Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rhymes with “Duck”

By Cornelia

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


  1. Isn't it the ducking truth.

  2. This is the first blog entry I've read to mention Joan Crawford and offer a working diagram of a helicopter. Belgian shoes seem familiar...hell, maybe not.

  3. Laughing my (word-that-rhymes-with-bass-but-doesn't-have-a-'b'-in-front) off ;-)

  4. You guys fookin' rock... Thank you!!

  5. What the duck are people thinking, trying to stifle the lovely Ms. C's creative juices????

  6. Cornelia, you are so wildly creative it's scary. Took me a minute to notice the drop-caps but the AHA moment finally arrived. I love laughter in the morning.

  7. I didn't even notice the foul language in your book. Maybe because my book has WAY more of it, and I've gotten the same emails. Probably from the same people.

  8. Well Patty, I was just nervous since it's a group blog, and I don't want to offend anyone ELSE'S readers, but in the end I couldn't help using one bad word...

    Janine, I adore you...... cannot put it better than that....

    Karen, I defer to your superior foul-mouthedness, and am honored to fookin' know ya, lady. We must hang out at Bcon and say horrible obscenities together. And we are probably getting letters from the exact same people, too.

  9. I love it when chicks talk dirty...

  10. Wow, what a posting! And they say amphetamines have lost their punch.

  11. And we love you, JD.

    And Paul, thankfully, the Ritalin still seems to be working...

  12. Wow, an adverb? Color me impressed.

  13. Isn't it amazing? Slice 'em & dice 'em & create freaky tableaus with dead people, but don't drop the "f-bomb," honey, 'cause you'll just offend too many readers! Okay, it's really too funny for me to stay pissed, but it does kinda bother me.

    Rock on, King Cornelia - and keep your characters foul mouthed & fun!

    Totally stoked for the next one, BTW. Happy writing!

  14. Duckily, Daisy, it does occasionally work as an adverb. But not often.

    And King Angie, you are so wonderful! I'm amazed how often it's GUYS who get all tweaked over the f-bomb. Way more than women, at least that I've gotten responses from.

    I hope your writing goes happily, too!!!!

    Back to mine... gotta a helicopter to blow up.....

  15. I absofuckinglutely love the way you use language, C.

    And my favourite emails that I got when I got my deal were the ones that included variations of the f word, cards that devled into speculation about the nature of my friendship with the sender if we should both have a different sexual orientation, and the person who called me "shithead".

    There's so much genuine affection in a swear word.

  16. O, I think I've got a girl crush on you, Cornelia.

    My grandmother was a huge fan of Belgian shoes. Unfortunately, she wore a size five.

    My husband always reprimands me for swearing in front of the kids, and I tell him that they're going to learn the words anyway, they might as well learn them from me and learn how to use them properly!

    Of course, this backfired slightly when I got a call from my two-year-old's Church nursery school teacher who reported that he had dropped a block on his foot that day and let loose with a resounding "sounds like duck but doesn't start with a 'd'"!

  17. Shucky darn. Oh my - my friend Tom uses shucky darn - as a fucking JOKE, mind you.
    I tire of hearing people complain when folks swear - in books or in life. Becuase IT IS LIFE folks; people DO SWEAR. (yeah and pets die but let's not go there tonight). But I just don't GET it; what like they live in a bubble? Like they'll MELT if they hear a naughty word? It's out there, it exists and everyone - even if, golly gosh GEE whizzy, they don't swear, they know people who do. and they know people who drink. And drug. And do things sexual. And oh I don't know, smoke?
    the world is full of people who are REAL, and I WANT TO READ ABOUT THEM. I don't want to read about people who NEVER GET ANGRY - because to me, that's what it means. If a character in a book doesn't swear, for me it indicates that she isn't deep enough of feeling, she is so out of touch that she never gets angry. No rage, no getting upset whether at horrible events in other countries, or ripping a nail. And I don't get, and don't espcially wanna hang with people who don't get angry.
    I'm not saying i want to read books about angry people but, you get where I'm heading right? YEah? That FEELING is important, including BAD feeling.

    When I read complaints on DL about characters who swear, what gets me hugely pissed off is when folks say something like "it shows a lack of imagination." It does NOT. It shows that sometimes things suck (speaking of rhyming with duck) and if you don't deal with it, you scare me.
    And then I tend to think, "okay, nice person, you live MY life for a week, and then come back and tell me I shouldn't swear, 'kay?"
    It's not that my life um, pucks, but y'know, if you've lived with chronic serious pain for 30 plus years, and it takes you 5-6 vicodin a day JUST to function? Yep, betcha by golly you'd swear a smidgen too. Kay?
    Ask Cornelia about the email the other day where I gracefully commented about a particular editor we both, um, adore, yeah, that's it, and HOW many times during said email, I referred to um, bucking **** and his um, lucking BOOK and what a mucking JERK he was.
    You don't like swearing do not, repeat, do NOT hang out anywhere NEAR us at Bouchercon, or you'll be shocked, simply shocked. Tucking right you will.
    Those Belgian shoes look just like the Pappagallos the rich girls in my high school all wore. to match every sweater and skirt outfit.

