Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Foul Language

So, recently I submitted a short story to Escape Velocity, a print science fiction magazine based in Seattle.

I would have never considered submitting if it hadn't been for Carole McDonnell posting the editor's call for more submissions on the Writers of Color Book Tour group site, but I thought I'd try out a story I had recently rewritten based on comments and suggestions from an editor.

Since rewriting the story, I've expanded it as part of my 7499 Project, but in its initial reconfiguration, it's one of just two stand-alone short science fiction pieces that I can send out right now.

The story has kept its essence, though--the main character, the plot, the action--but I've done away with the back story, as suggested by the editor at Nanobison, who inspired the sleeker version of the story as chronicled in an earlier blog here.

In short, it has become a tighter, better executed written story. Or so I thought. And so thought the editor at Escape Velocity. He also believed the story to be a bit too foul-mouthed for his tastes.

Specifically, he said: "Good story. Too much bad language for us. Our mothers subscribe to EV. We have no doubt your story will find a home, though. It was well written, just not for us." Fair enough.

Now, I rarely use foul language, spoken or written. That's not to say I don't use it at all (I do, usually when I'm extremely frustrated, rather than when I'm extremely angry), but I find foul language easy not to use due to three main reasons: my two small children, its general uselessness, and my mother, who's very much a Southern Baptist-raised non-denominational Christian.

Before talking to my wife about this tonight, I believed not much foul language made its way into my stories. For the most part, I still believe that; only the odd bad word or two has found its way into my stories, and for good reason. Usually, it adds to characterization or the gravity of a scene or situation.

For example, in regards to the story I submitted to Escape Velocity, the main character narrates the story with constant swearing. I've done this to give him a unique first-person narrative voice (in comparison to the other first-person narrative voices in the 7499 Project), characterize his profession, and typify the world he lives in and the people with whom he associates. He's shady, through and through, and so are the people around him.

And I know that I did not need to characterize him as such, but this element of his character does not solely define him. However, it does help to identify him, and I think that's something quite different.

When writing this story, and other stories, I've paused before adding foul language. Truthfully, I'd rather not have foul language in my stories; I expect my mother to eventually read them. But I also know that if I want to add realism to my stories, swearing (and sexual situations, as my wife reminded me were also part of my stories) would have to be depicted realistically.

It does please me that, except for the story submitted to Escape Velocity, swear words in my stories have been kept at a minimum, no more than two or three. Over-saturation of foul language can come off as forced or awkward, and, truthfully, it bothers my conscience. See Ma, I do listen to you.

I won't completely remove foul language from my fiction though, even if more and more I'm seeing submission guidelines asking for nothing more than PG-13 work. By the way, Escape Velocity's submission guidelines make no mention of not having foul language in submitted stories.

What concerns me, however, is the difficulty of finding a "home" for this piece rejected by Escape Velocity. I know there are numerous magazines out there that have no restrictions when it comes to foul language and disturbing situations, but this only makes it that much more difficult to sell the story.

My story doesn't really fit in with those magazines. When writing the story, I was sure it would find a home with a magazine that published gritty urban fiction, edgy thug lit, or urban sci fi, but so far, I've been wrong. I know it's just a matter of time and trial and error before it finds a home.

And I know I have to be patient. But my biggest fear is that there isn't a market out there for my fiction.

1 comment:

Kahnee said...

I like what you said:When writing the story, I was sure it would find a home with a magazine that published gritty urban fiction, edgy thug lit, or urban sci fi, but so far, I've been wrong. I know it's just a matter of time and trial and error before it finds a home. And I know I have to be patient."

I can't say it any better than that.