My thoughts on Clean Reader and Censorship

This morning, I woke up with a link to this post in my Facebook feed. Wait wait wait! Before you go, be warned that Chuck doesn’t mince words and doesn’t delete expletives. Still curious? Then by all means. I’ll wait.

Back? Good.

For the TL;DR crowd:

And it’s upsetting quite a lot of writers. For good reason.

From my point of view, if profanity has been placed in books, it’s there for a reason. And no reason justifies someone changing any words in a book without the author’s consent.

End. Point. Period.

This is coming from me as an artist, being upset at other artists’ work being damaged. Yes. I’m calling this damage.

I believe that most authors publish wanting to feel like they’ve remained true to their original vision warts (and profanity) and all. Yes, that might mean that they don’t sell as many books or that their books might not be as widely popular as other books. But it’s not as bad as having rabid fans demanding books you don’t like writing.

And sometimes, I wouldn’t like the book I’m writing unless there’s profanity in it. For no reason other than the fact that if I’m writing someone like, say, a battle hardened bad-ass with scars and emotional damage, having him say: “Gosh darn son of a buck” just won’t cut it. Why?

Well this goes back to my whole belief about writing. This has come up before, and every time I DO bring it up, someone disagrees. (Which is fine. I’m lucky enough that the people who disagree with me are usually mature about it and that means we all still get along afterwards.)

To those of you who don’t know, my point of view on writing is as follows:

Fiction writers shouldn’t be expected to teach, preach, or lead anything except for (maaaaaaybe) thought. Yes, our art could do all that, but it’s not our main mandate. Our main mandate is to 1) be true to ourselves and 2) create a world and story that’s as real and visceral to the reader as possible (as determined by the story’s needs.) 

Having any effort of creating this experience for the reader to be ruined (whether they choose to do it to themselves or not), completely goes against everything we writers are supposed to do in the first place.

As Chuck said in his post, there’s a social contract between a writer and a reader. The reader has the choice of supporting our work or not. And we have the choice of putting whatever the hell we feel is necessary into it. If that means a reader or two thousand is lost as a result, so be it. But I don’t see why we’d have to stand by and have our work butchered simply for the comfort of someone who shouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

I’m not here to comfort anyone in my writing. I’m here to create stories. If you don’t like my story, go buy something else. Point. Period. The end. You as reader do not, at any point get to dictate the look, feel and dialogue of my story without my permission.

Why not? Because of what comes next. There’s a very small step between people telling writers which words are allowed in the story and telling them which types of scenes aren’t allowed in the story. Yes, here, Clean Reader is painting this as the reader’s choice. But the point is that if the reader is reading the book, he/she should be trusting that the stuff inside it is there for a reason. Because they are. 

After screwing up our books by taking out scenes, it’s a small step to banning books for having scenes and words in them in the same place. For burning them for because they were written in a way someone just didn’t like. Where exactly would this end?

Oh? Someone might say. It’s not that bad. I’m just blanking out some words. 

No. You are betraying the social contract between the writer and readers. Once you start doing that, all bets are off.

Change my story and take out any of the dark/twisted/violent/profane or otherwise *gasp* challenging to you, and you’ve destroyed hours of dedicated work that I and/or my editors, crit partners etc have put into putting the thing before your eyes in the first place.

We writers don’t expect much. We don’t expect everyone to buy our stories. Hell, we don’t even expect everyone to even like our stories. But when we do sell a book to you, we do expect you not to fuck it up. For whatever reason.

If you want to read something I’ve written that has profanity, but you don’t like profanity, suck it up. If you’re worried about your children reading profanity… get them to understand why their reading my books aren’t acceptable to you.

But you DON’T teach your children how to be censors from a young age. 

Because this is exactly what this app was originally designed to do. And if it takes… if children do take to bleeping out expletives, because they weren’t taught to respect the work, thought and time put into writing the book they’re reading… we might as well kiss our artistic expression good bye, because the rest will be sure to follow. 
It’s really that simple. 

Standing Behind David and Michael

I’m not going to say much today. Just that I read this today.

For those of you wondering what that link is for: It leads to a website for a book I was seriously looking forward to.

See… I read the query for that book during last year’s WriteOnCon. And of ALL the books’ queries I critiqued (and I saw quite a few), Woven was the one I most wished would get a deal.

And it had. Except the publisher withdrew it. Because one of its authors, Michael insisted his bio be treated the same as David. Even though Michael is gay.

Now. I’m not going to discuss sexuality and the rights and wrongs of who goes with who. (Not really my business.) But I will say this.

Acting like anyone is somehow less than someone else because he’s different is wrong.

A human is a human.

The equality of man is supposed to be considered self-evident. I stand by that belief.

And as such, I will not ever do business with that publishing house. In fact, I’ll even think twice before even buying anything they publish. Maybe some of you will think this is extreme of me, but I live in a country that still carries the scars from having had people see others as less than them.

Inequality and discrimination does untold damage. Far beyond what those inflicting it can imagine. And I refuse to stand by and support it. In any form.

From a dark and evil YA writer…

I just read this article, so please excuse me if this post takes on ranting proportions.

But this sort of thing just grates me to the point where I want to hit something… So… Here’s my say.

I write YA.

I write it because teens are at that stage in their lives when anything and everything can happen, depending on the choices they make. It can be a time of endless potential.

The whole world can be an adventure waiting to start.

It can also be a personal hell.

Indeed. Just because we want our world to stretch before us pure and unspoilt, doesn’t make it so.

