Monday, October 4, 2010

They're only words

I made a concerted effort when I started this tattoo shop mystery series to keep anything that might be perceived as "offensive" to a minimum. I got, and still get, emails from people who've read my Annie Seymour series and have issues with Annie's language. Annie, if you're not familiar with her, uses incredibly salty language—none of it is gratuitous, however, since she's a police reporter and talks the way a real police reporter would talk. But because I was tired of being scolded, I decided that I wouldn't have my tattoo shop owner cuss. At all.

But because I've made such an effort to steer clear of all that in the tattoo shop series, a review of THE MISSING INK on the website of a small Tennessee paper left me scratching my head. Don't ask me what paper it was, I don't remember, and I'm too lazy to go back and look. But the two reviewers who reviewed my book, after saying how wonderful it was, put a disclaimer at the end, noting that "sexual language and profanity may offend readers."

I couldn't believe it. I quickly shot off an email, asking what they meant by that, since I knew I'd only used the word "ass" a couple of times (and to describe the body part) and there was no sex in the book. This was their reply:
With regards to your use — or lack thereof — of profanity, we warn readers of any and all profanity, no matter how mild; so 'ass' does qualify. Perhaps it would have been better if we had specified 'mild profanity'; we apologize for not doing so.

You also said you didn't use sexual language because the book 'has no sex whatsoever'; however, we describe 'sexual language' as not merely a description of the sexual act, but of sexual feelings. To wit, on page 204: 'He ran a hand through his hair and gave me another intense look, one that I felt between my legs.' This, along with his hand beneath her breast, bodies pressed close together, etc., is the sort of thing we meant by 'sexual language.'
Really? I think they're a tad sensitive. And perhaps a bit repressed.

But it's not just them. Over the weekend I got my editor's notes for INK FLAMINGOS. I've been going through the manuscript and making changes as she suggests. But I found two that baffle me.

I describe a very voluptuous woman getting out of the shower and wearing only a small towel, which shifts at one point, "flashing a little nipple." She took that phrase out. As if the word "nipple" is one of those words we just whisper in private company. And in the second instance, I have someone getting a tattoo on her lower back and tugging her jeans and underpants down to get it. My editor took out "underpants."

I think this is going a little too far.

Are you easily offended by language in a book? Or do you take it all in context?


Lou said...

I am not easily offended, Karen, you know that. I just take any book I read in context.
As for your editors, I think they are going a bit overboard.
Finally, I am going to do a bit of research to find the paper from TN that did that review. I would be interested as to what part fo the state it was since I have relatives and friends there.

Susan said...

They are definitely going overboard. Neither of those words should have been deleted.

And the newspaper was really over-sensitive. You get more than that watching television these days - and I don't mean the cable channels!

Karen in Ohio said...

Hmm, a "small Tennessee paper". There's the problem, right there. But that's also the good news, since the review is a lot less likely to be seen by the preponderance of potential readers.

It's just bizarre, what people choose to be offended by, in my opinion. Are they so worried about a couple of words that describe what every single person on the planet feels, at one time or another? They must truly shudder at those ever-present Viagra ads, then!

Chris Rhatigan said...

Jesus Christ, that's ridiculous. For me at least, the raunchier, the better.

Alice Teh said...

Hi Karen, I definitely read in context and because I also review romance (and recently erotic), by golly (!), the words your editor removed shouldn't receive that treatment in the first place. I'm offended that they're offended!

Krista said...

I am not easily offended by language in books. I like "hearing" different characters in books and swearing/not swearing that suits the character is how a book should be written. Today's world of trying not to offend anyone is getting out of hand. Not matter what, someone is going to be offended. That's life -- different people, different ways. Still waiting for that grand realization to strike the general public.

Gerald So said...

Language only bothers me when it sounds "off" for the character or the situation. Profanity seldom bothers me because a lot of people use it. Writers have a responsibility to reflect reality to an extent.

I was bothered recently reading a book in which the protag used the word "perhaps" far too often, making her sound overly mannered, not fitting my image of her otherwise.

Natasha Fondren said...

Really? Are you sure it's not that... it sorta seems that you mean her nipple is little, rather than a "bit of nipple," you know?

Can you replace "underpants" with "red lace" or somesuch?

Natasha Fondren said...

You did read about how Zestra ads were banned (to-do with female pleasure) while everyone is apparently fine with Viagra and Trojan and the like.

Kieran Shea said...

I'm w/ Mr. So...if it sounds off or unrealistic--pooh. It's almost as bad as when a character sums up something like a rehearsed essay...please. Who talks like that?

Belle said...

Some characters swear, some don't. I've never been bothered by profanity in novels. I wouldn't expect Miss Marple to curse, of course! but there are lots of characters you just know would curse a bit if you met them in real life. It would be out of character for them if they didn't!