To cuss, or not to cuss.

curse-2

At one point in Behind The Drive (out in March!), Kenney gives us this delight of a sentence: “And that’s when the fuzzin’ fuzzety fuzz fuzzes came out of me.”

Only, in real life, Kenney didn’t say “fuzz,” but another word.

This was one of the hardest decisions for me to make as I finished up the manuscript in December. There were more than 60 cuss words in the final draft, and more than 40 of them were of the f-bomb variety.

After making sure Kenney approved, I decided to take out as many of these words as I could. The ones I couldn’t, I replaced with other words.

And look, I was loathe to do it, too — at least at first. I mean, these are words Kenney throws around quite a bit, and in the first chapter of the book, he makes a New Year’s Resolution to not cuss that much anymore, and then he breaks it on January 2. It’s just who this guy is, and he’s aware of it, and he wants to change it, and he kind of can’t. And to me, this added a nice bit of texture, because so much of the book is about how he does find ways to change, over and over again, in order to ensure his survival and then the survival of his company and his employees’ jobs.

Plus, all my life, I’ve argued with people, especially my Mom, the poor woman, about cuss words. They’re just WORDS! I’d say. And such satisfying words, too, right? I mean, does anything feel better, after stubbing a toe or dealing with some jerk, than to just let a good f-bomb or two fly? Plus, to borrow from Kenney, I’m so f—ing good at it!

Well.

My editor, who is smarter than me, and illogically patient with me, said that I needed to honestly look at how much the words would actually add to the book. If this had been a book about people at war or the firefighters responding to 9/11 or something like that, then yeah, cussing would’ve added a palpable sense of what it felt like to do what they were doing, and the people who picked up a book like that would probably expect and even appreciate language like that.

However, the people who pick up this book, while they want honesty, they also don’t want to be slapped around by words they might otherwise prefer to stay away from. Especially in the South, where this book should be most popular. And even beyond the  But in our book, which is meant to be an inspiring and subversive story about what it really means to chase the American Dream and fend off the monsters that get in our way, cussing would have hurt more than it would have helped, because to some people, it would have just distracted too much from the story.

Thus, the first time Kenney dropped an f-bomb in the book, I wrote “fuzz,” and then explained:

Kenney, perhaps obviously, did not say “fuzz” there. He said another word, one of those words he’s tried so hard not to use so much, but he’s not very good at not using them. He uses them all the time. It’s not something he is proud of, but it is a part of him, and to leave them out entirely would feel disingenuous. That said, we also understand that printing those words may make some people uncomfortable reading or sharing this book, and while we want to be honest about who Kenney is, we also want to respect those who might want to share this book with their kids or others in their lives who may be bothered by such words. So, there will be a few times in this book that Kenney says “fuzz,” when, in reality, he used another word that he probably shouldn’t have.

OK then.

This was one of the harder decisions I’ve ever made in my career, but now I’m glad we did it. Ultimately, the book is about the story and about who Kenney is, yeah, but I also didn’t want to alienate people who would otherwise love the book — I didn’t want something like a word choice to cause people to miss the book’s big, beating heart.

And if I’m being completely honest, which I always try to be: This was also about growing up as a person, not just a writer. Deep in my heart, there is a rebellious teenager raging about this decision, who wants to challenge the world and society and all of its senseless hangups, especially over silly words. But I had to chill that dude out, because I had to remember something about my work that Kenney himself had to learn, and which was an integral part to his survival: It ain’t about me.

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