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