By Guest Blogger Marshall Karp
Marshall Karp is the author of The Rabbit Factory, Bloodthirsty, and the just released Flipping Out. I've been a fan since I read The Rabbit Factory. (He's a funny guy.) As a young adult writer I'm always struggling with how far I can go in my writing when it comes to profanity. (I've been accused of going too far and not far enough.) When I read Marshall's post about four-letter words I asked him if we could reprint it here. He agreed. Leave a comment and your name will be entered for the chance to win a signed copy of Flipping Out.
And the winner is Sandra Seamans! Sandra send me your address (darlene at darleneryan.com) and we'll get the book in the mail to you. Thanks everyone for stopping by.)
Back in December Darlene Ryan saw a blog I wrote about how I handle profanity in my books. It talked about my sensitivity (or lack of it) to reader concerns about the foul language my characters have been known to use.
She asked if she could reprint it here as soon as my new book Flipping Out is released.
“Shit, yeah,” I said.
So here it is, with a few afterthoughts that have crossed my mind since the blog was first published.
“Profanity,” my father used to say, “is the ignorant man’s crutch.”
He almost never cursed, but while I seem to have inherited a lot of his better qualities, that one seems to have skipped a generation.
And now that I write books, my characters curse. Hey, they’re cops. They may be fictional, but I spend a lot of time talking to real detectives, FBI agents, sheriffs, and other law enforcement officers. They are not a genteel bunch. They get up every morning and head out into a dark ugly world. Profanity is part of the currency of that world.
That’s reality. But do those same vulgarities have to been in my books?
According to one critic, no. At least not as much as soiled the pages of my first book, The Rabbit Factory. And this is a critic I listen to. I’m married to her.
My wife was not thrilled about the language in The Rabbit Factory, and when she read the first draft of my next book, Bloodthirsty, her reaction was the same. Love the book. Hate the language.
I took back the manuscript and did a global search for the four-letter offender. It appeared 115 times. I told my wife that was quite an achievement. Rabbit Factory had twice as many no-nos. She pointed out that it also had twice as many pages.
“Please fix it,” she said.
I knew the please was strictly a formality.
I thought this ain’t gonna be easy. I was wrong. As I read the draft of Bloodthirsty I realized that my father was right. Profanity is a crutch. When you’re trying to paint a picture of a tough talking street cop, it’s easier when you throw in lots of tough street talk.
I defused one F-bomb after another. When I was finished there were 30 left in Bloodthirsty — a big drop from the 233 in The Rabbit Factory. Interestingly enough, my new book, Flipping Out, also has 30. They’re in there because they aren’t coming from me. They’re true to the characters that say them.
There are a lot of readers who want vulgarity-free, violence-free murder mysteries. And for them there are lots of wonderful options. I just read one by Denise Dietz. Her earlier works had a handful of &#*@?€% words, but her latest, Strangle A Loaf of Italian Bread, is geared to the more sensitive reader. That said, the book is not your maiden auntie’s murder mystery. It’s fiendishly clever, blatantly sexy, and uproariously funny. Denise Dietz writes like Robert B. Parker on estrogen.
Two years ago I was at the Miami Book Fair and asked the audience what they thought about all those F-bombs I drop in my books.
One woman had the best answer. She said, “You write about murder, mayhem, cops, killers — of course the characters are going to curse. It’s real. I don’t mind when I’m reading it in private at home. But when I’m in my car, with the windows wide open, and I’m stopped at a red light on Biscayne Boulevard, and I have a crime novel on audiotape, it gets a little uncomfortable when the speakers are blasting, ‘bleep you, you bleeping motherbleeper,’ and the little old lady in the car next to me grabs her chest in horror.”
There are horrified little old ladies, sensitive religious fundamentalists, and diehard language purists wherever I turn. They often don’t hesitate to point out my tragic flaw as an author. One recently blasted me in an online review for Flipping Out, which only has 30 offensive words out of 75,000. Sometimes they send me emails letting me know how crude I am, and some even attack my character, and my parents for the way the raised me
I always answer politely. But I have to admit there are times when I just want to respond with two words.
One is a verb. The other is a pronoun.
Marshall Karp is the author of three novels, Flipping Out (released 3/31/09), Bloodthirsty and The Rabbit Factory. His website is www.lomaxandbiggs.com