Ode to a Clean Writer

on January 28, 2013 in Misc

Ducking for apples – change one letter and it’s the story of my life.

Dorothy Parker

Sometimes in writers’ blogs the issue of cuss words and blasphemy and other fun literary details raises its head and commenters take pro or anti stands.  I thought of this issue yet again when, a few days ago, Carol Kilgore over at Under the Tiki Hut had a guest writer who had come up with an original and clever way to avoid language she found offensive.  (The writer is Colby Marshall  and her book is a thriller called Chain of Command.)

Personally, I believe that writers should have the freedom to tell their stories in whatever way they please.  As for my own writing, I can tell you that I seldom use four-letter words but find it impossible to avoid them, and in my day-to-day life I sure as hell use them.  But while I’m not the squeaky clean sort, I thought it’d be fun to pay poetic homage to an invented writer who is.


There once was a writer who wouldn’t

Use swear words or blaspheme and couldn’t

Take the Lord’s name in vain

and would frequently strain

To use much cleaner words when he shouldn’t.


For scatology he’d substitute

The word feces, crap, doo-doo or poop.

Merde was too French,

Turd had an odd stench,

And anything stronger was moot


The F word he held as most crude.

His characters never are lewd,

Hence intercourse, coitus

Or shag interruptus

Are banned, and no one is screwed.


Okay, I shoulda written another verse or two, but that’s all I could come up with on a Sunday night.

So in closing, and in the spirit of this subject, I’m giving you a joke one writer played on his friend.  Our cleanest and dirtiest fellow writers would enjoy it.

To the Editor: I would like to know what kind of goddamn govment this is that discriminates between two common carriers and makes a goddam railroad charge everybody equal and lets a goddam man charge any goddam price he wants to for his goddam opera box.

(signed) W.D. Howells

Howell, it is an outrage the way the govment is acting so I sent this complaint to N.Y. Times with your name signed because it would have more weight.

(signed) Mark Twain

12 Responses to “Ode to a Clean Writer”

  1. That sounds like something Twain would do!
    I don’t use curse words outside of damn in my books. They didn’t really need them and I wanted a wide appeal. A lot of readers said they were thankful for my decision, so I’m glad I went in that direction.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex – Damn doesn’t even seem to count anymore. And your books really do have a wide appeal.

  3. I think a lot of the censorship lately of words comes from the money grab of authors writing for the biggest audience a.k.a. Young Adult.

    Most writers that I know will always say “I write because it’s my art.”

    But honestly, that’s bullshit. They got into writing because someone made it huge and they’ve always dreamed of being a celebrity. Once they got into the business and started a blog, they became aware of the staggering amount of other people out there who have the same dream. Literally millions upon millions of people all publishing books.

    A lot of these “writers” happen to be young religious women and they take to heart the cleanliness of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” and want that for themselves.

    Thus we’ve had this huge movement to get rid of swear words and sex out of books (for example science fiction).

    I’ve had authors approach me and say, Mike…you’re book has graphic sex in it. Don’t you think this blurs the line to erotica.

    My answer is simple: No.

    Dear “would be writer of science fiction”: I suggest that you actually READ your genre. I’m not talking about the slew of books that have emerged post Twilight written by Mormon mommies.

    I’m talking about Orson Scott Card who dangles penises in his book “Ender’s Game” (won a Hugo)in front of six-year-old boys. I’m talking about William Gibson who has graphic sex between a man and a woman in a coffin in Neuromancer (winner of the Hugo and the Nebula). I’m talking about Dune where Baron Harkonen graphically rapes young men and calls them a Harkonen concubine. I’m talking about Kij Johnson who wrote this story: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/johnson_10_09/

    and won a Nebula award for Clarkesworld magazine.

    I’m talking about Andre Norton, Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard (those two men were flat-out perverts and it shows in their writing).

    So yeah…READ YOUR GENRE, and stop being an illiterate author <== that was my advice

  4. Helena says:

    Michael — First off, I’ve got to say that I love how you’re so passionate and take writing so seriously. When I’m not discouraged as a writer, I often feel much the same way.

    Second, thanks to you I now have an image of dangling penises in my head.

    My own background in writing is more nerdy — I read the classics and Pulitzer Prize winners and the like. And if you think it’s tough breaking into publishing for genre fiction, try general “literary fiction.” In serious literature, at least since the late Twentieth Century, having graphic sex scenes or cuss words or anything else is no big deal, and even earlier than that D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and other giants of literature definitely broke down barriers. Have you ever checked out Shakespeare’s bawdy language?

    But these days in commercial fiction it appears there is still a controversy about mere four letter words or “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” If people want to write and read only very “clean” books, that’s their right and such books should be available. I also respect people who have strong convictions and stand by them, especially if they also have a sense of humor and some charm (I think the writer I mentioned, Colby Marshall, falls into this category). But once in a while someone will actually say something asinine like, “It’s never necessary to use four-letter words when writing. People who do just don’t have a sufficient vocabulary.” Yeah, right! Tell that to writers like Frank McCourt or Colum McCann.

  5. First of all, thanks for the mention. My critique partner writes both ways. I only know of one word that I find so offensive that I can’t imagine using it. I won’t say never, because sure as I do, I’ll absolutely have to use it tomorrow. But I like my fiction to be more life-like as I know it. That comes with all kinds of feelings, all kinds of language, and sex on the page. Just like in life. Now…if I could find a page two real people could actually fit on, I’d be in business :)

  6. Helena says:

    Carol – There are a couple words I really, really find offensive and would never use. Happily they aren’t quite as common as others I do use.

    Sex on the page can be lots of fun. How about a fold-out book for two real-life people? As in pages that fold out to the size of bedsheets? But then they’d be tough to read. :)

  7. Hart Johnson says:

    teehee- I swear more in my books than in real life. I nearly NEVER do on the blog (but nearly never isn’t never, and I don’t consider hell or damn swear words *shifty*)

    Not ALL my books swear though. My cozies CAN’T (against the rules). Kahlotus probably swore the most (reform school and all)–otherwise I tend NOT to have a swearing MC, but there seems to always be side characters who do.

  8. Helena says:

    Hart – Oh, I so definitely swear more in real life than in my books. And yes, its the secondary characters or the bad guys who swear more in my stories, too.

  9. Old Kitty says:

    Lovely Helena!! You should totally have written a few more verses of this!!! I loved it! Damn it!! LOL! take care

  10. Ciara Knight says:

    If I use a curse word it is usually a made up word from my world. I told someone to go to their room last week when he used a naughty word on his blog. :)

  11. Helena says:

    Old Kitty — Thank you, damn it!

  12. Helena says:

    Ciara — how cool, having your own curse words! You can always tell people you speak Latin.