IWSG—Another month of exhaustion

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I was pursuing traditional publication in 2000–01, and again from 2011–14. Everything I’d read said all writers needed agents, and I took part in so many contests, pitchfests, and events like Gearing Up to Get an Agent and the Platform-Building Campaign.

Gradually, I came to realise I needed to be the mistress of my own destiny. I’ve nothing against the many writers who’ve chosen traditional publishing, but I personally like having total creative control. Most of my books, apart from my Atlantic City books, are also deliberately saga-length, with ensemble casts. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for 5–10 years to prove myself worthy of releasing a very long book.

I also don’t like the idea of waiting up to two years (or more) for a book to be published, after finding an agent. I enjoy setting my own release dates, and coinciding them with important dates to my characters.

After spending nearly an entire month checking four e-proofs and correcting a few stray typos and errors I caught, I went through my first Russian historical to create the fourth edition I’d wanted to work on for a long time. I also finally put my other books onto Nook and Kobo.

I also added a glossary and a “The Story Behind the Story” for And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, about both my volumes with Jakob and Rachel. I’ve always considered it one story in two books, though I still agree with my decision to make the final year of the story into its own book. The focus of each is so different.

Then I went back to The Twelfth Time, the sequel to Swan, for a long, long-overdue final polishing. Its first draft was 406K, and I’d taken it down to 398K the last time I worked on it. I’m proud to have gotten it down to a more manageable 390K, plus about 4K of front and back matter. Does anyone expect a Russian novel to be short?!

The Twelfth Time releases on 6 September, Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding anniversary. They chose that date because it was the date they finally became lovers, and conceived their first blood child together. I wrote that book in 2011, and began editing it in 2014. I shouldn’t have been sitting on it for nearly this long!

I also love the Russian Land typeface I found (which is free for commercial use). It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic. This typeface is far more suitable for the mood and style of these books than the fancy types I was playing with prior, like Chopin, Lucien Schoenschrift, Tangerine, and Exmouth.

I immediately got to work on the final polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, which I’m hoping to finally release either late this year or sometime next year. All this rereading is really making me eager to finally go back full-time to my fourth Russian historical, and the remaining seven books in my epic series, which I’ve named The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan.

I also finally put together a page with links to all my current author pages and books. Planned future releases are also listed. I have no one to blame but myself for my previous failure at marketing myself.

Anything exciting going on in your writing and publishing life lately?

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Fun with formatting

One of my favorite parts of the writing process may very well be the formatting aspect, both in setting up documents and at the end, while preparing documents for publication. I love how it lets me use the left (non-creative) side of my brain for a change.

I assumed I had to go back onto my 11-year-old computer to format my alternative history and hyperlink the table of contents, like I’ve done with every other manuscript, but Word just wasn’t cooperating when I C&Ped it into a pre-formatted 6×9 template. It kept going into spinning pinwheel of Death mode when I tried to change certain pieces of formatting, and inexplicably changed certain sections into Helvetica.

The newest version of Pages can hyperlink to bookmarks within a document just like Word, though it’s a more time-consuming, less straightforward process. I also discovered how to custom-set the size of the pages within a document, set mirror margins (facing pages) and the various margins on every page (inside, outside, etc.), make the right and left pages different (to allow for headers with page numbers on alternating sides), and so many things I thought only Word could do.

When I justified the entire document in Pages, my 0.3″ indents were retained, unlike in Word. I only had to re-center my headings, a few of the front matter pages (with quotes, the dedication, and publication information), the numbers and three-asterisk markers denoting sections within chapters, and the headlines and bylines of newspaper stories.

I then changed my chapter, part, and back matter headings to Wellingborough Text, the typeface the title page, cover, and “The End” are in. I want everything to match.

I’ve set the release of my print copies for 12 August, what would’ve been Aleksey’s 114th birthday. I don’t want to rush through the rest of my formatting just so both formats come out on the same day. I still have to set it so no page numbers or other headers appear on the first page of each part, and to set page numbers as footers on the first page of each chapter.

I changed my leading from the normal 2 to 1, which shrank my page count by almost half. I’d planned to leave it in my belovèd Palatino, but came to realize my typographical soulmate doesn’t convey the type of mood I want. Not only does Baskerville shrink page count even further, but it also is very elegant, timeless, literary, and evocative of a bygone era.

Palatino:

Baskerville:

I’ll continue writing just about everything in Palatino, but for actual typesetting, I really like Baskerville. I’m also fond of Cochin and Janson. XenonMedium helps with shrinking page count too, but might not be so readable for long stretches.

Cochin:

Janson:

XenonMedium:

Do you enjoy the formatting part of the writing process? Do you save the less immediate aspects for last, or do you set everything up when you create a document or chapter file? Do you have a favorite typeface for writing, and does it differ from what you like to see in printed books?

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)
Bookman
Calisto MT
Century
Cochin (another smaller font it might do to size up slightly)
Didot
Garamond
Janson
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)
Futura
Gill Sans
Optima
News Gothic
Quay Sans
Tahoma
Verdana

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
Lucien
Olympia Congress
Reiner Graphika
Royal Vogue
Testimonial
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
Polonaise
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.
Journal
Harrington, which conveys a very 1920s feel to me.
Exmouth
Freebooter Script
Aerolite

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.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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