Hey gang. I've excerpted a piece I wrote last year for Crimespree. It's an issue that I seem to still find myself battling over - cursing. Hope you enjoy it and love to get a rousing discussion up in here on the matter.
-Todd-


What the %&@#?
One man’s war on language and decency.



There’s an ongoing war within the writing community. At two consecutive BoucherCons, I have found myself on the front lines in this battle. It is a war of words.

Round 1: BoucherCon 2004 - Toronto The first shots are fired.

In a forum on short stories, I posed what I thought was a simple enough question: Did the writers on the panel feel limited by the paying markets in their ability to use modern-day cursing in their stories?
Simple enough, right?
The answer from an angry woman on the panel who was dressed like a lumberjack (observation and description, not judgement): “You have to check the markets to see if your story is right for them.”
Well, okay. That was a good answer, just not for my question. Maybe she didn’t hear me correctly.
Yeah. That’s what I thought too.
I asked again. Do you feel like your word choices are being censored by the prominent paying magazines? For instance, if I have a drug dealer being beaten with a pipe (we are writing crime fiction, after all), the strongest language I can use is ‘oh fudge’?
I got a laugh. Huzzah. I got some dirty looks too, most notably by the grandmotherly demographic in the room. Nervous glances passed amongst the panelists and some looked uncomfortable. The lumberjack looked like she might take her chainsaw to me. She responded with more (angrier) grumblings about market research.
Why was I being so misunderstood? There were a couple of representatives from those paying markets in the back of the room. Maybe their presence had everyone so shaky.
I wasn’t making accusations; I was just trying to get an honest opinion from some writers who have had more success than I within those markets. If the question made some in the room feel like sell-outs against their own voices, that was their choice. I was pointing no fingers. However, there was an air of guilty conscience in the room.
When I tried one last time, the lumberjack snapped at me; “Why don’t you start your own magazine, then?”
So I did. (Shameless plug: Said online magazine can be found at www.Thuglit.com )

Round 2: BoucherCon 2005 - Chicago The war continues… with the Grumpy Old Man

Another forum on short stories. I’m there again. I ask a question. Betcha can’t guess which one? Since I never got an answer in Toronto, I figured I’d give a whole new panel a shot at answering.
I was so close.
I really feel I was.
One panelist got so far as to open his mouth and raise an index finger.
Then the Grumpy Old Man chimed in.
For the record, this jackass (description AND judgement) wasn’t even on the panel. For the benefit of the reading audience, I offer commentary and corrections in parenthesis.

Grumpy: I don’t know why people think that a character has to talk blue to be tough. Philip Marlowe didn’t curse, and I don’t think anyone could say he wasn’t tough.

Me: I never said anything about it making a character tough. It’s a language choice that…

Grumpy (Interrupting again): It’s easier to go with an easy F-bomb than use clean language. It doesn’t make a character tough if he swears.

(I look to the session moderator to allow the panel to answer, but now both the panel and the moderator seem to be more interested in the war on the floor)

Me: Okay, again – I’m not saying that it makes a character tough. I’m saying that there should be modern allowances for language that has been accepted by the mainstream. It can be used to make the character that goes for the ‘easy F-bomb’ ignorant or crude. Besides, Maltese Falcon was what, 1940? (It was actually 1939 – sue me) What year is it now?

Grumpy: (incomprehensible grumpy grumblings) Yeah, well, Deadwood is popular, but give me Bonanza any day.

(Some members of the audience nod in agreement. Others look at me encouragingly to respond. Finally, the moderator interrupts the argument… to end the session. I never got to reply. If I had, it would have been something like this:)

Me: Bonanza was cancelled 30 years ago (it was actually 32 – sue me). Deadwood is popular today. Popular with a younger audience that the mystery community stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. An audience that laughs at what is made available to them.

