New York Times  Bestselling Author

Cuss Words Revisited

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We’ve talked before about the “colorful” language sometimes used in novels and my readers represent many different opinions on the subject. My opinion is and always has been that such language should not be gratuitous (same with graphic sex and violence), but it’s sometimes necessary. (note: those of you easily offended had better skip After the Storm, the sequel to Before the Storm, due out in June 09. Written in part from the point of view of an angry seventeen-year-old boy, it’s loaded with spicy language. I’ll address what it was like trying to get myself into his point of view as it gets closer to the release date. But I digress. . . .)

Over the years, I’ve received letters and emails chastising me for using four letter words or for “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” Most of the time, the letter will go something like this: “I loved your latest book. The story was wonderful, but it was nearly ruined for me by the language. It’s completely unnecessary to use the ‘F” word and cheapens your story.”

Writers are used to this sort of criticism, but I’d be lying if I said it simply runs off my back. I always take my readers’ feedback seriously, even though I feel confident I’ve made the right decision in what I put into my books and what I leave out. In After the Storm, I struggled with the language, but Keith is just not a “gosh darn it!” kind of kid.  

Anyhow, what made me revisit this conversation is something I heard the other night when I visited a local book group that was discussing The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. One of the women told me she found some of my older, out of print books at the library. She was reading Brass Ring and discovered that someone had used white- out on all possibly objectionable words. I was amused at first. Then sad. Then angry, because this reader not only defaced a library book but she/he interfered with someone else’s enjoyment of a story as well.

So my plea to all of you is, if you borrow a book from the library and find it offensive, don’t read it. Just take it back. And if you buy one of my books and find it offensive, return it. You can also let me know, if you like, but please don’t impose your standards on the enjoyment of others. 

End of lecture! 

18 Comments

  1. leigh on August 28, 2008 at 9:24 am

    How amazing that someone somewhere felt fully jsutified in destroying public property (a library book) in order to impose their own values in another person. My blog is occasionally profane; and, really, if someone doesn’t like it, then please don’t read it! But don’t ask or expect me-or any other writer-to change. Most fictional books attempt to sound REAL, and to represent how REAL people talk and act. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is not. But I’ll take the author’s version of “real” over some random vandalizer’s any day. Not sure that “vandalizer” is even a word!

  2. Nan Gee on August 28, 2008 at 9:50 am

    This “vandalizer” apparently has more respect for their own opinion than he / she does for public property. I can’t help but wonder if these folks wear earplugs at the movies, or mall or when they’re watching TV. Can people still be that sheltered? God help them when their teenager lets one of these words slip. Or maybe it’s God help their teenager. Just keep up the good work.

  3. Denise on August 28, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Sadly enough, ‘keepers of the morals’ like the person who defaced the library book probably go about their lives smugly doing things like whiting-out naughty words on a daily basis. They mistakenly (and haughtily) believe they are doing the rest of us a huge favor by imposing their beliefs and values on us. These are the same folks who tried to keep Harry Potter out of the schools.
    At the bookstore where I work, we have a regular customer who covers up books he finds objectionable with books he finds unobjectionable. If he sees a book facing out on a shelf that he doesn’t like (usually a political book, gay author or sexy romance cover art), he grabs another book and sets it over the objectionable book so that other customers won’t see it. It is so annoying.

  4. Margo on August 28, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Diane, your characters are ‘real’ because of how their voice speaks thru the pages and you have always used excellent judgment in how you portray them…it doesn’t surprise me that someone would go to such lengths as to destroy public property because of their own selfish views…I sometimes think they have other issues in their life that make them react in such a negative way and they lash out at anything to make someone else miserable. Destruction of books is an absolute ‘sin’ in my book!

  5. ronnie on August 28, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    I am trying to keep my religious and political beliefs out of this but does the word “CENSORSHIP” mean anything? It starts with individuals imposing their morals and values on people then the next thing you know we have books being banned and burned. We live in a country that is suppose to stand for Freedom of Speech. Am I being too over zealous with my opinion?

  6. Denise on August 28, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Ronnie, I totally agree. The woman who whited-out the words *she* didn’t like was basically exercising her own form of censorship.

  7. brenda on August 29, 2008 at 6:31 am

    When I find a book that has language I don’t use, if I like the book, I ignore the words-just as I do in life…if the books is totally trashy and doesn’t have a good story, I don’t read it. I only have to be very careful if suggesting books to my high school students (not the college students) because parents…I have rec. BEFORE THE STORM…they like it…and other authors and SOME of the books-let’s face it–have language in it that we don’t use…can’t think of any off the top of my head…but the kids read Jodi Picoult, Siebold, Coben, etc…Now-I know they watch movies, etc., with language, but as teachers, we have a “duty” to make sure “we” don’t do anything “wrong”…There are books that certain ages should not read–that should be up to the parents. I have parents sign a paper giving permission…that being said-in a long round about way–I am so tired of this world imposing their “thoughts” on others…I have my beliefs…others have theirs…(Can’t wait for Margo to get back to work to comment on this one!!!!)
    Diane-a close close friend/author told me once (to paraphrase) “You don’t write about picking up bodies in Vietnam by using the word “darn”…I think that is why my book set in the 60’s and about the war was so pitiful–I will not work on it again…it was not good…

