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Steven Cooper | ?#@*&%! – Why I Cuss in my Writing

September 17, 2019

Four words into my new novel, Valley of Shadows, I drop my first f-bomb. Nine words later I drop my second f-bomb. That’s two f-bombs in a hyper-short paragraph. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Rip the bandage off, say it upfront, and get it out of the way.

I realize that one f-bomb is enough to stop some readers; two f-bombs will prompt some people to return my book to the shelf. My books are not for those people. I respect those people. But I’m not writing for those people.

When I create my stories, I try to develop characters who reflect the true human condition, whose lives–their loves, their losses, their joys, their strife, their conflicts, and their celebrations–are uncensored. The human condition is uncensored. Our lives are uncensored. And, thus, so are the words in the worlds I create. I write police procedural murder mysteries. I’m a former news reporter. I’ve done ride-alongs with cops. I’ve spent endless hours with them on crime scenes. I have yet to meet a cop who doesn’t curse. In fact, in researching Valley of Shadows, I did my typical fact-checking exercise by visiting the Homicide bureau at a local law enforcement agency. The cops there have swearing down to a forensic science.

But it’s not just the cops. I write what I hear. I observe life. Life cusses. Moms do it. Dads do it. Teachers, doctors, nurses, and ballet dancers do it. Lawyers do it. Plumbers do it. So do florists, and bakers, and baseball players. Don’t get me started on politicians. I’m not rationalizing. I’m not saying that cursing is acceptable because so many people do it. I’m saying that my books curse because the world curses. It’s not my responsibility to preach virtue. Or to force virtue on my characters. Or to shelter the reader from reality.

And yet enough is enough. It’s a fine line. My responsibility as a writer who curses is to know where the f-bombs belong and where they don’t. Where they’re necessary and where they’re gratuitous. Cussing for the sake of cussing doesn’t serve the story. It can be a crutch. It doesn’t make a character tougher or stronger or wiser or funnier. You lose the impact if you drop too many bombs. You destroy the landscape entirely. What’s the point of f-bombing if there’s nobody left to see the scars?

I also have to be careful when I cast my characters. They can’t all hit the same note. They can’t all sing the same tune. They can’t all curse like sailors. My current series features a cop and a psychic. They’re good friends. They work in the same cases. But they’re not the same people. To distinguish one from the other, I give each a slightly different language. Hence, the cop loves a good f-bomb, the psychic not so much. Alex Mills, the cop, is snarky; Gus Parker, the psychic, less so. You hear it in their voices. You hear it in their words.

I think the worst thing you can do as a writer is to pass judgment on your own characters. That does not help your writing. That disrupts the story. If you pass judgment on your own characters, you undermine their truth. I let my character be who they are, f-bombs and all, or no f-bombs at all.

I’m happy to read books by writers who eschew cursing.  I just happen to hear a different language when I write. I let the language twist and turn, curve and careen, hit all the notes it needs to, indifferent to the opinions of others. Yes, I understand there’s a risk in peppering a story with colorful language. But I also think it’s a risk not to. In my world, color is everything. Pass the pepper, please.

VALLEY OF SHADOWS by Steven Cooper

Valley of Shadows

A cop. A psychic. And a dead socialite. Who killed Viveca Canning and where is the Dali masterpiece that hung on the walls of her estate? So many people had a motive. Phoenix Detective Alex Mills is on the case with the help of his sometimes-psychic buddy Gus Parker. You won’t find another duo like them. And once you hop on the wild ride, you won’t want to get off. Who will survive a doomed flight over the Pacific? Who tried to blow up an art gallery? Who saw Viveca Canning as a threat and shot her twice in the head? Those questions hound Gus and Alex as the case unravels. It’s an art caper wrapped in a murder mystery. The Valley of the Sun becomes a Valley of Shadows, where everyone has something to hide and the truth lies beneath Phoenix in a labyrinth of tunnels and dungeons.

There’s a lot at stake for Gus and Alex. With the case swirling all around them, the future of Gus and his rock n’ roll girlfriend hangs in the balance. For Alex, it’s a test of family loyalties as a health scare for his wife brings him to the breaking point.

Cooper’s style is, at once, scorching and wry. He deftly and seamlessly mixes thrills and chills with snark and wit. There’s good and evil, love and despair, compassion, deceit, and danger. The action swerves around twists and turns and collides with a cast of characters you will not soon forget.

Mystery Police Procedural | Thriller Police Procedural [Seventh Street Books, On Sale: September 17, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781645060000 / eISBN: 9781645060000]

About Steven Cooper

Steven Cooper

Steven Cooper is a freelance writer, producer, and the author of three previous novels. A former television reporter, he has received multiple Emmy awards and nominations, a national Edward R. Murrow Award, and many honors from the Associated Press. He taught writing at Rollins College (Winter Park, FL) from 2007 to 2012. He currently lives in Atlanta.


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