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Well, &$*@! -- Swearing in novels

I was worried about my grandma reading my book.

Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted that she's still with us at 93, her sense of humor intact, her physical health such that she can live in her own home. Her optimistic spirit passed down to me through genetics and example helped get me through the years of rejection and anonymous toil before my book deal and the publication of Real Life & Liars. I said as much in the inscription I wrote in the copy of my book I signed for her.

Still, I fretted somewhat. I'm no Quentin Tarantino, but my characters curse. To quote a relative on the other side of the family (who enjoyed my book despite the salty parts): "Thoughtful and intelligent people find other words to use."

True, but my characters behave in ways that are neither thoughtful nor intelligent. I blogged about this already at The Debutante Ball, so I won't belabor why I chose to include some of this language. Suffice to say I found it necessary because I write realistic fiction for a mainstream audience and frankly, people curse nowadays.

Back to my grandma. It was not just the cursing (even f-bombs now and then!) but the situations. One of my characters engages in some risky, careless sex, for example. There's drug use that spans generations. This is my grandma reading this, the one who taught me to knit.

My mother visited her recently and she said she was near the end of the book. My grandma said it was "a good read." My mother prodded her a little for her opinion on the content, saying I'd been nervous about her reaction to some of the more "colorful" words. My mother then added, "I told her it's nothing you haven't heard before."

"Oh well," she replied. "I've probably said some of them myself." And then laughed.

I was shocked to imagine this. Could it be true? The woman whom I've never heard say anything stronger than "Heavens!" Or "Goodness!" really have sworn in her lifetime? Maybe she's just like me, after all, I've been known to swear but I've never done it in front of her.

Maybe my grandma has cursed before, but of course wouldn't think to do so in front of her grandchildren, even her grown-up grandchildren. She had a whole life before I came along. I remember seeing an old picture of her in a skirt so short she could have touched the hem with her fingertips, without bending over.

In any case, I'm relieved and delighted to know I haven't horrified my grandmother. I guess I underestimated her ability to separate the book from the author. I really feared that she would think less of me for having written such things.

Now I finally realize how silly that is*. She's as proud as she can be that I achieved my dream, even if I wrote some cuss words along the way.


* Yes Mom, I realize you were saying that all along. You were right.

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I can relax now!


Half way through my second book now and still no publisher, I cannot stop writing. Yet, in reading your story today, I, at the very least, feel more relaxed about the occasional cuss-words within my books.
No matter that my wife says she loves the stories,I find myself worried about the other people in my past, present, or future. What will they think of me? The romantic scenes with a touch of sex, or the violent scenes where the murders are gruesome, have had me wondering....what will they think of me?
I've often wondered, how does an author get away with these things? If I remove these situations from the story, can the story be told? Maybe so, but then I doubt the actions of the hero or heroin would seem as justified. So, I leave things the way they are, and cross my fingers that it's okay to write this way.

Thanks for this outlook. Both of my grandmothers are still with us, and both still read. I guess I can relax, because as many books as each of them has read, I highly doubt "other authors" have been so cautious as I want to be. :)

Be well!


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Yes, definitely relax

...especially when writing early drafts.

 When I was writing this book, I never spared a moment's worry about whether the content would shock anyone, even my grandma. I'd think that kind of self-censorship would turn out careful, tepid prose, and who needs that? (Silly, I know, to have worried about it after the fact).

When we're writing those early drafts, there are so many inner editors threatening to sabotage us, we have to do the best we can to tune it out and just WRITE.

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Well, if it's any

Well, if it's any consolation, Dorothy L. Sayer, the rather prudish victorian mystery novelists, begins one of her books with, "Damn!" And she still kept the bun in her hair.


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But would she have commented

But would she have commented about a bun in the oven - and how it got there?

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Ha, Eric

I have a hilarious mental image now of a stronger word causing the bun to fly OUT of her hair...

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One of my uncles went

One of my uncles went through one of my novels and crossed out every naughty word before his wife read it. But they both read it.

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Did it look like a redacted CIA file?


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I never saw the result. I

I never saw the result. I doubt it was too bad, as swearing was restricted to character's dialogue. But I did have a very salty gravedigger and an herd doctor who expressed her opinions, er, colourfully.