Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don't hate me because I use the F word

It's been a while since a reader has emailed me to scold me about the language in my books. I think that's mainly because my tattoo shop series doesn't have any cussing in it, and the Annie Seymour series is out of print so it's harder for people to get their hands on it, meaning they aren't getting offended by the f words. But sometimes readers "discover" me and my first series, and that's when it gets interesting.

Case in point: I got an email this morning from someone who did not want to be included in my email list. He/she said, "REading you for 1st time. good writing but is it necessary to use the \"f\" word so much, does not add to the plot and makes the heroine sound like a filthy slut."

I naturally bristled at that, since when I created Annie, I didn't say to myself, hey, I think I'm going to make her a filthy slut. And to do that, I'll make her say the f word.

As I've told many readers who are offended by Annie's language: It is not gratuitous. Reporters talk like that, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. While I already knew those words, they really became a part of my own vocabulary in a newsroom. It's funny that now I don't work in a newsroom anymore, my use of those words has eased off quite a bit. Annie is also a police reporter, and cops are even worse than reporters, so it's natural she would use those words. Perhaps what makes it difficult for those people who are easily offended is that the book is written in first person, so Annie's language is front and center.

What's amusing to me, though, is how these readers who write me that they're offended by the language tell me that I'm a good writer and they enjoyed the book. It's a total oxymoron. I'm not sure whether to preen with the praise or bristle with the criticism.

People don't have to read books that they find offensive or don't care for. It's easy to put a book down and not finish it. I do that all the time. That's why these emails from people who clearly have read the entirety of my novel but scold me about my language are so perplexing. Don't they know they don't have to read it? And the bigger question: Why take the time to write the author and scold her?

I did make a conscious effort with my tattoo series to not have Brett cuss at all. There comes a time when a writer is tired of getting scolded (I actually had one reader say: "You look like such a nice person, how can you use such language?") and decides to come clean, in a manner of speaking. So Brett, a nice Catholic girl who just happens to be a tattooist, will never be mistaken for a "filthy slut" because of her language. But then again, she's fighting the stigma of being a woman who is tattooed. But at least there are no pictures.

What is your stance on cussing in a book?

13 comments:

Kane said...

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Lisa D said...

Write on...does not bother me a bit.

Lisa D said...

I totally agree with Kane!!

Lou said...

I agree with Kane, but it is not just the style of the person, but also a reflection of the area where the characters live. One would hear rough language like that on occasion in that area.
As long as it is used to bring out the character's background and is a reflection of where they live, I say don't change a thing.

Anonymous said...

My first novel was set in an oil refinery where bad language is a way of life. Had my characters said, "Oh, shoot," or "darn," anybody who's ever set foot in an industrial facility would have tossed the book aside with a scornful laugh. I tried to use the "f" word sparingly, but couldn't eliminate it entirely. At the other end of the reader spectrum, I've met people, especially at church, who ask if there is any "bad language" in my books, and when I tell them there is, but it's sparse and used only for verisimilitude, they simply say, "well, I'll never read them, then." Can't win with everybody, can you?

Vicki Lane said...

It's definitely a choice. But I go with writing dialogue that's faithful to the way certain characters would actually speak. Not afraid to say fuck. Or nigger, if I have a knuckle dragging white supremacist speaking.

carl brookins said...

I think the previous comments are inline. Gratuitous obscenities only distract, ( I once edited a short story in which the author used fuck or a variation sixteen times on a single page) but the language should accurately reflect the scene and the character.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Yeah, reporters swear in real life and in fiction. As well they should. They have to put up with a lot of shit!

Anonymous said...

So...when are you going to write a series about a "filthy slut"? I'd be interested in reading that! ;-)

John

Anonymous said...

Librarians use the "f" word a lot too.

Anonymous said...

This is a topic I am mulling over for my writing right now. Thanks for the discussion! I vacillate back and forth on it.

jenny milchman said...

Well, you and Kane both made me do the proverbial laugh out loud thing, Karen ("I did not intentionally sit down to create a character who..." or however you put it, better than that).

Personally, I don't give a hoot what language a character uses, so long as it's true to him or her. But there are enough people out there who do--as you've found--that I've started to say things like, well, hoot.

Paws with Iona said...

When writing you have to reflect what you are writing. I'm writing a YA, no foul language here! But if it were a rough YA, well maybe. This isn't, and so it is nice and clean. Love the series by the way and since I am a flamingo fan (with a flamingo tat and a yearly Flamingo Fest at the holidays- this year's theme was Cirque du Flamingo Noel- I'm looking forward to June!)