Typography dos and don’ts

There really should be a basic Typography 101 class required in high school or university, since so many people don’t know jack about what constitutes a professional, serious, mature typeface. You have failed at understanding font selection if a cartoonish, unevenly-kerned font is your go-to for everything, or if you feel compelled to stick with the default font and never experiment to find out what you like most.

The verboten fonts (all of which I’ve deleted from my computer, or kept only because they’re needed to keep the system running):

Comic Sans. My eyes twitch every time I see this abomination. I’ve even seen it used in the photo display of a local synagogue’s past presidents, and as a several-page homework assignment from the local Orthodox day school. Besides being massively overused and misused, it’s just not designed very well. This font sends the immediate message of unprofessionalism.

Papyrus, fast giving Comic Sans a run for its money in massive overuse and misuse. I refuse to buy any product or patronise any store using this ridiculous, faux-exotic font.

Brush Script, so dull, overused, generic, cliché.

Mistral. There are much better casual script fonts.

Arial, a cheap-looking Helvetica imitator.

Handwriting Dakota, which I actually initially liked until I saw it being used more and more. I’m glad I replaced it with Journal, which is much better-designed and is a much more professional-looking casual script typeface.

Curlz, another eye-twitching font often used on party invitations.

Times New Roman, the epitome of conformism and dullness. This font is so tiny and ugly it almost makes my eyes bleed looking at it. I refuse to worship at its altar like it’s some saintly, perfect, go-to font. It was a good newspaper font at one point, but that was decades ago.

Courier. Seriously, there are much prettier typewriter fonts. It looks ugly, is too big, and is very hard to read for extended periods.

Kristen, a thoughtless go-to font for many elementary schools and daycares.

Waltograph. Never use this font unless you’re designing something Disney!

Lucida Handwriting. I liked this font at first, till I began seeing it more often. That’s the mark of an amateur, choosing a default font that looks like handwriting instead of going to a professional website like MyFonts.

Bradley Hand, another faceless, overused font.

Monotype Corsiva, which only looks like a pretty handwriting font until you’ve started seeing it all over and realised there are much more creative, professional, casual script fonts.

Bleeding Cowboys. Please, step away from this one!

Best serif fonts (which most books should be written in):

Baskerville and Baskerville Old Face
Bell MT (though you might want to increase the size, since it’s pretty small at 12 points)
Big Caslon
Bodoni (which has a large family of variations, as all good, professional typefaces should)
Calisto MT
Cochin (another smaller font it might do to size up slightly)
Palatino (my font soulmate for over 20 years)

Best sans-serif fonts (generally best for subject headings, not fiction):

Helvetica, a classic for a reason (albeit overused in the corporate world)
Skia (Greek for “shadow,” with a fittingly old-style shape)
Gill Sans
News Gothic
Quay Sans

Typewriter fonts (best for title pages or short papers, but could work for a novel):

Cassandre Graphika, which must be sized down, as its 12 point size is huge! Most of these typewriter fonts I’ve downloaded need scaling down.
Byron Mark II
Olympia Congress
Reiner Graphika
Royal Vogue
Underwood Champion (normal-sized, and much more attractive and realistic to a typewriter font than Courier)
King (which unfortunately doesn’t have quote marks)

The calligraphy/handwriting/fancy fonts (best for title pages and chapter headings only!):

Wellingborough, which has a number of variants in its family. It reminds me of a cross between Gothic and Edwardian script.
Tangerine, formal without being too ornate and fancy, or hard to read.
Edwardian Script
Chopin Script
Savoye LET (albeit a bit overused), which evokes a 1940s feels for me.
Zapfino, which some people do feel is badly-designed or not the best script font out there.
Harrington, which conveys a very 1920s feel to me.
Freebooter Script

A professionally-designed font always has its time and place. A picture book may look best with a sans-serif font; a title page may be best-served by a calligraphy, typewriter, or Gothic-style font; a heading in a magazine article or the font on book swag goes best with a basic sans-serif font; a very long book could do well with Cochin or Baskerville to make it shorter; and a short book might become longer with a larger serif font like Didot or Lucida Bright.


IWSG and What’s Up Wednesday

My Horny Hump Day post is here.


The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and gives participants an opportunity to vent, share struggles and triumphs, and just commiserate in general. I’ve decided to start indie publishing this year, and I’d like to lead with Jakob’s story, in large part because it’s so short by my standards, and in past tense. Then I can put out my much-longer, present tense books.

