Thursday, July 17, 2014

RJ Sullivan: "Profound" language and the storyteller's quandary


Haunting Blue is the story of a 17 year old punk girl who attends a small town high school. Prior to that, "Blue" hung out with college-age students for several years. As a result of her upbringing, she expresses herself with blunt, direct language. Like any other high school rebel, Blue is an angry person. She feels justified in that anger, picked upon, and she responds to the world aggressively--in words and deeds.

Although it has been quite a few years since I've walked the halls of my high school with anyone I could call my peers, I still remember the constant ambiance of four-letter words. Even if you did not use such words yourself, you couldn't avoid hearing a variety of--to use Mr. Spock's vernacular--"colorful metaphors." As everything else in high school--from bullying to music to styles--has slanted toward the extreme, I've no doubt that this trend has gone the same direction.

So when drafting my novel, I let Blue to talk the way she would talk. This was not about shock value, or, as a common accusation goes, to try to be "cool" or trendy in order to sell books. This was about letting Blue behave as Blue, and saying exactly what's on her mind.

Still, there is another side, a certain reader who prefers not to read a book full of four-letter words, and to them, I always say, "this book is not for you." I hate having to say that, because any author who wants to have any hope of success does not turn down a sale on purpose if they can help it. But neither do I want to alienate a new reader by not disclosing this important part of the book.

And I get it. I'm a parent with children. My two oldest are not, in my own estimation..."quite" ... ready to read my books. But they will be, sooner than later. And that's okay. Yes, you are reading this right--my own children have not yet read my major novels. And if I were a potential customer on the other side of the booth, I would not buy the book for my kids. (Maybe for myself, but not my kids.)

Because I am a parent, I made a number of conscious choices in my marketing to make certain that anyone who considers buying Haunting Blue knows what they are getting. The first words on the back cover read "Punk, blue-haired 'Blue' Shaefer is at odds with her workahaulic mother." Immediately, the potential reader knows this isn't Snow White.

My novel, and my series, is filed under adult paranormal thrillers, and the front cover of Haunting Blue with the demonic blue eyes on the pirate is meant to give younger readers and their parents pause. As a product, my series is not filed under YA, even though the category is "hot" and the character is a high school girl.

The book trailer was created specially to drive this point home. I've been asked, frequently, why I have dialog in the trailer, and why do I have "bleeped out words" that censor the language. A book trailer is meant to give a potential buyer an idea about the book. Ideally, it draws the reader to want to find out what they can expect before they buy the book. Anyone who sees my trailer knows how Blue talks in that scene, and can presume (correctly) that the novel offers more of the same.


Still, all three of my novels get the occasional lower rated review by some reader who is put off by the language or the content.

To those readers, I offer three thoughts. First, the vulgarity and delinquent actions that Blue exhibits come from an honest place. Every word, every action, was a choice I made to be as true to the actions and words of the character as I believe she would behave. Rebecca Burton, my paranormal investigator professional, does not exhibit any of these traits. 2. I've come to accept that certain stories I write will not be for everyone. I have to target a specific demographic and seek out the reader of the stories that I want to tell. When the book ends up outside that demographic, that is my failure, not yours. To those put off by the content, I don't apologize for the content, but I do apologize that my marketing did not make the content clear. 3. That's not to say I don't have anything for a more general reader. My Red Lotus space opera ebooks are written with a more general audience in mind. Not because I was aiming for a different demographic, but because the truth of the story happens to make it more palatable to a wider audience.

Could I have rewritten my stories to lessen or eliminate the profanity? I suppose so. And many very good writers are able to do so. But I faced a choice many storytellers face, and I chose to hold a magnifying glass up to imperfect people and show them, warts and all. I think they're still likeable in spite of their flaws.

I understand the dilemma of a sensitive genre reader trying to make wise choices and find fiction that appeals to them. I don/'t hold those choices against them. Just consider that the storyteller faced their own dilemma, and simply made a choice that doesn't appeal to you. And that's okay.

Haunting Blue Book Synopsis: Punk, blue-haired “Blue” Shaefer, is at odds with her workaholic single mother. Raised as a city girl in a suburb of Indianapolis, Blue must abandon the life she knows when her unfeeling mother moves them to a dreadful small town. Blue befriends the only student willing to talk to her: computer nerd “Chip” Farren.

Chip knows the connection between the rickety pirate boat ride at the local amusement park and the missing money from an infamous bank heist the townspeople still talk about. When Blue helps him recover the treasure, they awaken a vengeful ghost who’ll stop at nothing--not even murder--to prevent them from exposing the truth behind his evil deeds.

Haunting Blue is Book One of the Adventures of Blue Shaefer

Purchase Haunting Blue from Amazon for Kindle or Paperback

About RJ Sullivan: Haunting Blue is the first book of the adventures of punk girl Fiona “Blue” Shaefer. This is the 2014 revised edition by Seventh Star Press. Seventh Star also released Haunting Obsession, a Rebecca Burton Novella, and Virtual Blue, the second book in Fiona’s tale. R.J.’s short stories have been featured in such acclaimed collections as Dark Faith: Invocations by Apex Books and Vampires Don’t Sparkle. His newest project is the Red Lotus series of science fiction novelettes.

R.J. resides in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. He drinks coffee from a Little Mermaid mug and is man enough to admit it. www.rjsullivanfiction.com

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Find more books on the Amazon author page for RJ Sullivan

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