When I say that I write mysteries, I get chuckles and replies like ‘What, like Murder She Wrote?’ That is what the younger audience thinks of us. The audience that loves noir, but doesn’t even know it until I make comparisons to Quentin Tarantino and James Ellroy. When they go to Thuglit, they invariably love it and ask why more like it isn’t made available.
Then I tell them that the decision makers say they don’t exist as a market. It pisses them off. It pisses me off.
Not that it elevates me in any shape or form, but I worked at the biggest scumbag bar in Boston. I now live in an area of New York where gunshots, not tap steps, echo up Broadway.
I’ve spent my time around some real criminals. I’ve clinked glasses with some men and women who have committed some awful acts upon their fellow man. I was real close to becoming one of them. Instead, I chose to step back and write about them. These people are real. Yes, the word fiction tags along after the word crime in my chosen genre, but my base is reality.
Lo and behold, these people swear.
When the East Village coke dealer got rousted by the dirty cops, he used some blue language.
When the reformed skinhead bartender got the knife pulled on him by the Mafioso wanna-be, he dropped some F-bombs.
To me, this is the reality I try to write. Crime, criminals and language have evolved. I sincerely feel our genre hasn’t. Why? We’re not allowed to. The publishers flood the shelves with mystery solving cats and cozies (my apoligies to cozy writers, if you're making a living, good on ya. I don't like 'em) because that’s what the quilting circle can handle. Is it ageism? Maybe. Is it any less ageism to handcuff the younger writing generation by censoring them? None of us may be around in 30 years, but the majority of the currently targeted market definitely won’t be. What is being done to draw in a new audience? Not much.
Am I able to write a story without cursing? I do and I have. I just don’t like being told what my creations can or cannot say. We’re supposed to be an art form. We all have our preferences. We have them at Thuglit. The gratuity line moves from person to person. But we make no insistences. That would be censorship, in my book. A lot of newer authors, writing some spectacular fiction, aren’t allowed to use their full voices, because the medium is not progressing into the current time and day.
There, I said it.
If your feathers are ruffled, ask yourself why. Are we an art form or a job? If you’re in it simply for the buck, YOU ARE A SELL-OUT BY DEFINITION. If you do what you do because you love it, than continue to do so.
You do not have to go blue to write well, but no one should tell you that you can’t if you choose to. Words are weapons. Choose the ones that work for you.

Views: 76

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

And, if I'm not mistaken, allowing for inflation, the last installment was by far the LOWEST gossing of all of the films.

Brilliant marketing indeed.
BE COOL actually makes a joke of this. Early in the movie, Travolta and James Woods are discussing movies, and how the ratings may dictate what's in them. The conversation goes something like this:

- Did you know that to have a PG-13 rating, you can only use fuck twice in a movie? Well, fuck that.

And those are the first and last times the word is used. Sad to say, it's also the best part of the movie.
There's an interesting (I think anyway) article in today's Toronto Star about Thomas Middleton - "The Other Shakespeare" - and one of the things it talks about is how important forces other than quality of writing are. No big surprise there, I guess. The article includes this:

"One political factor was the censorship of the British theatre, which lasted from the late 17th century – in reaction to the bawdiness of Restoration comedy – to the 1960s. This was a disaster for Middleton, who, as Taylor writes in his introduction, "had an extraordinarily active sexual imagination," and dramatized incest, prostitution, transvestism, and male impotence, among other things."

There's good writing and bad writing. Sometimes good writing has foul language, sometimes bad writing has foul language. I've done a couple readings at public libraries with other writers (who're the ones the people have actually come to see) and the tpoic of language - words - always comes up. I have trouble finding two pages to read without swearing or sex.

But there's never been a complaint at all about all the cold-blooded murder traeted like a clue in a crossword puzzle.

The thing is, all I'm trying to do in my writing is get down on the page as accurately as I can the way the people I know talk. I was eight years old when my brother became a cop and all I can say is that barbeques at his house are not PG.

My worry is that this fear of a few words allows too much writing that doesn't really reflect the world we live in very much and the whole idea of fiction becomes less and less relevant.

It's true, too, there's no money in short stories. i think the few magazines that pay are still paying the same word rate they did in the 1950's aren't they/ At best short stories can be seen as marketing -- samples of your work -- to get people interested in your novels.
Excellent point. Someone who can read a book filed wit gruesome serial killings who objects to an occasional "fuck" or "god damn" has such a convoluted value system that "hypocrite" comes to mind when describing him.
Sorry, Todd, but I think Lumberjack Woman gave you a perfectly reasonable answer.

"You have to check the markets to see if your story is right for them.”

Publishing is a business. If you want to survive, you have to treat it as such. It's not selling out. It's called being a professional.

If you want to write for a market that restricts the use of expletives then, by golly, you restrict the use of expletives. It's a no brainer, IMO.
Aaaaaaaaand here we go again...