I started using present tense in 1993, YEARS before it was trendy or common, but I have a lingering fear that some people will write me off as an amateur mindlessly following a trend. Most of my writing is in past tense, and using present for those specific books was a carefully considered decision. It’s a huge compliment when someone says s/he only belatedly realised those stories are in present tense, and no wonder s/he felt so immediately pulled in with such emotional intensity.

What do you think of the latest font I changed the title page to? It’s called Wellingborough Flourish, and is part of a six-font family I downloaded from MyFonts. Wellingborough fonts are all free through 5 February, an amazing savings of over $50.

Jaap title

It’s really special that this year is the 50th anniversary of the song “Rag Doll,” whose story was the inspiration for Little Ragdoll. That was such an amazing experience, this story just effortlessly spilling out of me after 16.5 years of keeping it in my head and heart.

I have to finish Appendix D (information about the toys and games which appear) and see about copyright. Most of my quotes are public domain—The Velveteen Rabbit, The Divine Comedy, an intertitle from Moran of the Lady Letty, Candide, Siddhartha, Ovid’s Amorum, The Tao Te Ching, and an intertitle from The Sheik.

I think I’d need permission to use lyrics from the George Harrison songs “Crackerbox Palace” and “Be Here Now,” and the Simon and Garfunkel song “Blessed.” I also quote from “Benedictus,” but the lyrics are nothing more than the line “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” from the Latin Mass. Old prayers aren’t copyrighted.

I also quote from George’s song “If Not for You” at the start of my Russian novel, so if I find contact information for whomever owns the copyright to his songs, I’d need to ask permission for all three.

Do I have any volunteers to critique or beta my work? Have you ever dealt with copyright issues? Should I be concerned about negative reception because of how I use (third-person) present tense outside of the genre where it’s most commonly found? Is it the best decision to indie publish rather than start trying again with the querying rat race and contest circuit? Why are long, serious historicals no longer the norm in traditional publishing?

WUW Winter

What I’m Reading

One of my library books is H.G. Adler’s Panorama, a stream-of-consciousness, autographical novel starting in WWI-era Bohemia and ending after the Shoah. Finally, a serious historical with meat on its bones. It was written in 1968, but only translated from German in 2010. I was looking at Lisa See’s Chinese historicals too, but quickly realised they wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Reading negative reviews later confirmed my initial impression. Bland, immature writing, glossing over important events, too much telling, wrong POV for historical, too short, not enough depth or complexity.

What I’m Writing

I’m at about the 590,000-word mark in my WIP, still Chapter 76. Most of the past week I’ve spent researching, assembling, and writing my posts for the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I hope my readers like my theme and the posts as much as I’m enjoying preparing them!

I think it would be best to leave a little gap between Chapter 77, “Journey to England,” and Chapter 78, “Day of All Days,” instead of coming up with unplanned filler chapters. There might be 5-6 more chapters left in Part III from 78 on, and the drama and intensity will come thick and fast. Still not looking forward to one of my two Marines losing his arm at Saipan!

What Inspires Me

The awesomeness of the pro-vaccination community, and how tirelessly my intelligent, science-minded friends work to combat misinformation, scare tactic propaganda, strawman arguments, and all the other nonsense constantly spewed by the vaccine-denialist cult.

What Else I’m Up To

I finally belatedly added a lot of grave pictures and interments from 2008 to Find A Grave. They were from Montefiore Cemetery in Queens and West Cemetery in Amherst, MA. Some of the West Cemetery graves had already been entered, but a few were missing pictures, which I happily provided. I also was excited to provide headstone pictures (both original and modern replacement) for Zephaniah Swift Moore, the first president of Amherst College. It’s pretty cool to get to add a photo to a famous interment. I’ve also written 75 famous biographies, including Curly and Moe Howard, Lon Chaney, Sr., Niels Bohr, John Entwistle, Paul Klee, and Fritz Lang.

IWSG and What’s Up Wednesday

My Horny Hump Day post is here.


It’s time for the first meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group this year.

I’ve finally stopped waffling and come to the conclusion that I’m not a YA writer in the modern, U.S. sense of the word. I’ve always most enjoyed writing about young people, but it’s become more and more obvious, based on contests, following trends, and such, that my stories are more adult in nature, and just happen to be about young people.

