Today I got an email from a reader with a complaint about the bad language in Keeping the Moon. Apparently it had been assigned reading for school, and she wondered if I really thought I needed curse words to relate to teenagers today.

Well. My first reaction was to pick up Keeping the Moon and troll for curse words, since I don’t remember there being that many. There is one s**t on page 139, from the mouth of Isabel. (In fact, probably they are all from the mouth of Isabel, now that I think about it.) I am sure there are a few more. At any rate, I was somewhat stymied as to how to reply.

The truth is, I don’t use bad language gratuitously, because I think that’s just weak writing. But when the character, and the character’s thoughts about the situation, call for it, I don’t stop and think about whether I’m offending anyone by putting it in. This is mostly because as a writer, if I worried about offending people all the time, I’d never get anything finished, because the truth is, you can’t make everyone happy. Period. (This is something it has taken me FOREVER to learn, by the way. In the time spent figuring it out, I could have taught myself Swahili, or climbed a mountain, endless things more productive.)

On the whole, I think that my books are pretty tame by the standards of movies, music, etc, that we’re all exposed to these days. It’s kind of the double-bind of writing for a teen audience: on the one hand, you know in a clinical sense that they’re a bit more impressive, but they also can tell snap-quick when they’re being coddled or patronized. I think the best I can do is just try to be honest in my writing. That’s always a good rule, even if it’s sometimes hard to follow.