Throwing a tantrum in the press won’t make global warming go away. It won’t stop the hike in homicides. It won’t make rapists think twice about what they are doing. It won’t make people stop bullying.

In fact, it will make the person throwing the tantrum seem a little naive.

So how does this lock in with the above mentioned article?

Well (and some of my readers might have read this before) we writers have a function in society.

We don’t teach.

We don’t preach.

We don’t tell.

We show.

We show the world with its flaws. We show violence. We show the ramifications of that violence. We show that teens aren’t the only ones with self-image problems. We show that people subjected to the most terrifying and horrible of situations can come out of it.

We’re not Teachers. We’re not doctors.

We are oracles.


And refusing to reflect some things just because it makes certain elements in society squirm is an abuse of our skills of writers.

Rape Exists.
Homophobia Exists.
Murder and Suicide among teens?

You guessed it.

Now, I also can’t stomach every terrible event that occurs in YA, but that does not give me the right for criticising writers for being brave enough to pen those words down.

Because writers have a duty to show the pain inflicted as much as the joys experienced. The dark and ugly should get as much attention as the beautiful.

People lose things. 

People lose people that are close to them. 
People suffer from mental conditions and those “unspoken” pathologies. 

Will it hurt them more to read something like that? Only if they’re masochists. Because most people put down books that they can’t handle. 

YA is not as terrible as it is being made to seem.
All YA books aren’t there to say: “Oh look at me! I’m smut and want to ruin you for future generations.” 
Good YA books say: “Look. You’re in a scary phase of your life, but you can get through it.” 
Some are motivational: “You’re not alone. You’re not the only one with problems and you can face them no matter what. Now go live your own story.” 
Some are cautionary: “Please don’t make the same mistake as…”

But they ALL have a function for certain sorts of people.

How dare anyone decide for us which books should be allowed and which ones shouldn’t.

Smut don’t reach readers because people don’t like reading it.

But while we’re on the topic of smut… who has the right to decide what is smut and what is acceptable? Smut depends on taste. It depends on individual perception.

As a final point of objection:

Is it so wrong to object to the censoring of good books just because The Guardians of Collective Morality decided what should be allowed?

Oh it is?

I’m sorry…

Then let the burning of books and the live burials of writers begin…

What’s your opinion?

Violence in Books…

The topic alone makes me feel violent. With the release of Mockingjay, a debate seems to be raging about whether there should be a line drawn about the level of violence in YA books. This is my opinion about it, but I would love to hear what you have to say…

To me, the line is drawn at gratuitous violence. I’ve lived in a area where gratuitous violence was rife for seventeen years. I can safely say that I’ve had enough of it.

The problem is that people seem to have this idea that their darling little angels should be shielded from violence at all costs…

No problem… Just don’t buy their angel the damn book.  Actually I think that whether or not their kids read responsibly represented violence would make very little difference to whether or not the child is violent.

If the child is already torturing little animals, reading the violent book won’t be what triggers him to do greater and more evil things.

Parents should take responsibility for their children’s development. They should be there to guide them and to help them build a frame of reference about what is right or wrong. That way when children are exposed to things, they have a chance of coming to the right decision. Violence in books, if well used, can be such a tool. Read the book with the child. Put the tricky bits into context. Explain to them that although violence is OK in books, it’s rarely the best option. If the main character is torn up about hurting or killing someone, even better to explain, no?

Yes, I know that parents these days are very busy providing for the young ones. I know that some parents think that teachers are responsible for raising and educating their children. Parents feel overwhelmed and that they absolutely cannot spend the amount of time I’m thinking of with their children. That’s OK. I am not here to judge parenting skills. After all, I’m commenting from the view of a child that has been raised in the way I described above. If I say so myself, I turned out quite nicely, despite having read Kathy Reichs novels and Jeffrey Deaver and various violent children’s stories since I was thirteen.

Point is… If children act out violently, for the love of all that is holy STOP BLAMING MEDIA VIOLENCE!

The problem as I see it lies in the fact that children and Young Adult readers don’t have solid moral and ethical foundations. We as writers – although I doubt that most think of this – work under the assumption that the readers have a concept of what is or isn’t acceptable in reality. Therefore, who is wrong here? The writer that assumed that children know the difference between right and wrong? Or the parents that didn’t teach them the difference in the first place?

Shielding children from things don’t work. How many children find ways to experience exactly what you are shielding them from?

The second general complaint is that the use of  violence is market driven. That violence sells…

I don’t know about any other writers out there, but I include violence into my book because that’s what moves my story along. But why does it have to be what moves the story along? Because I write about war. I write about repression and revolution. And… given the way my characters work, a revolt a la Gandhi isn’t going to cut it. Excuse the pun. Market demand didn’t come into my thoughts at any stage of the formation of my story. I think it is the same for most other writers. They write the story that takes over and rules their mind… If it sells in the market, great. If it doesn’t? That I can’t say, since I am yet to come to the selling stage.

But once again… that market is a free one. No one is forcing them to buy that book. But that also implies that people selling that book should be allowed to sell anything they want.

This brings me to my last point. Call me an idealist but writers function as chroniclers of our times. It’s or job to call attention to the things that society would rather turn a blind eye to. Violence is one of those things. I believe that censorship is another. In South Africa, people are reacting in horror to what amounts to a governmental gag order on what journalists may or may not publish. Doesn’t people insisting that writers only include certain things to their writing amount to the same thing? 

 Please comment, I really want to see whether I’m off base…