I’ve gotten a lot of good comments and feedback when I’ve entered Jakob’s story in contests and query critiques, but one thing that prevented a number of people from selecting it as a finalist was the length, and the narrative voice. 120K is actually a drop in the bucket by my adult standards, and this particular book is a lot closer to third-person limited than I usually do. Jakob remains the pivotal character throughout, and there’s never a scene where he’s not present. For example, when his mother Luisa is being abused at the police station before they go to Westerbork, he can only hear what’s going on in the other room, and then sees the evidence when Luisa is let go.

Traditionally, historical has been a lengthy genre. I usually look askance at historicals that aren’t at least 400 pages, though there are wonderful exceptions. I get the feeling that a lot of agents who list historical in a big laundry list of interests aren’t really passionate about it. If you were, you’d understand that it normally requires a fair bit of length for worldbuilding, not to mention how most historical novels are set over a number of years, not just a few months.

Jakob’s story ended up a bit over 120K, because that was the length that naturally unfolded for it. Cutting out at least 30,000 words just to make it shorter would make it not the same story anymore. It’s the same way that my Atlantic City books tend to be under 70K, because that length works best for the types of stories they are. Within each genre, there’s a continuum of normal, like 60K for a police procedural or YA contemporary, and over 300K for a lot of classic historicals and fantasies.

Also, I’m just really disappointed in a lot of YA historicals from the last 10 years or so. The best ones I’ve encountered tend to come from outside the U.S., where the focus is on a young person fully experiencing history, not a teen who just happens to be living through history. Don’t even get me started on the Gossip Girl in period clothes trend.

WUW Winter

What I’m Writing

Past the 555,000-word mark in my WIP, and up to Chapter 72, “Shelter in Shanghai.” In the last chapter, Lyuba, Ivan, Eliisabet, and Aleksey became grandparents to little Kira Tvardovskaya-Koneva, and the chapter before was the polio chapter. It was pretty emotionally challenging to end the chapter in the iron lung ward, as I had to research what an iron lung sounds like and then put myself in 12-year-old Violetta’s semi-conscious mind as she’s being taken into this place and put in that grotesque breathing machine.

Two of the girls, Beatrisa and Platosha, got non-paralytic polio and were able to walk again within a week, but the other two, Violetta and her sister Flora, were paralysed. In later chapters, little Flora will take a ballet class taught by Lyuba’s stepsister Lyolya, who knows what it’s like to have a mobility injury and gradually relearn how to walk and dance. Lyolya is about due to retire as a ballerina anyway, so teaching little polio survivors how to dance as part of their rehabilitation is a really nice touch.

Violetta is going to date and marry Lyuba and Ivan’s son Igor in the future fourth book (1948-52), so her being a polio survivor creates some good storylines. Being the sinistral chauvinist I am, I also made her left hand and arm untouched by paralysis. Though her paralysis isn’t permanent, her right side will be too damaged to remain her dominant side.

What I’m Reading

I saw The Age of Innocence in a classics display at the nearest library, and decided to revisit it 20 years later. In 8th grade, I basically just read the dialogue and short narrative passages, and still got an A+ on my social-studies book report. As an adult, I can appreciate the writing style and storyline much better, though I still think there are way too many descriptive passages and backstories bogging down the action, as well as far too much telling.

What Inspires Me

I’ve got an upcoming blog series called “Diseases and Historical Fiction.” Part I, to go live on the 13th, is a general debunking of the vaccine-denialist cult and their complete ignorance of history and hatred/abuse of children with ASDs. In the final paragraph, I’m officially outing myself, and that prospect no longer frightens me. God chose to wire my brain a little differently, and that’s just part of who I am. The fact that these people would see me as damaged, defective, cursed, nonexistent as an adult, or soulless enrages me, and I don’t think it’s right to continue hiding in the crowd just because I learnt how to more or less pass as “normal.”

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I was playing around a bit with my title page for Little Ragdoll, and changed the typeface a few more times. The original Edwardian Script seemed too fancy for the type of story it was, and Monotype Corsiva, Lucida Handwriting, Lucida Calligraphy, and Snell Roundhand felt a bit dull, not too creative or inspired. I initially loved Handwriting Dakota, since it matches the typeface in the Wordle I made, but I had to look it up to make sure Dakota isn’t considered amateurish or overused by serious typographers. I’d hate to unintentionally use something as disreputable as Comic Sans or Papyrus!

I ultimately found a typeface called Journal, which is recommended as one of several substitutes for Dakota. It conveys the same feel of casual handwriting, is still very similar to the Wordle typeface, looks better-designed (no slanting, and the characters are closer together and more proportionate), and really does match the story of a young girl, her sisters, and their friends growing up poor in Manhattan during the Sixties and early Seventies. I made the title dark blue, Adicia’s favourite colour.

