Fiction and Profanity—F-Bombs Away!

[Slim Pickens Riding the Bomb]
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Recently, I reread an autobiographical novel I had written a number of years ago, thinking I could tidy it up for publication. Though I enjoyed much of the writing style, I was horrified at the frequency of f-bombs. Why? Because I don’t write that way anymore. And I couldn’t even defend the use of these words as critical to the genre. This book is essentially a dramedy—Life, Love and the pursuit of sex.

Some time after, I read an interesting post by PJ Parrish, which is a pseudonym for sisters and writing partners Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols (see “Profanity in Crime Fiction: Reality or Lazy Writing?”). In it, they state …

There are different reasons why readers dislike profanity in their fiction. It can [be] colored by religious conviction, personal morals or just plain old taste. Authors are guided by the same impulses. Mark Henshaw, a Mormon crime writer, wrote a blog “Why I Don’t Use Profanity,” saying, “My short answer to the question is: because my mother reads my books. My long answer is a bit more involved.”

A Religious Debate
There are any number of articles and blog posts about whether foul language belongs in good fiction. If you’d like to test that assertion, try a Google search on “fiction and profanity.” According to Montee and Nichols, some authors write blue because they feel it’s required to make their novels realistic. Others, like Mark Henshaw, leave it out because their mothers are reading their books.

Now, I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I have been known to let go, using strings of colorful expletives the way Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold. And I don’t happen to think most good writers choose profanity out of laziness either. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to leave that kind of language out of my writing. Not because I feel I am better than everyone else. It’s mainly a marketing decision. In other words, I don’t want to turn off any potential new readers because they can’t get past the swear words.

Being “Authentic”
Not to take sides, but I do want to address the question of authenticity in fiction. Apparently, some authors feel that in order to depict realistic worlds (e.g., war, crime, etc.), they need to use lots of swear words. Well, I don’t think that’s true. If it were, then why isn’t urban crime fiction littered with liberal doses of the N-word? I don’t care how “realistic” you think your fiction is. The fact that you are telling a story means you are creating a world that doesn’t exist. Sure, it can resemble the real world, but in the end, it’s fake. And thank goodness!

Think about it. What if you were to write about real life exactly as it is? Wouldn’t it be kind of, I don’t know, boring? People don’t like to read fiction that depicts real life—they read to escape to a different life. And, yes, you should see things that are familiar. But a good writer is drawing you in with great characters and a powerful made-up story. So, if you agree that this is the case, then who is to say you have to include the f-word just to make things seem real?

Profanity and Violence
Very often, violent stories go hand-in-hand with profanity. Just watch any R-rated action movie. But this is not always the case. Take ‘The Conjuring,’ for example. This film received an R-rating from the MPAA. Why? Because it’s scary and violent. Yet, there is no hardcore swearing anywhere in the movie, according to the parents’ guide. So to those who think you need this kind of language to appear realistic, let me ask you this—What better time to let off a few f-bombs than when your mother is possessed by a demon? Yet, none are found in ‘The Conjuring,’ and the story still works.

Many of you know I wrote the horror thriller series TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD. At the time, I made a conscious decision not to use certain expletives. Sure, there is some mild cursing but nothing hardcore. And, again, if you’ve read the work, you’ll know that these books are violent as hell. Some may disagree, but I believe I have created a balance that works. In my fictional world, people can find themselves in horrible danger and not swear like merchant marines. And readers can still enjoy a powerful story.

So what are your thoughts?

COLD FEET FEVER—the Story behind the Story

[Maureen Fisher]Guest post by Maureen Fisher

Truth be told, Cold Feet Fever, a spin-off from Fur Ball Fever, was my most difficult book to write so far. This may be partly because my new protagonist’s backstory was already established in the previous book. I had no choice but to define his goal (pull off a kick-ass grand opening for his paranormal nightclub), a great plot providing seemingly insurmountable obstacles (a goofy dog, exploding trucks, an unfortunate synchronized swimming episode, homicidal thugs, a corrupt building inspector, disappearing corpses, a kidnapping, not to mention the threat of live cremation), and the perfect heroine (a bossy mortician-turned-event-planner with criminal ties) to ensure suitable character growth in a serial womanizer with commitment issues, albeit he’s smokin’ hot, funny, and irresistible.

But that’s not the main reason I had difficulty writing Cold Feet Fever. Nope. Although it was never diagnosed, I’m pretty sure I suffered a brain injury that affected me for close to three years. I only put this together after talking to a friend who’d experienced shaken brain injury.

