Saturday, March 24, 2007

Disconnect

I had an interesting conversation with a reader -- or should I say potential reader -- at a store this past week. The manager introduced me to the woman as an author whose books she might be interested in.

The first words out of the woman's mouth were, "Is there any swearing in your books?"

Having fielded this sort of question before, I answered, "No more than is necessary for the point I'm trying to make."

"And how much is that?"

"You'll have to read it and find out."

"Well, I don't think I'll read it. I don't like swearing. It makes me uncomfortable."

"But you like reading murder mysteries."

"It's the only thing I read."

I didn't want to upset the very nice bookstore manager, and I certainly don't like to embarrass anyone, but I wanted to smack this woman upside her head and scream right in her face, "You don't like swearing but you DO like reading about people whose lives are ended by violence? Don't you see that there's something wrong here?"

This is not the first time I've had this experience, but there was something sanctimonious in this woman's expression that made me want to verbally wipe it off her face in a violent manner.

To my mind, there's something wrong with people like this. I can see someone saying that they don't like books that are nothing but swear words. I would agree. I've read some and I didn't like them, not because of the swearing per se, but because it just got plain tedious after a while.

I've also run into the same thing with the bit of sex that sometimes occurs in my books. _Cemetery of the Nameless_ has a scene towards the end that's pretty graphic, but it really has to be for the story to make any sense. I had the following conversation with another reader about it.

"Oh, I didn't much like your book. Too much sex in it."

"I'm sorry to hear that. It really only had that bit at the end."

"That's where I stopped reading."

"Well, it had to be graphic like that because of the story. I found it very hard to write, but it's necessary to the story."

"I understood that, but I don't like reading about anything to do with sex. That always causes me to put a book down. It shouldn't be in books."

"I guess the murder at the beginning was a bit much for you. I'm surprised you read past that."

"Oh that sort of thing doesn't bother me."

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

This reader went on to say that she's very religious and that sex such as I described is very wrong.

"But stabbing someone after slitting their throat isn't?" I asked.

"Of course it's wrong!"

"But you don't mind reading about that while you don't like reading about sex? What if I had put in a scene with my two married protagonists making love? Would you have read that?"

"No."

"Why not? It's normal."

"Because reading about that kind of thing is repugnant."

She actually used that word. Repugnant. Normal sex between a married couple is repugnant, but slitting someone's throat isn't?

What is wrong with our society if people have this view? You can graphically disembowel someone on screen in a movie and get a PG13 rating. But show a person's backside, breasts, or (horrors) two people making love, and alarm bells go off and the rating goes up to R.

My sister once said to me, "There's too much swearing in your books."

There did happen to be a fair bit of swearing in that book, not overdone, my editor and I felt, but what was necessary because of the characters. Big tough guys wouldn't say, "Oh shucks!" Would they?

She didn't say anything about my story, whether she thought it was good, bad or indifferent, just that it had "too much swearing".

So being the good brother that I am, the very first thing in my next book was a one-word exclamation by my protagonist, "Shit!"

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