While I prefer to write fiction, particularly science fiction and fantasy, I do write other genres. This includes personal essays. I took a little break from writing personal essays over the summer, mostly because writing them can be emotionally draining.
Today is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, the Jewish Festival of Booths. In keeping with the more lenient final days of the holiday, my family has been trekking all over Southern California on outings. Today, I’m cooking, so between the challah baking and the vegetable roasting, I’d like to share a few thoughts with my readers.
A Writer’s Quandry
Yesterday, we visited El Pueblo de los Angeles, the original non-Indian settlement here in L.A. Last year, the Pueblo welcomed a new addition to its site on Olvera Street — an interpretive center for the América Tropical mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros that appears near the roof of what’s known as “the Italian Building.”
When the mural was unveiled in 1932, it immediately fell victim to controversy because of its anti-imperialist sensibilities. The most “offensive” images on the right half of the mural were quite literally whitewashed not long after it’s first exhibition, with the remainder of the mural being painted over four years later.
I was aghast as I listened to and read the details of the story. A white socialite pushed to remove an artist’s genuine expression of the Latino experience because it offended her political and social sensibilities.
Now, here’s the seemingly ironic part of the situation. I have a web page devoted to a “kosher reading list” and elsewhere have confessed to censoring my kids’ reading materials. My husband and I have effectively banned TV, Disney movies & Romeo and Juliet from our home because we don’t like their effects on children (see my comment in this link to the excellent post by Pop Chassid).
Yes, I am a self-described censor. Continue reading
How do we place a person? Partly by the way they talk. But the accents that we use to locate people are constantly in flux.
Apparently Texans are losing their distinct accents. Still others have mastered mainstream American dialects as well as their own distinct drawl and codeswitch according to the demands of the situation, a recent study at the University of Texas asserts. The L.A. Times article on the subject explains some of the reasons, which include exposure to mass media and immigration to Texas from a variety of sources.
The article piqued my interest in part because I happen to be reading Sarah Bunin Benor’s new book Becoming Frum, which contemplates the ways the newly religious adopt the language and cultural markers of Orthodox Jews. Like with the Texans discussed above, some use of the in-group dialect is conscious, while other use is not. But in either case, it marks the users of certain types of speech as members of a distinct group.
What this means to writers: A sprinkle of regional dialect or in-group word choice can help establish a character in the social landscape of our story/book and make them sound authentic. But misuse of language based on out-dated understandings of a community could annoy readers just as much as heavy-handed overuse. Pretty soon, we might not be able to write characters with Texan drawls anymore without sounding ridiculously retro. It’s good to have a handle on these nuances of language use before jumping in to this writing strategy.
Yesterday, it took me hours to get myself writing. Instead of typing at my keyboard, I was numb with fear for the residents of Israel (and, in fact, for the children of Gaza, whose safety is in jeopardy–regardless of who is jeopardizing it, which is a political question I refuse to address here). It’s only a couple weeks since Superstorm Sandy hit the eastern seaboard of the U.S. People lost homes, places of worship, jobs, every material good they possessed. And here I sit in California, comfortable and in no immediate threat of danger. There are no sirens warning of incoming rockets blasting in my neighborhood, and the rain outside is just a sprinkle.
On this blog, I write about words, and how to employ them. Today, I’m going take a break from discussing professional writing to give 3 ways you can use your words to help people in Israel and the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
2) You can write a letter or email (or post on a Facebook page) to a friend in Israel or in New York (or other Sandy-affected area). If you don’t know what to say, just say, “I want you to know I’m thinking about you. I’m far away, but you are not forgotten.”
3) You can write something to bring goodness in the world–a letter apologizing to someone you hurt, intentionally or not; a letter to someone lonely; something kind and beautiful. Then mail it.
Picture credit: http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/18900/18980/book_18980.htm
Okay, okay, so my title is a bit of an exaggeration. Here’s the story:
I get lots of questions from new writers about how to format manuscripts for submission. My first piece of advice is always to follow the specs articulated by the periodical or book publisher you are submitting to. However, if you don’t know where you’re sending it to, I’ve always preferred to use a sans-serif font like Arial or Helvetica for titles and author info, followed by a double-spaced body written in a simple serif font like Times New Roman or Courier. (Serif fonts have those little crowns and tails, sans-serif do not.) You can always reformat later, thanks to the magic of Microsoft Word. And don’t forget to insert a footer with a page number and your email address on every page.
In the past, that magic formula has always worked. But now that I’m working on something longer–in fact, an entire book– things have gotten complicated. It’s simply harder to be consistent across more than a hundred pages. I can’t remember how I numbered the chapters (with numerals or the numbers as words), if I put in an extra line after each chapter heading, or what size and font I used for each. Sometimes I paste in pieces from other documents and the font and size may differ. My document was turning into a mess. And don’t even ask me what happened when I went back and started to rewrite!
That’s where LuLu stepped in. You see, I was doing a lot of research last week and the week before regarding e-publishing (hence a couple blog posts wherein I mentioned it). If you publish an ebook through LuLu, you have to use a very specific format. Or, rather, you Style instead of Format.
Most of us look at the Style menu in Word and have no idea what to do with it. We write using the Format menus, sometimes just out of habit. Even if you don’t plan to use LuLu, your editor will still be much happier if you use Styles. Doing so can save you time, but it also will increase consistency throughout a document and prep it for conversion into other document formats like Adobe InDesign or ePub. In fact, if you use LuLu, you have to use Styles, because that’s what triggers page breaks for chapters and creates your table of contents.
Some people hate the way the Styles look, or object to the fonts and spacing used. That’s okay! With a little practice, you can create your own Style and apply it throughout your Word document. Want to learn how to do this? Here are some links that can help you:
I doubt I’ll go the LuLu route, but I owe the company a debt of gratitude. My reStyled document looks beautiful and is perfectly consistent and organized. Now if only I can finish my rewrite…