Say Anything*

*Unless it’s a bad word.

Say Anything*

I just sat through an interesting webinar devoted to the freelance-editing process. There was a Q/A button that allowed viewers to ask questions of either the moderator or her guest, who was a freelance editor.

Much of the hour-long session dealt with the differences among line editing, copyediting, story crafting, and the like. But what I found most interesting were the replies to my questions involving acceptable behavior for fictional characters.

In one question, I asked whether a bad character could voice noxious views (on race, for example). The prevailing view seemed to be that as long as the reader knew it was the villain speaking, and not the writer, just about anything was permissible. The guest editor said that in many cases, writers don’t make this clear enough, especially during long prose conversations in a passage. As an editor, it was her job to make it obvious. Her criteria: If it confused her, a future reader would also be flummoxed.

This led to a discussion about bad language (aka cursing). The editor said it should be used rarely and only to further the story, or where it would be dumb not to use it. If a character in a novel drops a bowling ball on a toe or hits a finger with a hammer, the reaction would probably be understandably X-rated. A “darn it” wouldn’t cut it.

Then I made the point that J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, also writes British thrillers in which it seems every other paragraph contains the “F” word. The editor said that cultures vary. What is acceptable in Europe may not fly in the United States. She added that many foreign novels are cleaned up by U.S. editors to cater to the sensibilities of American readers.

Whoa, Nellie! I was unaware of that. Presumably, I read the early, unexpurgated versions of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike thrillers because they’re rife with the “F” and other “bad” words. I don’t like it when books are cleaned up to cater to other people’s sensibilities. I’m a big boy. I can take it. I know that the “F” word, in England at least, is less pejorative than “bloody.”

I am generally against the entire censorship, ban-the-books wave washing across America. I live in Florida, where some parents are more concerned with the books their kids check out of the school library than they are with the fact that those same kids might get shot there. Ban books? How about banning assault weapons? Besides, you’d think parents would be happy their kids even knew what a library was in this age of smartphones.

Yes, I know many parents take their children to libraries and don’t want their little darlings exposed to “inappropriate” material, but why ban books when a parent can already control what their own child reads? I’ve always thought that what this nation needs are stronger lab rats. Now, I think it also needs stronger parents.

By the way, I just finished Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign against McCarthy, which, using recently declassified material, purports to show how Ike (whom I like) torpedoed the Wisconsin senator and his red-baiting. Joe McCarthy and his acolytes, too, tried to ban books; Ike said that he’d rather have people informed about their enemies than ignorant of them. He believed that the more Americans read about communists, the less they’d like them and their philosophy.

And Ike was particularly miffed by people who wanted to ban books by famous authors, no matter what their politics.

Lawrence De Maria has written more than 30 thrillers and mysteries on Amazon. They are all available in print and as e-books, including his latest, Joshua House. He wishes some jerk would try to ban his books since that would probably increase his anemic sales.

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