Here’s the thing. Every winter, my husband and I flee Canada to enjoy Puerto Vallarta weather. Sidewalks in the Mexican seaside town are notorious for causing injuries. You wouldn’t believe the tourists limping around the city, balancing on crutches, sporting casts, or renting portable wheelchairs. One day, I decided to take inventory. For half an hour, I sat on the Malecon and counted four arm casts, five walking casts, three knee braces, two pairs of crutches, and one tensor-encased wrist.

At first glance, those sidewalks look innocuous—mostly paved and surprisingly level. Hah! If you take your eyes off those suckers for one split second, an unexpected slant, or a two-inch metal bolt cunningly camouflaged as part of the sidewalk, or, my personal favorite, a rogue crevice roughly the size of the San Andreas Fault takes out the unwary tourist. And don’t get me started on the stairs, which are everywhere given that Puerto Vallarta is built on the side of a coastal mountain range. Seemingly normal-looking stairs invariably have one tricky step that is either higher or shorter than all the rest. Always. I believe it’s written into every construction contract.

It took a while for me to learn that if I wanted to sightsee, I must stop walking before gawking. But by then, it was too little, too late. Over the course of three winters, I not only twisted an ankle and sprained my wrist, but also cracked my head not once, not twice, but three times on Puerto Vallarta concrete. Suffice it to say that when the brain, which has a consistency similar to Jell-O, suddenly collides with the skull, which is as hard as cement (at least I’m told mine is), bad things happen to nice people.

The end result? For three years I was unable to focus on anything requiring brain activity, namely my writing. Whenever I sat down at the computer and tried to resolve a plot twist or write a sexy love scene, my brain fogged up. Immediately, I grew exhausted and crawled away for a nap. This, from someone who never napped a nanosecond in her life.

Slowly, things improved. I started writing again and managed to finish a book that I’m proud to publish. I hope you will enjoy Cold Feet Fever as much as I did while writing it.

Book Blurb

[Cold Feet Fever Cover]

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Smashwords

Cold Feet Fever
A Romantic Crime Mystery with Tons of Humor

Secrets and Crime Have Never Been So Much Fun—or So Romantic!

A bad boy gambler with a lazy streak and commitment issues:
Owning Kinki, Atlantic City’s first paranormal nightclub, isn’t as easy—or as much fun—as Sam Jackson anticipated. Someone’s trying to shut him down before he opens, he’s on the verge of bankruptcy, and his matchmaking granddaddy has hired a sexy event planner with a mysterious background, bossy disposition, and criminal ties.

A mortician-turned-event-planner with big secrets:
A job as event planner offers single mom, Katie Deluca, her last chance to escape her past. Turns out party planning is more difficult than organizing funerals. Plus, the nightclub owner, although perfect for awakening her sensuality, couldn’t be more wrong for the stability she craves.

Forced to collaborate, they overcome obstacles and fight crime:
Katie is the one person who can salvage Kinki—and heal Sam’s emotional wounds. Together, they tangle with a goofy dog, exploding trucks, an unfortunate synchronized swimming episode, homicidal thugs, a corrupt building inspector, disappearing corpses, a kidnapping, and the threat of live cremation, all to deliver a kick-ass grand opening.

Excerpt

With growing desperation, Katie managed to pry her purse from Rex’s jaws. He registered his disapproval with another howl ending in an eerie, wolf-like falsetto.

She prayed the couch’s occupants were far enough along in their bliss to ignore the interruption. Purse to chest, she silently backed away. She’d reached the main office when a man’s drawl flooded her entire body with apprehension.

“Much as I hate to break the mood, darlin’, I’d better check up on Rex. I don’t trust him near the pizza.”

Before Katie could flee, or dig a hole for herself, or better still, throw herself out the window, Sam Jackson, playboy and, if she believed the Internet gossip, all-around heartbreaker strolled out of the alcove. Buttoning an amber silk shirt the same color as his eyes and wearing a Stetson, he halted and scrutinized Katie across the gleaming expanse of conference table.

The grainy newspaper photos she’d studied online didn’t come close to doing justice to his masculine glory. Everything about him screamed sexy, from that chiseled jaw and those sculpted lips, to his streaky blond hair framing a face that belonged on the big screen.

Fortunately, pretty packaging didn’t interest her in the slightest. Nope. The man was a degenerate who enjoyed booze, gambling, and women, not necessarily in that order.

As he closed in, his gaze took a long, leisurely tour of her body before settling on her mouth. He exuded a hint of cologne, all woodsy and spicy and delicious, not that she cared. Was it her imagination, or did his expression hint at amusement?

“Howdy, ma’am. I apologize if my dog scared you, but I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong office.” His voice was a little raspy, steeped in moonlight and magnolias.

Katie cleared her throat. “I’m in the right place, thank you.”

