I’m sure the topic of “whether or not to keep your art comfortable for everyone” has been done to death, and there’s a pretty clear divide between the two camps. You’re going to have people who write to entertain themselves first, and fans are welcome to tag along for the ride but know that if you find something offensive in the material . . . well, it wasn’t written for you in the first place so there’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on the way out. The other camp says there’s this thing called “social responsibility”, and that philosophy simply states you wouldn’t have an art career without your fans, so be careful of their sensibilities and don’t alienate them with your themes, descriptions, or language.
I’m still trying to decide what camp I fall into. When we wrote Awakenings, we had a single curse word in 92,000 words, and it was on the mild side – “bitch”. The target audience is youngish (only around 13 or 14), and I think we kept it clean specifically not to offend the shit out of parents. The Legacy has a bit more language to it, maybe a dozen or so curse words total, and only one F-bomb in 70,000 words. Its target audience is older, maybe 16 or 17. The teenagers I know (ahem, was) swear a lot more than what I’ve put down on paper, but I’ve toned it down because I don’t want the cursing to overshadow the dialogue. It isn’t so much a fear of censor that made me clean it up, but more I find it unnecessary in the overall scheme.
Now I’m writing an adult fiction book. Not only am I monkeying around with a character who borders on Jenga Kid Crazy, I’m pissing on Christian mythos by making Lucifer not only a nice guy, but one who has a portrait of the archangel Michael in his office and wears a crucifix. I’m not specifically doing this to incite anyone, but I’m sure it’ll get someone’s panties in a bunch, and I can’t say I blame them. The devil’s supposed to be the most hideous embodiment of evil, and here I have him with a soft voice, soft hands, and a love of God and all things divine. The manuscript also addresses witchcraft, abortion, has a relatively explicit sex scene, and A WHOLE LOTTA SWEARING.
Why am I doing these things? Not for attention, but because my story dictates it. Lydie and Ichabod are cambion – half demon children born to a mortal mother and Lucifer. Because they were twins, neither child inherited its rightful due of power. Therefore, now that the two of them are adults, Lydie is trying to murder Ichabod so she can get the whole inheritance instead of half. Thematically this is not a cheery plot, and the inclusion of demonic lineage pretty much dictates some darker workings.
I’m a little torn thinking about the manuscript in that this is probably the most “in your face” thing I’ve ever put down on the page. I’m not embarrassed by it so much as concerned that people reading it will be put off by how blunt my writing can be. Some things in the story are just plain fucked up, and to this point, I haven’t shied away from talking about them. I’ve toyed with the idea of softening everything up and “fading to black” when some of the really brutal aspects of the story present themselves, but I feel that it’s less because of my responsibility to my readers and more because I wimped out and fear everyone hating me. Don’t like that idea t’all. No one wants to be labeled a wimp. I also have a legitimate (I think, anyway) fear that the story will go tepid instead of having an edgy punch should I start treading all careful-like.
All in all I think I’m leaning more towards the “write the story you’re meant to write and hope people go along with you, and if they don’t oh well” camp than I am the “keep it sanitary” camp. I suppose if my agent tells me it’s career suicide to write uncomfortable prose I’ll rethink my stance, but for now Lydie’s going to stay messed up and dark. I really doubt anyone reading a book jacket that’s describing two cambion fighting to the death to become the anti-christ (wittingly or not) is going to go into the book expecting rainbows and unicorns.
Time will tell if I’m being stupid or not!