High Holy Days (Helvetica)

Font: Helvetica

Year created: 1957

Personal experience: Used from the time I began typing my stories on the old ’84 Mac, probably around 1987 or 1988, until September 1993. I never particularly liked it, but I was too young to realize that I wasn’t bound to the default font. That, and I heard that publishers preferred something that looked like it came from a typewriter. (Yeah, that book had some outdated advice!)

Chapter: “High Holy Days”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 7 April-14 September 2010

Handwritten

I actually have two chapters with this title, one in The Very First and the other in my magnum opus. This post is about Part LV (55) of Cinnimin. It’s set from 20 September-18 October 1998, in Israel, Hawaii, New York City, and of course Atlantic City. It’s also one of the longer Parts, possibly able to stand alone.

So much happens here. Cinni’s daughter-in-law Ophelia finally snaps regarding her spoilt twins (her youngest children and only boys out of ten kids), a family vacation to Hawaii for a bar mitzvah turns into chaos, Ophelia’s marriage heads for the rocks, typical catfighting between longtime rivals Gavrilla (Sparky’s rabbi daughter) and her cousin by marriage Leah, and Cinni’s granddaughter Mancika starts her junior year of studying abroad in Israel with her beatnik best friend Ammiel.

Some of the many highlights:

Ammiel cringed at the applause. “Why do people always applaud when an El Al plane lands? It sounds so silly. People don’t clap when their boat docks.”

“I didn’t know your mom’s family spoke Polish,” Ammiel said. “I thought they used that hideous ghetto language Yiddish.”

[Ophelia’s Yom Kippur outfit; she’s almost a size 20 at this point, a sharp contrast to how slim and sexy she was in youth] Several buttons had popped on her blouse, so she’d wrapped a white silk shawl around her midsection. Her skirt was just several yards of fabric from the crafts store, a black background with ringed planets, sewn together into a semblance of a real skirt and held together with safety pins. For footwear she had frog slippers, not even having realized she’d left the house still wearing them.

Balázs let out a very loud scream and flung himself down on the asphalt before running back towards the building. “You suck, Mommy! You know I can do whatever I want because I have a penis!” [This earns him a public spanking in front of the synagogue.]

Serop gunned the car, desperate to get away from Zeevie, only to find the cop trailing after him again. He was furious when he was handed a second ticket and told he’d lose his license if he committed another traffic violation.

“What kind of a face is that on the eve of your only child’s special day?” Gavrilla asked, full well knowing Leah hadn’t been expecting her.

“Oh, Leah, are you so cynical you can’t grasp your own child’s father doing something nice for her and even putting in a personal appearance out of his own motivation?” Gavrilla asked. “Tisk, tisk, tisk.”

“We took the liberty of looking for disposables, and instead found some stuff you hadn’t even taken out of the box,” Gavrilla said. “Who buys nice tableware and then never uses it or even unpacks it? Maybe that’s why your pre-existing dishes look so worn-out, because you keep using them over and over again.”

Ammiel ambled down wearing black gaucho pants and a Roswell 50th anniversary T-shirt. Mancika was embarrassed by his casual wear but knew he wouldn’t change it.

Ammiel held up a few shirts. “Which one, Mants? The ‘Re-elect Clinton’ one, the ‘Legalize Cannabis’ one, or the ‘Celebrating 25 Years of Roe vs. Wade’ one?”

“I bet you have a stomach ache from eating too many of those candies you stash in your room,” Shafar said. “Your bat mitzvah project should be Weight Watchers.”

Alice stared. With every step Yasmin took, a drop of blood fell on the floor. Pointing, she loudly alerted everyone, “Look, Yasmin’s having her period!”

“Oh, look!” Skye laughed. “Yasmin stuck the tampon up her butt! No wonder you can’t find it!” [And she cut off the string!]

[Praying with Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall] Mancika and Raina just rolled their eyes at the ultras who started yelling, unfazed. Raina had seen the Prime Minister assassinated; a few angry, self-righteous, self-proclaimed mullahs were nothing to her. Toni tried to concentrate on her prayers and block out the noise. These people’s opinions meant nothing to her; after all, they probably wouldn’t consider her de facto Orthodox conversion in Paris ten years ago to be valid anyway. They were with people peacefully praying for peace and unity, not divisive, hate-filled bigots who didn’t live in the real world.

