After I’d finished the final draft of my manuscript, my son read it. Or, started it. He said, “You’re making me uncomfortable. The language…you’re my mother. You also seem to know a lot about pill popping. It’s creeping me out.” I thought he was kidding (he hadn’t even read the really creepy stuff yet). Turns out, no. He’s early thirties, has an irreverent sense of humor, and writes a bit himself. He also dabbles in stand-up comedy, so he's no stranger to a blue reference. I remembered he’d never been keen to see me in his audience. And, frankly, I’d never raced for first place in the ticket line. I guess there’s some dialogue that doesn’t reside easily in the mother-son lingua franca. There’s a reason Chris Rock’s mother doesn’t think he’s funny. I get it.
It got me thinking. I’d noticed myself that writers often talk like truck drivers. I remember feeling taken aback when talking to a woman in her seventies, a writer of novels and poetry, who had a particular fondness for fuck. It occurred to me that writers think of words like doctors think of body parts. They’re necessary. And, when looking at them every day is your occupation, or preoccupation, they lose their shock value. They’re only words. A means to an end. There’s lots of them to choose from, but some are just dead-on for certain conditions, particular characters. A writer can pick a different, perhaps more civilized word, but it wouldn’t be right. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a hoot,” doesn’t work at all.
Same goes for circumstances, situations. A screwed up character makes better fiction. Weirdos, oddballs, addictions, flaws - a writer’s nirvana. We’re the Ellis Island of freaks. We love them, love to write about them. Readers love to read about them, and root for them.
I assured my first born that it wasn’t his mother flinging f-bombs all over the place, but the characters. The words and the drugs belonged to them. They fit. I’m not my characters (not all of them, anyway). I just write them. I do what they tell me. Sometimes they make me uncomfortable.
My editor, a wise soul, says a good writer takes the reader places they don’t want to go. Sons, too.
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