I can’t use the c-word in daily conversation.
Side note: As a young theater major, I had to take acting classes even though my intent was to be a director. In Acting I, there was an exercise we did before reading through plays with “dirty” language. Bear in mind the average age in the class was 18 and therefore a healthy percentage was still inclined to giggle over saying “penis.” Also, thanks to the rampant prudery of a minority terrorizing everyone threatening this and banning that, most high schools put on shows that might have been risque fifty years ago. I mean, my own high school did Blithe Spirit, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Hello Freaking Dolly. Edgy stuff. So anyway, to get us on track to handle any kind of language, we would chant certain words until they were just… words. The first uttering of “penis” traumatized the fluttery little southern belle I sat with. The twentieth, she was empowered, with “PENIS!” roaring forth. The fiftieth, she was as bored as I was.
I couldn’t say the c-word without horror even if I said it a million times.
That was awhile ago, but I’ve still got the hangup. In my stories, I say pussy, mainly. As I think I’ve said before on this blog, I’ll use the c-word for a particular effect, either to say something about the male or to show the female’s state of mind. But I avoid using it as a general word.
So, working on the steampunks, I’ve been pulling out my Victorian erotica, doing web research, and so on, to make sure I’m not using anachronistic language.
The c-word is period correct, as well as the variation “cunny.” As a matter of fact, the c-w0rd has an extensive pedigree, whereas “pussy” is really a vulva-come-lately of terms.
I learn something every day around here.
Not peaked. Never peaked. I saw this just now on an agent’s website, too. An agent! I won’t link to her error because, well, my own blog has errors of grammar and usage. Judge not lest ye be judged, etc, but I’m judging on the inside.
I am particularly bitter about this bit of bad spelling. I was once fired for it.
Many moons ago, an employment agency found me a job at a graphic design company. My first task was to place a classified ad in the newspaper (yeah, yeah, it was awhile back). Blah blah, innovative cutting edge exciting free coffee, blah, B.A. in design, five years experience, portfolio review, blah blah, does this peak your interest?
It was my first day. The boss was this incredibly stylish woman. She had a wedge hairstyle shaped like the prow of a Russian icebreaker, and a leopard print cropped coat, and I was just a nerdy recent graduate in my first pantyhose-required job. So I made the edit, tapped her door, and asked if she’d mind taking a look at the final copy before I placed the ad. She looked at it, smiled with condescension, and said “You’ve spelled a word wrong, darling. It’s P-E-A-K-E-D.”
The lump in my throat was the only thing keeping me from throwing up. But I had to try. “Perhaps I could check a dictionary? But I’m pretty sure I’ve spelled it right. I thought it shouldn’t go out into a newspaper spelled wrong.”
The silence grew fangs.
“I’m a bit of a vocabulary nerd, all kinds of strange words in my brain?” I really did inflect that sentence upwards. I was terrified.
She slammed a book down. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Post it as is.”
So I did. But at the end of the day, she called me to the phone. It was the agency that placed me, telling me that A) I was to pack my things and leave, and B) I was being released from the agency as well as the job on the basis of this single complaint about my “attitude.”
I wouldn’t have been so angry if I hadn’t worked for the agency throughout high school and college without any comments but glowing references and top ratings.
That’s the only time I’ve ever been fired for proper spelling. I don’t usually nurse grudges, but I’ve knitted this one a sweater and bought it a heating pad to keep it comfortable in its old age.
First, let me say that I am something of a Philistine when it comes to music in the car. I liked the 80s. I enjoyed its pop music. Styx, Bon Jovi, Meatloaf – these performers made the finest roadtrip albums that balls and big hair could produce.
But what I listen to before I get down to writing is a different matter. Language processing is no different from any other kind of processing, and garbage in = garbage out. I don’t listen to anything while I’m writing – I can’t focus, else – so I didn’t think it mattered what I had blasting while I did chores and deleted email. I was surprised, then, that my writing was poorer if I listened to poorly written lyrics before buckling down to work. But it’s true. My vocabulary is more limited, my dialogue becomes trite, and worse. The effect fades the longer I work, but I have a toddler, for crying out loud. These days I don’t have the chance to work long enough to overcome early Madonna.
But if I listen to, say, Ani DiFranco, or Simon and Garfunkle, or Anne Lister, or any other musician for whom words matter, I find that it loosens up the writing muscles.
Y’all noticed that? Got any suggestions for me to add to the writing warmup tracklist?
In high school and college, I was a theatre person. You can tell by the pretentious spelling of “theater.”
At any rate, many of my friends were somewhere on the GLBT spectrum, and before there was the internet to help the friends of Dorothy find each other, there were bookstores with rainbow flags out in front.
Browsing in one of these is eye-opening for little straight suburban girls. It’s a good way to see that the same work of art can be interpreted through multiple lenses. For example, as a twelve year old girl, I had discovered Mercedes Lackey, and collected the entire Valdemar series. As a college student, standing in a faaaaaabulous bookstore, I discovered that Mercedes Lackey was considered a gay-friendly author.
Now, in Valdemar she had a few gay supporting characters, one lead character (in that he had his own trilogy), and made it clear that homosexuality is not a choice or something to fear. Bear in mind that because I grew up reading her approach to the topic, I didn’t actually realize how monumentally unusual that was in mainstream fiction during the late 80s and early 90s. I thought her attitude was the norm and anyone saying otherwise was freakishly bigoted. When I said this out loud in that bookstore (remember, straight suburban college freshman), I was made aware of how poorly informed I was.
I haven’t gone as off topic as you might think. Mercedes Lackey is absolutely one of my inspirations. She writes clear, popular, page-turning genre fiction. She produces, among other virtues, proof that genre fiction can follow a formula without being formulaic.
But in that bookstore, I also discovered a writer called Lindsay Welsh.
I read two pages of a book called “The Best of Lindsay Welsh,” and I marched it right over the cashier because it set my hair on fire.
I identify as a straight woman. I am married to the most wonderful man who ever drew breath. And this lady’s erotica is still my go-t0 book when the night is cold and the husband is sleeping.
What was so revolutionary for me was that it clearly wasn’t porn. The writing was terrific, with great characters. I felt like I was right there in the story, feeling the things being done to the character’s body.
The other thing that melted my brain was the language. Up to that point, I’d seen two variations in word choice:
A) His rigid member nudged into her tender womanhood.
B) His gigantic penis sprayed cum on her face.
Welsh didn’t use any embarrassing euphemism, avoided spelling variations I associated with men’s magazines, and still made it explicit. And hot. So hot. Wow. Hair on fire. I practically have “Provincetown Summer” memorized at this point.
I didn’t start writing erotica then, but flipping pages in that bookstore was the moment where I realized stories could be erotic and well written.