Monthly Archives: March 2015

Clean Reader and Body-Shaming.

So if you all haven’t heard, there is now an app called Clean Reader that exists to remove profanity and anything else it deems offensive from e-books and replace it with something more child-friendly.

The issues of censorship and mutilating someone else’s work has already been covered by writers far more eloquent than I – Chuck Wendig, Joanne Harris, Lilith Saintcrow and Jennifer Porter – but there is something else I would like to talk about regarding the Clean Reader app.

Please note, this post will contain ‘naughty’ words so any pro-Clean Readers, y’all know where the door is.

Apparently there are three levels to this app: Clean, Cleaner, and Squeaky Clean. Jennifer Porter gave Squeaky Clean a test run. The results were pretty horrifying. According to that app, the word ‘sex’ is bad. Yup. That’s right. Clean Reader designated ‘sex’ as a bad word that needed to be scrubbed from books.

What sort of mad fuckery is this?

The app that seems to want to shelter the innocent eyes of our cotton-wool swaddled offspring instead presents the toxic message that sex is bad. It presents the message that the word ‘sex’ is so offensive it must be removed from the pages of literature lest it corrupt the fragile minds of today’s youth.

Children are impressionable little things, and the last thing they need to be told is that a simple word – one referring to a completely natural act that will form a large part of their adult lives – is something to be ashamed of. After all, if the word is bad then the act itself must be downright horrific.

Oh, but it gets worse.

Not only is ‘sex’ on Clean Reader’s list of naughty words, so are anatomical terms like ‘vagina’ or ‘breasts.’ Yes, my dear Ramblers, these are filthy, shameful words and we must shield our little darlings from them. After all, we wouldn’t want kids understanding the correct terms for their own anatomy.

The sheer absurdity of this is astounding. The Clean Reader app takes the word ‘vagina’ and replaces it with ‘bottom’ therefore rendering all ‘scrubbed’ sex scenes as acts of anal intercourse. Well done, Clean Reader. That makes perfect sense.

I’m not alone in my concern over this. Author Joanne Harris points out that ‘trying to pass off the words ‘anus’, ‘buttocks’ and ‘vagina’ as the same thing is very confusing indeed, not to mention damaging.’

And she’s right. Those body parts are not all the same and it’s ridiculous to label them all as ‘bottom’ simply because someone thinks that’s ‘cleaner.’ It’s equally ridiculous to replace all mentions of ‘breasts’ with ‘chest.’ I cannot fathom how anyone can possibly say that breasts is an offensive word. This is flat-out body-shaming, especially with regard to women. Modern society likes to pretend it’s very enlightened but an ugly vein of sexism and slut-shaming still runs through our culture, and by condemning words like ‘breasts’ and ‘vagina’ as bad, Clean Reader is contributing to that stigma. It is sending impressionable young readers the message that sex is dirty and that their bodies are things to be ashamed of.

I repeat, what mad fuckery is this?

That sort of vile, toxic message is far more offensive and far more damaging than the odd f-bomb or use of cockwaffle.

What exactly do the creators of Clean Reader plan to do when it comes to educating their little darlings about the birds and the bees? According to their app, they will be telling their children that the man’s groin goes into the woman’s bottom. Awesome advice about sex, guys. The absurd nonsense their app comes up with to replace so-called explicit material sometimes ends up sounding worse than the original.

Need an example? I’ll borrow one from the ever-awesome Chuck Wendig.

Original material: “Oh, fuck, I want you to put your prick inside me and fuck my asshole.”

Clean Reader version: “Oh, freak, I want you to put your groin inside me and freak
my jerk.”

Riiiight, that’s not confusing for kids at all.

Here’s a thought, if you don’t want your kids reading explicit material then, y’know, don’t buy them explicit books. I know books don’t come with warning labels but things like erotica are usually pretty easy to identify. If the cover image of a bosomy heroine or bare-chested, muscle-rippling hero doesn’t give it away the blurb certainly will.

If the cover and the blurb don’t give much clue about the book’s content then how about parents read the book first and determine whether or not they think it’s suitable for their children, rather than relying on a very stupid piece of technology to do the parenting for them.

When I was a kid I had a pretty advanced reading age. The first school I was at recognised it pretty quickly and encouraged me to read more challenging books. I still wasn’t entirely happy with this and so started reading whatever books lay around my house. Some of those were adult books. Some of them contained ‘naughty’ words. I remember reading the words ‘bastard’ and ‘slut’ for the first time. Did my mum panic that her precious darling daughter was reading these words? No, she explained the meaning and the context in which the words were used. I have no doubt there are certain books she wouldn’t have wanted me reading at that age and I’m not saying we should be encouraging our children to read explicit books, but there’s a difference between deciding that some books just aren’t appropriate for children and handing them some ridiculous app that replaces perfectly reasonable words with nonsense. That is confusing and potentially very damaging for a child.

