I must admit that as someone with more than a passing interest in how cultural constructs are treated as facts, I’m fascinated by swearing. Here is what swearing is: the arbitrary assignation of excessive power to one word over another. Some folks will say that swear words have more power or are more profane because of word meaning, but that’s not true. If it were, “screw” and “mate” and “rape” would be bleeped out like “fuck.” Other times, people maintain that a curse word’s offensiveness comes in because of intent. That when someone uses “fuck” they mean it to be worse than “intercourse.” I don’t think that’s true, either, because some of the nastiest words I’ve ever heard are “thank you,” said in a way meant to mean “I wish you were dead.” When you think about it, it’s a bizarre concept: that we make some words special by making them forbidden. That we somehow think that a single word without any context whatsoever can be offensive. Anyway, swear words don’t bother me. You’ll never curdle my milk using one on me.
Now, that said, as a writer, I’m very aware that they work on many other people. If I’m using them in a novel, it’s because I’m trying to tell you something. I’m trying to make you feel something about a character that I don’t think I could pull off as effectively in a different way. Remember how my goal is always to move a reader’s mental furniture around without them knowing I have? Sometimes swearing will make you feel a certain way about a character faster than any other method.
And sometimes it is just more hilarious.
Occasionally a reader will tell me that I don’t need to use swearing. They will follow this up with this well-worn phrase “you have a good enough vocabulary that you don’t need to use THOSE words.” Yes, I do. I do indeed. Since I don’t need to use them, that means I’m choosing to use them. If you trust me to be using non-swear words in a skillful way, please assume that I’m wielding my fucks and damns with the same contemplation.
As should all of you other writers out there. They’re just words. Handle them with care.
I think HAPPINESS, like proper happiness - contentment and peace of mind - is like baking a lovely CAKE in your HEAD. You can use decorative ingredients from your life but the flour and eggs have to come from within. Relying on someone else to bring a ready-made cake into your kitchen would be very foolish indeed. You might be waiting forever.
I’d say a good 20% of my reviews draw attention to the fact that I’m a male author who often writes female leads. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very lucky to get reviews at all, and they’re usually pretty good - but this has struck me as odd since Hollow Pike in 2012.
1. It’s sad that so few male authors write female leads that it’s still even worth commenting on. I wonder why that is. I’m sure there must be a lot that I just can’t think of. I love Tom Pollock’s Pen from The Skyscraper Throne trilogy for just one example. Arya Stark? Cersei Lannister?
2. Is it because I is gay? Do people think this has enabled me to eschew male privilege? The older I get, the less I view gender in binary, this much is certainly true.
3. Are male and female characters different? Am I somehow nailing this difference without even realising? See, I always think: ‘why would there be a difference?’
Let’s take Bobbie Rowe in Say Her Name as an example. She’s being haunted real bad by Bloody Mary. While trying to solve a mystery and stay alive, I can’t imagine why she’d suddenly stop to think about her genitals, much as her love interest Caine doesn’t stop to think about his. So rarely when living in abject terror do I stop to think about my maleness, so I always assume my female characters would be on the same page.
I sometimes wonder if chat about ‘male and female characters’ only serves to cement the notion that men and women are fundamentally different. I’m not sure they are. If we start saying ‘this is how men act’ or ‘this is how women act’ we are setting up sexism or perpetuating stereotypes on both sides.
Anyway, that’s what’s gotten me this far. Musing over.