IWSG—Working without Critique Partners

(My Horny Hump Day post is here.)

The first Wednesday of every month is the posting-time for the Insecure Writers Support Group.

I often feel as though I’m in a minority of writers these days who doesn’t have a team of critique partners or beta readers. It would be nice to have people willing to read and constructively critique my work, but things just haven’t worked out. I actually got some e-mails from interested people back in June, as the result of some CP mixers, but I feel really bad I wasn’t able to respond because I was so busy with camp. Would it be too late to respond to some of them now?

I found someone through Ladies Who Critique who read the first chapter of my Russian novel, but even though she said she really liked it, she never got back to me again. (I’ve since made a number of significant edits and rewrites on that first chapter, after having thought I was finally done.)

Then there was the failed connection with the writer who volunteered to read the entire manuscripts of everyone planning to participate in a historical contest that fell through. Some of my readers are acquainted with her, which is why she’s going unnamed. You know, if she really didn’t have the time or interest to read a historical saga, she could’ve at least gotten back to me and told me that, or asked if I had anything that was shorter.

I spent a huge amount of time and effort editing, rewriting, revising, and polishing my Russian novel over and over and over again, an entire decade after finishing the first draft. This person didn’t even realize the sheer amount of garbage from the original 1993 material I completely junked or radically rewrote.

It took a hell of a lot of work to bring that book out of its ridiculous beginnings to a mature, complex historical saga and love story. All she saw was a number, and didn’t even bother to read even one chapter or section to see WHY the story needs to be so long. Who expects a Russian novel to be short anyway?

And I had a rather negative experience with a would-be beta reader who’s a lot younger than I am and who apparently comes from a much different school of thought regarding critiquing and writing. When did it become acceptable to ONLY point out what you didn’t like, instead of equally pointing out things you did like?

Well, if a would-be beta even takes you to task for using a font that isn’t the precious, saintly Times New Roman (which makes my eyes bleed), chances are it’s not a good match anyway. After 19 years, Palatino feels like home. I’d rather go back to Helvetica, which was the default on the older Macs I grew up with, than EVER use TNR. At least Helvetica has a personality and looks distinguished.

Palatino is elegant, timeless, beautiful.
Helvetica has a modern, distinguished look.
Times New Roman is so tiny, generic, and boring, and makes my eyes bleed.

Picking a personalized font

One of my surprises after belatedly resuming my long-deferred dream of being a published writer was how many writers these days don’t have any special font. The idea of typing in some generic, personality-less font like Times New Roman, Courier, or Arial just because someone I don’t know said so is so puzzling to me.

First, I’ve come across a number of agent blogs/websites saying that all they care about is that the font is legible and professional, not that it’s one particular font. Second, I wouldn’t prefer to submit to anyone who demanded a font I absolutely loathe and despise. Why is there a plethora of fonts on a computer if there’s this supposed standard everyone is supposed to be using no matter what?

In 1993, early in my 8th grade year, I got the late Olga Litowinsky’s Writing and Publishing Books for Children in the 1990s at a school bookfair. One of her pieces of advice was to use a typewriter-looking font if you’re writing on a computer. Now, I’m old enough to have used a typewriter more than a few times, in spite of having had a computer in the house since ’84. And I knew that the default Helvetica I’d always used did not look like typewriter font. So I looked through the other fonts, and thought Bookman looked closest to typewriter font.

When our dear ’84 Mac short-circuited and I had to wait my turn to use the new ’93 Mac, I discovered Bookman wasn’t a choice. Palatino was the closest I could find, and so for 19 years now, I’ve been typing exclusively in Palatino. It fits me like a glove. To open up a blank document and type in anything else would feel like cheating. Not only that, but when I look at other fonts, as pretty as I might find them, none of them feels quite right. Only Palatino gives me that feeling of comfort, security, and perfection.