  8. brenda on August 29, 2008 at 6:33 am

    Oops sorry Margo=just saw your comment!!!! It is early A.M., and I have been grading papers already (since 5 A.M.) just didn’t see it…have a good weekend–all of you-I have tons of work to do…Diane-you keep writing and “try” to ignore those who complain…

  9. Julie on August 29, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t swear much at all in “real life,” but I can guarantee that if a monster’s coming after me, I’m not going to say “Golly Gee! A monster!” 😀 I *might* even say, “WTF?” LOL
    My kids have been raised to be conservative in their behavior (drugs, alchohol, sex, etc.), yet I’ve never sheltered them from language or much of anything else in books or movies once they’re an appropriate age, which, of course, varies with the format and material. My parents were the same way, and I think we all turned out fairly well. We’ve all managed to use our brains for good choices for the most part.
    Their upbringing would absolutely forbid them to deface a book that didn’t belong to them–or even one that did as a general rule!

  10. Trina on August 29, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Diane,
    I ditto what Margo said, “your characters are ‘real’ because of how their voice speaks thru the pages and you have always used excellent judgment in how you portray them.” How can you write without talking like your characters do? Don’t let this stop you!
    That said, I went to a Baptist elementary school. Our science textbooks were marked out with a permanent black marker–anything having to do with evolution. I remember being angry that I couldn’t read what was in the textbooks. The same was true for mythology.
    Brenda, I was a former middle school teacher. I once had a group of parents go to the superintendent because the word “bastard” was in the historical fiction book we were reading: APRIL MORNING. This was after all the parents signed a contract that their children could read the book. The superintendent supported me, but asked me not to use the book the next year.

  11. Gina on August 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Whaaaat? Abusing library books by whiting out the words!? I never heardof such a thing. That is beyond my comprehension. How could people dothis? It’s very upsetting to hear that Diane. Really. If someone doesn’t care for a book, just bring it back. Why do they haveto ruin it for other people.
    I’m just shaking my head over here…

  12. Denise on August 29, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    The school district that would black-out information about evolution is basically just keeping their children in ignorance. It’s so silly, though, because they are eventually going to learn about evolution at some point in time. I would feel awfully sorry for any kid who didn’t learn about evolution until they were in high school or college!
    I can understand parents wanting to keep children sheltered from objectionable words and violence on t.v. and in movies for as long as possible. But in this day and age, it is almost impossible to do this unless you lock them in the house.

  13. brenda on August 30, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Trina, I can understand parents not wanting their kids to read books that are not age appropriate. I can understand them not wanting them to read lots of sex and violence…but that word is a word that is used when needed…that is ridiculous…I have parents sign (initial) for books that are not from our classrooms or libraries…I asked a couple today (at the Y) if their son could read Harlan Coben-he has some language-that I thought their son (upper classman) would enjoy the stories-they said it was fine…that’s the way it should be…as to the evolution-give me a break…whew…these parents had better be more worried about what is going on on My Space and You Tube…our principal just advised us not to get into those and write back and forth with students-they are causing problems and teachers losing jobs-across the nation…a teacher has no control what a student might put on there-another topic…My point: it’s not what is in the book that will cause the problem…I don’t think I have heard of kids shooting up schools or meeting pedophiles from reading books…

  14. Sandy Williams on September 1, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    I have just finished reading my first novel of Dianes, The Bay at Midnight. I loved reading it and if there is one thing that keeps me glued to a story it is the dialogue. If it needs a swear word to get the feelings of the character across then the writer must write it, otherwise how do we the readers learn and understand what they’re going through! When I am angry, ‘gosh’ doesn’t do it for me, so how can you write it and still convey the same emotion?
    You go girl . . .

  15. Stacy on September 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I would like to say that this is unbeleivable, sadly we all come come up against this one way or another. I truely love he way that you write. The most enjoyable part of readin your books (for me) is that your charecters are so real. I really felt like I was observing someone’s life. I like a lot of authors. But while I enjoy readin thier books I understand that they are only stories. Rarely have I found myself with a book that sucks you in the Cee Cee Wilkes did for me. Each charecter has it’s own distinct personality… it was absolutely wonderful. I hate that people would presume to tell someone else what they should enjoy.

  16. Diane Chamberlain on September 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Sandy and Stacy, welcome to the blog. I’m glad you’re enjoying my books. this has been a spirited discussion! Trina, I’m stunned about your elementary school blacking out information about evolution in your textbooks, and since I know you personally, I can only say that your upbringing only seemed to have peaked your curiosity about life and science. I’m sooooo tempted to talk politics here, given the events of the last few days, but I will just say that we all need to protect our children’s access to science education and their freedom from all sorts of censorship.

  17. ronnie on September 2, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Diane:
    I’m busting at the seams for you to talk politics. I would love to know your opinion. But I understand that all hell might break loose so I will be content to know that you are an intelligent rational modern woman which means you must have the same views as I have……. enough said!

  18. Denise on September 2, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Lol Ronnie! I have a feeling that several of us are on the same page!

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