Writing

Deleted: Pussy

The Detrashification of a Novel.

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I just invented the word “detrashification.” There’s really no other way to put it. This is the process I’m going through right now with my novel.

My literary agent used to be an editor, so we agreed she and I would work together editing the novel to get in ship-shape for auctioning it to publishers. I hope this will hasten the process, which is agonizingly long at one year until it sees print. I’m not someone who is defensive about my “brilliant work of creativity”; I’m open to criticism and ready to do what needs to be done to improve the book. I clicked with my agent immediately and was happy for the opportunity to work with her to make the novel better.

She explained to me that my novel (The Scarlet Letter Society) is “upscale commercial women’s fiction.” Because of the often-sexual nature of the storyline, this puts the book in the 50 Shades of Grey area of publishing. Say what you will about the quality of that particular novel, it has sold 60 million copies and counting; it must’ve done something right. The proposal for my book, created before 50 Shades was huge, came in at a good time.

In the meeting with my agent, I learned the difference between literary and commercial fiction, which generally seems to be that literary fiction is “real” writing by “real” writers and commercial fiction is, um, books that sell in the store so that the real writers can really write. As a long-time (and broke) embracer of my literary mediocrity, I’m fine with being in the commercial category.

We discussed my sex scenes. They are apparently too graphic for upscale commercial women’s fiction, and therefore some changes were going to need to take place. The words “pussy,” “cock” and “clit” needed to come out and replaced with gentler words. Most women, I learned, do not like to read such overly sexual terms. They prefer subtlety, and my sex scenes were about as subtle as the Vatican’s smoke signal clouds on the day of a new pope.

So I started stressing out over synonyms. I started looking up other things to call the hoo-ha, but no way were any of the following words ever going to appear in my novel: velvet purse, taco, lady flower, hot pocket, or glory hole. You get the idea. Luckily, since my agent has something I completely lack (class), she was able to help me with how to word a sex scene without grossing out “upscalers.”

Example:

BEFORE: She woke up in the morning with a tongue inside her pussy.

AFTER DETRASHIFICATION: She woke up in the morning with a tongue inside her.

See how we (um, she) did that? It’s the simple removal of the word. I even took a screen shot (pictured above) of the edit in Track Changes because it totally cracked me up. Guess what? Upscale Commercial Women’s Fiction Readers totally know where the tongue is in the second sentence. They don’t think it’s inside her ear.

And so my edits are going. I go down to my island writing office where there is no phone signal or Internet, which can sort of get excruciatingly annoying and I will admit to putting a call into the phone company to maybe get a landline for a router since I work on the Internet. But for now, it’s quiet, which is good, because I am rewriting the 10 or so sex scenes in the book. No more cock in my book, friends. But I refuse to use cheesy things like “his member” or “his manhood” or any of that crap, either. I have applied a similar approach to the “her vs. her pussy” example above. So if you read my book some day, and you find that “she pulls him closer to feel his arousal” you can be sure that in the original, way trashier version, it probably read “she pulls him closer to feel his stiffening cock.”

Lesson learned: you don’t have to hit people over the head with pussy.

 

Mary McCarthy (@marymac) blogs at pajamasandcoffee.com

Follow @SpliceToday on Twitter.

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