  18. I thought the language was just ducky. It's a preference thing, I guess I like reading words I say aloud, forty or fifty times a day. I have a great cell phone ringtone of Cartman from South Park saying "Duckity, duckity, duck, duck", with out the d's of course. It just makes me laugh....
    Ignore the critics, C. They're jealous.

  19. Funny, and Duck Sauce-spot on, Cornelia.

    Only I must insist that Mensheviks do not wield machetes. In fact, they prefer the more Freudian dirk at close range. The fucking Bolsheviks however...

  20. Aw, my honeys, you are just ducky.... WITH the D!

    And ewww, Andi--PAPPAGALLOS! PTUI!!!!!!!

  21. Dude Otis!

    Apologies for slurring the Mensheviks, couldn't resist the alliteration...

  22. well for all i know all the little snotheads at my high school in wealthy west hartford were importing Belgian shoes. They all look alike to me, what can I say? I was stuck in jr high with wearing "orthopedic" shoes (god, saddle shoes - in the 60s when i wasn't in religious school - I like to DIED) til the foot surgery thing then whatever was affordable, which in my family, was not on a part with the snothead shoe of choice.
    NOT a shoe maven.....

  23. I'd love you in boots or saddles shoes or even Pappagallos, should it ever come to that, my Andi. Barefoot probably best of all...

  24. Thanks for this.

    I'm going to go out and buy your foul book right away.

  25. Dear Jan,

    Thank you for that! Means a lot to me, especially as you are the very first person I ever heard speak at my very first Book Passage conference. In huge synchronicity, tonight I'll be doing my first signing there... whoa.....

    I hope all goes well with the Crime Lab Project!

    Got an email tonight from an extremely charming 86 year old lady who introduced herself as probably a distant cousin, and who plans to buy a copy as well. I warned her that Joan Fontaine had not liked the swearing....

  26. If I read your book and can't remember any excessive use of bad language, does that make me morally bankrupt?

  27. YES. But it makes me very, very happy.

  28. Dave Barry began his novel Tricky Business with a warning to all the people who'd complained about the BAD WORDS in the first one: "Characters like these don't say: 'I am going to blow your goshdarned head off, you rascal!'"

    My w-i-p has two criminals who never swear, one who does now and then and one fucking guy who fucking swears like every other motherfucking word.

    The most pathetic thing I ever read was a novel in which one character referred to another as a "candybutt." It was the worst word in the whole book, and it was uttered by the bad guy. I wish I could remember the name of the book or author so I could warn you away.

  29. As I told a woman in a book club when she complained about my gaggle of Spec Ops guys' language:

    "Ma'am, I try to use language that is suitable to the character, and as most of my characters are bad-ass motherfuckers kicking the holy shit out of evil cocksuckers, they tend to work blue."

    Thank you.

  30. fuckity bollox cunt shit fuck. xx

  31. I haven't read your book, but now I'm going to go looking for it. I wonder what that says about me? Of course, I can remember sitting in the theatre watching Four Weddings and a Funeral, and when the first word said, several times, was fuck, turning to my friend and saying, "Oh, I like this movie!" The fact that Hugh Grant was saying it didn't hurt either.

  32. C- I'll be anxiously awaiting this "Crazy School" book of yours...... considering I went there and you were my journalism teacher in 1989. I'm sure it's a great book about a horrific place, but I must say... referring to all the students that went to the school you are basing your story on as "disturbed" is rather extreme. Some of us were forced to be there for disturbing reasons (like one student who's parents couldn't come to terms with the fact that he was autistic and figured he was just a problem child that would get over it ... or the girl that was molested by her father repeatedly and tried to run away from home to escape it, but instead was caught and shipped off to the crazy school because she kept trying to get away ... or the multitude of kids that were there just because their parents didn't feel like dealing with them and their teen angst... etc. etc. etc.) I'm sure you are just generalizing when you refer to "us" as disturbed (and there were indeed some rather disturbed kids there)........... but it is more than slightly offensive to some of us.
    All that being said, I WILL be purchasing your book when it arrives on the shelves and I wish you nothing but Best Seller labels and through the roof sales...... maybe if I can produce a copy of the newspaper (I use that term so loosely,haha) that you helped us create one semester (dime)... "The Confronter" filled with everything from phony horoscopes to editorials with topics like "Why The Grateful Dead Should Die"... you will in turn send me a copy of the book. Preferably signed with an inscription reading :To Gillian~ one of the un-fu*king-disturbed, ~ Cornelia ;-)

    (you know where to find me... on the MSN site)