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?

Paternity Warfare (Palatino)

Font: My belovèd Palatino, of course!

Created: 1948

Personal experience: Used almost completely exclusively since late September ’93. The ’93 Mac didn’t have Bookman, so I chose what looked like the next-closest thing. It’s been my font soulmate ever since.

Chapter: “Paternity Warfare”

Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan

Written: 1998 or 1999

Computer created on: I think it was the ’96 or ’97 Mac we had.

File format: ClarisWorks

This is Chapter 15 of my first Russian historical novel, my favorite chapter and also the shortest, in only the upper 4000s. (By my standards, short=lower 4000s/upper 5000s, midrange=7000s/8000s, long=10,000+.) Though I lost all my formatting when I finally was able to open and convert these old files, I still remembered that certain parts of Ivan’s dialogue were in bold italics. He was that livid when Boris popped in on his second illegal visit home, trying to steal Tatyana.

There’s no contest as to Tatyana’s paternity, as Ivan is a virgin till September 1921, when he’s 23 years old, and Tatyana was conceived in April 1918. But Ivan is the man who’s raised her since the night she was born. Boris abandoned Lyuba shortly before she went into active labor, and was beating her constantly during the pregnancy. Tatyana was really the result of a rape, though Lyuba doesn’t like to think of it in those terms since Boris didn’t hold her up at knifepoint and wasn’t a stranger. Off-screen, so to speak, Boris got Lyuba drunk and drugged when it became clear she didn’t want to be intimate, and the next morning she woke up naked next to Boris, with a massive headache and blood running down her legs.

During this chapter, Lyuba is in town working at the Godunov cousins’ brothel, and has left Tatyana in the care of the man she considers her father, Ivan. Ivan isn’t having any of it when Boris shows up in the middle of the night.

The croup remedy Ivan uses to help Tatyana was something I learnt from the Spanish professor I had at community college.

Some highlights:

Eliisabet drops her fork. “Holy Mother of God, I knew there was some secret reason why she kept insisting she couldn’t be with you and had to stay with Borís!  She talked in vague generalities about being afraid of staying with a nice guy, but I never dreamt it was anywhere in that perverted league!  No wonder she feels more familiar with being abused and disrespected by men!”

“I don’t know how to do that!” Iván carries her outside to the outhouse, unpins the diaper, and sets her down on the hole in the ground.

“You don’t need to wear winter gloves.  It’s not like you’ll get Bubonic Plague from changing a diaper!” Kat laughs.

It is all falling apart.  Iván has never gone long without a woman to take care of him.  He suffers through two more diaper changes, three naps, and two more feedings before he sets Tatyana down in the crib for the night, only to be jerked awake at two in the morning by her croup.  Cursing to himself, he grabs her and dashes into the bathroom to turn the shower on.  He’s hardly thrilled when it comes back again the next night.  He sits on the floor with her and cries for two hours.

Iván turns white in fury. “You!  Who gave you permission to enter this house!  You dared to come back here illegally a second time!  This is my child!  You abandoned her before she was born!  Get the hell out!” He sets Tatyana down on the floor as soon as she starts breathing normally again and storms toward Borís, hitting him with the back of his hand.

“This bastard Borís has come back to wreck more havoc in our lives!” Iván gives his former best friend a push backwards down the stairs. “Get the hell out of this house before I kill you, you dryan, you súkin syn, you worthless piece of govnó!”

“You see what you did?” Iván scoops her up and rocks her back and forth. “It’ll all be over soon, my precious little tsarévna.  Just as soon as that man gets out of this house.  He wants to take you away from me, but there’s no way in the world I would ever give my angelic little girl away to anybody!”

By now Iván has grabbed Borís by the throat and is banging his head against the floor, ignoring his gasps for breath.  The other people in the band have come running from their beds by now to see what the noise is all about.

Borís looks at Tatyana with tears in his eyes. “You can always go to bed with Lyuba and get her pregnant, and then you’ll have a child of your own!  Let me have my child!  You can even have five or six kids with her, just give me back my child!”

Blushing, Borís turns away and heads back for the abandoned resort where he’s been staying.  He chokes ahead of time on the stench of beer, wine, vomit, urine, govnó, and blood that’ll be sure to greet him once he enters the old resort where bands of wild children and their older counterparts are staying, stacked up like sardines, and always afraid to leave anything unattended, for fear of it being stolen by an unscrupulous bandmember.

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!

One Lovely Blog Award

Back in May, I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by Jim Wright, whose blog I found during the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Unfortunately, I had so many posts scheduled in my queue that I wasn’t able to post about it right away. I also decided to stop posting so frequently (though that still hasn’t exactly done wonders for increasing my traffic and percentage of comments per hits). Now I’m going to accept it, and give it to some fellow GUTGAA participants. The rules are to share seven things about oneself and to bestow the award on fifteen other people.

Seven things about myself:

1. I didn’t have chickenpox till I was 14 (February ’94), just one year before the vaccine became available in the States. I’d trade my natural immunity in in a heartbeat if it would mean being spared those two weeks of agony. Anyone who tries to claim that chickenpox is just some minor, fluffy disease has never met someone like me. Last summer, one of my four-year-old campers actually noticed the little white scars on my left forearm and asked what they were.

2. I learnt how to type when I was eight years old, with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, on my family’s dear ’84 Mac. Before long I was a pro and typing up to 90 wpm. I was typing expertly when just about all of my classmates were still doing the search and peck method.

3. I pretty much graduated to adult novels at 14, when I discovered Hermann Hesse, and didn’t really read much of my generation’s teen lit from that point on. I was one of those super-advanced readers who always read several grade levels up, who genuinely enjoyed 99% of the required reading in English and who finished way ahead of the rest of the class, who always preferred thick, juicy novels even in elementary school.

4. I’ve always dreamt about someday having my own little farm, with some crops, bees, chickens, ducks, and goats (not for meat). I’d feel so at home on a kibbutz or moshav if I ever make aliyah.

5. This month makes it 19 years since I began typing in Palatino, the font I’ve religiously used ever since. I will use the similar-looking Bookman as a backup if Palatino isn’t available, and I use Edwardian Script for fancy stuff like title pages and something like a wedding invitation in a book. I’m so used to Palatino that I cringe when I convert a document out of MacWriteII or ClarisWorks and it’s set in that butt-ugly, tiny, generic Times New Roman. I can’t put it back into Palatino soon enough!

6. I didn’t feel a thing when I had my left nostril pierced in June 2003, not even a prick when the needle went in. And I was able to have it left in during all of my surgeries.

7. I’ve had countless dreams over the years about being pregnant and having a boy first, and the boy is always named Samuel, the name I’ve had my heart set on for my future firstborn son since I was at least 12 years old. I no longer want 8 kids, but if I have at least one child, my Samuel, I’ll feel satisfied. Those dreams always feel like such a good omen, that even though I’ve been childfree way longer than I ever thought I’d be, even though I’m now past my fertility peak, there’s a little boy named Samuel William waiting to be my child.

I’m going to give the award to fellow GUTGAA participants:

1. Jessica Becker books

2. Rebecca Enzor

3. Briana Woods-Conklin

4. Alexia Chamberlynn

5. Stephanie Scott

6. Kimberly Gabriel

7. J.A. Bennett

8. Lauren M. Barrett

9. Tara Tyler

10. Suzi @ Literary Engineer

11. Heather Harris-Brady

12. Clare Dugmore

And I’ll also give the award to some people I’ve discovered during other blogfests:

13. Katy Upperman

14. Elodie

15. Rachel McClellan