Friday, February 11, 2011


Adam is totally jealous that I get to use the f-bomb a dozen or so times in SPARKS. The only book he ever got away with that in was his adult book about life in the ghost hunting business.

We had some fun dealing with the swear words on SMART ALECK'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY. Random House assumed that the main market for it would be schools and libraries, since YA nonfiction that isn't about "your changing body," Jesus, or SAT skills isn't really a genre at all. And with school sales, even "damn" and "hell" can be an issue. We couldn't even use "ass" when we were quoting George Washington.

So we had to get creative in terms of dancing around it. LIke, transcribing a World War I soldier's song where the last word was clearly "ass," we left it blank with a footnote saying that no one knew what the lsat word was, because every time the soldiers sang it, a bomb would go off right at the end or something. That's always been our philosophy: make the limitations part of the joke (hence the picture of "The Beatles as they appeared from the back row at Shea Stadium").

We did get away with working "hell" in now and then - usually when we were referring to it as a place (such as when Davy Crocket said "You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas" before going off to do both).

With some publishers, we wouldn't have even done that. One particularly publisher who was in the running to publish it said we'd have to change a LOT of stuff. We couldn't use words like "stupid." They wouldn't furnish us with a complete list of unusable words, which was a big disappointment. We wanted to frame it at headquarters!

We're under no illusions about how teenagers talk around here - some researchers swear that kids didn't really start swearing in earnest until the 1970s, but anyone who reads much of Adam's Playground Jungle site knows that kids and swearing have always gone together. In the 1980s, people could have some swearing in kids books, but that's really a no-no these days (realism is kind of out, especially in middle grade).

Even in YA, though, you have to watch out: one of the major chains divides YA into "Age 10+" and "Age 14+." If they think your book is "14+," they'll order about half as many copies as they would if it were "10+." Adam usually has to do a real dance to make it clear that the kids ARE swearing without actually shwoing them doing in. In EXTRAORDINARY, his upcoming one, he has the narrator say "this is the REAL story of what happened. I've cleaned up the language a bit, but that's about it" or something like that. That one SHOULD work as a 10+ - a Wells Fargo Wagon full of unicorn crap plays a prominent role in the story, but that should be fine as long as he doesn't call it "shit."

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