If your little precious darling is just too fragile to comprehend words like ‘vagina’ then keep them reading Winnie-the-Pooh for the rest of their lives. Assuming that ‘Pooh’ isn’t somehow offensive and replaced with something else (note, Winne-the-Pooh is fantastic and people should read it for the rest of their lives, just not exclusively)

There is a plethora of fantastic children’s authors out there – Jacqueline Wilson, Judy Blume, Vanessa Curtis, Lucy Daniels to name but a few. If your child wants to move on from those sorts of books and try something a bit more mature then let them. If they come across a word they don’t understand or that makes them uncomfortable, sit down and talk to them about it. What better way to show your kids the power of words? What better way to teach kids that some words can be ugly and hurtful? Isn’t it better to teach them these things rather than simply pretending this kind of language doesn’t exist?

Clean Reader might think it’s doing the right thing by shielding children’s virgin eyes from certain words, but I believe it would be far better to treat children with a little more respect and maturity, and actually discuss these things with them.

 

 

 

 

Entitlement: also known as being a brat

Landing a publishing contract is the dream for a great many aspiring writers. They see books on the shelves of libraries and shops, and dream of the day their own book will be up there. Okay, I can empathise with that.

What I can’t empathise with is a sense of entitlement.

While browsing Y!A a few days ago, I came upon a question asked by a young aspiring author. She had just finished her very first book and was planning to immediately self-publish it. When some other, more seasoned writers, advised her that her first work was unlikely to be good enough to publish, the aspiring author proclaimed, “Regardless, I DESERVE publication because I have worked very hard on this.”

Um…what?

Frankly, Ramblers, I find this person’s sense of entitlement rather sickening. On one hand, I want to applaud the author for recognising that writing is, in fact, hard work. On the other, I want to leap into the internet and smack the attitude out of her.

The thing that many hopeful writers don’t or won’t acknowledge is that publishing is a business. Agents and publishers are looking for books that will sell. They couldn’t give a rat’s left toe if you think you have ‘worked hard’ on your manuscript. They couldn’t give a donkey’s right nut whether you’ve worked on your manuscript for ten days or ten years.  They certainly won’t agree that you ‘DESERVE’ publication simply because of your hard work.

Anyone that wants to get anywhere in the writing/publishing industry needs to work hard. It’s not as if most authors just coast by and only one or two special snowflakes really, REALLY work hard and therefore deserve more than everyone else.

And has the young author in question really worked that hard? I’m not denying that it’s not easy to write a book and I applaud her for having the dedication to see it through till the end. But writing a single book often only scratches the surface of learning to write, especially if you’ve never written anything else. There is so much more to the process than most people can learn from writing just one book. Most authors have at least one – usually more – ‘bottom drawer books.’ These are the first unpublishable manuscripts that an author produces while still negotiating all the tricky hurdles that come with learning how to write. Those authors who DO sell their very first novel frequently have some background in writing, whether it’s a form of journalism, or a proven track record of selling things like short stories. They have experience and usually years of it.

It takes the average person 9 – 12 months to write a novel. So let’s say this young author is part of that average. That would mean she has worked for about a year on her book. Sounds like a lot, right?

Wrong.

No one can estimate exactly how long it takes someone to learn to write to a publishable standard as everyone is different and everyone learns and develops differently. But there is a saying in the writing world that rings very true.

‘You have to write a million bad words before you start writing the good ones.’

I’ll give you all a moment to let that sink in.

One million bad words. ONE MILLION!! That’s a lot of crap to sift through. Unfortunately it’s a necessary process, just like that professional violinist who picked up his first violin and produced a noise that sounded like a cat being strangled, or that Oscar-winning actress whose first production in a kindergarten Nativity play resulting in her wetting herself and screaming for her mummy. Everyone has to start somewhere but if they want to get somewhere, they have to acknowledge that it will take time.

The length of time it takes to write a single novel is not usually enough time to learn how to produce work that is of a standard where people are willing to pay for it. Most authors work for years and years and years before they write anything good. So for this author to proclaim that she deserved publication simply because she felt she’d worked hard, well…it sounds bratty. It sounds like a child stomping her foot and expecting Mummy to pat her on the head and tell her she’s done a good job.

The real world isn’t like that and the publishing world certainly isn’t. You are not entitled to be published simply because you feel you have worked hard. Many people who work hard in their chosen field will never see success. That’s life. Refusing to acknowledge that makes you look like a brat. There are many hopefuls authors who have worked for years to learn to write and still aren’t published. Nor are they on the internet claiming they deserve anything. Thinking that a year’s work somehow puts you ahead of everyone else that’s learning to write makes you look like a brat.

I remember starting my first proper novel – a fantasy epic – at the tender age of twelve. Do you know how long I worked on that bad boy? Five years. That’s right, FIVE YEARS! No one can possibly say I didn’t work hard at it. But at the end, when it was finally finished, it never once crossed my mind that I deserved publication simply because I’d put so much time and effort into it. I remember the crushing disappointment when I received my first rejection for that novel. It still didn’t cross my mind that I deserved publication simply because I’d worked hard. Even as a teenager, I didn’t have that sense of entitlement.

The reality of writing is that it takes most people several years and often several practise novels to start producing anything good. At no point during that learning period do they automatically become deserving of publication simply because they’ve invested some effort. Thinking otherwise is demonstrative of the entitled attitude that a lot of people today seem to have.