example, there are specific criteria that define a “bug,” that make an animal a true bug.  Not all insects are bugs.  Ladybugs?  Nope, technically a beetle.  Lightning bugs?   Also technically a beetle.  Assassin bugs and stink bugs are true bugs.  This incorrect usage is common; more importantly, it doesn’t bother me.

There are three common incorrect terms that really do bother me.  Today I am going to share them with you.  One proves that I am a science nerd, another that I am a bird nerd, and the third simply proves that I am a nerd in general.

Let’s start with a simple one: buzzard or vulture?  That big, bald-headed bird that eats dead stuff is correctly called a vulture.  In the rest of the English-speaking world, a buzzard is a type of hawk, not a vulture.  Buzzard is not only an inaccurate term for the bird, but a very misleading one.

Vulture on the left, Buzzard on the right. See? They are very different.

The next one is really science-nerdy, so consider yourself warned.  Picture a cartoon with a character leaning his head on a textbook.  He says, “I’m learning through osmosis.”  This bothers me immensely!  The correct word is diffusion, because diffusion is the movement of any molecule across a membrane.  Osmosis refers specifically to the diffusion of water.  So unless our cartoon friend is getting hydration from his book, he should use the word diffusion instead.

The third one is writing-related, and it has to do with weaponry.  What do you call the weapon that is a ball on a chain attached to a club or stick?  If you said flail, you are correct.  If you said mace, you’ve hit my third pet peeve.  A mace is a stick with a metal-reinforced end.  If there is anything that can swing involved, it’s a flail.

So now you know three ways to be more accurate in your writing and your everyday speech.  I thank you in advance for using the right words.  What incorrect terminology bothers you the most?

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