Paul L. McMurray                 Adult Fiction

                                                                                    Y/A & Middle-Grade Fiction

                                                                                                                        Attempted Humor & other stuff

To Swear Or Not To Swear

To swear or not to swear? Yes, my characters in FUNERAL PARTY swear a lot (well, mainly Freddy, that destroyer of civility as we know it, but so does everybody else in the book) and it will continue in THE WILDING and DEATH BY ORGY. So, am I releasing an inner, latent Tourette Syndrome thing? Would I be embarrassed to let my mother read the book, even if I redacted the sex but left the swearing?

            Well, yes to the mom question (sorry Mom, hope you don’t figure out that “read this book on your PC” stuff until I get famous—then you won’t mind). I guess it’s that Catholic upbringing as far as my mom, as evidenced by the fact that she made me walk four blocks to ask the parish priest for permission to go see Goldfinger (it was a banned movie in Catholic World, the newspaper all faithful Catholics read religiously [sorry!]). I was eleven, and the priest laughed and said “yes” and I watched it three times on one ticket at the Oriental Theater downtown, young thief that I was. So, anyway, I wouldn’t want her to be offended, at least not yet. Oh, and BTW, I think it was the same priest who ran away with the nun a year later and got married, those little devils—no Communion for you!

            As to a swearing syndrome, well, that’s the way people in certain lines of work actually talk when not in polite company, which mainly they aren’t. Even ordinary non-criminal guys do it. To be sure it wasn’t just me—and I don’t talk that way with my wife or my mother or even with two or more friends, unless they start it—I sort of counted how much we swore when John the Marine and I were driving around for research on FUNERAL PARTY. True, we had some cold ones for the ride in, and then stopped at Miller’s Pub and then Billy Goat’s, and then MJ’s at The Intercontinental, and then bought some 312 in paper bags for the ride home, but hey, is that not normal for a fun ride?

            Note: I have to add that the asshole punk stopped on the side of the highway who then squealed out in the little Toyota across traffic and almost hit us did increase the amount of swearing.

            Anyway, my non-scientific swearing study resulted in this observation: John and I swear a lot when we’re drinking. Thus, I can conclude that former blue-collar Chicago guys like us either A) Swear like this, or B) Want to, or C) Criminals swear even more.

            To study how this behavior impacted my writing, I did some searches on particular words in FUNERAL PARTY. This is what I got, and please look away if swearing bothers you: “fuck” = 261 times; “shit” = 173 times; “asshole” = 35 times.

            That’s as far as I got—I was swarmed by swearing. But I still stand by my theory: Guys will do it when they can, and that means beer and no women or bosses around, and that’s the way it is when you gentle folk aren’t listening in. I wrote it as I thought it should be, and not for the discriminating audience. If I get famous and many readers complain, maybe I’ll change. Or not—maybe that’s how I got enough readers to have a percentage to complain.

            We’ll see.


            I want to mention that when this swearing thing concerned me, I remembered checking out, particularly one page. John Sandford is one of my top-three authors, the ones I still buy in first-edition hardcover (I’ll have to see how Ace Atkins does with Spenser). John Sandford’s novels, including some stand-alones, are the Virgil Flowers series and the Prey series with Lucas Davenport. They are two different characters and I eagerly await each, but then I always enjoy when they interweave, just like Marvel Comics did with Spiderman and The Fantastic Four etc. in their world, and I look forward to those paragraphs or even sentences when they are interacting, which is usually Lucas telling Virgil to get off his fishing boat and get back on the job—they know each other well.

            The Webmaster of the site is Roswell Anthony Camp, son of author John Sandford—pseudonym for John Camp—and he does an excellent job (and I agree with you Ros on those outdated and pesky punctuation matters). What matters for this discussion is that Roswell has a “Swearing Statistics” page that gets right to the evil-words matter in John Sandford’s books, with complaints and a PDF graph for most of the more-famous cussing words as they have appeared in each book.

            Being optimistic, I hope someday to have a graph made about my book(s). So I needed to check this out again.

            I did, and I am starting to think, thanks again to the graph, that big Sandford-type bucks = less swearing and better writing. So I might try that—in due time. The swearing, I mean. The writing—I’m trying the best I can, pal.

            Check out “Swearing Statistics”,  ;) and check out for great reading—these are the best books for police/action/mystery, and, man, he hooks you right in, no pun intended to Virgil.

            Thanks to Roswell Anthony Camp again. Here’s the link:







                            MJ's at the Intercontinental
John's favorite take-home liquor store, right past that "Men Only" hotel--no disrespect intended, John! Actually, just a convenient stop for John before he caught the train home after working in the Loop, and another street downtown they don't mention on the tourist sites. We got our big bottles of 312 here after we checked out the pawn shop.