I feel a little sad when someone purchases my work and is unhappy with it. Fortunately, I usually only hear from folks who have nice things to say. But I’m open to criticism, as long as it’s, well, reasonable.
Recently, I received this (unedited) email from R.S.:
__I WILL NEVER EVER PURCHASE ANOTHER ONE OF YOUR BOOKS…THE LANGUAGE IN IT WAS FILTHY..I CERTAINLY WILL NOT PASS IT ON TO ANOTHER IT IS GOING IN THE TRASH CAN AS OF NOW__
Here’s what I have to say about language my work:
When I write, the world I create is populated by those twitchy things called characters. I don’t want to get all goofy and mystical–I don’t think of my writing as particularly mystical–but I don’t actually have all that much control over what my characters say. Sure, I can pull back the language (or violence, or sex) if I think it’s starting to feel gratuitous. But I don’t need to do that very often. My characters are a pretty disciplined bunch. They hardly ever–to offer a useful phrase–break character.
Many of my characters are young. Or they live at the edge of society. Or they have bad manners. Or they’re violent and angry. Or they like to show off. Others wouldn’t let butter melt in their mouths. They have careful boundaries and their speech habits demonstrate those boundaries. They live by the maxim “pretty is as pretty does.” Or it just doesn’t occur to them to curse any more than it would occur to them to belch out loud. As a human being, I’m more often in the second category than the first, and most of my characters are similarly moderate in their speech and behavior.
I know that there are elegant practitioners of language who excise their books of highly flavored dialogue. I admire them. But they don’t write my books. My characters tell their own stories, and if I fret too much about how they’re told, those stories will suffer and I’ll run the risk of boring us all to death.
My friend Charlie Huston has since changed his website, but it used to open with a statement about how his site was for grownups, and that readers who were offended by the language used there needed to go elsewhere. I feel much the same way about my work. I do not write for children. My fiction may be more surreal than realist–but I try to keep it at least realistic at its heart. Some folks will enjoy. Others may not.
Thank goodness there are plenty of books out there for people to choose from!
(“Hate Mail” logo cribbed from pendragon343.com/. No, I’m not a pagan. But it’s a darned fine logo and oh-so-appropriate, don’t you think?)