A few years ago, Marcus Sakey passed through town signing for one of his books. We hung out later at The Rusty Bucket, which seems to have become the default destination for crime fic authors after signing at Joseph Beth Booksellers. We were talking about writing when the subject of profanity came up. Marcus said he always did a search for F bombs and took out or replaced half of them.
I had not thought of that before. I had two Keplers in the can and finished. Bad Religion was also done at that point, and Holland Bay was in progress. But was the F bomb really an issue?
When Northcoast Shakedown was first published, I ran into a problem. I did a radio interview in which I had to read a passage. I also had to read passages at Toastmasters meetings. I had to edit the passages on the fly as I read them.
I’m not squeamish about using profanity in my work. What I did not realize previously was that you still have to be conscious of how it’s done. So when I dug Bad Religion out for revisions this weekend, I found myself yanking out every two or three F bombs. Am I being squeamish?
I don’t think so. It’s one thing to write it in the heat of the moment. It’s another to be gratuitous about it. We limit how we depict violence and sex because those things should serve the story. In some stories, the author just won’t have any credibility if there isn’t swearing in every other word. But not every story. You need to be conscious of the readers.
It takes time to figure it out. And a good editor sometimes. Since I don’t have one at the moment, I’m trying to think like an editor.