ONE MORE TIME (with feeling) - that wasn't my question. My question had nothing to do with market research. My question was whether or not they were feeling limited as creative WRITERS. Not as business people, or about being ' professionals'. If you read the article again and pay attention to the words I use, you might catch it this time. It's a no brainer.
Well then, as a creative writer - no, I don't feel limited at all. There are plenty of outlets for short fiction whose guidelines are wide open, whatever words you want to use - they're just all online, non-paying.

I have to admit, I thought your question was about business, too, about paying markets for short fiction.

It's hard to seperate the business from the creative sometimes. I have a friend who tells me that by giving away my short fiction to non-paying online outlets I'm destroying what few paying markets are left. I'd like to get paid for my short fiction but as I said earlier, at the moment I'm happy to use it as a sample of my work to point people towards my novels.

But that's really another topic, isn't it?
And again, as I say in the article, back when these incidences occurred, the online market was fledgling at best. The majority of zines on the web today, did not exist then. Four B'Cons ago, they were nearly the ONLY markets in print - the anthology market hadn't picked up the steam it has recently, there was no Murdaland, Out of the Gutter or even the renewed Black Mask segment in EQ (for which I give them MAD respect)

My mantra is, "If a writer can be paid for his work, then he damn well should." But there are obviously more writers and talent than money available. That's why I started my zine. I felt that there were a lot of voices that would never be read if newer markets with looser restrictions didn't allow them to write simply as they chose to tell their story.

The success of those writers critically tells the rest of the story.
Did the writers on the panel feel limited by the paying markets in their ability to use modern-day cursing in their stories?

I'm pretty sure I understand the question, and I still think LW was right. If you feel, as a "creative" writer, that it's necessary to use shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits to tell your story, then you find a market that accepts shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits. If you read the guidelines and find that, lo and behold, Woman's Day is probably not going to publish shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits, then you move on to another market.

Or, as a creative writer--and a business pro--you creatively dance around shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits and chalk up a sale and a publishing credit.

Read Lee Child some time. Nary a curse word in any of his Jack Reacher books, but we're still quite aware we're in a dark and violent world where such language would be common. If you're a professional, you can tell the story you want to tell and still remain within a given market's guidelines. Think of it not as a limitation, but as a liberation to be even more creative with word choices.

Of course your character isn't going to say, "Oh, fudge." But, your narrator might say, He slung a boiling jaw full of phlegm-coated verbal stew that might have turned a boatswain mate's head.

The reader gets the picture, Woman's Day gets the acquisition, and you get a paycheck. Everybody happy.
Excellent point about Lee Child. I've read two Reacher books, and never noticed the lack of profanity until I read about it here. That's talent. I'm not saying that's the only way to go, but it sure works for him.
If you feel, as a "creative" writer, that it's necessary to use shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits to tell your story, then you find a market that accepts shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits.

Then you missed the bit where it says this:

You do not have to go blue to write well, but no one should tell you that you can’t if you choose to.

And I have read Lee Child. Often. Can you find me the bit where I said that you HAD to use profanity to write well?

And for some reason, I don't feel that like the phrase He slung a boiling jaw full of phlegm-coated verbal stew that might have turned a boatswain mate's head. is any more realistic than "Oh fudge". A boatswain? Really?
Then you missed the bit where it says this:

You do not have to go blue to write well, but no one should tell you that you can’t if you choose to.


I didn't miss that bit. I just thought the statement was too inane to address.

Who's telling us that we can't write whatever we want to? Not the editors at Woman's Day, or AHMM, or EQMM...

All they're telling us is to submit elsewhere, to choose a market that fits the story. Same thing LW told you in the first place.

And, you're contradicting yourself by agreeing with Guyot. He's choosing his markets and then playing by their rules. According to you do not have to go blue to write well, but no one should tell you that you can’t if you choose to, Lifetime and Woman's Day and AHMM and EQMM should accept shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits because that's the way Todd Robinson wants it. Do you still stand by you do not have to go blue to write well, but no one should tell you that you can’t if you choose to, or do you agree with Guyot? Can't have it both ways, dude.

I use expletives ad lib in my own work; but, if I decide to submit to a market that frowns on them, I'll behave accordingly.

You do not have to go blue to write well, but no one should tell you that you can’t if you choose to makes about as much sense as me saying, "You do not have to write a 5001 word serial killer story to write well, but no one should tell you that you can't if you choose to." Every market has its guidelines. You either follow them, or you find another market. Again, a no brainer.

RSS

CrimeSpace Google Search

© 2020   Created by Daniel Hatadi.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service