LR Title Page

2013 in review

I probably wrote at least 500,000 words in my WIP this year, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety. It was begun last November, and hopefully might take another six months for the first draft to be done. In between, I also did some more editing on my first Russian historical and some of my Max’s House books. In August, I skipped ahead in the hiatused Justine Grown Up to write the chapter “Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room.”

I downloaded a bunch of new typefaces, some of them for the A to Z Challenge in April. Others are calligraphy fonts for title pages, and others are typewriter fonts. I think my favourites are Janson (a gorgeous, venerable serif typeface), Cassandre Graphika (from a 1956 typewriter), and Tangerine (a not-overly-fancy calligraphy font).


Most of the books I read were for my Children’s Lit class, both required and chosen. I didn’t really dig most of the required books, in spite of their positive reputations, but it’s no surprise I tend not to like books with tons of hype. I prefer older books, and modern books which are more under the radar.

Some of the books I loved:

Bunny and the Beast, written by Molly Coxe and illustrated by Pamela Silin-Palmer. At first I was annoyed that Beast was an unfairly-maligned Pit Bull, but then I realised it was meant positively, not yet another excuse to stereotype and demonise Pits. The illustrations are gorgeous.

The Dragon Prince, written by Lawrence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak. This is the Southern Chinese version of Beauty and the Beast, and beautifully-illustrated. I haven’t read a whole lot of Chinese fiction, either historical or contemporary, which is something I need to correct. (If I ever decide to write a Chinese historical, my characters will be Hakka or Manchu, not Han, so my women and girls won’t have to bind their feet!)

A Time for Courage:  The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, by Kathryn Lasky. Too many people these days forget how relatively recently women got the right to vote, and what a painful, long struggle it was to get that basic right men took for granted. It was seen as indecent, immoral, unnatural for women to want to vote and do more with their lives than make social calls, run a household, and have children.

The Fences Between Us, by Kirby Larson. Like the above, this is also a Dear America book, and set during WWII. It’s based on the true story of Rev. Emory Andrews, the pastor of a Japanese Baptist church who chose to accompany his Seattle flock to an internment camp in Idaho. Though I kind of wish the book had been narrated by Betty Sato, not the pastor’s made-up daughter Piper. (And come on, who would’ve named a girl Piper in 1929?!)

The Skull of Truth, by Bruce Coville. We had to read two fantasy books, and I ended up loving the MG book I found. I’m more liable to get into fantasy if it’s real-world-based, not epic high fantasy. This book was so funny and fast-paced, with some very important lessons about when to tell the truth and when not to share an opinion.

Kaleidoscope Eyes, by Jen Bryant. This upper MG novel in verse is set during 1968, and involves three friends searching for treasure believed to have been buried by Captain Kidd in 1699. It’s refreshing to find a Sixties historical that doesn’t revolve around Vietnam, and I loved how it wasn’t immediately revealed how Malcolm happens to be African-American. It’s so cringe-worthy how each and every Babysitters’ Club book introduces Jessi with a really awkward, self-conscious mention of her race.

Lily Renée, Escape Artist:  From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, written by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Mo Oh. This graphic novel tells the little-known story of a girl who left Austria for England on a Kindertransport as a teen, suffered with an abusive foster mother, found a variety of jobs after running away, and ultimately made her way to America while the ports were still open. She struggled in New York for awhile, but ultimately her artistic talents made her a respected comic book artist.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose, written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. This book rightfully won a Newbery. The entire time, my hair was standing on end at how chillingly accurately the climate of fear and paranoia of the Great Terror was depicted. This was also one of the increasingly rare times I felt first-person present tense worked with the story, instead of immediately making me tune out.

So Far from the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. I love Japanese historicals, and don’t get a chance to read enough of them. This book is challenged and attacked by many people because Yoko was from a well-off Japanese family living in Korea during WWII. They had to flee for their lives back to Japan in the Summer of 1945, to avoid capture by the vengeful Koreans and invading Russians. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, My Brother, My Sister, and I.


Once again, it was a slow year for adding to my vinyl collection. I only got five vinyl LPs this year—Big Thing (1988); So Red the Rose (1985), one of my last presents from my walking DSM ex; The Who by Numbers (1975), which I’ve already owned on CD since 15 March 2001; The Power Station (1985); and Genesis (1983). I also got the most important of my records out of storage from my ex’s vile parents’ cellar.