However, there are other serif fonts I like looking at, fonts that are professional and attractive. They might not be my perfect match, but they could be the perfect match for another writer, just as Palatino is my font soulmate. Other attractive serif fonts include:

Baskerville (including Baskerville Old Face)
Big Caslon
Bodoni
Book Antiqua (which is almost identical to Palatino)
Calisto MT
Century
Cochin
Didot
Footlight MT Light
Garamond (the default font of this blog’s template)
Georgia
Imprint MT Shadow
The Lucida family of fonts
Modern No. 20
Plantagenet Cherokee
Rockwell

But after all these years, I’ve come to be not so anti-Helvetica anymore. I never particularly liked it way back when (esp. because it seemed unnatural for its capital I to have no bars on it), but I have to admit that it does have a personality and a rather distinctive, modern look. If you really want to type in a sans-serif font, that’s a really good font to choose.

For fancy things like title pages or something like a wedding invitation, I use Edwardian Script. My computer doesn’t have a huge cornucopia of script fonts, but of the few it does have, that one caught my eye immediately. Since it’s so small even in 12-point, however, I’ve found I have to make it a bit bigger so it looks more legible on the page. I’ve since discovered Chopin Script, which I like even more, but it’s not one of the fonts packaged in my computer.

And if you’re really interested in typewriter-looking fonts, there are a bunch you can download here. My favorites are Cassandre Graphika and Reiner Graphika. When it comes to typewriter-esque fonts already available on the Mac, I like American Typewriter.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should never type your book in a font like Comic Sans, Jazz LET, Wide Latin, or any of the fancy handwriting/script fonts!

Palatino

One of the (by now rather dated) pieces of advice in Olga Litowinsky’s Writing and Publishing for Children in the 1990s was to use a font that looks like it came from a typewriter, if you’re using a computer, since many editors and publishers are used to dealing with typewritten manuscripts. I’ll admit that I’m old enough to have used a typewriter more than a few times (though it seemed a bit archaic since I literally can’t remember a time before computers, having begun to permanently remember in 1983 and having had at least one computer in the house ever since), but how many people under the age of, say, fifty were still using typewriters instead of computers at the time that book was published in the early Nineties?

So when I started working on my lost first draft of the book I just completed in February, I decided that Bookman looked like a good of a font as any. I thought it looked closest to what I was familiar with from a typewriter. When that old ’83 Mac had a short-circuit on the monitor only a few months into having it in my room, in the fall of ’93, I had to move to working on the new ’93 Mac in my parents’ room. Lo and behold, they didn’t have Bookman on the new Mac’s version of MacWriteII (which still remains my favorite word-processing program, since it was so easy to understand everything, in spite of how it’s considered extremely obsolete now), so I settled for what looked like the second-closest, Palatino. That was also the font I changed my Russian novel into, after having had it in the default font of Helvetica (which I think is rather ugly, not least because it doesn’t even have bars on the top and bottom of its capital Is). And that’s what I’ve been using to type ever since, unless I’m using a fancy font for something special like a title page.

I’m glad to know that it’s considered outdated advice by many people nowadays to submit manuscripts in the butt-ugly Courier, which looks so machine-generated and devoid of personality. Many people recommend Arial, which I also think looks kinda devoid of life and substance. Times (NOT Times New Roman, mind you) I can sorta get behind, since I got very used to it from it being the default font in Quark on our computers at work (I work at a newspaper), but it still doesn’t have that special something that Palatino does. Palatino just has a home-like quality to it, a familiarity after about seventeen and a half years of typing in it almost exclusively, a special personality that you can’t get from an overused, computer-generated-looking, or default font like Helvetica, Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. Personally, I think Courier is the ugliest font I’ve ever seen.

I love Palatino so much that if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be a typographical tattoo and in Palatino. (Not that I think I ever will, since the traditional halachic prohibition against tattoos is so strong, even knowing that many modern non-Orthodox commentators have reinterpreted that passage to mean gashing or scarring oneself for the dead, not getting a modern-day tattoo.)  And even though I only chose it originally because it seemed to resemble Bookman and because I thought it was best to use a font that looked typewriter-generated, I just fell in love with it over the years. It’s sort of like my pen name, initially just a random thing but then turning, over time, into something that just fit me perfectly and seemed just right. Once you’ve been working with a font for so many years, no other font seems quite right.