Monday, February 06, 2012

I Solemnly Swear

This past weekend, I went through my Postcards books and deleted the swear words.
This is something I have been thinking about for a while (ever since the final Postcards book was completed—but more on that in a moment) and I was not sure how I felt about it.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it is done, and I believe it was the right decision.
The swear words included only the F-Bomb.  It’s a word I quite fancy, and one I use often; just ask my wife or my co-workers.  They will, however, (if interrogated deeply enough and choose to answer honestly) admit that I don’t use the word with quite the same alacrity as I used to.
Consequently, the first book had six instances of the Eff-Word, book two had three and the final installment has none at all.  More tellingly, the final book did have two but—despite them being used in context and for comic effect—they jarred with the rest of the text to the point where removing them was obviously the right thing to do.  I remain glad I did; the book reads much better because of it.
But what about the other two?  I always saw them as a set, so would having one book with no swear words fit in with the rest of the series even if the language wasn’t quite as—how shall I say—gentle?
Altering “completed” works is nothing new: Dickens’ two endings for Great Expectations is a notable literary example, Paul Simon went back, years later, to add another verse to The Boxer, and of course they painted clothing on the naked angels during the Middle Ages.  But is this right?  One of the great advantages of self-publication is this ability to alter the “finished” work at any time.  But just because we can, does that mean we should?  With this new-found freedom, can we now beta-test ending of our novels the way the film companies try out several different endings to some movies?  Will people buying a book in this brave new world now have to worry about buying it again because, in a year or so, it might be different?  And if that is to be the case, shouldn’t they be allowed to “upgrade” at no additional cost?
And will my books start appearing on eBay with the claim “Like New!  The original paperback, with the swear words!  £276.65”?
These were the questions that kept me of several minds while I was attempting to decide what to do with the nine “bad” words out the nearly 200,000 that make up the three books.  Strange how we choose to torment ourselves.
The reasons I decided to do it were individual to this piece of work, and I might not make the same decision on another book, but this is why I ultimately put myself through the hell of re-formatting and re-uploading a set of very similar books to multiple sites over the course of an exceedingly long, and dreadfully frustrating Friday:
  • The books, being part of a greater whole, need to be consistent, and instead of bringing the tone of the last one down, I chose to bring the tone of the other two up.
  • Although the first two books handled the profanity well, the final book changes the tone of the series, making hard profanity out of character.
  • Oddly, over the years, my sensibilities have changed to the point where I didn’t like the swear words in the text and—this being the pivotal point—they were MY books and I could do as I bloody well saw fit with them.
And so, future readers who buy the complete set of Postcards books, will be getting what is, for now, the final cut—a humorous, but profanity-free—romp through Ireland and life in Great Britain.
I just hope they appreciate all the fucking effort I went thought.

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