There are no swear words in my books, though I can assure you my regular dialogue is rife with them, as is my inner monologue. Like all true Americans, I don’t trust people who don’t swear, so I feel that I owe my readers an explanation. If you can’t trust the guy who writes your ridiculous farce, who can you trust?
Mom and Dad
My parents both hold advanced degrees in English, which you may have heard of. The pair of them know more about the English language than any respectable person should, in my opinion. They positively thrum with grammatical potency, to the extent that I am terrified to say either “who” or “whom” in their presence.
Very nice people, though. Honest.
In all of my earliest memories, shelves overflowing with books set the stage upon which all of my tantrums played out. I was fascinated with books, and though it defies logic, I got the distinct impression that the feeling was mutual. My dad handled them with a reverence of a priest cleaning the bones of saints. The Pope would have told him to lighten up.
When I could be bothered to have clean hands, I was allowed—nay, encouraged—to handle the books. When I first started learning to read, I would scan the pages looking for words I knew. After a while, I started doing my best to properly read them. Eventually, I was able to sound out all of the words in my head, though I was oblivious to their meanings most of the time.
It didn’t matter. I was like Mom and Dad. I was reading.
Skip ahead 30 years or so. I finished my first novel in 2016, and my son was born a year later. I knew that was inevitable. Becoming a parent, I mean. My wife wouldn’t stop flirting with me, doing things like making eye contact and saying “hello.” Nature was bound to do what was in its … nature.
I can remember the moment that I knew I was going to be an author and a parent. That got me thinking. If my children’s early experience with books was to be anything like mine, they’d eventually ask what the words in my books meant.
“Daddy,” I imagined my progeny asking, “what does motherfucker mean?”
If anything, the decision to write books with no swear words was a defense mechanism in the righteous war against awkward conversations.
I Write Funny
Now back up again. I got my hands on my first Discworld novel in the late 80s. It was also the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic. It started a lifelong obsession with humorous fantasy. But when it came time for me to try writing my first novel, I tried horror. It didn’t go well at all. I’m far too squeamish.
Having gotten that out of my system, I tried humorous fantasy instead. It was a much better fit.
Swear words are funny things. They’re words of power, namely the power to get your grandmother to chuck a shoe in your direction; or worse, a disapproving sigh with a slow shake of the head. What is it that makes a swear word so dastardly? Why is it that the F-word is anathema, yet no one would bat an eye at “procreation” if it was said in a sermon?
Swear words are like pies: delightful when properly served, but hurl one at your mother and see if you’re still her favorite.
Morality had nothing to do with my decision. Any nitwit whose world view is so narrow that they can take offense to a word for its own sake can fuck right off. (Blogs aren’t novels. I’ll say what I want.)
I’m only doing my best to keep swear words out of my children’s vocabulary until they have the wherewithal to refrain from using them in front of the aforementioned nitwits. It’s not that I care about their feelings. I don’t even like to acknowledge my own, a sentiment that has made my therapist very wealthy. The thing about these nitwits is they’re not the sort of people to be quietly offended. They’ll insist on airing their grievances with me at full volume, robbing me of time I could have spent not listening to them.
“The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.”
― Stephen Fry
How do I reconcile my love of swearing with my desire to keep it out of my books? Easy. The pub.
I do as much swearing as possible at the pub, so that it’s out of my system before I write. That usually leaves that systemic void full of whiskey, which should probably get a mention in the acknowledgments of everything I write. Sure, my family’s important and all, but none of my books would have been possible without whiskey. Nor would my dearth of energy or my constant headache, but you can’t win them all.