BEHIND THE BOOK
Oh F*ck, Swearing! (Also known as Profanity in Fiction):
The best part of being a novelist is, without a doubt, being able to interact with my readers. The inbox greets me each morning with just enough email that I struggle to keep up with replies, but not so much that I throw in the towel and give up on the part of writing that I love most.
Out of all the email I've received very little has been negative. I'm incredibly fortunate to have so much “reader love” and it boosts my spirits on those days when I feel like pounding my head against the keyboard.
Of the handful of negative emails that have come my way, most have been complaints about the profanity found in my books. Some of these letters are quite rude, because apparently writing nasty emails to strangers is a more acceptable social sin than fictional characters saying fuck, and others are polite, simply stating the preference of the reader.
I write international thrillers. High octane, high stakes, violent and psychological, involving chases and guns and explosions and mercenaries and some backwater places of the world that many people don’t even know exist. And yet, no one has ever complained to my inbox about the level of graphic violence in these stories. From this I can only deduce that in polite societies, rape, torture, and decapitation are acceptable so long as we do not offend sensibilities by swearing during said blood-soaked acts of carnage.
But I digress.
I come to the issue of profanity from a few different perspectives.
The first is sheer bewilderment. Upon the rare occasion that I receive such a scathing rebuke I wonder to myself: have these individuals, so offended by profanity that they’d squander life energy to rant at a complete stranger over a book that’s already published, even read this genre lately? The language in my books is tame in comparison to much of what’s on the market.
Then there’s the issue of reality. I tend to write about brutal scenarios carried out by pretty hard-assed individuals—not to mention the level of violence. I aim for a sense of realism. This is not achieved by mercenary types saying, Oh darn it, oh drat, this is a really poo-poo situation.
Fuck it, people: real life is messy, dirty, and often profane.
Anyone who has spent any time around the military type knows that for them, swearing is taken to the level of art. People who are offended by seeing a smidgen of this in print really need to spend more time in the real world. Perhaps if they were more offended by hunger and poverty and war and genocide and brutalization, and put their energy into making the world a less fucked up place, they’d have less time and inclination to be offended when fictional characters use bad words.
Lastly, there’s the personal side. I didn’t begin writing with the intention of making other people happy. I had no idea my books would ever get published and read by hundreds of thousands of people. I wrote to make me happy, I wrote strong women, corrupt despot run countries, adrenaline rush, and yes, lots of bad words, because that’s what made sense to me. And I’m not at all sorry, which I’m pretty sure is what the bad-language police want me to feel. Oops.
I’ve been really lucky, because in the process of writing what made sense to me and making myself happy, I’ve made a whole lot of others happy too. It’s been an amazing win-win.
And here's the thing about that: I was born and raised in religious communes where extreme beliefs were the order of the day. I was denied an education beyond the sixth grade and grew up as child labor. After spending nearly thirty years living under oppression with my words controlled and judged by other people, I cannot even begin to describe how absolutely liberating it is to be able to swear. I have a huge potty mouth now and I unashamedly love that aspect of my personality.
I’ve heard it said that only small minds use profanity—that they can’t come up with more creative ways to say things. Whoever started that rumor was clearly missing out on the good stuff. Anyone who’s read my books can attest to my ability to deftly and creatively use an oversize vocabulary when warranted, and really, you should try that on a sixth grade education, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.
I don’t swear because I can’t come up with better alternatives, I swear because it feels better to express emotion with forbidden words. Having the freedom to say what I want, how I want, is a gift that I treasure every fucking day. So I’ll keep on swearing for realism, character, righteousness and truth, and for the sake of all that is good and holy I’m not changing a fucking thing. Except the world. Let’s make the world a little bit less of a fucked up place.
Taylor Stevens is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling novelist who—by odds and expectations—should never have become either successful or published. Like many aspiring authors Stevens had no credentials or platform, and no direct route into the publishing world. But, unlike most, she was also limited by a life of cultural isolation and a sixth-grade education.
Born into an apocalyptic cult and raised in communes across the globe, Stevens grew up as a child laborer, cooking and cleaning for up to a hundred at a time, caring for younger commune children, or out on the streets begging on behalf of commune leaders. Books, movies, music, and pop-culture from the outside world were strictly forbidden, and she finally gained unlimited access to fiction after returning to the United States in her early thirties. Her books have since been published in over twenty languages, with The Informationist optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.