Monday, March 23, 2009

Rhymes with "Duck"

Cornelia Read knows old-school WASP culture firsthand, having been born into the tenth (and last) generation of her mother's family to live on Oyster Bay's Centre Island. She was subsequently raised near Big Sur by divorced hippie-renegade parents. Her childhood mentors included Sufis, surfers, single moms, Black Panthers, Ansel Adams, draft dodgers, striking farmworkers, and Henry Miller's toughest ping-pong rival.

At fifteen, Read returned east, attending boarding school and college on full scholarship. While in New York, she did time as a debutante at the Junior Assemblies, worming her way back into the Social Register following her expulsion when a regrettable tantrum on the part of her mother's boyfriend's wife landed them all on "Page Six" of the New York Post.

Today, her Bostonian Great-Grandmother Fabyan's Society of Mayflower Descendants membership parchment is proudly displayed at the back of Read's tiny linen closet in Berkeley, California. She has twin daughters, the younger of whom has severe autism.

unny enough, here I am, down to the wire on completing my second book.

It is coming in large chunks, which I only hope are not written in Klingon. Or Portuguese. Either of which feel like a huge possibility.

I know whodunnit.

I know what happens at the end.

I know that there will be a helicopter blowing up, because my friend Sweeper Dave likes books in which helicopters blow up, so I promised him I would work one in.

(You may not think it sounds reasonable to blow up a helicopter in a book about a boarding school for disturbed kids in the bucolic Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Trust me, however, when I say that my working title, The Crazy School, is warranted when it comes to this place.)

But here is the one thing a number of people have asked me not to do in the second book:


The first person to comment on the swearing in book numero uno was Joan Fontaine, whom my mother met in a hardware store in Carmel, California, because Miss Fontaine has a taste for Belgian shoes—said shoes being the premier footwear fetish of my family.

Mom thought Miss Fontaine might be amused by my book, as Belgian shoes are in it. Miss Fontaine read an ARC of A Field of Darkness, but did not comment on the whole shoe thing. She basically said she thought the language in the book was appalling, which caused her not to enjoy the experience of reading it.

The flap copy on the hardcover starts out with the first three sentences of the book itself, which read as follows:

There are people who can be happy anywhere. I am not one of them.

When the house on the next street went up in flames for the second night in a row, I wondered again what the hell I was doing in Syracuse.

Only they took out the word “hell,” in the flap copy.

When I got to read over the flap copy, I put the word “hell” back in.

nlikely as this may sound, my very kind editor emailed to say that they couldn’t say “hell” in the flap copy, in case anyone who read the flap copy, in, say, a bookstore, would be offended.

Considering that one of the main characters is named “Ice [insert word- that-rhymes- with-‘runt’- but-does-not-start- with-the- letter-‘R’ here],” I wondered what would happen if people offended by the word “hell” ended up actually reading the book.

Here is what happens. They write reviews on Amazon which say things like:

“The foul language, which I think is supposed to be smart, sassy, and funny, is grossly overdone and gets in the way.”

Which is a sentiment that has been repeated on DorothyL. Repeatedly.

And I'm perfectly okay with that.


However I would like to state here, for the record, that the foul language in my first book is not supposed to be smart, sassy, or funny. It is just supposed to be foul.

And I would also like to state, for the record, that I respect the right of anyone not to swear.

Some of my best friends don’t swear. And I still even kind of like them, although admittedly they tend to be way less fun at parties than my friends who do swear, unless you get them really, really drunk.

I also fully understand that there are a lot of people in the world who dislike and eschew the use of profanity… people who say things like “shucky darn” when a Mack truck runs over their foot, or they get riddled with bullets, or find themselves being chased through the Amazon River Basin by a bunch of pissed-off Mensheviks who happen to be waving glittering machetes, or whatever.

I respect the hell out of those “shucky-darn” people, but to quote the second sentence of my first novel, “I am not one of them.”

I’m sorry, I love swearing. L-O-V-E. I-T. And I love hearing other people swear.

I think it’s funny. I think it adds spice to life. I think that sometimes, “shucky darn” just doesn’t express the sentiment that is yearning to escape from our heart of hearts, in the form of spoken language.

I love the part on the Woodstock Album where Country Joe MacDonald of Country Joe and the Fish yells “Gimme an F…” and the ginormous crowd yells “F!” and then Country Joe keeps going until he makes them all yell “K!” with equally resounding fervor. I am forty-three years old, and that still makes me laugh my butt off, although I’ve heard it several hundred times.

Perhaps this indicates a deep and abiding lack of mental balance on my part, but, hey, as I once said on DorothyL, chacun a son gutter.

As such, when my mom recently asked me whether I would tone down the swearing in my second novel, I laughed and said "[word-that- rhymes-with- “duck”-but-does-not-begin- with- the-letter-“D”] no.”

Especially since one of the central things about the book is that the school’s founder has prohibited everyone on campus from saying [word-that-rhymes-with-“duck”-but-does-not-begin-with- the-letter-“D”], ever. And requires that anyone who ignores this prohibition has to donate a dollar to the local Rape Crisis Fund, as he feels that [word-that-rhymes-with-“duck” -but-does-not-begin- with-the-letter-“D”] is inherently linked to violence against women.

oincidentally, this is based on an actual rule at an actual boarding school for disturbed kids in the bucolic Berkshires, in western Massachusetts.

An actual boarding school where I once worked, actually.