One side of his mouth kicked up a notch. “You must be here for our job fair. Try Room 204. That’s our HR department. In that outfit, you’d make a perfect Dracula’s Lair attendant.” A broad grin creased his cheeks, causing the corners of his eyes to crinkle.

“No, but thank you anyway.” Katie studied his face. “It’s obvious you didn’t touch base with your boss this morning.”

“Really? And all this time I believed I was the boss.”

 

About the Author
Transplanted from Scotland to Canada at the tender age of seven, Maureen Fisher now lives with her second husband in Ottawa, Ontario. Besides writing, she is a voracious reader and volunteer for an addiction family counseling program. In addition, she’s a bridge player, yoga practitioner, seeker of personal and spiritual growth, pickle ball enthusiast, and an infrequent but avid gourmet cook.

You can find Maureen on Twitter, on Facebook, at Goodreads, and at booksbymaureen.com.

What in the World Is “Family Fiction”?

[Arrested Development]
Photo courtesy of Deadline | Hollywood

A while ago, I told you about a novel I had adapted from one of my old screenplays (see “Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times”). As I was writing the book, I thought my biggest challenge would be making a decent novel out of what is essentially a blueprint for a movie, which is what a screenplay is. The good news? I showed a recent draft to a few trusted friends, and the consensus is that the story works. Now for the bad news.

Finding Your Genre
Typically, when writing a novel you have pretty good idea about which genre you’re in. We’ve been trained to think this way, and it’s my view that this is mostly due to the influence of movies and television. What’s the first thing an agent asks you (after “Who are you again?”)—what is it? And they’re not talking about the story, my friend. No, they are asking whether it’s rom-com, horror, thriller, period, coming-of-age, etc. In other words, they want to know how to market it.

And here’s the thing—because we as writers are already trained, we will write according to these predefined genres, or categories. Of course, Amazon makes it easy too. When you publish your book, you are asked to select up to three categories. Here’s one—Fiction->Romance->Contemporary.

But what if your story doesn’t fall neatly into a pigeon hole?

Genre Benders
This is where I found myself after finishing my novel. And I will tell you in all honesty, this is precisely why I had struggled with the screenplay. In my mind, I had a great story, but it wasn’t targeted at a particular audience (kids, millennials, older adults, etc.). So, now what?

Well, I had a great conversation with my friend Melodie Ramone, who I interviewed recently. Melodie is not only a brilliant writer, but she knows the publishing world well—particularly when it comes to what publishers want from fiction. And what they want is apparently no different than what those pesky Hollywood agents want—they want to categorize the book so they can market it in the same tired way they do all the others that fall into your particular genre.

Sadly, my book is what Melodie calls a “genre bender.” And, bless her, she didn’t discourage me from publishing it. Sure, I’ll probably never get a literary agent to look at it, but who cares? I’m focused on indie publishing anyway. Of course, I still have to figure out how to market the damned thing, and that is still the problem.

Family Fiction
In researching genre-bending types of fiction, I ran across a term I wasn’t familiar with—family fiction. I tried looking it up, and guess what—there is no definition. I found items as diverse as “Christian fiction,” “family saga” and “domestic fiction.” In fact, there’s a site called FamilyFiction.com that appears to try and own the brand, categorizing itself as a purveyor of Christian fiction.

When I searched Amazon’s Kindle store, I found that “family fiction” is a recognized search term. The first book that popped up on the list at the time of this writing was The Doctor’s Unexpected Family by Kristen Ethridge. You got it—Christian fiction. The second was A Legacy of Secrets by Jean Reinhardt, which is listed as a family saga. Then there’s Alone by Holly Hook, which appears to be targeted to the YA/Sci-Fi/Fantasy crowd. I saw other titles with “family” in them, which unfortunately means that Mario Puzo’s The Family is included. Now, most people are aware that Amazon is great at leveraging big data, but the fact that Christian fiction-themed books appear alongside stories about La Cosa Nostra tells me that family fiction is not a true genre, at least as far as they’re concerned.

Alternatively, if you visit Goodreads, you’ll find a list of family fiction that features books as diverse as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle (which is part of her “A Wrinkle in Time” series). Now granted, the only reason the list contains these books is because readers shelved them that way, which tells me that readers themselves don’t really understand what family fiction is. They probably figure, hey, if it’s about a family, then it must be family fiction. So wait, could it be that simple?

Bringing It Home
Back to my story. My book is told mostly in the first person by a thirteen-year-old girl. But occasionally, I use third-person omniscient because there are important scenes that don’t include her but drive the other characters—her mother and father, for example.

I still haven’t figured out how I am going to market this thing, but Melodie gave me some great suggestions. I will keep you informed as to my progress. In the meantime, I would love to see some comments about what you consider to be family fiction.