How Could She Say That? She Looks Like Someone’s Mom!

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.:



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 No, I’m not a pagan. But it’s a darned fine logo and oh-so-appropriate, don’t you think?)

7 thoughts on “How Could She Say That? She Looks Like Someone’s Mom!”

  1. chris says:

    Well I am glad you learned how to very professionally respond to hate mail. I am not that politically correct, it can be a hinderence, but what the heck. As a good friend of say’s about her tattoo business “We are what we are” !

    Language, I am quite adept, at it’s foul usage. For those of you who can not understand it, I say wake up and come out to the real world and play.

    As for Your writing Laura, I have not read much of it yet, however I like what I have read so far. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, violence, and of course don’t forget Harley Davidson are all part of the real world. I love reading great fiction,Fiction should have a great amount of reality built into it, if it does not then I more than likely will not like it.

    I eagerly await Michelle’s synopsis of your book, For some reason I highly value her opinion. If I enter a book store before she comes out with it, I think I will just buy it anyway. I like what you writers do, I just don’t have the tallent for it,so I will stay a reader. Above all else Never surrender, It would be a major character flaw.

  2. Laura says:

    I like the Never Surrender motto a lot, Chris. I’m so glad you’ve stopped by!

  3. Hey Laura,

    As for the title of your post, I’ll have to disagree — after all, I have seen the hotness that is Laura B. in person and there is no matronly vibe whatsoever! As for the hate mail, dear God, my question is always simple — don’t people have better things to do than to complain about things they don’t like, especially books? I’d like to whip that person (can’t help it — I’ve lived in Detroit too long!).

  4. Tia Nevitt says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Tia Nevitt says:

    Sorry to hear about the hate mail. I don’t know why anyone would bother to write such a thing. As for language, she must not read much.

    In my own current story (thanks for all the support!) I’m trying to avoid strong language only because it will limit the markets I can submit to. It’s turning out to be a coming-of-age story, so I want to keep the options open for magazines like Orson Scott Card’s.

  6. Laura says:

    Michelle–You’re too funny! Technically, I am someone’s mother….And it would not surprise me to know you own a whip!

    Tia–It sounds like you’ve got the right approach to your story. One has to consider the market, it’s true. I would never try to submit a short story with strong language and explicit violence to somewhere like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which has pretty clear guidelines. (Consequently, I’ve only had 2 stories there in 6 years!)

Join the conversation!