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wolfdevoon

Bad language

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It bothers me, and it undoubtedly annoys readers, that my published work past and present is full of cursing, especially the F word. My latest novel has 44 F bombs, which is quite a lot, almost all of them spoken by honorable men and women. Why on earth?

I rarely use the F word in conversation nowadays, although I admit having said it frequently as a young man at war with the world. Later in life I kept company with a Russian who used it in every sentence, as bizarre as that may seem. Orlin Grabbe once chastised me for overuse of the F word and suggested that I "use another adjective, please." I retaliated by putting his words into a character's mouth, mocking him, and he probably cursed me when that chapter of The Good Walk Alone went to press. I had 40,000 readers following a weekly serial loaded with bad language and outrageously graphic sex scenes, another signature foible.

What the fuck is up with me as an author? (so to speak)

I fear there is more wrong than overuse of bad language. My people carry weapons and kill. They recognize no power greater than individual judgment and autonomous action, entirely divorced from legal process and lawful authority. This is the reality of warfare. Warriors are hardened and truculent. Confronted by an unexpected obstacle, a fierce enemy or sudden surprise by politicians, they are apt to curse. "You can stuff that fucking Leavenworth snake back in your pocket," Chris says to his father in A Portrait of Valor, and he means it. How else should one express contempt for that kind of threat, to be imprisoned if he refuses a deadly and unwanted assignment? Suppose it was said more politely. What sort of hero says: "Oh, father, I don't wish to do that, please don't threaten me with prison, I dislike it."

In The Tar Pit, my latest, African American detective Ellie Vereen uses the F word constantly, almost every sentence of her dialogue. "Fuck no," she grouches when Chris suggests another black p.i. could back her up on a dangerous assignment. Ellie would be an entirely false and ridiculous character, if she replied: "No, thank you, Chris, I prefer to handle this individually, rather than worry about Mr. Little's propensity to screw things up and blow my cover."

Book editors complain about more serious literary problems, concerning multiple points of view and sudden lapses of mood. Written largely in first person past tense, I indulge textual liberties: Ow. (an existential reaction) Shut up, Cable, and go eat a hamburger. (self-talk)

That's why I'm stuck with the ignominy of being self-published.

Bad languge and bad grammar go hand in hand, a freedom of expression that enlivens story, gives it verisimilitude and authenticity. What I write is largely preposterous. There are very few autonomous heroes. My chief concern is believability. I have little to offer except the hard business of courage under fire. My people are not geniuses or "cosy" elderly women suggesting with a wink that the butler may have tinkered with the grandfather clock and threw a candlestick in the duck pond.

It is an unhappy truth of life that people in Hollywood curse, especially private eyes and LAPD homicide detectives. In comradeship and frustration, at the scene of a grisly murder, a cop is likely to say: "Aw, fuck you. You know what I mean." This is how men speak to one another.

So -- here we jolly well are -- unable to fix anything without diluting its truth. I apologize for terrible coarseness. My F bombs annoy and interrupt the flow, unless you too know about death and danger, ill-equipped to stop the horror of a serial killer who leaves no evidence of his identity at crime scenes. The police are baffled. The FBI are baffled. Tempers flare.

Better to read another author, I guess.

 

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