RARA-AVIS: Re: Those were the days

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 07 Sep 2000

>okay i need to jump in here. if we are going to write fiction with any
>sincerity to the language of the street we need not be afraid to use harsh
>language. what, are we going to lie about how folks communicate with one
>another? you cite ellroy's language as being offensive. is the use of the
>words nigger or spick offensive to you?? i am a white dude and every time i
>walk down to the liquor store the local youth greets me with "wassup nigger?
>you drinkin' a 40 tonight?" is it offensive when donald goines uses the
>word nigger?

I think you're misreading Mark's comments, but he can speak for himself.

as for me, well, in fiction, I find that often it's not the words themselves that are bothersome, but the gratuitous use of them. I can understand offensive characters using offensive terms in dialogue, and even a narrator using the words, but too often, lesser writers use the words, not to shock, or add colour, but because they think it automatically qualifies them as hardboiled. Sorry, but the mere act of spouting swear words or offensive terms does not make one tough.

In fact, as much as I admire Ellroy, I think he does tend to overdo it. Sometimes he comes off like a ten year old kid in the schoolyard, spouting off all the "bad words" he can, trying to impress his friends.

Doesn't Marlowe at one point say something like "He snarled and called me something nasty." Would that sentence really have been better if Chandler had written: "He called me a motherfucking asshole."

This issue never really bothered me before, but as a fiction editor for my site for the last few years, I've seen some pretty poor writing, tarted up with "fuck you's" and "cocksucker's", and enough misogyny, racism, ignorance and just plain hatred to make you despair for the whole planet.

Were the actual stories any good, it might be different. But they're not. They're bland, adolescent, usually poorly-written shoot-em-ups, full of plot holes, logic gaps, rape fantasies and pointless gore. So, when they're rejected, I get the usual high-school retorts, questioning my masculinity, the size of my dick, how much of a PC faggot I am, etc., etc.

I don't think we should be afraid of using harsh language in our fiction, but I don't think we should be afraid of not using it, either.

By the way, it's a sad day in the "sincerity of the language of the street" when the word "nigger" has become so devalued that it's applied to a white dude like yourself.


Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/
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