Now, obviously, the simplest answer to that is: because I do. As you know, I’m back from a weekend up home, having seen some peeps I went to school with, and have been talking to people who use “f**kin’…” the way other people use “uh…”. This is the way we talked, from middle school on, much more gratuitously foul than the language that went into Hush Money.
Now, this isn’t confined to the place or people of my childhood. When I was a military wife, it was the same thing–only taller. And you’ll notice that while the girl Talents also cuss, it’s more often a matter of emphasis, while the boys tend to be more conversational about it.
Now, this post comes out of some of the reviews I’ve had that give me a bit of a wrist-slap and a 1-star demerit for the language. I want to say, up front, that these demerits are COMPLETELY VALID. One of these days, maybe I’ll write a post about reviews and the disconnect between writers and readers in that regard, but the short version is that writers (as I’ve read them around the ‘net) tend to think readers should be evaluating their book on some kind of objective criteria, while readers tend to rate a book based on how it affected them personally. So if my cussing kids diminished your enjoyment of the story, and assuming that a rating reflects a reader’s enjoyment of the story, then what do I expect them to do, lie? No. That would be dumb. So there you are.
Anyway, on with the behind-the-scenes stuff.
When I started to write Hush Money, I really put myself back in that time. When I felt my way into these characters, the language just came out. Right away it gave me pause. I hadn’t really set out to write YA. When I started the book, I actually didn’t know that writing about teens would automatically make the book YA. I found this out soon after beginning the book, and I was very concerned. I’ve read YA that I consider far worse than mine in terms of adult content, but not a lot of it. Kait told me, “Don’t worry about it. Just get through the first draft and edit later.”
And, of course, that’s always excellent advice.
So why didn’t I tone down the language in the edit? I’m fairly good with words. I probably could have taken all those problem elements and re-worked them into something that still carried some strong emotion, without the actual cuss-words, right? It’s not like censoring a movie for TV and having Johnny say, “No, flip you, Dad!”
I kept the language because it’s not just words or emotion. For kids, forbidden language is part of posturing. And, as some of you may recall, posturing is very important in the wild. For those of you who went to schools where the threat of violence seemed pretty constant, maybe you’ve had that feeling that you needed to have a facade that was a little harsher and a little less vulnerable than who you really were. And maybe that’s not something all readers relate to. But I do.
The Talents live in that kind of fear state, under a constant threat, and they build walls. When I went to do the edits, I couldn’t see reworking the language as anything but removing bricks from those walls and weakening my characterization overall.
I’m not defending it like I want to change anyone’s mind. If a reader doesn’t see that, it’s probably because they either don’t relate to those feelings, or because they have personal values which override them. No book can be all things to all people, and while some people enjoyed the style of the book and have said the characters seemed very real to them, in part because of the language, others didn’t like that. I totally get that.
The point of this post was more just that it’s a thing I’ve struggled with, and I thought maybe you’d be interested in a little insight into my world.