I often wonder if other writers consider the M.P.A.A. rating of their books before they finish them. You know, if it were a movie, would it be G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, or X? One would assume that, if it’s a book for children, it’s G to PG. The expected range for adult readers would be somewhere between PG and R, and once you enter the erotica realm, NC-17 to X.
Considering these potential ratings, should writers target the broadest audience possible, or should they just write whatever they damn well please? Well, I believe that an author should write a story that rings true. And if that means you have a tome full of F-bombs, then fly that bombardier high and let them whistle down to earth. I’m not saying that you should indiscriminately use curse words instead of creative prose. But I am saying that no one would expect a story about a bunch of slick, vicious, razor-sharp lawyers in New York to be a G-rated Disney movie, right? Wrong. And that’s where my anecdote comes in.
When I wrote my legal thriller/drama PLUMMET, I based it on some very real situations that I experienced as a litigator working in some of the largest, most powerful, and most stressful law firms in Manhattan. The common language of most of the lawyers was not Latin (i.e., prima facie), but rather George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words. Please forgive my French, but that’s just the truth, especially because of the trifecta of aggravating factors: New York City, the nature of litigation, and millions of dollars at risk all the time. So, of course, I wasn’t going to compromise my profane standards and have the characters in PLUMMET running around, saying, “Oh, golly gee whiz, I really flubbed this memo of law. That gosh darn partner is going to mess his jockey shorts when he sees this boo-boo.” No, I wrote the novel as if you were eavesdropping in the dark hallways of Sullivan & Adler, eyes wide and ears melting from the searing poetry of filthy language. 100% certified, organic legalese.
What I didn’t realize was that this “atmosphere” would get PLUMMET a 1 star review. I wasn’t surprised, because not everyone is going to like your work. However, I looked at it as an opportunity to possibly get constructive criticism and learn from any mistakes. So I sent Ms. “Betty” (the 1 star reviewer) a polite message and asked what she didn’t like and what I could improve.
Here’s the exchange that followed:
Betty: I didn’t like all the “dirty words.” And I can’t believe all law offices are like that.
Michael Zarocostas: I’ve worked in several offices, and, in my experience, there is often cursing (especially in New York) that would make sailors blush. I’m sorry that you were offended enough to give PLUMMET 1 star, but you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I recommend trying Amazon’s sample feature, which allows you to read the first few chapters so you can determine the G, PG, or R rating of a book before downloading the whole thing. Take care.
Betty: I have to admit that I read the book in its entirety. I am 80 years old and was brought up to dislike so called curse words. I surely don’t want to imply that others didn’t like the book. I am sorry if I discouraged others from reading it. I will be watching for your next book. I understand where you are coming from.
Michael Zarocostas: No worries, Betty. I respect your opinion. My mom doesn’t much like those curse words either. Take care.
How beautiful is that, and how can you not love a sweet lady like Betty? Sure, she gave me a 1 star review, but she actually admitted to reading the whole book and wanting to read my next one. What she didn’t like was the surprise of all the “dirty words.”
So what’s the moral of the story? I now have a disclaimer on my Amazon sales page for PLUMMET as follows: “This book is rated R for profanity, murder, sex, and drugs – not necessarily in that order.” And a quote from Twain: “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
At least now a reader will know what they’re getting into which I think is always a good thing before it starts raining dirty words.