“Nobody can be too careful about their habits of speech.” –Once and Future King

Even bearing in mind that not all critics are created equal, two of the reasons I don’t want to read reviews is that 1) good or bad, they become stuck in my head (good:  I wonder if I’ll ever write anything that good again; or bad:  they’ve discovered that I’m a hack and a fraud like I’ve always secretly believed);  and 2) I may feel the need to respond to some of their criticisms.

So anyway, before I went on my review fast (and a sucky job I’ve done at it), I ran across a criticism about the language in my novel.  To be straight, I have a very urbanized tale, putting the “urban” in urban fantasy as it were.  It is set among homeless teens, gang members, and drug dealers and thus has what I will generously call a highly select lexicon.  Some of which some readers have reacted poorly to.*

I get that an inner city tale of any sort might not be in every reader’s given experience.  Then again, the book is billed as The Wire meets Excalibur, so it’s not like the warning’s not right there on the cover.  But I want to look at this from the fantasy writer’s/reader’s expectation perspective.  Our job as writers is to build worlds, worlds complete with art, history, and language.  If a writer has done their job well, they can submerge you into any alien world and as part of the reader’s journey, they pick up the slang or language of the world.  Be it the lexicon of Dune, snippets of alien language, the random bits of poetry in the Lord of the Rings**, or Klingon (which I probably should have taken instead of French in college).

What I can’t stand, however, is when the … tone of the comments are undergirded with what I will generously call “angst” that the characters speak in American slang.  As if there is one and only one cultural lens through which Arthur can be interpreted.  Let me put it another way.  I am finally getting around to reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (I know, I know:  “what kind of King Arthur book can you have written if you hadn’t even read this?  Blah, blah, blah … bite me).  It’s widely hailed as a fantasy classic and I am in no way criticizing its position as I’m fully cognizant that my books may be in the discount bins in a few months, forgotten and unread.  Anyway, I ran across this passage:

“Wold fools may be wold fools, whether  by yea or by nay, but I haint served the Family for fifty year without a-learning of my duty.  A flibberty-gibbeting about wi’ a lot of want-wits, when thy own arm may be dropping to the floor!”

Now, I read that passage several times, with the criticism that I was committing some sort of cultural  hate crime in the back of my head.  And I thought, as an American male plopped on his couch reading this book, “this isn’t exactly torn from my cultural lexicon.”

This was just something I was thinking about as I vowed yet again to quit reading every review before I finish the last book in the Knights of Breton Court trilogy.  As it stands, I’m ¾ of the way done with the last book, King’s War.  The story is still set in Indianapolis, the characters still have their particular lexicon and their own diction.  It’s all a part of world building, where I hopefully transport you to a new world and make it believable and real.  After all, this Indianapolis doesn’t exist (as far as you know).

Of course, all of the criticism could be right and I simply suck.

*A friend told me to imagine that readers of fantasy were little old white women living in Iowa.  Not terribly accurate as sweeping generalizations go, but, oddly enough, it gave me some comfort.

**I won’t lie:  I was not a fan.  I came to a point in Fellowship of the Rings where I literally said out loud “if he writes one more damn elf song/poem, I’m done with the book.  He did and I was.  So, maybe I ultimately have no room to grouse in this blog and should leave it at “to each, their own.”