Tag: Sabrina Salter

Sabrina Salter

To Cuss or Not to Cuss

 Cussing. Swearing. Cursing. Blaspheming. Call it what you want. Many people do it, some don’t. Writers know how important word choice is. Dialogue is more authentic when it sounds like how ordinary people talk. So what is a writer to do about “The Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television” made famous by George Carlin when arguably all but one of those words are heard frequently in the conversations of ordinary people.            My father had a master’s degree in English from Boston University, uncommon in his generation. He worked in promotion and advertising throughout his career, beginning with a stint in the Navy under Admiral Halsey working on the Victor at Sea series. Believe me, this man knew his words. An excerpt from a little parent bickering: “Kay, don’t be so banal.”Would this man ever start a sentence with “Gosh”? Hell, no. Kay, on the other hand, replaced words she considered “vulgar” with ones acceptable to her. Sh*t became “burp.” “When are you going to pick up all that burp in your bedroom, Michele?” I’ll save how she renamed body parts for another day.            How we use our words is a reflection of who we are and what we have experienced in life. This should also be true of the words our characters speak in a novel. Would Sabrina Salter, my protagonist in No Virgin Island and Permanent Sunset, ever drop an F-bomb? After being abandoned as a toddler by her mother, raised by an inebriated father, betrayed by a husband she managed to shoot, and then exiled to an island, you bet she would. All the time. But does she on the pages of the books containing her story? No.            Here’s why. Editors and agents advise that readers may be offended or distracted by cussing, affecting sales. No sane author wants to contribute one more obstacle to selling books. Unless you are a New York Times best selling author with an established faithful audience, the conventional wisdom is that it is best to exercise restraint. My father might still buy your book with its salty language, but my mother probably wouldn’t.            I find it frustrating to eliminate the words that my characters seem to spill naturally onto the page. Sabrina’s pal, former lawyer, now bar keeper, Neil Perry doesn’t want to say, “What’s going on here?” He wants to say,”WTF?” and spell it out. And I want to let him speak his own words, not stymie them, so I do. On the first draft. The one just for me and my beta readers, who know I will take out the scalpel and excise them during the next edit. It’s the only way I know how to write the dialogue a character is whispering in my ear without losing who she is.            So until I hit the NY Times Best Sellers list, gosh it’s been nice talking to you. Golly, how do you handle cussing with your characters?    

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Oh, the Places You'll Go

Warning: These photos of the places that inspire my fellow Miss Demeanors will cause longing and dreaming (and, we hope, a little fear about the darkness lurking beneath all that beauty). The only remedy is to open up a book. Tracee: First off, I start with Switzerland! Everything about it is special. Kidding aside, when I develop my story I think about places in Switzerland that are special – meaning there is an element of unique to that place. A castle on the shore of Lac Leman? An elite boarding school set in a chalet? The world’s leading watch show? The task is to share these with readers without too much description. What is the essence of the place? Perhaps the people who are there (their behavior, clothing, actions); the smell (fresh air, smell of cows, chocolate); the architecture (new concrete, historic stone). I find myself diving in and then trimming the description, and trimming. People need enough to understand the atmosphere but not build the building. Paula: I fell in love with Vermont many years ago, and so I set A Borrowing of Bones there simply because Iwanted to visit this wonderful place in my mind as often as I could. The research trips where I get to go there in body as well as mind and spirit are a bonus. I put so much pro-Vermont content in the book–food and drink and wildlife and more–that my editor finally said to me, “Does everything in Vermont have to be the best?” Photo Credit: William Alexander  Michele: When I try to describe the lush natural beauty of St. John in the US Virgin Islands to people, I tell them if you picked up the state of Vermont in the summer and plopped it into the Caribbean, you’d have St. John. Culturally rich with history, music, art, and literature, the island is blessed with people who know how to live in contradiction. Inundated with tourists, yet juxtaposed in the kind of isolation unique to an island, the people of St. John are its essence. People who choose to live surrounded by water are by definition different. And after Irma and Maria blew through St. John with 286 mph winds, it is the people who are nurturing the island back after near devastation. The photo I am sharing is “my writing spot” under a tree at Hawksnest Beach. The tree no longer stands, but the water is still sparkling turquoise and warm. And I am #stillwriting. Cate: I tend to like contrasts in my settings: a claustrophobic cruise ship cabin surrounded by endless ocean, a crowded beach house beside a vast sea. I use water as a metaphor for escape in a lot of my work and the characters’ inability to enter it as a way of highlighting their trapped situations. There are a lot of moats in my stories. I also like the duality of water, we need it to live and too much of it can kill us. Susan: My Maggie Dove mysteries are set in a small village in the Hudson Valley, partly because I live in a small village in the Hudson Valley, but mainly because I think village life lends itself so perfectly to mystery writing. It’s difficult to be anonymous in a village. People know what you’re up to. Why is your Subaru parked in front of Mr. Andrew’s house? Are you paying a visit? Having an affair? Or killing him? People trust each other, but they’re also a little suspicious, especially of newcomers who’ve only lived here 30 years. I’m attaching a picture of our train station, which looks mysterious to me!   Alexia: The Gethsemane Brown mysteries are set in a small village that only exists in my head and on the page. I don’t have an answer for “Why Ireland?” other than, “Because Ireland.” (Because it’s green and beautiful and historic and modern and mythical and mysterious and friendly and familiar and exotic all at the same time.) “Why a village?” is easier. Because crime is expected in inner cities and, to a lesser extent, economically depressed rural areas. But villages and small towns and suburbs are viewed as safe, Norman Rockwellian, havens. Nothing bad is ever supposed to happen there. People flee to these bubbles to escape crime. But beneath their sedate, non-threatening veneers, ugliness and dysfunction and intolerance and evil lurk, waiting to strike and rock everyone’s seemingly happy, safe little world. I (perversely) love the idea of giving people who think they have nothing to worry about something to worry about. I also like the idea of showing the suspicion and mistrust and intolerance that hide beneath the polite veneer of small towns/villages. A result of growing up reading Miss Marple mysteries I guess. I try to communicate the danger underlying the calm surface by painting my village as a beautiful, charming, picture-postcard kind of place, then dropping a murder or five in the midst of it. Robin: What isn’t special about San Francisco? 
I love boats. They’re featured in the book out on submission right now and in a short story I’ve just submitted for my local SinC chapter’s anthology. Boats can be tranquil (the gentle roll of golden waves at sunset) or ominous (the setting sun cast shadows like spilled ink across the murky waters). They can be claustrophobic, like Cate said, or they can express freedom. Personally, I just think they’re a fun way to see the City from a unique perspective. It never gets old to me. I have a friend with a historic yacht and every time I go out I see or experience something new. This photo is from one of our trips just before the “dancing lights” came on at the Bay Bridge.

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