The students and teachers and administrators at that school were often required to donate dollars to that fund, though they were allowed to use any other swear word—in class and out, while jostling one another at the salad bar, say, or answering a question about Yalta in American history class—in fact, they could even say [word-that- rhymes-with- ‘runt’-but-does- not-start- with-the-letter-“R”], which just seems really, really stupid to me, but the founder-of-the-school guy was big on arbitrary prohibitions, which he considered “therapeutic.”

So, anyway, as a result, we couldn’t get ENOUGH of saying [word-that-rhymes-with-“duck”-but-does-not-begin-with-the- letter-“D”], in all possible combinations, declensions, and conjugations; as noun, verb, adjective, proper name, dangling participle, split infinitive, and even adverb—which takes some doing, the adverb thing—and, as such, it shows up rather often in the manuscript. It is on the first page. It was today applied to Freud and Jung and Werner Erhard (and his little dog too).

It will be uttered when the helicopter blows up, and it will probably be the last word at the very end, if I work it right.

It will probably not, however, appear in the flap copy.

So, if you are a person of the “shucky-darn” persuasion, let this be a warning to you… indeed a caveat, yea verily.

But if you are, on the other hand, a person who enjoys a good expletive, undeleted, this might be a book right up your alley. And all I can say, if so, is...

...gimme a

(originally posted with Naked Author Blogspot 6/13/06)


Sam said...

I suppose I can understand why some folks refuse to read books that use "foul language." However, I prefer realism over wishful thinking, so I completely agree with your approach to writing. Stay real...thanks.

Vicki Lane said...

I'm convinced! I want to read your book! (Does that make me a bad person? Oh, fiddlesticks!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Cornelia,

I heard Crazy School was a children's book - lol!! I saw Country Joe at WoodyFest last summer, and yes, he did that song, and we all knew the words.

Keep it up kid, it's working for you

Shirley Wetzel

Anonymous said...

Hi, Cornelia:

Country Joe's song is one of my favorites. Watch it on YouTube all the time.

My latest craze on YouTube is Pete Seegar's "Draft Dodgers Rag." Cracks me up.

So much for music. I'm sure you've forgotten, but you were in the audience for my panel at LCC Monterey 2004.

Can't even remember the name of the panel now, but Sue Ann Jaffarian was one of the panelists and had just written her first book. I had just written my first. I think you were working on yours at the time.

Tempus fugit. Enjoyed your post to the max.

Pat Browning
Krill Press 2008
In print and on Kindle

Anonymous said...

A shout out to SHIRLEY WETZEL -- we have to stop meeting like this.

Seriously,I am so ashamed to be still holding your wonderful photos and story of your trip to Wales. I WILL use them!

And thanks for your kind remarks on DorothyL about my book. I swear,I don't know where "bolonious" came from. It just popped out while I was writing. I love it when that happens.

I wish I could have been at Country Joe's concert. Amazing,isn't it, that he's still going strong?

Now, I'm heading over to YouTube .....

Pat Browning

Anonymous said...

P.S. to both Cornelia and Shirley:

I just came from YouTube. Either the original Country Joe appearance at Woodstock has been removed or eviscerated -- the Fish yell is missing.

Mercy! What is the world coming to?

PPS to Cornelia: I thought Joan Fontaine was dead. Dead or alive,loved the anecdote.

Pat Browning

Wendy said...

Well, I just love it that Joan Fontaine, that hypocritical old dame, was appalled by the language. In the 30's and 40's, the wives of Joan's conquests were pretty damned appalled. Your mother should have said, "Well at least Cornelia is saying it all over the place, not DOING it all over the place, Joan."

Good luck with the book, my dear.

L.J. Sellers said...

Very fun post! I swear off of swearing about once a week, and it usually lasts until about the time I get in my car or discover some new stupid thing my husband has done. But I try to make sure that not all of my characters swear.
I remember trying hard not to use the word that sounds like duck in front of Kaye at Bouchercon. Maybe I shouldn't have worried about it.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Cornelia and I are sisters of the heart when it comes to swearing - or cussin', as I've always known it to be called. Sometimes it just feels good. And there are just a couple of words that are perfect purge words for me - one of them being "the word that sounds like duck." LJ?! I can't believe you wasted those efforts in Baltimore in trying to watch your mouth in front of me! Now you know - let her rip, honey. it's fine fine fine.

Anonymous said...

A year after "Little Blue Whales" first came out I found myself being stalked by a retired college professor with a PhD in physics. He was upset with me after I had to have him placed on a mental health hold for some bizarre behavior he was exhibiting in public, including confessing to a crime he did not commit. After he was released from a mental health facility where he was held for almost two weeks, he filed a two million dollar lawsuit against the city, myself, and another officer. He also bought a copy of my book, counted the number of times the "F" word appeared in it, which was twenty three (hey, that's not bad for a book about cops that was 174,000 words long!) and then filed a complaint against me with the State Ethics Commission on the basis that any police chief who used that kind of language was unprofessional and not to be trusted as a public servant. He also took my book around to all the local area churches and tried to convince the clergy to have the city fire me for "defamation of religions." Well, his ethics complaint was thrown out over a little thing called The First Amendment, he lost his four day lawsuit in federal court and was not awarded a single red cent, and I'm pretty sure most of the local pastors thought he was either demonically possessed, or was Satan himself. Of course, the real problem all along was that he is f****** crazy, and everyone already knew that. Except him.