Sunday, February 9, 2014

Keeping It Clean

I learned some valuable lessons about reading and writing when I was growing up. From the time I learned to read, I constantly had my nose in a book. Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew mysteries were my favorites. Good, clean stories with intriguing plots and characters I came to know and to love. More than anything I wanted to write mysteries like Margaret Sutton and Carolyn Keene when I grew up.

My father nourished my love of reading by bringing books home to me from time to time. Dad wasn’t much of a fiction reader but he knew how much I enjoyed a good mystery so, for a change of pace, one day when I was ten or eleven years old, he brought me a copy of “I, the Jury,” a Mickey Spillane novel. I picked it up and started to read, amazed and secretly pleased that Dad had given me such an “adult” book. A day or so later, I had left my book on the coffee table, book marker in place, and Dad happened to pick it up and read a page. His eyes got wide and he immediately confiscated the book. No more Mickey Spillane for me! 

Back then, I was disappointed when Dad took my book away but, as an adult, I’ve come to realize that what intrigued me as a child (probably because it was “forbidden”) bores me now. When I read a mystery/suspense novel with several paragraphs or pages of descriptive sexual acts, I find myself skimming over those parts to get back to the story. 

I’m not a prude and I have no problem with a sex scene and/or “colorful” language if it’s necessary to the plot and, of course, it's perfectly acceptable and even expected in certain types of novels. A steamy romance wouldn't be very steamy without, well, some steam. By the same token, in a book about a street gang, I can't imagine one of the members saying, "Gosh, darn it!" when he's angry. That’s unrealistic and I think fiction should be realistic, believable. But, in my Malone mystery series, I chose not to use certain words and to leave what happens behind bedroom doors (or anywhere else, for that matter) to the reader’s imagination. Because, it’s my belief that you can have a good story and still keep it clean.