Strange not-quite rejection

>> Thursday, November 08, 2007

I guess I think it's strange (or rather funny-strange) because I'm a pretty easy-going, difficult to offend, live-and-let-live sort of person. Obviously there are many who aren't...

Anyway, as you know (via my submission watch) I've been submitting to agents--a manuscript that I've never sent out.

Today I get an envelope with my familiar sticker (the one I put on my SASEs) and read the return address -- one of the higher tiered agents. Oh, dang, I thought -- another R. (Cause we all know if they really wanted to read the ms, they'd email or call.) But I open it and it's the first page of my manuscript with the first word circled and a handwritten note.

Okay, so these are the first few lines of my ms:

"Jesus!"

Reflectors rumbled beneath the tires and jolted Cassandra Christo out of her road trance. With a quick turn of her wrist, she realigned the BMW coupe into the middle of the lane.

Cassie exhaled a shaky breath, peeled her shoulder from the seat and lowered the window...

The agent circled, "Jesus!" And wrote: A lot of editors/readers are Christians--it's best not to offend the reader audience. Choose a different curse word then resubmit.
Resubmit? Wow, she must have liked the writing to ask me to resubmit after I'd offended her. And, yes, I know I offended her because after thinking about it, I remember reading that this particular editor is quite religious. But, heck, honestly, if that bothered her...I venture to say the rest of my work will really tweak her.

Still, she has a good point. Just because I'm so easy-going and not-easily offended doesn't mean others aren't--regardless of whether I was being careless (which I wasn't) or just ignorant (which I was).

I've been thinking about this subject a lot because I tend to use the Lord's name in vain in my dialogue. I also swear in my dialogue. I also have sex and violence in my books. Those are realities for my characters. (And to some degree for me--the swearing part at least.)

I was raised Catholic, I have (what I consider) a very strong spiritual relationship with God. I don't know how or why I compartmentalize, but I don't believe that those elements of my writing make me a bad person or even a bad "follower". It's just fiction.

But my previous agent wanted me to cut out some references to God in dialogue (not necessarily used in a negative way) because she said that a lot of people have strong feelings about God one way or the other and it's safer just to leave it out.

I was okay with that. But now, I'm writing another book where both my characters have a certain level of spirituality lingering from their childhood and I want to bring that into the story, but I've been putting it off because I don't want to offend. Another issue I've been tip-toeing around in this book is racism--white/Hispanic. Again, do I bring it out so it fits the characters, or do I push it to the background so I don't offend?

I don't know the answer. But I have decided to write this ms with the deepest characters possible, which means including both the religion and the racism. Hope it doesn't backfire on me.

What do you think about religious references in fiction?

4 comments:

Anonymous,  7:21 PM  

Joan,

I've ran into the same kind of comments on the contest circuit with my work. I use alot of swearing in the male POV as well as their dialog-- and it offended some readers.

Some people honestly can't see past the words to the characterization, the story--nothing. Case in point, one judge called ALL my characters hatefull and filled with hate, just because of the swearing, well and the villians evilness in his POV.

The heroine, however NEVER swears-- but this judge never even noticed that. She marked the heroine as just awful too with a filthy mouth too.

When it comes to language-- I go by audience and character. If the audience is one that reads mainstream, which is what I write--then I wouldn't ease back.

If it is in the characters voice and he'd use those words, then I'd use them.

For every judge that marked me down for language-- I'd get four that gave me high scores and thanked me for the realism.

You can't please everyone, just try to please yourself and your characters.

Theresa

Joan Swan 8:03 PM  

Theresa,

Good point. Can never please everyone. I tend to agree with you on characterization, yet I don't think it could hurt to tone it down a bit. :-) And my stuff is relatively mild compared to what I've read...which goes back to your point about audience.

Edie 5:08 PM  

Joan, I swear without thinking. I was putting it in my books, and noticed a lot of other writers weren't. I pulled back, and although my characters still swear, not as much.

If an agent sells a lot to the Christian or inspirational market, I pretty much know she's not for me. I'm spiritual, and sometimes my characters are too. And then there's the sex angle. My characters have it, lol.

Joan Swan 7:06 PM  

I agree, Edie. I do the same thing. And in rethinking it, I don't think I'll resub to this agent unless I get a little lower in the tiers...because, as I said...if that bothers her, she REALLY won't like the rest of what I write. :-)

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