I now have 39 albums made in my lifetime, 13 from people or bands who actually got famous in my lifetime instead of long before I was born. I’m well aware that over half of that number comes from the same band plus two spin-offs, but give me some credit for slowly moving into the modern era!

What’s Up Wednesday


What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Writing

I wrote my paper on the changing role of research and academic libraries, switching from Didot to Baskerville to keep to the five pages asked for while still fitting in everything I wanted to say. The footnotes were left in 10-point Didot. It’s a lovely typeface, and I’d like to use it for some future paper. I’ve also got two other small papers to do for Records Management.

I’m up to 531,100 words in my WIP, and decided to reign in Chapter 67 while it was still mid-length (by my standards, 7000s), and use the rest of the planned material in a new chapter. Chapter 68 covers April-June 1942, and is called “Homefront Services and Sacrifices.” Time to research the details and timeline of rationing, victory gardens, women’s factory work, and women’s auxiliary military services.

What I’m Reading

Once again, I’ve only really had time to read journal articles for my classes.

What Inspires Me

25 November was my 22nd anniversary of starting my first Atlantic City book, the beyond-embarrassing Proud to Be a Smart. Even if the writing was bad, the characters weren’t quite there yet, and the storylines were ridiculous, there was something special there. The original members of that first generation and I literally grew up together. I’ve known them since we were eleven years old.

I’m glad I never “moved on” from these characters and stories I hatched when I was just a preteen. Staying with them so long has done wonders for their growth and development. The way I write them now is the way you can only write someone you’ve known for 0ver 20 years. And when I edit, revise, and rewrite the older drafts that were worth salvaging, I know how to correct inconsistent or out of character actions.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

My professor for Organization of Information came to me after class last week to say how impressed she was by my portfolio, which ran to over 70 pages. She said it was “almost too good,” and praised my attention to detail and all the personal examples, opinions, and critical analyses. And to think I put off the majority of that portfolio, two months of work, till about a week before the due date!

I also got an 8 out of 8 on the paper about information-seeking behaviour. I wrote about how I researched American tourism to Iran and how to go about visiting both Israel and Iran without getting into trouble. (You need two passports if you want to visit both within the same period.) She said I can use her for a recommendation when I formally apply to the program. And to think this started off as my most boring class!

Apparently my new roommate’s parents, whom I’ve never met, really approve of me. She said she was Skyping with them one night, and they saw my records behind her. The one that’s propped up at the moment is Seven and the Ragged Tiger (whose 30th birthday was 20 November), and it turns out they’re fellow Duranies. They told her I obviously have awesome taste in music. Sometimes it pays to not have current tastes!


Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and coconut curry tempeh slices. Tempeh is one of the best foods I’ve ever discovered. It’s so much easier (at least outside of some small towns) to be a vegan or stricter vegetarian than it was even ten years ago. At the moment, I’m primarily eating an ovo vegetarian diet, with very limited dairy products.


Hadn’t taken a family picture in awhile. Keith is the dog, and the two Pound Purries on top of Simon are John and Paul. John is the grey cat with a few missing whiskers and a missing mouth, and Paul is the little caramel-coloured guy. I know I got John second-hand in 1993, but I can’t remember the circumstances of getting Paul. I want to say he was secondhand too.

Stuffed animal meme


Davy with his twin sister Davina. Hard to believe they’re the same age, twenty-five. It’s obvious which one I love more!

2013-11-26 20.24.16

2013-11-26 20.23.55

I found this mug when I was at the Christmas Tree Shops with my crazy ex-roommate back in September. I generously offered to buy her the Libra mug (since she felt $2.99 was out of budget), but she declined. When I told my mother this woman is a Libra, she said she resented that and didn’t feel my roommate were a calm, balanced fellow Libra at all!

Tea is my hot beverage of choice. Never got a taste for coffee, and only drank it five times in my life—on my 13th birthday in 1992, twice when I accidentally hit the wrong button on a hot water machine and didn’t want to waste it, when I was hosted by Bedouins in the Negev, and when I was hosted by Druze in Haifa. The last two times, I didn’t want to offend my lovely hosts by refusing. I recently found out the Brummie branch of my family tree wasn’t British British, but recent immigrants from Germany, though I still choose to attribute my love of tea in part to having a little British blood.

Must head over to Teavana soon for some of their awesome loose or blooming tea!

Finally, Chanukah begins Wednesday night. My Hebrew birthday is the 5th night, regarded as the holiest, most special night.