To Swear or Not to Swear: Bad Language in Thrillers
It happened again not too long ago: a reader wrote in to take issue with bad language in my books. “I find the use of the four-letter expletive to be unacceptable,” he wrote — not specifying which word or even which book, but I can guess.
The reader, who was very polite and said kind things about my books, noted that I’m not alone. “Every author I read . . . has a tendency to throw the four-letter vulgarity in almost every chapter.”
Well, I’m never happy about making readers unhappy — but this topic is one I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about, and I think it’s worth discussing again.
My goal is to write a book that’s both entertaining and a fair depiction of the worlds I’m trying to portray. I’ve written before about research (and will again). I spend a lot of time in the environments I write about, trying to get the details right. One of those details is how people talk to each other.
So when a reader writes to ask, “Why do your characters use profanity?”, my first response is, “Well, why do some people use profanity?” Once the doors are closed, the language in many high-level corporate offices could come straight out of a David Mamet play. In VANISHED, I wrote about some very bad people doing some very bad things: stealing, lying, aiding and abetting murders. Without giving too much away, I’ll tell you that even worse people do worse things in BURIED SECRETS. A villain who doesn’t care about trust, honor or human life is probably not going to be too careful about his language. Therefore, both VANISHED and BURIED SECRETS include some words I wouldn’t say at a dinner party.
But I am sensitive to people’s concern, especially when readers say they don’t feel they can share my books with their kids, or certain friends. I want everyone to be able to read my books, including my own teenaged daughter and her friends. I don’t want the language in my books to distract from the story I’m trying to tell. It should all be seamless, so that you believe the environment I’ve created.
So I’ve gotten more careful about the language I use, and I pay close attention. If characters in one of my books use bad language, it’s because those people would do that in real life, and I think it’s necessary to show them as they are. On the other hand, if they wouldn’t — as Nick Heller’s most trusted colleague, Dorothy, and COMPANY MAN’s Audrey Rhimes wouldn’t — it’s important to show that, too.
The Perfect Signing Pen, At Last
The search for the perfect signing pen may be over — for now.
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
— The Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll doesn’t give us an answer to this question, but one look at my own desk supplies an answer: both ravens and writing desks (mine, at least) collect shiny things.
Ravens’ tendency to snatch up things that catch their eye and hide them for later makes them natural role models for writers. My desk is full of treasures and distractions, although everything on it is something I really need: my computer, of course; two monitors, so I can look at more than one thing at once; my favorite pens; my hourglass, to measure out uninterrupted writing time; my beloved Blackwing pencils, for marking up manuscripts; and the latest addition, my Batphone, because you never know when Gotham might need saving.
But I’m in good company.
Want more? Check out dozens of other authors’ and artists’ workspaces. The sands of the hourglass on my desk have run down, and it’s time for me to get back to writing . . .
Now That You’re Writing, Keep Going
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, or even if you’re just trying to write a book on your own, you may already be noticing how the excitement of getting started begins to slip away. That first week may have the thrill of any new beginning, but by the middle of Week 2, it may already start to feel a little tedious, or less important than it did at the beginning of the month.
NaNoWriMo and I Agree: Just Write It
It’s November again, which means that it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In case you don’t know, the object of NaNoWriMo is to write a 175-page novel (50,000 words) between November 1 and November 30. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality: “By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes.”
- Write it now, fix it later. I was fascinated by this NPR story about how much work Jane Austen’s editor might have done on her manuscripts. I love reading about Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d be lost without my own editor, Keith Kahla. No one’s first draft is good. It doesn’t matter. You have to get it written so you can fix it later.
- You have the time, if you’ll make the time. Don’t believe me? Do what dieters do: keep a journal of your day. Mark down the time you spend watching TV, talking on the phone, emailing, Tweeting, etc. Then decide what portions of that time you’re going to use to write instead. Maybe you’ll sleep an hour less; maybe you’ll stop watching the nightly news. It helps if you can make this a regular time slot — the same amount of time every day, at the same time. Get into the habit of writing.
- Treat your writing like a job. It doesn’t matter if no one’s paying you yet. If your goal is that someone will, it’s already a job. If you don’t have an office, set a place aside that is just for you and your writing — the attic, the basement, a corner of the laundry room — and ask your family and friends to respect that. No one thinks twice about interrupting a hobby. You should make it clear to yourself and the people around you that your writing isn’t a hobby, it’s a job.
- Be ruthless about your time. No means no. If you’ve set aside time to write, hold yourself to it. Set a timer if you have to. I have an old-fashioned hourglass on my desk; when the sands are running, I’m not doing anything but writing. No phone, no research, no conversations, no distractions.
The best Mexican food I’ve ever had — really
This is a tiny place located in a Texaco gas station in Tupelo, Mississippi. It was recommended to me by a friend who’s a major foodie and really knows his southern road food. I went there a couple of weeks ago, and then again, and again… Their soft Tacos al Pastor are amazing.